• Published 24th Jun 2018
  • 1,694 Views, 282 Comments

The Fishbowl - Shrink Laureate

Vinyl remembers the doll. It's unmistakably hers. Except it's in Octavia's closet. Why do they have the same doll – and the same memory?

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20. Inferno

Vinyl clasped Octavia’s hand in her own as they all dropped. Her stomach lifted unpleasantly. The seatbelt pressed her down. A growing rush of air could be heard through the open window, drowning out the engine.

The car smashed through the treetops to a cacophony of screeching metal and snapping branches. The girls held on for dear life, while Chrysalis whooped in joy. It bounced around, nearly flipped over several times, and finally crash landed on the forest floor amid the debris of crushed trees, crunching through its now ruined suspension.

The engine stalled. The headlamps were dark; they must have been broken in the landing. The echoes of impact faded away, and so eventually did the ringing in Vinyl’s ears, leaving the forest quiet and dark.

“Owwww… ow ow ow.” Trixie gingerly pulled away the tree branch that had jutted through her window and left scrapes over her face. She clutched the oversized costume witch’s hat that rested on her lap.

Chrysalis turned to the girls, her hands still gripping the wheel, with a manic grin. She caught her wheezing breath long enough to ask, “Who wants to do that again?” All three girls shook their heads.

On the back seat Tirek slowly unfolded, rubbing his bruised head. He raised a hand to cover a cough prompted by the dust, pollen and other debris thrown up by their impact.

“All right, follow me,” said Chrysalis. She twisted her body in the car seat, kicked open the driver’s side door with both feet and hopped out.

Unclear what else to do, the girls struggled to push open their own doors, eventually succeeding with an awkward scrape of misshapen metal. They clambered after her, falling onto the forest floor and slowly regaining their wobbly feet.

So this is outside? thought Vinyl. Honestly, it just looks a lot like the Everfree Woods. But I guess one forest is much like another at night. She looked up. The moon looks different though, I think? Hard to say exactly why, exactly. It’s bigger? Brighter?

The floor of the clearing was damp, evidence of recent rain. Behind them, Tirek and the two assistants slowly let themselves out of the vehicle.

“What’s that smell?” asked Trixie, backing away from the car.

Vinyl sniffed in alarm. Burning oil. And… rotten eggs? Diapers? Oh, sulphuric acid. “That’s the battery, I think. It must have broken when we landed. Uh… let’s get away from it just in case.” They all quickly put a safe distance between themselves and the wrecked car, walking to the centre of the wide clearing where the clear moonlight could reach them.

Chrysalis looked up to the sky, and the girls followed her gaze. Somewhere up there, amid the scattered stars and the soft drifting clouds, was their home. They couldn’t see it. Whatever camouflage kept it safe was flawless. Vinyl wondered, Do birds occasionally fly into it by mistake? Or is it not exactly ‘there’? How does that all work?

Vinyl and Octavia exchanged looks, each checking if the other was okay.

The sounds of a forest at night picked up around them. Is that because they stopped when we made all that noise, and they’re getting back to business now, or because my ears are just now getting used to the quiet after being in a car crash? Indistinct rustling amid the undergrowth seemed to circle around them. That had better not be anything frightening or I’m… I’m so going to scream at it.

The two assistants strode forward to stand obediently to either side of their queen as she breathed in deeply. “I’ve missed the smell of the real world,” she said, stretching her arms out. “Can you smell that? Real air, with real magic!”

“I can,” replied Tirek, bringing up the rear of the group, “but I can’t say I appreciate the atmosphere here as much as you do. This forest is too full of old, wild magic, rotten and sour. I prefer it fresh myself.”

“You’re too fussy,” she said. Suddenly she jerked her arms back in, crouching down, holding herself as she let out a pained gasp. She dropped to the forest floor, landing on all fours.

“Chryssi, what is it?” asked Vinyl, stepping forward.

She was stopped by the two assistants, their palms raised, standing calm and to attention. “Let this happen,” the male said.

Chrysalis cried out in an unnatural voice, lifting her face to the sky. Her neck was longer than it should be, her face elongated in a silent scream. Her fingers clutched the moss and roots beneath her, trembling, but seemed to be losing grip as they grew shorter, becoming stunted little bulges. The mistreated ball gown bulged and split as translucent wings pushed their way through, tearing seams that left it hanging from her body in shreds. Her legs grew shorter and slipped out of the shoes she was wearing to scrape grooves across the forest floor. A protrusion pushed its way through the skin on the top of her head, emerging as foot-long curved horn. Chrysalis trembled and gasped with each new change.

The girls watched this transformation in horror. It all happened too slowly, too much detail visible, too much obvious pain. This only grew worse as they saw sunken dimples in her arms and legs grow into punctures and then holes, cutting through bone and muscle to do so, leaving spots of dark blood on the leaf litter. When it was over, Chrysalis lay slumped on the forest floor, breathing deeply.

“You always were such a drama queen, Chrysalis,” said Tirek. The girls turned to see that he too had transformed. His upper half was still that of a little old man, save for an elongated, bovine face, but from the waist down he now had the torso of a small horse, with four legs on the ground. He was still shorter than all three girls, still hunched over with age, and still wearing the grey hooded cloak.

Trixie was the closest to Tirek. “What are you?” she whispered.

Tirek lifted one wizened hand to clench and flex it. “After so long, I am, once again, the man I used to be.” He took a tentative, wobbly step forward on his ancient legs, stumbling to his front knees.

“Are you okay?” asked Vinyl.

“I will admit that I’m no longer entirely used to this form. It has been… some years since I had all my own limbs in the right place, and I appear to have grown old.”

“Is there anything we can do?” asked Trixie.

“Actually, Miss… Trixie, isn’t it?” Trixie nodded. “There is one little thing you can help me with.” He took another awkward step forward, then lunged with surprising speed and grabbed Trixie’s neck, pulling her close. He opened his mouth as if to inhale, and… stopped.

“Huh,” he said after a few awkward seconds. “It’s true, there really isn’t a single drop of magic in you. Until now, I never had a chance to check. You are remarkable creations, really. I hope it doesn’t catch on.”

“Let her go!” shouted Octavia.

“Put her down, Tirek,” called Chrysalis, clambering to her hooves. “We need them. And you’ll get your fill soon enough.” She stretched to full height in her new form, which resembled a small horse but for the black chitinous plating, the curved black horn protruding from her forehead, the enlarged snake-like eyes, the fangs and the diaphanous green wings. It looked like some sort of insect had evolved to imitate the shape of a horse. Her voice was mostly the same as before, but with a strange resonance to it; her tone, too, had a confident certainty it had been lacking before, even in her most overbearing moments.

Tirek shrugged. He rattled Trixie like an uncooperative jar from which he’d hoped to retrieve some morsel, then dropped her casually. She scrambled away from him, clutching at her neck.

Octavia put a comforting hand on Trixie’s shoulder, while watching Tirek closely. Vinyl stood between Tirek and the girls.

“Need us? What do you need us for?” asked Vinyl. “You’re outside now, aren’t you? You’ve escaped. Surely you can let us go and be on your way.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” said Chrysalis. “You see, getting outside was only half the battle. There’s something else we have to take care of before we’re truly free.”

She looked up to the sky.

A few seconds passed. They looked at Chrysalis. She continued to look up expectantly.

“Any second now,” she added.

A few more seconds passed.

“That’s odd. Maybe he isn’t coming.”

While all eyes were raised, Trixie took the opportunity and bolted for the trees, but the female assistant moved more quickly than a human could. She tackled Trixie to the ground. They both landed face-first in the detritus, a tree root digging into Trixie’s stomach. She cried out.

“Trixie!” shouted Vinyl. She tried to run to her, but found she couldn’t. Why can’t I move? Something was holding her around the torso, pinning her arms to her sides. What is this? She looked down but saw nothing. “What?” She struggled against the invisible bonds.

“Vinyl!” Looking up, she saw that Octavia was trapped the same way. They both felt a sharp tug that lifted them off the ground and dragged them to one side, away from Trixie.

With an almighty THUD!, something huge landed in the middle of the clearing where they’d been standing, spilling up clouds of detritus.

When she opened her eyes, it took Vinyl a few seconds to work out what she was looking at. The shape was large and black, a silhouette against the dark forest backdrop, with a faint sheen of moonlight reflecting off its fur. Muscles moved underneath. It was the most enormous dog she’d ever seen, easily the size of the car. It turned to face her, and she saw it had three heads. Each of them was flat faced like a bulldog, but far larger.

Vinyl struggled in mid air, but couldn’t escape whatever invisible force was holding her. She closed her eyes again and flinched as the dog’s middle head leaned down and asked her politely, “Are you alright, little one?”

“Cerberus? Is that you?” shouted Trixie, still held to the ground and unable to see.

“It is, little Trixie,” said the dog’s third head.

“Cerberus?” Vinyl open her eyes. “Really? You’re three people inside Tartarus but a three-headed dog outside? How does that work?”

“Are you a fool, Queen Chrysalis?” asked the dog’s first head, ignoring Vinyl’s question.

His second continued with, “You know I can dispel these conjured—”

“—servants of yours in an instant,” finished the third.

“I’m certain you could,” called Chrysalis. “But I don’t think you’ll do so as readily when there are innocents in the way.”

Vinyl and Octavia were dragged again by the unseen force, this time away from each other. Vinyl was dragged to Chrysalis’ side and held in the air next to her, while Octavia was shoved over to where Tirek was standing. She hung in the air, her legs dangling.

“These little homunculi of yours have developed quite interesting souls over the last few months, haven’t they? Just think of what they could become in a few years. Your little toy kingdom might be in for some big changes. It would be just terrible if they were caught up in our little squabble, and missed that chance. So much wasted potential.”

Cerberus growled, a deep sound from three throats that made Vinyl’s bones rattle. “A low trick,” said the left head. “Worthy of—”

“—a backstabbing, honourless—”

“—fiend like you, Chrysalis,” said the right head.

She replied confidently, “Call me what you will, guard dog. I’m certain you aren’t willing to sacrifice these girls’ lives, even in pursuit of your duty.”

The two homunculi stepped forward, the female leaving Trixie on the forest floor. She started to get up, but some unseen force lifted her off the floor and dragged her, shrieking, backwards until she was hovering in front of Cerberus’ faces. She struggled, managing to kick Cerberus in the nose.

“The great and powerful Trixie will never forgive an insult like this! Release her at once!”

“Isn’t she adorable,” said Chrysalis. “Now, Tirek, if you will?”

Tirek stepped cautiously up to Cerberus, dodging back as the dog snapped at him with bared teeth, held back by the levitating human shield.

The two homunculi moved in. They grabbed Cerberus’ left head from both sides and held it down to Tirek’s level. Trixie’s helpless body was waved unceremoniously between the two growling heads as a shield. Octavia was held in front of Tirek, protecting him from Cerberus’ anger and his teeth. Vinyl was held as a shield in front of Chrysalis, giving her a clear view.

Tirek opened his mouth wide, and appeared to draw the breath from the struggling Cerberus’ open mouth. The dog’s whole left side slumped as something left him, weakened and shaking. His left head dropped to the floor.

“Nooooo!” roared the middle head. He bit the air, trying desperately to reach Tirek without touching the girls hanging in the air between them. Trixie shrieked as the snapping jaws came very close to her. Tirek danced behind the hovering Trixie, staying out of harm’s way. Cerberus growled in frustration as the two homunculi grabbed his middle head and held it in place.

Tirek stepped cautiously around Trixie and opened his mouth wide, drawing whatever it was out of Cerberus’ mouth again. The giant dog dropped further, losing strength. His legs buckled and he fell to the floor in an undignified whump.

The right head still growled with indignation. “You really think you’ll get away with this? It won’t stop me for long. I’ll get you back where you belong soon enough.”

“With all your magic gone, you’ll hardly be in a position to stop us, guard dog,” said Chrysalis. Where previously she had always seemed poised and in control, now she was wild, captivated by the rush. Her voice teetered on the verge of laughter.

Tirek paused and held up one finger. “About that,” he said. He stepped back, keeping clear of the third head.

“What?” asked Chrysalis impatiently. “Hurry up and take his magic like you promised, and we can finally be free.”

“Of course, of course. It simply occurs to me, though,” said Tirek, “that now the puppy’s out of the way, it won’t just be the two of us who take this chance to escape.” He stepped away from the defenceless Cerberus. “Before long, every creature in Tartarus will see the open gate and take their chance to run for it. Every nightmare from the dawn of Equestria, every deposed tyrant, every demon spawned of broken magic. All of them will be free to leave, and all at once.”

“You see sense then, Tirek?” asked Cerberus. “You would—”

His middle head merely coughed.

His third head took up the sentence, completing it with, “—spare the world this devastation?”

“So?” demanded Chrysalis, with manic laughter still infecting her voice. “That just means we’ll have a little competition. A game, if you will. Who can take over the world first? We have a head start.”

“I’m not really one for games, Chrysalis. Playing fair just doesn’t seem smart to me. I’d prefer to rig the game in my favour. So to cut out the competition, I think it might be best to leave our friendly guard dog here with the remaining third of his magic. That way, he can hold the rest of them back while we set about taking over the world.”

He’s getting closer. Is he bigger than he used to be? He doesn’t seem quite as frail any more.

“That’s not what we agreed to, Tirek!” Chrysalis was dividing her attention between the levitating girls and the argumentative centaur.

“But it has advantages, doesn’t it? Cerberus won’t have the energy to follow us when we leave here, but he will have just enough to keep the gates closed and keep the rest of them safely locked away. Unless you’d rather battle sirens, windigos, umbrals and nightmares for the throne of Equestria?”

Chrysalis paused. Her eyes darted between Tirek and the three girls being held aloft.

“It also occurs to me,” added Tirek, drawing out the words, “that once we’re done here you’ll have very little use for me.”

Too late, Chrysalis realised he’d been inching closer to her the whole time. Her attention shifted suddenly from the girls, who each dropped onto the muddy ground, free of the grip of whatever unseen power had been holding them up. At the same time, Tirek’s arms flattened against his side and he lifted off the ground, his four hooves scrambling for purchase.

I can move, thought Vinyl as she crawled to her knees on the forest floor. She glanced over at Octavia and Trixie. We all can.

Tirek grinned, the expression demonic on his dark red face. He opened his mouth wide and breathed in. The power restraining him went away, and he fell a few inches back to the ground. His hooves sunk into the damp earth, and he spread his arms wide.

Chrysalis didn’t wait even a moment before pointing her twisted horn at him and unleashing a beam of some kind, searingly bright in the dark forest. The beam twisted and bucked in the air as it was sucked into Tirek’s mouth. The twisting curls of energy cut through trees and set bushes alight. “You’re mad,” she snarled through gritted teeth. “My changelings will be here soon. They will have heard my signal already.”

He’s definitely bigger now! That’s no illusion.

The station wagon chose that moment to catch fire, one spark expanding into an ugly blossom of flame and smoke that flowed swiftly across the vehicle, the scattered leaves and the nearby trees.

Vinyl shielded her eyes. Shit! I guess a fuel line did get ruptured after all. Where’s Tavi? Is she okay?

She sought out Octavia, who held an arm in front of her face and was coughing. Vinyl hurried over, took Octavia’s other hand and led her to the far side of the clearing, away from the fire. Black smoke started to block out the stars above them.

I hope the fire doesn’t spread, or we’re in trouble.

Turning back to the combatants, she saw Tirek silhouetted by flames, the frail centaur standing proud between the two larger forms of Cerberus and Chrysalis. “It will take them hours to smell you, bug queen, and hours more to get here. And when they do, they’ll find you weak and without your magic. Are you sure they’ll even give the time of day to such a weak, deluded, deposed queen?”

What happened? Did he do the same thing to her as he did to the big dog – to Cerberus? No, I don’t think so, she’s still standing up.

Chrysalis took slow steps backward, keeping her focus on Tirek. One of her assistants was creeping up behind Tirek; Vinyl couldn’t see where the other one was. Behind her the flames were spreading, cutting off her retreat.

Where’s Trixie? I’m thinking she had the right idea, and we should go.

Trixie was scrambling to her feet, but she was lifted off the ground again, pulled backwards with a yelp and held in the air between the two creatures, an impromptu human shield.

“No! Let me go!”

Tirek had none of Cerberus’ compunctions about the safety of innocents. He pushed Trixie aside with surprising strength for one so small and old, jumped forward and grabbed Chrysalis’ long, equine jaw in both hands, opening his mouth wide. Her assistants darted forwards, but stumbled, confused and weakened. They dropped to their knees before evaporating in two puffs of black smoke that curled into Tirek’s mouth. Trixie dropped to the ground again.

With a blur of pink, Fluffle Puff threw herself between the two, her arms flung wide, knocking them apart. Chrysalis dropped to her knees, unable to stand any more. Tirek staggered back, his hooves losing purchase.

She crouched over Chrysalis, facing Tirek, her arms stretched wide in a barrier. Her hands were shaking, her eyes clenched shut.

The little old man leaned forwards. His face wasn’t much higher than Fluffle Puff’s. “What is it, you want to protect your mistress?” Fluffle Puff nodded. “Don’t be stupid. You don’t really love her. You don’t even have a heart. You’re not real.” He drew in a deep breath. “Now get out of my way!” he bellowed into the girl’s face.

Fluffle Puff flinched, but she didn’t move. She squeezed her eyes tighter together and continued to kneel there, hands stretched out, shielding Chrysalis. The rim of her battered pink tutu-like dress quivered.

Tirek growled in frustration. “Gyah, you things are so useless! Why did the bug queen even want to bring you along?”

“You wouldn’t understand, Tirek. You never did understand Tartarus,” said Chrysalis from behind her. She struggled to place one shaking hoof on the ground and lift herself up.

“What are you talking about, bug queen? I know more about Tartarus than any creature alive.” He slapped his chest with a hand. “I’m the one that built it!”


“Oh, really? It was a team effort, from what I’ve heard,” said Chrysalis.

“You mean that stupid old unicorn and his pocket Princess?” scoffed Tirek. “They never understood the magics behind it, the intricate crafting that went into a null magic zone this big.”

I assume the ‘Princess’ in that is the Celestia I met at the Gala. Who’s the unicorn?

A rumble from behind Tirek reminded them that Cerberus was there. “Once again, Tirek claiming—”

“—glory that isn’t his,” said the massive hound. “You forget, I knew Star Swirl back in the day. I was—”

“—there when all four of you were working together. I know—”

“—where Tartarus came from. And you certainly—”

“—didn’t create it,” he finished.

Isn’t Star Swirl the name of that old scientist Miss Cheerilee was telling us about?

“Those spells would have collapsed centuries ago if not for my crafting! The old fool didn’t even think it was possible until I showed him how to do it. He was so closed-minded. I even made you, guard dog. And the only thing Celestia added to the effort was these useless homunculi.”

So Celestia did create the town, or at least she was part of it. She told me they just found it, or discovered it. Was she lying to me? Or is it somewhere between the two?

Wait. Four? Who’s the other one?

Cerberus continued, “And I was there when—”

“—you betrayed them all.”

“When they betrayed me, you mean!”

“No.” Cerberus shook his heads. “You tried to claim—”

“—the power of Tartarus for yourself. To use it—”

“—to steal other creatures’ magic. A perversion of its purpose.”

“I deserve that power. I made it!” he screamed. “It’s mine! Mine!”

“But you never understood it,” said Chrysalis. “That’s why you’ve never escaped in the thousands of years you were trapped there. And I did,” she added with a smirk.

“Don’t look so smug, bug queen,” snarled Tirek. “I know every facet of the magic that holds Tartarus together. I’ve spent that time studying it. I know its every weakness. It was only a matter of time before I cracked its shell and made good my escape.”

With what looked like great effort, Chrysalis pulled herself forward far enough to rest one hole-punched hoof on Fluffle Puff’s outstretched arm. Fluffle Puff dropped her arm, turning to look behind her.

“These homunculi aren’t just a distraction,” she said. “They’re the whole point of the place.”

Blinking tears away, Fluffle Puff sniffed.

“Tartarus swallows up a creature’s magic,” continued Chrysalis. “It draws away any power we have, for as long as we remain within. It renders us all equal. No matter how hard you struggle, no matter how great your power outside, there’s no way to break free through force alone.”

“Exactly as I made it! It’s the perfect trap.”

“But you never saw the solution to the puzzle. What one could never do alone, a group can do together.”

Tirek sneered. “Friendship? Really, you think that’s why your plan got us this far, because you discovered friendship? You were just lucky, Chrysalis – until your luck ran out.”

“It was no accident that my plan worked,” insisted Chrysalis. “Tartarus was designed that way. Working together is the answer to getting out of Tartarus.”

“Then why are you the one lying on the floor now?” asked Tirek.

Cerberus broke in. “I can’t agree with—”

“—that idea either, Chrysalis. If Celestia had made such a weakness—”

“—don’t you think I would know about it? I’ve worked—”

“—with her for more than a thousand years.”

“You know how that mare thinks, Cerberus. It’s riddles and schemes all the way down. She doesn’t trust anybody, not even you. She made this way out available as a test.”

“You overestimate her,” said Tirek dismissively.

“Are you sure? She outmanoeuvred you into revealing your intention and being imprisoned in your own trap. She outmanoeuvred me into attacking Canterlot at a moment it was most well defended.”

“What would you know about making friends, Chrysalis? You’re as much a monster as I am.”

With some effort, Chrysalis lifted her head up. “I am a Queen, Tirek,” she said with pride. “I live for my changelings and they for me, something you could never understand. What do you live for? Nothing but yourself. The answer to getting out of Tartarus was so easy. All I had to do was find a few homunculi with a spark of intelligence and work with them.”

I guess she means us. It didn’t sound like much of a compliment, though.

Cerberus said, “You don’t understand—”

“—friendship either, Chrysalis. Subjects are—”

“—not friends. You ordered your changelings—”

“—to attack a city, and they were defeated. Did you even—”

“—shed a single tear for those that died?” he asked.

“They died in service to the hive,” insisted Chrysalis proudly. “Fighting for our species’ future.”

Cerberus shook all three of his heads. “They died in service to your foolish ambitions. They would have been better off staying at home in their tribes.”

“And starving slowly in the desert, while other races like the ponies live in such plenty? What sort of life is that? You think I could let my species fade away like that?”

“Always talking about the species—”

“—and never the individual. Do you truly care—”

“—about anyone at all? Do you have even one real—”


Chrysalis paused, looking down at her hooves, dug into the grass and leaves. The pride was gone from her voice when she finally answered, quietly, “Yes. One.” She lifted her head to look at Fluffle Puff.

The girl gasped, flung her arms around Chrysalis and hugged her tight. Chrysalis hadn’t the strength to return it, but she leant into the girl’s hair.

“Ugh, stop that,” interrupted Tirek with a shudder. “And save your bickering, you two. Especially you, Cerberus. I don’t need to hear a lecture from one of my own creations, particularly one who spent centuries playing with dolls. These mindless things were a waste of your time.”

“Excuse me…” Octavia interrupted. Tirek and Chrysalis both turned to look at her. “Did you say that Celestia made us? All of us?”

Tirek rolled his eyes. “No, not the school teacher, you useless little doll.”

“No,” said Vinyl, “the other one. The one with the big wavy hair.”

Tirek turned to look at her, his eyes narrowing. “How could you know that?”

Vinyl took a step back. “Um…”

“You’ve met her,” said Tirek, his anger growing again. “And this is the first time any of you have been outside of Tartarus, which means you had to have met her inside. She’s been in there, hasn’t she! Where? When?”

“I… really, I just met her tonight…”

“Tonight?” he screamed. “Tonight? She was there, at the Gala?”

“Err, yes, well…”

“Centuries of torment, centuries of isolation, and she swings by to attend a party?!?” Tirek’s already red face was turning maroon from his anger.

Whatever she did, centuries ago, she seriously pissed him off. Maybe my first instinct was correct, and she is a monster.

Chrysalis spoke up, untangling her muzzle from Fluffle Puff’s hair. “What does it matter that she was there? Get over the nag already.”

Tirek spun round to her. “It means she’s aware of our plan, bug queen. It means she’s ready to fight us.”

“Us?” Chrysalis shrugged. At least, it looked like a shrug, though her new anatomy, her lack of strength, her position on the ground and the pink girl wrapped around her shoulders meant it was hard to be sure. “You already double-crossed me, Tirek. The plan doesn’t mean a lot to me any more.”

“Don’t play offended, bug queen. You would have betrayed me eventually. This alliance would never have lasted. And now it’s over, and with it any hope for you and your hive. I’ll have found the centaurs and begun our tribe’s conquest before you can even lift your own head.”

From behind him came the deep rumble of Cerberus’ voice. “This will not be allowed,” he said.

Tirek turned on him. “Silence, guard dog. Your time is coming as well. Once I have all the magic of Equestria, I will return with an army of centaurs at my heel and flatten Tartarus as well!”

There was a tired rasping from Chrysalis. She was laughing. “You foal,” she said. “There are no centaurs left. They all died centuries ago.” She paused to catch her breath. “You’re the… the only one left.”

“You’re lying!” screamed Tirek.

Chrysalis struggled to place weight on one chitinous hoof. “Your conquest is never going to happen.”

Tirek whirled on her, his red, horned face a mask of rage. “You lied to me! You miserable little insect!”

“Of course I lied, you oaf,” said Chrysalis, forcing a smile onto her weakened face. “It’s what we do. You’re a fool for expecting anything else.”

Tirek reared up, ready to bring his two front hooves down on Chrysalis’ weakened body. Despite his small frame, that would still be a considerable impact.

But he stepped back without delivering the blow. Instead he cast his head about, trying to find something.

What’s that noise? Kind of a buzzing. Where’s it coming from? It seems to be all around us…

“No!” shouted Tirek. “It’s impossible! They can’t be here already.” He stomped over to Chrysalis, standing over her. “You were stalling, just buying time for your minions to get here.”

Chrysalis smirked up at him. “And you fell for it. Hear that? Soon you’ll have thousands of changelings to fight, not just one.”

The buzzing sound was getting gradually louder, audible even over the crackling of the fires around the edge of the clearing. How many of them are there? Are they all like her? Are we safe? And how fast is this fire going to spread? Vinyl looked around at the forest, universally dark and overgrown where it wasn’t already alight, wondering if there was a safe direction to go.

Tirek’s fists were balled up tight. “Graaaaarhh!” he bellowed directly into Chrysalis’ ear. Fluffle Puff flinched, but Chrysalis merely gazed up at him with a victorious grin on her muzzle.

At least, I assume that’s her ear. I honestly don’t know what sort of creature she is now or where they keep their ears.

“Tick tick, Mr Tirek.”

Tirek stamped a hoof in frustration. He spun around and walked angrily away into the forest, pulling the hood of his cloak over his head.

Author's Note:

Thanks to Admiral Biscuit for helping me figure out how to break a car.

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