• Published 13th May 2022
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The Last Changeling War - Coyote de La Mancha



Her failures are legion, her power unquestioned, her madness unparalelled. The endgame of Queen Chrysalis, monarch of the Changeling hive.

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Chapter Two: Tumblers in a Lock.

The mouse sniffed around where it sat, then reared up on its hind legs and looked about. Apparently satisfied, it went back to grooming itself.

Minerva the Owl waited, content. Patience was the key to successful hunting, after all. And for all of her literary acumen, Minerva was nothing if not a master hunter.

For that matter, it had never ceased to surprise her that the ponies accepted her so readily, even though she was a predator. Ponies being by their nature herbivores, and by their society sympathetic to prey animals.

Inwardly, the owl shrugged. She’d been born with a keen intellect, even compared to other birds of prey. But ponies were still something of a mystery to her. It wasn’t a matter of their being smarter than her, of course, so much as their being such social creatures. Being a herd animal was bound to give one some strange notions.

Then again, maybe they honestly didn’t realize that birds of prey ate smaller animals. Or, it might have been as simple as ponies not being prey to anything because of their magic, and so not being overly concerned about such things. It was impossible to tell, really.

As for Minerva herself, an owl’s life was a thankfully simple one. Flying, hunting, enjoying the night… and, in her case, researching and cataloging books for an alicorn. And she did genuinely like ponies. Especially Twilight, in whose library Minerva got to spend so much time. And Spike was alright, though she still found it hard to be at ease around him.

There were predators, after all, and then there were dragons.

But tonight was a hunting night. And however much the ponies might try (if they did ever try), that was something they would probably never understand.

The mouse was almost completely relaxed again, but still the owl did not stir. There was no sense in her prey feeling either fear or pain. A good hunter had no need to be cruel. No need for haste. A hunter whose prey suffered even the slightest was a poor hunter indeed.

A moment later, the rodent was sniffing about the ground, doubtless looking for food.

Now.

On silent wings, Minerva soared from the darkness. The moment was perfect. Her meal would feel nothing.

But even as she descended for the kill, the rodent turned to look at her. Minerva had just enough time to realize that its eyes were the wrong color, a startling green against the nighttime shadows.

And then, darkness.


The hatchling would finish cleaning up the breakfast dishes, then begin his work in the library as usual. The difference was, today he would be alone.

Impatience gnawed at the owl. Waiting had never been her strong suit. Yet, she knew that eagerness and contempt, especially at the end, had cost her dearly before. And even with everything gained through her careful and methodical plan, there was so much yet to be done. But it remained: this was a perfect opportunity. It could only be spoiled by her moving too quickly, or carelessly.

But she could wait, she reminded herself. After so long, a few more minutes would mean nothing. Everything was falling into place. Even now, songbirds flitted through the trees here and there throughout Ponyville, carefully studying their young targets and those around them. As they had been for weeks, and would for weeks yet.

And yet, still only as many as needed. Meticulously selected, all of them, and carefully trained. After all, it wouldn't do for even their fellow birds to become suspicious. Not with the yellow pony still free.

Silence was their watchword. But patience was their greatest friend.

The owl had thought she’d been nearly ready once before. But then Twilight Sparkle had given her apprentice a display of power so terrible, even she had been urged to flee, flying out of the library and into the open day. And, amazingly, that manifestation of incredible sorcerous might had just been to get the brat’s attention. Some idiotic lesson about forgiveness.

The owl rolled her eyes. Typical. Absolutely typical. Save, of course, for that unexpected revelation of sheer, blinding power.

She’d recalculated then, realizing that she’d vastly underestimated her first target. And, by association, the targets that would follow. Thus, more care would be required. More time. And much, much more study of all her foes. Both from personal observation, and through the books the princess’ library had so conveniently provided.

It also meant taking a much more direct hoof in matters of Ponyville and Canterlot than she would have preferred. But she could afford to wait, she reminded herself for the thousandth time. She would be there when her most hated enemy was broken. That was all that mattered.

Patience, she'd told herself, again and again. Patience.

It had been difficult, once she'd realized the power and skill of her youngest foe, to chip off pieces of her own throne. Not just to preserve the anti-magic power of the ancient stone, but to then shape the smaller pieces into amulets.

By the nature of her throne, there couldn't be many, of course. It had to remain as intact as possible. But with what was at stake, the time and effort had been a small sacrifice. And she only needed a few for her assassins in the Crystal Empire, far away. After what she had seen, she'd understood that protecting them from pony magic would be essential their mission's success.

She, of course, required no such talisman. And now, at last, at long last, she was reaching the end of her plan's first stage. After that, everything would accelerate. Soon, very soon, they would all be in her grasp, to crush as slowly as she pleased, listening to her enemies’ squeals of helplessness and terror and pain and…

She shook herself. Focus, she chided herself. Before any of that, there was the matter of the dragon to deal with. An unknowable amount of magical power, combined with a lifelong and intimate knowledge of the Princess of Friendship, plus a child’s inquisitiveness and the ability to send messages to almost anyone in the world with a single magical breath.

The owl snorted. Only a fool would leave such a one in play. But she had been studying him for some time now, along with his mistress. He was almost as much a creature of habit as she was. That would make it easy.

The owl flapped silently into the library and, eyes narrowed, determinedly settled herself down to wait.

Patience, she thought. Patience. Patience.

Nearly an hour later, she could hear the drake’s insipid humming as he hopped up the stairs. Hear his footsteps as he approached the door.

She waited until he’d begun closing the massive doors before giving an inquisitive hoot.

“Huh? Oh, hey, Minerva. Wow, you’re up late today,” Spike yawned. “Yeah, Twilight’s gone to get some stuff. She’ll be back this afternoon. Why? What’s up?”

As he turned to face her again, he had just enough time to register that she was in flight, that her eyes had taken on a strange emerald hue. His eyes widened, and his mouth opened, probably to shout something.

And then she was upon him.


A few days later, the unicorn began teaching at the local school.

“Oh, and by the way,” Princess Twilight said as they walked down the hall together, “Spike had an idea for a kind of field trip for the schoolfoals.”

The unicorn laughed. “Dude, it’s my first day! I’m not even sure I’m hired yet. Let me at least meet everypony first…!”

Their voices faded as they continued down the corridor, happily chatting as they did. The dragon watched them go, then nodded to himself and returned to the library. There were still many preparations left to be made, and little time remaining to do them in.


Weeks passed. Sunrise left Equus for the human world, and then returned. And while her time away might have otherwise been the perfect opportunity to strike, it would have meant too much time spent in the princess' form. Too much risk of discovery before the secondary targets could be gathered and replaced without suspicion.

Then, the ponies' otherworldly twins were due to visit. And on the scheduled weekend, they came, chatted inanely about nothing important with the royal family, and finally left.

Spike seethed inwardly, made plausibly vague excuses for any lapses in behavior, and continued to wait.


Twilight sat at her favorite table in her reference library, happily making last-minute revisions to the schedule before her. School had started around a month ago, and the leaves in Ponyville had taken on their red and gold crowns, waiting for the Running of the Leaves to set them free. The breeze rustling through the trees and into the open windows was refreshingly cool and the early evening's moonlight was gentle. And, best of all, Sunrise was home again.

It was a perfect day for reading. Or, in this case, proofreading.

The combination field trip and slumber party Spike had suggested for the Ponyville schoolfoals had been a wonderful idea. With the combination of less transit time and more wandering-around time than their Canterlot field trips, there would be more time overall for the students to think of more questions she could answer. And a longer and more relaxed curriculum, in turn, should theoretically maximize the educational value.

It would be very relaxed, in fact. Twilight had scheduled in relax time to be sure of it.

Twilight had been enthusiastic about the idea, of course, and it hadn’t taken much to get Sunrise on board as well. Especially since Spike had seemed so out of sorts lately. Having him take on such an interest in almost anything had brought grateful relief to both mares.

Not that he’d seemed unwell, exactly. But daily activities that had been simple tasks for him before now took far longer, and he hadn’t seemed as enthusiastic about, well, anything as he usually would. Even his appetite had gone down. He’d said he just had a lot on his mind, but… could it be some new illness, something that only happened to dragons?

Twilight frowned. More likely, it was something personal enough that Spike hadn’t wanted to talk about it. He’d also stopped spending as much time at Rarity’s, and Twilight suspected that the two events were connected. But Spike was old enough to deserve privacy, and so she had resolutely not pried.

Of course, if Spike had something going on, normally he and Twilight would count on Minerva to pick up the slack. But for a while now, there had been no sign of Twilight’s nocturnal assistant. And while not terribly concerning at first – Minerva was her own owl, after all – the more Twilight thought about it…

“Spike, have you seen Minerva lately?”

Spike looked up from the list he was editing. “I dunno. Not for a while, I guess. Why?”

“It’s just odd, that’s all,” Twilight said, contemplating the window perch the owl preferred. “I haven’t seen her in… it’s been over three weeks, wouldn’t you say?”

Spike set aside his list. “Since around when Sunrise started teaching, I think. So, maybe a month or more.” Then, giving her a concerned look, he added, “Why, what’s wrong? She's spent time away before.”

“Oh, I know. And it’s probably nothing. It’s just that, as I think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen her since we started planning for the sleepover. Maybe a little before.”

Spike frowned. “You think she has a problem with the foals staying over? That doesn’t seem like her.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Twilight agreed. Then, her eyes widened. “Oh, oh no!”

Spike hopped down to the floor. “What?”

Twilight began pacing.

“Minerva was acting kind of aloof for a few weeks before she vanished. I was just so busy with my duties as a princess and Sunny's lessons and then I was distracted by her leaving and coming back and everything else… Spike!”

What?” Spike said again, becoming more frustrated.

“What if I hurt Minerva's feelings?” Twilight cried. “What if she thought I was ignoring her? What if she thought she wasn’t wanted? What if…?”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Spike said. “Let’s think about this.”

But--!”

“Twilight, breathe! Minerva’s an owl. They’re usually solitary creatures, right?”

Twilight paused, uncertain. “Well, yeah…”

“And she’s not exactly a shy creature, right?”

“I suppose…”

He shrugged, adding, “So, she probably just needed a little time to herself, and it didn’t occur to her to tell us.”

Twilight looked uncertain. “Well...”

“If you’re really worried, we can talk to Fluttershy. Heck, Minerva might even be there, hanging out with the other animals.”

Twilight sighed.

“Maybe,” she conceded, looking again at the owl’s abandoned perch. “I mean, thinking about it, you’re right, it’s probably nothing.”

Then, her eyes narrowing, she added, “Then again, this is Ponyville. Maybe we should send a letter to Princess Celestia, just in case—”

An ichor-green arc of energy struck the young princess in the side. She screamed, suspended in mid-air by the blast, its cold energies writhing around her. Then, she fell to the floor.

Silent. Still.

The young drake eyed her coldly.

“Even with you forcing my hoof days ahead of schedule, your concerns are too late, as always,” he hissed, his form melting and shifting as he spoke. “Too little, too late, and above all… once again, unheard.

“I'd planned to capture you Monday, after Sunrise's departure to the Ponyville school. A small matter: I shall feign illness in your stead over the weekend, to eliminate any chance of discovery. By Monday eve, my drones will be in place in the Crystal Empire, surrounding the Princess of Love, replacing her daughter and bodyguards with my best assassins. And with their aid, the foals in and near the Crystal Palace will soon follow.

“Meanwhile, with you and the hatchling accounted for, it will be pupa’s play to substitute my fifth column for your apprentice and her students during their little slumber party. And come the dawn, our combined might shall easily ensnare the exhausted and unready Princess Luna. Asleep in your apprentice’s chambers below, far away from her palace's protections and her sister's aid.

“Ironically, your friends will be the easiest of all; they won't even need replacements," he sneered. "They'll be summoned to an emergency meeting here that very day, and then vanish. I'll just announce that they had to depart immediately due to a friendship emergency. And then, no more questions.”

Spike’s shadow morphed and grew against the far wall, his voice rising into a hateful, feminine buzz.

“When the first strike of war hits home, the remaining princesses will have little time to think. She will spearhead the attack, I’ll see to that. Love’s star will shine brightest even among her fellow princesses, her cause both personal and just. Though it be with a heavy heart, the Crystal Princess will rise unfailingly to the occasion, an inspiration for all ponykind.

“Naturally, my changeling army won’t stand a chance in such a conflict, not with the power of such magic brought into play,” she sneered. “They’ll be forced back into a last, desperate stand, counting on the anti-magic shell of my meteorite throne to protect them. But the long-sleeping wrath of the ponies will have been stirred at last, and what magic cannot avail, superior numbers and brute force most assuredly will.

“The Hive will fall, its walls crumbled into shale, my throne destroyed, its defenders scattered and lost. My power forever broken, as with so many of the princess’ most dire enemies in the past. My most terrible loss. My greatest failure.”

Teeth bared, the creature continued, “Yet, only when they sift through the rubble looking for surviving changelings will the poor little ponies discover the truth. You, Luna, their children and loved ones… all dead! Crushed by the hive’s broken stones! Slain by the might of the ponies’ greatest heroes!

“And then, only then,” she shrieked, “when my enemy’s heart has had time to truly crack, the real battle will finally begin! For even as Cadence fights for her very life against her own husband, guards and daughter, the foals of Ponyville and the Crystal Palace shall rise up from where they have been kept safe and guarded! Keeping the shapes of the young your people treasure, my children will rise up against their guardians, slaughtering all who hold them dear!

“The streets will run red, bathed in blood and screams and fire! Even Canterlot shall become a charnel house, and both pony realms shall hang their heads and weep in horror!

“My greatest failure shall be my greatest triumph!” she ranted. “And it’s all thanks to you, Twilight! You, and the love and trust you hold so dear! The sun and moon, falling before me, never to rise again, love itself ground to dust! I shall drag my foe down and laugh at her broken cries… and at last, I shall have my revenge!”

Standing over Twilight’s still form, her drones buzzing eagerly to her from the shadows, Queen Chrysalis laughed wildly in the growing darkness.