• 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 six: Solace

Chrysalis lay on the bed with her eyes directed at the ceiling, the changeling clearly focused on her current task. Her blue eyes flicked back and forth as she processed the information provided by them, equations working tirelessly within her head all the while. She had been at it for over two hours, her mind occupied with the most essential of tasks. Finally she gave a soft click of her tongue before stretching, the deed done.

There were exactly two hundred and thirty seven tiles making up the ceiling in the room she occupied. The odd number had thrown her off numerous times until realising that some had been replaced by light crystals. Part of her was impressed on how well they blended in with the tiles, almost indistinguishable from their surroundings. It went without saying if not for her growing ability to ‘see’ enchantments she might never have noticed.

It also went without saying that Chrysalis was irrefutably bored.

Exhaling softly the disguised changeling instead moved her forelegs to fold over her eyes. Three days; three whole days had passed so far since her infiltration into the hospital as a patient. In that time, she had faced three uncomfortable truths.

The first was that her whole ‘plan’ – if it could even be termed such – had not only been impulsive, but also, on a little reflection, rather stupid. The town was home to the Bearers. The same six mares who, while outnumbered one hundred to one against an army of changelings, had almost managed to turn the tide. This small fact – unsurprisingly – only served to reinforce how idiotic the whole concept of staying was. Of course, that brought her to the second truth.

As loathe as she was to admit it, Legend had become something… more to her. When this event happened, she couldn’t say. However, that night when she snuck into the hospital, she had meant every word spoken. Legend was indeed her pain in the butt and not even the Bearers could dissuade her to keep her distance. She had even – against all logic – started to intercept Legend when the girl went for her walks.

Most surprising about the whole thing was that while Chrysalis in her disguise caused Legend some unease for whatever reason, the girl still felt some compassion for her. It was faint, barely nourishing, but it was there. That left Chrysalis with two possibilities as to why. Either Legend was simply a compassionate creature, or, as unlikely as it was, she somehow could sense the changeling even through the disguise.

The second option had caused a certain amount of apprehension. Yet, despite this, it had made Chrysalis feel something within her. That something was warm and, much to her confusion, not entirely unpleasant. Breathing gently she felt her heart beat faster as she thought back to how Legend had been three nights ago. Grunting, Chrysalis gave a soft ‘tsk’ before pushing the thought aside. Well, after a few more seconds lingering on it that is.

That of course brought her to the third truth. Regardless of how she felt about her name, it still remained one of the highest honours to receive. She had proven to be capable, cunning, quick-witted, and above all, pragmatic and analytical in any situation she found herself in. For six years she lived the life of another and not once had she ever been suspected of deceit.

She was not the strongest of changelings, nor was she the fastest. Her magic skills were average, well, that is, they had been average before her recent changes. Despite all this, she had always persevered no matter the challenge. What she lacked in the other areas she more than made up for in her guile, her skill of subterfuge, and, modesty aside, she knew she could react to any situation.

That is, until Legend was added to the mix. Emitting a soft groan, she found she couldn’t deny that particular fact. Whenever the biped was concerned, Chrysalis became – for lack of a better term – an idiot. Over the course of not even a week she had filled her quota of stupidity for an entire lifetime. In no particular order she had attempted a transformation that should by all accounts have left her drained, played tag with a chimera, and purposely aggravated a hydra. That wasn’t even getting into her current situation.

With a heartfelt sigh, Chrysalis raised her forelimbs enough to gaze up at the ceiling.

I really can’t stop doing irredeemably stupid things because of her, can I?

Still, she couldn’t deny if she could choose to do it all again, she would. There was something about Legend, something beside the fact she fed her willingly, which pulled Chrysalis in. It made her act without thinking, and, most alarmingly at least to the changeling, she didn’t mind. Well, not really. She would complain and grumble, but never fully hate the choices she made. The simple fact she had stuck to her decision to wait a week proved that.

Why?

The question filtered through her thoughts as Chrysalis moved both forelegs back over her eyes. The question was one that she always tried to evade, not wishing to admit it. This exercise was, however, futile given that she had, in a way, already admitted how she felt.

“You’re a pain in the butt, you know that? You make me do the most inane things, but… But you’re my pain in the butt.”

The corner of her mouth twitched at the memory, the conclusion reached undeniable; she liked Legend. There was something about the crying, smiling, clumsy, compassionate girl that she found herself drawn towards. It wasn’t just the fact she displayed the ability to feed with no effort, nor was it truly even about how she fed Chrysalis willingly. It wasn’t even how she saved her life; Chrysalis had, after all, repaid that debt at least tenfold over at their current point in time.

Still…

It felt… strange, when she smiled at me. Although, maybe it’s due to this… other issue that’s being a problem.

Turning her attention inward, the disguised changeling briefly focused on the draining sensation within. She could feel her stored nectar being consumed, and, in turn, her body altering in strange ways. Already after only a few days she could tell her capabilities were increased. The meagre amounts of emotions she managed to feed upon were becoming like a drop in a growing ocean.

The depth of her new magic reserves was in its own way concerning. Advanced spells, ones that were normally only used as last resort, were now becoming as easy to cast and maintain as something as mundane as say, illumination. It was becoming so trivial she surmised she could have casted any high level spell with nary a second thought. Even with her nectar being feasted upon by the… affliction, enough remained to stagger the changeling.

Chrysalis desperately desired to be wrong on her growing hypothesis. Exhaling softly she felt her tail flick over the sheets, a nervous habit picked up in her long years as Rosebloom. The more she thought about it though, the more the facts pointed to only one outcome. She didn’t wish to believe it, the mere idea was so ridiculously impossible that if anyone else were to suggest it she would have scoffed in his or her face.

But a lot of things I thought impossible seem to be coming true recently. Fantastic, just what the world needs, two Queen Chrysalis’s… Or, is that Chrysali? Chrysalises? Whatever…

Smiling ruefully, Chrysalis followed with a soft tsk before shifting her forelegs enough to see once more. Staring, unblinkingly towards the ceiling, the changeling became dimly aware of voices outside. With one ear flicking she could pick up the voice of Twilight Sparkle along with that of the little dragon that seemed to accompany her everywhere. Deducing that they must have been visiting Legend again, Chrysalis relaxed.

She knew, from the last couple of days at least, that Legend would be wandering the hallways shortly. The walks were becoming almost routine by that point, a time also for Chrysalis to get some much needed sustenance.

It was most certainly not simply a chance to see Legend again. Nor was it a chance to make sure she was alright, that she was healing well and that no additional harm had come to her. If that was the case she would be lying on the bed waiting. Waiting, that is, for the tell-tale sound of the two guards assigned to Legend’s room moving in their assumed duty to keep tabs on her. Waiting so she could leave her room and 'accidentally' cross paths with th-

Chitin-rust.

Before she could dwell further on the issue a sound caught her attention. One of her ears flicked at the noise, then the other, thankful for the distraction. The source, however, a voice speaking further down the hallway, resulted in Chrysalis’s eyes going wide. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but that didn’t matter. She could tell who it was.

Oh… Please by the All-Mother, not again.

For the briefest of seconds, Chrysalis almost gave into panic. With eyes darting wildly, she gazed about the room, identifying several possibilities and formulating the chances of success for each. However, with a resigned sigh, Chrysalis moved her forelegs once more to obscure her vision.

It was, after all, futile to even try and resist what was about to occur. She had tried everything over the last couple of days. From casting any spells able to be done while remaining disguised, to simply hiding under a bed. Yet, so far nothing had worked. No matter what she tried, the mare would inevitably find her.

If it wasn’t so annoying, she might have even been terrified on how tenacious the pony was.

Ultimately though, there was little to do but wait for the inevitable. Her ears flicked at catching the sound of Twilight wishing Chrysalis’s tormentor farewell. Soon hoofsteps slowly approached the room she resided in, each impact sealing her impending doom that little bit more.

Unfortunately, due to previous experience, Chrysalis knew what was soon to follow. After a couple of knocks, apparently nothing more than a formality, the door opened. She heard all this, but refused to move on the bed. It was a desperate ploy, but perhaps if she pretended to be asleep the mare might-

“Hi ~Ebony!~” The disgustingly cheerful voice filled the room even as the hoofsteps approached the side of her bed. The voice suddenly took on a more quiet tone, a gasp of realisation coming from the speaker. “Ooooh, you’re sleeping. That’s okay, I’ll wait riiiiight here until you wake up, that way you won’t be lonely at all.”

Why am I not surprised?

After a few seconds contemplating whether to continue the act or not, Chrysalis came to the conclusion it really wasn’t worth the effort. She held no delusions that her tormenter would not continue to wait until she did eventually ‘wake’.

“I’m not sleeping.” Chrysalis stated, her forelegs sliding up enough to confirm what she already knew. Indeed, seated to the side of the bed, was a pink mare. On seeing this the pony’s two blue eyes twinkled in delight at seeing she was awake.

“Oh! Well that’s super-riffic, because I was going to ask you something and I already asked the doctors if it was okay, that is because last time I did something without asking Nurse Redheart growled at me, and-“

Chrysalis once more obscured her vision as she withheld the desire to sigh. Ever since her ‘admission’ to the hospital, Pinkie Pie, one of the Bearers no less, had taken it upon herself to visit every day. Although, the reason why this was continued to elude the changeling. On the first day she had initially assumed that the mare had suspected something amiss about her. Chrysalis had predictably kept her guard up in response, expecting at any moment the room to swarm with armed ponies, the Bearers, the princesses, or just to be thorough, all of the above.

She had not, however, been expecting a verbal battering of the most inane conversation topics that she could possibly imagine. At first, she had presumed it was a bizarre form of interrogation, but that was also proven false with time. There was no malice, no anger behind the words. The mare, confusingly enough, seemed genuinely enthused in keeping Chrysalis ‘company’ as far as she could tell.

This in turn had led to several more visits along a similar vein. Whether it was ‘merely’ to stop a perceived notion of loneliness by chatting, or, like yesterday, to bring in board games in an ill-fated attempt at ‘fun’, the pony wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Chrysalis had no doubts on this, she had tried.

It also hadn’t taken long for her to also learn one vital survival tip; that being, when Pinkie Pie started talking, it was best to just tune her out.

Although… I can’t shake the feeling that’s what got me into this mess in the first place.

Pushing the thought aside, she became acutely aware on the absence of talking beside her. Peeking between limbs, Chrysalis found an expectant looking mare gazing back at her. Realising there must have been a question she had missed, Chrysalis decided that she wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead of giving one of two responses and having to deal with the consequences, she chose instead to go with honesty.

“If you asked a question, I didn’t hear it. I wasn’t paying attention.” The blunt tone of voice used was perhaps a little risky, but she wished to get out of the room as soon as possible. Not to bump into Legend again. She just wished to… stretch her legs a little. Maybe even gather more information to be used in their escape at the end of the week. If she bumped into the biped, well… that would have just been a coincidence, nothing more.

As she watched Pinkie Pie’s expression falter for just a second, Chrysalis wondered if she had finally been successful in dissuading the mare. Her hopes, however, were dashed when the mare smiled followed by shifting shortly after to gesture vaguely towards the window nearby.

"Oh that’s okay! I was just asking if you wanted to go outside, I did get permission from the doctors first so it's all okey-dokey with them!” Pinkie Pie smiled the entire time as she spoke, shifting to pull a board game from one of her saddlebags. “Or, we could play a game! This is Gummy’s favourite, but he’s not here today because apparently no pets are allowed in the hospital. I tried, but then Ink Sketch said no, and I even tried to explain he’s really, really harmless, but she just said no again and wouldn’t let him come in! But it’s okay, as I left him with Rainbow Dash and Tank, and they’re just the bestest, most extra-riffic of friends!”

Chrysalis blinked slowly as she tried to digest everything that she had just heard. Tilting her head to regard the pony directly she was stunned by how earnest Pinkie Pie looked. Of course, the board game pushed almost directly into her face still caused her to jump slightly. Feeling annoyance start to tinge her thoughts, Chrysalis had to swallow down the comment threatening to flow past her lips.

Oh she was tempted to speak her mind; that was an undeniable truth. But, she was far more experienced than that. She knew trying a blunt remark earlier was risky, but she knew her present mood had caused her to make the attempt. Reminding herself that she was better than allowing her true self to flow through her disguises, Chrysalis took a long calming breath.

Stop acting like a pupa just because you want to… Go for a walk. Yes, a walk.

Forcing a smile onto her face, Chrysalis made to sit up on the bed. Wincing at the appropriate time, she made sure to draw attention to the bandaged wound on her leg, instantly gaining a gasp from Pinkie Pie. Before the mare could spill forth more inane jabbering, Chrysalis made sure to speak up first.

“I’m sorry for snapping earlier Pinkie Pie, but this injury is making me a little cranky.” Putting on her most earnest expression, Chrysalis tried to look as apologetic as possible. Granted, she had a lot of experience at manipulating others as Rosebloom. Not that such a thing had really been required, she had always acted the perfect filly, never getting into trouble and-

“My baby girl… This can’t be happening… This can’t be happening.”

Chrysalis furrowed her brow as the memory of Ivy Touch’s reaction resurfaced. Thankfully it seemed Pinkie Pie had misinterpreted the expression, a look of worry coming to her face.

“Should I get the doctor? Wait, what did Twilight tell me? Oh! Let me raise your leg up!”

Before Chrysalis could protest she found her injured leg being pony-handled, lifted upwards as she gave a strangled yelp of surprise. She knew she should be angry at the blatant invasion of her personal space, but at that particular second, she was far too startled to care. Pinkie Pie, unfazed by Chrysalis’s now flailing limbs, let the leg go to instead place a hoof to her own mouth thoughtfully.

“Waaaaait a minute, was that the right thing to do, or is that if it’s bleeding?” Rocking her head back and forth, Pinkie Pie hummed thoughtfully. Amazingly, she seemed completely oblivious on how Chrysalis’s left eye was now twitching sporadically. “Don’t worry ~Ebony~, I’ll make sure to take super-duper good care of you, and will keep visiting until you’re better, and you can come meet my friends, and we’ll have the bestest surprise party ever!”

Fantastic… Wait, how is it a surprise party if I know? Actually, I have better things to think about than that.

Pushing her own thoughts aside – and how much she would have delighted in throwing the mare out the window – Chrysalis instead allowed a smile to come to her muzzle with practised ease.

“That’s very kind of you Pinkie Pie, but I’m sure I just need to relax.” Making sure she had the mare’s attention, Chrysalis continued while shifting a little on the bed to get comfortable. “You know… on my bed, where it’s nice and quiet?”

I know it’s too much for her to take a hint, but… maybe she-

“Well if that’s the case, then I will just have to stay here and make sure you’re comfortable then!”

And… Nope.

Forcing the smile she didn’t truly feel in the slightest, Chrysalis continued to act the part of a gracious pony. Unfortunately, this meant that time continued to march on, and with it, she could hear Legend going for a walk with the guards accompanying her. Hiding her aggravation at this, she instead participated in playing board games with Pinkie Pie, intentionally losing each as quickly as possible.

Much to her chagrin, over the next two hours she learned details about half the ponies in Ponyville, how much Pinkie Pie loved parties, and, as thrilling as it was, the joys and wonders of baking a cake just right. Thankfully, it wasn’t all useless information. The names of the ponies were something she stored away for later, and she did steer the conversation enough to garner a few titbits of useful knowledge.

One of which was the names and some history on the rest of the Bearers, and, amazingly, also several of their personality traits that Pinkie was all too happy to divulge.

Twilight Sparkle I know, Pinkie Pie is a given… and Applejack I have seen visit here before, and she was the one that… assisted, in capturing Legend.

Feeling a wave of anger surge at the memory, especially of Legend’s terrified expression and her own part in it happening, Chrysalis focused instead on the other names.

That leaves Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Rarity. I know of them, vaguely, thanks to my role as Rosebloom, but it just helps to get any information regardless. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie appear to be the weak links in the event I need to force an escape. One is apparently incredibly meek, and the other is…

Gazing at Pinkie Pie as she continued to talk about her family, Chrysalis resisted the urge to smirk.

An idiot… Admittedly a rather annoying idiot, but an idiot none the less.

Eventually though the light outside began to dim, and with it, Chrysalis’s chance of seeing Legend for the evening. Exhaling softly at that knowledge – not to mention that she would go hungry for the night – the changeling made sure to keep the irritation felt hidden behind a polite mask. She was vaguely aware of the compassion directed her way from Pinkie Pie, but the meagre amounts were barely snack-worthy, especially when compared with the literal feast the same feeling coming from Legend provided.

Not surprisingly, Chrysalis decided the ‘visit’ had gone on long enough. As such, she held up her hoof to interrupt Pinkie Pie mid-sentence, the mare having been recounting something about her day before coming to the hospital.

“Thank you for keeping me company, but it is getting late, and I really should sleep.” Speaking with sincerity in her voice that she didn’t feel, she decided to sweeten the comment further. “You did help me feel better though, thank you.”

Looking taken somewhat aback, Pinkie quickly recovered to give a wide smile in return.

"Well I'm glad I got to make you feel better, ~Ebony~!“ The mare’s voice was earnest in her reply, something that, again, surprised Chrysalis. Before she could dwell on it though, she was caught off guard as Pinkie Pie’s voice took on a different tone. Turning her head to regard the Bearer, she found the mare looking contemplative, a hoof tapping gently under her muzzle.

“Buuuuut, I have one, teeeeny, tiiiiiny, liiiiiittle, question. Weeeeell, two actually, but one is more important than the other, or is it? Hmmm... Oh! How about I ask them, and you tell me which is the more important of the two?"

Raising a brow at this, Chrysalis regarded Pinkie curiously before replying. “Okay… What is it Pinkie?”

Much to her growing surprise, and equally rising trepidation, she found the mare looking at her intently, Pinkie’s front hooves moving to prop up her chin on the edge of the bed.

This… This is different. Just what is she up too?

Although somewhat confused as to the change in the mare’s behaviour, Chrysalis found her curiosity piqued nonetheless. Yet, before she could ponder further on the matter, the first question was asked.

“Soooo, when do I get to meet the real ~Ebony?~”

If Chrysalis were any younger – or less experienced – she would have betrayed herself in how she reacted. Instead, despite her inner confusion and growing worry, she kept up a bemused smile.

“What do you mean by that Pinkie? This is the real me.” Releasing soft laughter to follow up her words, Chrysalis pressed on. “I’m not an actor or anyone famous, if that’s what you’re implying.”

Unexpectedly, Pinkie giggled in response. The reaction caught Chrysalis completely off guard as the mare then followed up by playfully rolling her eyes.

"Ooooh, I know that silly! Buuuut, you're all being like this!" Random hoof gestures, each more confusing than the last followed Pinkie’s words. Abruptly, she then furrowed her brow in a rather unconvincing scowl. "And this is how you really are, so why are you hiding it? Is it because you're afraid of being all meany-pants to me?"

A bright smile came to Pinkie's face as she ‘booped’ Chrysalis on the nose, the disguised-changeling feeling her muscles relax. Offering a sincere smile, she followed with a small nod as if conceding to the mare’s observation.

Oh by the All-Mother, is that all she thinks this is about?

“I guess you could say that.” Releasing a long sigh, one that was as much an act as it was real, Chrysalis gave a tight-lipped smile. Having let some of her personality slip through had almost been a disastrous mistake. She now wasn’t quite sure on just how ‘air-headed’ the mare really was, and as such, her guard was raised again. That meant she would have to cut some of her losses and give a partial truth, if only to make her disguise more convincing.

Shifting on the bed, Chrysalis sat up some and in doing so, deliberately moved her injured leg enough to cause a wince to flash over her features. This didn’t go unnoticed by Pinkie if her gasp was anything to go by, but that was precisely what she was aiming for. She wanted to divert the mare’s attention; if the pony truly did suspect her then she needed to keep her distracted. “Okay, it’s true. I’m sorry I was pretending to be something I’m not, but the ‘real’ me can be a little... abrasive.”

Or so I’ve been told.

"It's okay, I think the real you is actually kind of fun! Just because you're really a big grumpy pants, I know you're actually really, really nice on the inside!” Pinkie Pie said that showing, on the surface at least, that she had bought Chrysalis’s half-truth. Grinning inwardly, the changeling was about to rebuke herself for worrying over nothing when she heard the mare continue. “Whiiiich, kind of leads me to the second question..."

Hang on, Grumpy pants? That’s a new one. Argh, focus Chrysalis. There were two questions weren’t there? Wait, what does she mean it leads into the second…?

Chrysalis blinked, unsure quite what to expect next. The tension returned with a vengeance as Pinkie gave a smile. But, it was the following question that made the blood chill within the changeling’s veins. "Why haven't you gone to meet your friend yet?"

Chrysalis froze, unable to formulate a response.

She knows…

The words filtered through her ears as she looked at the mare in a new light. Despite the warm expression on Pinkie’s face the room seemed to close in on her. She had been foolish, that was all there was to it. She had underestimated the pony in front of her, and, in doing so, had left herself wide open. Her eyes flicked to the door, expecting it to burst open at any second. When the hospital room remained remarkably guard-free, she instead found herself struggling to put words into her mouth.

“I… Well, that is…”

Sure, let’s just believe the mare is a drooling idiot and become complacent. Just fantastic, excellent plan there, Chrysalis. Ten out of te-

“Yes, your friend. You do want to go see her, right?”

Blinking a few times, Chrysalis turned her attention back to Pinkie who was looking, funnily enough, worried in her direction. Taking a second to structure her thoughts, she replayed the last few moments back over in her head. With a little introspection, it occurred to her that everything so far, on the surface at least, seemed innocent enough. In fact, right now she was being her own worst enemy, jumping to conclusions and failing to analyse the situation.

It was no secret that the affliction was the cause to her issues. Even at that moment she could already feel her nectar supplies dwindling away as they were feasted on. Proving her earlier theory correct, being disguised was definitely hastening the process, which, honestly, was not something she really wished to dwell on. Ultimately though, hunger was making her absent-minded and unable to think straight, a danger that had led her to being captured in the first place.

Well, that, and she was feeling a little jittery for completely separate reasons. Though, In the grand scheme of things, she felt such a reaction was entirely justifiable given her surroundings and current location.

Alright, alright, focus. She doesn’t know everything or I would be in chains by now.

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.” Chrysalis chose her reply carefully, and, at the same time, kept a look of bafflement on her features. Pinkie, however, just smiled and gave her head a slow shake in response. This was followed by her moving to rest on all four hooves accompanied with a roll of her blue eyes.

“Oh, silly, the one you were in the forest with of course!”

Oh, come on! Just how much does she really know?!

Time slowed to a crawl as Chrysalis quickly analysed what the mare had just said over in her head. With that in mind, whatever reaction the Bearer was looking for she was determined not to show it on her face. Instead a small unsure smile slipped over her muzzle, both ears carefully slanting forward to give the impression of confusion. Inwardly though, Chrysalis was focused, adrenalin flooding her system.

“From the forest…?” Chrysalis made sure to leave the question ambiguous on whether she understood or not. By this point, she was certain that whatever the mare was up to wouldn’t result in the guards being called on her. If that had been Pinkie’s plan, there were far more ample opportunities for her to have done so. That fact alone pushed the panic aside. For it went without saying if she had been discovered to be a changeling, Chrysalis held no delusions on how she would have been treated.

Especially in the village that’s home to the Bearers. The princesses and their guards would be swarming here before I could blink. No, whatever she is up to isn’t because of that… but then, just what is she after?

Chrysalis wasn’t afraid to admit she was rather baffled. What Pinkie Pie was saying, along with her actions, went against everything the changeling expected. Chrysalis had come into the hospital expecting to be just another anonymous patient; in fact, she had been counting on it. Her cover story had been created to coincide with the chimera attack, something she had to improvise with at the time. And, while, yes, it wasn’t one of her best infiltrations, it had really been a spur of the moment sort of thing.

To this effect, she had been abrupt and blunt to nearly everyone; from ponies who were concerned, to the doctors and nurses themselves. This was so as to isolate herself, and in doing so, avoid creating situations she was now currently in. In fact, the strategy itself had worked flawlessly, all except for apparently on the Bearer of Laughter.

“Yip-er-roonie! After I saw you, and met you on the way to the hospital, you seemed really, really focused on something. Then, when you said you weren’t my friend, it made me feel a little sad but not as sad as realising something a day ago.” Pinkie Pie said, once more gaining Chrysalis’s attention. Noticing the mare smiling in a downcast fashion, the changeling felt her intrigue grow.

“Realised… What?” Sitting up some, Chrysalis inquired before having Pinkie’s blue eyes meet her own.

“That I was the only one who was visiting you.” With that, the mare’s smile grew wider, and with it, her energy seemed to return. “So I went and asked Ink Sketch, because somepony must know you were here, but she said that no-one had come to visit you at all! Howeeeeever, she did mention you were looking for your companion in the forest when you got injured…”

Chrysalis felt her stomach sink as the pieces started to fit together.

Oh Chitin-rust. I wasn’t thorough enough with the forgetfulness spell, was I?

Pinkie Pie, unaware of Chrysalis mental groaning, continued on unabated. “Soooo, I asked around, but other than Mystery and Dinky, no-one had seen anyone else come out of the Everfree Forest. I first thought about a friend who lives in there, but when I asked her she had no idea who you were! So I then asked if anyone had seen any other pony come out, or minotaur, griffon, or even a diamond dog! Then I remembered how you looked after I mentioned everypony needing a friend, and how something, ooooor someone, was on your mind.”

Pinkie Pie then reared up on her hind hooves, and, before Chrysalis could even react, wrapped her forelegs around the disguised-changeling’s neck in a hug. Thankfully, at least for one of the two involved, the embrace ended as soon as it started with Pinkie then eyeing Chrysalis knowingly.

“Buuut, explaining how I found out isn’t important, well, it is, but not for the point I am trying to make! Aaaaaand that point is… Why haven’t you gone to see Mystery yet?” A brief look of worry flickered over Pinkie’s face before she gasped loudly, hooves moving to rest on her cheeks. “Wait, is that even her real name? I mean that’s what Twilight said it was, but she also said that is what Rarity decided to call her as her other name was really, really awful. But, it’s not her name is it? I mean, that can’t be her name, as Rarity named her that after she was found, unless… Ooooh, did she get lucky and that really is her name? That would be-“

Ugh…

Chrysalis removed the hoof she had used to push against Pinkie’s muzzle, having to interrupt the mare to get a word out. Gone now was the changeling’s panic, replaced with growing irritation towards the mare before her. Whatever the reason, the Bearer of Laughter had taken it on herself to delve deeper and uncover loose ends. That led to the conclusion that if the mare before her could put that connection together, then, it stood to reason, that any pony could do the same.

Yet, no-one else has seemed to do so…

Removing the hoof from the surprised pony’s mouth, Chrysalis realised there was no point in lying anymore, not on that issue at least. Still, the reasoning behind Pinkie’s involvement continued to confuse Chrysalis. For three days she had thought the mare to be as airheaded as a balloon. This had also led to her pondering on how the pony and her friends – excluding Twilight, as she knew how talented the mare was – had managed to almost ruin the entire invasion by themselves.

Now? Now she needed answers. Keeping the confused expression on her face, she made ready the remaining nectar in the event it was required. An hour ago she would have believed herself more than a match for the pony in front of her, now… Now that was no longer a certainty.

She acts idiotic, but that seems to merely be a cover. Thinking on it, for her to piece all that she has together, granted I was a little clumsy, but still… She seems to be as dangerous as Twilight; That means I need to play this very, very carefully.

Taking a deep breath, Chrysalis moved to sit up in bed, her back resting to the headboard while her wings spread behind her for comfort. It was easy to act defeated, as if Pinkie had pierced through an illusion and glimpsed the truth. Discarding her mask, at least in a figurative sense, Chrysalis looked upwards at the ceiling, feeling more vulnerable than she was comfortable with.

“Her name is Legend. At least, that’s what I call her.”

Opening her eyes, Chrysalis felt strangely naked, uncomfortable even. Granted she was still disguised, but… She was no longer pretending to be something she wasn’t. Her outer form may have been a slight variation of Rosebloom’s, but her words, her actions were now simply her own. It was a dangerous gamble and it was a very uncomfortable experience for her, but… But if Pinkie Pie was truly as perceptive as she was beginning to suspect, then, it was all she could do to protect the secret she needed to keep hidden above all else.

Allow her to think she has stripped all the layers back… Give her no reason to pry further, she wants something, I need to figure out what that is.

It went against everything she felt, everything her life experience had taught her. When in disguise changelings had to become the mask, to be something they were not. They had to become the one they were imitating to avoid suspicion, but, also, to avoid emotions bleeding through. Just like someone acting on stage, be that a pony, a griffon, or minotaur, the emotions felt by the actor were that of the character played for the performance. The same applied to changelings, and it helped disassociate themselves from their food, to avoid becoming… attached.

Something you have a fantastic track record of doing thus far. Go me. What next, feeling empathy for a marshmallow?

“Legend? That’s a pretty name.” Chrysalis looked up to see Pinkie Pie smiling, this time far more earnestly than she had seen the pony do so far. She then watched as the mare moved closer to the bed only for her forelegs to prop up her chin as she gazed at Chrysalis. Unexpectedly, Pinkie didn’t talk further, her expectant look seeming to be waiting for more to be spoken.

Okay, now what is she playing at?!

Growing frustrated at being unable to read the mare, Chrysalis instead sighed. She felt the corner of her lips tug upwards as she thought back to Legend smiling in the cave, the apple being offered back to her.

“I… guess it is. I didn’t know her real name.” A raised brow was given in Pinkie’s direction before gesturing vaguely with a fore leg. “As you might have noticed, it’s not exactly as easy as asking her what it really is.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t spoken with her at all.”

Wait… What?

Chrysalis blinked as she tried to comprehend what she had just heard. Pinkie, seemingly oblivious, continued to smile serenely as she perked both ears from her fluffy mane.

“You… You haven’t tried talking with her?” Speaking in a neutral tone, Chrysalis was growing increasingly confused. In response, the mare shook her head before giving an amused giggle.

“Noooo, how can I talk to someone if I haven’t met her yet? I mean, I want to because she is new to Ponyville too, but Twilight and Nurse Redheart said It might not be for the best yet, since she is still super nervous around other ponies. Only Twilight, Spike, Derpy, Dinky, Nurse Redheart, and Applejack have spent time with her.” Pinkie smiled, looking aside and out the window almost wistfully prior to continuing.

“I mean I’m really excited for when I can actually spend time with her, and I was kiiiind of jealous that Applejack got to go see her, but Twilight thought it would be a good idea for less to be involved right now. It’s just… sad that she’s easily scared around ponies, but that’s why Rainbow Dash and I are staying away. I… I just wish we didn’t have too.” Pinkie’s ears drooped a little, almost as if she really was disappointed at this fact. Or, Chrysalis mused, actually genuinely concerned about the biped, about Legend.

“Okay, I get that,” Chrysalis began saying, shifting on the bed as she relaxed again. She couldn’t understand the Bearer’s motives – or just how much she knew for that matter – but she could tell that the mare wasn’t lying. The ability to detect and taste emotions helped an awful lot in that regard. “But how does this apply to me?”

Pinkie Pie looked startled, her eyes going wide as her forelegs flailed wildly in the air.

“Are you kidding me? It has, like, everything to do with you!” Settling back onto all four hooves, Pinkie smiled and looked towards the door before gazing back at Chrysalis. Intriguingly, her next words spoken would have been foreboding were it not for the playful, almost sing-song tone used. “Buuuut, you still didn’t answer my second queeeeestion.”

Furrowing her brow, Chrysalis realised her attempts to divert the aforementioned question had indeed been thwarted. This observation only led to solidifying her belief that the Bearer of Laughter was merely acting scatter-brained, an act that had almost worked. Now aware of the mare’s strategy, she found herself becoming increasingly able to deal with the situation.

Need to give her what she wants; she’s fishing for something… Just, need to make sure she hooks only half the truth.

Taking a long deep breath, Chrysalis looked down at her injured leg only to move a hoof slowly over the bandage in a thoughtful manner. She was reminded on how she had earned it, doing something incredibly stupid just to protect Legend. Something she would never have done for anyone else. Well, save for her sisters and maybe, just maybe, a very small number of ponies. Not that she would admit the last part out loud; or ever.

“You got hurt helping her, didn’t you?”

Chrysalis couldn’t stop herself flinching as Pinkie’s question, raising her head afterwards to see the mare casting a knowing look her way.

By the All-Mother, is she just guessing, or does she actually know? Wait… Actually, that observation was pretty obvious with everything else mentioned so far.

Realising that the mare either knew far more than she was letting on, or, alternatively, was incredibly good at making educated guesses, Chrysalis decided she couldn’t hide the truth. Well, not the whole truth at least; misdirection still remained one of the greatest tools at her disposal.

“You could say that.” Exhaling through her nostrils, the disguised-changeling ran a hoof through her dark curls. “Okay… You want know why I haven’t visited her?”

As soon as the question left her lips, she watched as Pinkie Pie began nodding, vigorously.

“Because…” Chrysalis waggled a hoof towards the door accompanied with one brow being raised. “If you haven’t noticed she seems to be a little off limits. What, with having two guards and Princess Celestia’s personal student doing a good job of barring access. Plus, I barely met her… So, there you have it. I didn’t think it mattered if I saw her or not.”

There, that sounds entirely reasonable.

Noticing that Pinkie Pie appeared to be dwelling on her words, Chrysalis concluded the battle of wits had gone on long enough. Shifting on the bed she moved to lie down, feigning comfort while forelegs obscured her vision once more. “But anyhow… It’s late, and while I have enjoyed the company, visiting hours will almost be over.”

Unable to see Pinkie Pie’s reaction, Chrysalis was pleasantly surprised when she heard the mare trot closer to the door. The question that drifted across the room though, that one she was not ready for.

“Would you like to go see her?”

Several seconds passed as she remained motionless, unmoving that is save for her chest rising and falling with each breath. She could tell that the mare was waiting, and yet, she sensed no malice from Pinkie Pie. In fact, all she could sense from the Bearer was anxiousness. At first the emotion put Chrysalis on edge for understandable reasons. Pinkie Pie could have been attempting to trap her with the question, waiting for the answer to confirm whatever suspicions the mare held.

Yet, when Chrysalis reluctantly tugged her forelegs away from her eyes and sat up, she saw Pinkie Pie gazing at her, a warm, uncertain smile on the pony’s face. Risking some of her dwindling nectar, she applied a small, discrete spell. One that was able to accurately detect the emotions of those around her, or, more accurately, three ponies in particular. The guards in the hallway were not on alert, and were, against Chrysalis’s expectations, almost relaxed in their current task of guarding.

Huh…

Unable to hide the puzzlement falling over her face, Chrysalis sat up to eye the mare critically. Indeed, Pinkie Pie was only displaying anxiousness, along with a hint of hopefulness. Why that was remained a mystery to the changeling, but, then again, the entire thing continued to baffle her. The whole scenario reeked of a trap waiting to be sprung and yet, despite this…

What was I saying earlier about Legend causing me do the most irredeemably stupid things? And I’m the one becoming a… Ugh, may the All-Mother protect my sisters if I’m right about that.

“Well, yes…” Chrysalis found herself admitting, ignoring the part of her screaming that it was a horrible idea. Although, she happily conceded with her logical side that the guards were not very well going to just allow her to wander in. She was just about to voice this – content in knowing that it would thwart whatever plan Pinkie Pie was trying to put into effect – that is, until she was interrupted as soon as her mouth opened.

Well, not so much interrupted as forcefully, and unexpectedly, dragged off the bed and towards the exit.

“W-What the he-“ Any complaint passing from Chrysalis’s mouth was stifled as Pinkie Pie opened the door. With horror she could only watch as the Bearer flashed her a wide, earnest, smile, prior to waving frantically down the hallway.

She isn’t… She wouldn’t…

“Psssst! Pssssst! Swift Dawn! Swiiiiiiift Daaaawn.”

Oh chitin-rust, she is…

Frozen in horror, aware she may have made the last horrible impulsive decision of her life, Chrysalis watched as Pinkie Pie trotted forward as the two guards regarded her curiously. Unable to hear due to their hushed tones, she could only imagine what they conversed about as she willed her body to remain rigid, trying to avoid letting the fear building within from showing. Instead she mentally ran over several escape plans – most futile – on how she could get out with Legend and escape the town.

What she was not expecting was Pinkie Pie to perform several gestures, ending with a hoof pushing against one eye. Despite herself, Chrysalis found herself wincing even as the mare seemed none the worse for wear. Then, after nodding in an ecstatic fashion, Pinkie Pie returned to where the changeling stood, a smile almost splitting her muzzle.

“Okie dokie, you can go in! They were a little suspicious on why you hadn’t explained yourself earlier, but I explained it all and they haaaad noticed you bumping into her a lot in the hallway, and she never seemed scared of you which, of course she wouldn’t, as she knows you! But, just to be sure I Pinkie Promised that you would behave yourself, not that I had to because I know you won’t do anything mean because she’s your friend, right?”

Chrysalis found herself lowering an eyebrow slowly, even given the situation, at trying to keep track of everything that the mare had just said. She had no clue what a ‘pinkie promise’ was, but, like most things about the mare, she wasn’t going to question it.

“Uh, right…” Finding herself a little lost for words, Chrysalis didn’t have long to think on it as she was unexpectedly nudged forward. Looking behind her, she saw Pinkie Pie’s head pushing against her backside, forcing her to take another step.

“Don’t be shy ~Ebony~! Go and see her!” The reassuring smile given by the mare along with the words spoken, could only lead Chrysalis to sigh in defeat. Offering a small nod she trotted forward, acting the part of a timid mare as she approached the guards. Admittedly, it wasn’t much of an act, even if she was in reality more concerned than timid.

Once she got closer, Chrysalis found herself a little intimidated by the larger pegasus. The fact he gave nothing away in his body language put her further on edge. Thankfully, he seemed to only glance at her briefly before resuming his silent vigil ahead. The other guard, Swift Dawn – and as she recently discovered, also Captain of the Royal Guard – trotted forward to meet her, his eyes giving her a quick once over before one of his brows raised.

Why do I keep running into ponies that knew Rosebloom?!

Swift Dawn’s eyes narrowed for the barest of seconds, then, just as abruptly, the stallion raised a brow before addressing Chrysalis. Inwardly, she found herself relieved that her disguise, as meagre as it was, seemed to hold up under scrutiny.

“So, Pinkie Pie says you know the patient?”

Chrysalis regarded Swift Dawn, well aware of his mannerisms due to her ‘father’, Steel Point, being in the guard. Because of this, she could tell that he didn’t buy what Pinkie Pie had told him, at least, not in its entirety. Offering a nod, she found him continuing to look down his muzzle at her before his posture relaxed some, a head tilt gesturing behind him.

“I was curious why you were always around when she left her room, well, that is, aside from today it seems.” Swift Dawn spoke casually, his stance becoming less rigid. “Anyhow, you can go in but we’ll be right here, listening in. Just in case, you understand.”

Chrysalis nodded once more, also offering a small mumble of understanding in the process. The glance in her direction from the other guard, his name eluding her, also didn’t go unnoticed. In all honesty, as Swift Dawn partially opened the door for her, she found herself a little mystified on how easily they allowed her access. Her suspicions that it was all an elaborate trap, one she had willingly stumbled into no less, were looking more and more likely.

Well, can’t do anything about it now.

Just as she was about to enter she was stopped as Swift Dawn cleared his throat. Curious as to why, a glance given down the hallway led to the reason being Pinkie Pie – for whatever reason – nodding vigorously in their direction. Before she could question this, the stallion looked aside while releasing a small sigh.

“You’re welcome to close the door if you wish, we’ll be right here anyhow.”

Chrysalis found herself somewhat confused by the offer, but wasn’t about to turn down a gift of providence.

“Oh, uh, thank you. I will then if that’s okay.” With that, the changeling entered the room only to gently close the door behind her with her uninjured leg. Once there was an audible click signalling the portal being shut, Chrysalis came to realise why they were not bothered by her doing so. She could sense magic permeating the room, powerful magic at that. From what she could tell, wards had been placed to protect Legend, and, quite possibly, in response to Twilight Sparkle’s paranoia the night of Chrysalis’s visit.

Huh, that unicorn is far more dangerous than I thought; that or she has way too much time on her hooves.

She couldn’t tell exactly what the magic did, yet from what she could sense both warning and restraining spells were primarily used in their construction. In any case, she could tell they would be no threat as long as she didn’t cast any changeling magic within their presence. Besides, she had more important things to worry about at that stage. For in the closest bed on the other side of the room Legend resided, a look of surprise on the biped’s face.

Chrysalis found herself the subject of a wary expression, watching as Legend moved to put a held quill back into an inkpot. While mildly curious as to what the quill could possibly have been used for, Chrysalis instead noticed that a look of apprehension was flickering over the girl’s face. Slowly, as if wary of making sudden movements, the blankets were timidly tugged up as a makeshift barrier before the girl. Tilting her head, Chrysalis was somewhat dumbfounded by the reaction.

Just what is she doing? Oh… Excellent, that’s just perfect.

Realising that Legend truly had no idea who she was, Chrysalis could only chuckle softly at the situation. As she gazed at the biped she wondered exactly how to rectify that problem. She couldn’t very well remove her disguise, not with the wards present. The other issue was if Legend panicked leading to the guards coming in; and, given what she knew of the biped so far, the girl was easily startled and rather fearful at the best of times. This left Chrysalis in a predicament, one she wasn’t quite sure on how to find a solution to.

Maybe if I get closer…

Venturing forward, the changeling was caught off guard when Legend backed up against the wall. Part of her felt hurt by the girl’s reaction especially as the room became saturated in the earthy taste of fear. Normally Chrysalis would be amused at inspiring terror, but, when it came to Legend, she found herself angry for doing so. Regardless, as she rolled her eyes at her own stupidity, the changeling noted she was effectively stuck in place.

To move forward would make Legend possibly alert the guards, which, while ironic, was not something she was going for. Yet, to stand still would get her nowhere. Time was also of the essence, her ears picking up the guards outside the door becoming suspicious. Strangely enough she could also hear Pinkie Pie trying to ease their concerns. Yet again, the mare continued to be an enigma.

“If only I could get close, you would know it was me,” Chrysalis said, exhaling afterwards. She knew to try talking was a wasted gesture, but she felt it was worth a try.

How do I show her it’s me without dropping my disguise? Chitin-rust, this is stupid. This, this Chrysalis is the situation you get into when you start to develop feelings for your food. Now the room stinks of fear and-

Blinking, Chrysalis came across an idea. It was foolish, stupid, and, if she were to be honest, a plan that was becoming second nature to her when involving Legend. Remembering back to in the forest she looked directly at the frightened-looking girl and did something that had worked once before. Scrunching her nose up, she implied that Legend stunk.

Her heart beat a little faster on seeing a spark of recognition flash across Legend’s widening eyes. Deeming the risk acceptable, Chrysalis trotted forward, all the while keeping herself a little lower to the ground. Noting that the girl was not moving and the fear was starting to dissipate, she approached the bed. Once close enough, one of her forehooves rested onto the sheets, pulling herself up enough to push her head forward.

If this doesn’t work, I am going to maul that pink mare before they take me down, I swear.

Much to her relief, Legend didn’t react as Chrysalis pushed her muzzle ever so gently against the girl’s trembling fingers. Once contact was made, she wriggled a little closer, pushing her head so that the hand slid over her muzzle and into the disguise’s curly mane. After a second she was rewarded with warmth flowing into her, a small trickle that steadily grew.

Noting that Legend still retained a little fear, she raised her head and allowed her true eyes to shine through for an instant. She knew it was a risky thing to do, but she ventured that the wards would not detect such a miniscule alteration. When the wards indeed remained inert, Chrysalis offered a grin upwards as the mud-like taste in her mouth was exchanged for something else. Silence filled the room, uncertainty beginning to build within her body as she started to second-guess how she had approached the issue.

Of all the reactions she was expecting, finding two arms suddenly tugging her closer to the girl was not one of them. Her surprise was short-lived as she felt Legend push her face into her mane, a laugh escaping the girl’s lips while Chrysalis felt tears dampen her ears.

You really do cry a lot don’t you?

“~Ebony!~” Legend exclaimed, the arms holding onto Chrysalis as if afraid she would vanish again. That fact made the changeling relax, letting herself be held as she drank in the emotions being gifted to her. With it the aching feeling within ebbed away, the fiery hunger of the ‘affliction’ becoming quenched as her nectar was steadily refilled. It would be easy for Chrysalis to say this was the only reason she wished to see Legend so desperately, to fill her belly and that be that.

But that would be lying.

As she was held Chrysalis closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the creature holding her. She wanted to see Legend for another reason; the same reason she kept intercepting her in the hallway. Oh, sure, she needed the emotions to keep herself alive and there was no denying that. But, as she felt the girl’s tears drip into her mane, Chrysalis couldn’t help but confess that, ultimately, she wanted to be here.

To her astonishment though, the feeling grew as more emotions poured into her. Compassion was there, but something more. An exquisite taste filled her mouth as, like a waterfall, she was submerged in a torrent of raw - and very surprising – amount of love. It was the strongest emotion she had ever felt, and with it, she felt the yawning chasm within her fill. Leaning back, Chrysalis looked up at Legend in wide eyed wonder.

She…

Unable to cope with the influx of emotion, Chrysalis lost her grip on her body’s desire to heal itself. The wound on her leg sealed, and, if that wasn’t enough, she could feel the changes continue under her disguise. Yet, at that moment, she didn’t really care as a smile slid over her muzzle. Shifting her wings, the changeling gained a dreamy look on her face, indulging in a sensation she had never felt before.

It was like a feast, the flavour more delicious than words could hope to describe. But, even with a full belly, she knew there was another reason she felt so warm, so content. Legend cared about her, more than Chrysalis could ever have suspected.

Legend cared about her. Her! She had been loved as Rosebloom, but that was only for the disguise and never really her. The feelings had been always muted somewhat, and she had always remained somewhat detached even after all those years. Well, that’s what she told herself at least.

This, this however was something new, something inconceivable. She could feel them all intermingling, all the feelings of Legend pouring forth. Concern she had felt for her, relief at seeing her again, and, most importantly, an undercurrent of love flowing through the whole mixture.

You silly, easily startled, cry-baby.

Shifting a little, Chrysalis found she was being looked upon. Meeting Legend’s gaze, she noted the girl was also giggling, quite possibly at the slight blush pushing along her muzzle. Giving a snort, Chrysalis looked aside only to move her head back into the girl’s arms. Slipping a foreleg to drape over one of the limbs holding her, she relaxed in the embrace.

But you’re my cry-baby. You’re going to save the others, and I swear to the All-Mother to never let you get harmed again.

For how long they remained there, Chrysalis couldn’t say. To be given emotions willingly was little more than a legend, a myth. To be given the emotions she was receiving now? That was simply unheard of, unprecedented and an impossibility. A changeling either took emotions while disguised, or forcefully drained them from a victim. All undisguised changelings got directed their way was fear, revulsion, or anger. Such emotions, unless drained from the host, were inedible and useless.

Legend continually proved herself to be something unique, and, without a doubt, something more to Chrysalis. What that was exactly, well, that continued to be a point of contention. Regardless, as her head rested to Legend’s chest she found herself listening to the heart beat within. With each soft thump, Chrysalis found she was fighting a losing battle with her own emotions.

Oh sure, Legend was a pain in the backside, that went without argument. Yet, the crying, the timid nature, the traits that on anyone else would make her fume in anger only became endearing when coming from the girl.

Alone and separated from everyone you know. I guess we have that in common, you and I.

Exhaling softly, Chrysalis listened to the heart beat for a few seconds longer before gazing upwards.

“But… You’re not alone, because you have me.” Pausing for a second, she moved her head to look directly up at the one embracing her. “And I hope you appreciate just how out of my comfort zone this is, alright?”

Noticing Legend meeting her gaze, she offered a grin upwards at the smile given. Still, the hour was now late and she knew the girl would need her rest to recover fully. With that in mind she reluctantly tugged free of the embrace, the movement seeming to confuse Legend. Chrysalis decided to answer the unspoken question by pointing a hoof towards the window that showed the moon high in the sky.

The girl seemed to reach the same conclusion that Chrysalis had, sighing softly and nodding in agreement. Amused at their simple exchange of communication, the changeling instead returned the nod and slipped from the bed. Turning, she trotted slowly for the exit, hearing voices on the other side of the door once she got closer.

Yet, just as she reached her destination, a voice spoke from behind her. Looking over her shoulder, Chrysalis saw Legend smiling towards her. While she couldn’t tell exactly what the biped had said, she could possibly tell the context. With her ears slanting forward, Chrysalis felt a smile creep over her muzzle as she felt warmth infuse her; and, this time, it wasn’t due to being fed.

“Sleep well, Legend.”

With that, Chrysalis opened the door and exited the room. Surprisingly, once outside she found the hallway to have a very different atmosphere to when she had entered. Indeed, the guards seemed more relaxed than previously, each glancing behind her before Swift Dawn offered a small smile to the other stallion.

As she looked around though, Chrysalis found someone – or more specifically, somepony – strangely absent. Swift Dawn seemed to notice this, his head tilting down the hallway in the direction of the stairs.

“Pinkie Pie left a few minutes ago.”

Chrysalis blinked at the stallion’s words, her mind struggling to comprehend what she was hearing. Her thoughts spun and twisted wondering exactly what the mare was up to and why she had left. A thousand questions raged in her head, but in the end she only could voice one.

“Why?” With her head tilted to reflect her confusion, Chrysalis found Swift Dawn shrugging in response before he scratched under his muzzle with a gilded hoof.

“She said that she had something to do, and, that you and ‘Legend’ needed some time together. Although, I have to admit that I was a little sceptical to begin with.” Settling his hoof back down, Swift Dawn gestured with his head back to the room Chrysalis had just left. “But, from the look on the girl’s face it seems she was right.”

Huh… Yeah, they definitely gave me the abridged version. That sounded far too exact to be something that mare would say.

Chrysalis mused over what she had just heard before allowing a smile to come to her muzzle. In the end she had managed to meet directly with Legend, who, thankfully, now knew it was her. Also, with her nectar reserves full, Chrysalis was feeling pretty good about the night, even despite the rocky start.

“Well, thank you. But I think it’s time I got sleep, given it is getting late.” Deciding it was time that she retreated to her room, Chrysalis gave a nod to each guard while keeping up a timid image of sorts. With the gesture returned, she made her way down the hallway, back to her sanctuary of sorts.

That Bearer… I can’t place her, and the more I think about it, the more I suspect she was planning this from the start of today. I can’t decide if she knows far more than she lets on, or if she is dangerously perceptive.

Ruffling her wings, Chrysalis could only ponder over the information she had. She felt sure that the mare was unaware of her true identity, but, again, it was concerning just how unknown Pinkie Pie was. She couldn’t get a read on her, and while the emotions showed the mare was earnest in what she was doing, it made absolutely no sense for her to do as she did.

Nonetheless, and, despite her best efforts, Chrysalis found herself warming up a little to the pony. She had made it possible for her to visit Legend. It didn’t matter if the Bearer had done so for ‘Mystery’s benefit, for ‘~Ebony~’ or for both. No, no matter the reason she knew Pinkie Pie had somehow talked the guards into letting Chrysalis in, and then somehow allowed her to spend the time unhindered.

I guess, maybe she really isn’t so bad.

Pausing before the door to her room, Chrysalis shifted her hind leg, feeling with exasperation the fact her wound had completely sealed. She couldn’t help but smile though as she mulled over Pinkie Pie’s words, or, to be more exact, on Legend being Chrysalis’s friend.

To have a friend, one who doesn’t like a disguise, who knows me… for me? Could I? Is it even possible for that to happen? Is that what she is to me, or am I simply doing this because I need her to save the others?

Resting a hoof to the door, Chrysalis exhaled before pushing her forehead to the smooth painted wood. It was true she needed Legend to save the makeshift hive. It would even be true to say that she needed Legend, to keep herself alive lest whatever her body was undergoing ate her alive without any nectar to feed upon. But, none of that required her to worry about the girl in the way she did, nor did it explain why she took such risks just to be close.

Well, I have officially decided I am now an idiot.

It seemed that Pinkie Pie had been right, yet Chrysalis had not wanted to admit it to herself. She considered Legend close, and, without a doubt, a friend. Once more she was breaking another rule she had grown up following, one she had believed whole-heartedly; yet, she found herself not caring. As a smile came to her muzzle, the changeling felt warmth flow through her body in remembering how nice it felt to be held by the biped.

As the smile grew on her face, Chrysalis raised her head, gazing back down the hallway to where Legend, her friend rested.

I feel like I should thank Pinkie Pie for this… That is, were she not a pony, and annoying.

Pushing the door open, Chrysalis trotted inside only to blink twice at the sight that confronted her.

Or… Maybe I’ll go back to my earlier idea of tossing her out a window. Yeah, you know what? I like that one. Let’s go with that one.

It may have been the balloons tied to the end of the bed, or it might have been the banner hanging from the wall with a presumably rushed drawn picture of ‘~Ebony~’ hugging Legend. Whatever the reason, Chrysalis could only chuckle at the situation before crawling onto the bed. Still, as she wriggled under the covers she felt for the first time, in a long time, truly happy. Brief images of her time as Rosebloom flittered through her mind before she squeezed both eyes shut.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Chrysalis instead rolled onto her other side. While she was certainly not the sentimental sort, her eyes nonetheless roamed over the banner before she smiled once more. Content in the knowledge that Legend was happy, she closed her eyes, letting the welcome feeling of a full belly carry her off to sleep.

~~~~~~

The moon bathed the world below with its warm, gentle light. Like a silent guardian it seemed to watch over those who busied themselves through the night. A thousand years ago, few, if any would venture out during these hours. Now, now there were a multitude of creatures which sought solace in the starlit sky. Be it a pair of young griffon lovers sharing a tender moment, or a poet, looking for inspiration within the beauty held above. Time had moved on, and with it, a new appreciation for the waning hours.

Once a time to be feared, now the setting of the sun brought about a beauty, a wonder that had begun to capture the imagination of a generation. Something had changed, and while the night had always held a special mystique about it under Celestia’s guidance, with Luna’s return something was indeed different. The stars shone brighter, the moon appeared fuller, almost as if they too rejoiced in her reclamation of her duties.

It had been decided on Luna’s return that both sisters would rule again as equals, the monarchy once more becoming a diarchy. This was a matter that Celestia proved to be absolutely steadfast on. Understandably some had not been so welcoming of the news, whether it be reluctance to the sudden change, or, more accurately, due to exactly how she had returned. It was testament to the trust that they had in their princess however that the decision had been accepted, if albeit reluctantly from some factions.

Still, Luna had initially insisted on a reduced role, to give the populace some time to become reacquainted with her. Celestia, conceding to the wisdom of the idea, nonetheless made the caveat that neither would be higher than the other in authority. This had come as a shock to the castle staff, no more so than the nobles themselves. Some were dubious, concerned of what this could mean.

Luna had, after all, once been thought a mere myth and now, suddenly, she was equal in power to The Sun’s Keeper herself. Due to her domain, some thought her a beautiful, yet mysterious figure. Others were wary, if not outright frightened of her – perhaps rightfully so – due to the nature of her arrival and the troubles that followed. Others still thought her a creature out of time, a tragic figure from the fairy tales told to them in their youth, the mare in the moon.

Then, there were those who believed her naïve, and, accordingly, easily manipulated to get what they desired. These nobles, ambassadors, traders, and diplomats knew Celestia’s almost motherly demeanour hid a fine-edged mind, one that had untold millennia of wisdom and experience to guide it. Her sister on the other hoof, she was an unknown. For the first few weeks Luna had been almost sheltered by her sister as she recovered from her ordeal, and, due to this, rumours had spread that she was both timid and easily confused from her thousand year absence.

Luna knew her sister well enough to realise that was the goal in her decision. Those few nobles who had attempted such a thing quickly learned that, while she was adjusting to culture shock, she was no fool. Many had come to her attempting to push their proposals through, or, more deviously, curry her favour to gain standing. She dealt with each by unravelling their words, turning them back against those who tried, and, in doing so, gained the respect deserving of her position.

Still, it was true that things had changed significantly since her banishment. Territories had altered, and with it, not a single town or village from her time remained; well, all except one that is. Canterlot had been a mere village in her time, now it was the capital of Equestria, having migrated to the top of the cliff that had once overlooked the small rural community. While she missed their old home, Luna knew it was due to her that they had to move on. The memories would have been too painful for Celestia to remain there.

The language had also changed – not as dramatically as she had feared – but enough that it required her to relearn nonetheless. Relations with the outside races had also altered for the better, the griffons were now seen as allies, and the minotaurs as trading partners. In this respect, Luna had expected no less from her sister.

For all the differences though, some had surprised her more than others. Everywhere she looked there was evidence of what she herself had held domain of when they ruled together. Schools for both art and for music were prevalent among Canterlot, some even proclaimed to be the best by – and draw students from – the other known races.

Then there was how the night was no longer as lonely as it once was. Ponies worked into the twilight hours, be it for their jobs, or, more commonly, simply to spend time under the stars. There were many more examples she could point out, but those were the few that stuck out in her mind. It was almost as if Celestia had, over the thousand years, been performing a dual role. Suspiciously, it seemed the reason there was so little fuss over the diarchy was, that in essence, it always had been that way to a certain extent. Granted, there were now two sisters leading the country, but, the way it was now run, the views shared, they remained largely unchanged.

One might suspect – were it not for the sheer enormity of the whole undertaking – that it had been planned all along for Luna’s return. Indeed, such a thing would be impossible under normal circumstances given the time and patience required. That wasn’t even getting into the strain one would feel, effectively doing two jobs so that, when the time came, there was little disruption for everypony involved. But, Luna knew that her sister was no normal pony.

Being an immortal alicorn aside, Celestia, if she felt it was the right thing to do, would undertake any task no matter the personal cost to herself. Luna knew this, and had thusly confronted her sister over it. Her suspicions had been confirmed and while she was touched by how much her sister cared for her, she had several questions that had to be voiced. What if things had gone different? What if the Elements had not cleansed her of the corruption? What if Twilight Sparkle had not acted as she had done?

Celestia had smiled and drew her sister in with a wing, the following answer quiet yet spoken with conviction.

“Honestly? I had no way of knowing what would happen that day. All I could do was have faith in my student, and, in you. All I knew was one thing. I needed my sister back; I needed you back, Luna.”

Those words had remained with her since that day, always at the forefront of her mind. It wasn’t until that moment that Luna realised that while she had been banished, largely unaware of time drifting by, Celestia had been forced to endure each and every moment of that time alone. Since their birth they had been together, and, aside from disagreements just like every sibling, they had always been there for each other, millennia after millennia.

Luna couldn’t fathom how isolated Celestia would have felt, suddenly alone and having to pick up the pieces of what had transpired. Not for the first time she admired her sister’s courage, her resolve to continue onwards. To spend the time – not knowing if her sister would return, or could even be saved – rebuilding the kingdom, as if both sisters still ruled. Even if there was only one now remaining, all so their subjects wouldn’t suffer. All so that in the slim chance when Luna returned there was a home for her, one where she was appreciated.

Luna didn’t wish to brag, but she was pretty certain she had the best sister that ever was.

Yet, not everything had gone smoothly on her return. The newly reinstated night court – despite the word of mouth spreading that Luna was not to be taken lightly – continued to attract those who thought they could outsmart her. Or, alternatively, those who wished to curry her favour so as to gain support with nothing more than sugary words and empty promises.

That being said, Luna wasn’t exactly certain which classification the noble before her fell under. Seated before the royal throne, the so-called ‘Keeper of the Night’ – a title the noctrals under her command insistently referred to her as – had patiently listened to the petitions and concerns put towards her. So far the night had gone relatively smoothly. Matters were dealt with, and she had even made progress on signing off several projects on finishing the repair to the city.

Then there was the commotion near the doorway, one that had pulled her attention only to see a male unicorn wave a piece of paper at one of the guards. The armour-clad pony gazed back into the room, the guard’s eyes asking a silent question as he patiently withstood the verbal barrage.

Giving a nod to the guard, an action that caused the armoured ponies to step aside and allow entrance, Luna carefully kept the bemusement off her face as the stallion stormed forward. Once near the base of the throne, the caramel-coloured unicorn waggled the piece of paper around again before thrusting it forward.

“Princess Luna, can you please explain the meaning of this outrage?!”

Luna blinked; one brow becoming raised as she first glanced at the paper, then at the one holding it.

“I am unaware as to what you speak of,” Luna begun only to see the pony’s nostrils start to flare. “Please Made Manifest, if you would explain yourself more clearly. I am capable of many things, but reading the paper from this distance is not one of them.”

Made Manifest’s horn glowed crimson before the paper settled in the air, encased within a similar aura. Turning it around, he smoothed it out before glancing first at the writing, then over the edge of the document to gaze up at Luna.

“They are removing carrot pitas from the menu, and, for Celestia’s sake, replacing them with hay fries! Hay fries!” With each word, Made Manifest shook the paper like he could somehow remove the offending print from the surface. Luna, meanwhile, could only exhale as a hoof pushed under her horn.

“Made Manifest, I…” Peering down her muzzle, Luna sucked in a deep breath and withdrew the limb from her face. “I do not see how this issue is one you needed to wait until the night court to bring to my attention; you could have easily taken this matter up with my sister during the day. Besides, I for one like these, hay fries. They are… delicious, and a most welcome surprise to find in this age.”

Made Manifest remained standing where he was, his eyes never wavering from staring straight towards her. It looked for a second as if he was about to erupt again, until, anticlimactically, he blew his grey-flecked blue-mane from his eyes.

“What? How could I do such a thing?” As the aging stallion spoke, a grin spread along his muzzle. “When I have the wonderful opportunity of your company by bringing it to you, Princess Luna.”

“Ah, I see. Well I thank you for bringing this most dire of information to me.” Releasing a small snort, Luna felt the edges of her lips curl ever so slightly upwards at the pony before her. As she watched him slip the now folded menu into his jacket pocket another piece of paper within caught her eye. Ruffling her wings, Luna pursed her lips before raising a silver clad hoof to gesture for him to continue. “But, that is not the real reason for your visit this eve, is it Made Manifest? Speak, please; reveal to me your true concerns.”

Realising he had been caught out, Made Manifest’s horn glowed to retrieve the other item from his pocket. Unfolding it, his gaze flicked up towards Luna before frowning as he gazed at the paper before him.

“My real concerns, your highness?” Pausing for a moment, he set his jaw while his tail flicked absently. The paper crinkled at the sides as if great force was applied to it before once more smoothing out, the stallion then exhaling as his shoulders slumped some. “I’ve been elected to bring a list of concerns pertaining to the quote, royal announcement, unquote, that you and Princess Celestia gave out yesterday.”

Luna could only blink at this piece of news. Indeed, the day previous she and her sister had gathered all the heads of staff, Captain Aurora and Captain Swift Dawn’s second in command given his absence, and any of the nobles that could attend, all to announce their intentions to have a special guest visit the castle. They had outlined about what they knew of ‘Mystery’, and, perhaps more importantly, that she seemed to be of interest to the changelings.

To say it had gone over well would be akin to stating that her beloved moon was pink with yellow stripes.

“Then, let us hear your concerns.” Luna mentally gave a small mental tsk at the slip-up, yet made sure to keep any agitation from appearing on her face. Made Manifest in turn shrugged and cleared his throat, proceeding to read from the paper suspended before him.

“Princess Luna, we do not wish to bring doubt onto the ruling of either you, nor your sister, but given the information provided yesterday, we feel that we have no choice but to voice our concerns.”

Made Manifest paused at that point, one of his eyebrows raised while the beginnings of a sneer started to pull at his lips. With a small shake of his head, the stallion continued as Luna and her guards continued to listen.

“Firstly, it has come to our attention that this ‘visitor from another world’,” Luna quirked an eyebrow at Made Manifest’s interesting octave choice for the last part, “is also known as another name, that being ‘The Foal-Hunter.’”

Luna noticed Made Manifest gazing at her curiously as the title was dropped. It was only at that point did she notice she was frowning, a slip of showing her emotions that she instantly regretted.

I do not know why I am bothering… I am not Tia. I am… unable to mask my emotions behind a mask, nor shall I ever be.

Knowing she could not just brush off the reaction, Luna instead raised her head high and gazed down at the stallion.

“Thou shalt know this and take thy information back to those who sent thee here. That name – that title forced on her by a pair of miscreants – is forbidden, henceforth immediately, from being used to refer to her. Dost thou understand?” Luna felt her muscles tense as she spoke and fought hard to stop her feathers ruffling. The guards throughout it all remained at their posts, unflinching, even as the moon flared only to return to its former glory almost immediately.

The same could not be said for Made Manifest, his ears flattening before his left hoof lifted in a placating gesture.

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, princess. I never said I agreed with them.”

Lowering her eyelids, Luna regarded the stallion carefully before giving a slight nod of her head.

“Yes, you are correct and I apologise for my outburst.” Sniffing once, she flicked an ear to gaze at one of the guards near the door, noticing a smirk sliding along the noctral’s muzzle. “But my decree still stands, and I ask that you follow it. That title has caused untold harm to her, and, given her… unusual status as a visitor from another world, we, that is to say, my sister and I, have no idea of her standing and thus wish to treat her, regardless of her status, with as much respect as possible.”

Seeing Made Manifest’s eyes widen, Luna smiled inwardly.

He, unlike some of his peers, is no fool. Still, I must make sure to remind Tia on the matter of sending out the warrant of arrest for those two responsible to Captain Swift Dawn tomorrow.

“You know, I never actually thought of that. I guess that makes more sense as to why you’re going to all these lengths. Still, I thought the stories I heard about her… I mean…” Seemingly lost for words, Made Manifest rubbed between his eyes with a hoof. “To think that…”

Despite everything, he is indeed a good pony.

Luna nodded slowly, agreeing to his unspoken comment, prior to perking both her ears.

“You said firstly, what were the further issues to bring to my attention?” Her tone was curious; her interest piqued as the stallion before her shook his head to clear his thoughts. Clearing his throat he put his mind back onto the task, speaking the rest without pause.

“There’s more to the first, where was I… Ah, yes… Ah-hem, with this is mind, we strongly advise against bringing this creature into the castle. Furthermore, the knowledge that the… Uh, let’s just say ‘creature’ so as not to repeat earlier, has the interest of the changelings, or at least one in particular, casts more concern on the entire matter. We do not wish to doubt the wisdom of either Princess Celestia, nor Princess Luna, but due to recent events, it stands to reason that to gain their attention once more while vulnerable would prove disastrous.”

Luna listened even as her attention was drawn outside when a patrol flew through the sky, casting their silhouettes reassuringly before her moon. A small amount of satisfaction filled her on seeing Captain Aurora had carried out her request as promptly as ever. She half paid attention to the concerns being talked about, one ear flicking as an issue was apparently had with the labour and bits put into renovations within the crystal caverns below the castle.

Luna found she would have paid more attention, that is, if it were not for the way each point was being spoken. The monotonous tone of voice was clearly deliberate, and the way one of his eyebrows would rise up or fall depending on the particular issue only cemented this fact.

“We thank the princess for her time, and hope that we get an answer, or actions, to these issues soon. Yours respectfully, and ever faithful, the bunch of idiots I am forced to work with.” Luna blinked at the last part, a soft sniggering from one of the guards in the room breaking the silence that followed. Hiding her own mirth at the choice of words, she saw Made Manifest waggle a hoof in the air. “Okay, maybe not all of them are idiots, but not one of them had the backbone to bring this list to you personally, princess.”

I cannot imagine as to why.

Exhaling softly, Luna slanted her ears forward while wriggling her backside ever so slightly. Not for the first time she made a mental note to procure a cushion if the sessions were to last as long as this one currently had.

“Well, that is certainly a most… comprehensive list you have brought to my attention.” A shrug was given to her words as the paper was roughly folded and shoved back into Made Manifest’s pocket. Luna thought for a second, contemplating on how she should word her responses. “Please, assure your peers that we are aware of the aforementioned dangers and thus procedures have been put into place accordingly. However, as thou art aware, this is something that we must do.”

The truth of her words seemed to be readily accepted by the stallion as he nodded sagely. Rubbing under his muzzle with one hoof, Made Manifest gave a bitter sigh before his ears flattened.

“Yes, well, I guess we can only hope that she isn’t someone important. I mean, what if others come here looking for her?” His words made Luna’s tail swish slightly behind her, the ethereal appendage slipping over the throne as she shared his concern. Her sister, not to mention Twilight Sparkle, also shared that thought, and, as such, it was decided to bring her to the castle as soon as she was well enough to leave the hospital.

That wasn’t the only reason though.

‘Mystery’ was to also serve two functions while a guest at the castle. One was to try and force the changelings’ hooves, and, in doing so, also hopefully reveal their whereabouts. It was risky, and both sisters felt no small amount of guilt for this action, but it was something that needed to be done. That was why Swift Dawn himself had been appointed, to safeguard her against any threat that may occur. They wanted the changelings to expose themselves, not put the female in danger.

The second reason was on a far more personal matter.

I am now certain that is Starswirl’s journal in her head, but… Why, and how? I can not help but feel that it is calling out to me, beckoning me into her dreams.

Pushing the thoughts aside, Luna instead flicked an ear while regarding the stallion waiting patiently. Clearing her throat, she caught his attention and gestured with a silver-clad hoof to brush it against her regalia.

“That is of concern, but thanks to the efforts of Twilight Sparkle and several others, a more… amicable atmosphere is being provided to her. Still, those responsible for the heinous acts initially shall be brought to justice.” Finding her ire once more rising, Luna instead shook her head, changing the matter in a subtle direction. “Yet, tell us Made Manifest. You have made your feelings known on what the others think, but what do you think about this situation?”

The stallion looked thoughtful for a moment before scrunching his nose up. “You mean about bringing her here, while knowing that the changelings seem to have, I don’t know, a thing for her?”

Luna could only smile as she gave a small bow to her head. “Yes, as to that matter exactly.”

Made Manifest looked as if he was trying to formulate exactly how he was going to word his reply. A hoof rubbed under his muzzle before he opened his mouth, stopped, and then scrunched up his nose once more. This continued for several seconds until, abruptly, the stallion firmly placed all four hooves to the ground.

“Honestly Princess? I think this is a bloody stupid idea.”

As her brow partially rose, she noted two of the guards push armoured hooves to their faces before shaking their heads slowly. Luna, however, was well accustomed to the mannerisms of Made Manifest and, like her sister, appreciated his brutal honesty. Truthfully, she found him a breath of fresh air to the stuffy politics that she now had to become reacquainted with.

“Oh?” Settling her hooves back before her, Luna repressed a lopsided smile that threatened to pull at her muzzle, instead keeping a calm and neutral expression on her face.

“Look, I know you haven’t told everypony everything, but I’ve been around long enough to read between the lines. Heck, I can bet even some of the others, especially that twit, Blueblood, has managed to do the same. You’re bringing the Fo-“ Noticing Luna’s expression darken, Made Manifest quickly cleared his throat. “I mean, ‘Mystery’ here as bait. Now, I don’t know exactly for what, but given what happened a couple of months ago, I would say you’re bringing her here to make the changelings act. You’ve already upped the patrols, I mean, look in the throne room itself, there’s like twenty of the bloody guard in here when you used to have four. It’s as if they can’t do their job properly unless you fill every open space with them. No offense.”

The last part, directed at the grey-coated guard nearby was met with a shrug. “Eh, none taken.”

“Look, all I’m saying Princess is, you and Princess Celestia obviously aren’t just bringing her here to apologise and find out how she came to Equestria. I don’t doubt that’s probably your main priority, and perhaps you’re even bringing her here to keep her safe. I don’t know and, honestly, I don’t want to know. Heck, we don’t even know all that much about the creature herself and what she can do. What if she’s dangerous and no-one knows?”

Luna remained silent as Made Manifest took a deep breath, rubbing under his horn with a hoof to collect his thoughts.

“All I am saying is, this is a risky, stupid plan, and again, I can’t help but feel that bringing something the changelings obviously want back into the capital after last time, well, it isn’t anything but completely insane. What if one of them is that, ‘Chrysalis’ again? And don’t get me started on whatever downstairs is being converted into, I’m not sure if it’s being made as a guest quarters for the creature or not, and again, I don’t want to know…”

Luna waited, allowing him to finish until he cleared his throat. There was no fear on his face for reprimand, nor would she have expected there to be. Granted, how he spoke was outside the norm, but privately, she allowed him to speak as he did just as her sister also did. Each of them had certain ponies they trusted the opinions of more than others and Luna was thankful the stallion before her was one she could do so with. Before she could reply though, he exhaled and fixed her with a gaze.

“On saying all that, if I had been asked about what Celestia was planning with your return, I would have told her it was a bloody stupid idea as well. How it all worked out I have no clue, but… look what we got out of it.” Luna felt a small smile take hold of her lips as he offered a lopsided grin up at her. “Maybe not everypony knows how lucky they are, but we now have two rulers, two alicorn rulers no less. And, to be completely honest, I haven’t seen Princess Celestia ever be as happy as she has been since you’ve come back.”

Offering a bow of her head to his words, Luna felt a small warmth blossom in her chest. After the shock had fled her system after being purged of the corruption, she had begun to feel doubt claw its way into her mind. To hear those words spoken and to know her sister cared deeply for her helped to banish those thoughts away.

“Thank you Made Manifest, as always, thy words and honesty are truly appreciated.” Smiling, Luna found a warm grin returned her way as the unicorn chuckled and smoothed out his jacket.

“Anytime your highness. Well, I think I have taken enough of your time for tonight, but I am serious about that matter you know.” His visage hardened as he spoke leading Luna to blink twice before exhaling, a hoof soon moving to the base of her horn in response.

“Very well… We shall have the cooks review their menu tomorrow and have these, carrot pitas, returned post-haste.”

A satisfied nod was given by the stallion as he gave his jacket another brush with a hoof. “Ah, very good. I knew I could count on you Princess Luna to deal with the most urgent of matters.”

Finding herself smiling, Luna was nonetheless surprised when Made Manifest made to leave before stopping mid-step. About to question as to why, she saw him gaze back at her, a wistful smile on his muzzle while his greying mane fell partially over one eye.

“You know, when I was a young colt my favourite story I would ask my mother to read every night was about the Mare in the Moon. My children, many years on, adored it too.” Giving a respectful nod, Made Manifest smiled, this time more earnestly. “I won’t pretend to know what happened a thousand years ago, but all I can say is, it’s great to have you here now and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Luna felt her smile widen before she gave a small, respectful nod to the stallion as he trotted out of the room, pausing only to offer a parting farewell to the guard he had verbally abused earlier. She sat there for several seconds, noting that the guards were giving their own small acknowledgements to Made Manifest’s words which only aided in the warmth within. Returning the smile to each in turn, she cleared her throat and turned to address one of the Lunar Guard positioned nearest to her.

“Please send for Captain Aurora to come see me; I have matters most urgent I need to discuss with her. She will be most likely found at her parents, or, if not, you will find her visiting her friend, Sunshower.”

“Yes your highness.” The armour-clad earth pony saluted before galloping to carry out his task. Taking in a deep breath, Luna exhaled to clear her mind before glancing to the two noctral guards near the entrance. Nodding their understanding to her silent desire both moved to close the large ornate doors, sealing off the throne room to offer her some privacy.

Once more taking in a deep breath, Luna let it gently flow out her nostrils as she closed her eyes. With some free time before the Captain of her guard arrived, she decided to use it effectively. Slowly she felt her consciousness split, aware not only of her physical form, but of another realm altogether. Not for the first time, she was somewhat amused by the title given to her by the noctrals over a thousand years ago. ‘The Keeper of the Night’ was chosen, not just because of her domain over the night sky, but also for her role as guardian of dreams.

It was something only she could do, and it was a role she held dear to her heart. Even as she effortlessly glided through the dreamscape – remaining aware of her physical surroundings all the while – she took note of each and every dream she came across. To her, each was special, no more than the next. Each told her much about the dreamers themselves, their private thoughts, their feelings and desires.

Yet, as her astral form glided through the shifting colours of her realm, she made sure to watch out for any that were tinged with darkness. To her, the dreamscape was an innumerable series of portals, each leading to somepony, or someone’s dream. If anyone else could glimpse it, they may have been overwhelmed by the almost chaotic nature, the sheer scope of the realm. To Luna though, it was no more difficult than turning the page of a book.

Time played out differently within the dreamscape, and while only half a minute had passed in the throne room, she had already aided several foals, two donkeys, and a griffon with their nightmares. Yet, the entire time, through the swirling mass of colours and abstract images, she could feel something tugging at her attention. It was a familiar sensation, one she had grown acquainted with over the last week or so.

With a flap of her wings, Luna brushed her hooves over several nightmare-infused dreams, a silver ripple flowing from each impact to cleanse all they touched. Within the dreams themselves, she knew an aspect of herself would be there to guide the dreamer, but for now, a majority of her attention was being drawn towards something in the distance.

Each dream, each portal held a distinct signature of sorts to it. A griffon’s for example, was almost hard, distinct. A young foal’s on the other hoof was almost fragile, fluid in its nature. The one she was being pulled towards however was something entirely different. For one, it was larger than the others, and it almost seemed to pulse across the vibrant realm. It pulled into itself and, at the same time, seemed to stretch impossibly in many directions. It was an enigma, an abomination.

It was also beautiful in its own way.

It had appeared almost two weeks ago, heralding the arrival of a new creature into Equestria. Initially she had found herself unable to even peer inside, the chaotic images too… alien for her to comprehend. Yet something had driven her on regardless. Soon, with some patience, she had come to slowly pull emotions out to gauge the dream. What she found had alarmed her. The owner of the dream was terrified, angry… lost.

This had only steeled her resolve, always keeping part of her within the dreamscape to be aware for the distinct sign of the creature having fallen asleep. Over the days she had slowly come to pull more meaning from the dream, and, eventually, peer inside. Even now, she found herself limited in what she could do, unable to fully pierce the veil and interact with the dreamer herself.

Moving closer, she gazed inside to see a familiar sight. Within was the creature, ‘Mystery’, or at least the dreaming version of herself. Luna found herself taking in the female’s form, curious as to how it in some ways resembled a minotaur, yet was so very different at the same time. Bipedal, but lacking any fur save for on her head and brows. She wore clothing, and lacked any natural weaponry except for long nails on her fingers.

It was the expressions though that always surprised Luna. They were so… similar to those she knew, and indeed, seemed to translate over perfectly with the faint emotions she could pull from the dream itself. It was all so very strange, and she found answers frustratingly elusive, but that wasn’t the reason for her looking in. This was more of a visit to check on the mental health of Mystery, to make sure the wounds to her psyche were healing.

“You have suffered much, but…” Smiling, Luna noticed a few more additions this time to the room. Most times she visited, the girl was seated in what appeared to be a library, or the analogue for such a thing in her world. Also, normally, there would be a changeling nearby, and tonight was no exception. The interactions between the changeling and the girl continued to confuse Luna. It was clear, even with no context, that Mystery dearly trusted the creature. Curiously enough, at least from the girl’s perspective, this feeling was returned.

But tonight there were others, others that made Luna’s smile grow further. There was the little filly, Dinky, and her mother seeming to help with whatever Mystery was trying to do. The way Mystery stroked the little unicorn’s mane reflected what had been written in one of Twilight Sparkle’s letters recently.

The third new addition, who appeared to be the one known as Nurse Redheart, also made relief fill Luna’s heart. It seemed that, despite everything that had happened, Mystery had not closed her heart off to the ponies around her. That had been her initial fear, that whatever had transpired had caused the female to shut herself in. Yet, here was proof that the girl was beginning to treat those around her with friendship.

“It seems you are recovering well.” Finishing her earlier thought, Luna found her smile faltering as another reoccurring aspect of the dream was starting to play out. It seemed the wounds were far deeper than she had anticipated, watching on even as she continued to have her spread consciousness aid other dreams in need.

This fact frustrated her as she rested her hooves to the surface of the dream, finding it solid, unable to be fully pierced yet by her. She desired to help, her very being screaming at her to do something. A nightmare, one most foul, was forming again before her and she was powerless to stop it. Her very duty was being denied to her and it was not a feeling she relished in. She could watch on, she could even pull the dream with her and show others as she had with her sister, but she couldn’t influence it.

Helpless, she could only witness as a wind began to pick up within the library. Paper flittered about and Mystery began to show signs of alarm as her dream took a, sadly, predictable path. Those within the room seemed to offer signs of encouragement, a strange phenomenon of itself given the circumstances, but even that was unable to dissuade the inevitable.

The girl was slowly pushed back towards a large window behind her, the wind growing into a tempest that thrust her closer and closer to the now shattered portal. Soon the library itself warped and changed, ponies of all types and ages beginning to jeer, to laugh at her plight as she struggled fruitlessly against the nightmare. Two in particular caught Luna’s eye, frowning as she saw the unicorns’ identities. Then, as always, Mystery was thrown out the window like a ragdoll, her eyes wide in terror as she plummeted.

“No.”

Luna furrowed her brow further, her silver-clad hooves slamming to the unyielding surface barring her entry. Again she slammed them against it as her resolve burned within. This was her domain, this was her realm! She would not sit by and watch as a creature – regardless of where it came from – suffered right before her eyes.

She could feel in the physical realm her horn begin to glow, and in turn, pull more magic into her body. She was also aware of the guards in the room watching on curiously, unsure as to what was going on. She knew all this, but at that moment there was only one thing she was truly focusing on.

“You are scared, you are confused.” Her hooves slammed harder to the surface with each word, the barrier shimmering but refusing to give in. “You desire friendship, companionship, but cannot fully accept it. Afraid that you shall be hurt once more.”

She watched as the girl fell in her dreams, a countryside growing closer as the wind tore at her clothing, whipping her short mane about.

“Thou shalt not fall victim to thy fears tonight, I will not allow it!” With those words magic filled her being, her hooves pushing once more to the barrier. This time as they impacted, she felt something on the other side push back. It was a magical signature, one she found strangely familiar but unable to place. Whatever it was, she found the dream no longer resisted her as strongly, and, with great effort, she was able to pierce through.

Feeling her physical body relax as the tension left her, Luna started to guide the dream, to pull away the nightmare that had feasted upon the poor girl’s mind. Gazing into the twisting portal, she closed her eyes before opening both, her words soft spoken yet filled with conviction.

“You are not alone.”

It was a simple sentence, four quietly uttered words, but as she watched it led to something wonderful. Mystery came to an abrupt halt in her descent, coloured ribbons of various thicknesses moving to support her weight. Each led back up to somepony, or someone that Mystery had accepted into her heart. The three thickest of them all, and thus those she trusted the most, brought a smile to Luna’s face. The changeling was no surprise to her, but seeing Dinky and Nurse Redheart having ones of near equal strength was a welcome discovery.

Twilight Sparkle and Dinky’s mother, Derpy, each having only slightly thinner ribbons, caused Luna to yet again marvel at her sister’s student. The last two of the ribbons – each thinner than the others but in no way less important – led up to Spike, and the Bearer of Honesty, Applejack. Spike, from what Luna had learned about him since her return, was not so much a surprise given his nature. Applejack, however, having been one of those in the initial discovery of Mystery outside Ponyville… That was something that made Luna’s smile grow.

Each looked determined as they slowly tugged the girl back up into the now restored library. From there, they moved behind Mystery, ready to shield her should the window shatter once more. Luna watched as the girl favoured each of those with her with a kind smile, her feelings evident even without the warmth radiating from the dream. With her work down, the dream now flowing naturally on its own and the nightmare banished, Luna stepped back from the portal. Sliding a hoof along the edge, she took the chance to glimpse at the book Mystery had begun working from again.

“Starswirl…” Exhaling, Luna furrowed her brow before dismissing the thoughts from her head. Hopefully today would be the start to learning more. More about Mystery, how she came to the world, and, hopefully, why Starswirl’s tome was within her dreams. Taking one last glance at the tome, she smiled and dismissed her astral presence as her other duties called to her.

Opening her eyes in the physical realm, Luna watched as Aurora Blossom trotted through the opening doors, a curious expression on the mare’s face.

“Please, sit… There is much that we need to discuss.” Luna’s words were accompanied with a smile, one that proved to be infectious throughout the room. For as she started to explain what Aurora’s role would be in the upcoming events, she couldn’t help but feel the beginnings of excitement take her.

As it seemed, all things going as planned, today would certainly prove to be a most auspicious day indeed.