Chrysalis was humming again.
Twilight looked up for a moment, staring unfocused at the far wall, trying not to grit her teeth.
She wanted to grit her teeth, but she didn't want to want to grit her teeth. Because, as she'd noticed, Chrysalis only hummed when she was feeling particularity happy and content. It was a wandering tune, never the same twice as far as she'd been able to tell, and she wasn't sure if Chrysalis even knew she was doing it.
Twilight really didn't want to feel annoyed by it because Chrysalis did it when she was happy. And she didn't want to start associating Chrysalis being happy with her own annoyance.
But she was annoyed by it, as she knew the exact reason why Chrysalis was so happy: because she was sitting here in the library of her hive next to Twilight, the pony she loved.
The last few days had been... surprisingly peaceful, aside from the occasional spine-shuddering displays of affection from Chrysalis. Twilight had been given free reign of the hive, possibly even with the option of leaving, though she hadn't dared try that since the first night. The drones had turned out to be quite friendly; they could understand her, but without shape-shifting they could only speak their own language, Hempid, which had sounded like nothing more than buzzes and clicks to her at first. It hadn't seemed fair to ask them to change forms just because she couldn't understand them, so she'd begun learning it. She'd always had a talent for languages.
Her studies had also helped with that, as she had begun going through all the changeling-written books she could find. Mostly to try and figure out exactly how she'd become married to the Queen and why Chrysalis was acting the way she was, although the temptation to look into some of the more interesting tomes had overwhelmed her more than once.
What she had found was that all changeling relationships were based on domination and conquest. There was no acrimony once the hierarchy had actually been established, but until then... yeah, they kinda seemed like they were trying to kill you.
And by seeing through Chrysalis's disguise before the wedding and calling her out, Twilight had unwittingly challenged the changeling to a contest of dominance. There were many subtleties to changeling relationships, and somehow what she had done, both before and after her accusations, had expressed her... availability, and her interest in Chrysalis. The Queen had quite obviously returned that interest, which was technically lucky since it had probably helped prevent the invasion from succeeding.
The interesting thing–well, the 'interesting thing'–was that had Chrysalis taken control of Equestria, she and Twilight would have been married on the spot. And the kingdom would have stayed firmly in the hooves of the changelings, of course, but that was almost beside the point.
Domination and conquest, that's what it was all about. The conquest of Equestria would have been the proper conclusion to a short engagement–more like an elopement–and Chrysalis would have taken Twilight as her prize.
Instead, the Queen had been defeated, but in a way that left her free to try again and again. This had initiated the longer form of courtship which, Twilight had noted with dismay, was considered much more romantic.
Instead of just one battle with a clear victor, they had clashed over and over again. Making things worse, while Twilight had had a few setbacks and defeats at the hooves of Chrysalis, she had won more often than not. Meaning she was at least as powerful as Chrysalis, if not more, and that just made her all the more desirable to the Queen–she was a strong spouse, a prime mate, one able to protect the hive and ensure its future.
And their wedding, naturally, had been another fight. Except this time it had been serious, with Chrysalis giving everything she had. Because at the end, when she'd had Twilight helpless, when she's clamped her fangs around Twilight's neck, she had proven she was the stronger of the pair. All changeling weddings ended in 'death', with the victor becoming the dominant partner.
Although it was hard to think of Chrysalis as dominant right now, given the way she was fawning over Twilight. It was almost impossible to separate herself from the Queen, and Chrysalis kept asking if there was anything Twilight wanted, anything she needed, and was constantly giving little–and sometimes not so little–displays of her affection.
Currently, Twilight figured that was just post-marriage giddiness. It would be interesting to see what Chrysalis's actual personality was like once she'd calmed down and they'd had more time to get to know one another–
No! No, that wasn't going to happen. There had to be some way to... to fix this, to break it off with Chrysalis without hurting her, and maybe even keeping her as a friend.
So, with a silent sigh, she turned back to her book. As much as she wished to browse changeling literature some more, her relationship status needed to be dealt with. So now she was going through an Equestrian book of laws. Which was surprisingly current, and unsurprisingly completely unhelpful.
The problem was that, by long tradition, travelers from Equestria to foreign countries were bound to the laws and traditions of the lands they visited. There were exceptions–no one expected ponies to eat griffin meat dishes if they didn't want to, obviously–but by and large the tradition applied to everything. Which meant that her marriage to Chrysalis was, in the eyes of Equestrian law, completely legitimate.
There was even a precedent for 'unconventional' marriages due to ignorance of societal practices, set back during some of the earliest encounters with dragons. And seeing as how that union had produced a certain draconequus, the tradition seemed to be pretty ironclad.
Her other hope, the fact the changelings were an enemy nation, had been dashed as well. A simply hostile society didn't provide exemption to the tradition. Being at war with a nation did... except, what with one thing and another, war had never actually been declared on the changelings after the wedding.
Part of it was no one had actually known where the changelings were. No one had even known if they had a where, or if they were even technically a nation. They certainly hadn't had any kind of embassy, diplomat or capital to whom a declaration of war could be issued. And declaring war on an entire species had... issues. After what had happened to the giraffes, everypony had been hesitant to do it again.
Another reason was that there just didn't seem to be all that many changelings. Attacking Canterlot with anything less than their full strength would have been foolish, and Chrysalis had shown herself to be anything but. And yet, there had still been significantly fewer changelings than there had been Canterlot citizens. A country with the size and power of Equestria declaring war on a 'country' with roughly the population of Ponyville would, to say the least, cause foreign and public relations problems.
Resignedly, Twilight closed the book. There was no hope there. There was no hope anywhere, as far as she could tell. She was well and truly screwed. Quite literally, to judge by the looks Chrysalis had been giving her.
Although... there was one pony who'd always been able to help her.
She got up, moving out of the library while frowning in thought, not paying attention as Chrysalis suddenly noticed her absence and scrambled to her hooves, buzzing through the air momentarily in her haste to catch up.
The next day, Twilight left the hive.
Exiting the cave that marked the main entrance to the hive, she stopped, closing her eyes and turning her face up to the sun, happy just to feel its warmth on her face again. The hive wasn't bad, in fact the caverns made it pleasantly cool, but she had spent her whole life in the sun and had missed it even in the few days she had been underground.
Looking around hesitantly, Twilight walked further from the cave mouth. The hive was hidden in the southern part of Equestria, in the Macintosh Hills, and she purposefully kept her eyes to the right as she climbed to the top of one of the larger nearby hills.
Finally, she turned, and beheld all of Equestria, or at least the general region she called home, spread out before her. Ponyville was easily identifiable, being the only city on the plains near the Everfree Forest, and even if it wasn't her castle shone in the sun like a beacon. Equally noticeable was Canterlot, hanging off the side of the mountain that shared its namesake.
Twilight sat, staring at the two cities she called home equally, and felt a pit of longing opening up in her stomach. She missed her home. She missed her friends, she missed Spike, she missed her family, she missed everything that Ponyville and Canterlot meant to her.
For a moment she was tempted to leave. Just leave, teleport back to her home, or at least teleport most of the way and then fly. She could expose the changeling that was currently taking her place, report the location of the hive to Celestia, and they could have the Royal Guard on their way here within the hour. Chrysalis and the hive, or at least most of the hive, would no doubt be long gone by then, scouts, spies and the hivemind having given them ample warning about what was coming. But they would have received a message they couldn't ignore, that Equestria wouldn't tolerate their presence inside its borders. And if Chrysalis was foolish enough to stay and fight, she'd be defeated easily, and they could lock her up somewhere for real this time.
Those thoughts, to Twilight's surprise, produced similar feelings to her homesickness. She couldn't do that to Chrysalis. She couldn't break her heart like that. That wasn't even breaking her heart; that would be something so far beyond betrayal Twilight didn't even have a word for it. And the thing was... she actually liked Chrysalis.
Not liked liked her, of course, of course not. That would be... that would be ridiculous. She could never reciprocate Chrysalis's feelings for her. Even though sometimes she–no.
But the Queen was fun to be around. She was strangely silly at times, and any conversation with her was bound to turn out interesting, whether she displayed a cruelty of thought that was chilling or an amazingly considerate analysis of others' situations and feelings.
Changelings fed on emotions. For some reason, Twilight had hypothesized, this gave their Queen an utter lack of control over her own emotions. Her reaction to anything seemed to be at the maximum level of emotional investment.
Thus, a changeling who had come in to report a failure had triggered a towering rage the likes of which Twilight had never seen. Chrysalis had begun throwing around blasts of magic that had looked likely to kill the unfortunate drone, and only Twilight's intervention, it seemed, had saved him.
And yet, when several changelings had been injured in a small cave-in, Chrysalis had displayed a concern near panic. The tenderness and compassion she had given the injured had met, and possibly surpassed, anything Twilight had ever seen from a pony. Again she had had to intervene, this time to stop Chrysalis from working herself into exhaustion from caring for the changelings.
The contrast was... intriguing, to say the least.
But those two incidents had highlighted a different problem. Twilight could, to a degree, control Chrysalis now. The Queen loved Twilight so much that she'd do anything the alicorn said, even when so consumed with rage she seemed out of control. Which created a conflict for Twilight.
Her role as a Princess of Equestria meant she had to consider what was best for the kingdom. And that responsibility practically demanded she keep 'control' of Chrysalis, that she remain married to the changeling even if she couldn't return her love. Removing the threat Chrysalis posed–actually turning her into an ally instead of merely imprisoning her–should take priority over everything else.
Except she was also the Princess of Friendship. And friendship didn't mean staying in a loveless marriage in order to brainwash somepony into doing what you wanted them to do. No matter what Pinkie said.
Finally, Twilight climbed back to her hooves. Giving Canterlot and Ponyville one last glance, she began making her way back to the hive.
She sighed. Coming out here hadn't made her conflict any clearer. Still all she could see were the two options, and neither was appealing. But seeing Canterlot had reminded her again that there was one pony who always seemed to have an answer to her problems. Maybe she would be able to see a third choice where Twilight couldn't.
“You left the hive today,” said Chrysalis quietly, breaking the silence that evening as they walked through the tunnels towards the... well, Twilight had just been thinking of it as the cafeteria.
There were a number of ways she could have responded, but Twilight just settled for saying, “Yes, I did,” and letting the silence fall again.
Her nerve broke first, though, and so she broke the silence the second time. “Were you spying on me?”
“You have bodyguards, they were following you. I can't let anything happen to you.” Chrysalis looked away, not meeting Twilight's eyes. “And... yes. I want to know where you are. All the time.”
That was perfect example of Chrysalis's unique brand of creepy-sweet. But at least it gave Twilight a good opening to make a request.
“Chrysalis, there's something I want to ask of you,” she said, glancing over at the changeling. She wasn't quite sure how this was going to go down.
“Anything, Twilight,” Chrysalis replied eagerly, earlier awkwardness instantly forgotten.
Twilight took a deep breath. “I want to go to Canterlot.”
Chrysalis looked at her in surprise for a moment, then burst into an excited smile. “You do?! Excellent! I can have three legions assembled within the hour, and we can march on Canterlot by–“
“Chrysalis, we've talked about this,” said Twilight firmly, interrupting the Queen. “We are not invading Canterlot or taking over Equestria, and I am not usurping the throne.”
“B-but I would be a much better ruler of Equestria–we would be better! With us in control, soon the entire world would be–“
“I said no, Chrysalis. For one, the Princesses are my friends. That's why I want to go visit them and let them know what's happened.” She leaned over as they walked, giving Chrysalis a bump with her shoulder. “You know what friendship means to me. And a coup d'etat isn't the kind of thing you do to friends. I'm hoping I can at least get you to learn that some day.”
“That Princess wasted your potential,” grumbled Chrysalis, giving in. “If I'd gotten ahold of you first, we'd be unstoppable.”
Twilight let out a loud, melodramatic sigh and rolled her eyes, producing the wanted response from Chrysalis; namely, a soft giggle.
“Thank you,” said Twilight sincerely.
“You know I'd do anything for you,” replied Chrysalis, chitin on her face darkening slightly as she blushed. “I love you.”
Twilight remained silent, suddenly uncomfortable. Thankfully, she was saved from having to make a response by them entering the tunnel entrance to the 'cafeteria'.
“I'm thinking chicken wings today,” mused Chrysalis, then looked over guiltily at Twilight “I'm sorry, I didn't mean–“
“Do we have to go through this every time you eat meat?” Twilight rolled her eyes, for real this time. “It's not like I don't have griffin friends. And not all ponies are strictly herbivores, either. We have... omnivorous tendencies, on occasion.”
“Have you ever eaten meat?” asked Chrysalis curiously, tilting her head to the side.
“I... have,” replied Twilight hesitantly, remembering the cafeteria–a real cafeteria–in a certain alternate-universe high school. “Actually, there's something I had once that I really liked, do you think I could maybe get it here? It was called a 'hot dog'.”
Chrysalis looked at the changeling server, who shook his head, then turned back to Twilight. “Sorry, I don't think we have any dog right now. It's usually not very good, anyway.”
“No, it's not made of dog. It's pork, and it's all kind of ground up and put in this casing, and served on a bun...” Twilight made a rolling motion with her hooves, then gestured as through she were placing one object inside another. Both changelings, Queen and servant, gave her blank looks, and she let her head fall. “Never mind. I'll just have a hayburger, thanks.”
The two royals sat down at one of the tables that dotted the room, stretching out side-by-side. Like the Neighponese, changelings preferred low-slung tables that they sat on the floor in front of, rather than the chairs and taller tables of Equestria. It was one of a few details that gave Twilight the suspicion that the changelings had originated to the east, and had only recently migrated near Equestria.
One skill Chrysalis had, Twilight had to admit, was an ability to set her at ease, and by the time their food was served she was snickering and trying to smother her laughter with a hoof. Perhaps it was part of the uncontrolled emotion thing, but Chrysalis's sense of humor was wickedly funny.
So relaxed was she, in fact, that as she ate and ruminated on her problems, she leaned up against the large form next to her, wiggling herself into a comfortable position. Her burger suddenly froze partway to her open mouth and she struggled to contain a whimper, as she remembered who she was sitting beside.
It was a natural reaction, she supposed. After all, how many times over the years had she been in this exact position with Celestia, reading a book, studying magic, having a simple talk, or even eating just like this? After a certain point, snuggling up against the large form laying next to her had become an unconscious response.
On the other hoof... there wasn't much to complain about here. Aside from Chrysalis's chitin being a bit cooler that Celestia's fur, this felt just as familiar and comfortable. So, with a silent sigh, Twilight went back to eating her meal.
Only to pause once more, trying not to grit her teeth.
Chrysalis was humming again.