• Published 8th Jan 2020
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Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book III: Legacies - BlueBastard



Everything is finally ready for Sunset Shimmer to be crowned a ruling princess of Equestria, but not all is as it seems as the Covenant make their move and the history of Equestria itself is called into question as GAOA reaches its explosive end!

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Chapter 29 - Disciplinarians and Hedonists

Chapter 29

Disciplinarians and Hedonists

Normally, Changelings preferred to infiltrate large societies in small numbers of disguised scouts, much in the way Chrysalis had managed to replace Princess Cadence. But when it came to inner-species conflicts, given how easy it was for changelings to detect other changelings in disguise, such tactics went out the window. Indeed, until The Splintering, when the grip Chrysalis had held with an iron, pock-marked hoof on the hivemind was broken in the aftermath of her failed invasion of Equestria’s capital, the very idea of the swarm collective turning on itself was unthinkable.

But while Canterlot had been busy reeling from one crisis after another in the past few weeks, culminating in the departure of Princess Celestia from the throne to be replaced by her sister—as queen, no less!—a week ago, the Changelings had their own domestic affairs. Numerous smaller queens had split off and just as quickly the would-be queens fought each other to quickly grow their hives instead of the natural way. Chrysalis, meanwhile, had been participating more out of a need to shore up her crumbling power base, and had almost succeeded with only Queen Mandible left to oppose her. And then she went and disappeared.

Or rather, according to Mandible’s limited intel, it had turned out Chrysalis had been pursuing her own goals, completely independent of the needs of the hive. Something about the long-dead King Sombra and a collection of fools that called themselves the Covenant of Shadows, seeking to resurrect him. She’d sent a request to her high-placed double agent, Clandestine Moves, for more information about that and Chrysalis proper seeing as how she’d been sloppy enough to allow herself to be captured, but then that idiot had gone and gotten himself captured and there simply hadn’t been enough time to rebuild an already limited information network. Indeed, Mandible didn’t really care all that much about the ponies; she’d quickly recovered after the setback at the town of Nightshade and now she was poised for victory.

“Onwards, my swarm!” she declared, leading at the front and wearing some custom designed armor created specifically for the event—it would be comparable to what ponies would call a crash helmet with equally silly looking leggings, but none of Mandible’s own forces dared tell their liege it looked dumb. “Without their queen, their hive is ours for the taking!”

She did not, in fact, expect it to be easy. And yet, when they got within sight of the entrance, the end result was even more shocking than even Mandible had figured. She knew Chrysalis had been neglecting her changelings. But the sheer state of decay suggested she’d long since abandoned them.

No sooner than had Mandible and her lead guard simply walked right into the hive, than did she get besieged by starved changelings.

“A queen!” one of them cried, gripping onto Mandible’s foreleg and not letting go until the taller queen quickly shook it off.

“Help us!” another said, prostrating themselves in front of her.

You had everything, thought Mandible, a wicked smile coming to her lips, so what made you throw it all away, Chrysalis?

“Changelings!” she shouted, putting on her most regal posture, “I think it goes without saying that your ‘beloved’ queen has abandoned you! But not to worry, for I, the true Queen Mandible, have come to save you all! And under my reign, the love shall flow!”

The resounding cheer of starving changelings within the hive was somewhat lackluster, but Mandible was willing to let this disappointing expression of love for the new queen supreme go this time. She’d done what Chrysalis had failed to do—reunite changelingkind under one banner, and now it was only a matter of time before the hivemind would recognize her dominance, ensuring that Chrysalis would never be able to assume control.

But that wasn’t enough...she’d need to figure out a way to ensure the former queen was dead—Chrysalis had been smart in at least that regard. A new queen—or, in this case, the old one—could not be allowed to return and ruin everything that Mandible had accomplished.

Little did she know the solution might have already been decided.

Equestria, nominally known for being one of, if not the most peaceful country in all of Equus, certainly had its own fair share of dark truths about its past that had impacted the world. Indeed, the very fact that the heavens above were controlled by the alicorn ruling class dictated that any misfortune that impacted them would impact the world. That was possibly the reason why it kept getting attacked by forces seeking to destroy it. Certainly the civil war of a thousand years prior had threatened to throw all creation into the grip of Nightmare Moon’s eternal night, and as loathe as he would be to admit it, for all the literal Chaos that he’d caused, Equestria still treated Discord a heck of a lot better than some other nations would have. All that the Equestrians had done—twice, no less!—was merely turn him to stone to stop his parade of ludicrosity.

And that had been the pattern of Equestria—all of their worst enemies knew deep down that if the Equestrians were given the final say, the death penalty was never going to be applied. Nightmare Moon? Banishment. The corrupt siren queen and her black sirens? Trapped in ice underneath the oceans. Even Sombra had been a proven tyrannical despot and he hadn’t been destroyed...initially.

However, it had not gone unnoticed that the so-called “Guardians of Harmony” had undergone an ironic change in their morals, with the most ironic of all catalysts—the Princess of Friendship herself, Twilight Sparkle. Discounting the fact she was but a mere fraction of the age of Princesses Celestia and Luna, the youngest alicorn had been indirectly responsible for the actual death of Sombra following his short lived return, and moreover with the help of her friends had directly obliterated the mad centaur Tirek. Both ally and enemy of Equestria couldn’t help but notice that perhaps the country finally reached the end of loving and tolerating the shit that kept coming its way, and those who kept poking the proverbial sleeping Ursa Major would no longer encounter the Equestrian response of holding back their blows.

Such a shift in attitude was only made ever clearer with Celestia’s sudden abdication a week ago in favor of her sister—which in a sense meant Equestria was now led by the former Nightmare Moon. Metaphorically, the sun had set on Equestrian politics and the moon was rising.

And nighttime was when the most dangerous of characters ruled.

As most of the trappings of Princess Sunset’s coronation had yet to be taken down due to the events of the Covenant of Shadows, it put the architecture in a perfect position to be utilized once more for the sheer number of individuals who would bear witness to the spectacle. But unlike the hopeful and triumphant rising of a new princess, the tone was silent and somber. After all, the last time Equestria got anywhere close to a public execution was the trial of Raspberry Beryl, who only escaped largely due to her unique immunity to dark magic being considered an asset for protecting Equestria.

At the same time, the worst crime Raspberry had actually committed with such forbidden power was serial gem forgery, hardly the lifestyle that indicated somepony who sought to follow in her ancestor’s pursuit of destroying the alicorns (even though at one point she actually had gotten closer to this goal than Sombra himself ever had). The death penalty would have been extreme for such a petty crime and for her circumstances.

But now a true criminal was to be made an example of, with the reality of this sudden change of Equestrian governance being reaffirmed seemingly with every moment as the now-Queen Luna ascended to the central platform.

Looking over the crowd, this was not the Luna the gathered audience was used to. Not just because she now wore the Platinum Crown, the symbol of queenhood that hadn’t been in use since Faust’s time, but she carried an air of authority on a level even Celestia didn’t regularly get associated with. Moreover, Luna still maintained her vigil as the guardian of dreams of the populace, so she had more insight to what the common pony knew more than Celestia ever had.

For the briefest of moments, Luna appeared as if she was left wanting, but the look soon vanished. But what was clear was there wouldn’t be any decorum or ceremony about this—quick and to the point.

“Bring out the prisoner!” she shouted, her voice carrying tones of the Royal Canterlot Voice, not overwhelmingly as she’d somewhat embarrassingly been too used to when she originally made her return to the public eye, but enough to ensure nopony would question it. This Luna was much more mature.

Following the orders of their liege, from under the north stands emerged two lines of ponies, one dressed in the typical barding of the Lunar Guard, and the other clad entirely in black armor. The shakeup with the Agency, given the reveal that Blueblood was feigning incompetence as its director, and former assistant deputy director Clandestine Moves having been apprehended as a suspected double agent, and then being shown in force as this, only further frightened ponies as to what ramifications their lives would encounter.

Sunset Shimmer being the fifth alicorn seemed like such a distant memory in comparison.

About ten ponies of either line had emerged when surprisingly, Archmagus Raspberry Beryl appeared, her horn bubbling with the purple and green bubbles that signified dark magic. Hushed whispers immediately sprung up—what was going on? This was to be an execution and yet power supposedly forbidden was on full display, regardless of the fact it was being handled by the only pony who could safely manage it, something even the alicorns couldn’t truly do.

The reason soon made itself apparent as none other than Chrysalis was walked out, and the lines of armored ponies seemed to stretch on. This was a humbled, humiliated queen indeed—the brilliant deep emerald luster of her saddle carapace was gone, with her wings looking to be in such poor condition that they wouldn’t catch any kind of lifting power no matter how much magic was channeled through them. But most shocking was the state of her horn—already twisted and mangled, there was no mistaking the dark crystal growths on it. Only one other pony in modern history had suffered such an affliction, that being Prince Consort Shining Armor when he had been sent to the Crystal Empire alongside Princess Cadence to secure the returned city from the evil of Sombra himself. It was without question Raspberry Beryl had been the one to inflict this malady onto Chrysalis, but more importantly it showed no chances were being taken where any might have been before. As if to underscore this, the muzzle on the changeling queen was also tightly clamped shut to prevent her from potentially using a hypnotic voice charm.

The two lines of Agency and Guard ponies stretched on until a solid ring of Equestrians lined the inner group of ponies. Meanwhile, Razz led the queen—whose progress was slow due to the hobbles on her limbs—into the center and in front of Luna.

“Queen Chrysalis,” stated Luna, looking at her hated enemy, hiding any sympathy she may have had—especially given the chilling similarities between how both she and Crisalide had fallen victim to the voices in their heads, “You’ve been a threat to Equestria—neigh, the world, for so long I doubt even you know how long its been.”

Muzzled, the queen could say nothing but give a death glare at the dark blue alicorn. Eyes full of hate and absolutely no trace of the ruined soul that had hosted the leader of the hivemind for a millennia.

“I shall take over from here,” said Luna, not taking her eyes off of the fallen queen.

“Are you sure, Your Majesty?” said Razz, looking unsure. All Luna did in response was simply glance down at the unicorn and that was enough. “Y-yes, of course, as you will.” Razz quickly de-powered her horn and then trotted off and away from the arena. Luna in turn lit her own horn in its midnight blue glow, though what purpose it served was beyond anypony’s knowledge as it had no visual effect.

“I’m sure if the situation was reversed,” said the queen of the moon, “You’d give some grandiose speech about how the rise of one queen is on the broken back of another. Believe me, I’ve been there.” Her eyes then narrowed with a sneer. “And quite frankly Equestria doesn’t need any more posturing.” With one supercharged spell of blazing blue fury, the arena was filled with light, and when the light died down, the only difference was that the formerly chitinous form of the insectile villain was now solid stone, still standing defiantly in front of Luna.

“Now,” said Luna, turning to face the crowd, “I’m very sure you’re all thinking that I’m going to relent, because that’s how Equestria has always done things;—that Chrysalis will have to live eternally like this in the Royal Garden.” She chuckled without humor. “But as you all know, this isn’t a sentencing...its an execution.” And then, with teeth barred in an angry grimace, Luna lit her horn again and blasted Chrysalis. Instantly, the changeling queen burst into a nigh-infinite shower of tiny rock shards, beyond any hope of reconstitution. “And that is the end of that...but not the end of the business that I have here. That we all have here.”

As Luna turned to face the crowd, confused chatter could be heard echoing through the stands.

“Chrysalis was a monster, responsible for countless lives lost, ruined, and in some way we all were affected by what she has done over the years. However...what has only been discovered as of late is that she herself was a victim. One that suffered just as much as any of us.”

Collective gasps of shock and disbelief rang out through the stands.

“Impossible!”

“Chrysalis, a VICTIM?”

“LIES AND SLANDER!”

“SILENCE!” demanded Luna, the Royal Canterlot Voice at full volume such that the very foundations of the coliseum shook. She cleared her throat before continuing, “ahem, yes, it is hard to believe but the fact is, the being we all knew as Chrysalis was really an amalgamation of the influence of the Changeling Hivemind upon an innocent host—an unholy, immoral abomination borne of the twisted whims of none other than King Sombra during his reign of terror of the Crystal Empire. We as ponies could have helped her, but instead her impression of all ponykind was tainted by Sombra, and the civil war that shortly followed his defeat. The role I played in that, my corruption, should further underscore how shutting out others can instead imperil us all.

“It was only by my sister sealing me away for a thousand years, such that a pony could rise and find in friendship the power within the Elements of Harmony, that I was able to be freed from the Nightmare Forces and stand before you today. The being that would become Chrysalis was not so lucky: she was tormented for the past millennia, broken beyond repair, such that the execution you have witnessed before you was both a punishment for the crimes committed by the Chrysalis we know...and a mercy killing for the innocent soul so that she may finally know rest.”

Luna then summoned a book in front of her, the accursed tome levitating in front of the crowd. “This book, The Rose with the Broken Neck, is Sombra’s own record of what happened to the poor soul he turned into Queen Chrysalis. It was hidden deep within the dungeons of the Crystal Castle, the lair of his twisted machinations, and it is with permission of Archmagus Raspberry Beryl that the secrets and horrors within be brought to light. We as a species, as a culture, need to know how our ignorance brought about so many monsters, both in Sombra as well as Chrysalis, and that maybe from the pages of the damned we can truly better ourselves as a civilization. We can not afford petty squabbles, we are better than that—and as your Queen I will see to it that Equestria recovers not only from the damage dealt to us from without, but that the corruption from within is equally dispatched. And I would like to think I, more than anypony, would have a good idea of what it means to deal with corruption.”

From one of the private boxes, concealed away from the rest of the crowd, Crisalide sat alongside Ms. Celestia and took a deep breath. Queen Chrysalis was finally dead, if only in concept.

Naturally, despite the entire point of this little show Queen Luna had put on, actually killing Chrysalis, and by extension, Crisalide, had not once truly been on the table. The whole event was simply an elaborate affair of smoke-and-mirrors. There was some irony in that the former head changeling hadn’t actually been a changeling, but the arrangement had been such that nopony would suspect a thing—and there was no evidence that would firmly prove the trick anyway.

Everything had revolved around Raspberry’s ability to create a facsimile of another being out of dark crystal—something she’d apparently used occasionally when living as a vagabond but ever since becoming a full member the mage’s guild had rarely ever needed. It had taken a few tries but Razz had been able to generate a physical replica of Queen Chrysalis as ponykind knew her, but the illusion required constant magical input to hold its shape. With an assistive holding spell applied by Twilight, this had allowed Razz to hand off the sustaining spell to Luna without breaking the illusion or even risking Luna having to handle dark magic—it hadn’t been a question of if Luna was powerful enough to handle it, but more out of respect that she really didn’t want to even touch the stuff if she could help it, and ultimately was a minor detail.

It all stopped mattering after Luna turned “Queen Chrysalis” into stone, which was simply purging the dark magic entirely and replacing it with a pre-created stone sculpture Razz had also made given her skills at sculpting gems—a complicated slight-of-hoof trick. That too had been an illusion as anypony who got a close look at the stoned queen would have noticed more than a few mistakes that would have given away it wasn’t the real villain, but the only pony who had been close enough to see the flaws had been Luna herself. Now all that remained of the “Queen” was finely obliterated rock that would quickly be worn down over time and scattered to the winds.

And in the back of her mind, she could still feel the hivemind trying to reassert control, drag her back into being the skin worn by an absolute monster. But she would endure—after all, ponykind had ultimately, somehow, found a way to deal with the problem of Queen Chrysalis with finality while also allowing Crisalide to live.

A squeeze on her hand prompted Crisalide to look up, seeing Celestia looking down at her with concern. And the tiny bit of love energy that conveyed, that warm and sweet essence, brought a small smile to Crisalide’s face. Her entire existence had been nothing but lies and power mongering, but now...now she might finally have a real life.

“Hard to believe that she’s finally gone,” said Coco, folding up some loose cloth and putting it into one of Rarity’s many articles of luggage. With the hubbub of the execution over with, the time had finally come to concentrate on the various guests of Castle Canterlot being readied to head back to their daily lives. Naturally, Coco would be returning to work as Rarity’s assistant at Carousel Boutique, though with expanding business hoof-in-hoof with Ponyville’s rapid expansion, it was likely Rarity would move her local business into a dedicated shop in town proper instead of out of her own home.

“Who, Chrysalis?” said Rarity, the unicorn distracted between actually packing up and having to jot down notes about fashion ideas she was getting by sorting through leftover material.

“Yeah, given she’s the reason I’m, well, me,” the younger pony answered, momentarily flaring up her changeling wings before tucking them away, “it’s like having this looming presence in the back of my mind be gone. Though that may simply be what little connection I had to the hivemind being broken off given the loss of the central queen.”

“It’s best not to dwell on it, darling.”

“I suppose, but still…” Coco sighed, “I kinda wish I’d gotten the chance to speak with her one last time. Just seems like something appropriate, if only just to rub it in her face that I’m not just her experiment.”

“Well, yes, I can see why that would be a missed opportunity, though I wish you’d said something about that sooner, otherwise….” Rarity paused for a moment in thought, but then quickly shook it away. “Nevermind, forget I said anything.”

That struck Coco as odd. “Miss Rarity, is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Oh, whatever do you mean?” said Rarity, her voice getting slightly highly pitched.

The look she got in turn from her assistant was a flat browed glare of not believing a word of it. “Miss Rarity, I may only be part changeling, but I am still empathic. And part of that is being able to sense your worry. And the only reason I can think of that you’re worried right now is me prying into this.” Coco then sighed deeply. “What are you not telling me?”

“Coco, darling, why would I…?”

“I can appreciate it if you’re trying to protect me, but I think I can handle myself well enough—Razz did tell you I held my own against that psycho Corner Shot back when she was trying to go stabby-stabby on Sunset Shimmer’s cousins, right?”

Rarity sighed. “I’m afraid it’s a bit more complex than that, Coco.”

“How is it more complex?”

The fashion-talented unicorn opened her mouth to speak, then closed it and thought for a moment. “Okay, I think it might be better than instead of just telling you what Twilight disclosed to the rest of us, that you see it for yourself. I’ll see what I can do. Just...keep in mind what Prin-Queen Luna said at the execution. Your former queen may not be the individual you think she actually is.”

Coco nodded, then froze at the implication of Rarity’s words—at the fact she referred to Chrysalis in the present tense.

“Sunset, you’re not making any sense,” said Applejack, following Sunset down a corridor in the castle. “You need mah help for something but you won’t tell me what you need me for!”

“Trust me, it’s going to clear something off my plate that’s been annoying me for some time,” was all the teen-slash-alicorn said. “And it can only be you.” She then stopped at a door, which to Applejack looked like any other door in the entire wing. “Okay, here we are."

“Okay, why are we at a conference room?” asked the actually human teenager, before she suddenly found herself shoved into the room by Sunset and the door closed behind her.

“Okay, I think it worked!” said Princess Twilight, who had emerged from the opposite side door to the same room. “Finally, we can get this settled once and for all.”

“And just in time, too,” said Sunset with relief, “otherwise I know you’d be sending me letters constantly about how the local Applejack still hasn’t gotten over one faux pas incident."

Meanwhile, inside the room, Applejack found herself staring right at Applejack.

“So, Ah can figure that this whole mess was supposed t’be about you and Ah having a talk about something,” said the human, “and Ah got a good feeling what it is, too.”

“Oh, uh, y' do?” said the pony, internally worried at just how fast this conversation was going. Twilight had finally convinced Applejack to fess up about how she was troubled by the way she’d treated her human counterpart and now it seemed to be going faster than Rainbow Dash on free apple cider day.

“Yeah. Is this all about you calling me some kinda bug creature or whatever a changeling is?”

“Er, yeah. It’s ‘bout that.” The farm pony took her hat off and held it to her barrel. “Look, Ah’m sorry about the way Ah’ve been treatin’ ya. Given how similar the rest of the girls are to their counterparts, ever since we learned of their existence Ah always thought you were just like me, livin’ on an apple farm.”

Humanjack raised an eyebrow, “She told you about us? She didn’t mention anything about pony versions of us for the short time she was at school. It wasn’t until we started figuring out there was a duplicate of Sunny running around that we guessed the same applied to us. Or maybe not—ever since Sunny’s grandma changed the timeline, everything’s been kinda funky when it comes to remembering the past. Especially given mah brother Melrose basically exists now.”

“Melrose?” said Ponyjack with surprise, “Sunny never mentioned there was a fourth Apple sibling.”

Applejack crossed her arms and glared. “Don’t tell me you’ve got a problem with mah younger brother,” she snarled. “Mel’s a sweetheart.”

“No, Ah don’t. It’s just that Ah recall Granny Smith sayin’ at one point that Ma was thinkin’ if’n she’d ever had a colt after Apple Bloom, she woulda named him Melrose.”

“And Ah guess that’s one of the major differences between us. Besides the whole ‘living on a farm or not’ part. Sunny won’t tell me what the deal is, though Ah can understand the need for privacy.”

“Given the crap you’ve gone through to protect mah kin, Ah suppose tellin’ you the whole story is the least Ah can do. Ah gotta warn you, though...it gets weird. Ya ever heard of werewolves?”

Maybe privacy wasn’t the only reason Sunny didn’t tell me this story, thought the blonde teen, who shook her head and took a seat for storytime.

“I don’t understand the point of all this,” said Crisalide, who was being led down the hall by Celestia. It had been some time since she’d been “executed” in public and if anything, all she knew what to look forward to was finally getting to leave this horse infested hell once and for all. But then Sable had come in and had words with Celestia, and the next thing the time-displaced teen knew, she’d been told to go with Celestia to an undisclosed location—and was explicitly told not to use her shapeshifting powers when the teen had protested.

It was annoying, as she was still trying to learn how to hold off her wings on a regular basis; easy to do as a pony or another species here on Equus, but surprisingly harder for the human form.

At least I have my own clothes now, she thought, as she tugged at the “I ❤ Canterlot” sweatshirt and jeans she currently wore, the latter of which were baggy as she hadn’t quite yet figured how to completely make her tail vanish.

“Okay, we’re here,” said Celestia, leading the concealed girl through a door. “And I want you on your best behavior, dear.”

“I promise,” groaned Crisalide as she entered, only then noticing who else was in the room. First, she only saw the unicorn Rarity, which confused her: beyond being part of the collective group of Princess Twilight Sparkle’s friends that had helped thwart her takeover of Canterlot, Crisalide couldn’t recall literally any reason why the unicorn would want to meet with her…

...and then she saw Coco sitting right next to her.

“Is this a joke?” asked Coco, looking at the hybridized human/changeling in front of her, “because I’m not finding it funny. I wanted to speak with the former changeling queen, not...this.”

Internally, Crisalide felt the sudden need to verbally put Coco back in her place; after all, was she not the reason Coco even existed? But she quickly suppressed that impulse. The fact of the matter was that even despite the versatility of a changeling agent who could bypass the changeling detection spells used by the Equestrian Guard, Coco’s independence and frankly submissive nature limited what usefulness she had as an agent. Thus, Chrysalis neglected to use Coco as one of her assets, and after the whole affair in Ponyville, she’d completely forgotten the hybrid pony even existed..

Plus, it was immediately obvious that it was for Coco’s benefit that Rarity had pulled strings to get this meeting together. Most likely because Coco wanted to confront her own creator, maybe to tell her off or something. It certainly wasn’t undeserved, even if it hadn’t truly been the fault of the girl who stood in that room now. But Crisalide could at least give Coco the closure, to which end she promptly said nothing but allowed the forces governing the world to influence her form and though her magic, force it back into the four legged abomination that was Queen Chrysalis.

Celestia, for her part, was shocked. “What the-?!”

“Please,” said Crisalide, though in the form and voice of Chrysalis, “this is a matter I need to attend to as who I was.”

“You mean who you are,” said Coco, angrily, before turning her attention to the human. “And what exactly is your business with some changeling who supposedly was killed hours ago?”

“I’m not sure that’s information I can legally divulge,” said Celestia, “the fact you evidently know the execution was faked is making me wary enough.”

“Speaking as the Knight Bearer of Generosity,” said Rarity with authority, “I can vouch for Coco; I wouldn’t have told her the truth if she was untrustworthy. And I have enough legal authority that I can safely say that it’s permissible.”

“Well, then to put it simply:—Crisalide is coming home with me.”

Coco was, understandably, aghast. “Are you bucking kidding me?!” Nothing about the situation was making sense and the idea that the evil whore bug was getting effectively a free pass of freedom enraged the young fashionista.

“The situation is far more complex than it seems, darling,” said Rarity, trying to calm the situation. “Indeed, I suspect that’s why Sunset even allowed this to happen in the first place, since she was there when you, ah, unintentionally revealed your secret to us all.”

“I feel like I’m completely out of the loop here,” said Celestia, glancing down at the alien-esque creature that was Crisalide. In turn, feeling a bit self-conscious, Crisalide turned back to her half human, half changeling form.

As if in response, Coco let herself become enshrouded in emerald fire, emerging not exactly all that different than how she’d looked before—the only differences being her tail and legs having small pockmarks at the ends, the presence of wings and a saddle carapace, and what Celestia guessed were tiny fangs in her mouth. She looked, if anything, like a more pony colored version of the thing Crisalide had just been. “I’ve only had to put up with being some kind of split-species thing for most of my life because of her!”

“Yeah, I know,” said Crisalide, who looked genuinely ashamed.

“I’m calling horseapples you actually feel bad about it,” the pony-changeling accused, “After all, you never even told me how you even made me, only that after you did, you put me in the foster care system like some kind of infantile sleeper agent—and no, somehow I’ve managed to keep my adoptive parents Adept Creation and Pastel Panche from finding out the little infant they brought into their lives was your twisted little experiment. But ever since you showed up and made me realize what the hell I am after I graduated fashion school, some days I don’t even know if I’m behaving like a pony or a changeling doing her best impression of one!”

“To be fair, darling,” said Rarity, “the only thing I ever noticed was a bit off about your behavior before you straight tried to feed off Razz was the whole spitting thing, and I even rationalized that, too.”

“And I appreciate that, Miss Rarity,” said Coco, nodding at her employer, before turning back to Crisalide, “But I know I have other habits that are literally part of my psyche, even if I don’t have a strong connection to the hivemind anymore. I mean, if I ever meet a nice stallion who is okay with me, I’m going to ask Miss Rarity for permission to marry him. And then I’m going to ask her if she gives her permission if I can have kids. And then I’ll ask her to name my kids. And I know that despite my best efforts, I know I’m going to do this, because for better or worse my psyche has latched onto her the same way a changeling does to their queen. And Celestia only knows how much worse it would have been if I stuck with that awful Suri Polomare!”

“No, I don’t,” said Celestia, raising an eyebrow.

“Huh? I meant…” Coco then realized just who the human was the counterpart of, much the same way that one teen was similar to Miss Rarity in so many ways. “Oh, uh, whoops.”

“Even so,” continued Celestia, “I have it on good authority that this Queen Chrysalis as you knew her no longer exists and was purged from Crisalide during the rescue operation staged by the SIRENs.”

“Whose authority?”

“Given what Ms. Rarity there happened to mention, I take it you’re acquainted with a mare named Raspberry Beryl?”

Coco blinked, then stared at Celestia, then at Crisalide. “Razz gave the sign off on you?”

“I would think that alone would be a vote of confidence in my favor,” said Crisalide, “as anypony alive today she would be an expert on corruption for obvious reasons.” She then approached Coco and then knelt down—with some difficulty as her right leg didn’t seem all that designed for such an action, it being her inhuman one. “Look, Coco, what you see me as right now? This is what I really am. And yes, this body was Queen Chrysalis, but...I can’t say I was completely in control.”

“And how exactly does that make any sense?” asked Coco.

“You mentioned having changeling thoughts even though I made you mostly pony by casting a lot of magic on your egg? Imagine not even being born the way you are, but being forced into it. Having another consciousness shoved into your own head, your body twisted halfway beyond recognition. And then spending a thousand years like that, forever hungry for love and driven to the point of insanity.” Crisalide then shrugged. “I understand what it’s like far more than you ever will.”

Coco’s expression suggested she somewhat understood what was going on, but her furrowed brow also suggested she didn’t like it one bit. “So, you’re saying you got turned into a hybrid, and then you decided it would be a good idea to make another one for your stupid plans?”

“Well…” Chrysalis tapped her index finger and her hoof together nervously, “the truth is, er...you were kind of a failure.”

“She is not a failure,” snapped Rarity, hurriedly trotting to her understudy’s side. “I daresay she’s one of the best in our industry and—”

“I don’t mean it the way you think. Yes, I created her to be the next generation of changeling agent to invade ponykind with, but even you can not look at her and with all seriousness tell me she would make a good covert agent! She’s submissive, meek, and above all else the complete opposite of a ruthless individual. She couldn’t even work up the nerve to quit her job under Suri Polomare until you came along and gave her a reason to do so!”

“So you’re saying I’m a failure because I’m my own individual?” asked Coco.

“No, I’m saying you’re a failed changeling because really, you ended up far more pony than the former me had intended. And the fact you ended up finding a good social support network of friends means you will continue living your own life.” Crisalide then smiled, adding, “Plus, in the end you actually did do the one job I ever actually assigned to you—protect Raspberry Beryl.”

“Huh, I guess that’s true. That still doesn’t mean I forgive you for anything.”

“But she isn’t the same individual that did all that,” rationalized Celestia. “Well, not exactly the same individual—it’s like what Queen Luna said at the faux-execution: Chrysalis was a victim herself. Where you were the product of Chrysalis’s machinations, so too was Crisalide. King Sombra was the one who turned her into a monster, and that’s why I’m taking her under my wing now that the monster has been purged. She deserves a chance at life, just as you’ve found yours.”

Coco didn’t immediately answer, but gave a good hard look at the still-kneeling human-changeling in front of her. Gradually, her hard expression softened. “Yeah, I can see how that is—you have changeling parts and I can still sense a bit of the old queen off of you, but...you aren’t the same individual.”

“So does that mean everything’s okay now?” asked Rarity.

“Queen Chrysalis is dead and I’ve made my peace with that now,” the younger fashionista said. “As for you, Miss Crisalide, at least there’s somepony who can understand what it’s like to be me. I hope that the faith Miss Celestia and presumably Sunset Shimmer have placed in you proves true and you can find a good life, as I have.” She then lit up in fire, returning to her full pony form, and turned to Rarity. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Miss Rarity, I’ll go and finish packing.”

“Very good, dear,” the alabaster unicorn answered. Then, with a nod, Coco left. As soon as the door was closed behind her, Rarity sighed in relief. “Thank you, both of you,” she said to both the human and human-changeling, “I think that did a lot more good for her than she realizes, getting that off her barrel.”

“She has a good mentor to help with that,” said Celestia, nodding in approval.

“She also was right,” said Crisalide, standing up and looking firmly at Rarity. “She regards you as her queen, so she’s going to ask you for permission to do a lot of things regular ponies wouldn’t think about getting your opinion on. She’s going to be very high maintenance as unlike what I heard about that Suri Polomare character, you aren’t a complete bitch.”

“Oh, don’t you worry,” laughed Rarity, “I work in the fashion industry—high maintenance pony management is practically a job requirement in my profession.”

Sunset looked around her mother’s room at the palace. Or rather, soon to be former room. Now that Celestia no longer ruled, she had spent the week out of the public eye, with the intent of planning to move out of Canterlot proper. With Cadance and Shining to return to Canterlot to resume the position of Crown Princess, they would take these chambers and a slightly smaller set would be appointed for the former princess regnal.

“I’m glad to see you,” Raven Quill stated. Unsurprisingly, she’d stepped into the position of Celestia’s chief of staff flawlessly. Chief of staff, the head of Celestia’s administrative staff, but not a seneschal—she would have no part in the political sphere, another reminder of the changes that had come.

“I came as soon as my mother asked,” Sunset said, carrying a bag of tourist knick-knacks from Canterlot International Airport back home. The trip itself back to Earth reminded her that despite all, they would need to return back to resume their own lives in a short time. Everyone else was on a day trip to Rainbow Falls—even the triplets, much to their consternation. The only ones in town were Celestia and Crisalide, who had some other business; and Sunset herself.

“Is something wrong, Lady Sunset?” Rubato Stealth, one of the Hooves protecting Sunset for the day, asked the teen.

“It’s just...for the longest time, it seemed like my mother would forever be the princess. And now….” She let the words trail off, unsure of what to say.

“I understand. The majority of Hooves will remain behind here in protective service of Her Majesty the Queen—and they will have to get used to that, as the last queen we had...well, you know about that. But for we sirens, the Princess will always be the Princess, and that is why she will always have a contingent of Hooves at her beck and call.”

“Indeed, I even have a Hoof assigned to me, much to my husband’s annoyance,” Raven chuckled. “Anyway, the Princess is waiting for you on the balcony. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to my uncle’s place.”

“Oh?”

Raven gave an awkward chuckle. “Now that he’s retired, Uncle Kibbitz is insisting we move into his mansion, as he’s considering moving to the retirement community in Silver Shores. Seriously, Crowfeather and I like our place, and neither of us think we need anything as large as the mansion I grew up in. But I guess it is what is. See you later, Princess.”

While Rubato decided to talk to some of the other Hooves present, Sunset went out to the balcony. Here was where her mother used to raise the sun and the moon and later just the sun. But with Luna now handling both duties, the balcony was just that...a mere edifice, rather than a ceremonial celestial platform. And who knew what changes would be made when Cadance and her family moved in.

Seated in a chair by the table, was Celestia...and to Sunset’s surprise, she was in a human form. Her hair was entirely dawn pink, as it had been when the solar alicorn had been a filly, and she was dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and gray slacks, similar to how Principal Celestia had done once at a school “casual day”. At the moment, she was looking at a bunch of pamphlets.

“Mother?” Sunset said with surprise.

“What, I’m not allowed to be different?” Celestia asked her and when the look of surprise continued on her daughter’s face, she laughed happily. “It was Tia’s idea: now that I’m planning to leave Canterlot for good, she suggested I take some long overdue vacation time and even suggested a trip to Earth.” She held up one of the guides. “Do you know anything about this Orlando, Florida place? I presume it’s like Oatlando down south, but I’m not completely sure.”

“I’ve, uh, never been there. Only to LA and Paris, though I could tell you about those.”

“Guess I’ll have to find out for myself then,” Celestia commented, and when Sunset went wide-eyed, the solar alicorn laughed again. “Relax, I’m not going to interfere in your life, and I’m certainly not going to step on your parents’ metaphorical hooves—they deserve to raise you in the way they feel best, as I’ve done all I can, I think. But I figured for my first official vacation I should go somewhere I’ve never really ever been before, and somewhere that I can be out of touch of Luna and her cohorts. I mean, eventually in a month or two I’ll come back, if only so I can start looking for my own home.” A wistful look came over her face as she looked out beyond the balcony to the lands she once ruled. “After living in Canterlot for so long, I almost feel like I’ve lived here my entire life. Sure, I lived for a few hundred years in Everfree Castle, but that was...well, ancient history, as you well know.”

“More than you might think,” Sunset replied, making a mental note to talk about that with Jade when she had the time. “But are you sure about this?”

“About what? Giving up the throne?” Celestia laughed. “Given the amount I’ve been able to sleep in this past week, it’s been worth that alone! Besides, it’s given me time to think about who I am. I want to know who I am. I mean, all this time, I’ve been labels: princess, mentor, sister, role model, ruler, mother. But I don’t know who Celestia is. Ask any pony who knows me what my hobbies are and they’ll say: politics and cake. They might be joking about either, but the truth is, I really don’t know whether it’s a joke.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Politics, all humor aside, was never a hobby. It was a vocation and one I reluctantly took part in. And cake, my sweet tooth aside, isn’t much of one either. I’ve never painted. I’ve never loved romantically. I’ve rarely stepped outside of the castle, and typically when I did, it was for diplomacy or war. All the times you and I went out for things were some of the few things I’d ever done, and they were just as much for your needs as mine. But I’ve never called anything truly mine.

“I need to find out who I am, my dearest little light. I need to find out the kind of mare I am. Maybe, like you, I’m better suited to living as another species. Or maybe I’ll find out that life on your world isn’t for me—I’m really not planning to move there in the long run anyway, as I still need to be here in some capacity for your aunt. But regardless, I need to find out who Celestia is, because for so long, I’ve been just Princess Celestia and anything else I say feels circular and pedantic.”

“Like what you’ve just said?” Sunset asked with a grin.

“And that’s intentional. Decanters, the ancient philosopher, once said that ‘a circular argument will always bring the point across when everything else fails’. And I’m tired of failing in my life—my personal life. I think it’s time I succeed.”

“Heya, kiddo,” Cadance said as she walked into the room that her aunt and said aunt’s boyfriend shared with the soon-to-be-newest member of the family. And given that said aunt had done more in a hair over a year than she had done at any point in her life prior, that was saying a lot. “How goes?”

Seated on the settee in the parlor of the chambers they were assigned, Crisalide looked at the world through Celestia’s iPad. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in,” the ostensibly younger girl stated.

“It’s okay, don’t worry,” Cadence replied, brushing it off. Of course, that was easier said than done. This was the first time she was going to spend any significant time with her younger cousin and “younger” was, of course, relative, like so many other things in this world. The woman had been briefed on everything that had occurred to Crisalide and it was an amazing series of events, both tragic and horrifying on a scale that even Cadance couldn’t picture. “So, you wanted to talk?”

Crisalide set the tablet down on the coffee table. “I….” she began, then paused. After an awkward second, she started again. “I...wanted to talk about myself, but I couldn’t talk with Ms. Celestia.”

“Aunt Tia has always been there for me; Aunt Lu as well. Is there something you’re trying to hide from them?”

“No, I...I just needed to talk to someone closer to my age.”

“Well, there’s the girls. Twily, Tavi, Sunny and their friends.”

Uh...no offense, but I’m not sure they’re the best ponies...uh, people....to talk to right now.”

Cadance smiled; this was clearly in her bailiwick for more than one reason. “So, you wanted to talk to a neutral party, as it were.”

“I...guess?” She leaned forward and her tiny wings fluttered in agitation. They were almost completely gone now, a personal success of hers, though she didn’t know what to say about that.

“I think what you’re talking about is, if you’ll forgive the term, an ‘older sister’ type. Technically, I’m an only child, but I’ve practically been a big sister to both Tavi and Twily their entire lives, so I have some experience in it.”

“I don’t know. During my years on Earth, all I had was my governess, and an older brother. Even when I was married—such as it was—to Baldassare, I had no close friends. I knew a few of the women from the Giustiniani family, but they were ones that were married to the men that Baldassare curried favor with. They were like me: just there.” She reached over and picked up the tablet. “I guess the modern term is ‘trophy wife’, or something like that?

“I don’t want to discuss what I went through here and what turned me into...her. I’m still trying to pull away from that, but I know I never will.” She held up her arm; even though it was now clearly human in shape, the matte black coloring with the pockmarks, holes that had almost entirely been filled in, made it look like a truly unusual prosthetic. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to never become Chrysalis again, but it’s futile, because I will always be Chrysalis. Those parts of me are gone now, and even if by some miracle they’re not, they can’t be grafted onto me for a billion reasons. I’m forever this hybrid...thing. Stuck between human and changeling. I don’t even know what I am anymore, much less what I’ll be.”

“What do you want to be?”

“I don’t know. I was a mother—of sorts; thankfully Chrysalis wanted no real offspring to cause issues, so she never bred directly. A queen, obviously. A goddess, metaphorically; the changelings treated her as one, even though I don’t have the aspects the alicorns do.” She continued to tick titles off her fingers. “Rebel, tyrant, beast, monster. Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of that has any bearing with modern human life.”

Cadance laughed. “You have clearly never survived high school. I’m not so old that I don’t remember the days that Sandy, Lemony and I had to deal with that wild, untamed jungle.” She then gave Crisalide an understanding look. “But in many ways, you’re essentially a foreigner. I suppose literally, given that you’d be Italian nowadays, but you’ve never lived in a modern life, and there’s still so much to catch up on.”

“Ms. Celestia said I could be anything I wanted,” Crisalide stated. “Ms. Luna said that if I wanted to be a lawyer, or a doctor or an entomologist, I could do that.” She rolled her eyes. “I think I’ll skip being an entomologist.”

“Well, that’s up to you. I can’t tell you that. I can only be there to help you—the rest you’ll have to figure out on your own. But I will promise you this: you won’t ever be alone anymore. You’ll always have someone to turn to. Whether it’s my aunts, Sable, me, my fiancé or the girls, you won’t have to suffer your pains and you won’t have to face your fears by yourself.”

Crisalide was silent for a few. Finally, she said, “I’m not sure about that—I’ve never had a time when I’ve had anypony...anyone...help me face anything. But I’m beginning to believe that.”

“Well, it’s a start. And from what my mother always says, the beginning’s the best place to do that.” She giggled. “Yeah, corny, I know. But parents are what parents are, right? In the meanwhile, I’ll let you get back to doing what you were doing; I’m sure you have a lot more to look up about our world.”

Crisalide nodded, barely noticing as Cadance departed. But as the door opened, a thought came to her: “Oh, one last question, if you don’t mind.”

“No, not at all. Hit me.” When Crisalide looked at her oddly, Cadance laughed. “Human phrase. Anyway, go ahead.”

“I get that you don’t go by your birth name, right? Is it because you hate the person that had it?”

Cadance thought about that for a second. “Well, until you mentioned that, I hadn’t even remembered there was a historical Mi Amore Cadenza. Venetian opera star, 18th century, well after your time. But I don’t hate her or anything; I go by the English version of my second name because it’s easier for a lot of people to say than ‘Cadenza’, strange as that is. And eventually people just called me Cady. Why, are you afraid people will think of Crisalide della Lucca when they hear your name?”

“I hear that my name fell out of favor because of my supposed death and that it’s considered bad luck to have that name now. But the alternative is to go by Chrysalis...and I don’t know if I can ever deal with reminders of her.”

Cadance looked at the young girl, who was instead centuries old. She recalled that Crisalide had told Celestia she wasn’t even sure what her age was—did she start counting again once she got on Earth; did she count all the time that had gone by, or the time since she’d been teleported back in time to the old Crystal Empire? Depending on the answer, that would make her either fourteen, over five hundred years old, or over a millennium in age—far too weighty a question for a kid, even one that had been through everything Crisalide had endured.

Cadance looked at the girl, then at her own reflection in the gold inlay of the door. Too old to be worrying about stuff that she’s never had. Too young to worry about the stuff she’s never going to face. A study in contrasts.

Cadance closed the door. Her job, as a big sister, wasn’t done just yet.

She went back and sat on the couch. “Well then, we’re just going to have to make you a better Chrysalis then, aren’t we...Chryssie?”

“Chryssie?”

Cadance ruffled the girl’s hair. “Look up Chryssie—she’s a singer from the 90s; her full name is Chrysalis Blossom, if I recall correctly. Kind of an old reference for a girl your age, but it’s a start.”

“But I’m––”

“A teenager. Crisalide della Lucca, as far as the world is concerned, is gone. It’s time for you to figure out who you are, not who she was or would have been.”

The two sat there, as Cadance went over and looked up every girl with the name Chrysalis or Crisalide, and as the hours ran late, the two bonded.

And for the first time, a young girl had a big sister that she cared about.

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