• Published 24th Dec 2014
  • 2,081 Views, 109 Comments

Hearth Swarming Eve - horizon



When a changeling army arrives amid preparations for the Hearth's Warming pageant, it's up to Rarity to match wits with Queen Chrysalis and save the holiday.

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If We Shadows Have Offended

"Rarity?" Twilight said as I stepped back onto stage from the wings. "A-are you okay?"

I glanced around the room. We were alone. The tightness in my throat incrementally eased; it would be simpler this way. "Jewelbox," I said.

"Oh — right. Plundervine."

I trotted over to her and gave her a wordless neckhug before taking a step back and staring into her eyes. "I'm sorry to have given you a fright, Twilight. I merely had a revelation which startled me nearly to the point of illness." I lifted a hoof to her shoulder. "There's something I must show you. Immediately."

Twilight set her jaw and nodded. "I figured it out, too," she said quietly.

I admit I might have tensed up at that. "You did?"

"It was a setup." She glanced back toward the auditorium door. "That was no disobedient drone. Chrysalis ordered her to feed. She wanted to make a very public point …" Twilight's voice dropped to just above a whisper, and her eyes turned cold above an ominously flat mouth. "She was testing me, just like Celestia said. She tortured her own drone just to see how I'd react."

Oh, Twilight, I thought. So brilliant, yet so naive.

I took a deep breath. "Twilight … I apologize in advance. This will not be pleasant … but you must see this."

I hopped down from the stage and trotted toward the exit. She quickly fell into pace beside me, giving me a curious look but remaining silent as we walked through the frozen streets to Cloud Kicker's house.

As the door swung open, I heard scrambling by the fireplace. The two changelings stood at attention, one giving us a suspicious glare, one visibly miserable. The Crusaders, thank goodness, weren't within sight.

"Whisper Song," I said, marching directly toward the suspicious one as the miserable one's eyes widened. "Stand up against the wall and don't move. Now."

The suspicious changeling glanced at Whisper, then back at me. "How did you —"

The changeling went down with a yelp as I swept its legs out from underneath it. As it tried to scramble back to its hooves, I hooked a leg around one of its fores, jerked back hard, and slammed it to the floor with a cross-pin, trapping that limb high against its side with just enough pressure to make moving a painful idea. The fight went out of it all at once. To my left, I heard Whisper Song scramble back against the wall, letting out an incoherent squeak.

"Twilight," I said, "please cast your alteration-enchantment breaker."

"Why? They're not disguised as ponies."

I looked back at her, tilting my head.

"… Oh," Twilight said as realization belatedly crept in. She stepped forward, horn glowing, then bent down and touched her horntip to the pinned changeling.

The bulky form of the guard wavered and collapsed in a swirl of green fire, leaving behind a spindly, wingless worker drone whose chitin had an uncomfortable number of holes amid dark gray mottling. It — he — was too large to be Whisper Song's age but too small for adulthood; as a pony I would have estimated him in his mid-teens. He looked back at us, wide-eyed in fear, and I could see tears pool.

Twilight drew in a ragged gasp.

"The other one is twelve," I said, releasing the teenaged changeling's leg and standing up. He scrambled to the far corner, cowering. "They are no soldiers. I would wager you every gemstone in Carousel Boutique that not a single one of them is. Virtually her entire hive attacked Canterlot, remember?"

"So Chrysalis …" Twilight's voice grew faint as she took a step back. "Threatened us with children. She broke the leg of a child."

I nodded somberly, then turned back to the cowering changeling. "Speaking of which … I'm sorry, dear. I simply couldn't take the chance that you would attempt to play the hero, or somepony might have gotten genuinely hurt."

"Just children," Twilight repeated. She swallowed, then looked up at me, a new fire in her eyes. "Let's get the others. This ends now."


Fluttershy lifted her hooves to her muzzle, eyes wide and quivering. Pinkie flinched, her mane beginning to droop.

Applejack snorted, stamping a hoof with such a resounding crack that I feared for the crystal floor. "That no-good dung-ruttin' hole-hearted cricket. I shoulda known she'd have somethin' like that up her mane."

"We should have known," Twilight said, voice flat and trembling. "I should have known. She told us that all her soldiers died in Canterlot, right to our faces."

"So what are we waiting for?" Dash said, squinting through eyes darkened by her all-nighter. "That just means they'll be pushovers. Let's go kick their flanks, save the town, and get some sleep."

Fluttershy gasped. "Rainbow Dash! How dare you! We can't go fight innocent children!"

"Children that need to feed on us to survive! They came here to eat our emotions!"

"No," Twilight said sharply. "They're not the villains here. What we're going to do is march straight to Carousel Boutique and kick Chrysalis' flank halfway to the Crystal Empire. Shining Armor can meet us in the middle and finish the job."

The others murmured agreement, nodding with dark expressions. I raised a hoof in silence.

"What is it, Rarity?" Twilight asked.

I stood up. "And then what?"

"And then we march house to house, and …" Twilight trailed off, her face paling. "Oh. Oh no."

Applejack's face likewise drained of color. "When we attack her, she orders a few hundred children to attack an' feed, and we've gotta live with turnin' them all into war criminals."

That wasn't Chrysalis' plan, I knew, but leaving the misconception uncorrected was for the best.

"I think I understand her test now," Twilight said faintly.

"Well, I don't get it," Pinkie said, tapping her chin. "We saw in the square, Queen Meanie can't —"

I hastily overtalked her. "She doesn't have to. Even if her control is slipping, all it would take is a single signal, like a hornburst firework, or a single changeling disguised as a pony and watching the Boutique."

"Well, we have to do something," Fluttershy said with uncharacteristic firmness. "If she gets what she wants and leaves with all those children, they'll grow up just like her."

"D'you think we could get her before she gets a signal out?" Applejack asked.

"We could attack the changelings before going after her."

"Dash!"

"Look, I'm just saying."

"Dash does have a point," Applejack said. "If we can knock 'em out or lock 'em up, they can't attack anypony once she gives the order."

I cleared my throat. "Girls?"

"I'm not hearing any good options," Twilight said. "I hope you've got one."

"That depends," I said, checking my pocket watch. "Chrysalis gave you an hour. Can you get everypony to Town Square within our remaining … forty-three minutes?"

Twilight did some mental math. "If we all work together. Then what?"

I looked up into the eyes of my five best friends — scared eyes, desperate for hope and answers — and almost broke down and told them everything. It would have been so easy to do. It would have eased their minds. It would have been right. And yet … and yet. The truth was fragile, and it would hurt far too many, in ways even I might not be able to predict.

I steeled myself with a breath.

"Then," I said, "I use what I've learned to take care of Chrysalis."


I snuck back to the auditorium as Twilight and the others were getting the word of our upcoming confrontation out, and returned to the dressing room, setting my pocket mirror back down.

I pulled out my compact and eye-pencils, then watched the changeling in the mirror apply make-up. The very idea seemed ridiculous — a master of subterfuge, resorting to mere parlor tricks — but any expert could tell you that sometimes there was no substitute for the unsubtle.

I tilted my head, dropped my spell, and examined my work. A little dusting of rouge on my cheeks, to enhance the glow brought out by the frost. A little extra length in my lashes, to sharpen my expressions for the audience.

The art of makeup was, when it came down to it, the art of misdirection — drawing the eye to the areas the artist wished to emphasize, and concealing truth in the shadows. Even the act of applying it is a ruse, I thought, an ironic smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. What truly mattered now was that, for a few crucial minutes, not a soul knew where I was.

I adjusted the curls of my mane and smiled at my reflection before snapping the mirror shut. Ruse or no, when so much was riding on a single final scene, there was no excuse not to deliver perfection.


When we regathered and walked to Town Square, Chrysalis was waiting — along with her "soldiers", lined up behind her in silent, huddled rows. Across the square from them, a thin white line of Royal Guards stood in front of a hastily-stacked row of boxes. Most of Ponyville stood behind them, holding garden tools and makeshift weapons.

"Look at the changelings," Fluttershy murmured. "They're freezing."

Twilight hesitated for a moment as her hoof was coming down, and broke stride to veer sideways to me. "Are you sure about this?" she whispered. "This just screams 'trap.' Chrysalis wouldn't bring them out here in this cold, against prepared defenders, unless she had a plan."

"She's not the only one," I whispered back. "Remember, Twilight … trust me."

The six of us came to a halt in the center of the square, halfway between the makeshift armies. Chrysalis walked forward with what at first appeared to be slow, stately steps — until I realized that her eyes were fixed on the ground in front of her, and she was planting each hoof before putting weight on it. There were also faint ring-shaped splotches of grey with jet-black centers marring her neck and muzzle. Up close, it was more obvious what those were — she'd found my stash of eyeliner gel and smeared on large patches of it to restore the chitin's shine and mask its lightness.

"Well?" she growled, coming to a stop a few body-lengths away. "You heard my demands. Are you going to give me what I want, or are you going to discover that I always keep my word?"

I cleared my throat delicately. Twilight glanced over at me. I nodded. She nodded.

I stepped forward with a self-satisfied smile. "You know as well as I do that they never had any intention of submitting to your ultimatum," I announced, circling to Chrysalis' side and sitting down next to her. "Which, I believe, brings us to the day's most important question."

The silence in the square was so profound that I was able to hear one of the ponies in the distance faint and crumple to the snow.

I glanced back up at my friends. All of the color had gone out of their faces, and they were staring at me with identical slack-jawed expressions.

Chrysalis broke the silence by throwing her head back with a cackle of glee. "You should see yourselves right now!" She draped a hoof over my withers, still chortling. "And what would that question be?"

I casually floated my pocket watch up in front of my muzzle, then turned my head to stare into Chrysalis' eyes, projecting from the diaphragm and enunciating every word with clear, crisp diction:

"Did you enjoy our last glass of wine?"

Her laughter died on her lips.

I brought a shoulder to her chest and roughly shoved her. She staggered sideways and lost her balance, sitting down hard in a snowbank. "You're not looking so well, Chrysalis," I said. "You expected your disease — the one you came here to research — to progress more slowly. Of course, you also expected me to betray my dearest friends."

"Kk-k-kk," she said, shoving herself back upright and immediately overbalancing and faceplanting. She bared her fangs, wheezing loudly. "You … triple-crossing … wolfspawn."

The others were still looking a little green at the gills, so I improvised. "Don't worry, I had no intention of killing her before she could stand trial for her crimes. Tincture of ironweed merely induces vertigo and suppresses magic. In her weakened state, it completed the process her illness started." I turned straight to the watching ponies and raised my voice. "She can't control them any longer. The changelings are free."

A murmur rippled through the ponies, echoed by another from the changeling ranks.

Chrysalis struggled back to her hooves. "Y-you'll regret this," she wheezed, backing away, her horn sputtering to life and spewing out a few ineffectual sparks. "Drones! Attack!"

The changelings looked around at each other. None of them moved. Chrysalis turned to face them, wings out for balance. "I said attack!"

That's when Rainbow Dash air-tackled her.

As they tumbled end-over-end, a lasso dropped in and cinched Chrysalis' hooves together. The rope jerked taut as Applejack braced and hauled. With a yelp, the queen reversed direction, skidding out from underneath Dash and across the icy square toward an abandoned market stall. She plowed through the baseboard with a crash, scattering empty crates and Hearth's Warming light-strands, and didn't get back up.

The crowd of ponies erupted into cheers and stomps as Applejack trotted over to stand guard over the unconscious form. Twilight stepped forward, spreading her wings and raising a hoof. "Dash, go give Spike the signal. As for you —" she said to the changelings, before she was interrupted by a yellow hoof touching her side.

Twilight glanced back. Fluttershy held up one hoof, then walked past Twilight and across the square. The pony crowd fell silent again as she approached the changeling in the center of the front rank, then threw her forelegs around the burly soldier in a hug. It lifted one trembling leg and returned the gesture, eyes squeezing shut and tears streaking down its cheeks.

I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. It was going to be alright.

Twilight cleared her throat. "As I was going to say … as for you, we know that you're cold, and you're hungry. You've been following a leader who thought that your only way to survive was to steal. But with everypony's help, we can show you a different way." She turned to the crowd of ponies. "I know the last two days have been scary, but it should be obvious by now that the changelings she ordered into your homes were just as scared. It's time to give them a new start. Please, help us show them what the magic of friendship is truly about."

"Yay!" Pinkie said, popping up in the center of the changelings and scooping several of them into a hug of her own with a squeak like a rubber toy. "We're gonna throw you the best 'welcome to your new life free of Queen Meanie's tyranny' party ever!"

Behind me, I heard ponies erupt in cheers as they trotted forward, accompanied by the clatter of weapons dropping to the icy street. I, too, walked over toward the drones, and I couldn't keep tears from streaking down my face.

It ruined my makeup. I couldn't have cared less.


The Friendship Palace, as it turned out, did have a dungeon. I tried not to think too hard about that.

I followed Princess Celestia to the room at the end of the hallway, where a still-graying Chrysalis was lying flat on her back on a mattress. There were cold iron shackles on her hind legs, and she was covered by thick blankets. We stepped inside through no less than three force fields.

Chrysalis turned her head in my direction and scowled weakly. "Here to gloat?"

"Perhaps a bit," I said, and bowed to Celestia. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

One corner of her mouth quirked up in a knowing smile. "Just let me know when you're done," Celestia said, and nodded to the doctor and to the guards at each corner. They filed out of the room after her, leaving us alone. I heard the solid crystal cell door settle into place with a grinding whisper, and the noises from outside fell away.

I waited. I knew she'd break the silence. I was right.

Chrysalis cleared her throat. "I don't understand," she said, in a very not-sick voice.

"You never did," I said. "We could have avoided this whole charade if you had told the truth."

She laughed bitterly. "That's not what I meant, but no, we couldn't have. We're changelings. All we are is lies and schemes."

"You don't truly believe that. You would not have fought so hard to give the others a fresh start if you did."

She snorted. "What can I say? Hope is stupid. But you? I know how smart you are. You can't possibly believe that if we had walked in and told the truth, the swarm would have survived the winter."

"I confess you have the right of me … and yet, honesty has power, darling. That's why ponies like you and I fight so hard to avoid it."

Chrysalis was silent for a moment.

"What did you mean to say you didn't understand?" I asked.

She rolled over to face me, her chains scraping against the crystalline floor. "Why you helped me after your friend's ultimatum threw my plan off script. I saw the looks on their faces. You chose me over them, and I don't think I could have done it without you."

I shrugged. "I couldn't have refused once I figured it out. After all, I am — or was, before the tree reclaimed it — the Element of Generosity."

Chrysalis set an elbow on the mattress and brought a hoof up, resting her muzzle on it and giving me a penetrating stare. "But there's something more than that, isn't there?"

I felt my face flush. "I'm quite certain that I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You know what," a voice said from behind me, "I think I do."

I jumped and spun around. "Twilight?"

Her form wavered as the cloaking field dropped. Tears brimmed in the corners of her eyes. "The Princess told me there was a valuable lesson for me in this room, but all I'm seeing is a 'friend' who's been lying to me for stars know how long. I trusted you, Rarity."

"Twilight," I said urgently, "please understand that when I say 'comportment', it is a reminder that the greatest composure is required to hear the truth when your heart screams the loudest."

"Oh," she said, horn flaring to life as she lowered her head, "the truth is clear enough."

I took a step back, almost losing my balance as I stumbled against the edge of the mattress. "Twilight, please, don't be hasty —" I said as her horn touched my chest.

A tingle swept through my body. I winced, far too late to do any good, then glanced down. Nothing had changed.

Twilight's eyes widened. "W-what? But you — I thought you were —"

"A changeling in lifelong deep cover?" I said as the light of hindsight filtered in. I straightened back up and smoothed my chest coat down with a hoof. "That's patently ridiculous, Twilight. Why would you think that?"

"Everything!" she sputtered. "Your obsession with appearances! Your reason to help Chrysalis! Your crazy deductions about her!"

"Yes, and if that were true, then I would have died at the royal wedding, like every single changeling in Canterlot."

"Then what was all that about being able to leave and still do your job, if you weren't on Chrysalis' mental link?!"

I held up my pocket mirror. "Espionage. The spell on this allows me to scry through any of Carousel Boutique's mirrored surfaces; it has proven indispensable in many a high-end sale, and it's how I figured out the last crucial pieces of the truth."

"You … but …" Twilight threw up her hooves. "What is going on?"

I turned to Queen Chrysalis. "Darling, there is a time and a place for complete honesty, and I assure you that this is it."

She nodded, then looked calmly at Twilight. "Indeed, the deadliest lie is the wrong half of the truth. Princess, whatever spell you just cast to expose your friend … cast it on me."

Twilight blinked rapidly, her mental gears clearly spinning. Color drained from her muzzle. "No," she said. "Oh no. Chrysalis switched places with a drone. We've got to find her —"

"Twilight," I interrupted, "Chrysalis is dead."

Twilight stopped.

"This is why I didn't tell the truth from the start," the false queen said, glancing at me. "Everypony would have been looking for the hidden plot."

"… 'Every changeling in Canterlot,'" Twilight said quietly. "Every changeling."

The changeling laughed bitterly. "I nearly wrecked the plan five minutes in. Please cast your spell, Princess."

Twilight leaned down to the bed, her horn flaring out. In a flash of green fire, the queen's form collapsed in on itself, leaving behind an emaciated, middle-aged soldier drone with half of one wing missing and a network of gray cracks across the carapace of his back. He clenched his teeth as the ethereal flames died away, then slumped to the bed.

"Alright," Twilight said, sitting down. "Now what's going on?"

"My name is Ember," the changeling said. "I lost my wing in an accident the day before the invasion, but I was too useful to kill, so Chrysalis had me stay in the hive with the dronelings too young for the flight. When all contact with the swarm was cut off, I assembled a scouting party out of the best of us and went to figure out what happened. We found what was left of a changeling corpse over three leagues from the mountain, and pieced the clues together from rumors and newspaper reports. With a pony army closing in on the hive, I gathered the others and fled to the Everfree. We've scraped out a subsistence living since."

"Until this season's storms hit," I said. "They're not ponies, with warm blood and thick coats. They were on the verge of literally freezing to death." I glanced over at Ember. "I'd like to see how much of this I guessed. Correct me if I get anything wrong."

"Alright."

"Help from ponykind was their only chance for the survival of the hive, and they needed a permanent solution. They thought," I emphasized, "that their only bargaining chip was the leader whose body was never found. So Ember pretended to be Queen Chrysalis — then concocted a plan designed to paint her as a tyrant, and the changelings accompanying her as helpless victims. She would land in town and terrorize pony and changeling alike, and we would gradually discover her false evidence that her mental bonds with her drones were slipping and a rebellion was brewing. As we developed bonds with them and helped them cast off the shackles of tyranny, it would guarantee them a home after justice was served."

Twilight looked between us in horror. "You can't possibly believe there's anything noble here, Rarity! He's a monster! He tortured one of the children!"

"Every plan requires sacrifices," Ember said quietly.

I winced — though not for the same reason Twilight did. "His plan required him to be a monster," I said. "If you could hurt one pony to save ponykind, would you?"

"There had to have been a better way," Twilight said.

"I needed genuine shock," Ember said. "That's very difficult to fake — and if any of them had been in on my plan, somedrone would have slipped sooner or later. Not to mention, many of the older ones did believe we could threaten what we needed out of you; when I double-crossed them, they were left with no choice but to give friendship a try."

"Similarly, Twilight, I needed genuine outrage from you over what Chrysalis did," I said, touching a hoof to her shoulder. "You had to remain ignorant to play your part. You all did. If we had shown any hint of going easy on Ember after what he did to the droneling — and don't tell me you wouldn't have tried to save him, too — none of them would have believed your offer was sincere."

Twilight jerked her shoulder away. "What happened to 'honesty has power, darling'? We're your friends, Rarity. Trust is a two-way street."

I flattened my ears. "For what it's worth, Twilight, I am sorry. I trusted you to do the right thing — and I always will — but that was the one thing the situation could not afford."

"Princess," Ember said, "may I ask a question?"

Twilight looked at him through narrowed eyes. "What."

"Would you change anything about the outcome? A village of ponies and changelings celebrating their triumph over a common foe together and exploring a historic fresh start?"

"We would have gotten there a lot differently!"

"With respect, your highness, that's not what I asked."

Twilight fell silent, then turned and walked away … and one final realization clicked into place.

That's quite a lesson, Celestia, I thought, wondering — not for the first time — how much she'd figured out before I'd even exchanged a word with her. Of course the answer is 'no'. And yet, having sacrificed so much to reach this point … telling the truth now would jeopardize all that has been won.

"I …" Twilight sat down, emotions warring on her face. "I'm going to have to think about this."

I put a hoof around Twilight's withers. "Come on, darling," I said. "It's time to go. We have a holiday to celebrate."


The pageant, naturally, was a success.

I stepped to the edge of the stage, facing the audience as the tragically misguided Princess Platinum, and snuck a glance out at them as I took a bow. In the front row, clustered together on a bench, three little fillies of different tribes stomped their hooves. In their midst, a fourth dark figure clopped its forehooves together — looking a great deal smaller, and less armored, than the last time I'd seen her. Whisper Song glanced back and forth between the Crusaders, embracing them delightedly in the warm glow of her very first friendships.

A few seats away, I caught Princess Twilight Sparkle studying them, too. She glanced up at me, and as we shared a look, she chewed her lip and gave me an uncertain smile.

In time, I thought, smiling back.

After all, the morals of the show were meant for those left behind after the play was over.

Author's Note:

Exeunt omnes.

Thank you to Titanium Dragon for several days of focused holiday editing help, despite his work on his own holiday story.

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Comments ( 72 )

You're welcome, Horizon! I was glad to have helped out with this story, as I am rather fond of it.

Plus it meant I got to read it before all the plebians. :moustache:

I definitely like the new ending better than the old one.

YESYES YESYESYES!

EDIT: now that I've actually read this final chapter, thank you :) thanks for giving me a Christmas treat to read, with wonderful subterfuge and Fashion Pone being best horse. And for sticking up for me regarding Babscon. Youre a cool dude Horizon.

Now get that other damned changeling fic out! :raritywink:

Even better than the shorter version.

I think the only thing I feel uncomfortable about is the ponies (Mane 6 in particular) reaction to the fate of the invading swarm.

Update: Can I ship Ember and Rarity? Can I can I can I ?!?!?! :raritystarry:

Coughneverthefinalwordcough :raritywink:

Please excuse me, I need a moment to pick my jaw back up off the floor.
Horizon, you magnificent bastard, I read your STORY!

5425916
You fool! Emberlight is the ONE TRUE PAIRING.

5426019 BUT I'M SAVING HER FOR DISCOLIGHT! :twilightoops:
(seriously, I have like 4 discolight stories in various stages of completion.)

5426031
There was a time I couldn't stand that pairing. Than Baal Bunny wrote a thing.
That said, I was not entirely joking before. :trixieshiftleft:

*applause*

Thank you to Titanium Dragon for several days of focused holiday editing help, despite his work on his own holiday story.

Y'know, this story has a lot more selfless self sacrifice in it. It's heart warming to see what lengths friends do things for each other, eh?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

"...Think but this, and all is mended—
 That you have but slumbered here
 While these visions did appear.
 And this weak and idle theme,
 No more yielding but a dream,"

*sigh*

The irony is, of course, I should be asleep right now, but a mixture of fatigue and illness have conspired to keep me awake this night.

I have not read the original story, and the first chapter intrigued me greatly, so I waited for the second and third to complete it all at once. I dig changeling stories and I dig Rarity stories, and this one looked intriguing and well written. Having finished it all, I must say... I am disappointed. I have a personal distaste for stories that propose immorality or dishonor as the solution to a problem. There is, essentially, a reason why we have cliches like "honesty is the best policy."

I find a core premise of Ember's plan, that ponies wouldn't accept the changelings with any charity without uniting them against a common enemy to be really really ignorant. Like, this is a show where its most fascinating characters and themes are centered around forgiveness and redemption. So inserting this weird aesop about manipulation is... weird. Also, he and Rarity were wrong, or, at least they can't make certain claims with absolute certainty. It is entirely possible that if the ponies and changelings found out about him having played everyone, they might still stay united, because people tend to pity martyrs and admire their work. In fact, that's kind of an annoying rub in retrospect. The story expects a mass of anonymous strangers to sympathize with a character who feels he cannot be sympathized with by a mass of anonymous strangers and accept this simultaneously as right. So, given all that, I feel the fic moralizing about the necessity of deception and touting the deceptive as being more clever than those around them to be... hallow.

Also, I found the meta-feint that Rarity is not a changeling to be... odd. Was it an artifact from the original story? Was she a changeling there and you wanted to mess with the heads of your original readers? It wasn't... bad, so much as it just sort of wasted time and energy on the part of the audience, and Rarity having been a Changeling might have made the story more interesting. Just, an extraneous feature, mostly.

So, I admit, the premise was intriguing, and your set-up hooked me greatly, but the payoff I found to be cluttered and if I'm honest, kind of tired and cliche. This is the same moral dilemma as Watchmen and a lot of other art looking to be or tout "moral ambiguity," and it didn't entirely make sense there and it doesn't here either. The little hangups add up and basically erode the aesop of the story. It's out of tone for the show, doesn't make sense in setting, doesn't make sense out of setting, and it's a song and dance we've seen numerous times before.

So, yeah. Sorry. Didn't work. Better luck next time.

5426178 I can't wait to see Horizon's reply to this.

I still dont quite understand what happened with Rarity.

5426178
This is my personal opinion, not Horizon's:

The reason this seems confusing is because Rarity is the other major antagonist of the piece. Ember and Rarity spend the whole story thinking that they're very clever in their lies and deceit and do their best to keep their plans from falling apart; indeed, Rarity intentionally patches up flaws in Ember's plan because her own plans are contingent upon his. Both of them think that they are being so clever in their actions that neither of them recognize that they are the problem. Indeed, once Rarity comes across important, indeed vital information, not only does she fail to share it but she actively hides it because it would screw up her beautiful plans if her friends knew what had happened. She convinces herself that she is doing the right thing because she is incapable of backing up and looking at the situation rationally from an outside, objective perspective; she has so convinced herself of her own moral superiority and that her plan was the way that she failed to examine whether or not her original plan should be entirely discarded when information came up which rendered it moot.

The true villian is deceit, and the heroes fail - Ember and Rarity play out their game successfully despite it being purely unnecessary, and Rarity, at the very least, had all the pieces she needed to realize that the game was stupid to begin with, but she couldn't put them together because she thought she was much more clever than Twilight. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie just keep there from being too much collateral damage, while Twilight is always too far behind the game to do anything other than be played until the very end, at which point she, at least, recognizes that she is being played.

5426354

See, I didn't see Rarity as the villain. The fic seemed to be proping her up as right even though the motivations of her plan don't make sense and the plan itself is condescending and somewhat dehumanizing to her friends and neighbors. I guess if she was meant to be the villain my distaste for her actions means something worked, but it still didn't seem clear. Rarity is never called out on her behavior save once where Twilight can find no meaningful objection to it other than a declarative of "it's wrong" making her opposition look inept. Celestia seems aware of the issue but at the very least tacitly supported it by not intervening, and the fic ends with Rarity basically thinking to herself that eventually Twilight will grow up and understand she was right and Celestia's framing of the revelation as a "lesson" reinforce these two observations. One has to take context outside of the story itself to figure out Rarity/Ember were basically engaging in meaningless manipulation, and the ethical arguments surrounding Greater Good behavior are as old as human civilization, so expecting people to be resolved on that seems odd, basically. So I'm not really sure where its indicated that Rarity is acting as a villain/anti-villain as opposed to a really dickish anti-hero acting with authorial support.

If you are reading this far down in the comments, there'll be spoilers.

So, Rarity is alone in that room with Twilight? That reduces the possible explanations for what Rarity saw in her little mirror.

"So Chrysalis …" Twilight's voice grew faint as she took a step back. "Threatened us with children. She broke the leg of a child."

Yep.

Ooo, that lit a fire in Twilight.

"No," Twilight said sharply. "They're not the villains here. What we're going to do is march straight to Carousel Boutique and kick Chrysalis' flank halfway to the Crystal Empire. Shining Armor can meet us in the middle and finish the job."

Hahaha, I like it. Oops, but Rarity doesn't and for good reason, and apparently has a plan of her own.

Hmn, is Chrysalis developing more holes? That seems unhealthy.

That's when Rainbow Dash air-tackled her.

There we go.

A Friendship Dungeon? Hmn.

I took a step back, almost losing my balance as I stumbled against the edge of the mattress. "Twilight, please, don't be hasty —" I said as her horn touched my chest.
A tingle swept through my body. I winced, far too late to do any good, then glanced down. Nothing had changed.

Wait, what? Why did she panic so much about the spell or wince at it being cast if she knew she wasn't a changeling? Seems like an odd reaction. Did she think she was a changeling in deep cover?

Huh, okay.

Changeling member of the CMC is a go! :raritydespair:

Good story, and good though confusing twist with Rarity.

How this is not featured yet?
God this was best christmas story ever that plot and subterfuge it was genius, on start I didn't like that first person but damn I can't now see how this would be good in any other way especially with that mirror thing.

It was first class story and If you write other stories on same level of awesomes then you have new very happy follower

Very interesting, as twisted and confusing as ever and wonderful til the last.:twilightsmile:

5426388
I really appreciate you speaking up. There's some irony here, in that the core theme of the story is bleeding out into the meta: the narrator is so caught up in the layers within layers that the true moral was there all along, but landed right in their blind spot.

I would not have been able to provide nearly so eloquent a summary as 5426354 did, but that was what I was aiming for. The biggest textual clue is the framing story of the Hearth's Warming pageant, which was very deliberate and (designed to be) unsubtle; we hear the entire HWE story from the POV of one of the ponies who caused the problems in the first place, and that parallel is so apt it pierces through her self-deception, if only for a moment.

But you're right, I mishandled Celestia's part, and Twilight needs a stronger voice at the end. There are elements of the text at cross purposes to the subtext I wanted to communicate. I'm gonna dive in once more over the weekend and see if I can fix, if not all of your objections, at least the primary one, and strengthen the theme TD identified. (It won't take much, but it'll take precision.)

Thank you both again. Comments like these are worth their weight in gold.

5425813
Glad you enjoyed it! I suspect that particular piece of fridge horror is unfixable though. :unsuresweetie: Drawing out into the story the ponies' reactions to the wedding massacre would just draw more attention to it, and distract from everything else going on.

5425916 5426019
You're asking me if you can ship? Darn you and your pier pressure! :raritydespair:

... :trollestia:

(Seriously though, go wild.)

5426529
Ah, thanks for reminding me. Rarity's reaction to Twilight's spell is actually another big fundamental clue to what I was talking about with 5426388. (Might be worth going back and skimming that thread.)
It's another explicit moment of "Rarity acting like a villain". Obviously, Rarity isn't a changeling, and she was never afraid that she would be unmasked; in fact, the text is explicit that it doesn't occur to her it was the anti-alteration spell until after it was cast. She saw Twilight stepping forward with horn charged, and assumed the worst from one of her friends. If that's not a sign of a guilty conscience, I don't know what is.

5426238

I still dont quite understand what happened with Rarity.

The short, spoilerriffic version: Rarity is not a changeling. Every scene with her looking in the pocket mirror was actually her spying on Ember. When she heard Twilight say someone needed to figure out Chrysalis' plot, she upstaged Twilight to leap into the starring role, so to speak. She figured out Ember's plan to be evil to both the changelings and the ponies to push them together, and she set up a fake poisoning scene to help him sell his story.

5426693
Thank you! :twilightsmile: If you want more of the twists and mysteries, keep an eye out for the upcoming The Case Of The Cowled Changelings, which just needs a little editing. If you like a little romance and poetry mixed in with the deep, rich layers, read Thou Goddess. If you want a tongue-in-cheek comedy mixed with this story's deep character reveals, check out The 18th Brewmare of Bluey Napoleon. And if you're just here to melt your brain: Hard Reset 2. :raritywink:

Finally,
5426693
> How is this not featured yet?
Basically, I think it got lost in the Christmas rush, in a slow reading period alongside a bunch of other strong contenders. *shrug* It happens. (Also, the sort of reader who was checking the site on Christmas Eve was probably looking for something heartwarming and/or amusing, rather than a multilayered tale of intrigue.)

> on start I didn't like that first person but damn I can't now see how this would be good in any other way especially with that mirror thing.
See, 5418262, it pays off. :raritywink:

5426827
Thank you!

5427149 Fake poisoning? How did i not notice that? In any case I dont feel its right at all for the changelings to just use Chrysalis' figure as a scapegoat for them to be accepted. The fact that she was evil grants them no right to insult her memory like that. Sure they can critisize her actions but I think Celestia and Luna would and could have found a better way to introduce the changelings. I think that just saying they were kids would be enough, starving and leaderless? The ponies would jump on the opportunity to accept them. The season would help as well. Why are people so fucking stupid? Haven't they heard Ocam's Razor theory? It's really dumb when you think about it. It could have gone wrong in a million ways possible. Plus the way they did it was immoral so the net results and the lesson is spoiled by it. I am sorry but as interesting as it sounds this fails to me.

Which brings me to the greatest problem i have... Rarity acting like a superspy. I get that Rarity has a knowledge of etiquette and knows common sense diplomacy but nation wide levels? Yea right... Plus Ember just up and left everyone roam around without escorts while it seems reasonable to betray some weakness dispels the suspension of disbelief that the city is under siege.

I am sorry but the plotwist is underwhelming for me and sometimes feels wrong. What was the original plot twist?

5427164 Also while I dont exactly disagree on the Canterlot wedding losses I think you overdid it here. Tell what happened to Cadence and Shining Armor. You just all but agreed that they commited genocide. Or at least the losses are enough to be those levels.

And thus we come to the chief conundrum of the story: do the ends justify the means? In a world of friendship and trust, are there times when it's better to use machinations and deceit?

Yeah, probably.

Really, Chrysalis so badly botched any possibility of peaceful symbiosis that even if the changelings had come as they were, cold and hungry and miserable, I'm not sure how Ponyville would've reacted. I'm not saying this was right, but it worked, and I'm not sure if anything nicer would have.

5427149 Ahh, so she was just expecting that Twilight was going to blast her into next week on account of her participation in the deception? I suppose that makes sense.

5427149
Huh, I actually never saw Rarity as the villain here either. Anti-hero certainly, and she knows Twilight well enough to know that Twilight would not react well to finding out about her manipulations, but she wasn't being evil. Well, let me rephrase. She wasn't being evil for the sake of being evil. She was doing it for the same reasons Ember was, to manipulate things towards a better outcome. While such manipulation may have been ultimately meaningless, neither of the two thought it was. And having a guilty conscience? Of course she does! She stood back and watched a child get savagely injured, she poisoned another, she did several things that rather explicitly goes against pony society's moral code. And while she feels what she did was, "right" in the end, she knows it was horrid. Also, Twilight's reaction in the square was even stronger than she expected if I recall. When faced with an enraged, and betrayed feeling, princess, her fear may have been justified.

5427149
i readed hard reset long time ago and your continuation i remember that i writed some stupid comment after work/drinking when you joked about story itself with eakin or something like that,

thou goddess was very intriguing but sadly a lot of poetry is lost for me if its not in my native language :p still story was good.

gonna try blueblood one but sadly for you i way more prefer dark comedy and i don't think you can beat dropbear and adventures of Nigel M Chalmers in this kind of comedy, he just created second richard from looking for group comics

Overall I need to say you write very refreshing things with completly different/new idea like that one with musicals

and blame grammar and other ugly things in this comment on my phone/night shift

5426354
Yeah, that puts it MUCH better, than I do.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Ending holds up much better than the original. :D Bravo on the rewrite!

I went back stage and into the changing room and what do I see? It's MY dear precious scales snuggling with three of me ! :raritystarry:

:raritywink::moustache::raritywink::duck: "Hi Rarity !":heart::heart::heart::derpytongue2:


"HE'S MINE ! Twilight charge your horn !":raritydespair::twilightoops:


:duck::moustache::facehoof:

I haven't read it yet, but you had me at "die hard" :rainbowdetermined2:

5451169
Minus explosions, plus intrigue. It's the spy-movie version of Die Hard rather than the action-movie version.

Glad I've got your interest, but let's make sure I'm not setting your expectations wrongly. :twilightsheepish:

5451201 oh no you didn't as it was a wonderful story. A nice amount of double crossing kept me guessing until the last minute, and then it took a while to process it all. Fantastic stuff.

5455107
Great to hear! Thanks for speaking up. :twilightsmile:

Lyi

That was AMAZINGLY AWESOME!

The pocket-mirror was an incredibly clever narrative trick. :pinkiegasp:

Any story that makes me want to re-read it immediatelly after finishing it is deserving of an instant-fav. :pinkiehappy:

Really glad the obvious 'truth' about rarity turned out to be a red herring. That was a good story all around.

"You … but …" Twilight threw up her hooves. "What is going on?"

Right there with you, Twilight.

This fic fucked with my mind at several points.
You built in so many hints on a specific outcome of this whole situation and the meaning behind it, by writing several sentences in a way that leads your thoughts in a specific direction, that my brain had really hard to work while reading and needs a break now.
Congratulations to pulling that off, I think it's hard to write a story like that!
There's just one thing I haven't understood yet and my feeling tells me that there is another secret involving Rarity that I couldn't figure out yet, so I will give this fanfiction re-reads until I know. :twilightsmile:
And it wanders straight into my favourites.

5483030
Thanks! Glad you liked it. :ajsmug:

I do tend to write stories that challenge readers; this would probably be about a 5.5 on the good ol' HRBE scale.

5484941

Thanks, I'm going to save this for future reference! :pinkiehappy:

Extremely pleased with this fanfic. It has active mystery for the reader and is clever all the way through. I've managed to pick up some things (like changelings morphing into older forms) but I was completely fooled with Changeling!Rarity red herring, which admittedly could be guessed.

I wish there were more fics that have the elements reader can deduce and challenge him. I wonder why this one is not more popular. It could also be adapted into nice tabletop-rpg scenario if given competent enough players.

To make long story short (too late), you get my "story that looked only good, turned out great" award.

5528255
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Keep an eye out in the near future for The Case Of The Cowled Changelings (already fully written -- I actually spent today editing it!), which you should enjoy for all of the same reasons! :twilightsmile:

You are a tricky one ill have to keep my eye on you.

5427044
I've only just recently read this story, so I don't know if you've done the weekend edits yet that you mention in this post, having nothing to compare it to. All I can say is that the changes--if you did make them--didn't result in me seeing the story any differently than Nyronous did, leaving me with very similar problems. Even to the point where after I read in the comments what you were actually aiming for the message to be, I went back and re-read the climax again, actively trying to see it through that lens, and just... couldn't see it.

Rarity and Ember still completely stymie Twilight with their last question, leaving her unable to respond in any coherent way to it (even though the possible retorts seem obvious and the logic behind the question fundamentally flawed). Not to mention that Princess Celestia (practically the official moral-dispensing plot device of the series) is strongly implied to have been on board with the whole thing. And the overwhelming narrative thrust of the story seems to be that Twilight needs to learn (and is learning) to get over her silly idealism and understand how it works out better to be a Hard Mare Making Hard Decisions, who does whatever is "necessary" for the Greater Good.

If it was actually Twilight's take on the events of the story you were trying to encourage us to side with, I really don't understand why she was made so cripplingly bad at expressing it, or why the thematic push was toward her viewpoint being shredded and discredited at the end.

That said, my problem wasn't just with Rarity's and Ember's unnecessary deception in and of itself, but also with the effect the unnecessary-ness had on the plot of the story. The fic is presented to the reader as a intrigue-puzzle-box-mystery type of story, the type of story that encourages the reader to follow along and try to puzzle out the true motives behind the schemes and plots and counterplots. This also has the unfortunate effect of causing you to dance around the specifics of the characters rationalizations to themselves, since obviously being too specific would give the game away.

The problem is that this particular puzzle-box plot hinges on the characters, particularly Rarity, making mind-bogglingly bad decisions. Seriously, the core assumption of the plot's conflict can be summed up as "Rarity has such an utter, profound lack of faith in her friends' natural Generosity (the irony, it burns) that she finds it necessary to deceive them, and for children to be actually tortured in order to elicit sympathy from them to their plight." That's, um... yeah.

But since you're dancing around the specifics of Rarity's rationalizations to herself through most of the fic, there isn't much meat to allow the readers to realize just how deluded she's actually being. I mean, sure, we can tell that she believes that a vague goal is important for vague reasons, but given the format of the puzzle-box narrative, the reader is naturally inclined to try to think and speculate about possible goals and/or possible obstacles that might provide a reasonable reason why she would be doing all this, as they wait for the expected big reveal that ties all the pieces together in a clever, "aha!" sort of way.

So when I got to the end, and found out that the big twist reveal that ties everything up was: "Surprise! There actually wasn't any good reason for all the stuff that happened. Rarity was just being a callous idiot, and her whole plan was completely unnecessary in a way that should have been blindingly obvious to her!" it didn't really feel very satisfying to me. It felt a bit like reading a murder mystery where the murderer is the background character that had one line in chapter three, and is never seen or referred to again until the end.

And conversely, because of the puzzle-box format forcing you to be so vague in the pre-reveal story, you thus miss out on the kind of detailed, specific, tortured, delving-into-the-characters that might have sold a tragic story about people making such bad decisions, leaving that to the wrap-up where it's attempted retroactively, after the fact. Despite everything I've said, I agree that it's totally possible to make a story about those kind of cataclysmically bad decisions work, but you have to really sell the psychology behind it to the reader, and that's really hard to do while simultaneously being coy about just what the characters are even trying to accomplish in the first place. Not only do we not get the details, but the vague portrayal also puts the reader at more of an arms-length from the potentially-visceral turmoil of what's going on.

So in short, it felt (to me) like the ultimately unnecessary nature of the deceptions took a baseball bat to the kneecap of the "puzzle out the mystery" side of things, while the evasions from the "puzzle out the mystery" side of things took a baseball bat to the kneecap of the tragedy and drama you might have been able to milk out of characters suffering through unnecessary deceptions if we'd been on board the whole time with how unnecessary they were. It feels like there are two really excellent stories here, one a Die-Hard-esque espionage game with Rarity playing against a cunning changeling nemesis, and one a tragic tale about the horrifyingly unnecessary extremes that a lack of trust can push people into... but the fact that they both are trying to coexist within a single narrative makes both fall kinda flat, IMHO.

And when I said "two really excellent stories", I very much meant exactly that. Despite how critical everything above here probably sounds, I wouldn't have bothered to write so much if the underlying guts of this story weren't so very good and emotionally gripping. Taken on their own merits, you totally sold a whole bunch of those scenes, particularly with Rarity's interactions with the two changelings at the sleepover house, and Fluttershy staring down the "Queen". You're obviously an extremely skilled writer; I just thought it might be helpful to try and pontificate at length on some of the reasons why the story didn't quite click for me as a whole, even though its individual parts were so very well-crafted and evocative.

Anyway, that's just how it came across to me--take all the gripes with a grain of salt. I definitely think that overall reading it was an enjoyable experience; I'm very glad I found this and got the chance to read it. Thank you very much for taking the time to write the fic and sharing it!

(THIS COMMENT AND ITS CONVERSATION CONTAIN SERIOUS SPOILERS, for those of you who haven't read the story yet)

5549567
Thank you, first of all, for the long and detailed commentary; and my ego would like to insert an additional note of gratitude for the very kind words at the end. It's supremely flattering to see someone engage so deeply with the story, even if I'm stumbling on my delivery.

Most importantly: I got sidetracked and never completed the aforementioned edits. I still strongly intend to do that, but it's about third on my priority list right now. I just sent The Case Of The Cowled Changelings to my prereader, who ripped it apart, and I'd like to reassemble it and push that forward for publication; after that, I've got the annotations for Thou Goddess to write (because of impending deadlines), and then this. You'd think this would be simple enough to slide in first, but in order to effectively edit a story I have to spend an hour or two loading everything back into memory and prodding at it from a number of different angles so I lock back in what the scene is supposed to accomplish, and right now this has been cached in textual memory rather than the brainmeats.

5549567

The problem is that this particular puzzle-box plot hinges on the characters, particularly Rarity, making mind-bogglingly bad decisions. Seriously, the core assumption of the plot's conflict can be summed up as "Rarity has such an utter, profound lack of faith in her friends' natural Generosity (the irony, it burns) that she finds it necessary to deceive them, and for children to be actually tortured in order to elicit sympathy from them to their plight." That's, um... yeah.

With respect, that summary is a severe misreading of the text. For one, there are bad decisions on Rarity's part, but that's not one of them. The child-torture scene in Chapter 2 — "There was a sickening crack, followed by pandemonium" etc. — is what causes Rarity to understand Ember's true plan:

Something was wrong.

Chrysalis was using a façade of feigned desperation to justify her bluster and threats, but there was no masking the genuine desperation at the root of her arrival. How, then, had Twilight gotten away with ruining such a carefully prepared display? With Chrysalis' plans unable to proceed, she should have had no other choice but to attack! My mind raced through the facts …

… and suddenly, in one sickening moment, the pieces fell into place.

There's more to say there, but I ought to stop and give you a chance to reassess and respond, since discussing the explicit interpretation of the author tends to cut off conversation and I don't want to shut you down.

Best,

H

5554503
Ah, I see; as far as knowing they were children goes, my apologies for the misunderstanding in my initial take on that particular issue. I guess I got wrong how much Rarity knew when.

I did indeed notice that the events of the clash with Ember prompted a revelation of unspecified nature in her, but I guess I didn't associate that particular one as being the "they are fielding children at us" revelation. Maybe it was since it seemed like that part of the revelation had already hit, back in the previous scene where she ferrets out Whisper Song's true age. But if they are actually two parts of the same realization--just the latter part being a delayed understanding of the full scope/implications--then that is definitely a lot more in character for Rarity. My apologies for the misread.

That said--while it does raise Rarity's characterization many notches in my estimation--I still would say that I don't think the plot-structure issues I had are even much related to that particular aspect of it. Even the deception wasn't as cruel as I'd first interpreted, Rarity's deception still doesn't feel any less unnecessary.

Once again, that's certainly not to say that you can't tell a very good story about tragically misguided people doing obviously (or obviously to the readers, at least) unnecessary things. But like I said, I would argue that the fascinating part about something like that is suffering through it with them, examining the twisted viewpoints of it... which the at-arms-length nature of the mystery plot prevented from happening much in this story, save in retrospect.

And yet, on the other hand, as the "reveal" for a wheels-within-wheels intrigue story, it just felt mostly unfulfilling to me. The very genre encourages its readers to try and puzzle out why the characters are doing what they're doing. That's why it's tricky when the final answer is something the reader might have discarded if it had occurred to them in their own puzzling-out phase with a "nah, that can't be all Rarity's trying to do, there's obviously way easier ways to do that... so there has to be something more to her plan to explain all the extra maneuvering and lies to her friends and such!" only to find out that the answer is "Nope! In fact that really was all she was trying to do after all." If that makes any sense.

Gah. The more I write and rewrite these paragraphs, the more I feel I'm explaining this very badly, perhaps even worse than my initial try. And it's certainly a subjective thing to being with. But I hope I'm getting at least a bit of the feeling across, and that it's at least somewhat useful to you. If it's just nonsense, let me know and maybe I'll give it another shot tomorrow when I'm hopefully a bit more cogent.

accelerateddevelopment.ca/book_images/Executives,%20Understanding%20your%20chances,%20The%20Art%20Of%20War.jpg

"All warfare is based on deception."

Again I show up to the party unfashionably late. I'm ashamed--I only guessed that "Chryssie" was bluffing with nothing in her proverbial hand, and that if the ponies had rushed her, they could have ended the stalemate quickly. Everything else took me by surprise. It's a pity RCL curators can't have their own work inducted, 'cause I think this would be a strong contender.

Stories like these always worry me, because they make me wonder how well I would do in a big game of wits. It seems my only hope would be to study this guy's methods:

5789588
Thanks for the kind words!

Part of the theme here -- or at least that was the intention -- was also that Rarity was overthinking things, that she (and Chrysalis) solved the problem with their craftiness, but that the entire plan would have been unnecessary if they'd simply trusted in pony principles. So the worry about plotting isn't strictly necessary, though that's a neat little clip.

5800300

Very true. But it still makes me wonder, suppose there was a situation where you really did have to match wits and oh dear I've fallen into the same trap. :facehoof:

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