• Published 15th Jan 2024
  • 1,016 Views, 40 Comments

Lovefools - magic-aggy

Princess Cadance and Queen Chrysalis find themselves trapped in a dangerous dream world, and must work together if they want to survive. As they travel through a shared nightmare, can they come to understand each other, or will this all end in tears?

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Chapter 2: Of Crystal Princesses

The latch clicked as Cadance carefully shut the door to the crystal palace kitchen behind her. She stared at the natural patterns in the opaque blue quartz of the door for a few moments, then sighed and turned, setting off through the hallways of the castle.

It was late, later than she’d prefer. Later even, than she had planned. She’d just finished an improvised meal out of whatever leftovers she could find in the castle pantry. It hadn’t been bad, in fact the ponies who worked in the castle kitchens took their work to heart and she enjoyed almost everything they made. But it had been cold, and lonely, and taking a break from her work to eat had not given her the sense of respite and relief she had been counting on.

Hooves clacking on the stone floors, she ambled slowly back towards her study, head hung low and mane tied back carelessly into a low effort ponytail. She felt herself dawdling, taking a longer route though the maze-like hallways of the palace than she needed to. She took pride in knowing the castle better than almost anycreature alive, just slightly shy of some of the senior staff at the castle. Although probably no one knew it as well as her predecessor, but… you could hardly call what happened to the previous rightful ruler of the Crystal Empire living. Cadance shuddered at the thought.

The princess of love paused at an intersection, standing in the centre of the T shaped junction between several hallways. Moonlight shone down on her though a magnificent stained glass window, subtly mottling her features with colours borrowed from an ancient depiction of her predecessor.

Princess Mi Amore Cadenza stared up at the hoofmade crystalline portrait of her ancestor. Although, truth be told, she had never been quite sure what the exact relation was. Sometime after Celestia had adopted her, she had stumbled on an old book that spoke of the lost pony kingdom of the Crystal Empire, which had a chapter devoted to the founder and ruler, Princess Amore.

Between the entire empire vanishing overnight, and the nation’s history of isolationist tendencies, little information about it had survived the thousand years the Crystal Empire was absent. But from what there was, Cadance knew that Amore was said to be an enormous pale unicorn, renowned for her compassion and grace.

The stained glass window depicted Amore smiling down lovingly, and the artist had carefully constructed the image so that if you stood in the precise centre of the junction, the princess’s eyes would appear to stare directly down into yours.

Cadance had spent much more time than she would ever admit standing alone late at night in this exact spot. When the moon was bright like tonight, the stained glass seemed… less static, more alive. As though some fragment of the real pony had been captured by the intricate labour that had gone into making this copy.

Staring intently into the portrait’s kind golden eyes, Cadance wilted slightly. She bit her lip nervously, feeling herself being crushed slowly under that gaze, almost like it was demanding something of her.

When the Crystal Empire had first been recovered, this had been a place of solitude and reassurance. She had seen Amore as an inspiration, someone she had a special connection with and who she could aspire to follow in the hoofprints of. But as she had become immersed in her role as ruler of the empire, the meaning she privately found in this transient sanctum had gradually soured.

Where once Amore had been a comforting, encouraging image, now Cadance couldn’t help but compare herself to the frozen image of the first Crystal Princess.

Cadance had, throughout her life, sought out every scrap of information she could about Amore. Doing so with a ravenous intensity that had at times become an obsession. She knew that she was connected to Amore, but no one could ever tell her exactly how. The closest she came to ever getting a clear answer was when she was seventeen, and had confronted her adoptive aunt about it directly.

Celestia had typically been cagey about Amore, refusing to give detail or elaborate, but insisting that Cadance was destined for great things, things no one else could do. But under the fury and angst of her teenage niece, she had relented, finally admitting that she didn’t actually know any more than Cadance did. What she had said was based on her own intuition about the facts, and wanting to encourage her beloved niece.

After the Crystal Empire had returned, Cadance had privately been brought back to her adolescent obsession with Amore. She began pouring through records relating to the founding of the kingdom, interviewing historians, and seeking out anyone who had any connection to the Princess for more information.

It had seemed promising at first, after all there were many crystal ponies who had known Amore personally, through working in the castle or advising her. But there were so many gaps in the memories of the crystal ponies. Even after the majority had been restored, much information about some glaringly specific topics had frustrated Cadance to no end.

No one could tell her exactly who Amore was, or where she came from. As far as Cadance could tell she had no family, no lovers, and no known descendants. Worse still, despite everypony being certain that she had founded the crystal empire and played a pivotal role in it’s construction, nopony could explain how, and any records of it seemed to have been lost, or maybe never written at all.

It was beyond baffling. Even records from outside the empire were vague about its origins. The most detail she could find, was an implication in some notes by Clover the Clever that the Crystal Empire had been extremely insular and had been deliberately hidden by Amore from the rest of the world at its conception.

This scrap of information was found in a journal with a second hoof reproduction of an account by Clover detailing the first contact (as far as anycreature could tell) between the Crystal Empire and Equestria.

After the three tribes had settled in Equestria, there had been a period of expansion and exploration. In the latter part of this era, the frozen north had become a subject of great interest to explorers and cartographers of the time. It was the least explored portion of the continent, and the most hostile to pony life, but eventually a small group had survived the trek all the way to the North pole and returned. They told a tall tale of an incredible city carved out of the ice, but lit by the sun and graced with green grass and warm climate.

Several more expeditions had been arranged, but only one successfully made it to this mysterious kingdom to the north. To the society of the time, this group was thought to have been lost, however they were instead being held in the Crystal Palace, by order of Princess Amore, and interviewed at length about the outside world.

Eventually the princess seemed satisfied, and used her magic to return the expedition to the border between the Arctic North and Equestria. They returned to Canterlot, bringing word that in a month's time, Princess Amore was coming to meet with the rulers of Equestria, to discuss the future of her nation and the relationship between it and Equestria.

Shortly thereafter, the two nations formally became allies, and the Crystal Empire opened its borders for the first time to outsiders. A joint effort began, a railway between the two nations to allow trade and travel, so that they might each benefit more from this new friendship.

But that was it. Every other word penned about Amore was detailed descriptions of her beauty and kindness, or an account of her attending some event. All leading up to her… well, death wasn’t the right word, but it was close.

She had disappeared one day, thought to have been killed by Sombra, who had immediately declared himself King of the Crystal Empire, enslaving the crystal ponies and using them as soldiers to wage war on Equestria. Luna and Celestia had defeated him, but as he was banished, he cursed the empire to disappear with him.

The rest, the more recent history, wasn’t worth dwelling on. At that point it stopped being history and became a recount of several borderline traumatic events in Cadance’s life, and she was already worn thin tonight.

Cadance sighed in exasperation, and finally broke away from this clandestine ritual of hers. Once again it had proved to be fruitless, and had not provided any of the sense of hope or catharsis that she needed so badly. Amore had no answers nor clues left to pass on, the distant Crystal Princess was an everlasting mystery, even to her only flesh and blood descendant.

The current Crystal Princess trotted slowly down the hall towards her study, doing her best to ignore the guilt she felt for taking the time to herself to think about Amore like this.

After a minute or two of walking, she reached the unassuming door to her personal study. It had until recently been a guest bedroom in the wing of the palace furthest from the daily hubbub of royal activity. This part of the castle was mostly storage and bedrooms, all rarely used like this one. But she had had it cleaned and renovated last year, finding that between her work, her husband, and her newborn baby, sometimes she needed somewhere to retreat to that was hers alone.

The only pony she allowed inside besides herself was one of the maids. At the insistence of the senior house maid, Cadance had chosen a mare she was familiar and generally comfortable with to be tasked with the duty of cleaning this room once a week. Though Cadance usually endeavoured to keep the room clean enough that there was not much for her to do.

In spite of the ‘once a week’ terms of the arrangement, Moonbreeze seemed to make a point of ‘forgetting’ that she had already done her duty, and came to check on Cadance late at night two or three times a week. Usually she came bearing tea, and the two would sit and chat for an hour or so before Cadance insisted on getting back to her work.

With the magic from her horn Cadance pulled a small silver key from a hiddenslot in her tiara. It was overly dramatic, she knew, and it wasn’t the only key. But having the small compartment added to the inside of her crown, and storing the key there somehow made the space feel more private, like it was a secret she was keeping from the world.

She unlocked the door and wearily strode in. On her desk was a silver tray, bearing a carved crystal teacup and matching teapot. Cadance peered through the darkness of the large room, half expecting to find Moonbreeze reading something, lounging on the formerly grand sunbed against the far window, or sitting in one of the moth-eaten armchairs that Cadance had dragged in here herself from other half abandoned parts of the castle. But to her disappointment the pale blue bat-pony was nowhere to be found.

The worn and weary princess slumped into her desk chair. Underneath and around the tea tray was a disorganised swathe of paperwork. Some of it Cadance was deliberately avoiding, but mostly she was just inundated.

She reached for the teapot and poured some of the contents into the cup. The familiar smell hit her immediately. Camomile. It was cold, not quite ice cold, but the herbal tea had been left to steep far too long and tasted strange and bitter. Despite the taste the lukewarm concoction was still a refreshing relief to the exhausted princess.

It helped that it had been delivered by a friend. Moonbreeze was of the few ponies that seemed to be able to pierce Cadance’s carefully managed facade and see that she wasn’t the image of grace and confidence she strove to project. Nopony said anything directly, but privately she treasured this short list of ponies. She found that the small, silent gestures of sympathy and support were what motivated her most to toil away at all the demands placed on her to keep the kingdom running.

She sighed again deeply, and sank lower into the heavy wooden chair. Her back ached… Sipping her tea, she tried to convince herself to sit up straight and get to work. After several minutes she gulped the last of her tea, sat up, and pulled the most urgent paperwork towards her.

After staring at it and rereading the first paragraph for the umpteenth time without retaining any of the information, she slumped again, snout pressed against her desk.

She relented, admitting defeat, and tried again to smother the pang of guilt she felt as a part of her sang out in joy at the reprieve. Far too tired to work and happy for it, she stood up and tottered over to the great big sunbed she kept in this room.

It was, like everything in this room, antique. Old and uncared for furniture that Cadance had claimed as her own. This particular example was completely covered in all manner of blankets, quilts, pillows, and stuffed animals, in varying conditions but none of them new, and all of them loved.

Shoving a rotund plush narwhal aside, the weary pink pony crawled into the bed, nestling under the mess of familiar and comfortable fabric. It was heaven… her own private cloud.

Compressed under the weight of all the assorted cloth and sundry, Cadance smiled to herself softly. Curled up on her side and hugging tight a voluptuously stuffed satin pillow, she sleepily examined the moonlight shining into the room through the slits between the curtains.

The tiny fragments of bright blue tinted light fell across her bed and onto the armchair opposite. Cadance let her mind wander, skipping through the events of the day. She grimaced slightly as she recalled how she had dwelled on Amore, and the path that had led her here.

Was this really where she was meant to be? Who she was meant to be? She was doing her best but it never quite seemed to be enough. At some point it had made sense, she’d felt driven, had known where she was going. But somehow that had been lost. In this moment she found herself sure of very little besides the material facts of her life.

Her thoughts turned to her husband… Shining Armor. That was another part of her life that had made perfect sense at one point, but now, well. She could never see herself moving away from her devoted husband. She didn’t resent him, or find him particularly lacking. He was kind and patient and always lent an ear to her troubles. He was a fantastic father too, taking up the slack of caring for their daughter Flurry Heart when Cadance was swamped by her duty.

He even somehow found time to do his job, and seemed to be thriving in it, despite the additional burden of fatherhood.

All that was… good, but why did it feel like something was missing? He was always eager to support her, wasn’t that good? She couldn’t understand why she felt as though something was missing from that part of her life.

Cadance rolled over onto her back and stretched all four of her legs out across the bed, enjoying the coolness of the blankets as she splayed out her body.

Somewhere in all this, something was wrong, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint what.

She went further back, to her wedding. The princess of love and the captain of the royal guard, swept up in a passionate revival of their highschool romance. The papers had described it as a whirlwind romance… that was a strange, prepackaged term. The type of thing used too much, to the point where it lost most of the meaning unless you stopped to deliberately stare at it.

Whirlwind romance… It had been oddly fast. At the time it had all made so much sense, she could still viscerally recall the feeling of certainty. Hard and gleaming like marble under her hooves. It had felt like destiny.

But then so too had becoming the ruler of the Crystal Empire… and yet now she felt assuredly in her heart that something was wrong. She wasn’t thriving like her partner, she was fighting to tread water and stay afloat. Every day she let something slip through the cracks, she knew it. There were so, so many problems, and it was so hard to answer every single one. Many of them she just, guiltily ignored, or did her best to delegate.

Cadance scrunched up her eyes and snout and huffed. She laid out the pieces of this puzzle in front of her in her mind’s eye.

Everything in her life was built on the core assumption that she was following a path laid out for her, pursuing her destiny. But what if along the way, she had stepped off the path, and incorporated something into her life that wasn’t meant to be there?

If there was such a thing as destiny, and cutie marks were in fact clues towards that destiny, hers clearly pointed towards involvement in the Crystal Empire. Despite not actually being a crystal pony herself, she bore the Crystal Heart on her flank, the point which the entire empire pivoted around. But now that point seemed to be more connected to her daughter than to her.

Had her destiny been to restore the empire but not to rule it? Or, had the misstep been not following Amore’s example more strictly. One of the few facts about the formerly lost princess of the crystal ponies was that she had no publicly known family or loved ones.

As these thoughts unfurled in her head, Cadance felt her heartbeat start to pick up pace.

Was she being subtly punished? Was she meant to just be a karmic replacement for Amore, a perfect emulation? And now that she had strayed, started a family and split her life into two different devotions, she’d failed her destiny and missed her chance. Come to think of it, Flurry looked even more like Amore than she did… Could destiny work like that? If she had failed, would her destiny pass onto her daughter? And… if it did, where did that leave her?

She scrunched her eyes tighter and patterns began to swirl across her vision. After a few moments she patiently let out the deep breath she’d been holding and made herself allow her face to relax.

No. That was paranoia. She was tired and stressed and her mind was taking her to unhelpful places.

If she wasn’t meant to be with Shining Armor, it wouldn’t have happened. If destiny existed in the way so many ponies thought it did, if it was as inflexible as all that, she never would have found Shining Armor. Something would have intervened.

A manic tension struck her and her eyes shot open.

Green fire raged across the landscape of her mind, ravaging her carefully constructed composure and setting her blood alight as panic took hold.

The invasion of Canterlot, the attack on her wedding, surely it couldn’t have been…

She kicked off the blankets abruptly, fighting through the dense constraining layers in her panic stricken flight. Pulling herself to the edge of her bed, she swung her hind legs down and sat up as quickly as she could.

Hyperventilating, she held one hoof to her chest, feeling her heart beating like hundreds of fleeing hooves.

It had been over a year since she last had this sort of reaction to remembering her wedding, what should have been one of the best days of her life.

She forced herself to slow her breathing down, and closed her eyes again. In her mind’s eye she summoned a familiar visage that she leant on in moments like this. It was a place from her childhood, a small waterfall deep in the forest near her hometown.

Before the passing of her parents, before she had moved to Canterlot, this had been her private sanctuary.

Behind the waterfall was a small cave. Miraculously sheltered from the rushing water, it was full of a bed of lush moss across the floor and up the walls. It was relatively shallow for a cave, only about two yards at the deepest point, and through the thin descending stream of the waterfall the sun shone, bathing the space in gentle light.

When she was troubled, or overwhelmed, or had been caught up in some fight with her parents or another foal, this was where she ran. It had been nearly two decades since she’d last visited the real place that her memory was rooted in.

As she focused on the sanctuary she felt the panic and fear fade from her body, tension ebbing out of her like bitter tea poured down the drain.

She was safe. Whatever Queen Chrysalis had or hadn’t been, she was long gone. Powerless without her hive to support her. She and all the other monumental threats to peace had been solved, and any future problems could be faced with confidence. She had the support of three other alicorn princesses, the elements of harmony, the entire might of the Crystal Empire and Equestria, and there were countless ponies out there doing their best to protect and care for the world every single day.

Even the changelings were now friends, a new tiny kingdom far to the south. Much like the crystal ponies built a relationship with Equestria after who knows how long of isolation and secrecy, the new leader of the changelings, King Thorax, was leading the changeling hive of the Badlands into a new era of friendship.

Part of her was still acclimatising to the changelings being friends and not foes, but they really did have a lot in common with her crystal ponies. Maybe she should make a more pronounced effort to build relations with the reformed changelings, be proactive and direct rather than just relying on Equestria to support the fledgling nation.

They could be powerful allies, and maybe it would help her finally fully shed her fears about their previous ruler.

Cadance took several deep breaths, centering herself fully and making sure all the last little bits of tension left her body. Then she turned and lay back down. With her magic she untangled the heavy knot of bedding she had made in her panic to escape, and pulled the covers back over herself as she settled down to sleep.

Chrysalis… it was a point of some lingering anxiety to Cadance that the former Queen was still at large, but aside from occasional reports of somepony being found asleep in bed after acting strange for a few days, no one had heard hide nor hair of the changeling. Or should that be carapace nor… Cadance wondered whether the limp blue strands that hung from Chrysalis’ head were actually hair, or some part of changeling anatomy she was unfamiliar with. She made a mental note to ask Thorax next time she saw him.

Really it was almost sad what Chrysalis had been reduced to. A scavenger, a stray. No allies or friends, no one to trust, no one to rely on.

Cadance couldn’t quite sincerely find it in her heart to feel pity for the changeling who had replaced her and tried to steal her life and fiance, but objectively she could see the tragedy of the Queen’s situation.

If Chrysalis came to light and sought forgiveness, Twilight and Celestia would probably jump at the opportunity. Oh they’d be stern at first, Cadance knew that both her Aunt and her close friend had been plotting regularly, both trying to find a solution to what they saw as the problem that was Chrysalis.

Maybe their way of seeing things was right. Whatever happened, even if Chrysalis did somehow hurt her again, it wouldn’t last long. She couldn’t really do anything. Not alone, not with the threat of four princesses, the elements of harmony, and three nations all aware of her tricks and waiting to catch her.

She was just a loose thread now, a lost lamb strayed from the fold of friendship. Whatever she did, there were only two outcomes, Cadance surmised.

Either she’s found, or she isn’t.

If she’s found, whether by giving herself up or not, she’ll be rehabilitated somehow. That was the modus operandi with threats to the harmony of Equestria and her allies these days.

If she isn’t found, then what can she do? Spend the rest of her life hiding? Never speak sincerely with another living creature? Die truly alone? But no, surely eventually she would realise her predicament. No creature could be that stubborn.

So then that meant, in a matter of years, maybe even months, she would probably have to see Chrysalis again. Once she went through whatever rehabilitation process Twilight and Celestia concocted.

Cadance found that idea difficult to accept. She was all for friendship and reconciliation, but there was a part of her that revolted at this specific instance.

Though, wouldn’t it be nice if she could let go of this fear, and replace it with a new friend? Let things go, move on from the past that occasionally haunted her, and focus on the present and the future.

That was something to hope for, she thought hazily. Sleep was beginning to curl around her, sweetly slowing her thoughts and turning her train of thought to molasses.

Cadance let out a wistful sigh. Whatever the future lay, she just had to keep trying. There was nothing that love and… friendship couldn’t fix…

Cadance yawned heavily, almost totally claimed by sleep.

As she fell into a much earned slumber, the face of the Changeling Queen came into her mind’s eye, and a final conscious thought with it.

Maybe… they could even be friends…

Author's Note:

Hi again! If you haven't figured it out already, I'm drawing on some secondary canon sources here. Cadance doesn't really have much in the way of a canon origin or backstory, just fragments in a little girl's chapter book of all things. Dubiously canon, but an interesting seed to start with and build on. For this fic I've taken the mlpfim comics and that particular chapter book (Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell) as canon, with some minor tweaks to make it all work, and with a lot of additional things built off those stories. I get a lot out of exploring the mlpfim stories outside of the show and thinking about how they all fit together, and it's a big point of inspiration for my writing.

On that note, another big point of inspiration for this fic was that Cadance just, really doesn't get to do much besides helping others and being the one who needs saving. She never really gets to do anything just for herself, and doesn't really have any episodes that give her proper agency. She just doesn't get to be her own character very much, she's always in service to someone else, and she ends up feeling a bit flat as a result. Which is a shame! In planning this fic I spent a lot of time thinking about how she and Chrysalis can work as foils, as well as what they each want, and what fears or anxieties or issues they carry with them, and I've grown to really love Cadance through that process, and love Chrysalis even more than I already did.

The show makes a wonderful habit of introducing characters who are foils of other characters, usually evil, and often giving them a redemption arc. Trixie, Sunset Shimmer, Lightning Dust, etc. Cadance and Chrysalis feel like they're under-explored or under-appreciated in that regard, at least, from what I've seen. I never liked the way S9 ended, but I do love taking canon as fact and working around it. I'm excited to show you what I came up with!

Thanks for reading this far! I hope to see you next chapter :3