• Published 5th Sep 2018
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The Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book I - BlueBastard



A Berylverse Story - The ponies investigate an ancient prophecy tied to Sombra's plan to destroy Equestria, all the while Sunset prepares for her coronation. But not all is as it seems when the mystery begins to imply a far darker truth of the past.

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Chapter 20 - Foe or Faux?

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 20—Foe or Faux?

Things were not going Corner’s way this night, or so it seemed. Against all odds, the very reason she’d bothered to sneak out of the Retreat and risk blowing the lid off everything appeared to have gone missing inexplicably. That had been bad enough. But as she stealthily moved from rooftop to rooftop, drawing closer to the bed and breakfast, she was shocked to find the place almost entirely lit up like a Hearth’s Warming tree. At two in the Celestiadamn morning!

There was no immediate reason for why there was so much commotion going on, but Corner had a sinking feeling about it. Bizarrely, while all the main lights were on, the only distinct forms moving within she could easily identify as guards in typical barding. Why are they patrolling the halls? At least they weren’t patrolling the exterior, which meant it was no problem sneaking back into the room through the window and closing it behind her.

None too soon, Corner discovered, as there was a knocking on the door almost immediately as soon as she had thrown the window’s lock. Having not gotten much sleep doing her “business,” Shot had little difficulty looking like she’d been rudely awakened as she opened the door somewhat jerkily.

“Can I help you,” yawned Shot, “sir?”

“Ma'am,” started the guard with the telltale mannerisms of repeating memorized, generic speeches, “under the authority of Her Highness Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Guard is undergoing an investigation at the moment. For your own safety, please remain in your room.”

“Huh? Princess…Twilight?” Corner was taken aback. What had gone on in this place in less than an hour she’d been gone for? “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The guard shook his head. “I appreciate your concern, m’am, but Princess Twilight has insisted that everypony please remain in their rooms. If there are any questions, you may refer them to the Municipal Offices at Friendship Castle.”

“Oh, ok. Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome. Good evening, ma’am.” The guard then turned and walked down the hall to the next room. Corner closed the door behind her, cursing her luck.

“Dammit!” she swore under her breath, “what’s going on, Razz?” Whatever it was, the guards didn’t seem interested in her, and Corner wasn’t sure whether that was a blessing… or a bad omen.

Meanwhile, in the privacy of Razz’s bedroom, space was at a premium for it was never designed with the intent of holding a maximum of nine ponies and a phoenix with ample leg room. Especially when the subject of them all being there was still encased in dark crystal.

“Alright, Coco,” said Razz, who took a sip from a dearly needed cup of coffee. It wasn’t her mother’s excellent blend, but instead a shitty “just add water!” instant-mix type due to the speed with which caffeine had been required to keep Razz on her feet, let alone remember to put her leg brace on, so the crappy taste did not improve Razz’s already foul mood. “You said you could explain what’s going on here, so spill.”

"I'm...uh...well...looking for gossamer thread!” said Coco with absolutely no belief that her lie would be bought. “Yeah! It's hard to find and I lost a spool around here the other day...."

“Ah’m pretty sure Ah was informed this whole business was about you attackin’ Razz in her sleep,” interjected Applejack, who above all the other ponies valued the need for sleep—she could already assume the impact on harvest productivity this matter was making to the workload tomorrow. “So unless you somehow thought Razz was made of Galoshes-er thead, you’re only diggin’ yerself a deeper hole of trouble by lyin’ to us.”

Divine, who was one of the first on the scene, looked at Applejack. “Just say the word and I’ll have her taken down to the stockades.”

Rarity looked at the captain. “You wouldn’t!”

“I know she’s a friend of yours, Rarity, but I have my duties to do—and a strange pony being where she’s not supposed to be is either a thief...or worse.”

Now blushing a deep crimson—almost enough to make her cheeks match Razz’s normal coat color—Coco looked as if she’d rather just melt away into the floor than meet the gaze of the ponies around her.

“Well, we don’t have all night, so let’s cut the crap and get straight to the bottom of this!” declared Rainbow. Lifting off, she dashed within mere inches of her muzzle touching Coco’s, eyes squinted in accusatorial rage. “Coco Pommel, are you a spy?” Behind Rainbow, Twilight facehoofed and several others rolled their eyes.

“A s-spy?” stammered Coco, “no, of c-course not! Wh-why would I…” her common sense then appeared to take over in her mind as she sighed before mumbling, “Well, okay, technically yes…”

Then who are you working for, you traitor?!” shouted Rainbow, before suddenly getting yanked back by AJ who then silenced RD by shoving her hoof into the muzzle of the pegasus.

“You really need to work on that brain-to-mouth filter, Dash,” chided the farm mare.

Divine facehoofed. “As much as we...appreciate...the assistance, Lieutenant,” he said to Rainbow, “would you let my ponies do their duties?"

“Applejack’s right,” piped up Fluttershy, “you can’t just assume Coco’s a traitor just because she admitted to being some kind of a spy.”

Rarity, still at a loss, tried to reason things out. “Surely there’s more at play here than just trying to kill Raspberry—"

“I wasn’t trying to kill her!” blurted Coco, now so scared she was shivering almost exactly as she had been when she’d been freed from from the Seabrook Arno’s locked freezer. “It’s not like I could anyway: She’s a descendant of Sombra! So long as there’s a drop of magic left in her there’s no way to even permanently harm her!”

Razz then noticeably stiffened. “Now how would you happen to know that loophole, Coco?” The cream-coated mare seemed to shrink even further than she had before as the dark unicorn’s gaze bore down into her. Due to the circumstances, Razz hadn’t bothered putting up her illusion spell so to Coco, it was like a literal pony demon was now evaluating how best to torture her. “The only way anypony would know my regenerative power won’t work if I burn off all my magic first is if they were around when I got my leg injury from a while back—and it was never made public that I have regenerative powers in the first place, either.”

“I…uh, I…” Coco struggled to try and answer. It wasn’t so much she was afraid of just telling the truth, it was the fear of losing the only real ponies she could call friends at that point in her life. But they were getting dangerously close to figuring it out anyway and Coco didn’t know what to do.

“Obviously, whoever she’s working for either also has spies somewhere in the country’s infrastructure such that even something as kept hush-hush as Razz’s regenerative abilities would leak to them eventually,” suggested Twilight, “or whoever Coco works for already knew about Razz’s powers.”

“But, how is that possible?” asked Rarity. “We ourselves didn’t even know Razz existed until a few years ago, much less her unique connection to the darker side of magic. Even then, the only pony with enough knowledge about dark magic that could even think that Razz had such powers is Razz herself, you appointed her the ‘Grand Archmagus of Equestria for Dark Magic’ for that reason!”

“Ah dunno,” interjected Applejack, “maybe Coco’s workin’ for the Changelings—those pockmarked locusts seem to know too much anyway.”

“Well, we have to make a decision,” Divine said. “Twi, my recommendation is that we place her under arrest until we get more answers. Even if by some coincidence this is nothing more than just a mistake, once the news gets out it could cause serious problems for the town. Best to overthink the problem than to potentially miss a warning sign.”

“As reluctant as I am to do so,” Twilight said, “you know what you’re doing, Div. I’ll leave it in your hooves.” She sighed. “I just hope Sunset doesn’t find out about this.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s a friend of mine and has a very protective streak. Remind Razz to tell you what she did the last time there was a minor misunderstanding.”

Razz rolled her eyes. “Yeah, was that a fun time. Not.”

Any further discussion was halted when everypony finally noticed Coco had apparently started cramping up. Whatever was going on, it was enough to make the poor mare start tearing up and Razz immediately removed the dark crystal holding Coco to the floor, thinking that was the cause. But the real cause, as it turned out, was entirely unexpected and yet unintentionally predicted.

Chrysalis emerged from what had been her forces’ temporary headquarters and made her way toward what had been a rapidly growing hive. Only it wasn’t one of her hives and as soon as Chrysalis had learned of its existence, she’d launched an all-out siege to squash this rising problem like a bug…literally speaking. She was getting lax in recognizing would be usurpers in her own camp, as evidenced by how the bodies of slain enemy changelings had already shifted their alignment colors; from the teal that most Changelings—her changelings—wore, to a kind of burnt pumpkin orange that no doubt was claimed by the latest pretender to the Black Throne. She could only hope the majority of the survivors would see reason and shift back to her colors, she never was one to like pointless changeling-on-changeling violence.

Within the hive, she was pleased to see her forces had taken care to do minimal collateral damage to the cavities within—the hive was still useful as a remote colony breeding ground, which saved a lot of work on Chrysalis’ part from recovering losses thanks to all this infighting. Less pleasing was the disproportionate number of dead orange changelings to live ones held prisoner by her loyal teal changelings. So much slaughter filled her life even now, but she’d long since stopped thinking it was anything other than a natural law she had to deal with. Only the strongest would survive, or however it went.

“My queen,” said one of her changelings—Thorax she believed his name was, more notable than most in how he wasn’t trying to proverbially kiss her ass all the time, but he was still loyal which was a rare commodity these days—as he descended from a higher level. “We’ve captured the false queen Capillo, but she demands to see you before she surrenders.”

Chrysalis sighed, she already knew this song and dance. “Fine, take me to her.” Following her subordinate, it was only a few minutes later that a wall of teal changelings all facing away from Chrysalis parted. Backed into a corner, numerous cuts in black and orange carapace seeping the green blood of changelings, was “Queen” Capillo.

As was always the case, the chittering voices of her hive filled Chrysalis’s mind. The sensation of their thoughts and emotions moved with her own, ebbing and flowing like a stream. It was not so when a part of the hive was splintered, but still connected. Then the hive mind was more of a tempestuous ocean, roiling so chaotically that Chrysalis almost didn’t hear Capillo when she spoke aloud.

“So, come to see me die?” taunted the wounded leader. Even when the hive mind was calm, it was still difficult to pick out one voice from all the others, which made analogue communication a necessity.

“Yes, because you apparently asked for me to come see you,” flatly stated Chrysalis, not in the mood to be all haughty as she had once been in these situations. All she wanted was to end the storm of noise stampeding through her head. Alas, she had an image to uphold, and mentally prepared herself to once again engage in tiresome theatricks.

“Well, I wanted to see what passed as queen material before I killed you,” scoffed Capillo.

At that, Chrysalis laughed, already adopting the haughty and powerful presence expected of a queen. “Was that a threat, grub?”

Capillo shook her head. “A challenge. You are unfit to rule, Chrysalis, and I invoke my right to an honorable duel. It should be me who sits on the Black Throne, or hell, even Mandible! But you aren’t even—ack!” Capillo tried to stand, but Chrysalis placed a hoof on her back and held her in place with seemingly no effort at all.

You wish to challenge me?” Chrysalis taunted with a chuckle. “Poor grub, you can’t even stand! This duel has already been decided.”

Capillo coughed up a wad of green ichorous blood. “It isn’t about winning….”

“Of course, it’s about defiance,” Chrysalis said blaisely. “Do you think you’re the first would-be usurper to try to face me in a hopeless last stand? Better changelings than you have tried.” Chrysalis bent down so she was eye level with Capillo and gave her a cruel smirk. “Do you think history is going to remember ‘the last stand of Queen Capillo’? Or that I’ll see your face on the enemy to finally strike me down? Ignorant fool. I’ve dealt with so many traitors and usurpers over the years that all of their names and faces blend together, and yours will soon join them in obscurity. I doubt I’ll even remember this conversation tomorrow.”

Chrysalis wished she could relish the growing despair on the other changeling’s face, but all she felt was tired. She just wanted the storm of thought to become a stream again. Then to her surprise, Capillo’s despondent look gave way to a weak smile.

“So many snakes in your garden, huh? What does that say about you?”

“That I need a better exterminator.” With that, Chrysalis brought her hoof to the lesser changeling’s neck and brought it down with all of her might.

Capillo’s neck gave with a sickening snap, and her entire body spasmed, her limbs twitching once, twice, three times, before she was still. Giving a nod to her drones, Chrysalis ordered each of Capillo’s orange hued changelings prostrated before her as she approached.

“DO NOT FORGET WHO OUR REAL ENEMY IS. WHILE WE ALL SLAUGHTER EACH OTHER, EQUESTRIA GROWS STRONGER BY THE DAY!” Chrysalis proclaimed, her booming voice echoing through the twisting tunnels around them. “They were weak and defenseless after their war with Tirek, but thanks to the efforts of this one—” Chrysalis gave Capillo’s body a nudge with the same hoof she’d killed her with, “—and of her part-time ally Mandible, we were too busy fighting each other to capitalize on Equestria’s vulnerability. Now their might grows stronger—they even have another alicorn princess in their ranks!

“This will be the last time our own infighting will distract us from our true goal. Do any more of you wish to challenge my rule, and continue to undermine changeling kind itself? WHAT SAY YOU?

There was only a moment’s hesitation before every orange changeling gathered before her flashed in green flame and changed their colors back to Chrysalis’ teal green. The roiling storm of the hive mind lessened, and Chrysalis found herself able to hear her own thoughts again. There was still discord in the hearts of her changelings—she supposed there always would be—but at least the noise was lessened.

Then Chrysalis saw one among Capillo’s number who still hadn’t reverted their colors. To her surprise, it was a small grub—freshly shed their first skin by the looks of it. Before Chrysalis could act, however, one of her own stepped towards it—Thorax, she realized.

“Ocellus,” Thorax said softly, and Chrysalis immediately noticed a certain… intimacy between them. “Change your colors.”

The little grub—Ocellus—wavered for a moment, then looked over at her with a glare. In that moment, the discord in the hive mind increased tenfold so it was almost as tumultuous as it had been before, and Chrysalis wondered if she was going to have to squash this mere infant before the others were finally well and truly back in line. Then Thorax held Ocellus’s gaze and something unspoken passed between them. With a defeated sigh, the little grub shifted her own pumpkin-orange colors to Chrysalis’s teal green. The hive mind became a stream once again.

Chrysalis smiled, though it was more of an automatic response at this point than from any actual joy. At least one of them would betray her again eventually down the road. Someone always did, and that little Ocellus had come very close to openly defying her. And then there was her apparent close relationship with Thorax. She would have to look into that later.

It was as Chrysalis was leaving the now quiet hive that she saw another contingent of her changelings approach—ones Chrysalis vaguely recalled sending to Nightshade. She spoke to the changeling in charge—Pharynx she believed his name was.

“Report. Did you find Mandible?”

Pharynx shook his head with a neutral expression. “We dug thoroughly through the remains of the hive near Nightshade but found no sign of Mandible. It seems likely she escaped its destruction.”

“Pity,” Chrysalis mused. Mandible had been a far more annoying thorn in her side than any of her previous usurpers had been. Mandible’s attack on the Seabiscuit Arno had very nearly removed a small but crucial piece from Chrysalis’s board. Fortunately everything had worked out, thanks in no small part to some much larger pieces of hers. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. It will take time for Mandible to recover her strength: more than enough time I need to see my plan through.” She turned her full attention to the changeling before her. “Pharynx, I want you to oversee what remains of our infiltration operation. When the time comes, we need most of their ranks to be our own.”

Pharynx bowed low, but there was a certain… insincerity to it that Chrysalis didn’t like. Or perhaps I’m just seeing traitors everywhere I look now.

“It shall be done, My Queen.”

The seven ponies and phoenix looked at Coco Pommel in complete and utter shock. Now freed from the dark crystal, the only thing hiding Coco’s body from the crowd was her cloak, but most of it had been knocked off when two teal wings had spontaneously sprouted from Coco’s back: two translucent, insectile, pockmarked teal wings.

Where the wings connected only told more of the same story—a turquoise saddle carapace now covered most of Coco’s back as well as wrapping around her midsection. Her tail and hooves also sported holes much like her wings, but their size was considerably smaller than the average changelings—something Razz felt would be worth comparing later, given the real live changeling she’d befriended only a few weeks ago. To finish off the differences, whenever Coco’s mouth was open, her incisors were notably slightly longer fang shapes, but weren’t anything to write home about compared to Razz’s own fangs.

But the common thought between the seven ponies was that for all the differences, this changeling had somehow retained the majority of Coco Pommel’s look. In fact, it looked less like a changeling and more like Coco herself wearing half of a changeling costume with a minor illusion spell for the holes in her body—only part of her body at that, for she notably lacked holes of any sort in her ears and mane.

Rarity was the first to recover from the shock, instead turning to rage. “You mean to tell me that the mare I thought was Coco Pommel all this time…was an impostor?!

“I know you have no reason to believe me, but…I am Coco Pommel, Miss Rarity!” The changeling mare was starting to tear up, clearly pouring emotion into her words now.

“Impossible, I may not have known her long but—"

“Everything I may have said about my parentage, my early education? You have no idea how much I wish any of it was actually true! How much I wish I was a real pony and not some half-bred reject experiment!” Coco was practically sobbing at this point. “Back when I was stuck working for that bitch Suri, I was worried she’d somehow find out, but then I met all of you during Fashion Week and for once in my life I actually had friends and…and…and I just…” Unable to find words, the mare simply collapsed to the floor, sobbing now that the damning truth was out.

“Coco…” gently began Rarity as she approached the form before her. “Darling, please, talk to us…”

“B-but you all hate me!” was Coco’s response. “I lied to all of you about who I really am and—"

“So you’re not Coco Pommel, then?” interrupted the fashionista.

“N-no, I am, but—"

“Then you never lied about who you are, Coco, not once. Now, lied about what you are? Most certainly, but with all due respect to those present, you actually aren’t the first pony who’s done this exact same schtick to us, either.”

“Yeah, if anypony could say that, it’d be you Rarity—after all, you’re the one who makes use of our services for your business, right?” snarked back Razz.

“Fair enough, I suppose.”

Sniffling, Coco’s waterworks had slowed down somewhat. “I don’t…I don’t understand, this whole time I’ve been trying to keep this under wraps because I was sure the moment you all knew I was some half-changeling freak you’d all hate my guts.”

“As the resident expert of being chased out of towns with torches and pitchforks,” expertly replied Razz, “I can say with certainty the ponies in front of you, Coco, are not those kinds of ponies. If anything, they’ll love and tolerate the shit out of you. Constantly.” Then Razz’s eyes got more stern. “But now that your big secret is out, can you finally tell me why I woke up in the middle of the night to see you trying to do something to me?”

“Oh, um, I know this is going to sound really awkward but…” Coco turned bright red again. “It was because I was going to try and feed on the love you and your pet have for each other.”

“What.”

Coco sighed. “I’m part changeling, I need love to keep up the disguise so I can pass for a normal pony, and while I can store a large amount of love energy for that magic, I’ve been running low ever since we got back from Nightshade and in order to keep a low profile I’ve not had a chance to really fill up again. Plus, hanging around with you and Heliodor all the time, well, I apologize for the comparison but you two have such a bond it’s like you were unintentionally holding triple chocolate sugar bombs made of love just out of my reach. If I’d succeeded, all that would have happened was you waking up later feeling like you were going through a really bad hangover. Please, understand I absolutely did not want to do that, but I’m a little desperate and when I get desperate I tend to also become really nervous and do…non-pony things…”

“Like the spitting?” asked Rarity, eyebrow raised. A few of the other ponies raised their eyebrows in confusion.

Coco nodded. “Yeah, you can blame that on the non-pony part of me, too, since changelings will try to build a protective hive-type structure if they feel nervous or in danger. Only, I can’t generate the kind of substance needed to do that so…all I can do is spit normal pony saliva.”

“Okay, this business about spitting aside,” interrupted Razz, “you seriously weren’t barging in here just to kill me, but to basically recharge your batteries?”

“Yeah!” Coco nodded vigorously. “It would look really bad if I ended up doing the opposite of what Chrysalis said I needed to do.”

“Excuse me?!” said Twilight, immediately catching Coco’s words. “You’re working for CHRYSALIS?!”

“Oh, um, aheheheh…” Coco shrank back, obviously realizing she might not have wanted to mention that detail. “I…I can—"

Divine’s eyes narrowed. “You can explain once I get you into the dungeon.” He waved behind him for two guards to come in with restraint hobbles.

“You will do no such thing,” Rarity told him. “This is a Bearer matter, and we will attend to it, won’t we, Twilight, dear?”

“My duties are to protect you,” Divine reminded the alicorn. “Please don’t make this harder.”

Twilight looked at him. “Div...I’m the Princess of Friendship. If I can’t trust my own court—who can I trust?”

He sighed. “Okay. But if something happens, I will end it and it will not be pretty,” he warned Coco as his hoof went towards where his sword was.

“Yes, yes, we get it, you can be the big bad stallion later!” cut off Rainbow before turning to Coco. “As for you, just stop saying you can explain and actually explain it, will you?!”

“To be fair,” interrupted Pinkie, “she can’t, not right now at least.”

“And why not, Pinkie?”

“Because it’s the end of the chapter.”

“The end of the chapter?” Rainbow gawked. “What are you even talking abou—"

Just then there was a knock at Raspberry’s door.

“Quickly!” said Rarity, nodding toward Coco. Before the half-changeling could react, she suddenly found all the other ponies standing in front of her as if blocking the pony at the door from seeing her.

“Captain?” inquired the guard at the now open door.

“Yes?” Divine responded.

“The guards have completed the sweep of the area to search for any changelings—standard protocol, you know. As it stands, we have found none other than the one changeling that has been given special permission to remain within the town’s boundaries.”

“Ah, excellent, thank you, guardspony,” Divine acknowledged. The guard saluted before departing, with all the ponies sighing in relief after he closed the door.

“Did...did you all just protect me?” asked Coco, stunned.

“Well, duh!” said Pinkie, “you’re still our friend, Coco, just...with a complex problem, that’s all.”

Author's Note:

For those wondering, this is what Coco's True Form looks like - and yes, this art was commissioned for this very story over five years ago!

Also, please update the TV Tropes page if you can! It needs some love!

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