• Published 9th Jun 2020
  • 2,846 Views, 67 Comments

Soul Marked - PingZing

A soul mate is a rare and precious gift. Usually. Celestia isn't so sure about hers.

  • ...

Heart to Heart

Celestia stood on the castle's ceremonial royal balcony and stared at a slumbering Canterlot.

The wedding had come and gone. After the dust had settled, they had collectively looked around and decided: everypony was still there, and there were no injuries beyond scrapes and bruises, so why not have the wedding?

There had been a whirlwind effort to clean, primp, preen, and otherwise restore the damage caused by the changeling invasion. Afterward, Shining Armor and Cadance had been appropriately radiant, relieved that the other was okay, and ecstatic to finally be married. Twilight Sparkle's reunion with Shining Armor and her friends had been tearful and apologetic by turns. Celestia had given her student a much-deserved apology, and had promised to have a longer conversation with her in the morning.

Celestia had gone to sleep and found that, tired as she was, she could not sleep. Finally alone with her thoughts, she'd had no choice but to confront them. She thought better on her hooves, so she'd gone for a walk and found herself here. A cool breeze blew across the balcony, carrying the scent of lavender, and making the hanging planters sway.

A clacking of hooves came from behind her, and while her ears swiveled to track the sound, Celestia made no further movement. After a moment, Luna joined her at the balustrade and leaned against it. She was chewing noisily on a cinnamon roll, her best princess mug floating next to her, still steaming. She grunted by way of greeting.

"We really must stop meeting like this." Celestia gave Luna a small grin out of the corner of her mouth.

Luna took a gulp from her mug. "Mmm."

The smell coming from the mug made Celestia raise an eyebrow. It was a powerful mix of coffee and something sweeter. "What's in there? Coffee and...?" Celestia nodded at Luna's mug.

After a brief pause to take another bite of her roll, Luna wordlessly floated the mug over to her sister for inspection. Celestia leaned in and sniffed at it. Coffee, certainly, along with something sweeter? She leaned in to take a sip, but Luna jerked it away before she could.

"Mine," she said, glaring. After a moment's pause, she continued, "Mint chocochino. Coffee, chocolate, some mint, and vanilla cream. T'is a great help in clearing the mind." She took another long sip.

Celestia stuck out her tongue and made a face. "I see. I'll pass."

"So, art thou mooning over thy soul mate's unfortunate identity?"

Celestia's eyes flicked involuntarily to Luna's charge, floating serenely in the night sky, casting a pale glow over the landscape.

"Really, Luna." She glared. "And I know you can speak modern Equestrian."

The only reply was an annoyed grunt."Thou havest leave to correct mine speech 'pon an eve in which I've had more than four hours of sleep. But if thou—you­­—insist."

Celestia turned back to Canterlot and sighed. "But yes. I cannot sleep. I've spent centuries fantasizing and fearing by turns what it would be like to finally find my soul mate. Now that I've found her, I'm just... angry." A frustrated huff. "Destiny says that we're meant for each other? Most of the time things that are good for me are bad for Equestria. If being linked to a monster queen is somehow meant to make me stronger, I fear that it can only mean that it will make Equestria weaker."

An enormous sigh from Luna presaged her cramming the remaining piece of her cinnamon roll into her mouth and washing it down with a swig from her mug. "Sister, know that I love thee dearly." She turned to face Celestia directly. "So pull your head out of your plot and do something about it." At Celestia's owl-eyed stare, Luna huffed and continued, "You have spent the last several centuries fretting and fearing and hoping about your soul mate. Now, you have finally found her. You can do something about it. You say you want a relationship with her that does not damage Equestria? Then forge one."

Gobsmacked, Celestia continued to stare at Luna for several long seconds. After a moment, she blinked and shook her head, then took a deep breath. Then, to Luna's surprise, Celestia enveloped the smaller alicorn in a fierce hug. "I missed you, little sister," Celestia whispered.

Unable to properly return the hug, pinned as she was by her sister's wings and forelegs, Luna settled for smiling and nuzzling the underside of Celestia's chin. "I did not expect that would be so easy."

Celestia shook her head and gave a little laugh. "I was so tangled up in 'what if' and 'could be'... but you reminded me that it really can be that simple. What happens next is up to me. Now that I know who—and what—she is, I can finally do something about it." Her hoof brushed her soul mark reflexively. "Now," she said, stretching, "it is far past my bedtime. Unless I want to try inventing my own horrid wake-up elixir, I had best try to sleep."

"Rest soundly, sister. I will ensure your pleasant dreams, should you find your way to slumber."

"I appreciate it." Celestia gave Luna one last hug and made her way back inside.

As Celestia entered the hall adjoining the balcony's antechamber, she heard a gasp and a muted thunk. Frowning, she trotted around a corner to find a discarded feather duster and a vase wobbling upon its plinth. Odd.

She gave a huge, jaw-cracking yawn and shook her head. Something to worry about in the morning, perhaps; for now, her bed was calling her name.

Shining Armor frowned and rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "I can't say I'm a hundred percent comfortable with it, but I understand why this is important to you. And... on balance, I guess I'd rather have her where we can see her."

After sharing a glance with Shining Armor, Cadance nodded. "I agree. I think this could be exciting for you, auntie! Not to say there's any love lost between that bug bit—ahem. That unpleasant creature and me, but..." Cadance clasped her hooves together, and stared at Celestia with shining eyes. "Soul mates! You've finally found yours after centuries of searching!" She squealed, her rear hooves tapping excitedly against the marble floor.

A knot of worry she hadn't noticed before loosened in Celestia's chest. She nodded. "Thank you both. I know that after what happened to the two of you, this is difficult. I appreciate your approval, and I'll do my utmost to keep her from causing any further mayhem."

She and the newlywed couple were enjoying a late morning tea on the balcony attached to her chambers. The city's weather team had scheduled a lovely, beautifully clear day. She could see a shining ribbon of water lazily winding its way through the Canter Valley all the way to the horizon where, if she looked closely, she could just see a barren strip of land, where the fertile plains gave way to the arid badlands.

Changeling territory, if initial scouting reports were accurate.

Her plan, such as it was, had crystallized as she had raised the sun this morning. Luna was right. She needed a chance to actually talk to this changeling queen. Now that she had the approval of the two ponies the queen had hurt the most, she felt comfortable moving forward. How to actually accomplish the task was another story, but Celestia was confident that they could work something out.

Shining stood, and gave a short bow to Celestia. "I should probably get going. The Guard is all keyed up after what happened yesterday, and I think seeing me would be good for morale."

"Of course. Thank you again, Shining Armor."

"Ma'am." Shining saluted, then turned to Cadance and gave her a brief kiss. "Love you, Cadey-bug. See you for lunch?"

"Of course," Cadance said. "Stay safe out there, my hunky knight!"

Shining blushed and trotted away.

"Hmm," Celestia said, eying his retreating form. "You were right—he does look good both coming and going."

Shining stumbled slightly, and his pace accelerated until he was out of sight. Cadance turned to Celestia with a scandalized grin. "Auntie!" She descended into giggles for a moment. "You're in a good mood today!" She adopted a thoughtful expression for a moment, then leaned onto the table as her grin grew unsettlingly predatory. "Why could that be, hmmm?"

"I am," Celestia said, ignoring the bait. "I spoke with Luna last night. It helped put things into perspective. I also spent some time thinking about what the changeling queen said in her little victory speech. It's one of the things that made me decide to move forward with this plan." "Oh—thank you," Celestia nodded at the maid collecting the now-empty teapot and teacups. "She said that she invaded Equestria to try to feed her people. I'll admit to some uneasiness about the way she called them her 'minions' a few moments later, but... well, she must care for her subjects to some degree. That means we must have some common ground. It's a place to start, at least."

Cadance passed her dishes to the maid, who favored her with a curtsy and a murmured thanks. "I suppose. You really think it won't just turn into a fight?"

Celestia gazed back toward the strip of barren, rocky land at the edge of the horizon. She shrugged, wearing a pensive expression. "The badlands are a harsh, hot, inhospitable place. Doing something as aggressive as invading Canterlot when their talents seem suited to subterfuge seems to bely desperation. Maybe they just need help, and don't know how to ask."

"Oh, I'm so excited for you!" Cadance clapped her hooves together, and squealed again.

"Really?" Celestia said, turning and raising an eyebrow. "To be quite honest, I'm surprised you agreed so easily."

Cadance gave a wave and a cheery smile. "I'm happy that you're happy! You deserve it! But don't get me wrong," she continued, gaze darkening, "if I were alone in a room with that 'queen', I'd do my best to splatter her against a wall like the bug she is."

Motes of dust drifted lazily through the late afternoon sunbeams, and transformed them into tiny orange spotlights. The usual gilt of the Canterlot Royal Castle was, if not absent, then at least muted here. Pale lavenders were in abundance, and the room was dominated by a large, low-slung coffee table surrounded by plush, well-stuffed cushions edged in gold. Large windows framed a pair of Prench doors that led out to an expansive balcony overflowing with greenery and bird feeders.

An unassuming door on the far side of the room led to a separate bedroom. A small kitchenette was nestled in the corner, and notable for its profusion of tea and tea accessories, including a well-worn kettle. The rest of that wall was occupied by a well-stocked drinks cabinet made of dark wood.

The drifting dust swirled into eddies and storms as it was disturbed by Celestia opening the door. She paused to turn and nod her thanks to the guards posted outside, then closed the door and stood for a moment, staring at the plain panel of wood. She took a deep breath then, slowly, allowed her head to sag until it rested against the door. She paused for several long moments, and just allowed herself to breathe.

Then, with a huff, she turned away and made her way to the kitchenette. She reached for the teapot out of habit, then looked down at it and stopped. Frowned. Turned instead to the drinks cabinet and spent a moment considering before reaching in and levitating out a bottle and a single glass tumbler.

It had been a long day, she thought as she carried the bottle and glass over to the table. After the slow morning, and a discussion first with Twilight Sparkle, then Twilight and her friends, the castle's machinery had kicked into high gear and not stopped since. There were nobles panicked about the "monster invasion" that needed soothing, a pile of requests for reinforcement from Guard garrisons, and more requests (and, depending on the outlet, outright demands) for interviews from newspapers than even her clerks could possibly manage in a single day.

Celestia never could have managed without the assistance of Raven, her chief aide. Even then, she had come close to tearing her mane out in frustration. But now, she thought as flopped onto her favorite cushion next to the table, she could take a few minutes to be alone and relax. She kicked her golden hoofguards off one-by-one, and took a guilty pleasure in the weighty metallic thunks they made against the carpet. She lifted her crown off her head and set on the table, then did the same with the peytral around her neck.

Finally divested of her regalia and comfortable, she allowed herself a moment to read the bottle's label and sigh happily.

Moon Shine
Princess's Private Reserve

Luna made it personally, using real moonbeams. Celestia had tried to mimic it several times in the years after the banishment, but had never been able to get it quite right. After Luna's return, Celestia had suggested that they make a batch together and Luna had been all too pleased to do so. Celestia hadn't had the heart to tell Luna that linguistic drift had given "moonshine" a much different meaning in her absence.

She poured two measures into the glass, then lifted it and sniffed. The sharp scent was a mixture of sweet sugar, mint, and clear night air off a cool lake, and it burned the whole way through her sinuses. Satisfied, she took a sip and sighed as it slid into her belly and left a ball of warmth in its wake.

Celestia leaned back and allowed herself a moment to think that maybe things would work out.

Which was, of course, the moment Luna barged into the room. "Sister!" she cried, "I needs must speak with you anon!"

Celestia blinked, then peered out at the guards who were staring helplessly after the lunar diarch. She motioned for them to shut the door, and they nodded and did so. "Luna. I am... surprised you are awake so early, especially after yesterday."

"I have hadst the most terrible dream, sister mine!" Luna said, holding a foreleg across her eyes. She took a seat at the table across from Celestia, spilling into the cushion dramatically.

"Oh?" Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Do tell."

"The queen of the changelings hadst takeneth thine student prisoner. Even now, she holds her hostage, and demandeth your presence!"

Celestia slowly raised her other eyebrow, and took a sedate sip of the moonshine. As smooth as ever. "And?"

Luna stared at her, blinking, before waving her hooves in the air. "We must prepare a rescue party at once!"

Celestia peered down at the tumbler between her hooves for a long moment, thinking. Almost unconsciously, her hoof brushed against her soul mark. She looked up. "You don't actually know how Luna's dreamwalking abilities work, do you?"

"Luna" stared at her, wide-eyed for a moment before her expression flattened and she sighed. "Well, it was worth a shot."

A flare of green fire consumed the false Luna. After a moment, it cleared, revealing a tall figure in ebony chitin and of regal bearing. "Hello again, princess," hissed the changeling queen.

Then, she seized the bottle of moonshine from the table and broke it over Celestia's head.

Completely unprepared, Celestia crashed to the floor. Glass shards flew everywhere as the bottle shattered. Celestia's eyes burned as she tried to blink them clear of the high-proof alcohol. She stumbled to her feet just in time to catch a beam of concentrated magic right between the eyes.

Celestia stumbled back to her hooves, shaking her head. Something smelled like smoke, and burnt hair.

She was finally able to open her eyes a crack, and winced as the burning suddenly vanished, and was replaced with arid dryness. Bizarrely, orange and blue tongues of color licked at the air in front of her like...

Oh. The beam of magic had set the moonshine dripping down her face aflame. She was on fire.

Fortunately, she and fire had an understanding with one another. She calmly scraped the flaming spirits off her face with telekinesis and gathered them into a burning blue ball. Now with clear vision, she turned to the changeling queen and huffed. "How rude." With an effort will, she extinguished the burning ball, which sent up a little curl of steam.

The changeling queen stared wide-eyed. "I... didn't mean..." Her face abruptly shifted into a snarl. "I suppose you would be more resistant to mind control than some unicorn guard."

So it had been an attempt at mind control magic. Celestia wondered if she was truly that much more resistant, or if the sudden burst of flame had just surprised the changeling. Her expression in the moment afterward seemed to hint at the latter. "I'll thank you to remember that Shining Armor is more than merely 'some guard'—he is the captain of my Royal Guard, and a friend. I am rather put out at your treatment of him."

The changeling queen began circling the table, and Celestia mirrored her. "Oh, was he the captain? I suppose I forgot," she said, with feigned contrition. "I guess I thought of him as more of a snack," she said with a smirk.

Celestia ignored the attempt to get a rise out of her. "Why are you here? I could call for the guards and have you thrown into the dungeons in an instant."

In response, the changeling queen simply laughed. "I think we both know that if you were going to call your guards, you would have done so the second I dropped my disguise. You," she said, jabbing a hoof toward Celestia, "are curious!"

"And you aren’t?" Celestia tilted her head. "You finally have the answer to a soul mark you've borne your entire life."

The changeling queen scoffed. "A true queen has no time for such trifling nonsense."

"Hmmm. And yet, here you are, at the heart of a kingdom on high alert. I think you're more curious than you let on, bug."

"Bug?!" The changeling queen's eye's bulged, and she stopped, and drew herself up. "You are in the presence of the queen of changelings, none other than Queen Chrysalis herself!"

Celestia stopped as well, and couldn't entirely suppress a tiny thrill in spite of herself. Chrysalis. Her soul mate's name. An unsettling and alien name for an unsettling, alien creature. "Well met, Chrysalis. Now that we're properly acquainted, may I ask why you found it prudent to invade my home and break a rather expensive bottle of moonshine upon my face?"

"Hmph. This all would have been much easier if you'd simply fallen under my spell." Chrysalis looked away briefly. "I had planned to simply subdue you, force you to tell me about your plans for my people, then leave you drained of love and helpless."

Celestia blinked. "Did it never occur to you to simply... ask?"

"And be fed more of that tripe about common ground and just wanting to talk you bandied about today?" Chrysalis scoffed. "Please."

Celestia froze. She had only mentioned the idea of sharing common ground with Chrysalis to Cadance. Which meant... "Last night. The maid who dropped the duster. That was you. And again, on the balcony this morning, you were the waitress."

Chrysalis responded with an achingly-sweet smile full of fang. "That's right. Your vaunted Royal Guard defenses means nothing to a changeling." She resumed prowling toward Celestia around the table, and Celestia did likewise. "We can be anywhere. Anyone."

"You said that you feed on love," Celestia said. Chrysalis narrowed her eyes at the sudden change in tack, but said nothing. "And that you’d never encountered anywhere as full of love as Equestria. Why steal it?"

A slimy pink tongue whipped forth from Chrysalis' mouth, and its tip trailed up from corner of Celestia's jaw to the base of her ear before it was retracted with whipcrack speed. At Celestia's full-body shudder, Chrysalis leered. "That is why. No creature would willingly love a changeling. We are monsters to them, princess," she said, spitting Celestia's title.

Celestia scowled. "If you insist on being deliberately unpleasant, I hardly find it surprising that you struggle to find love. But I believe that you are wrong. I believe that if you gave my little ponies a chance, they would surprise you."

Chrysalis surprised Celestia by surging up and planting her forehooves on the table. "Oh yes. The perfect, polite, pretty pony princess," she hissed, biting off the 'p' in each word, "in her ivory tower believes that everything will just work out. And then, once all the evil monsters have shown themselves, oh, what a surprise! What a shock!" Chrysalis held her forehooves to her face in mock surprise. "Some thinly veiled pretext! And all the monsters must go, but now her little ponies know how to spot them. How to kill them," she spat. "And the monsters slink back into the darkness, to starve, no longer a threat."

Celestia jerked back as if struck. "Of course that isn't my plan! I want to help you!"

"Of course you do," Chrysalis purred, stalking forward, coming over the table now and looming over Celestia. "Help us until we're so dependent on the ponies that the threat of expulsion is enough to control us. To chain us. Maybe you don't want to end the monsters, hmm? Maybe you want," she trailed a forehoof gently up Celestia's neck, ending atop her soul mark, "to tame them."

With an exasperated cry, Celestia knocked Chrysalis' hoof away. "If you insist on reading ulterior motives into everything I say, we may as well not have a discussion at all! Listen to me!"

Chrysalis retreated and favored Celestia with a smug look. "Oh, princess. Whatever gave you the impression I was interested in a discussion? I'm here for information. My first plan may have failed, but I still intend to get it."

With a buzz that put Celestia in mind of an oversized wasp, Chrysalis spread her wings and fluttered backward and up into the air as a grin spread across her face. She allowed some of that buzzing inflection to creep into her voice as she continued, "I'm not the only changeling who's been busy infiltrating places of importance, you know. How is your dear student? Has little Twilight Sparkle made it home to her library tree safe and sound?" She sneered the name.

A wedge of dread hammered its way into Celestia's heart, but she refused to show it in her expression. "Chrysalis, please—there is no need for threats, or violence. There is no secret plot to ensnare the changelings, or destroy them, or tame them. I wish merely to talk."

Chrysalis crossed her forelegs and drifted backward. "And I don't believe you. One does not rule for centuries without a willingness to dirty their hooves. Perhaps if I up the stakes, hmmm? Ponyville is a remarkably trusting place. It would be so easy to arrange for the other five to meet a new pony, and then just..." Chrysalis brought her hooves to her mouth in mock surprise, "vanish! Little Twilight Sparkle and her friends do seem to care for each other a great deal... I'm willing to bet all that love could feed the hive for quite some time!"

Celestia surprised even herself by growling at Chrysalis. "If you hurt them, they won't even find your ashes."

Chrysalis zipped backward, then leaned forward, surprise warring with glee upon her face. "Oh! So I have found a sore spot. But don't worry princess. I'd never hurt them—they'd be valuable stock for the hive. Well," Chrysalis made a show of tapping a forehoof against her chin and pretending to think, "I suppose if they fought back too hard, I might not have a choice. I'd hardly want them to end up like Sunset Shimmer, of course."

The fires of Celestia's anger were instantly snuffed out. Her stomach dropped out from underneath her like she'd been soaring through the sky, and had suddenly fallen into free fall. "Sunset?"

"Oh, yes." Chrysalis cackled and leaned in closer. "Hadn't you wondered why she never came back? Oh, she tried! But she ran afoul of my changelings and I. We tried to capture her, but she was too powerful to subdue... but not too powerful to end." She slithered around behind a motionless Celestia, and began whispering into her ear. "Would you like to know what her final words were?

"'I'm sorry.'"

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