• Published 28th Apr 2012
  • 26,442 Views, 1,883 Comments

Smoke and Mirrors - TeaPartyCannon

A changeling needs the help of Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy to avoid imprisonment.

  • ...

Chapter 11: The Truth Revealed

Mirror stared up at the regal changeling before her, suddenly feeling very small in the face of her queen. If this had been any other time, Mirror would have been filled with unadulterated joy; relief that her beloved queen was still alive after all. But now, looking into Chrysalis’s narrowed eyes and practically feeling the anger rolling off her, she was struck by the realization that the changelings had all made a big mistake and were about to be severely punished for it.

Chrysalis began to step forward, the changelings she passed quickly bowing fearfully as she turned a piercing gaze toward them. Mirror followed suit as her queen approached her and Double, while Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy took slow, cautious steps away from the three changelings. Dimly, Mirror noticed that Pinkie’s pastry cannon had suddenly disappeared, but she didn’t dwell on it as Chrysalis stopped before the kneeling High-General Double.

Chrysalis smiled down at the High-General, though her grin held no warmth. She took in the changeling’s current unicorn form. “High-General.”

Double looked up, a nervous, apprehensive look on her face. “Yes, my Queen?”

“…It’s good to see that you’ve been following my orders, at least. You’ve maintained control over the majority of the swarm in these difficult times, and you took action against those who would not follow you.” Chrysalis praised, “I’d expect nothing less from the second-in-command of the changeling swarm.”

The smile fell away. “However, I’m aware of the fact that you seem to have known of this invasion long in advance. I would have expected you to have struck it down before it reached this stage.” That mocking smile returned to her face. “Letting our personal vendettas influence our decisions, are we?”

Double chuckled nervously in response, but kept her head bowed, her eyes wide and panicked and her body shaking. Mirror felt herself shiver at the uncharacteristic look of fear on the High-General’s face.

A flash of purple light from behind Chrysalis caught the attention of all three changelings. Chrysalis turned to see Twilight, Rarity, and Ditto, the first of which glared at the changeling queen with pure hatred, her horn glowing for attack.

“Queen Chrysalis! So Applejack was right after all!” Twilight growled.

Applejack? Mirror thought, remembering what Carbon said about the earth pony being trapped in a holding chrysalis. But isn’t she…

Her queen smirked, giving a warm glance of acknowledgement to Ditto and Rarity before fluttering her wings and quickly crossing the distance to land before the three. Interpreting this as a sign of hostility, Twilight fired a burst of magic at Chrysalis, but a green barrier sprung to life before the changeling and harmlessly deflected the spell into the sky.

Chrysalis’s mocking smile remained as the light from her jagged horn died down. “Come now, Twilight, there’s no need for hostility; we’re all friends here. Isn’t that right, cousin dear?”

The changeling queen turned her attention to Rarity, who stared up at her in stunned realization. “Sparkler…”

Twilight continued to glare daggers at Chrysalis. “You! You were Sparkler this whole time!”

Chrysalis nodded, not looking away from the white unicorn. “That’s right. And I must admit, it was surprisingly…enjoyable, really.”

Mirror kept her eyes on her queen, focusing on the slight traces of emotion she could feel rolling off her. She felt strange feelings of warmth and fondness resonating from Chrysalis, which only served to confuse her further. She’s not lying. Queen Chrysalis actually seems to care for Rarity. But changelings can’t love ponies, unless… A jolt of realization struck her. Wait, does that mean-!

Queen Chrysalis suddenly turned around and began to slowly walk towards the center of the town square. “Now, I know you’re all just dying to know where I’ve been all this time. Rest assured, my beloved subjects, I have not abandoned you. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

What? Mirror wanted to voice her confusion at this claim, but fear of evoking her queen’s wrath kept her from speaking up. Chrysalis stopped walking and continued to speak.

“The first thing you all should know is that Shining Armor and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’s barrier did nothing to strip me of my power, though being hit by such force did hurt…quite a bit.” Chrysalis said, clearly aware of the understatement. “I formed a shield around myself just before crashing in the Whitetail Wood near Ponyville, and survived with minimal injuries. I soon found that the shock, however, had temporarily severed my connection with the swarm.”

Chrysalis stopped and looked around, waiting to see if anyone would comment. Hearing no response, she went on. “My first instinct was to simply hide out and wait for my connection to reestablish itself, but I soon hit upon an idea; a question, if you will. For over one thousand years I’ve led and cared for the swarm, always giving them proper leadership as we searched numerous lands for food. So I thought to myself: what would happen if I left the swarm to decide and fend for itself? Left in the command of the High-General, would the changelings remain orderly and disciplined like they were trained to be, or would order collapse in a chaotic fight for power? Well, we’ve answered that question, haven’t we?”

“Wait, I don’t understand.” Chrysalis turned towards the source of the voice, seeing Twilight step forward with a puzzled look on her face. “Did you not know about the invasion?”

“Oh, I knew about it. That doesn’t mean I authorized it, though.” Chrysalis answered, giving a scolding glare to a group of changelings that had followed General Carbon. “I assumed the identity of a resident of Ponyville, taking advantage of her being out of town and of the changelings not yet being common knowledge. When you and your friends returned, the idea of feeding off an Element of Harmony was too much to resist. A quick search through Rarity’s memories revealed the perfect disguise, and I took the form of her cousin, the esteemed Sparkler.”

Twilight’s bewilderment quickly turned to anger, and she glared up at the changeling queen. “So you’ve been living with Rarity all this time. Did you do anything to her? And what about Applejack?”

“Er, what about Applejack, Twilight?” Rarity whispered, causing both Twilight and Ditto to freeze, nervous expressions on their faces. Sharing the unicorn’s confusion, Mirror looked to Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. Both ponies were just as puzzled and listened closely, concern for their friend clear on their faces.

Chrysalis waved a hoof dismissively. “Nothing as bad as what you’re thinking, likely. Just a simple hypnosis spell to keep her from suspecting I, or any of my children for that matter, could be changelings. Certainly nothing on the level of what I did to your brother.” The changeling queen smirked smugly at Twilight’s angry snort at the mention of Shining Armor. “As for Applejack…well, let me finish my story.”

Chrysalis turned around, raising her voice once more so that it could be clearly heard throughout the square. “Now, shortly after assuming my identity as Sparkler, I took a stroll through the marketplace. You can imagine my surprise at finding not only little Mirror with her horn broken…” Chrysalis looked at said changeling, who shrunk at the attention, “…But also General Carbon in the form of Applejack, the Element of Honesty!”

Rarity let out a soft gasp and turned to Twilight, who nodded silently in confirmation. Every other pony and changeling in the area knew about Carbon’s replacing of Applejack, so none were surprised at the news.

“In order to remain undetected by my subjects, I cut off my connection with the swarm.” Chrysalis continued, “For the most part, the severing works both ways. The swarm can’t hear or recognize me, and I can recognize, but not hear, the swarm. That is, unless I focus on their thoughts. A look into the general’s mind told me where Applejack was being held. Imagine my delight at having one of the Elements of Harmony practically gift-wrapped for me; the temptation was too much to resist.”

“So you tried to turn her into a changeling!” Twilight yelled. Horrified gasps rang out from the ponies, and Mirror’s blood ran cold as she realized that Carbon was wrong: Applejack had been in a conversion chrysalis all this time, not a holding one.

Chrysalis frowned and rolled her eyes. “Well, technically it never got that far. Half-Changeling is a better term. After all, the process is gradual; it takes over a week to complete, and I cast an illusion spell over the chrysalis to keep any changeling from noticing. Besides, she escaped before a full conversion, didn’t she?”

“No thanks to you!” Twilight snorted.

That arrogant smirk returned to Chrysalis’s face. “On the contrary, Twilight, her escape was all thanks to me.”

“What do you mean?” Ditto suddenly spoke up, “You changed Applejack. She knew you were here, didn’t she?”

Twilight turned to Ditto, surprised that the changeling knew about that part of Applejack’s story. Before she could say anything, however, Chrysalis spoke again.

“Yes, she did, when I came the second time to help her. You see, I caught a stray thought about the invasion shortly afterwards. Naturally, I looked into it, and what I found out made me absolutely furious.”

An aura of palpable anger rose from the changeling queen, and every changeling nearby recoiled in fear and shame. Double pressed closely against Mirror, though the High-General’s troubled expression confused her as to which of them was supposed to be receiving comfort from this act.

“Such blatant disobedience cannot be tolerated. I would have put a stop to it then and there, but the invasion force was only a small percentage of my changelings, and I needed to see how the rest of the swarm would act in response.” Chrysalis said, “But I anticipated the trouble this could bring, so I arranged for a sabotage.”

Chrysalis held her head up high, proudly taking in the audible gasps of shock from both the ponies and her changelings. “I weakened the chrysalis containing Applejack, so that she could escape and reveal the presence of changelings in Ponyville. Her appearance would have spoiled Carbon’s treasonous invasion and allowed me to personally teach him his place in the swarm!” The Queen ended her speech in a snarl, her wings buzzing angrily.

Mirror was still transfixed on the emotions emanating from her queen, noticing something odd about them, something so subtle that only a changeling looking for it could pick it up. She’s…lying. Or at least, not telling the whole truth. But what is she hiding? I don’t think she’s lying about helping Applejack, so…could it be the reason why she helped?

Chrysalis’s anger subsided, her smug, regal attitude returning once more. She smirked and stared up at the roof of the town hall. “Well, Applejack? Aren’t you going to come down and thank me?”

All eyes turned to the tall building, where after a few moments of silence, an orange earth pony head stuck out from behind the roof. Applejack crept out and jumped to the ground, looking completely normal and carrying an unconscious Rainbow Dash on her back.

“Oh! Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy cried out, flying over to help Applejack set the pegasus on the ground, with Pinkie, Twilight, and Rarity not far behind. Ditto stayed where she was, an uncomfortable expression on her face as she watched the group of concerned ponies.

Chrysalis chuckled at their concern for their unconscious friend. “Ahem. Applejack? Don’t you have something to show us?”

Applejack’s head jerked up, her ears folded and her tongue silenced by her nervousness. She looked over at Twilight, who put on a weak attempt at a comforting smile and motioned with her hoof for her to go ahead. Applejack closed her eyes and let out a sigh, engulfing herself in her fiery cocoon and revealing her true appearance. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie gasped in fright, while Rarity fainted in an overdramatic fashion, prompting Twilight to frantically try to revive the theatrical unicorn.

Applejack cringed at Rarity’s reaction, her wings drooping. “Nopony else faint, please.”

Mirror stared at Applejack, feeling a short-lived rush of excitement at seeing a half-changeling for the first time before overwhelming guilt crushed it. I shouldn’t feel happy about this. This is awful…

Twilight soon succeeded in rousing Rarity, but the white unicorn was clearly fighting the urge to faint again as she looked at Applejack’s mutated appearance. The half-changeling let out a sad sigh and stared at the ground, not wanting to look anyone in the eye. Suddenly, Pinkie Pie stepped forward and wrapped her hooves around Applejack, to her obvious shock. Fluttershy joined in soon after, then Twilight, and finally Rarity, so that all four ponies were holding their friend in one large group hug with Applejack standing frozen in the middle, her solid green eyes blank with incomprehension.

Finally, her mind cleared up and she looked around at her friends in disbelief. “Ya…ya’ll don’t mind?”

“Of course we don’t mind, Applejack!” Fluttershy responded.

“Yeah, you’re our friend, no matter what you look like! No matter what, you’re still you!” Pinkie added.

“We still care about you, Applejack, even if you do look like…this…” Rarity said, grimacing slightly. She quickly covered it up with a wide smile and a hasty, “But you make a lovely changeling, really!”

“Applejack, we’ve all been through too much together for us to reject you over this. And I promise, no, I Pinkie Promise, I will find a way to help you.” Twilight finished, performing the hoof motions and accidently jamming her hoof into her open eye at the end. The unicorn let out a pained shout, rubbing at her eye with an embarrassed grin.

Applejack’s dumbfounded look quickly melted into a grateful smile. She happily returned the hug to her friends. “Thanks, girls.”

A few pained groans caught the ponies’ attention, and the group looked to see Rainbow Dash slowly getting to her feet, stumbling forward a bit. “Oh, my everything…what did I miss?”

The pegasus looked up and focused on them through her bleary, dizzy vision. “…Pinkie, Fluttershy, why are you wearing those Mare-Do-Well costumes?”

“We thought it’d be fun! Sheesh, how many times to I have to explain it to everypony?” Pinkie sighed, shaking her head.

Rainbow slowly nodded, her unsteady legs shaking beneath her. “Right, well, AJ, remind me to never fly through lightning again. I think I need a nap.”

With that, the pegasus’s legs gave out and she collapsed, unconscious once more. The group broke apart, and while Pinkie and Fluttershy checked on Rainbow Dash, Twilight gave a curious glance at Applejack. “Fly through lightning?”

Applejack shook her head. “Don’t ask me. Ah don’t really get it either.”

Mirror watched the scene with a smile, touched by the ponies’ display of friendship. She looked at Queen Chrysalis, who observed them with a warm gaze that Mirror had only ever seen her direct toward hatchlings before. She really has it, doesn’t she? Empathy sickness…

Suddenly, Mirror felt a pair of hooves wrap around her, and she looked to see Double clinging to her. “Um…High-General, could you…”

She trailed off as she saw the tears in the unicorn-changeling’s eyes, and followed her gaze to find that she was staring directly at Twilight. After a few seconds, the realization hit her that Twilight was the unicorn filly from Double’s foalhood that Carbon had mentioned. She slowly moved her foreleg and draped it over Double’s shoulder, offering silent support to the distraught High-General.

“She’ll never say anything like that to me…” Double sobbed.

Mirror just held her position, giving her a sympathetic smile while trying to ignore how awkward it was for a simple soldier to be comforting the High-General of the changelings.

Mirror’s eyes drifted to Carbon’s unconscious body, and her heart skipped a beat as she saw him move the slightest bit. She nudged Double and frantically motioned with her head towards the recovering general. Double quickly wiped away her tears and morphed back to changeling form. The High-General trotted over to Carbon, her cheerful grin giving away none of the despair she had experienced just moments ago.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, General!” Double chirped, “Well, for now, anyway. And look who’s here to see you!”

Sensing that Carbon was awake, Chrysalis turned away from the ponies and began to walk toward the general. Carbon stared at the very-much-alive changeling queen with a mixture of disbelief and fear.

“General Carbon, so good of you to finally join us.” Chrysalis said with fake happiness. “It’s a shame you missed the entirety of my explanation, but no matter; it’ll be recounted for all the swarm to hear at your trial.”

“Queen Chrysalis, how-!” Carbon began, but Chrysalis’s hoof slamming down in front of him cut him off abruptly.
“Silence!” Chrysalis roared, “You will speak when your Queen tells you to, and only when your Queen tells you to! Is that understood?!”

Carbon gave a hasty nod, and Chrysalis’s raw anger subsided, but only to the point where she glared down at the changeling with thinly-veiled resentment. “General, you of all changelings should know that in the event of my absence, only the High-General has the authority to issue any sort of militaristic command. Regardless of whether I was dead or not, your actions were a direct disobedience of my established law. That is treason, General.”

“You’re a criminal!” Double said in a sing-song tune. Chrysalis’s annoyed gaze on her quickly reduced her to meek anxiety once again, though.

Chrysalis turned back to the general. “And in addition, you betrayed a changeling to the Canterlot guards and actively tried to kill another.” Chrysalis glanced at Ditto, then Mirror as she spoke before looking back down at Carbon. “High-General Double is right; you are a criminal. And you know the punishment for criminals…”

Carbon’s eyes widened in terror, but he held back any words he wanted to cry out. He closed his eyes and bowed his head before his queen. Mirror stared at the general in awe, surprised that he wasn’t begging for forgiveness after all he had done. Chrysalis, however, grinned at his display of humility.

“Holding onto your dignity, even in the face of judgment. I’d expect nothing less from one of my generals.” Chrysalis praised, her horn glowing brightly. A beam of green light burst forth from it, connecting with Carbon’s horn for exactly two seconds before a blinding light emitted from it. When the light faded, Carbon opened his eyes and looked to see a small pile of ash before him. He lifted a hoof up to his forehead, where he felt only a stump where his horn had been.

“Separation from the swarm; that is the punishment for criminals under my law.” Chrysalis declared.

Mirror resisted the urge to throw up as she looked at the remains of Carbon’s horn, now thankful that she had never been able to find the rest of her own horn in the crash. Double, on the other hand, took sadistic pleasure in the Carbon’s despair as he looked at the ashes in a stunned stupor.

Chrysalis turned to the five ponies, most of them looking shocked, though Twilight just looked angry instead. The changeling queen rolled her eyes. “What? You should be thanking me. He is responsible for this invasion and everything it’s brought about, after all.”

Applejack looked at the general who had taken her form and hissed softly, her eyes narrowed. “Ah’m not complainin’.”

Twilight looked uncertainly at the general. “...I...guess he did deserve it...”

“Good. He did put Applejack in that chrysalis originally, you know. I’m simply making sure he gets what he deserves.” Chrysalis said, a sinister smile gracing her face.

Mirror looked up at her queen, the question that had been on her mind once again coming up. She found the will to make her voice heard. “Q-Queen Chrysalis?”

Chrysalis turned her attention to the young changeling, an eyebrow raised. “Yes, Mirror?”

“I…” Mirror trailed off, the fear of addressing her queen with such a personal question choking her words.

Chrysalis came up to her and ran a hoof gently through her mane, a comforting smile on her face. “Yes, dear? What is it?”

Chrysalis’s soothing tone gave Mirror the courage to voice her question. “You…you seem to care for Rarity, and Applejack too, but…changelings can’t love unless they have empathy sickness, right? So, how can you, unless you also…”

Mirror trailed off, expecting anger for daring to suggest that her queen was ill, but to her surprise, Chrysalis just smiled widely. “I’m glad you asked that, dear.”

Chrysalis spoke out, her voice rising in volume. “Changelings, I’m sure many of you are aware of the recent phenomenon within the swarm known as empathy sickness. It is a rare occurrence, and relatively new as well, the first case appearing less than twenty years ago, in our own High-General Double!”

A few shocked murmurs rose up amongst the changelings, many having known the High-General had empathy sickness, but not that she was the first one to have it. Even Carbon seemed surprised by this reveal.

“Ever since, I’ve searched for the cause of empathy sickness; trying to find just what could make a changeling able to love when a normal changeling can’t form a bond with a pony no matter how much time they spend with them.” Chrysalis went on. She paused briefly, smiling proudly. “And at long last, I think I’ve finally figured it out.”

A new wave of chatter broke out. Chrysalis stopped waited for it to die down again before speaking. “The key was in the two newest cases of empathy sickness; the changelings Mirror and Ditto!”

Twilight’s eyes widened, and she cast a questioning look at Ditto, whispering, “You have empathy sickness?”

Ditto nervously looked down at her own hooves. “I…I only found out recently…”

“Ahem…” Chrysalis coughed, catching the two’s attention before continuing. “The cause of empathy sickness lies in the love of the ponies they fed on. Mirror befriended the Elements of Kindness and Laughter. Ditto bonded with the Element of Magic, as did Double all those years ago as a hatchling. And as for myself, I resided with the Element of Generosity for a time…”

Mirror’s eyes widened as she put the pieces together, and a quick glance at her pony friends proved that they understood as well. The Elements…

“Empathy sickness is contracted when a changeling feeds off the love of a bearer of the Elements of Harmony.” Chrysalis revealed, “I’m not sure how much love is required, though I assume that it varies among changelings. For myself, it took a few days before the first glimmers of sympathy arose. However, this explains the rarity of the sickness, as it can only be contracted from six specific ponies, as well as why it is such a new development, as these ponies are the first bearers of the Elements in over a thousand years, excluding the princesses Celestia and Luna.”

The changelings were stunned by this revelation. Mirror looked towards the ponies, astonishment clear on her face. So that’s why I can feel love; it’s because of Pinkie and Fluttershy! And Ditto and High-General Double, they can feel it because of Twilight. So, is empathy sickness really a sickness, then?

Double glared over at Ditto, though for completely different reasons. “Lucky changeling, she gets to keep Twilight’s friendship…” She hissed, voice dripping with envy. Catching her words, Mirror looked nervously over at the older changeling, concerned about the High-General’s priorities.

Ditto took no notice of the High-General’s jealousy, though. She looked distraughtly toward Twilight, muttering softly to herself, “So it’s true…my kindness, my being friends with Twilight, it’s all because of an illness. It’s not natural…”

Twilight quickly recovered from her shock to glare up at Queen Chrysalis with suspicion. “So what, then? You’re saying you can feel love now? Are we supposed to trust you now?”

Chrysalis frowned in thought. “No, I suppose not. After all, you ponies can feel love, yet you’re all still remarkably intolerant and fearful of anything different from you. Keep this in mind, though; it’s not the changelings’ fault that we are incapable of empathizing with ponies.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked, her hostility replaced with curiosity.

Chrysalis smirked, clearly amused by the question. “I’m surprised how little Celestia’s told you. You see, we changelings were once…”

A ball of light as bright as the sun itself suddenly appeared in the air, and Chrysalis trailed off as she turned to glare at it. The changelings and ponies nearby shielded their eyes from the light, and when it faded, a tall white alicorn with a flowing, aurora-like mane descended to the ground. Princess Celestia met Chrysalis’s gaze, the anger clear on her face.

Chrysalis chuckled softly, averting her gaze. “Celestia, so good to see you again. Better late than never, I suppose. How’s the horn doing?”

Celestia’s eyes narrowed further, her horn beginning to glow with yellow light as though answering the question for her. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t get rid of you right here and now, Chrysalis.”

Chrysalis put on a look of mock surprise. “Such hostility; and to think you and I used to be such good friends. I guess that’s all in the past now, though, isn’t it?”

Mirror watched the two rulers curiously. Friends? Queen Chrysalis and Princess Celestia were friends? It never seemed like that…

“But to answer your question,” Chrysalis went on, “It’s simple, really. I have changelings stationed in every major city in Equestria, ready to wreak havoc the moment I give the order. Your guards are stretched thin as it is, and my children will be able to easily overpower them with so few numbers. And finally, there’s only one of you, and Luna will be of no help at this time of day. Do you see where I’m going with this? Equestria will be in ruins before you can do anything about it!”

Celestia moved to say something, but Chrysalis cut her off. “And before you say anything, defeating me won’t do any good. I still have enough power from Shining Armor’s love left over to defend myself, and with the power of the Element of Generosity fueling me as well, you won’t be able to kill me before I give the order to attack. So it’s quite simple, Celestia: you kill me now and doom Equestria in the changelings’ last stand, or you listen to what I have to say. Which will it be?”

Celestia’s expression didn’t soften in the slightest, but the glow from her horn quickly dimmed and disappeared. “What do you want, Chrysalis?”

“Oh, I want a lot of things.” Chrysalis mused, “I want the changelings to be able to walk the streets of Equestria in their true forms without fear. I want us to go back to what we used to be. I want Flutter Valley to return to its former beauty. I want my mother back!”

Celestia winced at the changeling’s anger and rising hysteria. “What happened to Queen Rosedust was not our fault! You were the one who killed her!”

“I had no choice!” Chrysalis shouted, desperation emanating from her. “Mother had given up, she was just wasting away; someone needed to step up and take charge to ensure the survival of the changelings!”

“And you decided to become that “someone” by gaining eternal life at the cost of her own!” Celestia retorted.

“Be quiet! What right do you have to reprimand me?” Chrysalis yelled, “You and Luna brought him to our home and let him change us! You did this to us, and when we needed your help, you abandoned us to our fate!”

Celestia recoiled, a look of guilt crossing her face. “Chrysalis, I-”

“Wait!” The two arguing rulers turned simultaneously to see Twilight staring up at them, eyes wide with incomprehension.

“I…I don’t understand!” Twilight continued, “Princess Celestia, Queen Chrysalis, what happened?”

Chrysalis smirked, looking back at Celestia with contempt. “Hmm. So you didn’t tell them. I should have known you wouldn’t own up to your mistakes.” She turned back to Twilight. “Tell me, Twilight, what do you know of the flutterponies?”

Twilight looked taken aback by the question. “Flutterponies?”

“Yes, flutterponies. Go on, tell us. What are the flutterponies?”

“…Flutterponies were a mythical race of butterfly-winged ponies whose wings gave them the ability to use magic without a horn. They fed off the love of the land and the love that ponies had for each other.” Twilight said, speaking as though she were recalling information from a book.

“That’s correct. Creatures with insect-like wings and magic that feed off of love…” Chrysalis said, “What other species do you know of that fits that description?”

Twilight was silent for several moments, but slowly, her confusion gave way to a dawning realization. “…The changelings.”

“That’s correct.” Chrysalis said. She turned to face the crowd gathered around them. “Changelings, listen well to your queen! We were not always like this! We did not always have to hide our true forms in fear! Once, we were a peaceful race known as the flutterponies, living isolated during the time of the spirit of chaos, Discord’s, reign. Until one fateful day…”

Chrysalis spun suddenly to face Celestia, eyes burning brightly. “Until the day Celestia and Luna came to Flutter Valley to find the last piece of the Elements of Harmony and revealed us to Discord!”

“You knew it was necessary, Chrysalis!” Celestia defended herself, “Discord had to be stopped! Queen Rosedust understood that!”

“Yes, mother did. She let you into Flutter Valley, cooperated with you even though you knew Discord was after you! He was content to leave us alone, but then mother fought against him to give you time to escape. Discord punished us by turning us into this.” Chrysalis growled, “If you hadn’t come, we’d still be the flutterponies!”

“And Discord would still be ruling Equestria!” Celestia countered, “The Elements of Harmony had to be formed, for the sake of all ponies!”

“And what of our sake?!” Chrysalis retorted, “I had a kingdom, countless ponies that trusted me to save them! When I came to you for help, you and Luna left us! Abandoned us! And worse, you rejected us and left us to rot in the wasteland that used to be our home! We were ponies, too; where was your love then?!”

Celestia’s indignation faded, replaced again by guilt. “…You’re right. Luna and I were still young at the time; we were foolish and close-minded. I spent many years after trying to find a cure for the flutterponies, and I considered using the Elements of Harmony to break Discord’s curse, but by then, Luna had…I should have tried harder. I’m sorry.”

Celestia regained her composure and fixed Chrysalis with a steely gaze. “But we weren’t the only ones at fault. Even with the curse, you should have tried to peacefully integrate into Equestrian society. But instead, you kidnapped and replaced ponies, stealing love from their friends and families, and just recently, you replaced my niece and tried to take over Equestria! The fear changelings gather from all the other species is your own doing!”

“Hmph, that invasion was justified. I needed to feed my people, and if I could get my revenge on you as well, so much the better. But you’re forgetting one thing, Celestia: changelings can’t love.” Chrysalis growled, “Don’t you understand? Peace was never an option. Our only hope was to find a way to revert back to our previous forms. But you gave up, you refused to help us! Discord may have cast the curse, but ultimately, the creation of the changelings was your fault!”

Chrysalis’s horn glowed, and the changeling queen disappeared in a burst of green light. She reappeared in front of Celestia, their horns crossing as the changeling and alicorn pushed against each other, both glaring into the other’s eyes.

Several changelings looked ready to intervene on their queen’s behalf, but stopped suddenly at a telepathic command from High-General Double. The little changeling watched the spectacle with wonder and curiosity, the only calm one amongst the group of anxious shapeshifters. On the ponies’ side, Twilight was frozen in shock as she struggled to comprehend all she had heard, her friends watching with concern.

Mirror watched Chrysalis and Celestia’s conflict, experiencing similar feelings of confusion trying to sort everything out. So it’s true then! That book; we did use to be the flutterponies after all! But, that story about Discord and the princesses…Queen Chrysalis sounded so angry and upset. To think that we thought we were only invading Equestria for food; I never imagined that Queen Chrysalis would have such a personal reason behind it…

“A thousand years of festering hatred…terrible, don’t you think so?” Double’s voice snapped Mirror out of her thoughts, and she turned to see the High-General watching her expectantly, waiting for an answer.

“Y-Yeah, terrible…” Mirror muttered, “So, this is Discord’s fault then?”

“Discord, the spirit of chaos and disharmony…yes, I believe so.” Double mused, “Queen Chrysalis blames Celestia, though; I guess she needed someone to blame who wasn’t frozen in stone. No wonder she was so eager about the invasion. Do you think there’s any hope?”

“I don’t know.” Mirror answered hesitantly.

“Well, I think so. You want to know why?” Double asked. Mirror cocked her head, but gave a small nod. “Because of that!”

As she spoke, Double raised a foreleg and pointed towards the six Element bearers. Mirror followed her hoof, at first seeing a newly-conscious Rainbow Dash being helped up by Applejack and Pinkie Pie, then catching sight of what the High-General was really pointing at. She saw Spike run up to Twilight, a large, golden book in his claws and an excited expression on his face. Ditto, spotting the dragon, snatched the book out of his claws with her magic and levitated it in front of Twilight, speaking to the unicorn with a wide grin. Twilight took the book and hid it behind her, a determined smile crossing her face as she turned and nodded to her friends, speaking words that Mirror couldn’t catch with all the nearby chatter. Chrysalis and Celestia were too preoccupied to notice.

Mirror watched the unicorn slowly walk up to the two rulers. “What is she doing?”

“Saving us.” Double answered, looking at Twilight with pure admiration in her eyes.

“Everything is your fault!” Chrysalis yelled at Celestia, mad eyes narrowed into nearly-invisible slits. “It’s your fault Discord came to Flutter Valley! It’s your fault our home is nothing but a wasteland! It’s your fault mother had to die, and it’s your fault the flutterponies are gone! All of it is your fault!”

“Chrysalis, please!” Celestia said, a hint of desperation showing through. “I’m sorry for what happened, but you need to-”

“Stop it, both of you!” Twilight yelled out, surprising both the changeling queen and alicorn princess and dissolving their argument. The changelings, seeing this, quieted down as well. Chrysalis turned a suspicious eye to the unicorn, while Celestia stared curiously at her student.

Now that their attention was on her, Twilight felt nervous about speaking to the two royals, one of them being her own princess, in such a way. She quickly put on a determined face to hide her worry. “Princess Celestia, Queen Chrysalis, please listen to me: we won’t solve anything arguing like this!”

“Oh, really? And what do you propose we do?” Chrysalis said, though she seemed to be curious nonetheless.

“We make peace, of course.” Twilight said simply.

Chrysalis scoffed at her words. “Peace. And how do you make peace with a species that can’t feel empathy?”

“I believe you already know the answer to that, your highness.” Twilight said. She couldn’t resist smirking at the stunned look that crossed the queen’s face at her show of respect. “I’ve thought about what you said, and I think I’ve figured it out. Discord’s curse is chaotic in nature. But the Elements of Harmony are the opposite of his power. That’s why empathy sickness occurs; the power of the Elements of Harmony cancels out Discord’s magic and part of the curse. Empathy sickness isn’t an illness, it’s a cure!”

“…So is that your plan? Give the swarm empathy sickness? There are thousands of changelings; how do you plan on getting them all?” Chrysalis asked, looking somewhat nervous.

Twilight smiled and pulled out the large book, its title, “The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide,” in full view. “With this!”

Chrysalis’s breath caught in her throat as she stumbled backwards. She watched as Twilight opened the book and took out five golden necklaces and a golden tiara from its hollow interior. “The Elements of Harmony?! W-What are you going to do?”

Seeing the uncharacteristic fear on her queen’s face, Mirror took a step forward to help, but Double’s hoof on her shoulder stopped her.

“Just watch.” Double told her. Mirror forced herself to sit back down and watch the events before her unfold.

Despite Chrysalis’s reaction, Twilight kept up her confident demeanor. “We’re going to help you, Chrysalis. We’ll help the changelings to be loved again.”

“The changelings were never loved,” Chrysalis said, “We were always hated! The only way we could possibly be loved is if we were to become the flutterponies again!”

Twilight shook her head. “No, it’s not, Chrysalis. The Elements of Harmony can turn the changelings into flutterponies, but the truth is that the flutterponies are gone.”

A sudden chatter broke out amongst the changelings again, prompting Chrysalis to give them all a glare and a telepathic command to be silent. Chrysalis looked back at Twilight, giving her a nod to continue despite the worry still lingering on her face.

“The flutterponies are gone; they have been for nearly a thousand years now.” Twilight said, “Every changeling that was once a flutterpony is long dead now, except for you. All of these changelings here, your entire swarm, they were born this way. Being changelings is all they know. If we were to turn them into flutterponies, it’d be no different from the conversion that you yourselves force on ponies.”

Mirror saw Double wince at the statement, though she wasn’t sure why. She turned back to the scene, closely watching her queen for any reaction. An aura of sadness seemed to surround Chrysalis, but the changeling queen continued to listen carefully to the unicorn before her.

“Then what is your plan? It can’t really be to give the entire swarm empathy sickness, can it?” Chrysalis asked.

“But it is; the Elements of Harmony have the power to do that. When you think about it, Chrysalis, it’s really quite clear,” Twilight said, “The changelings are feared by ponies because they replace their loved ones to steal love, but a changeling is perfectly capable of creating their own identity to make genuine friends. The only reason they don’t is because changelings can’t form bonds with ponies; they can’t make friends. And for a race that feeds off love…don’t you see? Discord’s curse wasn’t changing your forms; it was taking away your ability to feel love! That’s the curse we’re going to break!”

Levitating the five necklaces, Twilight placed them onto the necks of her friends. The Element of Honesty, upon being placed on Applejack, glowed unstably for a moment before settling down, much to the changeling-pony’s visible relief. Twilight placed her tiara onto her head, and after a moment, the Elements of Harmony began to glow brightly, a wind suddenly picking up around them. Ditto and Spike quickly backed away from the six as the force of the gales increased.

Chrysalis took another step back, still looking anxious. “But…what if it doesn’t work? We’ve been like this so long; what if the Elements just destroy us instead?”

“They won’t, Chrysalis.” The changeling queen turned, eyes wide with shock to see Celestia smiling at her. “You were right. Leaving you alone when you needed our help most…I won’t make the same mistake twice. This time, we’re going to help you.”

Chrysalis stared at Celestia, a few tears coming to her eyes. Slowly the changeling relaxed and looked back towards the Elements of Harmony. As the bright glow increased and the wind grew stronger, the six ponies rose into the air, their eyes closed as the magic flowed through them. Suddenly, their eyes flared open, white light blazing within, and a large rainbow shot up from them and into the air. The rainbow reached a high point and then broke apart into six smaller rainbows that fell down to the outskirts of Ponyville. Hitting the ground, the rainbows shot around in a circle, combining and rising up to create a whirling, colorful tornado around the entirety of Ponyville.

The wind within the tornado threatened to blow every changeling and pony off their feet, but the gales were warm and comforting despite their ferocity. Mirror kept a hoof around Double out of concern that the smaller changeling would be blown away, feeling her disguise burn away under the intense waves of magic all the while. Opening her eyes a bit, she peered out towards Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, their eyes and necklaces glowing with pure white light.

Is…is this really going to fix everything? Can the Elements of Harmony really help us? Mirror wondered. The warm magic washing over her relaxed her body, and her eyes began to droop with drowsiness. She looked around, seeing that the other changelings, Chrysalis, and Celestia were also feeling the same effects. Even Carbon and Double were being lulled into sleep by the harmonious energy. Mirror’s eyes were drawn back to the six ponies in the middle of the magic storm, and to the yellow pegasus and pink earth pony that had been there for her all this time.

A grateful, admiring smile spread across Mirror’s face. Of course they can, because they’re friends. The best friends I could ever hope for…

As Mirror slipped into a peaceful slumber, the last thing she saw was the six silhouettes in the center of the rainbow tornado as it slowly expanded outward across Equestria.

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