• Published 11th Jul 2014
  • 21,697 Views, 669 Comments

Winds of Change - ClanCrusher

A deal between rulers, a bargain that seems too good to be true, and a unicorn caught in the middle of it all. Between Celestia, Luna, and Chrysalis, how is anypony supposed to stay sane?

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Chapter 1: An Auspicious Offer

The night seemed to reflect the mood of everypony who had gathered at such a late hour. It was a warm summer night but the breeze added a chill to the air. My friends were all gathered around me, each pony looking towards the sky, faces grim...well, except Pinkie of course. Seemingly oblivious to the world around her, she was lightly hopping up and down, eager for the night's events to commence.

Beside me, her mane sparkling with starlight and waving gently, was Princess Luna, also looking towards the moon. Perhaps on any other night she might have been reflecting on her imprisonment, but tonight she was waiting with the rest of us, her face set in grim determination. Just standing close to her I could feel the magic rolling off of her in waves. Even though her horn was dim, her power was brimming just beneath the surface, ready to be unleashed at a moment's notice.

Then the sound began. It was a faint buzzing sound on the air, like a swarm of distant insects getting closer. Just as Luna had predicted, a shape suddenly obscured the moon, vaguely pony-like in definition and silhouetted against the glow. Behind the largest shape were four smaller dots, all of them getting closer and closer until finally the lights of Ponyville were enough to illuminate the new arrivals.

Chrysalis glided in for a landing, touching down softly on the grass with hooves each bearing several holes. Her green, stringy hair swayed gently in the cool breeze as her translucent wings came to rest behind her. The Changeling Queen was of slimmer build than Luna, but matched her in height, and the two met each other’s gaze at an even keel. Several smaller drones landed behind their queen, but she was the center of everypony’s attention. Death glares were present on all of my friend's faces, except once again for Pinkie, who was running a hoof lovingly over her party cannon with an evil grin, waiting for one of them to make a provocative movement.

It was the queen who broke the silence first. “Princess Luna, Twilight Sparkle, I'm honored to receive such a regal welcoming,” she said, inclining her head to us. The changelings behind her bowed their heads as well. Her tone was light and almost friendly, a far cry from the last two times I had encountered her, once at my brother's wedding and another time at her own castle.

“You may dispense with pleasantries, Queen Chrysalis. I am not here to welcome you, only to remind you of our terms. Place one hoof out of line or bring a single pony to harm and the consequences visited on you shall leave you begging for exile.” Her voice carried with it the weight of countless years of leadership and intimidation, but if Chrysalis felt any of it, she didn't show it.

“As I've said repeatedly, I've sworn to be on my best behavior,” returned the queen easily, saying the words as one who was repeatedly forced to recite them until it had become second nature. “I have accepted the seal on my magic as a show of good faith, have I not?” Her jagged horn bore a bright golden ring around it, radiating the sheer power of Celestia's magic.

“I will be watching you, even so,” said the princess of the night, her eyes casting around to the drones who were still standing behind her. “Your escort?”

“My personal guards. You can hardly expect royalty to travel without a few.”

“Then they are under the same agreements as you, and you will answer for any wrongdoings they commit.”

“There will be no wrongdoings, Princess Luna,” said Chrysalis agreeably in a tone of voice that seemed to make her words all the more suspicious. “So long as both parties stick to their end of the deal,” she added. For the first time that night her gaze fell upon me. Trying my best to look undisturbed, I looked right back, my face carefully blank.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance once again, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Happy to have your approval,” I responded, surprised at just how much malice had crept into my voice. It was hard to keep it back; she had threatened my family, after all. Compared to that, the threat she had posed to Equestria seemed like a distant second offense. I'll admit it flat out, Chrysalis was intimidating. She wore the title of Queen like a cloak and spoke as one who was used to everypony listening to her words. She was reminiscent of Nightmare Moon in that regard, but with an added edge of cruelty that seemed to simmer just beneath the surface.

I'd read plenty of books on the subject of changelings since her second coming, but it was frightening just how little we knew about them even now. Scattered reports of what their venom could do, their feeding habits, their corrupting influence...even with my brother's first-hoof account of being under her control, the collective information we had on them was vastly outweighed by our ignorance about their species as a whole.

“Such hatred,” said the queen with a dark chuckle. “Really now, my magic and abilities have been sealed off by the sun princess herself. What threat could I possibly pose to any of you right now?”

“Ah'd sooner just kick you outta Ponyville and not find out,” said Applejack. Her statement was followed by a chorus of agreements from my friends, which admittedly lifted my spirits somewhat. Everypony was going to be on their guard. If Chrysalis was going to try something, it certainly wasn't going to be on the first night of this official agreement. It probably wasn't even going to be in the first week. If she had a plot, the smart idea would be to do it somewhere far down the line, maybe even several months later, once people had grown comfortable of her presence, or at least used to seeing her around.

“Determination...warmth...admiration...and even a hint of love.” Her tongue flicked out as if she were tasting those very emotions on the air. The thought that she was feeding on those things sent a small chill down my spine.

“Watch it, changeling!” A blue blur zipped past me, the ever-loyal Rainbow Dash stopping face-to-face just inches away from Chrysalis, who barely even flinched. “I even so much think that you're feeding on my friends and I ain't waiting for Luna to give me permission before I-”

“Thank you, Dash,” I cut in. “Look, I'm counting on all of you to keep an eye on things, make sure no one in Ponyville is panicking or starting trouble with them. We need people to remain level-headed about this and keep calm for the duration of her...diplomatic visit.”

“Don't worry about us, Twilight,” said Rarity with a quiet, enviable calm. “Everypony knows what to expect over the next week. We made sure of that.”

Nodding my thanks I looked towards Luna once again, wondering if she had anything more to say. As it turned out, she did. “Twilight, one last thing before I depart,” she said, beckoning me with one of her wings.

Once out of earshot of the others, the regal demeanor of the nighttime princess seemed to fade for a moment. “I really do apologize for putting you through this,” she said finally.

“It's okay Princess Luna, I agreed to this as well,” I responded quickly, “And we both know how much of an opportunity this is. It's better to have her on the inside where we can keep a close eye on her rather than on the borders plotting and waiting for the next opportunity to invade, right?”

Even with this reasoning, it was clear to see that Luna held the same reservations about the situation that I did. It was a sore point with her that she had practically slept through the last changeling invasion, leaving Celestia to fend for herself.

“Look, at the very least she'd be stupid to try anything tonight, when she knows everypony is going to be watching her, and if she breaks that band, Celestia is going to know immediately that something is wrong,” I added, though at this point I wasn't sure if I was trying to convince her or myself.

Princess Luna looked at me for a long moment before sighing and extending a wing. To my surprise, she gently pulled me into an embrace, rubbing my head against her chest briefly. “Just be careful, Twilight. Even without her magic, she is not somepony to be taken lightly.”

Extending her wings to their full span this time, Luna took off into the sky at an impressive clip, leaving the changeling queen alone with my friends and me.

“Another admirer, it seems. She cares for you a great deal,” remarked the queen upon my return to the group. “Though it's hard to tell what form her love for you takes.”

I could only hope that the night disguised my blush. “Shut it,” I snapped, my annoyance getting the better of me. “You just stick to your side of the deal, and I'll stick to mine.” Taking a breath I turned towards my friends, trying to give them a confident smile. “You can go now.”

Applejack looked between me and the small changeling contingent that remained. “Ya sure about this, Twilight?”

“Me and me alone,” I emphasized. “She won't talk to anypony else.”

“We'll come by tomorrow…early tomorrow,” promised Rarity.

“Should I leave the cannon just in case?”

“No Pinkie...I'll be fine. What about your changelings?” I asked, turning back towards Chrysalis.

“The four of them will stand guard outside in shifts,” she said casually. “They will remain outside your library, as promised.”

With that, there didn't seem to be anything else left to say. One by one my friends departed, some giving Chrysalis their best death glare while Fluttershy gave me a look of support, having remained silent throughout the entire conversation. Considering her timid nature though, I found it admirable that she had come out to face Chrysalis in the first place. Two of the changelings took flight, landing in the branches of the tree, while the other two stationed themselves on either side of my door. Opening it with a quick application of magic, I led the changeling queen inside, making a conscious effort not to slam the door behind me. Per the agreement, Spike wasn't here right now. He had been worried about me, certainly, but between spending a night with the changeling queen and spending a night with Rarity, it hadn't taken much to coerce him.

Spinning around, I faced the changeling queen. “Alright, now that you've gotten what you want, tell me why.”

“Pardon?” Her green eyes looked surprisingly innocent and playful.

“Why were you willing to give up so much just for...this?” I asked, gesturing with a hoof to my surroundings. “You said you were going to be honest with me, so tell me why.”

“Because doing so is in the best interest for my hive and for myself as queen.” Her innocent look was practically driving me up the wall by this point.

“That's not an answer and you know it!”

“Twilight, I promised you honesty. This deal I have made with your rulers is of just as much benefit to me as it is to you.”

“But how? What could you possibly be getting out of this by going through me?” The obvious motive of revenge seemed almost impossible for her to capitalize on given the restraints and restrictions being put on her thanks to Celestia's magic, but it wasn't something I was going to rule out just yet.

Her green eyes closed for a bit and again her tongue flicked out, tasting the air. “Celestia is quite protective of you, though I'm sure you've realized that, yes?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Patience, Twilight,” she murmured, her eyes still closed. “Princess Luna is fiercely protective of you as well, though she's much more subtle about it. I'm sure she's noticed all those times you've gazed at her work through your telescope.”

“How did-”

“I said patience,” repeated the changeling, cutting me off once again. There was a long moment of silence before she spoke this time. “Your friends each carry their own admiration for you as well. Loyalty, concern, kindness, and of course that ever-present underlying taste of love.”

“You're not...feeding off of them, are you?” I asked, slightly horrified, my horn glowing somewhat as I instinctively reached for my magic.

“Hardly. Allow me to educate you,” she said, finding one of my cushions and sitting back on it. Almost reflexively, my magic drew a quill and paper to my side, prepared to take notes. “If a changeling so desires it, they can drain a pony dry of their emotions and their magic, leaving them nothing more than a near-lifeless husk, no better than a drone, unable to feel anything. It was the fate I once had planned for your dear brother.”

My quill stopped cold, my hoof trembling just a bit as I fought to regain a sense of calm. Everything had turned out fine in the end, but hearing Chrysalis say something like that so casually was a bit unnerving. “But?” I asked pointedly.

“But it is very possible for a changeling to sustain themselves on the emotions given off naturally from other ponies without having to brainwash them. How do you believe changeling agents are able to continue to survive and remain undetected for so long? The mere ambient love alone that the ponies have for your dear Celestia in Canterlot keeps them well-fed.”

My quill scratched at the paper, automatically writing down everything I was told. This was part of the deal, after all, and this was information that Celestia and Luna were looking for to better deal with changelings in the future.

“But you? You have the attention of every powerful pony in Equestria, it seems. Celestia's admiration, Luna's respect, Cadance's love, and the friendship of the element bearers,” she said, her eyes focused intently on my own. “All centered around you in a swirling mass of delectable emotions. Simply sitting near you is invigorating in and of itself. If I could siphon a fraction of what you possess, we'd never go hungry again.”

I fought the urge to shift away, but only barely. The fact that she was feeding on all of those ambient emotions given to me by my friends was disturbing, to say the least. At the same time, though, I couldn't help but feel somewhat touched. Chrysalis may not have been the best medium for praise to be delivered, but there was little reason to doubt what she was saying. Her kind consumed emotions, so it only made sense that they'd be attuned to such feelings, especially their queen.

“Yes, well, feel free to keep those siphoning abilities to yourself,” I grumbled testily, unable to shake the impression that I was being sized up like an exquisite piece of meat. “You haven't really answered my question, though, unless you actually expect me to believe that you went to all this trouble for a convenient food source.”

“Far from it. You see, Twilight, I still haven't given up on you.”

My quill stopped cold. “Excuse me?”

“You asked for honesty, Twilight, and this is it. I see that same potential within you that I saw those few months ago when you stood there defiantly, facing down a queen that you knew was more powerful than yourself.”

“It was the power of my friends that helped see me through.”

“Precisely. You channel those emotions and feelings into raw, untamed power. Power that saw to the defeat of Nightmare Moon; that sealed Discord away. If I could tap into that power, then it would ease the burdens of my hive considerably.”

“I really hope you're not expecting to get your hooves on the Elements of Harmony...” I stated cautiously. There was little point in asking exactly how she knew about all of this. She could have picked it up from my brother, or any one of her agents she'd spent the last decade planting in our cities and towns.

“Mere trinkets with the power to amplify their users’ emotions. I thought I already said that I was only interested in you.”
Her tone was one of leading a child to an obvious conclusion, and truth be told I'd already arrived there too, but it still felt ridiculous actually saying it out loud. “Wait...let me get this straight. You seriously think that after everything that's happened, after you threatened Canterlot, brainwashed my brother, invaded Ponyville, and foal-napped three fillies...you're still under the delusion that I'd ever agree to being your student?”

Her evil laugh wasn't as good as that of Nightmare Moon’s, but she earned more points in subtlety. “In time, yes, I think you will. Besides, I'm already teaching you, am I not?” Despite myself, my eyes glanced back at the paper where I had been taking notes.

“You...you're crazy. This...is crazy.” My magic flared and the scroll rolled shut as I got to my hooves. “There's no way I'm going along with this. Just...take your changelings and-”

“Sit. Down.” I couldn't help myself. It was a perfect imitation of the Teacher Voice that I'd been trained to follow for years. My hind legs folded and my flank hit the cushion once again while Chrysalis composed herself. “I have given your kingdom resources in their ongoing fight against the changeling hives. I have revealed to your princesses several agents in their midst. I have hobbled and crippled myself to assuage the fears of the common ponies, and I have been completely honest with you about my intentions.”

It was hard to remember she was a queen, sometimes, when the only emotions I'd ever seen her project were rage and arrogance. This time, though, there was a calm and authoritative tone in her voice; a tone that I had heard Celestia use during the times I'd sat in on her royal court. It was commanding without shouting, admonishing without anger, and impossible to ignore.

“The only things I have asked for in return have been for your princesses' help in sustaining my race and a few nights out of the month spent alone with you. Perhaps you may consider my terms ‘crazy’, but I don't think I'm being unreasonable.”

No, she wasn't. With a sigh, I opened the scroll again and brought out my quill, reminding myself that this was going to be the greatest opportunity for anyone to learn about the reclusive and mysterious race beyond the broad generalizations already known. “Do you...want something to eat?” I said finally, resigning myself to a long night. “Or are you fine with just leeching off of my emotions?”

“Some tea would be wonderful, although I'll have to ask you to use the enchanted cups since I can't levitate anything right now,” she replied, brushing off my snide comment and motioning to the golden ring still shining brightly around her horn.

Preparing the tea gave me some time to think, and to get away from the oppressive and tense atmosphere that had wound its way throughout my library. Chrysalis had to have some sort of plan, some hidden agenda. Their very nature revolved around subterfuge, obfuscation, and mental games. There was always the distinct possibility that she was being straightforward with me and that stating the truth just made me not want to believe it, but going down that rabbit hole was a bit more than I could take at the moment.

All too soon it seemed like the tea was ready. Levitating the tray, I walked back into the sitting room and saw that Chrysalis had moved from her sitting position and was now looking over my texts. “Changeling culture does not have many artists,” she commented without looking in my direction. “No restaurants, no writers, no musicians...only a small percentage of my hive is even capable of speaking and higher-level thinking.”

Carefully setting the tray down I picked up the quill once again. “Do you even have need of normal food?” I asked carefully, my curiosity piqued.

“Certain foods can be temporary sustenance, but ultimately emotions are what fuel us. We can only go so long without,” she explained, drawing out a book with her hoof and looking at the back. I couldn't see the title from where I was sitting, but I recognized the section she was browsing. “Many view us as parasites, and rightfully so.”

The insight came to me in an almost blinding flash of inspiration. “You...can't survive without us, can you?”

“Sharp as always, Twilight. You are correct. Tell me, what else have you figured out?” she asked calmly, returning to the table with her book and gently taking a cup in her hoof, the enchantment letting it stick to her as she drank from it.

“We're a food source to you, and you wouldn't want it to run out, so...killing wouldn't be in your best interest. Is that why...” I hesitated, taking another drink of my tea. “Is that why you let Cadance live?”

“Partially,” admitted the changeling queen, doing nothing to set my mind at ease. “It may have been safer and easier to dispose of her more thoroughly, but in that period of time I was questioning her as well, learning about her, and feeding off of her strong emotions for your brother.”

There was a long pause as I digested that particular bit of information. “And what about me?”

“Insurance. Had Celestia been too much for me, I could have used you and Cadance as valuable hostages. Celestia is a shrewd ruler and has been so for over a millennium. If need be, I've little doubt she'd have sacrificed Cadance to preserve the people of Canterlot. She has a blind spot when it comes to you, though. One that I'm quite eager to learn more about.”

“You know, I'm starting to think this absolute honesty approach-”

“-wasn't one of your better ideas?” finished the changeling queen before I could. “The truth can be rather harrowing at times. But, as I've promised, what I've told you is the truth, though whether or not you believe it is up to you.”

“No, I believe you,” I said with a sigh. It made logical sense after all, though the thought that my use as a bargaining chip against Celestia was the only thing that had stopped her from transporting me over a bottomless pit instead of into a cave was chilling. “But since you're being honest and open with me right now, do you plan on invading Canterlot or Ponyville again?”

She smiled. “Not currently.”

“Right, should have seen that one coming,” I grumbled. “Also, if you're not planning on using magic, subterfuge, or your changeling powers-”

“Don't forget my natural venom.”

“-and your venom, how exactly did you expect to convince me to become your student?”

“I'm not sure,” said the queen with a smile that just made me want to teleport her somewhere far far away. “My only plan right now is to learn about you and see what opportunities arise.”

“I find that almost impossible to believe.”

“Don't worry, my dear Twilight. If I do plan on hatching an evil scheme, you'll be the first to know. I'll even draw up a chart for you. You like charts, yes?”

“Was that a joke?” I asked, deeply suspicious.

“Mostly. I don't have much talent for charts.”

Perhaps it was the sheer absurdity of the situation catching up to me, but I couldn't help but laugh lightly. It was one I badly needed as well, and to my surprise the queen's own tones of mirth joined mine shortly after.

“Seriously, though,” I said, my laughter stopping abruptly. “I see so much as a flicker of green from that horn and I'll have Pinkie come up with an even more annoying song for your next imprisonment.”

“Will this be before or after Celestia banishes me to the moon and Luna sends me to Tartarus?” she responded smoothly, clearly not put off by my threats.

Falling back onto my flank, I picked up the pen once more. “Alright then...tell me about your race. Let's start with how you became queen,” I suggested.

Taking another sip of her tea, the changeling queen began to speak. The hours of the night ticked away as my quill scratched along the paper, dutifully recording everything she told me.

Author's Note:

5/9/2015: Millions of small edits and sentence restructurings.

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