• Published 17th Mar 2017
  • 7,022 Views, 114 Comments

A Canterlot 'Mending - River Road



Stripped of her place as best mare at her brother's wedding, Twilight comes across her old friends from Canterlot.

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Anger

“Welcome to the Starswirl the Bearded Wing of the Canterlot Archives.” I smile and turn around to the… one ponies with me. The moment I mentioned changelings Lyra gasped and dragged Minuette off to get ‘the books’. I don’t know what books she meant but apparently Minuette does. Which isn’t all that comforting, the more I think about it. Lemon Hearts went off to get us some snacks for researching. Moondancer ran off between the bookshelves with a squeal faster than you could say ‘Starswirl the Bearded’, literally. Which leaves me with Twinkleshine, who is not a morning pony.

So, yeah, basically talking to myself.

I smile and roll my eyes, giving Twinkleshine directions to the kitchen the archivists use and its state-of-the-art coffeemaker. Then I head into the archives myself to start researching. Luckily, I like doing research.

“We’re back!”

I look up from the book I was going through at the sound of Minuette’s voice. That was fast. A glance at the window tells me that no, it wasn’t, I just really like doing research.

I stare at the small stack of books that Minuette is holding up like they're the key artifacts in a grand quest for world peace. Which it might be, actually, but she’s doing a silly heroic pose and everything.

I take the books from her and look at the titles. “Minuette… these are rulebooks for Ogres and Oubliettes.”

“They’re not rulebooks for O&O, silly. They’re content books.” She beams at me like… well, like a dentist’s assistant, I suppose.

I rub the spots from my vision and look at the books again. “Day of the Swarm? Nobodies Army? I haven’t even heard of these.” The second one has to be bootleg, because that definitely can’t be grammatically correct. Though it’s really well done if it is, with the professional binding and illustrations of… a black-masked pony under a large cloak?

“They’re sequels/additions to the Bards of the Badlands set. Not nearly as popular, and really hard to get your hooves on for some reason.” She hums thoughtfully. “Though I think we might know the reason now. Anyway, guess what these are about.”

I go a few pages back from where I opened the book and gasp. “Changelings?! But how-?”

“No idea how they get their info but D.B. Yearling is one of the best O&O authors out there. They make content about all kinds of exotic creatures and obscure myths, and the research is always spot-on. Or at least as spot-on as can be expected if there’s barely any actual facts to research.”

“But still, what are the odds of finding that information in… in a game?!” I wave my hoof about, trying to make sense of it. Yes, it’s a book, and I respect books, but it’s a book about play-pretend. The stuff my brother and his friends always did in the basement and didn’t let me play with them. Something about being too young and a filly, but I know it’s just because of that one session where I completely broke their game with a level four illusionist.

“Like I said, it’s full of obscure stuff you’d barely find anywhere else.” Minuette shrugs and gives me a smile. “Twinkleshine plays a deer cleric sometimes, and when was the last time you saw a deer in Equestria?”

I sigh and nod, giving her a smile. “Well, it’s not like we have any better leads so those will actually be pretty useful, I suppose. I’ve never even heard about changelings, so I doubt that much of what else we’ll find will be any more trustworthy. At least unless Moondancer found some sort of biology textbook or traveling report.”

“I didn’t.” Moondancer says from behind me, stepping around a bookshelf with a pile of books in her magic. “But I found a whole bunch of books without any title at all. Even if we don’t find anything in them, at least we can bring some order into this mess. I swear, it’s like nopony has done any sorting here since before Dewey Decimal was born.”

We all giggle and take a stack of books each, everypony finding a spot of their own where we can research individually. I look over my friends with a smile, then take the first book from the stack, frowning over the complete lack of marking besides a generic (and completely wrong for that matter) sun symbol on the cover before I start to flip through the pages.

~~~~~

We set up a whole camp in the back of the Starswirl Wing and spend almost a full week there before we’re apprehended by a quartet of guards. The generic, white-and-blonde kind that’s barely distinguishable from each other. Except that they’re not actual guards, of course.

The leader steps forward. “Twilight Sparkle? Princess Celestia asked for you. If you and your friends would accompany us to the Eastern Study.” I have to admit, he’s probably a better guard than most I’ve met so far. Still…

I look them over once, lighting my horn faintly. “Sorry, but if your Queen wants to talk I would like it to be somewhere more private.” I enjoy watching them try to hide their reactions for a second, then add, “It’s the armor by the way. Royal Guard armor doesn’t just make them all look the same, the enchantment also includes a small beacon. It’s weak, but also made so almost any unicorn can sense the signal with minimal effort, to prevent pretty much what you’re doing right now.” Just like the weather schedules the weather offices hang out and other simple ingenuities, they’ve become so common that nine out of ten ponies completely forget about them until it’s too late. Still, it would be a bother to have the real guard suddenly become suspicious and attack each other just when I’m finally prepared to resolve the situation myself.

The squad leader narrows his eyes at me just as Lyra and the others join us, Lyra looking the guards over as well. “So these guys are changelings? They don’t look anywhere as freaky as in the pictures. They look kinda bland to be honest.”

Well yes, they are disguised as Royal Guards.

The leader hisses at us and bursts into green flames which burn away his armor, fur and mane along with part of his legs. Three more bursts of fire and we are facing four ponies clad in black chitin, with solid blue eyes, fangs, forked tongues, ragged bug wings and holes in their legs. Four of my friends instinctively recoil in shock and I have to admit that I do the same, which is why I can’t fully appreciate the menacing grin on Lyra’s face.

“You know, the mare I share rent with over in Ponyville is a really awesome filly…”

There’s a flash of golden magic and every pair of eyes in the room except hers is drawn to the giant flyswatter made of golden magic hovering above Lyra.

“…but she can really freak out about bugs and creepy-crawlies.”

As a student and believer of Friendship and Harmony, I shan’t repeat what happens over the next minute.

The five of us stare at Lyra and the pile of twitching, mangled and probably mentally scarred changelings on the ground in front of her.

“That was…” I start.

“Kind of excessive.” Lemon Hearts finishes.

“Kind of impressive.” Moondancer counters.

“Needlessly violent?” Twinkleshine offers.

“I think the leader is trying to get up again.” Minuette notes.

I turn my head away and shield it with a foreleg, waving it to try and disperse the wave of heat.

“Yeah, I thought that was pretty stupid of him.” Minuette nods.

Lyra looks up with slightly crossed eyes, blowing out the small trail of smoke rising from her horn, then turns around proudly. “When Bonnie says ‘It’s still moving, kill it with fire!’ she means kill it with fire.”

“I can’t believe you used a fire spell in a library.” Moondancer huffs, looking around and apparently still deciding whether to be annoyed or relieved that none of the books got damaged.

“With Twilight around?” Lyra smirks. “She’s a mad scientist living in a literal tree filled with books, along with a dragon. I don’t think I could singe a book with her around even if I tried.”

Well, that’s kind of rude of her to just assume. Just because her logic is sound. And completely correct. I still stick my tongue out at her and blow a raspberry.

“Uhm, not to interrupt…” Twinkleshine points at the unconscious and now slightly charred changelings. “But weren’t there four of them?”

Lemon, Lyra and I glance at the trio of changelings, then exchange looks. “Uhm…”

“I’m pretty sure I found the last one.”

We look over to Moondancer and see her dragging a rock about the size of Spike out from under our main table. She hits it with a light zap and the rock yelps, bursting into flames to reveal the last changeling. The intimidation factor is somewhat smaller than the first time, due to various reasons, not the least of which is that the changeling is curled up and cowering, trying to hide its head under its holey forelegs.

“Did it seriously try to disguise itself as a rock in a library?” Twinkleshine raises an eyebrow.

The changeling raises one leg slightly to peek out at us, muttering in a surprisingly pony-like voice. “…I’m good at rocks.”

Lyra steps up to it, poking it with a hoof and getting a squeak-hiss in return. “Alright, bug. We have some questions and we better get answers fast. Do you have a name or should I just keep calling you ‘bug’?”

The changeling shivers and tries to make itself even smaller, looking up at us with big, fearful eyes despite the complete lack of pupils. “M-my name is Thorax. Please don’t bring out the swatter again.”

I decide right then and there that this changeling is either the single worst or best infiltrator in their entire hive.

~~~~~

Whichever he is, five minutes later we follow him around as his ‘prisoners’ through a system of caves filled with undisguised changelings. We agreed to give him that bit of success in return for letting us meet with his queen on my own terms. Well, letting me meet her, but the girls made it pretty clear that I would have to trap them in a pocket dimension to get rid of them now. It’s as sweet and heartwarming as it is annoying and I will have to give them a big hug later both as thanks and to alleviate whatever trauma they’ll probably take from this.

We actually don’t have to walk long because it turns out their hive is literally right below the castle, in the caverns under Canterlot. It’s really not a good week for my opinion of Celestia and her defense and security detail.

We end up in a large cavern illuminated by crystals in the walls and ceiling. Changelings are everywhere, except in a large empty space in front of a crude crystal throne. We walk to the middle of the free space and I step forward, addressing the large black and green figure on the throne. “Queen Metamorphosis, I presume?”

“Queen Metamorphosis was my late mother. I am Queen Chrysalis, but you can address me ‘Your Majesty’.” The figure stands up and steps forward until she’s close enough that I can get a decent look at her body. She has the figure of an alicorn, if a rather starved slim one, and she might be quite beautiful if she didn’t look like she hasn’t put any effort in her appearance over the last decade. The madness in her eyes doesn’t do her any favors either.

“My apologies, Your Majesty. I’ll admit my information might be somewhat outdated.” I dip my head respectfully. No reason to make her try to kill me before I tell her to do exactly that.

“It is impressive that you know even that much.” Chrysalis raises an eyebrow. “Your reputation precedes you. Alas, the details of your relationship with Princess Cadenza didn’t. You almost ruined my plans back then. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have my guards simply kill you right here and get rid of a nuisance.”

“There is only one good argument I can make.” I take a deep breath and raise my head, determined not to give her any more opportunity to do just that. “I challenge you to a Duel Of Queens!”

Chrysalis’ eyes narrow. “Quite impressive what you know indeed. Are you aware of what you are demanding?”

I nod. “A battle to the death, one on one.” I ignore the shocked gasps of my friends behind me. This is why I didn’t want to tell them my plan. “Any changeling can challenge the Queen to a duel, if they believe themselves a stronger and better leader, so the hive is always as strong as they can be. I may not be a changeling, but the concept holds up.”

Chrysalis smirks. “Very well, if you wish for a pointless death. There is just one minor fact you got wrong.” A solid buzz rises in the cavern as the changelings all start to advance on us. “A Duel Of Queens is not one against one. A powerful queen is useless if her subjects resent her, as is a powerful challenger. It is my army against…” She chuckles and looks over my five friends. “…yours. Though only the Queens try to kill each other, usually.”

“Uhm…” I glance back at my friends, but only for a second before I have to focus on Chrysalis again, the changelings on her side giving us lots of space to fight and only advancing from behind me. The Queen seems rather confident in her power compared to mine, which is good.

“Don’t worry Twilight, we got this.” Minuette proclaims cheerfully, then mutters just a tad too loudly. “…I hope.”

Lyra huffs. “Come on girls, we’re the brightest and best of SGU. Minuette, do you still have a teleport key on your LARP gear? You know which one.”

“Wait, you don’t mean…”

Chrysalis tosses a green fireball towards me and I have to jump to the side to dodge. Her attacks are as powerful as they are casual, while my own magic bolts hit her shield without effect. On the bright side, while we both know that she’s just toying with me that means she’s actually leaving me enough room between her attacks to keep an eye on my friends. I suppose she is mildly curious what they will do as well.

There is a flash of light blue magic from the group and I see Minuette standing up onto her hindlegs, cackling maniacally. She is wearing a long white doctor’s coat and goggles, holding an oversized drill in each foreleg and an oversized toothbrush in her magic.

“Tremble before the ultimate terror, the Mistress Of Screams, Colgate!

I blink and nearly run straight into Chrysalis’ next attack. Luckily she seems just as stunned as I am.

Colgate grins and looks over the changeling army, the drills starting to spin with a loud mechanic whine. “I see lots and lots of holes!

The changelings collectively back away. I can’t blame them.

Behind Colgate, I can just barely make out Lemon Hearts asking Lyra. “I thought those drills were made of styrofoam.”

Lyra nods and grins. “They are. But those bugs can sense emotions, remember? It’s all about intent.” She smirks. “And I know only one pony who gets more into character during games than Minuette.”

Moondancer frowns. “Still, that bought us a minute, maybe. What are we going to do when they get over the initial shock?”

Lyra’s grin turns slightly manic. “The question isn’t how fast they’ll be back. It’s if they retreat faster than we can chase them.”

“Lyra, what are you-?”

Lyra’s horn flashes and two of the giant flyswatters appear above her, following as she charges at the army of changelings with a mad cackle. “LYRAAAAAAA… HEARTSTRINGS!

Okay, definitely have to finish this before the girls get themselves killed. I turn to Chrysalis and brace myself, charging my horn up with magic until I have a sparking double corona. “You really think you can beat me in a duel of magic?!”

“How cute.” Chrysalis effortlessly charges her own horn with a confident grin. “I have gathered more than enough love by now to rival both Celestia and Luna in power. This will be over in a blink.”

I let loose my magic and it crashes into hers, the beams meeting in the middle. My beam is pushed back in seconds, almost back to my horn before I collect myself and push her back again. Chrysalis’ eyes widen in surprise and she amps up the power causing both beams of magic widen in diameter, but while it wavers back and forth a little the purple magic holds its place about halfway between us.

“Impossible! You cannot possibly have that power!” Chrysalis’ face twists into a grimace and she puts in another burst of power.

I don’t reply. I’m too busy gritting my teeth and trying not to show the pure agony going from the tip of my horn down to every last hair in my tail. You don’t appreciate pain until you have to keep every cell in your body from disintegrating through sheer willpower.

With a primal yell Chrysalis puts on a last burst on power and it finally becomes too much. The thin conical layer of my magic that had been concealing her attack up to my horn is all but obliterated, followed closely by my body, making me scream in pain until my entire sense of self fades.

~~~~~

I slowly open my eyes and stand up, looking around at the void of stars.

“Well, that went better than expected.”

Author's Note:

Featuring an indirect cameo of Forest Whisper, the deer cleric from Novel-Idea's Wavelength Timeline series.
It's the best AU series of the last year, in my personal opinion, and everyone should read it. That means you.