• Published 10th Mar 2021
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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 12 - Crossroads

Annoyed, Applejack rolled out of bed and headed for her bedroom door. She didn’t bother checking the time. All she needed to know was it was far too late for her sister and her friends to be making such a racket. She had told them before going to bed—politely but firmly—that they needed to be quiet when she and the rest of the house were going to sleep. She was fine to ignore the laughter that had followed shortly after; they were having fun, and it was over soon enough. But now, at this ungodly hour, it was too much.

But when Applejack stepped out into the hallway, ready to give her sister a piece of her mind, she nearly bumped into another figure who appeared to be heading towards the front door with all haste. She spotted blonde hair in the darkness, and realizing that it was Chrysalis, she called out after her.

“Hey, Chrys? Where you going?”

It was then that she spotted a glint of light off of gossamer wings and noticed the shape of the horn protruding from her head. Then Chrysalis was out the door and out of sight. Right away Applejack knew what had just happened and sighed as she realized she was going to have to do damage control.

Never expected I’d be having this conversation tonight, Applejack thought as she entered Apple Bloom’s room.

Her sister and friends were huddled together on her bed, and shrieked again when they saw her enter, but quickly relaxed when they saw that she was not Chrysalis.

“Applejack! Chrysalis, she’s…she’s…” Apple Bloom stuttered.

“Some kinda monster!” Scootaloo exclaimed.

“All this time…” Sweetie Belle muttered.

Applejack sighed. “She’s not a monster, girls. Honestly, seeing how close you all are, I'm disappointed in how you’ve treated her just now.”

“But you don’t understand, she’s…not human!”

“Yeah, I know her true appearance looks a little scary, but she’s just as human as you and me.” Applejack’s look hardened. “And I reckon she’s feeling pretty hurt right now after the way you just treated her.”

Sweetie and Scootaloo exchanged a confused look while Apple Bloom looked right at her sister and said, “Wait…Applejack, are you saying you knew about this?”

Applejack nodded. “To be honest, I’d been mulling over how I was going to tell you the truth about all of us for a while now.”

“’About all of us?’ What does that mean?!”

“Do you look like that too?!” Sweetie exclaimed, her voice cracking a bit.

No!” Applejack shouted before composing herself. She peeked out into the hallway and waited a few seconds. Her parents still seemed to be asleep, so she returned her attention to her sister and her friends and said, “Look, we have a lot to discuss. But first, I’m going to go get Chrys—assuming she’s even still here—and bring her back inside. If I do that, can I count on you three not to freak out again?”

The three of them exchanged another look. “Yeah, we can do that, sis,” Apple Bloom said.

“Good. And while you’re at it, I think you owe her an apology as well,” Applejack stated firmly. “Whatever she may look like, she’s still your friend.”

Satisfied that she’d made her case, Applejack left her sister’s room and made her way towards the front door of the house. She wasn’t sure whether she’d find Chrysalis sulking on the front porch or if she’d simply be gone. Applejack hoped it wouldn’t be the latter. What she saw instead upon opening the front door was even worse.

By the curb a little way down the street, she saw a group of men hauling something into an idling brown panel van with an insect logo on its side. Right away Applejack had a bad feeling about whatever it was she was looking at and took a step further, squinting to get a better look. Her fears were founded when she realized that the object the men were loading into the van was the limp form of a teenage girl with the height and figure of Chrysalis.

HEY! Applejack yelled, immediately taking off in a sprint down the porch steps towards the scene.

But the men had already loaded Chrysalis into the van. When they looked up and saw Applejack bearing down on them like an angry bull at a rodeo, one of them signaled something to the driver, and the van sped off in a squeal of tires. The rear doors were still open and swinging freely as the van sped down the street.

With a burst of energy, Applejack pushed herself to run harder, and to her surprise (and the mens’ visible concern), she actually managed to keep pace with the van. Then the van rounded a corner and accelerated even further, and Applejack could only watch as the group of strangers sped off with her friend in their possession. At last, she gave up the chase and leaned forward, her hands on her knees as she caught her breath.

“Damn it!” Applejack cursed. Wasting no time, she doubled back to her house, where her cell phone was still plugged into its charger by her nightstand.

In any other circumstances, her first call would have been to the police, and she may still reach out to them. But these were not normal circumstances, and thus there was only one person Applejack could call who could actually do something.

Sable wasn’t sure what time it was when he was awakened by the sound of his phone ringing. His first instinct was to ignore it—Celestia was sleeping soundly in bed beside him, and if he was being honest, Sable felt more content and relaxed than he had in weeks. But then he remembered the last time he’d gotten a phone call at a weird time in the middle of the night, and with a groan, rolled over to see who was calling. Sunset Shimmer’s name was on the caller ID, and just like that Sable’s fight or flight response triggered. He remembered the midnight attack on the girl’s home when Troubleshoes had been staying with them. Sitting up, Sable hit the answer button and held the phone to his ear.

“Sunset, this had better be the End of Days or I’m….”

“Somebody’s kidnapped Chrysalis!”

Sable’s grip on his phone tightened. “What.”

“Applejack just called,” Sunset said. “Apparently, there was an incident with Chrysalis’s, uh, ‘appearance’ and she ran out of the house, where she was grabbed by a group of strange men.”

Sable thought of the human trafficking group Shining Armor had told him about. Sunset Shimmer was saying more, but Sable couldn’t hear her. The only sound that reached his ears was his own heartbeat. A guttural noise involuntarily escaped his throat, like the growl of a dog…no, a wolf.

“Sable? Sounds like you’re breaking up, you there?”

Regaining his composure, Sable said, “Yeah. Get the rest of SIREN ready in the bunker ASAP. I’m on my way.”

“Way ahead of you. The triplets are assembling the ATG as we speak, and I was going to call Troubleshoes right after hanging up with you,” Sunset then added, “Do you think these are the same people who kidnapped those other girls?”

“Maybe. Whoever they are, they picked the wrong girl to kidnap.”

“I’ll say. We couldn’t go after them before because it was outside my jurisdiction as Alicorn of Earth. But Chrysalis is officially my ward, and my friend. The gloves are coming off.”

“Good. See you soon,” Sable said before hanging up.

He wasted no time getting dressed, which only took him a matter of seconds. He then grabbed the ensorcelled bracelet that Sunset had given him months ago so that he could take Celestia on an exotic date across the world. The memory brought his eyes over towards the woman in question, who slept soundly, apparently undisturbed by his conversation. It would be best to just leave her. She had a bracelet of her own with which she could teleport back home in the morning, and Sable could bring her up to speed after their daughter was home safe. After all, Celestia wasn’t a soldier. She wouldn’t be able to do anything but sit back and worry if Sable brought her.

But a glint of moonlight reflected off of the ring on Celestia’s finger; the promise Sable had made to her that they would be partners for the rest of their lives. No, Sable couldn’t leave without telling her. Not if he meant everything that he told her the night before.

“Tia, wake up!” Sable said, shaking her awake.

Groggily, Celestia rubbed her eyes and looked up at him. “Sable? What’s going on?”

“We need to get back to Canterlot immediately,” Sable said, not relishing in telling her, “Chrys is in trouble.”

“What?”

Sable relayed to her what Sunset just told him over the phone, as well as his own suspicions of who was responsible. To her credit, Celestia remained remarkably calm. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake yet, and believed she was still dreaming. Maybe she was too shocked to process what she’d just been told. Or maybe, she was using every bit of her willpower to keep a cool head, because she knew that panicking would do herself nor her daughter any good.

“What do we do?” she asked calmly. But Sable could see a touch of terror in her eyes as they brought the world around her more into focus.

Sable handed her the other enchanted bracelet. “Here. These can take us right to Sunset’s home.”

“Then what? How do we find her?”

“Don’t worry, that’s the easy part.” Sable took her hand in his, and right away some of the fear in her eyes dissipated. Brushing his thumb against the special ring on her finger, Sable said, “Remember what I told you about the enchantments I had Sunset put on your ring?”

Celestia looked down at the jewelry in question. “The protective spells?”

Sable nodded. “And tracking spells.”

Celestia understood right after that. “You had Sunset put the same spells on the ring you got Chrysalis for her birthday.” Celestia smiled. “You really did think of everything!”

“Yeah, we can only hope she was wearing it when she was grabbed,” Sable said, “Put your clothes on, quickly. Then we’ll go.”

Celestia acknowledged and instead grabbed the night robe that apparently belonged to the owner of this beachside cabin. All the while, Sable felt something stirring inside him.

The beast that he had laid to rest long ago was beginning to come to the surface again. It had peeked its head out of its dark cave when Sable fought that psychopathic mercenary at Troubleshoes’s house months ago. Even then, however, Sable had been holding it back. Because the truth was, the beast frightened him. The memory of Afghanistan and the things he’d done there was still all too vivid to him.

But Sable knew tonight would be the first time since then that the Wolf of Kabul would truly roam free.

“Chrysalis…wake up….”

Still half asleep, Chrysalis rolled over in bed, her head a foggy haze. Her heart was racing. She vaguely remembered that something had happened. Apple Bloom and her friends had been screaming, looking at her with horror. Then she was surrounded by shadowy men. Had all of that been a dream?

“Chrysalis, wake up!”

The voice cleared some of the fog clouding her brain. It was Queen’s voice, speaking to her with an urgency that Chrysalis had never heard from the entity before. That was when she realized that the bed she was sleeping in wasn’t her own, nor was it the sleeping bag she’d been using at Apple Bloom’s. Chrysalis’s eyes shot open.

She was looking at a dark, unfamiliar room. There was an old wooden dresser and half a dozen boxes strewn about in the darkness. The wallpaper was peeled from the walls, and Chrysalis spotted a mess of frayed wires where there might once have been a power outlet. Motes of dust danced in the moonlight shining in through a crack in the tattered old drapes by the window. The whole place had a damp, musty smell layered beneath something else. Something alien and familiar all at once. There was an unusual amount of moisture in the air.

The bed groaned loudly in protest as Chrysalis sat up, and she gasped and scrambled back against the headboard at the sight of a figure standing in the darkness.

“Relax, it’s me.” The figure stepped forward, and Chrysalis saw her own face wearing Queen’s familiar scowl.

Chrysalis took another look around the strange room. “Where the hell are we?”

“Why are you asking me? I’m just as in the dark here as you are,” Queen scoffed. “But one thing I do know is that we are in serious danger. We need to get out of here now!

Chrysalis remembered being surrounded by dark men and then…. Everything was a blank after that, and her head was throbbing. Standing up, Chrysalis crept over to the window to see if she could get some idea of where she was. Peeking through the window while keeping herself hidden, Chrysalis saw that she was on at least the second floor of a house overlooking what appeared to be a quiet suburban street. It was still very dark out, indicating that Chrysalis hadn’t been unconscious for very long. The street outside was still and quiet, illuminated by streetlights and the moon above.

Across the street was what appeared to be the entrance to a public park, with a main path surrounded by trees. The sight was incredibly familiar to Chrysalis, and she suddenly realized why. It was Owl Park, the very same path she and a couple of her friends had run screaming into on Halloween. It was in remembering that night that Chrysalis gasped, suddenly realizing exactly where she was.

“We’re inside Spooky House!” Chrysalis whispered. Within walking distance of Apple Bloom’s house. Convenient and unsettling.

“So, you do know where we are,” Queen mused. “Good. That should make getting out of here a little easier.”

Chrysalis was already checking the window as Queen spoke. There didn’t appear to be a way to open it, and there wasn’t anything in the room that she could use to break it. Maybe she could break it herself, but if her captors were around, they’d certainly hear her.

Sure enough, as that thought crossed Chrysalis’s mind, she heard the creaking of old floorboards and heavy footsteps just outside the room. Exchanging a look with her mental projection of Queen, Chrysalis flew to the door, quickly and quietly. She pressed herself up against the wall right next to the door, holding her breath as the footsteps on the other side grew closer and closer before stopping. A moment passed where Chrysalis wasn’t sure whether the person on the other side was going to come in or continue walking. Then the doorknob started to turn, and Chrysalis tried to make herself even more flat against the wall.

The door opened inward, conveniently obscuring Chrysalis from view as the person on the other side took a step into the room and stopped. The empty bed was in plain sight of the interloper, who after a moment’s hesitation raced forward, taking a brief look around the room. His back was to Chrysalis. This was her moment.

The man crouched down to check under the bed, and that was when Chrysalis was upon him. The creaking floorboards gave her away, but the man only had time to turn and look at her, still crouched, before Chrysalis drove her knee hard into his scarred face. She recognized him as one of the ones who grabbed her on the street.

Chrysalis followed the attack up by grabbing the man’s head by the hair and slamming her knee into him again. She put everything she had into the attack. This wasn’t some punk kid like Rover and his pals. This was a grown man, and her life was in danger. No need to hold back. The man fell onto his back, knocking his head hard against the bedside table, dazing him. He was down for the count.

Chrysalis hastily retreated, rushing out to the hallway. Likely the short scuffle was heard by one or more of the others. She needed to leave quickly. She closed the door behind her, scanned her surroundings to figure out her next move, then stopped in her tracks, her heart sinking into her stomach.

The walls and ceiling were all covered in a thick, gooey green substance. Chrysalis immediately recognized what it was. It was a type of biomass secreted by changelings with the purpose of altering the surrounding environment to be more livable for them. Chrysalis blinked. She never expected to see such a sight again with her waking eyes and had to question whether she was still dreaming.

“I thought so…” Queen’s voice muttered in her mind.

“Changelings? Here?” Chrysalis gasped. “But…how? Why?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Queen said. “But whatever the case, these changelings are not friends to us.”

She was right, Chrysalis knew. Even if these turned out to be changelings from her old hive, there was almost certainly a new queen running things now. For all anyone in Equestria knew, Queen Chrysalis was dead. But maybe…if somehow, the current queen of the changelings knew that Chrysalis still lived, that queen would see her as a threat to her rule. She would take measures to ensure Chrysalis had no way of ever ascending the throne again. The fact that Chrysalis had no further interest in the throne or changeling affairs at all was immaterial.

She pressed forward, her mind swirling with a thousand questions, all of which she had to push aside as she focused on the most important thing: getting out of this apparent hive with her life.

Sable Loam stood in the SIREN command post in the underground bunker alongside Sunset Shimmer and Troubleshoes Clyde. The triplets were assembled before them, as were the two seniormost personnel of the ATG: Sunny Side and Ushanka. Celestia stood just off to the side, nursing a still-untouched coffee. She looked awake enough without it.

Gesturing to a map of a suburban neighborhood on the main screen, Sable pointed out a larger property. “According to the tracking enchantment Sunset placed on Chrysalis, she’s being held here at 137 Oakridge Drive in Eastwick. It’s a decently populated neighborhood so we’ll be going in quickly and quietly. All weapons will be ensorcelled with silence spells.”

Sunset had asked if it wouldn’t be easier to just use silencers on their weapons (they had several). Sonata had to explain that noise suppressors (the actual name of the devices) didn’t work the way they do in Hollywood movies, and wouldn’t be useful for this mission.

Sable continued, “Once the package is in hand we’ll extract quickly. If we do this right, the neighborhood won’t even notice our presence, but be ready for a hot exit in case a bystander does notice and contact authorities.”

The last thing Sable wanted was to end up trapped in a shootout with police. It was still early in the morning, early enough that as long as they were quiet, Sable was confident they could be in and out before any civilians in the neighborhood were awake. He just had to hope that would be enough.

“We’ll move in two teams. Alpha Team will be led by me and will assemble here on Park Avenue and approach the target from the south through Owl Park.” Sable noted the way Troubleshoes furrowed his brow as he said this but continued. “Bravo Team will be led by our Master Chief.” Sable nodded in Troubleshoes’s direction. “They will assemble by the elementary school north of the target and approach through the field here.”

Sable went on to detail the rest of the op, splitting the ATG into teams and detailing their equipment loadouts.

“And what about us?” Adagio asked.

“Yeah, can’t help but notice we’re not on either of the teams,” Aria said, her usual dry demeanor betraying a hint of indignation.

“I want you three to stay with Sunset here while she monitors the operation,” Sable said. “I know it seems like we’re dealing with run-of-the-mill criminals here, but there are too many unknown factors. We don’t know anything about the enemy numbers or how well armed they are, and I’d rather we weren’t caught with our pants down like we were with Los Perros de Guerra.”

The triplets nodded, even if their frowns indicated they would rather be on the front lines with the others. They understood their duty though and didn’t say a word.

It was nearly 0300 hours by the time Sable finished the admittedly hasty briefing, but it would have to do. Time was of the essence. As Sable went to put together his kit, Troubleshoes followed him.

“Have to admit, I don’t think this is a good idea,” he said.

“If you’re worried about the ATG, I think they’re more than ready for this,” Sable said. “Weren’t you saying just the other day that they needed a taste of real modern combat?”

“Oh, I’m not worried about them,” Troubleshoes said. “I’m worried about you.”

Sable looked at him, puzzled. “Me?”

Troubleshoes nodded. “Fact is, you’re too close to this and it makes me uneasy. I think you should stay here. Give command of Alpha to one of the triplets. As it is, technically, both you and Capt. Dazzle should be sitting this out and Cmdrs. Blaze and Dusk should be leading each respective team.”

Sable growled, the feral noise triggering something in Troubleshoes, because all of a sudden his posture became more defensive.

“It’s my daughter who’s been taken here. I am not sitting on the sidelines for this!” Sable exclaimed.

“That’s exactly the reason why you should!” Troubleshoes said. “I’ve never seen you this riled up before. Please, just… sit this one out, okay?”

Sable’s first instinct was to bark an order. To pull rank. But he realized that Troubleshoes was right. Even still, he was not going to back down.

“And what if it was Tirespin?” Sable asked, and Troubleshoes’s look softened. “What then?”

With a resigned sigh, Troubleshoes said, “You probably wouldn’t be able to keep me away if you tried.”

Considering the matter settled, Sable continued getting ready.

“Just… try to control yourself out there,” Troubleshoes said. “Make sure the person coming to get her is still her father.”

Heart pounding in her chest, Chrysalis crept through the old house, hyper-aware of every creak and groan. Fortunately, the other changelings of this apparent hive were not so aware, as none came to investigate any time Chrysalis stepped on a particularly creaky floorboard. She could tell the house was full of changelings though, even if she couldn’t hear them moving around down on the first floor. She could feel them on the fringes of her mind—about half a dozen of them in the immediate vicinity, and who knows how many elsewhere. The hive mind—the thing she fled to Earth to escape—was stirring within her. It felt like being back in Equestria. The nostalgia was unwanted.

As she pressed on, Chrysalis fiddled with the ring on her finger—her birthday gift from Sable—anxiously and almost unconsciously. Touching it made her think of him and Celestia as she started making her way down to the first floor of the house. Going down the stairs, the fifth step from the bottom creaked particularly loudly and Chrysalis froze in place. She heard footsteps approach from somewhere on the first floor and prepared herself to retreat back up the stairs. But the footsteps did not reach where she was, and when she was sure it was safe, Chrysalis reached the bottom of the stairs.

The front door of the house was just down the hall in front of her. Chrysalis remembered looking through the window right next to it into the very hall she was standing in now all those weeks ago on Halloween. It was a straight shot to the door out to the rickety old front porch outside, and then she could make a beeline across the street into the darkness of Owl Park, just as she had done on that night.

But from there where would she go? Apple Bloom’s house was near, but could she really go back? Memories of the horrified looks on her friends’ faces earlier that night flashed in her mind. No, her friends still thought of her as a monster, and she couldn’t risk leading these changelings back to them anyway. What then? Go back home to Sable and Celestia? No, Sable had told her that he was taking Celestia out of town for their anniversary, and Chrysalis hadn’t thought to ask him where.

She decided that she would figure out where to go later. Her first order of business was simply getting out of this place. Quickly and quietly, Chrysalis started towards the front door of Spooky House but stopped when she heard the sound of footsteps again. These ones came from outside the house, specifically the steps leading up to the front porch. Chrysalis saw the doorknob begin to turn and immediately whirled around.

A door under the stairs she’d just descended was slightly ajar, and Chrysalis bolted for it without a second thought. She got behind it just in the nick of time, because she heard the front door of the house open and the footsteps of multiple likely disguised changelings enter. With more stairs descending into the dark, dank basement just to her right, Chrysalis waited, holding her breath. The changelings—still disguised as men—were speaking to each other in hushed murmurs, and Chrysalis leaned closer against the basement door to listen, but only heard snippets of conversation.

“…finally found her, then?”

“Yes, we need to get ready….”

“…no telling when the alicorn will find us.”

“…seen Ocellus?”

Straining to listen, Chrysalis leaned further into the door, discovering something unfortunate in the process. It would seem that the latch on the basement door was broken, because the door started to drift open as Chrysalis pressed more of her weight against it. She noticed and caught it quickly enough that it only opened a crack, but suddenly the murmuring out in the hall stopped. The sudden silence of the house around her was drowned out by the sudden buzz of activity in the hive mind.

Danger.

Alarm!

Did one of them get out?

Unlikely.

No. Something more dangerous.

Chrysalis didn’t wait to hear their footsteps approach the basement door before rushing down the stairs into the darkness as quickly as she could, hoping that she was quiet enough not to be heard. The basement door creaked as it was pulled open, and Chrysalis pressed herself into a corner of the room, hoping to blend into the darkness.

A single pair of footsteps descended the basement stairs but stopped shy of reaching the bottom. Chrysalis heard a single, “Hmm…” from the figure, which slightly morphed into an inhuman chitter all too familiar to Chrysalis.

She then heard another set of much louder footsteps clomping with urgency on the floor above, and a gruff voice shout, “She’s gone!

Right away Chrysalis knew that the speaker was the scarred man she’d knocked out in the room she woke up in. For a moment she was surprised he was up so quickly after the beating she’d given him, before remembering he was likely a changeling too.

The figure who had been investigating the basement turned and went back up the stairs. Chrysalis heard him ask, “Who? The queen?”

“Yeah. I went to check on her and she got the drop on me.”

Chrysalis heard a sigh from the other man, and without a door between her and him she could hear him mutter much more clearly, “We don’t have time for this, the Alicorn of Earth is probably breathing down our necks.” He then said much more loudly. “She can’t have gone far. Let’s find her and get out of here!”

A cacophony of footsteps erupted on the floor above as the quiet Spooky House became alive with activity. The entire hive of changelings were searching the house top to bottom, but for the moment seemed to be leaving the basement alone. Chrysalis took a deep, trembling breath and tried to compose herself.

“At the very least, they seem intent on taking us alive,” Queen said. Chrysalis didn’t see her projection anywhere in the darkness of the basement but that didn’t make her presence any less felt. “That likely means whichever usurper these drones serve wants to execute us herself. Either as a statement or because she’s simply petty.”

Giving Queen the barest of acknowledgements, Chrysalis looked around. Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness now, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when she thought she saw a large animal peering at her from another dark corner of the room. But another moment looking at it more closely confirmed that it wasn’t alive. Indeed, it appeared to be a fully taxidermied deer, likely owned by whoever originally lived in this house. The dark basement was filled with an assortment of other furniture far less eclectic. A large couch with an ugly, yellow-colored upholstery pattern that probably dated back to the 1970s, a table with chairs stacked upside down on top of it. A vinyl record player on top of stacked boxes (Sweetie Belle would have referred to it as “vintage”), and an old fridge, its contents likely a moldy goo if there were any at all. Cobwebs covered it all, and the bare walls were covered in large splotches of black mold.

Chrysalis then spotted something else in the darkness: something that couldn’t have belonged to the house’s original owner. A large cocoon made of hardened changeling biomass protruded from the far wall like an especially nasty tumor. What was more, Chrysalis could see a humanoid figure inside through its translucent shell. Chrysalis stepped towards the cocoon, letting out a small gasp when she realized she recognized the figure within.

“Well, well, it’s a funny world we live in, isn’t it Chrys?” Queen chuckled as Chrysalis looked at the still form of Diamond Tiara within the cocoon.

She was still wearing the same outfit she had on the night Chrysalis had met with her at the Sugar Cube Corner Café. Her eyes were closed, but Chrysalis could see her chest rising and falling. Chrysalis recognized the type of cocoon these changelings had put her in; it was one able to intravenously cycle nutrients through the victim’s body and could even cycle oxygen from outside through their lungs. With such a setup, any creature within could be kept alive for months, assuming the changelings didn’t feed on them too much.

Chrysalis couldn’t lie to herself; she really didn’t like Diamond Tiara. Even when she went missing, the girl had caused her no shortage of grief. But looking at her now, so still and helpless, Chrysalis could see her for what she was: a child. A child in desperate need of help.

“Oh, no. No, you will not!” Queen stated firmly, evidently sensing where Chrysalis’s train of thought was leading. “The hive is on high alert right now. This is not the time for you to have a conscience!”

“I can’t just leave her here,” Chrysalis said with finality, sticking both hands through the hard shell of the cocoon and feeling the warmth of the fluids inside.

“Yes you can! We’re surrounded by changelings who want to capture us, so give me one good reason why we should even bother rescuing that human!” came Queen’s retort.

Chrysalis didn’t even need to think of why. “Because…at the end of the day, I’m human too,” she said, sounding at first unsure of the statement but realizing it was true once she did. She might have been merged with Queen Chrysalis’ physical body, but in the final tally, Crisalide della Lucca had been born Homo sapiens sapiens, just like the pseudo-comatose girl in the pod.

“Your habitual need to prove that you’re not me will be the death of us both,” Queen growled in warning before Chrysalis felt her recede back into her mind.

Ignoring Queen’s parting remark, Chrysalis tore open the cocoon like a foal on Hearth’s Warming, and then reflected on the fact that her mind made the comparison to the pony holiday rather than its human equivalent. It really is like I’m right back there.

With a little more tearing, Diamond’s limp form spilled forth from the cocoon, covered in the gooey sticky changeling ichor. Chrysalis caught her before she could hit the floor in a wet slump, gently lowering her instead. With Diamond now cradled in her arms, Chrysalis set to shaking her awake, gently at first but a bit more firmly when the girl resisted consciousness.

Finally, Diamond started to stir, first with a gurgle and then a retching sound, prompting Chrysalis to turn her over before she could choke. Just in time too, because the girl spewed as soon as she did. Except it wasn’t vomit that came out of Diamond’s mouth, but more green fluid from the cocoon. Diamond suddenly started coughing like a person who’d just survived drowning, her hacks interspersed with more retches that amounted to little more than dry heaves, which made sense to Chrysalis. If she’d been fed intravenously for the past few weeks, she wouldn’t have anything in her stomach to bring back up.

“You’re okay, just take it easy,” Chrysalis said softly, her eyes flicking to the basement stairs with momentary worry. But none of the changelings up on the main floor appeared to have heard Diamond’s coughing, and Chrysalis quickly returned her attention to the girl she’d just freed. “Don’t be alarmed, I’m going to get us out of here, okay?”

Diamond looked around the room with bleary eyes squinting to see in the dark basement. Finally, her eyes landed on Chrysalis and for the first time since pulling her out of the cocoon, Chrysalis saw clarity begin to enter them…along with sheer terror.

Realizing what was about to happen, Chrysalis quickly shot a hand to Diamond’s mouth, muffling the scream that came out. Naturally, this just sent the terrified girl into a panic, and she kept trying to scream through Chrysalis’s hand as she weakly struggled to escape her grip. Something about the whole situation seemed wrong to Chrysalis. Sheer mind-numbing terror seemed to be the appropriate reaction to have when waking up in a cocoon inside a dark unfamiliar basement, but something about the whole thing just seemed off to Chrysalis. It was like there was a crucial detail she was missing.

Chrysalis grunted as she fought to keep the panicking girl under control. Whatever was off, there was no time to think about it now. “Diamond, please relax. I really need you not to scream right now!” Chrysalis hissed. The image of Queen rolling her eyes played in the back of Chrysalis’s mind as Diamond’s muffled screams didn’t let up, and she wasn’t sure whether the image was planted there by Queen or was just her own imagination.

Losing her patience at the whole situation, Chrysalis fixed Diamond with a deadly glare and growled, “For God’s sake, Diamond Tiara I’m trying to help you so stop screaming!” To her surprise, Diamond actually stopped trying to scream, but the girl looked no less terrified. Still, Diamond actually seemed to be listening to her now, so Chrysalis continued, “We are both in deep shit right now. There’s about half a dozen or more creatures looking for us, so if I take my hand away from your mouth are you going to scream again?”

Her eyes still wide with fright, Diamond emphatically shook her head and Chrysalis slowly removed her hand from her mouth, ready to bring it forward again in case Diamond resumed screaming in spite of their agreement. The two of them sat there for several moments in silence, staring into each other’s fearful eyes until finally, Diamond broke the silence.

Chrysalis, what the fuck?!” Diamond whisper-yelled. “What’s happening and where the hell are we?

Chrysalis wasn’t even sure how to begin answering that. Wasn’t sure whether she wanted Diamond to know any more about what she really was than she already did.

“You know how I’m like, not entirely human?” Chrysalis asked. Diamond just answered with a wide-eyed head tilt and raised eyebrows. “Neither are the people who abducted you.”

Diamond nodded, clearly still processing everything that was happening to her. “Okay. And where…?”

“Spooky House,” Chrysalis answered, and Diamond responded with another nod.

“Right, okay. And how do I know this isn’t all a ruse for you to just do away with me once and for all? For all I know, you’re the one who brought me here in the first place!”

“You really think I’d do that?” Chrysalis asked, feeling offended even though she knew there was some merit to Diamond’s words.

“To be honest, I don’t know what you’re capable of. I don’t even know what you really are!”

Chrysalis sighed. She had hoped she’d be able to get by giving Diamond as little of the truth as possible, but she realized it was a fool’s hope from the outset. Diamond was scared—the fear Chrysalis could taste from her was overpowering—and the only person she had to rely on was someone she had no reason to trust. Chrysalis needed to rectify that.

“Okay, fine. I’m what’s called a changeling.”

Diamond stared at her in disbelief. “Like…the creature from European mythology that fairies use to replace abducted children?”

Chrysalis had read up on changeling mythos in the human world around when she first arrived with Celestia and Sable, just for fun. She was surprised that Diamond knew about it, though.

“Not exactly. I’m more of an interdimensional monarch. Used to be queen of the changelings before I decided to start a new life here.”

“I…see.” Diamond didn’t sound like she was buying it. The two of them quietened as they heard more footsteps on the floor above. “And the things looking for us. They’re changelings too?”

“Yes, though whether they’re from my old hive or not I have no idea. Either way, they’re dangerous and we need to get out of here.”

With a sigh, Diamond said, “Okay, I don’t know how much I’m willing to believe, but I guess if you really wanted me dead, we wouldn’t still be talking.”

“Exactly. I know neither of us really have a reason to trust each other but we need to cooperate if we’re getting out of here.”

Diamond nodded, and a bit of her more familiar authoritative tone entered her voice as she said, “Fair enough. Besides, it’s in your best interest to get me home quickly.”

Chrysalis raised a brow. “Oh?”

“I told Silver and Cozy to hold off on uploading our little video for the time being, but if morning rolls around and I haven’t made it home, people will ask questions, and well…” Diamond projected a confident smirk. “I don’t know what they’ll do with that video then.”

At this, Chrysalis couldn’t help but laugh. So much had happened since the night she confronted Diamond at the Sugar Cube Corner Cafe, Chrysalis had almost forgotten what it had even been about.

“Think that’s funny?” Diamond asked, and Chrysalis realized she could still taste her fear strongly and tried to get her giggles under control.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…a lot’s happened. Let’s just say you’ve been missing for…considerably longer than a single night.”

“Oh.” Just like that, all of the wind went out of Diamond’s sails.

Chrysalis felt like she understood why Diamond had fallen back on the familiar blackmail routine, even though it hadn’t worked for her the first time. Naturally, Diamond must be feeling completely powerless right now—a feeling she likely wasn’t accustomed to. Chrysalis supposed it was only natural that she’d want to try to regain whatever feeling of control over the situation that she could, even if it was ultimately futile.

“Yeah, I’ll catch you up on everything that’s happened when we’re out of here,” Chrysalis said, dreading having to tell her that one of her friends was now in an asylum for trying to murder the other. “But for now….” Chrysalis stood and offered Diamond her hand, and Diamond took it with only a little hesitation.

Chrysalis grunted as she found herself pulling up more of Diamond’s weight than she expected, and the girl fell into Chrysalis’s arms, her own legs apparently unable to support her weight.

“Ugh, sorry. My legs feel like jelly.”

Chrysalis was pretty sure she understood why. “Like I said, you’ve been unconscious down here for…a pretty long time. Your muscles must be starting to atrophy.”

“Fantastic,” Diamond deadpanned. Chrysalis noted that she hadn’t asked specifically how long “a long time” was. Chrysalis hadn’t specified because she wasn’t sure how Diamond would handle it, and if Diamond herself hadn’t asked it was likely she wasn’t sure either.

“The good news is, you’re absolutely terrified,” Chrysalis said, and Diamond furrowed her brow. “The adrenaline should help get you moving.”

Putting one of Diamond’s arms over her shoulder, Chrysalis dragged the two of them towards the basement stairs, mindful of the footsteps on the floor above. As she did so, Chrysalis realized what had been bothering her since Diamond first came to.

“Wait a minute…you’re scared.”

“Yeah, no shit Sherlock!”

Except, that shouldn’t have been possible. Yes, fear was a reasonable response for anyone to have in a situation like this, but Chrysalis finally realized what was bothering her: by all rights, Diamond shouldn’t be feeling anything. Victims of prolonged changeling feeding typically became husks devoid of any emotion at all. In fact, in yet another strange sign of how Earth and Equus dovetailed, they even had a common word for it: lotothosis. The origins were different, sure; Earth’s word originated from the Greek legend of the lotus eaters, while on Equus, the word came from an old story about Baroness Lotus Bloom, who slept so much that when she was awake, she’d forgotten even how to have emotions.

Regardless, the words meant the same thing: those who were disjointed from or immune to an emotional response. One could recover eventually from lotothosis induced by changeling feeding, but it took time. The fact that Diamond was not only afraid, but also confused and a bit angry indicated to Chrysalis something that didn’t make any sense.

These changelings hadn’t been feeding on her. Chrysalis could sense Queen’s confusion and concern about this development. What did they need Diamond for, if not for feeding?

Just then the two girls heard the sound of the basement door open just up the stairs and out of sight. Chrysalis silently cursed. Should’ve known they’d check down here sooner or later. Chrysalis spotted a hallway leading to another part of the basement and bolted for it with Diamond’s weight over her shoulder. She wasn’t overly concerned about being stealthy—as soon as the enemy changeling descended the stairs and saw the empty cocoon that used to hold Diamond, it would know they’re both down here.

Halfway down the hallway was a door. Chrysalis’s only option was to hide Diamond Tiara inside and then try to ambush and take out the changeling before it could call the others, even though it likely already had. The hivemind was inconvenient like that.

But when Chrysalis opened the door, entering what appeared to be the room where the boiler and circuit breaker—neither in working condition—were both kept, that plan was immediately dashed. Because in addition to the boiler and breaker, another cocoon occupied the space. Chrysalis recognized the person inside as Twist—the first girl to go missing—but that wasn’t the first thing that caught her eye.

Squatting next to the cocoon was a humanoid figure. It was breathing heavily as it consumed the biomass gathered at the base of the cocoon with ravenous hunger. It was dark, almost too dark to see, but Chrysalis could see that its skin was pale and gray. What was more, it had gossamer wings sticking out of its back.

Chrysalis had only a moment to take all of this in when she heard a soft gasp from Diamond beside her. The girl realized her mistake instantly based on the way her hand shot to her mouth, but it was too little too late. The sound of feral feasting stopped, and the room suddenly grew quiet as the changeling turned around. It was small, Chrysalis realized—about the size of a girl Diamond’s age. Chrysalis saw bright blue compound eyes without pupils widen at the sight of her before the creature let out a scream that Chrysalis heard twice—once with her ears and again as an echo inside her mind. Diamond let out a horrified shriek in reply and just like that the young changeling was gone, having scurried into the darkness in the blink of an eye.

“This is bad,” Chrysalis whispered as the sound of footsteps on the floor above changed. The changelings were now all headed towards the basement door, which only made sense. If Chrysalis could hear that adolescent changeling’s scream through the hivemind despite her own broken connection to it, the others would definitely have heard it.

“Yeah,” was the closest thing to a snarky remark Diamond could muster. The girl was trembling a lot now.

A dozen plans raced through Chrysalis’s mind, each one looking worse than the last. They didn’t have time to get stuck in analysis paralysis, so she quickly dragged Diamond to a corner of the room and tucked her behind the inactive boiler.

“Hide here,” Chrysalis said, and Diamond exclaimed, “Wait, you’re leaving me?” before Chrysalis could elaborate further.

“Yes. I’m the one they want, so I’ll lead them on a merry chase. Wait for an opening and then get out of here!”

“But I can barely stand, let alone walk!” Diamond exclaimed.

She was right, Chrysalis knew. But what other choice did she have?

“I’m sorry, Di,” Chrysalis said, moving back towards the door. “But there just isn’t any other way.”

“Wait,” Diamond pleaded, and when Chrysalis looked back at her she could see tears in her eyes.

A month ago, Chrysalis would have thought that the girl in front of her was only capable of crocodile tears. But Chrysalis’s own abilities made her impossible to fool. Diamond’s tears were real all right. What was more, there was a deep, personal pain pushing them out that went way beyond the mere primal fear for her life that Chrysalis had tasted since she pulled her from the cocoon. Whatever this pain originated from, Chrysalis realized she had also tasted it at the Sugar Cube Corner Cafe during their blackmail meeting weeks ago.

“Please…” Diamond whimpered. “You can’t leave me….”

But I have to, was on the tip of Chrysalis’s tongue, but she couldn’t say it.

“What a waste of effort,” Queen’s sardonic voice said. “What was the point of risking everything to save a girl who, let’s be honest, wouldn’t do the same for you, if you were just going to leave her behind anyway?”

Although it likely wasn’t Queen’s intention, Chrysalis found herself listening to her as one might do their conscience. It made her realize one very simple fact: she was a fool. Maybe she’d always been, since the moment she first agreed to move in with Celestia and turn her life around.

Chrysalis kept trying to tell herself she was a good person now, and as Queen was so fond of pointing out, kept trying to prove it with her actions. And sure, maybe she’d managed to help people here and there, but therein lay the problem. Every one of them—from Sweetie and Button being accosted in the mall parking lot to Silver Spoon nearly being murdered by Cozy Glow—only needed help in the first place because of Chrysalis. Even now, Diamond Tiara was in danger because the changelings were on Earth looking for Chrysalis herself.

And Chrysalis was just about to abandon her to save herself. Yes, that was the truth of it. Chrysalis had always been a master of deception. She was so good, she even had herself fooled. If Chrysalis wanted to be good—truly good, not merely pretending—she needed to be willing to do whatever it took to save the girl she’d once thought of as a friend. No matter how much she didn’t like it.

“You’re right,” Chrysalis said, finding herself feeling strangely tranquil now that it was clear what she needed to do.

“What are you…? Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Queen sighed

“Chrys?” Diamond asked, unaware of the mental conversation.

“Don’t worry, Di. I’m not going anywhere,” Chrysalis said, crouching beside Diamond. “But only one of us is getting out of here. I understand that now.”

Diamond tilted her head. “Wait, what?”

“Just do me a favor and make sure you live a life worth saving.”

Then Chrysalis stood, stepped out of the door and waited there in the hall. As she listened to the rest of the changelings make their way to the basement, took a breath. For the first time in a long time, she felt totally at peace, and she wanted to hold onto that feeling for as long as she could, since it was sure not to last.

She thought of her time with Sable and Celestia—no, my parents, she mentally amended. Watching movies at home, going shopping for clothes, eating out at restaurants. She also thought of her friends. Playing games online, goofing around in the school halls between classes, even fighting the good fight against Rover and his goons. All things considered, she had a pretty good life here, short though it was. But good things were never meant to last.

Chrysalis knew she should have been sad that it was all ending here. Her parents would be heartbroken, and surely once Apple Bloom and the others got over the shock of seeing her true form, they would be sad to lose a friend as well. But the few months Chrysalis had lived here as a normal girl really had been the best of her long, sad life, and they were more than she ever expected or hoped to have. Just for that, Chrysalis allowed herself to smile as the crowd of still disguised changelings approached.

Chrysalis held out a hand in a stop gesture and said, “Now, before you all try to come at me at once, let me assure you that I will not go down easily. I held myself back before for reasons that are my own, but this time I will fight without mercy. Now, you’ll probably eventually overpower me, but not before I’ve killed a good number of you.”

One of them opened his mouth to speak but Chrysalis wasn’t done, indicating as such with a raised pointer finger. “Or…you can listen to my terms of surrender and avoid needless bloodshed. My terms are quite simple: all I want is for you to let Diamond Tiara go, as well as every other girl that you’ve taken. Do that, and I’ll go with you quietly.”

Chrysalis waited for their reply, ready to fight to the death if need be. However, to her surprise, the head changeling actually looked confused.

“‘Terms of surrender?’ What are you talking about?” he said, and then said something that actually took Chrysalis a second to process. “My Queen, we’re here to rescue you!”

The changeling then dropped his disguise, and in spite of the fact that he was in a humanoid shape now, Chrysalis recognized him almost immediately. “It’s…Thorax, right?”

The changeling nodded.

Thinking back to her time as the queen of the changelings, Chrysalis didn’t really remember Thorax very well. In fact, the only reason she recognized him at all was because he was one of a few changelings she’d made a note to keep an eye on for possible desertion or even rebellion.

Chrysalis leveled a hard glare at him and said, “I want you to explain everything.

Not much later, Chrysalis found herself back in the main part of the basement where she first pulled Diamond Tiara from the cocoon. The girl in question was seated on the ugly yellow couch, quietly taking in the unfolding conversation. Thorax had sent the other changelings up to the main floor except for one, who briefly left and returned with a bag that Chrysalis realized was not a backpack, but a saddle pack. Thorax had then offered Chrysalis a chair to sit on (she elected to stand). Before they could get very far into their conversation, however, the adolescent changeling Chrysalis and Diamond had encountered in the boiler room timidly revealed herself.

“Ocellus, where have you been?” Thorax asked with the tone of a weary parent.

“I…thought I’d start disassembling the cocoons for the captives,” the little changeling—Ocellus, apparently—answered. “Since we’re leaving soon….”

“You didn’t help yourself to some feeding while you were at it, did you?” Thorax asked sternly. Ocellus looked away, which was evidently all the answer that Thorax needed. “Ocellus, we’ve been over this. We are not to feed on any humans.”

The other adult changeling with them said, “Tch. Waste not.” Hearing his voice, Chrysalis realized that he was the scarred man who she’d knocked out in the bedroom she’d woken up in.

“But I feel so weak!” Ocellus whined. “I don’t know how much longer I can hold up a disguise.”

“Then maybe you should go upstairs and help the others tear down the rest of the biomass,” Thorax said. “The sooner we’ve erased every trace of our presence here the sooner we can go back to our world.”

Looking every part the chastised child, Ocellus nodded and went to attend to her task without a word, but not before giving one final wary glance towards Chrysalis.

“I told you we should never have brought her along,” the other changeling said when she was gone.

“It was her choice. She isn’t a grub anymore, Pharynx. She has just as much cause to be here as you and me,” Thorax told him. “Besides, she’s safer here with us than back at the hive.”

“So you keep saying.”

Chrysalis remembered Pharynx. Unlike Thorax, Pharynx was a changeling whose loyalty she had never questioned. Competent and ruthless, Chrysalis had come to depend on him a lot during her final years as queen. It figured that he would be here with Thorax. As different as they were, the two were practically inseparable. That they were the only survivors of a failed brood made them as close as brothers.

Disengaging herself from memories of her previous life, Chrysalis folded her arms and said, “I hate to interrupt the brotherly bickering, but it’s well past time you gave me an explanation.”

“You’re right, Your Majesty…” Thorax started.

“It’s just ‘Chrysalis’ now. I haven’t been a queen in a long time.”

A look passed between Thorax and Pharynx that Chrysalis couldn’t quite decipher before Thorax continued.

“Very well, Chrysalis. Let me start by saying I am profoundly sorry if our actions made you believe we meant you harm.” Thorax then leveled an accusatory glance in Pharynx’s direction as he said, “Suffice to say, none of this was handled the way that it should have been.”

“You got that right!” Diamond exclaimed, trying to massage some life into her weak leg muscles from her spot on the couch. “If you’re all only here for Chrysalis, how the hell did I end up in one of your freaky cocoons?”

Chrysalis had to admit she was impressed. Diamond Tiara was no longer completely terrified and was actually managing to level some of her usual superior tone at what must have been very alien looking creatures from her perspective. Chrysalis had to give it to her: she was a lot tougher than she looked.

“I understand your frustration, but please be patient,” Thorax pleaded. “First, to answer the queen’s question: We’re here because we need you back!”

This much Chrysalis had figured out for herself, but it was also the part that confused her the most: “If memory serves, I wasn’t exactly a popular queen in my final days,” she said. “The amount of splinter hives and rogue queens I had to take down by the end made that very clear.”

It occurred to Chrysalis that both Thorax and Pharynx had been present for a number of such rebellions, on one side or the other.

“True, I won’t deny many of the changelings here—myself included—would rather not see you back on the throne at all,” Thorax said. “But these are desperate times. After your defeat, Mandible took your place as queen of the changelings.”

Chrysalis remembered Mandible: Crafty and ruthless, she was the only rogue queen that Chrysalis didn’t manage to eliminate. She’d heard that Mandible had a brief setback just prior to the events that caused Chrysalis to reclaim her humanity, but given what she knew of the other changeling queen, it was just that—a setback, not an impediment to eventual victory.

“As bad as things were by the end of your reign, they are nothing compared to how Mandible rules. She made it very clear since ascending the throne that none of our lives mean anything to her. We’ve already suffered more casualties in the first week of her rule alone than we had in the entire last three months of your rule.”

“Even though we were all starving at the end of your rule,” Pharynx added. “She viewed making sure all changelings were well-fed was merely the upkeep of an army, not a ruler caring for her subjects. And then proceeded to prove it the first week after your death by attacking the pony city of Underridge. Needless to say, Queen Luna decimated that army.”

Chrysalis raised an eyebrow. She may have taken pride in her own ruthlessness back in the day, but she always made sure to minimize casualties within her ranks where she could. Not out of any particular love for her changelings, but out of simple pragmatism. If Mandible was really so callous with the lives of her changelings, Chrysalis couldn’t see her hive lasting much longer than a few years.

“On top of that, she’s incredibly paranoid and doesn’t trust any changeling that used to serve you. She’s already executed hundreds of suspected loyalists, and I believe that once her own broods have matured into adult drones, she’ll completely cull every changeling who used to serve you, regardless of how loyal they’ve been to her!”

Chrysalis saw the slightest shake of the head from Pharynx, indicating that perhaps he didn’t agree with his brother on that last point. Still, if only that much was false, it still painted a pretty bad picture of Queen Mandible’s rule.

“Well, I can certainly understand how even my harshest critics would see my return as an improvement,” Chrysalis said. “Now for my next question, how did you even find me? As far as our world knows, I’m dead.”

Queen Luna had made quite the spectacle of her execution, staged though it may have been. At this, Pharynx reached into the bag he had over his shoulder and pulled out a familiar object: a gnarled, twisted black crown. Chrysalis gasped. All at once, she remembered what Sunset had told her weeks ago about the theft from the Royal Canterlot Museum.

“You’re the ones who stole back my crown!” Chrysalis exclaimed.

“So, you heard about that,” Pharynx said. “Queen Mandible had sent me on a top-secret assignment to track down and recover your crown. I tracked it to the museum and planned to break in and steal it while the bulk of Canterlot’s forces were protecting the castle as the humans returned to their home dimension. But when I touched the crown, something unexpected happened. Through it, I sensed a presence in the hivemind that should not have been there: yours.”

Chrysalis had been “executed” nearly a week before returning to the human world with the others. She was starting to understand where this was going.

“This was no mere echo or engram. I knew right away that you were alive.”

“So, rather than bring the crown back to Mandible, he came to me and told me everything,” Thorax continued. “We quickly deduced that you’d been taken to the other world with the humans, so we gathered what like-minded changelings we could and came here. About a dozen of us in all.”

“At first, we believed we’d need to infiltrate Canterlot Castle in order to get to the mirror portal there—which would have been no small feat—but something else unexpected happened,” Pharynx explained. “It turned out the little one—Ocellus—had stumbled across something rather strange out in the badlands: a rift.”

“A rift? You mean like a portal? Not linked to an enchanted mirror?” Chrysalis asked. If that was the case, this was something Sunset was going to want to deal with ASAP.

“Yes, at the bottom of a pit of moving sand,” Pharynx confirmed. “Further investigation of the rift using your crown confirmed that your signature was coming through the hivemind from the other side. We sank into the pit and emerged in a similar one in a place we later learned was called the Algodones Dunes, Imperial County.”

Chrysalis wasn’t familiar with the aforementioned dunes, but she was pretty sure she’d heard that Imperial County was where the notorious sex traffickers suspected to be operating here in Canterlot were originally based.

“We found a place to lay low while we got a lay of the land, only to find that others were already using it,” Pharynx continued. “However, we had no trouble stealing their appearance, weapons, and other effects and trapping them in cocoons. The kind that dissolves on their own after enough time has passed.”

Chrysalis had a pretty good idea of whose identities exactly they ended up taking. “Right, and I assume that you wouldn’t have used their faces at all if you knew that they were human traffickers on the run.”

“Yes. Unfortunately, by the time we realized exactly whose faces we were using, we’d already tracked your signal through the hivemind here to Canterlot, bringing the heat of this world’s authorities along with us,” Thorax explained. “Although I have to say, knowing what kind of people they were makes me feel much less bad about the horrible fright we must have given them when we accosted and trapped them.”

“So, you guys are less bad than actual sex traffickers. Congrats on clearing that bar, it’s literally on the ground,” Diamond Tiara deadpanned from her spot on the couch. Chrysalis had honestly just about forgotten she was there. “But that still doesn’t explain why you kidnapped me and the other girls here!”

“Yes, of course. We were getting to that,” Thorax said. “Now, after establishing a base here in Canterlot, we set about trying to find you, Chrysalis. Of course, as you are aware, trying to find a changeling in a city like this is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, to use an Equestrian term.”

“They use that here too,” Chrysalis said.

“Oh. Anyway, we quickly figured out that the Alicorn of Earth wasn’t holding you at her facility here, which meant she was hiding you among the populace in disguise. Pretty devious, I must admit.”

Chrysalis’s eyes widened as she realized there may be a pretty big misunderstanding at the center of this whole mess. “Wait, slow down a second, Thorax. Have you been under the impression that I’ve been held here against my will all this time?”

Thorax blinked. “Well…yes. It’s the only way this makes sense!”

Chrysalis just shook her head. “It isn’t, but I’ll explain when you’re done. Now, you were saying?”

“Right. Anyway, the only means we had to find you was using the signal your brainwaves emit through the hivemind, using your crown as an amplifier. Finally, I thought I found you and managed to get you away from your handlers so we could talk.”

“My handlers?” Chrysalis asked, confused.

“According to our admittedly limited intel, Princess Sunset Shimmer’s forces resemble ordinary teenagers here….”

“Wait, did he say Sunset Shimmer?” Diamond exclaimed, looking wide-eyed at Chrysalis. “What does she have to do with this?”

For the first time, Chrysalis was regretting freeing Diamond from that cocoon. Chrysalis was fine with her former friend knowing her own secret, but she didn’t think Sunset would appreciate her finding out her own.

“I’ll explain later,” Chrysalis said. “Continue, Thorax.”

Looking a little confused, Thorax said, “Right. I figured that if you were walking around as just another human in this world, Shimmer’s ‘SIREN’ forces would be close by in plainclothes to monitor you. This meant it would be more convenient for them to have you disguise yourself as a girl of similar age, so that’s what I looked for. But when I did manage to get ‘you’ alone, you seemed confused about what I was saying.”

The girl he mistook for me must have been Twist. She was the first girl to be reported missing after all, Chrysalis thought. She had a pretty good idea about how that happened but let Thorax continue anyway.

“That’s when I made the mistake of dropping my disguise,” he explained. “Turns out the red-haired girl wasn’t you after all. I realized that pretty quickly when she started screaming. I had no choice but to render her unconscious but after that I realized the full extent of the situation we were in.”

Satisfied that she had the rest of it figured out, Chrysalis finished for him. “You figured that even if this girl wasn’t one of Sunset’s SIRENs, she would still tell others about what she saw. Most wouldn’t believe her, of course, but word would reach Sunset and just like that you would all be on her radar. That’s why Twist is now in a cocoon in the boiler room back there.”

If that was the case, Thorax and his changelings assuming the identities of traffickers ended up working in their favor after all. Chrysalis remembered her talk with Sunset when Diamond’s disappearance was still fresh. The only thing stopping her from pursuing the missing girls herself was her “jurisdiction.” As long as the people abducting girls in Canterlot were believed to be ordinary traffickers, she had no authority to intervene. Personally, Chrysalis would take being hunted by the Feds over Sunset any day.

“Well deduced. You’re as cunning as always,” Pharynx mused.

“Yes, but this only presented another problem,” Thorax said. “Clearly our method of tracking you through the hivemind wasn’t completely accurate. We could only speculate as to why, but my theory is that there simply isn’t enough of us on this world for the hivemind to work completely.”

It made sense to Chrysalis. Plus, there was the fact that she herself hadn’t been properly linked to the hivemind since she attempted to use the portal in Sombra’s mirror in the Covenant hideout so, so long ago.

“After my brother’s failure to find you the first time I took charge of the operation,” Pharynx said. “But I still listened to him when he insisted we take our time. When dealing with an enemy as powerful as Shimmer, it pays to be cautious. We spent weeks surveilling the areas where we sensed your presence the strongest before making our move. Then, I ordered the most likely candidates to start being taken so that we could check whether they were you in the safety of our makeshift hive.”

“A method I personally never agreed with,” Thorax added, once again looking at Pharynx with disapproval in his compound eyes. “Your ways of acquiring targets have always been a little…overzealous, brother. You may as well have been throwing these poor girls into a sack.”

Feeling her neck where she’d been bitten when she was first taken, Chrysalis was inclined to agree.

“Wait, let me get this straight,” Diamond said. “Are you saying that the only reason I was kidnapped was because you thought I might be her?!”

Thorax winced. “Like I said, I didn’t like it, but Pharynx is right about one thing: We’re on the Alicorn of Earth’s home turf. Caution was a necessity.”

“The what?” Diamond asked.

“Nevermind that,” Chrysalis sighed, feeling a facepalm coming on. The conversation was pretty much annihilating any remainder of the secrecy Sunset had built up over the years and Chrysalis did not relish the idea of explaining that to her friend.

Thorax continued, “Anyway, you can rest assured, Ms. Tiara, that no harm came to you or the others who were taken. I even made sure none of us fed on your emotions during our time here.”

“That’s…comforting, I guess,” Diamond said. “Still though, you really couldn’t tell she was the one you were looking for? I mean, from what I can tell, she didn’t even change her name!”

“Yes, it did occur to me to look up the name ‘Chrysalis’ before we started our search proper. From what I found, there are eight other people with that name in this county alone. Additionally, I thought that the possibility that any of them could be our Chrysalis was highly unlikely because….” Thorax couldn’t help but give a little laugh. “It’s funny with hindsight, but I was certain that Princess Sunset’s people wouldn’t be stupid enough not to give you a completely different name to go with your new identity here.”

Chrysalis returned his smile. “Well, I don’t think any of us expected anyone from the other world to come looking for a dead changeling queen.”

“Fair enough. Anyway, we weren’t making any progress towards finding you until we grabbed this one,” Thorax said, nodding in Diamond’s direction.

“Yes, we deduced early on that the handheld communication devices that everyone on this world seems to carry can be tracked by authorities, and I made it a point to dispose of them whenever we grabbed someone. However, I made a pretty interesting discovery when I looked at hers the night we grabbed her,” Pharynx said.

Diamond tilted her head. “My phone? What did…?” She then trailed off as it clicked.

She and Chrysalis exchanged a look, and both exclaimed simultaneously, “The video!”

“Yes, thanks to that video we knew exactly what Chrysalis’s current disguise looked like. It still took a couple of weeks to study your movements and find an opening where we could approach you. Unfortunately, we weren’t expecting you to…resist so strongly.” Thorax rubbed his jaw, and Chrysalis vaguely remembered elbowing someone in the face on the street outside of Apple Bloom’s place.

“To be fair, you guys weren’t exactly approaching me as allies,” Chrysalis said, but then she looked over at Pharynx, remembering who was in command at that point. “Of course, your way of doing things has never been gentle, has it?”

Pharynx only gave a terse, “Tch.”

“There’s one more thing that I don’t understand,” Diamond said. “You guys are all shapeshifters, right? Why didn’t you just, y’know…change into the girls you kidnapped and take their place? No one would even know they were gone then.”

At this, Pharynx leveled a glare at Thorax. “Yes, why didn’t we do this thing that all changelings are supposed to do, brother?”

With a sigh, Thorax said, “Although my brother clearly doesn’t agree with me on this, I insisted that if we were going through with this operation at all, we are not to do any long-lasting harm on the residents of this world. Not just to avoid the alicorn’s wrath, but that of the humans as well. Admittedly, it’s for that reason I made sure we didn’t feed on any of the girls we cocooned. The same would apply to feeding on the loved ones of the girls we would have replaced.”

Chrysalis understood what that meant immediately. “If you haven’t been feeding on any humans, then your reserves of changeling magic must be running very low. If you intended to assume the identity of the girls you abducted, you’d need to keep your disguises up all the time—something you couldn’t do without a source of love to feed on.” To say nothing of the months of research and observation that was usually required before a deep cover job like that could be carried out, Chrysalis thought.

“That’s right,” Pharynx said with a roll of his eyes. “Oh, brother mine. We made this mission so much more difficult than it needed to be, all because you’re scared of a few humans.”

“I simply haven’t forgotten the massacre in the caves at the hands of those SIRENs, and considering you went along with my plan, I’d say you haven’t forgotten it either, right brother mine?”

Pharynx said nothing in reply, save for his patented, “Tch.”

“Well, it sounds like you guys really went through a lot to find me,” Chrysalis said. “Which is why I’m truly sorry to tell you that you came all this way for nothing.”

At that, Thorax looked at her, his expression turning unreadable. “Right, you did seem confused when I said we believed you were a prisoner here. I take it, then, that you’re here because you want to be?”

Chrysalis could sense his disappointment as she nodded. “Sorry.”

“Well, this isn’t exactly how either of us expected this to go, but I suppose it can’t be helped,” Thorax said. “Can you at least think about it? We have a little bit more to do before we’re ready to leave, including freeing the other girls from their cocoons. We were planning on taking you back to the portal at the Algodones Dunes when we were done. You could still come with us, but it’s ultimately your choice. It’s not like it’s within our power to force you to retake your throne.”

Thinking about it, Mandible’s rise to power is my fault, Chrysalis mused. If I’d been a better queen, then maybe….

“I’ll consider it,” Chrysalis said, realizing all of a sudden that she really was considering it.

“That’s all I ask,” Thorax said, before leaving to attend to whatever he had left to take care of.

Chrysalis took a breath. When she went to bed with her friends in Apple Bloom’s room that night, she certainly hadn’t been expecting to be called back to the other world to be a queen once again. What was more, she didn’t expect that she’d really be considering it.

“And why shouldn’t you consider it?” Queen’s voice suddenly rose in her mind. “It is what you deserve, after all. Like it or not, you were born to be a ruler.”

Chrysalis didn’t have the energy to argue with her. If nothing else, she was happy that the abducted girls were all safe, or at least were soon to be. More than that, she was pleasantly surprised that—for a nice change of pace—the situation wouldn’t need to be resolved with bloodshed.

In the shadows of a tree just off the dark path of Owl Park, Sable Loam spied the front entrance to the old, decrepit house through the scope of his rifle. LTJG Sunny Side was with him, along with Embiggen and Moonblazer. All of them were kitted out in full SIREN tactical gear, complete with night camo, body armor, PDWs, and extra ammo in each of their pouches. They were ready for war.

Through his scope he spotted two tangos loading up the brown panel van sitting in the driveway with provisions, along with a third tango loafing around by the house’s main door. Taking another glance at the van that said S&S Pest Removal, Sable wondered whether it was full of helpless little girls about to be shipped overseas. He thought about Chrysalis being among them, and his finger moved towards the trigger of his rifle.

Forcing the angry wolf inside him at bay, Sable moved his finger off the trigger (the safety was still on anyway) and spoke into his radio headset, “This is SIREN Actual. Alpha on site at south entry point. Have eyes on three tangos. What’s the status of Bravo?”

Sable heard Troubleshoes’s voice respond, “This is SIREN Bravo 6. Bravo just arrived on site at north entry point. No tangos visible.

“Heh. Guess that means we get all the fun for ourselves,” Moonblazer whispered.

“River City, or did you forget?” admonished Sunny Side, using the brevity code for Reduced Communications, or in layman’s terms, “shut up.”

Sable ignored them and spoke into his headset, “Toss the golf ball and move in on my mark.”

The “golf balls” were actually ensorcelled gems, white in color that had dimples carved into them where the spells would start to suck in specific sounds within a 100-meter radius. It had been Aria that had noticed the gems’ similarity to the sports item and thus how they got their nickname. In fact, the Tactical Environmental Suppression Compensator Stones (as they were officially termed) pretty much blocked all but the loudest of sounds from escaping. That, combined with their magically-silenced weapons gave Sable hope that the neighbors wouldn’t be awoken by the sounds of gunfire at just past three in the morning and call the police.

Looking again at the tangos in front of the house, Sable quietened his mind and focused solely on the mission in front of him. The thought of Chrysalis in the hands of these scumbags filled him with such rage that he didn’t even notice that two of the tangos had the same face. Focusing his anger, Sable spoke into his radio headset once more.

“At this time, weapons free, weapons free. Give these pieces of shit no quarter.”

“Should we capture one just in case?” Sunny Side asked.

“If we get around to it,” Sable responded grimly, his tone indicating that he didn’t plan on it.

Author's Note:

Oops, did I say this chapter was the climax? To be fair it was going to be, but then the buildup ended up being longer than expected

Comments ( 16 )

Ffff... no, stop. Don't kill these lings.

“At this time, weapons free, weapons free. Give these pieces of shit no quarter.”

“Should we capture one just in case?” Sunny Side asked.

“If we get around to it,” Sable responded grimly, his tone indicating that he didn’t plan on it.

O boy.
Welp, THIS won't end well.
Flynt, just what the heck do you have in store for us next?!
My heart can't take much more of this!

Samuel you idiot i still got you to change the story, and all it took was me having to ask Rob Barba on twitter nicely. Tell him i said thanks for all the fun, andintroducing me to Jamiroquai.

Comment posted by Nakajima Akemi DDSV2 deleted Jul 25th, 2022
Comment posted by Nakajima Akemi DDSV2 deleted Jul 25th, 2022

The bit with Human-side Troubleshoes... Is that in reference to "The Fixer"? I need to know which side story I need to fast track reading.

And on that note, Operation FUBAR is about to begin. -_(\

11311758 Dude, YOU didn't do SH*T when it comes to this story, and especially DT's storyline.

And that INCLUDES asking Rob ANYTHING!

Those of us in the know know that the way that Flynt wrote it was ALWAYS the plan, so quit trying to take credit something that YOU had absolutely NOTHING TO DO WITH!

So go crawl back under your rock, simp.

Good grief, some people.......!!!

11311758
Also, you didn't ask nicely. You doxed me and other unrelated people, harassed innocents, and broke a number of statutes and laws.

I'm really looking forward to when my lawyer serves you with the papers. I wasn't joking on that and all you keep doing is leaving a paper trail to be found.

11312500
Yeah, human Troubleshoes makes his debut in the Fixer

11312952
Uh oh, sounds like I’ve missed of something :unsuresweetie:

11460488
Trust me, you didn't miss much.

Well this has been a very interesting read my only regret is that there's not more right now. Keep up the good work this has been an excellent experience even if I haven't read this series in order.

Just checking in.

So, is this story dead or...

11699206
Hopefully it is just a case of Writers Block spread across three people. That said, you are not the only one getting antsy over this.

11741138
Uhh i think its more than that

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