• Published 15th Jan 2024
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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 5: Out of Dust and Darkness

This can’t be real, Cadance thought. Her heartbeat thudded in her chest and her mind raced alongside it as she strove to piece together a logical explanation for what she had been confronted by when she woke.

She was sitting up in the sunbed in her study where she’d slept, and the inside of her cheek stung where she’d just bitten it. The spark of pain hadn’t jolted her awake out of another dream like she’d hoped, and her bed, desk, and all the other various furnishings of her private study were exactly as she’d left them. Not least of all, her body was its usual shape again.

All the evidence told her that she was awake, and that everything was as it should be. That was, almost everything. One small detail, one tiny little thing, hung over her head and threatened to smash to bits her trust in the reality that her senses presented her.

It certainly didn’t feel like a dream. She felt heavy and weak, exhausted, like she’d barely slept. Though, she considered, that was likely because she had barely slept. Four hours disturbed by nightmares was not enough to run a kingdom on, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to crawl back into bed.

Cadance fought back the anxiety rising in her and took a deep breath. She turned her left wrist slowly in the sunlight that shone through her window, curtains hastily pulled open as soon as she’d awoken and found that lingering fragment of her nightmare.

The emerald green resin glittered in the clarifying light of the sun. It was partially transparent, and particles suspended throughout caught the sunlight as she turned her wrist to and fro. The odd, glimmering substance was surprisingly beautiful. Despite her panic, part of her couldn’t help but be fascinated. So strange that something like this could come from someone like that.

Cadance shook off the stray thought, then continued examining the organic bandage in the early morning light. It was pressed firmly against her skin, and the fibres of her coat were immutably caught in the flexible waxy substance. Somehow it didn’t tug at her fur at all when she moved and twisted her wrist, but it seemed like there was no way to remove it without pulling the fur away with it. It fitted snug against her skin, and moved with her body so perfectly she wondered if it had some subtle magical properties. She could easily see herself forgetting it was there. At least, if not for the fact that it shouldn’t exist in the first place.

In the bright morning light she could see through the translucent green resin. Beneath it lay the wound she had received in the dream, clear as crystal. But that made even less sense, how could a dream leave a wound? She prodded at it cautiously with her other hoof and winced as she was rewarded with a spark of pain, further confirming her fears.

It was just like she remembered, but she couldn’t make any sense of it. Everything told her it was real. Denial would mean denying her own senses, questioning her daily experience of reality. But there was nothing else in her life that gave her pause like this, no other reason not to trust what she saw and felt. What could she do? The only way to get more information was to show it to somepony else.

How could she ever explain what this was and where it had come from? Oh you know that evil insectoid matriarch that was deposed several months ago, Queen Chrysalis? Well she visited me in a dream and bit me, then she saved me from the zombie-ghost of this sorceress I killed when I was eight years old who was back for revenge. Then she spat this magical green goop on the bite wound she gave me and apologised. Cadance shuddered for a moment at the idea, the best case scenario was that anypony she told thought she was joking…

But if it was real, then that left her with an uncomfortable question. How much more of that dream had really happened? For that matter, was it even a dream? Cadance was certain that she’d slept, but how could you bring a wound back into the waking world from a dream? It didn’t make any sense.

As if to punctuate that last thought, a string of birdsong punctured the silence. Her head throbbed as a thorny headache grew behind her eyes.

The Princess of the Crystal Empire knew she ought to go back to sleep, to try and recover some semblance of function so that she wouldn’t be totally useless for the rest of the day. There was still time to steal a couple more hours before anypony wondered where she was, but how could she relax with this hanging over her head?

As the fresh, sparkling daylight bore down on her, Cadance leaned forward and hugged herself. She hung there, almost perfectly still, forcing herself to breathe slowly and deeply.

Her eyes shot open and she leapt to her hooves as a dark, paranoid possibility struck her. Standing on the bed, she hastily pushed the edge of the curtain aside to check the latch on the window. The heavy brass was where it should be, and the window was shut tight, seemingly undisturbed. Unsteadily, she climbed down off the bed and dashed around the room, checking the other windows, and finally the door. But nothing had been disturbed. The door was still locked, and unless Moonbreeze was secretly a changeling in disguise or somepony had somehow stolen her key, there was no way anyone could have snuck in and bitten Cadance in her sleep. At least, not without powerful magic…

Shaken, Cadance tried to dismiss the thought that her friend might have preyed upon her while she slept. All those old stories about bat-ponies drinking blood… anypony with any sense knew they were nonsense. Besides, Moonbreeze was her friend. If Cadance paused and thought rationally she knew there was no way Moonbreeze would hurt her. What would be the point?

Just in case, Cadance thought, maybe she should ask Twilight for a spell to set an alarm on her study while she slept. Something to wake her if anyone came into the room who shouldn’t be there. She couldn’t quite rule out that someone or something might be teleporting in, or otherwise entering magically, as much as it seemed like a stretch. After everything she’d been through it was hard to completely dismiss any possibility.

Otherwise, the obvious path forward was to seek out Princess Luna. The sleeping mind and the world of dreams were her domain, some extension of her connection to the moon. If she didn’t have an explanation for what happened, or some idea of how to find out, then likely nopony would.

But a deep and private part of Cadance bristled rebelliously at the idea of asking one of her aunts for help. Especially if it involved Chrysalis. Every time the changeling queen had been an issue Cadance had been forced to the sidelines to rely on somepony else to save her.

The princess of love often felt she was the odd one out among the princesses of Equestria. They all seemed so confident and capable when it came to their destinies, even Twilight. As the former foalsitter of the new Princess of Friendship, Cadance had been relieved to no longer be the youngest and least experienced alicorn. She’d even hoped to give some advice. But Twilight had excelled, regularly going above and beyond to save Equestria from all manner of threat, magical or otherwise. Cadance on the other hoof, mostly just struggled not to fall too far behind.

As the warm sunlight prickled on the back of her neck, dread pooled in Cadance’s throat. It had been hard enough growing up nearly blinded by the searing example set by Celestia. Then Luna had returned, and not long after that, the little purple filly Cadance used to help with her maths homework was racing ahead and leaving her in the dust. How could she ever hope to compete? The others were always so in control, especially Twilight. Cadance couldn’t even save herself most of the time, let alone the kingdom that depended on her. It was hard enough to just keep it functioning.

The swirling murky bubble of gloom and insecurity engulfing Cadance was popped by a light knock on the door. She jolted upright, mouth agape, and blinked in surprise at the source of the noise.

She sat there staring for several seconds, her weary mind trying to piece together who it could be, and just what she was supposed to do about it. But before she could finish, the lock clicked and the blue quartz door opened just a crack.

Cadance caught a glimpse of a puffy, powder blue mane like a raincloud, and a pastel purple snout at the gap in the door, which spoke before she could react.

The pony on the other side of the door hissed softly, “Cadance? I saw light under the door, what are you doing up this early? Don’t you have like, a hundred meetings today?”

As her brain caught up with her eyes, the shock that had struck the startled alicorn began to fade away. It was just Moonbreeze.

Trying to force herself to sound relaxed, Cadance called back, “I’m okay! I was just, uh… something woke me up, I was just deciding whether to go back to sleep or not.”

“Alright, I’m about to clock out, you need anything before I go?” As the bat-pony’s casual tone rang out, the door opened further and Cadance scrambled to hide the bright green seal under the blankets.

Ice ran down her spine as Cadance realised she’d been a moment too late, and Moonbreeze’s brow furrowed at her as she poked her head around the door.

“You sure you’re okay Cadance?” Moonbreeze said, and Cadance felt the concern in her friend’s bright pink eyes pin her down as the bat-pony peered at her across the room.

“I, uhh, well-” Cadance stammered and went silent for an uncomfortable moment as she tried to decide what to do.

The need to confide won out, and the pink pony princess tried again. “Well, to be honest, no, not really.”

As she said it, Cadance gingerly beckoned Moonbreeze into the room, and the bat-pony mare stepped forward, closing the door behind her.

“Promise me you won’t tell anypony else, and you won’t freak out?” Cadance implored her friend.

“Of course, what’s going on that’s got you so worked up?” replied Moonbreeze, the concern on her face fading, replaced by a curious look.

Cadance cautiously pulled her hoof out from under the covers, then turned to sit on the edge of the bed, holding it up so that the green resin was clearly visible.

Moonbreeze’s face clouded over, clearly puzzled, and she stepped close to examine the green blob and said, “Okay, cool… Help me out here, what am I looking at…?”

“This is going to sound crazy but if I’m going to tell you all this I really, really need you to believe me.” Cadance felt her voice crack as she spoke, gripping her composure so tight it creaked.

Moonbreeze nodded intently, and Cadance stumbled onwards, explaining everything she’d been through last night in as much detail as she could. The words gushed out of her. If she stopped she wasn’t sure she’d be able to work up the courage again to talk honestly, even to somepony she trusted.

Cadance eventually ran out of steam, and trailed off weakly with a final description of how she’d been fretting when Moonbreeze had found her. Finished, she watched her friend keenly, waiting for a reaction.

After a moment that seemed to stretch agonisingly for Cadance, Moonbreeze reached out a hoof and firmly prodded the green resin. Cadance flinched, pulling back her hoof at the pain.

“Ow! Hey, be gentle!” Cadance yelped.

“Sorry, just checking.” The bat-pony replied. “Well hey I mean, looks pretty real to me. Whatever happened you’re not losing your marbles,” Moonbreeze mused.

“Silver linings I guess…” Cadance rubbed at her hoof, giving Moonbreeze a mildly annoyed look.

“Thank you though, for listening.” Cadance said, brightening.

“Don’t mention it.” The bat pony mare smiled genially. “So when are you gonna talk to Luna?”

Cadance froze. Unsteady, she replied, “O-oh, well, you don’t really think that’s necessary do you? It was just a weird dream… nothing to worry the other princesses about. I’m sure this thing will drop off on its own in a week or two.”

Moonbreeze met the hunted look the alicorn princess gave her without hesitation, responding in an understanding, but firm tone. “Come on Cadance, I know how you feel about them, but this could be serious. You could be in danger. What if you have another dream like that one and no one’s there to help when some monster comes crawling out to get you?”

Cadance turned away. “Look, it was just one dream. It’s hardly a pattern. I’ll talk to Luna if it happens again. For all we know it was just… some freak magical occurrence. You hear about all sorts of things like that happening, like uhh…” Cadance trailed off, unable to think of any similar examples. “Anyway I’m sure she’s busy! I don’t want to drag her all the way out here from Canterlot over something small.”

“Fine, just promise me you will actually ask her for help if you have any more even slightly weird dreams. Just in case.”

Cadance felt the weight of her friend’s concern crushing her, and resisting the desire to hide behind some excuse and pretend to be fine, she relented.

“Alright… I promise.” She said, eyes shut tight, unable to directly bear the white hot, sincere concern of the mare sitting opposite her. “Any more weird dreams and I’ll reach out.”

Before she could open her eyes she felt herself caught in a tight hug. Her face was full of fluffy blue mane, and the bat-pony’s long dextrous wings wrapped around both of them.

“Thanks. Don’t know what I’d do if some creep took you out.” Moonbreeze croaked.

Then as abruptly as it had come, the hug was withdrawn. Moonbreeze coughed awkwardly and looked away when she saw the stunned look on Cadance’s face.

“Anyway. You should get some rest, and I’ve gotta get home.” Saying this, the bat-pony mare made to leave.

“Oh, right. Of course.” Cadance murmured. Then, the moment catching up with her, said more firmly, “Don’t be a stranger, okay?”

Already in the doorway, Moonbreeze gave the princess a wry grin, her fangs peeking out over her lips. “Okay.”

Then she was gone.

Cadance stared at the door, at the space where she’d just been. Mysterious as always, she thought. She never quite knew what to think of the mare.

Steaming on the large desk against the far wall sat a pot of tea in an ornate gilt teapot, with a matching teacup set beside it on a plate. Cadance could smell chamomile. She had been so wrapped up in hiding her hoof she hadn’t noticed Moonbreeze bring the tray in. She really was so thoughtful, Cadance thought to herself, as she stood and made her way over to her desk.

Cadance poured herself a cup, and sipped at it thoughtfully. Feeling the warmth of the tea fill her throat and spread through her body, she sighed and resigned herself to what she knew was the right decision. Speaking to Luna was the only rational next step. She’d known that since she first found the resin, she just hadn’t been willing to admit it to herself until now.

So be it, she thought. She’d worry about it tomorrow, right now she needed to prepare for her day, and that meant catching up on what sleep she could.

*****

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

As the distant sound prodded and tugged at her consciousness, Chrysalis squeezed her eyes shut and clung tight to the heavy haze of sleep.

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

Each tiny noise seemed to perforate her skull, leaving behind a tiny hook and dragging her ever closer to waking. As the warm, fuzzy fog of sleep started to drift away she clumsily sought for her blankets to pull them up over her head, hoping to insulate herself from the invasive noise of the waking world. But rather than the thick, hoofmade luxury of the bedding borrowed from an unwitting earth pony, Chrysalis’ hooves met a cool, solid surface. A tiny noise rang out as her hoof made contact.

Tap…

Chrysalis’ eyes shot open and she froze as her brain made the connection between the sound and the sensation. Her pilfered bed was gone, and she stood in a vaguely familiar hallway. One hoof hung in the air, having been denied its role in her rhythmic journey. Looking down, she saw and felt the huge, ice cold grey marble tiles beneath her hooves. Had she been sleepwalking? Surely not, she thought.

There was another series of small taps, disordered and chaotic this time, as Chrysalis whirled around and hastily took stock of her surroundings. Glancing behind her she saw that the uncomfortably familiar hallway extended off in both directions, though the darkness kept her from telling exactly how far away it ended. Along one wall ran a series of closed doors, too many to count. Opposite each door in the other wall was an arched window, breaking up the dark intermittently with light from the moon.

Chrysalis stepped forward, towards the nearest window. From above her the full moon beamed down on the landscape far, far below. From this olympian view she could clearly see the tiny town of Ponyville bathed in the moonlight. If she concentrated, she swore she could make out the cottage of the candy-loving dullard she was impersonating… a stolen oasis, containing the plush, comfortable bed ought to be asleep in.

Her hackles raised and Chrysalis felt her heartbeat quicken as the certainty of where she was sunk in. The place where everything started to go wrong. Where her first major failure started a downward spiral she hadn’t been able to correct, that had ended with her being exiled by the changelings she was hatched to lead, who she had no purpose without, who in her own twisted way she had devoted herself to.

Canterlot.

Panic gripped her deep in her chest and she fought to breathe, desperately gasping and trying to stop herself falling apart. Nearly tripping over herself as she did, she knelt down in the corner between the wall and one icy stone pillar. Resting her head against the marble pillar, chilled by the night, she went to hide her face in her hooves only to find they weren’t her hooves.

“NO!” Struck by a sudden burst of rage she shrieked, then bit her tongue and clutched the unfamiliar hooves to her face.

She was too exposed. In her mind she tensed, pushing hard where her magic should be, willing herself to change forms. But just like last time, nothing happened. The terror embedded itself deeper inside her.

Eyes darting back and forth, she galloped to the nearest door and checked the latch. It turned easily despite her unfamiliar hooves, and she slunk inside without hesitation. It was mercifully dark, and after a moment her eyes adjusted and Chrysalis made out the interior of a large, unoccupied guest bedroom. Everything was coated in a thick layer of dust, and white sheets hung over all the furniture. It was perfect, she thought, then turned and scrambled to lock the door behind her.

As soon as she felt that she was safe, behind a locked door hiding her in a forgotten corner of the pony world, all the manic energy borne of fear that had filled her fled. She slumped to the floor panting rapidly, letting her body sink. Laying on her side she forced herself to breathe deep and slow, filling her lungs and holding it for a second before exhaling. In response, she felt the sharp current of fear ebb out of her, leaving a cool, leaden feeling, mirroring the tiles beneath her.

Now that she was safe, she took a moment to examine her hooves, and the rest of what was ostensibly her body.

It was… not quite as bad as she’d feared. This wasn’t exactly the terrible, weak, tiny form she’d been trapped in so recently. Her mane, tail and fur were roughly the same, though her deep, dark, sea green locks weren’t so long and impractical now. She was noticeably larger too, but still much smaller than her natural form, and still, to her estimate, shorter than the average full grown pony.

The most drastic difference was that she was no longer a pegasus. Gone were her downy, immature, nearly useless wings, and from her forehead sprouted a stubby horn. Better, but far from ideal. As she lay in the dust she poked at the diminutive horn and wondered, what degree of magic was this ridiculous pony body even capable of?

Chrysalis eased herself up slowly. She’d burnt a lot of energy in a very short amount of time, between panicking and nearly catapulting herself into this room to hide. Thank the ancient queens that it had been unoccupied. She wasn’t sure what she’d have done if she’d stumbled into some pony noble or foreign dignitary. Though… it occurred to her that she ought to give herself more credit. In a pinch she could think on her hooves well enough to weasel her way out, or at least distract whoever was there long enough to flee.

With nervous dread and a barely suppressed ache of fervent hope, she concentrated on her horn, pushing hard to see what it could do. She was met with immediate disappointment, as the weak, stunted organ sputtered to life. Her heart sank. This was not like shapeshifting, where she could funnel her own magic through whatever horn the body she was mimicking had. She really was confined to the limits of this alien anatomy.

A green glow gently lit the room, and the intimately familiar colour gave her some small comfort as she recognised her own magic. It was still frail, so, so much more than it ought to be, but it responded to her easily and already felt like a natural extension of her will.

A small smile lit her face, but was doused a moment later as she extended her magic out towards a stray object on the bedside table and tried to lift it. A forgotten lipstick case floated jerkily towards her as she strained with the effort. This was just barely better than last time, but still dire, she thought.

As she caught the forgotten pony trinket in one hoof and let it drop out of her magic, Chrysalis saw a tiny flash of movement across the room from her. Instinctively she tensed, expecting an attack, ready to roll away or fire off whatever feeble blast of energy this horn could muster, but froze as her movements were reflected.

A moment later she hissed a particularly vile expletive under her breath and let herself slump again. A small sheepish blush came over her features as she crept towards the full length mirror set into the open door of the walk-in closet. It was mostly covered by another white sheet, but with some effort Chrysalis was able to tug the heavy dust-ridden sheet to the side. Using the corner of the sheet, she wiped as much dust off the mirror as she could manage, and relit her horn with the familiar pale green light.

It was several minutes before Chrysalis was able to pull herself away from the morbid vision of herself, or maybe… what she could have been in a very different life. She had known she was trapped in the body of a pony, that was obvious. But she hadn’t expected to see her own features… Younger, softer, lacking the signs of stress and covered in a thin layer of devastatingly soft fur. But undeniably her own face.

She sat, stroking the gentle fuzz on her cheeks and staring at herself in disbelief. A dangerous thought wormed its way to the front of her mind and hooked her attention. This form she was stuck in wasn’t all bad. It was warm and comfortable, like that last tempting vision of Cadance had been.

The hard angles of her carapace worked well when she was living as a powerful, imposing matriarch, and needed to rely on fear to control her changelings. But that was over, wasn’t it? She wasn’t a queen anymore. Just a stray changeling, lost among ponies.

A Stray… That had happened sometimes in her hive. Usually an infiltrator who got too comfortable with ponies, but it could happen to anybug. Something in them railed against the structure and rigidity of life in a changeling hive, and they left, typically vanishing overnight, sometimes with an accomplice. Every so often, maybe once or twice a year, she’d awoken and felt that little hole in the hivemind, almost the same as the space left when a changeling died. They cut ties, and chose the chance that they could live as a pony, over the certainty of life as a changeling.

For the first time Chrysalis felt she could understand why. It was a small, bitter and fragile glimpse, but it was there regardless. It shook her.

When she was very young… Chrysalis remembered her mother inviting a particular stray changeling to visit the hive. She’d been tall and elegant, with long limbs like a queen. In fact, she was almost as tall as Chrysalis’ mother, but the only other defining feature she could recall were the stranger’s deep golden eyes. The memories were heavy and blurry, but that was nothing new, everything from her infancy was scattered, often seeming to actively fight her efforts to recall.

Chrysalis had been… sick. Queen Chrysanthe, her mother, had brought that stray, an old friend, to try and heal her. At the time Chrysalis had been so exhausted and feverish that she had barely been able to comprehend the situation, and cared even less, but Chrysanthe had carefully explained to her poor little nymph that this stranger was here for her benefit.

Chiranterelle had been the stray’s name. Chrysalis hazily remembered huge amber eyes pouring over her, and being prodded and poked with magic that looked like stolen motes of afternoon sun. After examining her, the strange graceful changeling had gone away for several hours. When she came back… at that point Chrysalis’ memory failed her.

Of course, she knew now what had happened. As she’d grown older she’d developed suspicions, and there was the… incident, when she found out for sure what had been done to her by eavesdropping on the final argument between her mother and grandmother. The night she’d run away from the hive and hidden for days behind that waterfall…

Without the intervention of Chiranterelle, the wandering witch, Chrysalis would have fallen to a fate worse than death. Her mind had been fractured, smashed to bits as if by a blunt intrusion. At the time no-one had fully understood what had happened, but years later Chrysanthe had confronted her mother with suspicions.

Before Chrysalis had even hatched, her grandmother, Chatelicera, had forced a great burden into her barely formed mind. Never bold enough to be her own queen, the hag had served as underqueen to her own mother, eventually laying the egg from which Chrysanthe would hatch. Chatelicera had spent every moment of her miserable existence plotting and scheming in service to her great and terrible mother… a changeling known as the Witch Queen, renowned for her unparalleled cunning, knowledge, and immense power.

A shiver went down Chrysalis’ spine as she thought about her ancestors and her youth. She’d survived what her grandmother had done, and walked away with an unspeakable resource, not everyone had been so lucky. But it had been close, and she knew she owed her life to someone she felt she ought to abhor.

She’d only been able to confirm this after her mother had died, by reading her journals, but Chiranterelle had once been a queen. Her mother only wrote about it in vague terms, but something had happened in her hive, and only a few days after she’d ascended to the throne she fled. When she’d first read the entry alluding to the incident Chrysalis had been disgusted that a queen would abandon her duty, her birthright, like that. But now… Feeling guilty she wondered, was being a queen really worth much? A long lonely life of managing a hive, waging secret wars, and dreaming of living openly in the daylight like the ponies. If she had succeeded at Canterlot, they’d all have thanked her. Instead they threw her out, and here she was… playing pony in the dust.

Chrysalis hissed quietly to herself, and glared at her reflection. Even in this powerless form, she had all the cunning and knowledge of over a thousand years of ruling as a changeling queen. Thinking this, she reached into the depths of her mind for the pool of ancient knowledge that held the memories of her past reign… only to find they weren’t there.

Drat, she’d forgotten. This was a dream. For whatever reason, she was apparently cut off from that part of herself when she slept. She deflated a little and bit her lip anxiously. She wasn’t totally herself right now, just the last two and a half decades. Well, she’d leant on her old memories so many times, and she had plenty of her own cunning.

She thought carefully, asking herself what her true self would do. Even without her powers, she had resources available. As far as she could tell she was occupying a genuine pony body, and with a little work and careful examination of the odds and ends left forgotten in this room, surely she could turn that equinity to her advantage. She’d disguise herself manually, and move among the ponies so that she could explore this castle, and maybe she could find some meaning in these strange and uncomfortable dreams forced upon her lately. At the very least it would give her something to do. The thought of passing the time sitting alone in the dust and darkness and trying not to sneeze was too shameful.

If this dream was like the others, eventually it would go wrong no matter how well she hid. Last time she’d been able to find… help. Maybe there was another Cadance somewhere in the palace, maybe they could work together again to thwart whatever cruel threat was inching closer. Even if it all went horribly wrong, at least she could face it standing tall.

Jaw set in forced confidence, Chrysalis nodded to her reflection. Yes. She’d face her fears head on. Emboldened, she set about ransacking the room for anything she could use.

*****

Chrysalis stared intently, frowning as she examined her collected odds and ends.

The pickings had been slimmer than she had expected, but in the enormous walk-in wardrobe built into the suite she had found a number of forgotten items of pony clothing. They were all caked in dust and most too moth-eaten to be of any use, but one ageing pink silk ball gown had both fit her current body and survived the years of abandonment well enough to wear. At least, once she brushed most of the dust off.

With any scrutiny it would still probably seem to an observer as though she had been wading through forgotten closets, or even an abandoned tomb, with the dust that still lingered and the odd musty scent that clung to the dress. But that sort of unruly adventuring wasn’t too far out of the ordinary for an adolescent pony, or at least so she hoped.

The lipstick tube she recovered earlier had been a lucky find too. She’d found a makeup bag on the dressing table, but nearly everything inside had been too dried and desiccated to use. She was forced to make do with the almost empty tube of pink lipstick, and some cracked peach eyeshadow.

Digging through the closets and drawers to find these artefacts had been exhausting, but she pushed forward buoyed on brittle pride. After recovering from a fit of coughing and sneezing induced by the dust and cobwebs strewn into the air, Chrysalis brushed herself off, and set to work on her disguise. The ordeal she faced was still a trifle compared to herculean task of trying to untangle her mane without the aid of magic. Magic was magic, however weak, and her patience and hard work bore her fruit.

Alone in this forgotten guest’s bedroom, Chrysalis was free from the judgement of other creatures as she struggled. While she still felt an internal pinprick of shame, it was easier to ignore with no bug or pony watching her, and she was spared the bright, burning pink self hatred she had felt when rendered helpless in front of… that beloathed pony princess...

It was a little easier in the world of the unconscious mind too, to ignore her own self doubt. In particular, that part of her that incessantly pre-empted any potential criticism by suggesting all the worst possible ways her words or actions could be interpreted, or used against her. She wasn’t carrying around a thousand years of triumphs to compare herself to, just a vague notion of something out of reach. On some level she still felt a hazy, lingering obligation to live up to the legacy established in her past, but that felt more… passive, than the cruelty her waking mind inflicted on her. She was far from her usual self, and that felt… surprisingly nice. There was a sharp pang of guilt when she thought that, but she shrugged it off and kept to the task at hoof.

As her thoughts wandered to and fro, Chrysalis examined her reflection and led the lipstick tube inchworm-slow across her top lip using her meagre magical power. For now she might be trapped as a fragile pony adolescent, but she wasn’t helpless. With this little magic and the paltry collection of pony cosmetics she’d been able to scrounge, she’d be able to take control of the world around her. Not with grand, distant schemes like a Queen, but as a changeling. Even with everything taken from her, at her core she was a creature made to infiltrate pony society and bend it to her will.

Once she finished assembling her disguise, the deposed queen stepped back to scrutinise the fruits of her labour. The sickly pink pony accoutrements made her skin crawl, but she looked the part. It wouldn’t be hard to pass herself off as the daughter of some pony diplomat. This ruse didn’t have to work for long up close, just enough to let her slip past unnoticed. If accosted, she could fake some over the top tears and insist that she was lost and looking for her mother, improvising details as she went.

Easy… A grub could do this, she sneered. Then she huffed, and bundled up her trembling courage. Whatever happened, she wouldn’t hide like a coward, she’d take control of the situation like a real changeling.

As that last thought settled, she frowned and bit her lip nervously, remembering how she had spent the last few months barely surviving, hiding among ponies in unimportant rural towns. When she returned to the waking world, she’d have to do something about that. It was easy to be brave in a dream, where nothing could really hurt her.

Author's Note:

hiiiiiiii!!! we did it! here's chapter 5 :3

i was worried i wouldn't have it ready, i've been sick a lot this month, and i had to edit this a LOT. but here it is! done! and i feel pretty happy with it!

this is another case where i wanted to fit an entire idea/dream into one chapter, but it's going to need to be two. dont worry though! chapter six is well under way :3

i'll see you next month, thanks for reading <3

edit 11/02/23: lesson learned, accidentally posting a chapter early means when you post it again itll get backdated to when you first posted it. no big deal either way. the part of my brain that worries about numbers on the internet is trying to get me to 'optimise' all this, but that way lies madness. the numbers dont matter, the thing that matters is building something and leaving it to be seen. comments and feedback are very very welcome of course, talking to people about something you made is one of the most exciting things ever in my opinion.