• Published 15th Jan 2024
  • 1,015 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?

  • ...
1
 40
 1,015

Chapter 6: Eavesdrop to Egress

Tap tap, tap, tap.

She couldn’t be lost. How many times had she studied the stolen maps of Canterlot Palace, burning the layout into her mind until she could see it with her eyes closed.

The unfamiliar hooves of Chrysalis’ current body tapped out a nervous staccato rhythm as she wandered the dark hallways, pausing every so often to glance around. Desperate to orient herself, she peered around another corner, only to be met with yet another long identical hallway. It stretched far off into the distance and presumably led nowhere, just like every other one before it.

None of this made sense! She should have been well out of the guest wing of the palace ages ago, but it was all just… windows and doors and endless stretches of these awful cold marble tiles.

Shivering slightly and biting her tongue to keep her teeth from chattering she strove onwards.

Tap, tap tap tap.

Chrysalis broke out into a gallop, abandoning the last vestige of stealth. At this point, after what felt like hours of wandering identical hallways, getting caught would practically be a relief. The thought that she was alone in this seemingly endless maze of marble, dust, and moonlight was too much. Where were the monsters? The manifestations of her guilt, or carefully targeted illusions preying on her weaknesses? Anything would be better than waiting in the silence, than being alone.

Was this some new level of self inflicted torture? In that last dream, she had given in to temptation momentarily, and sought comfort in the confusing facsimile of her sworn enemy, Princess Cadance. Perhaps whatever twisted part of her psyche that concocted these dreams had seen her enjoy those brief moments of warmth and comfort. Perhaps it was punishing her for it. Could it be deliberately depriving her of the only silver lining of these dreams? It would be an appropriate level of cunning for the mind of a changeling queen… It would be impressive, if only it wasn’t being used to self-flagellate.

Metaphysical paranoia aside… She still had no idea where she was, and every single dream she’d had in the last month had featured Cadance in some way or another. It felt so wrong for this to buck the trend despite so obviously being a continuation of her last dream, it just didn’t make sense.

Chrysalis began taking turns at random, running down whatever hallway she saw first and making turns on impulse. Logic clearly wasn’t getting her anywhere. Out of breath and panting hard she came to a halt suddenly at a junction between four different paths. She spun around, dizzily examining each option stretching off into the distance, until she realised she’d lost track of where she’d come from. Not that it seemed to matter much.

Chrysalis stood in the centre of the junction, straining to stay upright despite her aching muscles. This body was far from used to such strenuous exercise. Her hooves were shaking and she felt her flesh pleading with her to let it collapse onto the cool tiles and rest. Not yet, she thought. She forced herself to stand. There had to be more to this! Was there some trick that she wasn’t seeing?

No answer came, and soon despite her best efforts she lost the battle against her trembling, burning muscles and slumped bodily to the floor. Just a few minutes, she told herself begrudgingly, just enough time to catch her breath…

But as she lay there on the cool tiles, the heavy weight of exhaustion pressed her down and pulled her towards sleep. Her aching muscles begged her to give in, and as her breathing slowed her eyelids began to droop.

“Just… a few… minutes” she repeated in a whisper, as all the energy she’d spent caught up with her and the heavy hoof of sleep took her.

*****

A trickle of sound danced through her mind, with some familiar undertone that tugged at her memory. Chrysalis’ eyes shot open and she tried to leap to her hooves. Stumbling, muscles still recovering, she realised that she wasn’t where she had been when she had closed her eyes. The junction was gone, somehow she’d been deposited halfway down another random hallway.

Fear bit down hard, and gave her the strength to lurch sharply to her hooves. Frozen, unsure how to react and waiting for something to strike, she nearly jumped out of her skin as another bubbly, shrill sound filled the hallway.

Was that… laughter?

Chrysalis turned to and fro, trying desperately to tell what direction the sound had come from. It rang out again, and she turned towards it. That was a voice! Someone else was in here. Multiple creatures, if she was any judge.

She crept towards the noise as quickly as she dared, caught between desperation to escape her isolation and the threat of what might happen to her if she alerted whoever was talking. Eavesdropping was the safest option, she assured herself. Avoid drawing attention and gather information, then make a decision on what to do next. The last time she’d been in Canterlot, she’d underestimated the ponies, and paid dearly for her hubris. She would not let herself make the same mistake again.

After several minutes of carefully creeping down the hall towards the noise, Chrysalis finally pinned the source to a particular door up ahead on the left. A mote of light shone through a crack in the doorway, and as she got closer the tangled indistinct noise resolved into several voices. It sounded like quite a lot of ponies, chatting and laughing. After the deathly silence of the endless hallways, the sound was overwhelming, too sweet and potent. It flowed over her like a wave, pressing her into the wall.

Whoever was in there, maybe she could finally get some answers. Chrysalis inched forward until her snout was barely a hair’s breadth from the crack in the door, and she turned her ears intently toward the noise.

Definitely multiple ponies… maybe a dozen? Sounds of cutlery and glassware interspersed between the chatter and gossip, indicating… some sort of dinner or banquet. More confused than ever Chrysalis held her breath and kept listening.

The voices sounded high class, a mixture of genders, posh and well mannered, all adults… wait, no. One voice stood out. If you weren’t listening like you’d been starved of the sound of living creatures, it would have been easy to miss.

One voice was unlike the others. Young, rough around the edges. Where the other diners carried an easy confidence, this voice almost stuttered and worked hard to imitate its fellow diners. Traces of rural earth pony intonation clung to the edges of a clearly artificial royal canterlot accent. Concentrating hard Chrysalis felt as though she knew this voice, or… perhaps some distant evolution of it. Surely not… Could it be?

*****

Cadance stared down at the dozen or so forks laid out besides her plate, and felt her forced smile crack at the edges.

Around her the other diners were well underway, and the dining room was filled with the sound of cutlery working and all manner of upper class conversation.

Princess Cadance looked back to her plate, where the steamed remains of an unfamiliar creature stared up at her with dead black eyes. She tried not to feel guilty as she met its gaze.

Glancing around, her heart sank deeper as she saw that nopony else had been served the same dish as her. In fact it was hard to make out what the other diners were even eating, it all seemed random, every diner eating something vague and unique.

She wished her aunt was here… Celestia wouldn’t hesitate to discreetly help her out. And yet, at the same time some part of Cadance felt that this was her chance to prove she could stand up for herself. What was the point of all those lessons on etiquette and navigating the royal court if she still needed Celestia to save her? She couldn’t always rely on others. A flicker of shame caught alight in her chest at the thought.

The gleaming row of forks reflected warped fragments of Cadance back at her as she scrutinised them, hoping for a clue. This was some sort of crab, right? It looked like… she shuddered… It looked like a beetle. A huge, black and green beetle. The sort of thing you’d find living a private life under a rotting log deep in the forest, but big enough to keep as a pet.

She really, really didn’t want to eat it. This probably counted as seafood, right? But she wasn’t used to eating that yet either. Even besides the complexities of eating meat as a pony, there was no insulating layer of abstraction or processing between her and this… creature. She couldn’t distance herself from the death in front of her. The tastes of the nobility made her skin crawl.

Maybe she could just… pick at the greens around the plate, and if somepony took offence at her lack of manners she could pretend she was feeling ill.

Even if she found the right implement, what part of this were you supposed to eat anyway? It was all hard, glossy black carapace and nerve wracking edges. There were a number of very sharp looking spines in several places too, she could easily imagine pricking herself on the poor thing while trying to dismantle its defences to get at the… insides.

Her carefully constructed smile twitched and nearly collapsed as her imagination was flooded with a flickering series of round, wet, warm tubes that were never meant to see daylight. How anypony could try to eat something like this without retching was beyond her.

She selected what she knew was a salad fork, and raised it in the grasp of her magic, intending to try and save whatever face she could. The bed of leafy greens around the poor insect looked perfectly edible and very fresh. But before she could take a bite, raucous laughter broke across the table towards her.

She looked up and glanced around, but the bright lights of the chandeliers and candelabras spread out along the table disguised the source of the noise. In the glare she could barely make out her fellow diners. The lights seemed so much more intense than a moment ago…

As she squinted, searching the table for the source of the noise, a voice uncomfortably close to her ear cackled loudly.

“Princess! Don’t be so modest. Surely you haven’t forgotten how to eat a lovebug?”

Cadance craned her neck up, trying to make out the face of whoever was talking, catching a brief glimpse of a long sharp spiral horn sprouting from the forehead of a pale unicorn.

The stranger continued, “Oh we all know how cosmopolitan you are.” The speaker paused for a moment, giving ample space for the wave of snickers that swept across the table as if on cue.

As it faded, Cadance felt her blood run cold as she realised the other diners had stopped talking and were listening closely as the pale unicorn addressed her. Through the glare she could just see their silhouettes, leaning forward, poised as if waiting to pounce at her as soon as she spoke.

“Oh, I-” The teenage princess stammered. In her chest she felt a rising tension, as though she was underwater, holding her breath, and some instinct in her screamed that if she let go of that tension things would get much worse for her immediately.

Before she could even begin to think of a response the stranger cut across again. “Really Princess… If I didn’t know better, I’d think you didn’t want to eat this darling little creature. But then why seek her out? Don’t you want her? Can’t you see she needs your help?”

Cadance looked back down at the bug… and instead was met with the pleading eyes of a very young changeling, sitting on her plate of greens and trembling. Vertical slit pupils stared up at her out of pale green eyes, framed by long tangled deep sea green locks.

Cadance gasped and jumped back, almost falling out of her chair and very nearly losing her grip on the strange feeling in her chest as she did. Bright pink burned in her cheeks as the illusion on her plate faded, and the whole room burst out into an uproar, all laughing at her expense. They were mocking her! She was being set up, this wasn’t fair. The pink in her cheeks deepened as shame turned to indignation.

Cadance opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off again. The silhouette of the tall pale unicorn next to her seemed to loom over her as they needled, “Oh come now Princess, can’t you take a joke? Why don’t you go ahead, tuck into your lovely meal. You don’t want to hurt the Chef’s feelings, do you?”

The bright glaring lights turned towards her, and Cadance felt herself pinned down. Under the spotlights, she could see what seemed like a hundred dark, hungry shadows turned towards her, watching and waiting.

Frozen, her mouth just opened and closed like a fish on a hook. She didn’t, no she couldn’t eat this… creature. Not for all the social approval in the world, and definitely not for these hyenas!

The diner that had spoken loomed even larger, and Cadance felt the pressure of their gaze on her as they turned her around in their golden eyes like a butterfly on a pin. The tension in her chest ached and burned like a cramped muscle.

In mock surprise, the speaker gasped, and spoke so the whole audience could hear, “Could it be, you really don’t know how to eat this at all? But it’s so simple, any real princess would have no trouble. Are you sure you’re really one of us?”

The last word sawed at the taut tension inside her. She knew she couldn’t hold it much longer. She needed to get out of here, or everything she’d been struggling for would fall apart.

“When her majesty, Princess Celestia herself, plucked you out of the countryside we all had our doubts. Despite our concerns we trusted her when she assured us, insisted that you were no country bumpkin, but rather a diamond in the rough. Although, even a peasant would have something to say for themselves, surely? I’m starting to wonder if you’re even a pony.” The speaker followed up the thinly veiled accusation with laughter, presenting the cruel dagger held at Cadance’s throat as a joke, and the audience of ravenous shadows followed where she led them, howling and guffawing in response.

Her grip was slipping, and Cadance knew she should just laugh along and make some excuse to leave, but her face burned with a red hot pride that wouldn’t let her flee with her tail between her legs.

Drawing herself up to her full height, meagre as her stature was, Cadance cleared her throat and spoke in the best royal tone she could muster.

“N-now see here! I may not be of noble blood, b-but even still I am a Princess of Equestria, and you have no right to treat me this way!” She continued, standing as tall as she could on everything she’d worked hard to learn since she came here. “I may not know everything you know, I may still be learning, but you had to learn these things just the same as me. Don’t you dare treat me like I'm below you just because I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. If Celestia was here, you wouldn’t dare behave this way, like a pack of schoolyard bullies. I won’t make myself small or disappear just because you don’t approve. I’m here to stay and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

A hush fell on the diners, and Cadance hoped that meant they were stunned or shamed into silence by her words, but after a moment the room burst into yet more uproarious laughter. It could barely even be called laughter, it was more like the howling, hooting and gibbering of strange animals or monsters, the kind of sounds that came out of the deep forest late at night and turned her blood to ice when she was very young.

Cadance felt tears streaming down her face as her cheeks turned an even brighter shade of pink. An explosion of shame blossomed in her chest, and she sunk back into her seat, nearly collapsing at the weight of the humiliation she felt. In her turmoil, she felt her hold slip on the tension in her chest, and suddenly a strange sensation spread throughout her body.

Before she could react, a wave of green fire rampaged across her body. Pink fur dissolved into glossy black carapace, fangs burst out of her jaws, and in her now bright blue and compound eyes she could see the way every other creature in the room was reacting to her sudden metamorphosis. She realised she could taste their hatred, and it assailed her without warning, acrid and bitter. The stink of it was overwhelming.

Her heartbeat bucked and kicked in her throat. What was happening to her? How could she be a changeling? Before she could dwell on it, the deep, dark and ancient part of her brain shouted something guttural and caught her attention. They hated her when they thought she was a pony, what would they do if they thought she was a monster?


Cadance had just enough time to realise the danger she was in before a chilling scream shattered the stunned silence. From across the table someone called out “What is that awful thing!” and reacting as if on cue the diners fled. Moving like a herd, nearly every creature at the table was suddenly frantic, scrambling to get away from the object of their terror. Shadows bobbed and weaved in the glaring lights as they fled, and there was a chorus of yelps and bleats as they trampled each other in their haste.

As the flow of bodies cast shadows around the room, Cadance caught a glimpse of the pale unicorn seated beside her. The stranger was the only pony who had actually spoken to Cadance all night, and now she watched the other guests with a sharp, satisfied smirk.

As the frenzied flock tripped over themselves, the pale unicorn piped up and took charge. “Don’t let it get near you! This vile creature killed the princess and replaced her! Clearly it wants to work its way into the royal court and take control! Quick, Guards! Kill it, before she can replace one of us too!”

From the deep shadows at the far corner of the room was a great clattering of armour, and through the mess of panicking diners Cadance saw a hoard of glinting gold that bristled with silver spears rush forward to heed the call of the pale unicorn.

Cadance backed away from the table, hoping to dart around it and out the door, but her escape was blocked by the enormous stranger beside her. Up close, without anything to keep her tormentor obscured, Cadance felt her heart skip a beat. Like a punch to the stomach it forced all the air out of her lungs. Princess Amore loomed over her, all hard angles and sneering, sadistic smile.

“Just who do you think you are?” Amore hissed. “How could a foul, pitiable thing like you ever dare to try and imitate my greatness. I forged an empire out of ice and snow, what have you done? Tread water? Slaughter the elderly? Oh I forgot, most days you’re just dead weight, a damsel in distress that forces those around her to pick up her slack and put themselves on the line to save her worthless hide. The only useful thing you’ve ever done was breed, maybe dear little Flurry won’t sully my memory like her painted nag of a mother.”

Every word struck Cadance hard, it was all she could do to remain standing under the onslaught. Her mouth hung silently open, and she felt tears begin to trickle down her face. She wanted to refute what her predecessor was saying, to stand up for herself. But it was like she was flayed open. Amore was inside her chest, surgically targeting her deepest fears and severing her agency. Cadance opened and closed her mouth like a dead fish, all but paralysed.

Amore sneered and lit her horn, “At least I finally have the excuse I need to end this pathetic charade.” and started to charge a spell.

Cadance recognised the same simple beam spell she’d used to blast through the forest what seemed like a hundred years ago. Fear and panic pulsed through her body as she realised in a few moments Amore would strike her down. Fight or flight instincts roared throughout her body, and the golden light of the magic growing on Amore’s horn glinted off her carapace. She knew there’d be no time to react once the spell was completed. If she didn’t act now, before the princess was done, she’d die. But despite it all she couldn’t bring herself to move.

In the swirling, swollen maelstrom that was Cadance’s mind, one thought reigned over all else. Wasn’t Amore right? What had she ever done to deserve being a princess? Maybe she should just, roll over and-

The bubble of fear and self-loathing popped suddenly, as something or someone clattered loudly onto the table. Caught off guard, both princesses of the Crystal Empire turned, reacting to the sound, and in shock Amore let her spell launch prematurely. It scythed through the air, a beam of white hot golden light that went just barely wide and singed the ear of the stranger standing on the table, one hoof in the remains of a meal.

Cadance gasped in recognition. No, not a stranger at all!

*****

Chrysalis flinched as the beam of light nicked her ear, and wondered what in tartarus she was doing.

It had all happened so quickly, instinct taking over before her brain could catch up. The last thing she’d known she’d been hiding just out of sight around the door, piecing together whatever fragments of conversation she could, then Cadance’s voice had rung out clear as day, tempting her to peek through the crack in the door. Lo and behold, once her eyes adjusted to the glare she’d spotted the beloathed pony princess, different again, but still clearly Cadance.

She remembered the wave of relief, as the icepick of fear she’d been carrying within her melted away. That stupid pink fluffball was here after all, this dream was just like all the others. Immediately after relief, shame flooded her system, and the two competing feelings roiled inside her like a tornado. Before she could berate herself privately, the tone in the room dropped through the floor and froze stiff.

Up to that point Chrysalis had been struggling to actually make sense of the conversation, there was a lot of laughter, and some regal pony she didn’t recognise was speaking to Cadance. But then there’d been that flash of familiar green, and Cadance was gone. Except, she wasn’t. In her place sat a changeling… She was a different species, but Chrysalis could still recognise the familiar face of the beloathed pony princess without even trying. Cadance was a changeling! Before Chrysalis’ imagination could take that and gallop off into the sunset, a pony had screamed.

It was an often told cautionary tale, a bug hiding among ponies slips up and is caught red-hoofed. It hadn’t actually happened often, at least not in recent history. Chrysalis had worked hard just like her mother to make sure her changelings were safe and well trained to avoid this sort of thing. It used to be a more common issue, long long ago. It never ended well. Pitchforks, fire, screaming, that sort of thing. A chill ran down Chrysalis’ spine as the gravity of the situation hit her and thousands of years of survival instincts thundered awake inside her.

For a fraction of a second she held back and hesitated, then the next thing Chrysalis knew she had raced into the room and darted between the throng of ponies. Now here she stood on this table, one hoof in a bowl of soup, her ear stinging where a lance of magic had seared it, and dozens of hysterical ponies staring at her in disbelief. Chrysalis knew she only had a few seconds before the shock wore off and the guards reacted. She had to make them count.

Before she could reconsider and turn tail, she thrust a hoof towards the changeling, towards who she hoped was Cadance, or at least some version of her. “Hurry, take my hoof!” She yelped, voice cracking as her nerves got the better of her.

The changeling that was probably Cadance hesitated, jaw slack and eyes wide, clearly terrified, and Chrysalis had just enough time to wonder if this was all a mistake. Before she could withdraw her hoof and flee, the changeling leant forward and gripped her hoof tightly with their own.

The exiled queen turned counterfeit princess gripped the hard carapace of the hoof tight and heaved with everything she had. In response the changeling leapt up onto the table with her.

They both stood there, awkwardly exchanging a harrowed look for a moment, before Chrysalis said shakily “And now, time to run” and took off, dragging the changeling after her.

The ponies, guards, diners and Princess Amore all hung stunned and silent for several seconds. Then the princess roared like a predator deprived of it’s prize, and the angry mass of ponies all rushed the door, swarming through like locusts.

*****

“Who are you? Why are you helping me?” Cadance wheezed between deep desperate breaths as she fought to keep up with her saviour.

“Don’t talk, just keep up,” came the terse and frantic reply. The unicorn was still dragging her along with one hoof, and evidently struggling just as much as Cadance herself. They were both out of breath after galloping at a breakneck pace down a chaotic series of corridors. Surely they’d lost their pursuers by now, Cadance thought, and started to slow.

Right as she did, from somewhere behind a cruel, violent howl slashed through the air, scraping after them. It didn’t sound far off. Cadance’s muscles were burning, but a burst of adrenaline from the cold lash of fear pushed her forward.

“Wait, turn here!” the dark grey unicorn in the frilly, flouncy, ruffled pink dress skidded to a halt at a corner and dragged Cadance after her.

“There!” Cadance followed her saviour’s gaze and saw an open door up ahead, framed by silver moonlight. The dark grey unicorn let go of Cadance’s hoof and raced ahead the last few yards to the door, and took a moment to fiddle with the knob.

Losing steam, Cadance trailed behind the unicorn. Beyond the door the corridor was filled to the brim with deep shadows, but far off in the distance was a tiny pinprick of red, an isolated glow adrift far off in the gloom. Panting hard, Cadance trotted after her saviour, and squinted hard into the distant darkness while she waited.

Straining to see, Cadance realised the distant glow was coming from two tiny points of light, not just one. They were almost like… eyes? Surely not, she thought to herself. As she watched, the two specks of light went dark for a moment, then returned. Was something… out there?

Before Cadance could follow that thought she was interrupted by her fellow escapee wrenching open the door. Voice cracking, desperate and overwrought, the dark grey unicorn cried out with relief, “Finally!” and leapt inside, pulling Cadance bodily after her.

Once inside, the unicorn slammed the door shut, then ran towards the back of the room, nearly tripping on the train of her ball gown as it bounced along with her.

She turned to usher Cadance to follow, then dove into the walk-in wardrobe, calling out “Quick! In here!” as she did.

At this point it was too late to ask questions or hesitate. Running on fumes, Cadance did as she was told and half ran, half collapsed into the enormous stuffy closet. Dust immediately flooded her nose and throat and it was all she could do to not stumble into a coughing, spluttering heap.

She heard the door to the wardrobe shut behind her and the lock click tight, then she was pulled bodily to the back wall of the suffocating space. It was filled to the brim with ancient, forgotten clothing. Relics of countless guests and events spanning centuries of pony nobility living in Canterlot Palace. Who knew the last time somepony had been back here.

At the back of the closet, the unicorn lit her horn and pulled several huge fur coats down into a heap with her magic, clearly straining at the effort. As soon as she was done she scurried underneath, waving for Cadance to follow before disappearing into the makeshift burrow and leaving her in the darkness.

Somewhere behind her another howl left a gash in the night air, and Cadance leapt in after the unicorn.

No sooner than she was underneath the great nest of coats, did the strange dark pony drag her even deeper and hiss for her to be quiet, pulling her close and putting one fluffy basalt hoof tight over her mouth. Cadance briefly considered yelping some indignant reply at being handled in such a way, but instead simply lay still and did as she was told.

The two creatures lay there in the darkness together, listening to the noises of the roving band of what ought to be ponies as they hunted. The dark grey unicorn lit her horn again, and sweat beaded on her forehead as she began to cast an esoteric spell that Cadance couldn’t parse at all. Green flames licked at the air and dripped from her horn as she shut her eyes and muttered something silently to herself.

Through the gap between the coats and the floor the princess could just see the door, and watched as the crack around the edge of it filled in, cutting off the last of the natural light. A moment later the spell was done, and where the door had been there was simply sheer, smooth wall. After she’d finished, the strange unicorn slumped, eyelids fluttering as she gasped frantically.

Seconds later, Cadance nearly cried out in shock as she heard the entrance to the bedroom burst open. She froze, not even daring to breathe as the two of them lay there and listened to the hoofbeats of several ponies pacing around the room. There was a crash of furniture, then another, and Cadance felt another tear trickle down her face. Each noise made her jump, but she managed to strangle the startled sounds in her throat before they escaped and betrayed their hiding place.

Just when the lack of oxygen was starting to burn, the hooves of the pursuing ponies clattered off out of earshot. Forcing herself, she held her breath for a few more seconds just in case, then relented, sucking in as much as she dared, still uncertain how safe they really were.

Breathing quietly, Cadance turned to her saviour, who was staring back at her with pale green irises and tears streaming down into her grey fur. There was a profound moment of deja vu, then Cadance blinked as it all came rushing back. It was as if she’d pierced the veil. Some barrier over her mind split and ruptured, and she remembered everything. The forest, the ghost, the waterfall… Chrysalis. This had to be her, just like last time.

Her wrist! Cadance glanced down at her hoof, blinking in confusion at what she saw. One moment it was bare, the next the green resin bandage was back, covering a pair of neat holes in her… carapace. Her carapace. She was a changeling, somehow. It could only be part of the dream. So long as she didn’t wake up a shiny black bug in the real world, she could handle this.

Cadance turned back to her companion, opening her mouth to talk, but hesitated. The dark grey unicorn was shaking her head fervently, a look of wild eyed panic still clinging to her face, and Cadance held her tongue.

The minutes crept by. Every so often, frustrated shrieks and howls could be heard somewhere far off in the castle, but eventually everything seemed to go completely silent. Cadance watched her rescuer closely, the grey pony’s gaze flicked back and forth between the door and her fellow dreamer. After another long staring contest with the door, the grey unicorn let out a deep breath and let herself melt into the tiles.

Jumping at the chance now that she could finally talk without being shushed, Cadance said, “It’s you, isn’t it? You saved me again.” Cadance lit her horn and stared intently at her saviour, pouring over every detail.

The dark grey unicorn squirmed and looked away. Somehow deflating even more, under her breath she hissed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Unperturbed Cadance pushed forward. “It is you, Chrysalis, I know it is. This isn’t just some random dream, we’re here together again.”

The reluctant unicorn shrugged. “If you insist…”


“You saved me again!” Cadance continued, adamant awe in her voice.

Chrysalis recoiled as though she’d been accused. “Clearly you’re not going to let me deny it.” She snarled, lip curled in aggravation.

Cadance sat stunned for a moment, derailed by her saviour’s response. Fumbling, she asked, “You mean… you didn’t want to save me?”

The strange short unicorn who could only be Chrysalis went red in the face, and sputtered, “I- You- Of course I wouldn’t! Why would I ever want to help a pony,” she finished weakly, turning away to hide her face.

“Well then why go out of your way for me! Why save me? If you’re so sure this is meaningless why not just watch from the shadows as they tear me to pieces?” Cadance snapped in retort.

“Ha!” Chrysalis croaked sardonically. “Who’s to say I’m not about to turn into some horrible monster… For all you know I could be about to lunge forward and rip you to shreds.”

The dark grey unicorn turned back to glare at Cadance, and let that last sentence hang in the air icily before she went on. “What makes you so sure I’m on your side?”

A wretched look came over the changeling queen’s face, and she continued miserably. “How do you know this isn’t some sick fantasy I’m playing out? To toy with you, or to punish myself…”

Chrysalis looked away again, and curled in on herself. “If we truly are both here, if this is more than just a dream like you say and what we do matters, I should have left you to die. You’re a pony. Not just any pony, you’re part of that clique of revolting do-gooders who took everything from me. If this is real, I owe it to my ancestors, to every changeling I failed, maybe even to myself, to return a thousand times over every ounce of pain and shame I’ve endured because of you.”


In a tiny, lost voice Chrysalis trailed off “But instead, I saved you. Again...”

In the dim blue light of her horn, Cadance stared at her saviour and watched as a trickle of bright red blood trailed down from where her ear was cut by Amore’s blast. Her heart twisted and ached. How were you supposed to respond to something like that?

Swallowing the lump of fear in her throat, Cadance whispered, “Thank you, Chrysalis. Whatever happened between us in the past, and whatever made you leap in and help, I’m here right now because of you.”

As Cadance spoke, confidence trickled into her voice. Momentum carried her forward and she went on, “Look maybe when this is over, we could-”

Chrysalis snapped around and cut her off before she could finish. “Don’t! Don’t you dare. It’s cruel enough to thank me. Now you’d deign to pity me? I’d rather die. If I’m ever desperate enough to accept the help of a pony I can only hope I have the sense to end my own life before disgracing myself any further. You’re just my own guilt torturing me. It’s all a sick, cruel trick, to debase me and smother me in shame.”

Taken aback, Cadance sighed and rolled her eyes. “Oh I’m sorry your royal highness, I didn’t realise you were a drama queen too. You’re so convinced of your own superiority that you can’t see past your own overinflated pride! This isn’t a coincidence and I’m not a figment of your imagination! We’re lost, we’re hiding in the dark, we just escaped some twisted nightmare ponies who want to kill me, and we’re stuck in bodies that aren’t our own. Isn’t that a little too similar to last time?”

“And what about this?” Cadance shoved her wrist in Chrysalis’ face, clearly showing off the green lump of protective resin. “Do you still think this is all in your head?”

The sulking grey unicorn pulled back slightly and squinted at the resin sparkling in the blue light of Cadance’s horn. “That doesn’t prove anything.” She snarled, turning away. With her grey coat it was hard to tell, but Cadance caught a glimpse of what might have been a blush glowing on the changeling queen’s cheeks.

“Well what about your ear, you’re bleeding! Just like last time. What happened to all those cuts and scratches? Go ahead and lie to me, tell me they weren’t there when you woke up.” Cadance persevered, silently praying her gamble would prove correct.

Pulling away again, Chrysalis bared her teeth. It was true, she hadn’t noticed until after she’d gone back to make the bed, but here and there the sheets were dotted with thin streaks of blood, and when she’d shifted back to her natural form she’d found a number of tiny oozing cracks in her carapace that had been hidden by her transformation.

“You’re in my head! You know everything I know. It was pure coincidence, I just… scratched myself in my sleep!” Chrysalis spat back at the beloathed pony princess.

“Oh for goodness sake… You’re kidding me.” Cadance put a hoof to her forehead and scrunched up her eyes. “Alright, fine, if that’s how you want to play this. I can prove it to you, just hold still.” Frustrated and tired, she accidentally let a touch of malice slip into her voice.

Chrysalis backed away as fast as she could, but ran into the far wall of the wardrobe. “Stay away from me pony!” she hissed frantically.

Cadance ignored her and crawled forward. “Just trust me. Wouldn’t you rather know? If you’re so sure this is a dream, then when you wake up you’ll be vindicated and you can forget all about me. If I’m right and this works… then we both have bigger problems than accidentally showing vulnerability in front of each other.”

Backed into a corner and exhausted, Chrysalis felt her skin turn to ice as she realised she couldn’t stop the changeling that might be Cadance if she wanted. Dread pooled and weighed her down as she watched the creature opposite her approach, fangs bared.

“Please, this will only hurt for a moment.” Cadance’s voice rang clear, dripping equal parts frustration and sincerity to Chrysalis’ trained ear.

Before she could reply, Cadance blurred for a moment, and the next thing Chrysalis knew there was a sharp jolt of pain..

Feeling suddenly lightheaded, she stared in horror at Cadance, who had plunged her fangs into the soft flesh of Chrysalis’s wrist, and was staring back up at her.

The two… ponies? Changelings? Chrysalis felt lost. All she could do was keep staring into those huge bright blue eyes as they lay locked together.

The airy, hazy feeling intensified, and Chrysalis realised she was waking up. “Oh dear…” she whispered.

She tried to reach out with her other hoof, tried to say something else, but it was getting harder to think. All she knew was that she didn’t want to leave like this.

“Wait… No…” She mumbled. “Don’t make me go!”

Chrysalis pulled a final burst of strength from somewhere deep, and leant forward to embrace the changeling Cadance with everything she had left.

Then she blinked, and a beam of bright sunlight lay warm across her face and stung her eyes.

Chrysalis shifted in bed, shielded her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. The newly familiar knots in the wood above her head stared back.

She was back in her- no, not her’s. Back in the cottage in Ponyville.

Ah, she thought, then croaked weakly to herself. “Just a dream after all…”

Still reeling, she sighed deeply and tried not to let shame flood in and overwhelm her. Sitting up, Chrysalis reached for the blanket, then froze as she saw her hoof. It was grey, coated with a layer of fine fur that she recognised miserably.

There, right before her eyes, two thin trails of blood caught the sunlight and glinted back at her. Two neat holes in her wrist oozed, and suddenly it felt like every ounce of blood in her body had been drained out of that bite.

Cadance was right. Or at least, she might be, Chrysalis corrected herself. It was still technically possible that something mundane was going on, but at the same time… she could feel her denial wearing thin.

Exhaustion lay on Chrysalis like a heavy quilt, and she longed to stay where she was and melt back into sleep, but it would be stupid to ignore the twin twinges of pain in her hoof. Especially so if she got blood on the sheets again. If a stain was left behind it would certainly come back to bite her.

The much maligned and demeaned queen dragged herself out of the warm pony bed, and made her way to the bathroom to examine and clean the wounds accrued in the night. As much as she hated to give the beloathed pony princess any credit, it would certainly be difficult for one to self inflict these wounds. Something or someone else was to blame, magical or otherwise.

In the mirror above the bathroom sink Chrysalis could clearly see her own wounds reflected. The singed fur around the wound on her ear and the neat round semicircle cut out of the edge of her ear could only have come from a beam of magic. And while she certainly could have bitten her own hoof if she had truly wanted to, the pattern of the bite made it clear that it came from an angle that she couldn’t have replicated. Not to mention… even at a cursory glance the bite didn’t match her teeth. It was clearly from a much younger changeling.

So there was something going on, but what? Could she really be sharing her dreams with her sworn enemy?

A soft pink glow blossomed in Chrysalis’ cheeks as she retraced the events of her dream, growing brighter as she recalled some of the things she had done and said. She had thought everything she was doing was ephemeral and private, but the thought that the beloathed pony princess had been there with her… The pink in Chrysalis’ cheeks exploded into incandescence.

Just how much had Cadance been privy to?

Chrysalis stared at her reflection, resisting the impulse to return back to her undisguised form that was welling up inside her.

It really was her own face, except… it was as if she was being given a glimpse into another life she could have led. A million different contradictory emotions and reactions ran through her head. It was… disconcerting, but secretly thrilling. It was tempting, but also shameful. It was evocative, inviting, but then also… It made her skin crawl, it was a bizarre and new kind of vulnerability she’d never felt before. This form, she knew that any creature who’d seen her real face would recognise her immediately. It was practically begging to be recognised by her enemies, but at the same time it was a kind of message, pleading to those who understood it to see her in a different light, a peace offering. As though she was asking for a second chance, or apologising.

It was so… so deeply tempting…

Chrysalis shook her head, freeing herself from the last vestiges of sleep. The roiling swarm of contradictory emotions inside her fell silent, cowed by one clear thought that overruled everything else. She was a Changeling Queen. The idea that she might make amends, apologise? To the ponies? It was disgusting, pure drivel.

Yes, she thought, all these thoughts were just lingering pony propaganda.

A momentary flicker of green fire later and she was herself. Tall, imposing, perfect.

Much better, she thought, examining herself in the mirror again. Her lip curled and Chrysalis recoiled slightly as she saw the three oozing wounds still remained.

For all her royal assertions, she couldn’t deny the physical evidence carved into her body. Someone or something had hurt her. Doubt crept in and made a nest under the floorboards of her mind.

Assuming for a moment that these dreams were real or shared in some capacity, she thought, what would be the point? It certainly wasn’t the way ponies did things. Yes they were insidious, pushy, and always so desperate to convert you to their way of thinking, but they were almost never cruel. They were rarely even angry, let alone violent.

Who else would want to cause her harm? Chrysalis’ brow furrowed as she concentrated on massaging resin over the wound on her ear.

There were no other changeling queens in Equestria, no rivals left to attempt an assassination. She had made certain of that long ago. If this was some new upstart invader from another land, why target her and not Thorax?

Looking back at the events of the last two dreams, the only two where the beloathed pony princess had seemed aware that they were dreaming, Chrysalis hadn’t even really been the focus of events. Cadance was in the most danger. If anything, it almost seemed like they were being toyed with.

What kind of creature possessed both the power and the need to subject creatures to this kind of magic?

Queen Chrysalis shuddered. No, she thought, pushing her fears down and wrapping herself up in the forced certainty of denial again. It could only be a coincidence. What was a dream, in any case? Simply a random collection of odds and ends taken from the subconscious mind and strung together. Nothing conscious, nothing coherent or planned. Nothing real. Nothing, just meaningless chaos that she could safely dismiss.

Yes, she nodded sharply to her reflection. That made sense didn’t it? It was nothing to concern herself with.

With her doubts buried deep, Chrysalis set to work. She was long overdue to move on from this disguise, as comfortable as it was. The longer she lingered the greater the impact she would leave behind, and in turn, the greater the chance that she’d be discovered.

As soon as she was done erasing the traces of her presence from the cottage, she could free her captive and disappear. She’d move on to another town, somewhere far away like Las Pegasus. Coming to Ponyville had been a mistake. For all the spying she’d been able to do on her various enemies that lived here, it brought up too many bad memories. Better to go somewhere she had no connection to.

A fresh slate was just what she needed. Then these awful dreams would end and she could get back to… surviving by herself… in exile.

Whatever the case, it would be better than staying here, waiting to be caught, she concluded.

Mind made up, Chrysalis poured herself into her work. Whatever she felt, whatever her dreams did to her, whatever insipid ideas had wormed their way into her subconscious through overexposure to ponies, it would pass. She just needed to keep moving forward.

Author's Note:

Hiiiiiii again! ⭐:trollestia:

I wanted to call this chapter 'Back into the Closet' but that's a little too overt. This chapter was a pain in the behind to get done but that's nothing new. The dialogue gave me the most trouble and went through the most iterations. It helped that I knew what I wanted and was able to gradually build up to that with each edit pass.

Otherwise, I had a lot of fun with in your face metaphors and symbolism this chapter. I try hard to do that sort of thing all the time, both because it's fun, and because it's a good way to foreshadow and communicate indirectly with the reader. Metaphors and similes and so on are also good for tone setting! Though I feel some of my similes in this chapter were a little muddled and not as consistent in theme as I'd like, but it's 8k words and it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough that I feel confident putting it out into the world.

Also, I don't know if I've mentioned this anywhere else, but I made a commitment to myself that once I post something, I won't ever go back and edit it. I'm treating this the same way I'd want to treat publishing an actual book. I want what you find here to be the Final product. Any spelling errors, well, maybe I'll fix those because that's a little different. But even published books have those occasionally. Between my frequent rereading and my proofreader TemporalReverie, I feel pretty confident that very few errors will get in. I think I'll leave any that do get posted, if only for my own endearment towards imperfections.

In other unrelated news, I finally got my hooves on a copy of Lords of the Fallen (2023), and it took a lot of restraint to stick with my deadline and not waste too much time lost in that game. My other passion besides ponies is dark fantasy, but I hazard you can probably get some of that vibe from this story.

Did anyone pick up on the Berserk reference in Chapter 1? The absurdly big shield that dream Cadance had was a play on Guts' sword. In terms of other references, the white dragon's dialogue is full of references to one of my favourite classic fantasy/romance movies... Princess Bride! And the whole lost in the snow thing was a little inspired by the snowy areas of Elden Ring, which I was replaying last year while I was writing that chapter. The black spire is inspired by LOTR of course.

I stuck a number of references in that chapter specifically in the hopes that it would signpost my tastes and communicate some of the themes and inspirations I draw on in my writing. I'd really like to be upfront about what I'm doing so that I can let readers make an informed decision about whether this fic is for them. Broad appeal is not for me.

One thing I might redo is the blurb for this fic... I didn't really have a clear plan or idea of what I was supposed to put in there so I decided to just wing it, which I'm regretting. At some point I'll do some research into the proper way to write a blurb and rewrite it. But that can wait until I'm more used to keeping up this commitment and successfully finishing each chapter before the monthly deadline. Part of the point of this whole exercise is to prove to myself that I can complete something like this. This is not my first fic, but it will be the first fic I complete, and I will keep to the clear goals and scope that I chose at the start of this journey.

Anyway that's what's on my mind lately, I hope that whoever reads this, you're in good health and you have something to be excited about and look forward to, and I hope you'll keep walking alongside me as I follow this through to the end!

See you next time ponies :trollestia::heart: