• Published 10th Mar 2021
  • 1,508 Views, 109 Comments

Paint the Sky - Flynt Coal



Having been adopted by human Celestia and her boyfriend Sable, the former Queen Chrysalis starts her new life in the human world. But she still has her old demons to contend with.

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Chapter 10 - Friends Will Be Friends

The poisonous thoughts planted in Chrysalis’s mind by the overheard conversation between Star Tracker and his friends followed her into the next day.

“I just feel bad for those poor girls she hangs out with,” said the kid with glasses—Chips, according to Soda.

“You mean Apple Bloom and the others?” Star asked.

“Yeah, man. They’re absolutely terrified of her! They know she’s a killer as much as anyone.”

It wasn’t true. It simply wasn’t. But Chrysalis was all too aware of the truth to the lie that she’d killed Diamond Tiara. Wasn’t there some truth to this too? At least Chrysalis could say she was innocent of the other missing person’s cases.

As it turned out, Diamond was only the latest in a number of similarly aged girls to have gone missing. Chrysalis had found this out watching the news with Celestia this morning. Apparently, enough girls were missing now that the mayor was issuing a six o’clock curfew. The news wasn’t the start to the Saturday that Chrysalis had been hoping for.

Usually Chrysalis hung out with her friends online while they played some video game or another, or even spent the day out with them in person. But when she received the invite from Sweetie Belle to join them ice skating, Chrysalis told her she had other plans today, which was technically true. Sunset Shimmer had messaged her the previous evening asking if she could come over in the afternoon. But there were still plenty of hours left before the afternoon; more than enough time to spend the morning at the skating rink with her friends. It was something she’d always wanted to try after all.

But Chrysalis simply didn’t have the energy to hang out with her friends today. She told herself she was just tired and managed to be half convinced. So, Chrysalis simply lounged around the house with Celestia (Sable was already at Sunset’s on SIREN business) until the afternoon rolled around, at which point Celestia gave her a ride to Sunset’s.



When she arrived at Sunset’s family manor, she rang the doorbell and was greeted by one of the triplets, a girl whose name was Aria, if Chrysalis remembered right. The girl regarded her with a neutral expression that seemed vaguely hostile to Chrysalis. She could understand why: the last time they’d really met face-to-face had been as enemies.

“Hey, Aria,” Chrysalis said, hoping that she had the correct name. “Uh, Sunset asked me to come by, and….”

Aria remained silent, allowing Chrysalis to fumble through her words a little longer. If she was doing it to amuse herself, Chrysalis couldn’t tell from her exceptionally neutral expression.

“Yeah, we’re expecting you. Come in,” Aria finally said, opening the door wider and stepping back into the house.

Chrysalis awkwardly thanked her and followed her in. Once inside, Aria led Chrysalis to the concealed elevator behind the gimbaled bookshelf, which Chrysalis realized meant that Sunset was likely down in the underground bunker. The two of them stepped into the elevator and Aria pressed the button to bring it down. The silence was uncomfortable bordering on oppressive. The feeling reminded her of when she’d been sent to the vice principal’s office after she accidentally cussed him out earlier that week.

When they reached the bunker, Chrysalis saw a squad of about half a dozen incredibly fit young women performing physical training with Troubleshoes Clyde. As Chrysalis understood, these were the first generation of Sunset Shimmer’s personal guard—the new SIRENs.

It then dawned on Chrysalis that every one of these women was actually a pony “borrowed” from the best of Equestria’s own armed forces, which was a sobering thought. Chrysalis wouldn’t be surprised to hear if one or all of them had gone into combat against her changelings at some point during their career. Chrysalis had once prided herself in the number of casualties she’d inflict on her enemies in her attacks. Now, it was just another point of remorse and shame within her as she wondered how many of the transplanted Equestrian soldiers in front of her had lost someone dear to them fighting her swarm.

Doing her level best to ignore the women’s training regimen, the ex-queen followed as Aria led her past them to what appeared to be a modest office near the back of the bunker, where the other two triplets were inspecting new equipment laid out on a table. Aria knocked on the door before opening it and Chrysalis was ushered in.

Inside, she could see Sunset Shimmer seated at a desk apparently just concluding a conversation with Sable. Chrysalis gave him a smile as he passed her on his way out, but Sable only gave her a curt nod in return. That also worried Chrysalis, given how close they were, even though she knew he was just doing his job.

“Hi Chrysalis, please take a seat,” Sunset said pleasantly enough. Chrysalis still couldn’t shake the feeling of being in Vice Principal Neighsay’s office.

“I…didn’t know you had your own home office,” Chrysalis said in an effort to lighten the mood as she sat in one of the chairs across from the desk.

“It’s something I added after taking on more responsibilities as Alicorn of Earth,” Sunset explained. “And on that topic, I need to ask you a couple of questions.”

“Okay….”

Briefly studying Chrysalis with those striking cyan eyes of hers, Sunset got straight to the point. “Can you tell me what exactly you were doing on the night of November 16?”

That was the night she had met with Diamond Tiara about the blackmail—the night Diamond had subsequently gone missing. All at once Chrysalis knew exactly why she was here.

“I already told you about my meeting with Diamond Tiara at Sugarcube Corner that night,” Chrysalis said.

“You did, but I need a more detailed account of events from your perspective.”

Feeling like—ironically—a bug under a microscope, Chrysalis sighed and recounted the events of that night to the best of her memory. Sunset interjected occasionally to ask about details like the time, but for the most part listened quietly. Chrysalis was reminded of the dream she had earlier that week in which she was confronted by the wrathful goddess that was Sunset Shimmer.

“And you were entirely lucid during all of that time?” Sunset asked when she was finished. “No unexplained gaps in your memory?”

Chrysalis was momentarily confused by the question before she remembered that she’d seen Sunset about her problem with Queen a few days ago. “No. As far as I can tell, I’ve been in total control of my body ever since Queen revealed herself.”

The brief memory of her lapse of said control, under Queen’s goading, when she choked out Zipporwhill flashed to mind, but it was just as quickly pushed away. It would be too easy to blame that incident entirely on Queen, when the truth was Chrysalis had hurt Zipporwhill of her own free will.

“Okay…that should be enough. Thank you, Chrysalis.”

Deciding to just say what was on her mind, Chrysalis asked, “Sunset…you don’t think I have something to do with what happened to Diamond, do you?”

Finally giving her a warm smile, Sunset said, “I’ve heard what people at school have been saying about you, but personally I don’t believe any of it.” There was a slight uncomfortable pause before Sunset continued. “That being said, as the Alicorn of Earth I have certain…responsibilities where you’re concerned. In a way, I’m kind of like your parole officer.”

Chrysalis’s eyes fell. “Right, makes sense.” It seemed almost appropriate that the daughter of Princess Celestia maintained a sort of vigil, that even having “died” in Equestria to escape to a new life here on human Earth, Chrysalis couldn’t fully escape being under the alicorns’ watch.

“If there’s even the slightest possibility that you’ve become a danger to the people of this world, it’s my duty to investigate it fully, regardless of my personal biases,” Sunset explained. “But from the bottom of my heart I think you’re a good person, Chrys. I don’t believe you laid a finger on Diamond Tiara that night. That said…I would be neglecting my duties as the Alicorn of Earth if I didn’t at least look into the possibility.”

“I understand; I don’t take it personally.”

Sunset nodded. “If it makes you feel better, I spoke with Scootaloo’s parents, and they told me you arrived at their place at the time you said. That combined with certain details of Diamond’s case that I, uh…managed to acquire, it would be impossible for you to have been in the vicinity at the time Diamond was abducted by normal standards.”

Chrysalis caught the comment. “By normal standards?”

“If you were a genetically normal girl. Being what you are, the mathematical calculations and such would even be able to discount doppelgangers, teleportation and such. Trust me, I did the math. Remember that I need to keep track of those variables as well.” Sunset leaned back in her chair. “Plus, I had to review some traffic camera footage and other things. Trust me, when I say you’re in the clear, I mean it.”

Chrysalis raised an eyebrow. Traffic camera footage? So, Sunset had information about Diamond’s case likely only privy to members of law enforcement. This was certainly an interesting development.

“Sunset, are you going to try to find Diamond and the other missing girls?” Chrysalis asked.

With a resigned sigh, Sunset said, “That was my plan, but Sable just now talked me out of it. Said that as long as nothing magical is involved—which is apparently the case—the missing girls are not my ‘jurisdiction,’ and that the proper authorities should handle it.”

“Can’t you just say, ‘screw jurisdiction, I’m the Alicorn of Earth?’”

Sunset let out a soft chuckle at that and said, “As much as I’d like to, I’d also like to avoid becoming a tyrant. I’ve been down that road and, well…you know better than most how it is.” Brushing aside a strand of red hair, Sunset added, “Aside from that, Sable made it clear that I’d be potentially creating a ton of trouble for certain individuals close to me. The kind of trouble that ends careers.”

Chrysalis wasn’t entirely sure what or who Sunset was talking about, but at that moment was far more focused on the other implications of what Sunset had told her. Namely, that Sable knew about the disappearances. That would certainly explain some of his behavior in recent weeks.

Seeing Chrysalis’s downcast expression, Sunset said, “What I can tell you though is that law enforcement is closing in on the culprits. It’s not a matter of if they’ll be caught, but when.”

“That’s good to know,” Chrysalis said, getting up from her chair and turning to look out the window into the main cavernous chamber of the underground bunker where the Equestrian transplants were still training.

“I’m sorry to have summoned you all this way just to confirm what I already knew,” Sunset said, getting up from behind her desk and standing next to Chrysalis, looking on at her developing royal guard alongside her. “If you want to stick around and hang out, I think Twily and Tavi are playing games upstairs.”

Chrysalis briefly thought of her own friends’ invite to hang out today, and then said, “Sure, I’d love to hang out!”

Another thought then occurred to Chrysalis at that moment. “Hey, I know it’s only been a few days, but did you hear anything back from Princess Twilight about…y’know….” Chrysalis pointed at her own head, knowing that Sunset would understand her meaning.

Frowning, Sunset said, “Sorry, Chrysalis. Unfortunately, Twilight didn’t have much to add to our initial examination, and what she did manage to dig up isn’t exactly comforting.”

Worrying that Sunset wouldn’t elaborate for that exact reason, Chrysalis said, “And…?”

“According to the most recent research Twilight managed to dig up, it would seem that much of what we always thought of as changeling magic is actually biological in nature. Specifically, the way the hive mind works as we understand it.”

Well, that would explain why Sunset couldn’t find any magical entity in my head, Chrysalis thought. It certainly made the prospect of getting rid of Queen through magical means seem quite impossible.

“You’re right, that isn’t very comforting at all,” Chrysalis said. “Please tell me she had something else. Anything else.”

Hesitating for a brief moment, Sunset said, “She did, but…I’m not sure it has anything to do with your problem.”

“Sunset, I am literally grasping at straws here. Anything will help.”

Looking away from Chrysalis and returning her attention to her soldiers out the window, Sunset said, “Twilight also told me that the same day we all returned to the human world, someone broke into the Royal Canterlot Museum and stole an artifact.”

“Okay, you’re right. I don’t see what that has to do with….”

“The artifact in question was your crown.”

Chrysalis slowly turned and looked at Sunset. “You mean the crown I wore as the queen of the changelings?” She asked, and Sunset nodded. “Does Twilight have any idea who stole it?”

Sunset shook her head. “No, but the theory is that it was changelings formerly of your own hive.” Sunset then looked at Chrysalis. “Actually, I’d totally forgotten about it before now. Is there any reason you can think of that the changelings would want to steal it?”

“Hmm…well, it is the only object in existence with a connection to the hive mind,” Chrysalis said.

“Wait, really? I thought only changelings were linked by the hive mind.”

“Technically that’s not wrong. The crown works as a sort of conduit: a means for changelings to amplify their connection to the hive mind. It’s part of how a queen controls her drones,” Chrysalis explained.

“I see. Then is it possible the changelings were worried Equestria could use the crown to gain control of the hive mind?” Sunset asked, stroking her chin.

“No. Like I said, it’s only usable by changelings. The fact that it was in a museum and not a Guild research facility proves that nopony had any idea the crown was anything more than regalia.”

“So, what then? Does the crown have a deep cultural significance to the changelings? Could that be why they stole it?”

“Honestly, that seems to be the most likely case—I vaguely recall being given it by one of my lieutenants way back when I first assumed the throne. I’m sure another queen has risen to fill the vacuum I left behind. Getting my crown would give her legitimacy not only in the eyes of my old hive, but to others too.”

“Okay…that’s interesting. I’ll be sure to let Twilight know,” Sunset said. “Thanks, Chrys.”

Cozy Glow felt content for the first time in…well, she didn’t know how long. Perhaps it was because she’d stopped taking her medication for almost a week now (all of those bitter pills simply went down the drain). Cozy knew, though, that the real reason she felt so good was because of the promise of today.

It was Saturday morning, and after sleeping in a little, she grabbed a quick breakfast and sat at the dining room table to draw. Artistic expression was something that her therapist often encouraged and had even asked Cozy to show her what she drew. Cozy didn’t show her every one of her drawings, of course. She was smart enough to know that certain ones would raise concerns and set things back.

“Hey Cozy, I’m going into the office now,” said Dress Code.

“Okay.”

The woman her father was engaged to liked to give Cozy her space, which was fine by her. She was also a workaholic and went into work on weekends frequently, which Cozy was also fine with. But before she left Cozy alone, she took a peek over her shoulder to see what she was drawing.

“Wow, your drawing’s really gotten better, Cozy,” Dress said, sounding genuinely impressed.

“Thanks.”

Cozy found that she always had a knack for drawing, at least beyond what was considered average for a girl her age. She had a considerable grasp on perspective and anatomy but struggled considerably with faces. The subject of her current drawing, however, had clearly defined facial features and actually looked real.

“Is she someone you know?” Dress asked, for once persisting in her efforts to connect with Cozy rather than run to the office right away.

Cozy found herself not as annoyed as she expected to be. “She’s my new friend,” she answered. “Turns out we have a lot in common!”

“Aw, that’s nice, Cozy. I hope I get to meet her some day.” Dress then did something she didn’t normally do. She pulled Cozy into a one-armed embrace. Not sure what else to do, Cozy just sat there and waited for it to be over.

“I’ll be home this evening,” Dress said after concluding the hug. “Be good, okay?”

With a sweet smile, Cozy said, “Always!” before returning her attention to her drawing of herself holding hands with her new friend.

It was around that time Cozy’s phone vibrated with a soft ding. She had a new message from Silver Spoon.

> Rover’s friends are ready. You got a spot?

Cozy picked up her phone and typed a quick reply.

> Yeah

She then flipped over the paper with the drawing of her and Chrysalis to look at the one underneath. It was a drawing she had made when she’d first started hanging out with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. A simple sketch of the three of them together, but unlike the drawing of Chrysalis their faces didn’t look quite right. Silver’s mouth was off center, and her nose was too low on her face, while Diamond’s eyes weren’t properly aligned and just a bit too far apart. Cozy couldn’t figure out any of this, though. All she knew was that they weren’t right.

As pencil sketches, they were composed only with the white of the paper and gray of the pencil. However, just the other day, Cozy had been coloring another drawing with red pencil crayon and had slipped, accidentally getting some on her sketch of Diamond. Somehow, the striking splotch of red made Diamond’s face look a little less wrong, so Cozy scribbled more red until the color was her face. Looking at Silver’s face on the other side of the sketch, Cozy was hit with a sudden inspiration and grabbed her red pencil crayon, filling in Silver’s face too.

Cozy really liked the symmetry of her drawing now and dared to think it was finally perfect.

In spite of what Sunset had told her minutes prior, Twilight and Octavia were not playing games when Chrysalis found them. Instead, they were just on their way out to do some shopping—Octavia needed new guitar strings and Twilight wanted to tag along to browse the music store called Blue Note’s. Having never been to a music store before, Chrysalis had asked if she could join them, interrupting the beginnings of an argument about whether they should try a different store.

“Of course you can tag along, Chrys,” Twilight said.

Octavia, on the other hand, gave her a curious frown. “Yes, we’d be happy to have you Chrys, but I hope you’re not blowing off any plans with your own friends for us. Sunset says you and Apple Bloom’s group of friends are pretty much inseparable.”

Chrysalis again thought of the invite she’d gotten from her friends to hang out today. “It’s okay, they’re all busy,” she said.

So, with no further prying into the matter, Chrysalis left with them. She felt a little like a third wheel, but at least she wasn’t alone in that regard. Another girl silently joined the group when they got into Octavia’s car: a petite Asian girl who introduced herself as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which Chrysalis was ninety percent sure wasn’t her real name. The girl treated her with the same cold distance as the triplets, and Chrysalis realized she may have also seen her with the attack force that had raided her underground base in Equestria. Suffice to say, the car ride was somewhat awkward as sitting in the backseat with Whiskey, neither girl really had much to say. Mercifully the ride to the music shop was short.

After Octavia found the guitar strings she was looking for, the group of them started browsing records. Chrysalis didn’t recognize most of the artists—she’d focused more on catching up with popular culture in film rather than music—but there were a few she was familiar with. She saw a few records from Ziggy Stardust she recognized as well as—ironically enough—Queen, but the one vinyl she actually thought about purchasing was a “Best of Enya” greatest hits album.

Chrysalis wasn’t sure why, but something about Enya’s music really resonated with her. Perhaps it was the ethereal sound of the artist’s voice that made it unique to anything she’d heard either in Equestria or here on Earth. Whatever the reason, Chrysalis grabbed the album and met up with Twilight and Octavia at checkout. That was where she noticed two more familiar faces as they entered the shop.

“Oh, Hey Fluttershy. Hi Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed as she went in for the hug with her two friends, followed shortly by Octavia.

Chrysalis settled for a cool nod and a “Hey,” while Whiskey just stuck with the nod.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you two here,” Octavia exclaimed.

“Yes, Fluttershy and I were having a girls’ day out and thought we’d drop in here,” Rarity said.

With a nod, Fluttershy explained, “I was hoping to find something here to get the creative juices flowing.”

“Oh right, you’re still writing that original song for us to play,” Octavia said.

As Fluttershy and Octavia occupied themselves talking music, Rarity directed a curious look to Chrysalis. “I must say, I’m surprised to see you here, Chrysalis darling. I thought you’d be out with my sister and her friends.”

This drew a sympathetic wince from Twilight, who otherwise said nothing. Chrysalis couldn’t think of what to say, and simply went with, “Yeah, it is what it is.”

After a few more minutes of catching up with Fluttershy and Rarity, Chrysalis and the others paid for their stuff and exited the store, wishing the other pair a good day.

As they headed back to Octavia’s car, Twilight’s hand rested on Chrysalis’s shoulder and she asked, “Hey, I’m sorry about what happened. That’s gotta be pretty rough.”

Chrysalis looked at her, confused. “What are you talking about?”

With a sympathetic look, Twilight said, “Well, you said earlier that your friends were all busy, but Rarity just said they were all out together. I don’t know…kinda gives me the impression they ditched you.”

Octavia, who hadn’t been listening to their conversation with Rarity, exclaimed, “Wait, your friends ditched you, Chrysalis? That’s terrible!”

Chuckling, Chrysalis wasted no time setting the record straight. “You guys are sweet for worrying, but it’s not like that. They actually asked me to hang out with them, but I told you they were busy because it was easier to explain.”

Frowning, Octavia asked, “Easier to explain than what?”

Chrysalis didn’t know how to answer the question, but it didn’t stop her from trying. But when her attempted explanation amounted to little more than strained “ums” and “uhs,” Twilight said, “You know, I may not be the social fixer my sister is, but even I can recognize a friendship problem when I see it.”

Putting an arm around Chrysalis, Octavia said, “Exactly, so come on. Out with it. What’s the issue?”

“Really, there’s no issue. I just…needed a day to myself,” Chrysalis insisted.

“Right…which is why you’re out on the town with us. That makes sense.”

Starting to get a little annoyed, Chrysalis said, “Well, maybe I should just go home then.”

“There’s no need to be defensive, Chrys. We’re only trying to help,” Twilight said.

Taking a breath, Chrysalis said, “I appreciate the concern, but it’s fine.”

Then to Chrysalis’s surprise, it was Whiskey who spoke up and said, “Is it that you’re feeling a disconnect from your friends because you’re actually an ancient being who has experienced things that they could never understand?”

Having almost forgotten about Whiskey, Chrysalis opened her mouth to retort and instead found herself saying, “Hit the nail on the head.”

With the tiniest of smiles—something Chrysalis would have thought was impossible from the girl moments ago—Whiskey said, “Let’s just say I have some experience with that feeling.”

Errantly kicking a small piece of rubbish on the sidewalk, Chrysalis said, “It’s not just that I’m a now-immortal being that’s lived mostly in another world or even that I’m out of my timeframe here on my own world. It’s that…I’m not a good person.” Then looking at Octavia, Chrysalis said, “For instance, I tried to kill you.”

“She what?” Whiskey growled dangerously, her right hand seemingly reaching for something on her back, and Chrysalis began to worry.

“It was a…misunderstanding,” Twilight quickly added. “It got resolved.”

“Oh, okay.”

Chrysalis glanced at Whiskey and noted a soft glow of magic recede from the girl’s hand. She wasn’t aware of what was about to happen, but she knew it wasn’t going to likely be good had Twilight not spoken up.

“Exactly, and I’ve already forgiven you for it, Chrys,” Octavia insisted. “You don’t have to keep beating yourself up over it.”

“And while I very much appreciate that, Tavi, you have to remember I’ve tried to kill others, too.” Chrysalis stopped walking. “And most of the time I succeeded.”

“I think I understand,” Twilight said. “You still see yourself as a murderer.”

Chrysalis nodded. “And I think my friends know it. Not consciously, of course. But on some level….”

“Alright, even if that’s true—which I doubt—that doesn’t matter,” Whiskey said. “I’m a murderer too, you know.”

Considering what Chrysalis knew about the SIREN raid on her headquarters, she didn’t doubt Whiskey had a sizable body count. She also remembered what Sable had told her the other morning about killing being wrong no matter the reason. Chrysalis agreed with him to an extent, but some forms of violence were definitely worse than others.

“You’re part of the Equestrian military; so technically you did yours in the line of duty and as a result did it legally,” the former queen noted. “And even if that wasn’t the case, it isn’t the same as the kind of stuff I’ve done.”

“Before I was a SIREN, I was a bodyguard for a reprehensible princeling in a society already behind the rest of the world ethically and morally,” Whiskey explained. “Are you aware of how the quality and sharpness of swords are tested in Inari?”

Chrysalis shook her head. “Inari was never a target of particular interest to me, so I never did much research on it.”

“It’s called tameshigiri. The testing of blades is combined with Inari’s capital punishment system and was occasionally one of my duties as Fujitsu’s retainer,” Whiskey said, her soft but firm voice taking on a somber tone. “Did you know the best swords can cleanly decapitate five people before it takes more than one swing?”

Blinking owlishly at the outwardly harmless looking Asian girl, Chrysalis coughed and said, “You learn something new every day, I guess.”

“The point that I’m making is, that person isn’t who I am anymore.”

“Exactly,” said Octavia, putting an arm around Whiskey. “Even with that quite frankly disturbing knowledge, Whiskey is one of my closest friends. That is who she is to me: she’s more than just her past.”

“And it’s the same with the triplets,” Twilight added. “I don’t know how many innocent lives they’ve taken when they were with the original SIREN, but from how they describe it they treated the Geneva Conventions more like a to-do list.” She and the others couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the dark absurdity of the statement. “But just like Octavia with Whiskey, I love my cousins for who they are now. Sure, their past will always be a part of them but that doesn’t mean it has to define them.”

“Wow Twily, I didn’t know you could be so wise,” Octavia said.

Grinning, Twilight said, “I may be an INT-based class, but my WIS isn’t just a dump stat!”

Octavia snorted. “And there’s the nerd I’m more familiar with!”

Chrysalis was silent as she tried to process this. Twilight and Octavia were both very aware of the terrible things their friends and loved ones had done in their previous lives and still loved them. Maybe the same would one day be true of her own friends. It was a heartening thought.

Just then her phone vibrated, and she checked it expecting a message from one of her friends. It would have been poignant timing, but instead Chrysalis was surprised to see that Cozy Glow was the sender.

> Hey can we meet up? We need to talk

Remembering their talk from the other day, Chrysalis replied immediately.

> Yeah is something wrong?

The reply came quickly.

> Silver Spoon is gonna do something bad and I want out

> I need your help

Chrysalis replied that she’d be right there and asked for a location to meet up. She then returned her attention to the girls around her.

“Thanks for the talk guys, but I need to go. Something came up that I need to take care of.”

Looking mildly concerned, but not pushing the issue, Octavia said, “Okay. Can I drop you off somewhere?”

Chrysalis’s phone chirped again, and she checked it to see that Cozy had sent her a location.

“I’d appreciate it.”

Despite it only being ten minutes to five, the sun was already starting to go down by the time Octavia dropped Chrysalis off at her destination. She did so taking an uneasy look at the park as they idled in the parking lot.

“Are you sure you don’t want Whiskey to accompany you, Chrys?” Octavia asked. “Sure, it’s not as bad as Sunnytown, but Darkside is a pretty rough neighborhood in its own right.”

“Plus, with everything going on…” Twilight added, leaving the rest of the statement unsaid.

“I appreciate the offer, but I need to do this alone,” Chrysalis said, giving her and the others a reassuring smile, a flash of green in her mouth revealing her very real fangs. “Besides, you guys know I can more than handle myself.”

“Fair enough, but be careful anyway, okay?”

“Yeah. I for one find it really odd that your friend would want to meet in a place like this,” Twilight said.

If she was being honest, Chrysalis found it odd too. For all she knew, Cozy was just playing games with her. But if there was even the smallest chance that she genuinely needed help, Chrysalis decided it was worth the risk.

“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing,” she said, opening the car door and stepping out.

“If you say so,” Octavia relented. “Just text us when you’re home safe, okay?”

Promising that she would, Chrysalis closed the car door and watched them drive off, then turned and started walking into the park. Darkside Mile Square Park consisted mostly of soccer and baseball fields divided by pathways dotted with overflowing trashcans, benches and the occasional porta-potty. One of the fields was full of all sorts of equipment and tents that had been packed away—remnants of some sort of sports expo that had been set up the previous week, apparently. There wasn’t anybody else around. Evidently, it was too cold to be out in the park at this hour.

What was most concerning about Darkside Park was the presence of the Everfree on its eastern border. Chrysalis remembered reading a news story on Twitter that a person had been attacked by a wild animal near the Everfree about two weeks ago. Keeping her head on a swivel, she walked from one end of the park to the other, only stopping to text Cozy upon reaching a sign that read EVERFREE FOREST LIMITS. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

> I’m here where are you?

Right away Chrysalis saw the moving ellipsis as Cozy typed her reply, which came shortly after.

> Just past the sports building

Chrysalis could see the sports building a good distance north of where she was standing. But it was right on the edge of the Everfree. Cozy wasn’t inside it, was she? Quickly sending another text (not to Cozy Glow), Chrysalis made her way across the field to the sports complex, passing another ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK sign as she stepped onto the weathered hiking trail into the forest.

It wasn’t long before she came across Cozy Glow, standing in a rocky clearing by a still, silent river. Against the drab colors of the bare trees, the short girl stood out in her bright pink winter coat and baby blue scarf. The puffy coat made her look comically round, but her face was all business.

“There you are. You sure picked an out of the way spot to meet, Cozy,” Chrysalis asked.

With an understanding smile, Cozy said, “I know. I’m sorry if you had trouble finding me, Chryssie. I just needed a place to talk so we wouldn’t be disturbed by any Nosy Nellies.”

So, Cozy didn’t want to risk anyone listening to their conversation. That certainly made things look serious.

“So, what’s this about, Cozy?” Chrysalis asked. “You said that Silver Spoon is up to something?”

Nodding with a deadly serious expression, Cozy said, “Yeah. She thinks she can prove that you’re why Di’s missing.”

Chrysalis couldn’t help but roll her eyes. She wished she could say she was shocked. “Does she now?”

“Yeah. She came up with a plan for it and everything.” Cozy then pulled out her phone and showed it to Chrysalis, who noticed she had some kind of audio recording app open and running. “When I told her that you and I had been talking, she asked me to get a confession from you. But you know what I say to that?”

Cozy then held the phone inches from her face and shouted, “Fuck you, Silver Spoon!” Then with that, she shut the phone off and tossed it into the river. “My dad’ll buy me another one.”

Anybody else might not have believed that such rage coming from such a comically short, adorable child could be genuine, but Chrysalis could taste it.

“You really hate her, don’t you?” she mused.

“I hate both of them! They think they’re soooooo much better than me. Better than everyone. It’s like they don’t even know they’re not real!”

Chrysalis wasn’t entirely sure what Cozy meant by that. Was that her way of calling Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon superficial?

Reigning in her emotions, Cozy continued calmly, “That’s why I want to help you, Chryssie. And I want you to help me. So, in the interest of helping you, I’ve gotta ask: Is there anything that could trace back to you?”

Now truly lost, Chrysalis asked, “What do you mean?”

“Y’know, any evidence. Like that video Di tried to blackmail you with.”

Chrysalis had some idea of what Cozy was asking, but a part of her couldn’t believe it. “Evidence about what?”

“It’s okay. It’s just us here, now. You can even frisk me if you want. No other recording devices.” Cozy then stepped in close to Chrysalis and said at almost a whisper. “You can be honest with me. You don’t have to pretend you didn’t kill her.”

Taking a step back, Chrysalis stammered, “I…I’m not pretending, I really didn’t do anything to her!”

Cozy noticeably slumped, giving her truly sad puppy dog eyes. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it’s true!”

Sighing, Cozy said, “Fine. I guess you still don’t trust me yet. I understand. But we’ll be friends one way or another. We have too much in common not to be, right?”

Beginning to lose her patience with the truly odd girl in front of her, Chrysalis was starting to believe that coming out here was a waste of her time. “Just what the hell do you and I have in common?”

Cozy started to pace, idly kicking a small rock at her feet as she said, “For so, so long I thought I was alone. The only real person in a dream world.” She looked right at Chrysalis. Right through her. “But you’re real too, aren’t you? You see things as I see them.”

Cozy stepped forward, her face now inches from Chrysalis. “Did you look at her face when you did it? Her eyes? Didn’t they seem more real in that moment?”

Chrysalis understood all at once what exactly Cozy was saying, and she felt a chill run up her spine. All at once, Chrysalis saw who Cozy Glow really was behind the cutesy mask she always wore. It was like looking into a dark mirror. It then occurred to Chrysalis that she hadn’t been sensing any emotion from Cozy after the little rage episode she had just witnessed. Having worked with a variety of crazy and disturbed individuals over her life such as that creep Barkeep, Chrysalis always had her empathic powers to subtly manipulate ponies into doing whatever she wanted. But with Cozy, it was like staring into an emotional void, which was setting off all kinds of alarms in her psyche. This wasn’t the first time Chrysalis had noticed this emotional black hole in Cozy, but all of a sudden its true significance seemed clear.

“Cozy, you…you’ve killed before, haven’t you?” Guess it takes one to know one.

Smiling whimsically, Cozy said, “Yeah. Technically by accident, but…everything seemed so clear then. I’ve been wanting to try again for years, but never got the chance…until you came along.”

Deciding she’d heard enough, Chrysalis turned around and made for the exit, but Cozy grabbed her by the arm with the desperation of a character in a romance movie trying to keep the man she loves from walking out of her life.

“Let go. You need help, Cozy!” Chrysalis exclaimed.

“Yeah, that’s why I called you here, silly! To help me deal with Silver.”

Finally understanding what Cozy really wanted to accomplish, Chrysalis wrenched her arm free of the smaller girl’s grip. She turned back towards the trail to the forest exit and spotted a familiar figure emerge. Well, speak of the devil.

Dressed in a gray coat lined with faux-fur, Silver Spoon pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and called out, “Time’s up, Cozy! Did you get what we wanted?” Then as an afterthought, Silver tilted her head at Chrysalis. “Hey, murderer.”

Chrysalis returned the nod. “’Sup, delusional.”

Behind her, Chrysalis could hear Cozy grumble, “Thought we had a bit more time to plan, but whatever.” Cozy then stood beside Chrysalis. “This is it, Chryssie! Moment of truth.” Cozy looked up at Chrysalis, her eyes as eager as her grin. “My heart is beating so fast, is yours?”

Chrysalis sharply whispered, “We are not killing Silver Spoon!”

“The hell are you whispering about? Got something to say?” Silver Spoon sneered. “Well, you can tell it to my friends. Rover!” Silver Spoon whistled like she was calling a dog, and sure enough her dog appeared, armed with a baseball bat.

“You’re gonna pay for what you did to my girlfriend, you bitch! Rover shouted.

He wasn’t alone. The two guys who were with him on Halloween appeared just behind him, along with two more boys and a girl. All of them were wearing similar punk attire and dog collars. Looks like Rover brought along his whole gang this time, Chrysalis thought.

Beside her, Cozy frowned. “Hmm…there’s a lot more of them than I thought there’d be. This could be a problem.”

Chrysalis said nothing and readied herself as Rover and his gang spread out, encircling her and Cozy Glow.

“Don’t take this personally, Cozy, but I didn’t trust you to get Chrysalis to admit what she did,” Silver said. “I appreciate you trying, but we’ll take it from here.”

So, it seemed that Silver was unaware of what Cozy had been planning. Chrysalis decided to use that to her advantage. “You know she’s planning to kill you, right?”

“Sounds like somebody’s projecting,” Silver retorted.

“I’m telling the truth, Cozy’s insane! And I don’t know how many times I need to say it, but I didn’t do anything to Diamond Tiara!”

“So, you’re disloyal and a liar, huh?” Rover said, slapping his bat into his open palm.

“And what about the other girls that are missing?” Chrysalis asked. “You think that’s my doing too?”

Silver shrugged. “Maybe. From what I know, most of them were last seen around you. Seems a little strange to me.”

That is a little strange, Chrysalis thought. But right at that moment, it wasn’t her concern.

“I don’t give a shit about any of them,” Rover said. “I just want my girlfriend back!”

With no other words, Rover charged forward. Chrysalis was vaguely aware that Silver was shaking her head with her head in her hand but was focused entirely on Rover as he wound back his bat to swing. It was aimed at her head, but Rover had gotten no better about telegraphing his attacks than the last time they fought. Chrysalis ducked the swing easily and simultaneously aimed low with her fist, using his own momentum as much as hers to hit him hard in the stomach. Rover doubled forward with an “ulp” and Chrysalis immediately followed up by grabbing him and flipping him over her outstretched leg in something vaguely reminiscent of a Judo move, putting him on the ground. Then all hell broke loose as the other five members of Rover’s gang jumped in, while Cozy Glow simply stepped back, assessing the situation. Silver, meanwhile, merely looked on with mild distaste.

One on one, Chrysalis could confidently beat Rover in a fight. Against Rover and a couple of his friends, she would have a much harder time but would probably come out on top if she played it smart. Against a whole squad of five or six…Chrysalis didn’t like her odds. At least, not without going all out. No, I can’t afford to go all out.

The first of Rover’s crew was on her; a big guy who’d been with Rover the night of Halloween. Transforming into a giant werewolf to scare him off wasn’t an option here, but as luck would have it, he didn’t appear to have been in many fights before. If he had, he would have known to keep his chin low. Chrysalis exploited the mistake and delivered a quick, precise jab to his exposed throat, sending him staggering back and onto his knees as he suddenly found breathing very difficult.

Right behind him was another guy wearing shoulder pads and a biker helmet. He kept his chin low and took a swing at Chrysalis with a short chain, which Chrysalis avoided by leaping back. She felt someone try to grab her from behind and didn’t give them the chance, swiftly elbowing them in the face. Chrysalis felt something snap—probably a nose—and the feminine cry of pain that followed made Chrysalis realize it had been the one girl of Rover’s crew.

A second pair of hands grabbed her then much more effectively, putting her in a chokehold. Chrysalis felt the wind knocked out of her as the shorter guy who’d been with Rover on Halloween laid into her with a nasty hit to the gut with a crowbar, but she recovered quickly enough to knock him back with a backhand before he could get in another.

Before she had a moment to even think about getting out of the chokehold that was slowly but persistently cutting off her airway, Biker Helmet lunged forward with his chain again. Chrysalis quickly kicked off of him before he could swing, sending him stumbling backwards and sending herself to the ground, the guy choke holding her now underneath her.

Chrysalis managed to elbow the guy under her once before a large boot hit her hard in the side of her head. Her vision filled with stars, and her whole head exploded with pain, but she suffered worse and kept her focus, elbowing the guy under her a second time, causing his grip to loosen enough for her to roll free. Just in time, too, because Biker Helmet was just swinging down with his chain, barely missing Chrysalis and judging by the sudden cry of “OW, SHIT!” he’d hit the guy who’d been under her instead.

“Sorry,” said Biker Helmet, and Chrysalis took advantage of his momentary distraction for a quick hard kick to the head, thoroughly knocking him on his ass.

Chrysalis breathed heavily. She was getting tired, and her head and stomach hurt where she’d taken hits, but she wasn’t out yet.

With an angry cry, the girl whose nose Chrysalis had bloodied lunged at her with a wide swing. Noticing the large boot that had kicked her head was on the girl’s feet, Chrysalis caught her fist in her hand and then raised the girl’s own arm, using it to block an overhead swing from the shorter guy’s crowbar. This time letting out a cry of anguish, the girl backed off, clutching her arm, and again Chrysalis used the momentary shock of hitting his own comrade to knock down the little crowbar wielder.

Chrysalis then heard Rover’s own battle cry and turned around just in time to see his bat swinging for her. With no time to dodge this time, Chrysalis merely reached up and caught the bat in her hands and gripped it tight. Rover’s eyes went wide as he struggled to wrench his bat free, and Chrysalis stomped down hard on his shin, following up by swinging an arm into his face. Rover let go of the bat and staggered back, and Chrysalis made a show of breaking it in half across her knee and throwing the pieces into the river.

Rover and the other four looked at her with uncertainty. Chrysalis was tired and hurting, but so were all of them, and Chrysalis was starting to think she actually had a chance of getting out of this in one piece. However, it was at that moment that she and the five of them were staring each other down, wondering whether it was worth it to continue, when Chrysalis had a thought.

Wait, weren't there six of them?

She hadn’t even finished that thought before what she could only assume was a large, meaty fist collided with her head at mach speed. Chrysalis didn’t even remember falling to the ground: all of a sudden that was just where she was, with the big guy whose throat she’d punched earlier now on top of her, laying into her with more punches. All Chrysalis could think to do was raise her hands and cover her face, which at this point she was pretty sure was bleeding.

All of a sudden, Chrysalis heard a shocked gasp and the punching stopped. She heard Silver’s voice cry out, “Cozy, what the fuck are you doing?! Are you completely out of your mind?!”

Tentatively lowering her hands, Chrysalis looked at the big guy’s face, which was frozen in shock and pain. Cozy was standing just behind him, smiling serenely with one hand on his shoulder and the other on his side. She then pulled away the hand from his side and Chrysalis saw that it was holding a bloody blade. The knife had a Hello Kitty keychain dangling from it, which might have been funny under different circumstances.

The punk girl was the first to react, running up to Cozy and trying to pull her away from the big guy (Chrysalis noticed she favored the arm that hadn’t been hit with a crowbar). Cozy struggled and slashed with her Hello Kitty knife, successfully drawing blood from the girl’s hand. Rover himself stepped in and punched Cozy hard in the face, pinning her to the ground as he wrestled the knife away from her.

“You disloyal little bitch!” Rover exclaimed, kicking her for good measure before ordering his shorter friend to hold her.

Chrysalis, for her part, had forgotten all about the fight and was trying to apply pressure to the stab wound on the big guy, privately lamenting that she’d never bothered learning any healing spells. At least, before the rough hands of Biker Helmet grabbed her and pulled her off of him. The big guy just stared at her with wide eyes, terrified eyes silently pleading her for help.

“Argh, let go! He needs medical attention!” Chrysalis cried as a second pair of arms—the guy who had her in a chokehold earlier, probably—also grabbed her.

Twisting Cozy’s arm behind her back hard enough to elicit a whimper, Rover shoved her in the punk girl’s direction. With Cozy safely restrained, Rover walked up to Chrysalis, on her knees and held in place by two of his other goons.

Waving Cozy’s Hello Kitty knife in her face, Rover said, “Now…why don’t you tell the truth about what you did to Di that night.”

“For God’s sake, Rover, your friend is going to bleed out if he isn’t taken to a hospital!” Chrysalis desperately exclaimed.

“Oh, you’re not getting out of this that easily, bitch!”

Rover!” Silver Spoon’s voice drew the boy’s attention away from Chrysalis. She was standing over the big guy on the ground, staring at the blood staining his clothes with clear concern. “I think she’s right.”

Looking from his bleeding friend to Chrysalis to his friend again, Rover sighed and said, “Okay. Spot, take him to your car.”

Nodding, the shorter guy lifted the big one together with Rover, their friend letting out a cry like a wounded dog as they did. The shorter guy then led his injured friend back towards the park, carrying most of his weight over his shoulder. The wound wasn’t fatal—Chrysalis had seen enough over the centuries to know what one looked like—but she figured it was better to be safe rather than sorry. That and it would mean that Silver and Rover were down two of their goons.

Still, even with that rebalancing of the scales, Chrysalis was still dazed, bloodied and on her knees, both of her arms held back by two boys much bigger than her. Cozy’s arm was still twisted behind her back by the girl in Rover’s gang, yet in spite of that she still gave Chrysalis a friendly smile when they locked eyes, silently mouthing the words, “You’re welcome.”

As Rover’s two friends limped out of the clearing, Rover and Silver started arguing in hushed voices, but not so hushed that Chrysalis couldn’t make out a few words.

“…went too far!” Silver hissed.

“…want justice for Di or not?” Rover growled.

Only one figure was left standing in the middle of the rocky clearing. The chitinous, hole-riddled figure of Queen sneered down at Chrysalis, invisible to everyone else.

“Well, isn’t this a predicament we’re in?” she said. “The mighty Queen Chrysalis brought low by a rabble of adolescent thugs. A true fall from grace if I’ve ever seen one!”

Chrysalis just sighed and tried to ignore her. This was the last thing she needed right now.

“Oh, on the contrary, Chrys. You need me now more than ever. The only way I see out of this is if you start actually trying.” Queen looked back over her shoulder as Rover, who was walking away from Silver and back towards Chrysalis. “You would have beaten them easily if you weren’t holding back!”

Queen was right, of course. Chrysalis had been holding back. She had brought the full might of her power on much greater foes than these. But that was exactly the problem. Those foes rarely survived her full might. But before she could think about it any further, Rover walked past Queen—passing obliviously through her—and suddenly his angry face filled her vision.

“Now…just tell me what the fuck you did to Di!”

“I already told you what I did to her: nothing!” Chrysalis spat. “If you really think somebody here is responsible for her disappearance, maybe try asking the girl who just stabbed one of your friends!

Rover’s brow furrowed, and Chrysalis could see the gears turning in his mind (or rather, the one gear he had).

“Whatever happened to Di, Cozy couldn’t have had anything to do with it,” Silver said. “We were on a call together that whole night.” Then with a frown, she added with a glance Cozy’s way, “Though, you can be sure we’ll be having a little chat about what just happened.”

With a smile, Cozy shrugged in the punk girl’s grip and said, “Looking forward to it!”

“Yeah, we’ll deal with that crazy bitch later. First, I want an answer from you,” Rover demanded. Chrysalis chose not to dignify him with an answer, so Rover grabbed her hair and painfully yanked her head back. “What did you do to her?

Chrysalis didn’t back down, meeting his gaze head on. “I gave you my answer already.”

Rover punched Chrysalis in the stomach and for a moment she couldn’t catch her breath and started coughing. “What did you do?!”

When she could breathe again, Chrysalis leveled her gaze at him once more, her eyes so firm that Rover actually took a step back.

“I know you think you’re helping her by doing this, but you’re not!” Chrysalis said.

Rover struck her again, across the face this time. But there wasn’t as much power behind the strike as there had been before.

“I’m scared for her too, okay?” Chrysalis continued as if she didn’t taste the blood from her busted lip. “Honestly, I hope that she’s okay, wherever she is.”

Chrysalis glanced past Rover and looked right at Silver Spoon. It was hard to tell through the pain throbbing through her body, but something about her expression looked…softer somehow.

“If you really want to do right by Diamond Tiara, then stop hurting people in her name and actually be there for the people who care about her!”

Rover’s fist, which had been raised to deliver another punch, hung above his head for a moment before dropping to his side. Rover stood there for a while with his arms at his sides, the nearly still water of the nearby river the only sound.

Then Rover reached into his back pocket. “So, you’re not gonna admit it, huh?”

Shaking her head with a shrug, Chrysalis said, “Believe whatever you want. I’m done trying to reason with you.”

There was an object in Rover’s hand now, and Chrysalis knew what it was by the Hello Kitty keychain dangling between his fingers.

“Fine by me,” he said, extending the blade.

One of the guys holding Chrysalis by the arms glanced at the knife and asked, “Rover, what are you doing?”

“Shut up. Hold her still.” Rover held the knife up.

“Rover, that’s enough,” Silver said.

“I said shut up!

But Silver persisted. “Stop it! We’re supposed to be better than her!”

Rover just ignored her, his focus entirely on Chrysalis as the hand holding Cozy’s knife found itself at the center of a tug-of-war. His anger and pain pushed the knife towards Chrysalis while the voices of Silver and his other friends held it back.

“It’s now or never, Chrys,” Queen said, looking at her over Rover’s shoulder. “Him or you. Your newfound honor, or your life. Our life, actually. Don’t forget I’m in here too.”

Chrysalis just sat still and waited, putting her faith in the simple fact that Rover wouldn’t do it. She turned out to be right, but not for the reason she expected. All of a sudden, something hit Rover in the face, knocking him off balance. A rock landed at his feet, stained with a bit of blood from Rover’s likely now broken nose.

“The hell…?” Rover muttered, turning around to look where the thrown rock had come from.

Chrysalis and the others followed his gaze and were surprised to see a trio of girls all standing by the clearing’s edge. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were both looking at Sweetie Belle with awe as the girl picked up another rock off the ground and held it above her head.

“Wow. Good shot,” Scootaloo whispered.

“Leave our friend alone!” Sweetie shouted, her slight voice crack in no way diminishing the intensity of her words. Following her cue, Scootaloo picked up a rock of her own while Apple Bloom assumed what appeared to be a martial arts stance.

“You okay, Chrys?” Apple Bloom asked.

Weakly nodding, Chrysalis replied, “Yeah. I take it this means you got my text?”

“Yup! Would’ve been here sooner if we hadn’t gotten lost trying to find the sports center!” Scootaloo exclaimed.

“No, your timing is perfect.”

“Ugh, figures you three would side with the murderer,” Silver groaned.

“Chrysalis isn’t a murderer, Silver,” Apple Bloom said. “If you can’t see that, then maybe you need better glasses!”

“Ha! Nice,” Scootaloo laughed.

“Fuck off, kiddies, unless you want some of what your friend got!” Rover shouted.

In spite of her aching face, Chrysalis smiled. “Trust me, Rover, even I can’t call them off now.”

Rover turned to look at her, and with some effort, Chrysalis managed to stand on her feet in spite of the two thugs still trying to hold her down.

“This can go one of two ways, Rover,” she said. “Either you let go of this whole misguided crusade for justice and walk away, or—”

“SUCK ROCK, PUSSYBOYS!” Scootaloo yelled, and before Chrysalis could do or say anything, Scootaloo cast the first stone (well, technically the second). It flew well wide of the mark, clacking to the ground a good few feet away from where Rover was standing. Everyone watched in complete silence as the small rock rolled along before coming to a stop. There was a beat. Then all hell broke loose once again.

Rover charged at Scootaloo, causing Sweetie Belle to loose her own rock. The projectile found its mark and Rover stumbled before tripping and falling to the ground. Chrysalis took advantage of the confusion to wrench her arm free from the boy holding it, bringing it around to sucker-punch the boy holding her other arm. Another thrown rock beat her to it, and the one-two punch of Scootaloo’s rock and Chrysalis’s fist put Biker Helmet down for the count.

Chrysalis wasn’t the only one who saw an opportunity in the confusion. The sound of a sudden scream drew Chrysalis’s attention to the punk girl who had been holding Cozy Glow. Cozy had sunk her teeth into the girl’s arm, growling and thrashing around like a small, vicious dog.

Chrysalis didn’t have time to watch how their fight was progressing, because one of the guys who had been holding her made a grab for her again. Chrysalis reversed the grab and used a tripping maneuver to send the guy to the ground. Biker Helmet was getting back up, but before Chrysalis could move on to him, a perfectly executed martial-arts kick from Apple Bloom sent him back to the ground.

“Whoa…where’d you learn that?” Chrysalis asked.

“My sanbunnim,” Apple Bloom answered. Seeing the blank look, she clarified, “Tae kwon do instructor.”

Groaning, the two thugs rose to their feet, ready for round two. Exchanging a grin, Chrysalis and Apple Bloom stood to meet them. While the four of them were engaged in an all-out brawl, Cozy Glow wrestled on the ground with the punk girl, who grunted as she desperately struggled to get the feral child off of her. Scootaloo was nimbly running circles around Rover as she hit him with more rocks, while Sweetie Belle and Silver Spoon threw rocks at each other.

Finally, the punk girl managed to push the rabid Cozy Glow off of her, only for a stray rock thrown by Silver sailed over Sweetie’s head and nailed the girl’s.

Agh! Man, fuck this!” she said, kicking some dirt in Cozy’s face before turning tail and running out of the clearing.

Seeing this, the guy taking a beating from Chrysalis decided he’d had enough and followed her. The tide was turning in their favor, and Chrysalis allowed herself to take a breath.

OW! Get off me, fuckface!”

Hearing Scootaloo’s cry of distress, Chrysalis turned and saw that Rover had managed to catch her, grabbing her by the arm and roughly throwing her to the ground. Seeing that Apple Bloom seemed to have things handled with Biker Helmet, Chrysalis ran towards Rover in a full sprint, tackling him to the ground before laying into him with punch after punch. She was still holding back, but she was also done playing around.

Eventually, Rover stopped fighting back, and Chrysalis hit him with one more punch for good measure. With him down for the count, Chrysalis looked around the battlefield to see who was left. Biker Helmet was already long gone, and Silver Spoon was on her knees covering her nose with her hands. Her glasses were on the ground next to her, broken in two at the bridge from a direct hit from a rock. Sweetie Belle stood over her.

“Are you done telling everyone that my friend is a murderer based on absolutely nothing?” she intoned.

Silver looked up at her, trying to give her a hateful glare even as her eyes brimmed with tears. “How do you have the gall to say that to me when it’s my best friend who’s missing?”

“That’s no excuse for what you and your buddy here tried to do to me,” Chrysalis said, walking over to stand beside Sweetie.

“Exactly,” said Apple Bloom. “Stop looking for someone to blame. It’s not gonna bring Diamond back, and it sure as hell won’t make you feel better.”

Silver stammered for a second before apparently deciding it wasn’t worth it and stormed off with an angry huff, leaving her broken glasses on the ground. Chrysalis and her three friends stood there in the clearing; its silence only interrupted by the occasional groan from Rover as he lay uselessly on the ground.

Taking a breath, Chrysalis grinned through the pain. Having her friends around her made it seem not so bad. “So, I guess a thank you is in order,” she said.

“We’re your friends, Chrys,” Apple Bloom said. “You know we’ve got your back no matter what!”

Grinning and putting an arm on Chrysalis’s shoulder, Sweetie said, “Plus, I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to pay you back for helping me and Button at the mall. We’re even now.”

Chuckling, Chrysalis said, “I didn’t realize we were keeping score.”

The four of them smiled, and Chrysalis knew she’d treasure this moment for a long time when she realized that she was happy to be with her friends, without any other worries plaguing her mind.

“Whew!” exclaimed the high-pitched voice of the one person Chrysalis had forgotten. “Well, that got out of hand a bit, but we did it!”

Chrysalis and the others turned to see that Cozy Glow had pulled herself to her feet, still rubbing the remnants of dirt out of her eye. “You all were great, by the way. Thanks for the assist!”

“Uh…you’re welcome?” Scootaloo asked.

“Yup, things didn’t go quite according to plan, but it still worked out the way I wanted,” Cozy said, bending down to pick up the little switchblade with the cutesy keychain lying on the ground next to Rover. Then with the sweetest and most genuine smile Chrysalis had ever seen on her, Cozy said, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me today, but I’ve got it from here!”

Then with no other warning, Cozy Glow turned and took off running in the same direction as Silver Spoon, stepping on the girl’s broken glasses with an audible crunch.

“The heck was that about?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Something I need to deal with,” Chrysalis said, starting after Cozy. Behind her, she could hear the others start to follow her and with a sigh, Chrysalis turned around. “I really mean it when I say don’t get involved this time. It’s literally life or death!”

“All the more reason for us to come with you!” Scootaloo exclaimed. The determined looks on the others’ faces indicated they felt the same way.

Chrysalis was touched that they were this committed to supporting her, but she couldn’t have them around when she confronted Cozy Glow, both for their own safety, and…because Chrysalis knew there was only one way to stop Cozy. Something that she had tried so hard to avoid doing. Something she didn’t want her friends to be around for.

“Do you girls trust me?” Chrysalis asked.

“Of course!” Sweetie answered without hesitation.

“Then get to the parking lot by the park entrance. I’ll meet up with you there!”

Without giving them a chance to respond, Chrysalis again took off after Cozy Glow. She desperately hoped she wasn’t already too late.

Already winded, Silver Spoon emerged from the Everfree and started running through the dark, empty park. Without her glasses, it was hard to see exactly where she was going, but Silver was pretty sure she knew the way out of the park.

What a shitty time that turned out to be, she thought. If she was being honest, though, Silver had a bad feeling about how things were going to turn out since the day before. Rover had gotten way more aggressive and quicker to rage since Diamond went missing. Silver thought that she could keep him under control when the time came to confront that evil bitch, Chrysalis, but once everything escalated to violence it had been like he’d totally forgotten she was there.

It was a shitty feeling, being so useless. What was more, Silver kept waiting for the sense of satisfaction to kick in when Rover started beating Chrysalis. Waited for that sense of pride in justice being served. But somehow, that feeling never came.

And then there was Cozy Glow. Just what the hell had gotten into her? In stark contrast to Rover, there had been almost no change at all to Cozy’s personality since Diamond went missing. Silver wanted to believe that she was just staying strong for her sake but seeing how blissfully cheerful the girl was even as they plotted their revenge on Chrysalis made Silver wonder whether she cared at all.

Then Cozy had stabbed Fido (Silver didn’t even know she had a knife), and suddenly Cozy’s personality had changed. It was like she’d turned into a wild animal, driven only by an instinct to….

Perhaps she really did care about Diamond after all and had barely been holding herself together all of this time until tensions reached their peak in the Everfree. Yes, that had to be it.

“Hey Silvy, wait up!” Cozy’s voice called out. She sounded just as cheerful and cutesy as always. Did this mean she was through whatever breakdown she’d had in the forest?

Turning around, Silver saw a familiar pink blur jogging to catch up with her, and once more cursed her near-sighted vision. Although Silver wasn’t aware of it, this foggy blur wasn’t too different from the way Cozy saw the people around her.

“Cozy, do you want to explain what the hell happened back there?” Silver asked.

“What do you mean? Everything went according to plan!” Cozy exclaimed, slowing her jog down to a walk.

What? How was stabbing Fido according to plan?

It was hard to tell without her glasses, but Silver was pretty sure Cozy frowned. “Okay, so maybe I had to improvise a bit there, but the end result was still what I wanted! My new bestie got rid of all those idiots you’re always with. It’s just you and me now!”

Cozy sounded just as cheerful and friendly as she always did, but for some reason her words sent a chill down Silver’s spine.

“What are you talking about, Cozy?”

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, Silvy,” Cozy said, continuing towards Silver. “Waiting to make you real!”

Silver took a step back and swallowed. “Cozy, you’re scaring me.”

Cozy tilted her head as she got closer. “Why? Don’t you want to be real, Silvy?”

Every instinct in Silver’s body was telling her to run away from her friend as fast as she could. She realized this was because through the haze of her shitty vision, she could see light glinting off the knife in Cozy’s hand. Silver turned and ran as fast as she could, but Cozy was faster, lunging forward and grabbing her by the wrist. Silver tried to wriggle free, but Cozy’s grip was a vice.

“Cozy, let go!”

Silver then saw the shape of Cozy’s other hand bring the knife up and Silver desperately grabbed it before Cozy could bring it any closer. The two grappled, and it belatedly occurred to Silver to scream for help. As she did, she lost her footing and slipped on the slick grass, falling onto her back and dragging Cozy down on top of her.

The two of them struggled on the ground, Silver doing everything she could to keep the blade in Cozy’s hand away from her. But Cozy was slippery and erratic, and Silver sucked in air as she felt the blade cut part of her hand.

“Cozy, stop! That hurts!” Silver pleaded, her already unfocused vision blurring with terrified tears. “Stop! W-why are you doing this? We’re friends!”

“Were we though? You and Di were friends with me for your own convenience, and I was friends with you because I figured you’d help me get what I want,” Cozy said, her voice somehow as calm and cheerful as always even as she struggled to direct her knife somewhere more dangerous than Silver’s hand. “But I don’t need you anymore. I have a new friend now. Someone who’s real, like me.”

Silver almost lost her grip on Cozy’s knife hand as she felt the blade cut a deep gash in her cheek.

OW!” Silver cried. “Please stop, Cozy! Please!

“Shh…” Cozy whispered. “You’re almost there. You’re almost real….”

Silver tried to choke out more words through her sobs but couldn’t make her voice cooperate. It hit her with such clarity then: she was going to die. Right here, right now, at the hands of someone she thought was her friend. At the hands of someone whose apparent madness was beyond anything Silver could have possibly imagined.

Chrysalis heard the scream as she emerged from the Everfree’s treeline, but the park was dark now and she couldn’t pinpoint the exact direction the sound had come from. She couldn’t afford to waste any time and simply started sprinting in what was by her best estimate the right direction. As luck would have it, she was going the right way: the sudden taste of sheer terror assaulting her taste buds confirmed it.

It wasn’t much later that she came upon the two girls she was looking for, the both of them struggling on the ground. Cozy had Silver pinned and seemed to have her at her mercy. Chrysalis needed to act fast.

“COZY GLOW!” she shouted, allowing her voice to resonate a bit with its true changeling cadence.

There was a beat as the girl in question looked back over her shoulder at Chrysalis, who in turn was able to use the moment to confirm that she hadn’t been too late. She could hear Silver gasping for breath between sobs, and her fear and confusion radiated so strongly that it nearly knocked Chrysalis on her back, but the blue-streaked blonde stood firm.

“Oh, hi bestie!” Cozy exclaimed cheerfully as if nothing wrong was happening. “I’m sorry, if I’d known you wanted to watch, I would have invited you along.”

Chrysalis’s mind raced as she assessed the situation. Cozy’s knife hovered right above Silver’s chest, and there was still too much distance between Chrysalis and the two of them for Chrysalis to want to risk taking it from the psycho by force. Maybe she could have done it, but with Silver’s life hanging in the balance it wasn’t a risk she was willing to take. A simple telekinesis spell might have worked, but in the heat of the moment Chrysalis hadn’t even thought of it. For now, it would seem that diplomacy was her best option.

“Just step away from Silver, okay Cozy?” Chrysalis said as calmly as she could.

“Why? I’m just about to make her real.”

“I’m not going to let you hurt Silver, Cozy.”

Cozy furrowed her brow and tilted her head. “What do you mean? This is the whole reason why we’re here.”

“I mean it. Get off of her now or there will be consequences.”

Cozy’s face then twisted with the shock of betrayal. “I knew it! You just want to do it yourself, don’t you? Well, that’s not fair! You got to do Diamond! This should be my moment!”

Getting tired of saying it, Chrysalis said, “I didn’t kill Diamond. And you’re not going to kill Silver, okay?”

Lying under Cozy Glow, Silver looked up, staring past her assailant and looking right at Chrysalis. The ex-queen doubted that Silver could even see her, with her glasses gone and her eyes red with tears. In spite of that, the way Silver looked at Chrysalis was like she was finally seeing her clearly for the first time.

Cozy, meanwhile, just looked at Chrysalis like a confused puppy. “I don’t get it. You are like me, aren’t you? Even if what you say is true and you didn’t kill Diamond, you have killed others, right?”

Chrysalis looked around, confirming that her friends had followed her instructions rather than simply following her. When she was sure that was the case, she sighed, looked at Cozy and said, “Yes. I am a murderer, but I don’t want to be anymore. I was really lucky to get a second chance at life; a fresh start. If you throw your own life away over Silver Spoon now, you won’t get the second chance that I did. And neither will she for that matter.”

Cozy was silent for a moment, clearly processing what Chrysalis told her. “But it doesn’t matter, don’t you get it? She’s not real, none of them are! You and I are the only real people!”

Chrysalis tried to think of a rebuttal and couldn’t. It was clear to her now more than ever that Cozy was completely insane, and she knew, being on the other side, that there was no arguing with insane.

“You know what you have to do,” said Queen, appearing to stand over Cozy and Silver where they were on the ground. “This isn’t like Diamond Tiara, where you could just turn the other cheek. You know Cozy’s dangerous. Even if you stop her from killing Silver Spoon tonight, she won’t stop trying.”

As if trying to prove Queen’s point, Cozy said with no shortage of anger under toning her otherwise cheerful voice, “Okay, fine. I thought that the only two real people in the world could be friends, but if you believe you’re just too good for me then fine! I’ll do this myself!”

“Face it. You’re going to take someone’s life tonight, Chrys,” Queen said. “Either Silver’s through inaction, or Cozy’s for the greater good.” Queen then gave her a smile. Not quite cruel, but only almost sympathetic. “A murderer is all you’ll ever be, Chrysalis. Might as well embrace it.”

“No!” Chrysalis screamed, both in response to Queen and to seeing Cozy raise the knife above her head.

Time seemed to slow as Chrysalis lunged forward to stop Cozy, her thoughts racing too fast for the rest of the world to keep up. She wasn’t going to make it to Cozy in time to stop her with physical force. Maybe Silver could survive a single stab if Chrysalis could stop Cozy from giving her anymore, but even one stab could be fatal if Cozy’s stroke landed somewhere vital. There was no logical argument that Chrysalis could make to stop her, either. Cozy was simply too far gone to be reasoned with. Unless…unless Chrysalis tried appealing to Cozy’s own particular brand of reason.

You have it backwards, Cozy!” Chrysalis exclaimed, and her words managed to give Cozy pause.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You said that for all of your life you thought that you were the only real person in the world, right?” Chrysalis said, grasping at straws but knowing she had to keep pushing forward anyway. “But did you ever consider the possibility that you’ve got it backwards? That the rest of the world is real and you’re the one who’s fake?”

“Pfft. That’s silly!”

“Is it? Because for all the time that I’ve known you, everything about you—your friendly demeanor, your innocent, cutesy personality—has all been fake!”

Cozy frowned. “That hurts my feelings, Chryssie. And even if that was true, what does that make you? I can see your features clearly. Does that mean you’re fake too?”

“Maybe. After all, not many people know the real me,” Chrysalis said. She then realized that now was the ideal time to do what she’d been worried she’d have to do. “But I could show you.”

Chrysalis then allowed the false face she wore every day to fall away under green fire as she showed Cozy Glow her true misshapen form. Cozy’s eyes went wide as she looked at Chrysalis’s changed appearance.



Cozy Glow didn’t understand what she was seeing. All this time she thought she could see Chrysalis for exactly who and what she was. That was why she had been so sure that Chrysalis had been real. Now though? It wasn’t just that Chrysalis’s appearance had changed to something strange and alien. Cozy was aware, at least on a subconscious level, that Chrysalis was making a big sacrifice exposing her true face for the sake of someone she didn’t even like. And just as the fog had cleared from Chrysalis’s face back at the mall when Cozy first suspected she was like her, now—in the moment Cozy was realizing she was nothing like her—the fog was creeping back over Chrysalis’s unnatural alien features. Before Cozy knew it, Chrysalis’s face was the same vague blur as everyone else’s.

“No no no no NO!” Cozy screamed. “YOU WERE REAL! I KNOW YOU WERE REAL!

With a confused feral cry, Cozy leapt off of Silver and charged straight at Chrysalis, knife in hand. But Chrysalis breathed a sigh of relief: she knew she’d won the instant Cozy left Silver be. Cozy’s swings with the knife were wild and uncoordinated. Chrysalis kept her distance, avoiding the attacks long enough to deliver a single decisive strike to the insane girl’s chest. Winded, the curly haired psychopath crumpled to the ground with both hands clutching her chest, the knife falling to the side of her.

With Cozy now on the ground, Chrysalis bent down and picked up the pocketknife to keep Cozy from getting it and trying again. She then stood over Cozy’s prone form, tightly gripping the knife in her hand.

Even if you stop her from killing Silver Spoon tonight, she won’t stop trying, Queen’s words echoed in her mind. A murderer is all you’ll ever be, Chrysalis. Might as well embrace it.

Chrysalis put the knife away and ran over to where Silver Spoon was still lying on the ground, returning to her normal human guise in another quick burst of emerald embers. Not like it mattered; Silver likely had already seen her true form, but right now that wasn’t important. She’d figure out how to deal with it later. Perhaps saving Silver’s life would be enough to convince her to keep quiet about it?

“Are you okay, Silver?” she asked.

“I…” Silver’s voice caught in her throat for a moment, but she pulled herself together. “I think so. She just cut me a bit.”

Chrysalis offered her hand and with some hesitation, Silver took it and Chrysalis pulled her to her feet.

“You were real…I was sure of it…so sure you were real….”

The two of them then looked at Cozy, who lay on the ground muttering to herself with a thousand yard stare focused on nothing.

“What are…what do we do about her?” Silver asked.

“Honestly, I think we have no choice other than to talk to the police…about everything that happened tonight,” Chrysalis said.

Silver shifted with noticeable discomfort. “I know you don’t think much of me, Chrysalis, but I’m no snitch. If Rover and his friends get in trouble….”

“Well, you should have thought of that before you and them attacked me!” Chrysalis snapped.

Silver folded her arms in a bid to look more tough, but Chrysalis could see—and taste—right through the act. She was still shaking. “Honestly, you got out of this whole ordeal better than us. At least one of Rover’s buddies is in the hospital.”

“Yeah, put there by Cozy, not me!” Chrysalis exclaimed before reining herself in. Silver was very clearly still recovering from the trauma of what had just happened, her hostility towards Chrysalis merely a coping mechanism: something familiar for her to cling to while she processed her ordeal. “That’s exactly why we need to talk to the authorities about it. If we don’t, she’ll do it again and next time I might not be there to stop her.”

Silver held her hand to her face, squinting to see the gash made by Cozy’s knife. “I see your point,” she said, cupping her other hand over the wounded one and letting out a light hiss of pain, clearly starting to feel it now that the adrenaline was no longer rushing through her body.

Pulling out her phone, Chrysalis said, “Okay, I’m calling them now then,” and Silver Spoon nodded, still holding her injured hand. Thankfully, Cozy had not moved from her spot on the ground, completely lost in her own insane thoughts.

Chrysalis put in the three digit number that Celestia and Sable had taught her to use in emergencies, gave the operator a general explanation of what had transpired along with their location, and then put her phone in her coat pocket, making sure to keep an ear open if the operator should have any more instructions for her. But not before messaging Apple Bloom to let her know what had happened and what she was doing now. Apple Bloom had, of course, replied that she and the others were going to go back into the park to meet up with her. As Chrysalis texted her best guess at where they were in the park, Silver Spoon spoke up.

“My parents are going to give me so much shit for this,” she said.

“Again, should have thought of that before,” Chrysalis replied.

“Yeah, that’s probably fair.” Then to Chrysalis’s mild surprise, Silver said, “Thank you, by the way. Whatever else you may have done, you saved my life tonight. That’s worth something, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? Just earlier this evening I was convinced you’d murdered my best friend, and….” Silver’s voice hitched in her throat.

Chrysalis could taste the immense fear and despair emanating from Silver, only this time it wasn’t for her own life.

“These past few days have been hell,” Silver said through a trembling voice, and all at once the tears she’d been holding back since the scuffle with Cozy had finished came out in force. “I-I just…hate not knowing what happened to her. Hate feeling so helpless!”

Chrysalis wasn’t really sure what to do as Silver stood there hugging herself and crying. She didn’t particularly like Silver Spoon, but contrary to what many still thought of her, she wasn’t some heartless monster. She wanted to comfort this girl who was mourning her best friend, but was there even any point? Silver Spoon disliked Chrysalis even more than Chrysalis disliked her, even now that she was starting to doubt what she believed had happened between her and Diamond. Deciding that comfort from her wouldn’t mean anything to Silver, Chrysalis just stood there and let her finish crying. It wasn’t too long before Silver ran out of tears. She’d already shed most of them when she thought she was going to die by Cozy’s hands, so it wasn’t long.

“Just curious, what did you show her?” Silver asked, sniffing and wiping the last of her tears from her eyes.

“Sorry?”

Silver gestured to Cozy Glow, still catatonic on the ground next to them, lost in her endless diatribe of insane nonsense. “Before. When she was about to…finish me. You said you’d ‘show her the real you.’ I’m as good as blind out here without my glasses, so I didn’t see what you showed her, but whatever it was made her attack you instead of me.”

An immense sense of relief washed over Chrysalis when she realized Silver Spoon hadn’t seen her transform. Of all the shit plaguing her mind, at least that was one less thing to worry about.

“I showed her my true face,” Chrysalis simply said.

Silver actually let out a single chuckle at that. “Okay, weirdo. What’s your true face look like?”

“Like someone willing to do whatever it takes to not be like she is.”

Finally giving her the ghost of a smile, Silver said, “Whatever.”

It was around that time the two of them heard the first sirens of the police car arriving in the parking lot near the entrance in the distance. Chrysalis knew she and Silver Spoon wouldn’t ever be friends, but as she prepared to talk to the approaching police officers about the events of that night, Chrysalis knew that the truce between them would be strong.

Author's Note:

Only 2 or 3 more chapters to go. However, as stated in my earlier blog post, I have no idea when I'll have time to write next thanks to the new job getting very busy. But be patient, we'll get there eventually!