• Published 15th Jan 2024
  • 1,004 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
 1,004

Chapter 7: Maidens at the Crossroads

Sparkling sunlight surged through the open bathroom window and glinted off glossy white tiles and bright silver taps. The Princess of the Crystal Empire swept into the room, hacking and spluttering. Eyes streaming, she thrust open the blinds.

The ensuite bathroom was attached to the bedroom Cadance shared with her husband. While he lay dozing sweetly, she began furiously brushing her teeth in the bathroom mirror. In the light of the early morning she could see every exhausted detail of her own face, and as she brushed she frowned at the dark bags under her eyes. The last two nights of sleep had been unusually draining, and she felt muddled and sluggish. It felt almost as though she hadn’t slept at all.

Cadance leant forward suddenly and spat into the sink. Finally, she sighed in relief. The taste of blood was gone.

She’d been thrust awake by the feeling that she was choking on a thick, warm fluid that filled her mouth and throat. But even more distressing was the unmistakable taste of bitter iron that flooded her senses.

Racing over to the bathroom mirror coughing and spluttering, she had seen nothing except her own saliva. If it hadn’t been for the overwhelming taste she could have dismissed it as just a lingering nightmare, or something catching in her throat while she slept. But the sensations were impossible to dismiss.

Even if her other senses told her there was nothing there, even if she could find no trace… Cadance shuddered as she thought of last night. Somehow it had happened. The changeling queen’s ichor had been in her mouth, or at least a mouth she had possessed very recently.

She caught her breath finally, able to calm down now that the excruciating sensation was gone. Even with that small silver lining, the small feeling of vindication that came with this subjective proof, the feeling of another creature’s vital fluids inside her mouth was too much to bear.

Cadance rinsed her mouth one more time just to be sure, then slumped slightly. Leaning forward so that her face was near the running tap, she splashed some of the cold water over her closed eyes and snout. The coolness of the water dripped down her face, and washed away some of her tension with it. She still ached like she’d been pulling a cart all night, or maybe been run over by one, but at least she felt better than when she’d first woken.

Water still clinging to her fur and dripping from her snout, she fumbled blindly until she found a towel. Wiping her face dry with the soft fluffy fibres helped a little too, as did the warmth of the sun on her coat. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she felt a spark of confidence growing in her nonetheless. Things would work out, they always did.

As she pulled the towel back from her face she turned to look in the mirror again, and fell backwards in shock, landing heavily against the bathroom door, rattling it.

Her heart raced, all the fear that had just ebbed out of her came back tenfold.

In the mirror… Had that really been her reflection?

Icy blue compound eyes had stared back at her, framed by a glossy black carapace. Two white, sharp fangs had jutted from a mouth that was wide in fear and surprise. The image stood, clear and unshakeable in her mind.

“You okay in there babe?” Shining Armor’s voice, blurred and half asleep, called out from the bedroom.

“Fine!” Cadance called back hurriedly. “I’m fine, I just… slipped on the bath mat!”

It sounded like an obvious lie to her ears, she knew she’d replied too quickly. Still on the floor where she’d fallen, her breath caught in her throat as she waited for a reply, or worse, the sound of Shining climbing out of bed to check that she was okay. But after half a minute all she was met with was gentle snoring.

Her heart beating loud in her throat and her hooves trembling, Cadance carefully got back to her hooves and peeked up over the lip of the sink at her reflection in the mirror.

An abundance of pink was all she saw. Cloying, saccharine pink. Familiar pink fur, pink and purple mane, messy from sleep, and wide eyes with pink irises.

She stared unblinking at her reflection, daring it to change. But nothing happened, and eventually she slumped back down to the floor, eyes dry and stinging.

Maybe it was finally time to contact her Aunt Luna, she thought. Tonight even, she could send an urgent letter. This was all getting a little too… unreal for her to deal with on her own. As much as she was loath to admit it, she needed help, and who else could she ask but Luna?

At least she probably wouldn’t have to tell anyone else. Who could keep a secret better than the Princess of the Moon, guardian of the dreams of Equestria?

Cadance sighed heavily and pulled herself upright again. It was going to be another long day…

*****

Under the thick duvet of a particular cottage in Ponyville, the shape of a chubby little mare thrashed.

Spitting ancient, vulgar curses, Queen Chrysalis tossed and turned like an eel caught in a net. She just couldn’t get comfortable. No matter how many times she rearranged the sheets, refluffed the pillow, rolled over into another position, nothing worked. Her skin felt hot and prickly and there was a dull ache in her head wherever it lay against the pillow.

What in the world was wrong with her all of a sudden, she wondered. She was habitually a light sleeper, ever since she’d struck out on her own. But normally a great big soft pony bed, especially this most recent one, had her out like a grub in minutes. This was her last night in this rotten town, and she’d rather die by torture than admit it, but this was far and beyond the most comfortable place she’d ever slept.

Chrysalis shuddered. She’d had more than enough occasions in her life to experience the lowest and most woefully, thinly stretched definitions of a place to sleep.

Sighing, she stopped wriggling and lay flat on her back, staring up at the dimly visible ceiling. It was just nerves, surely. This place, not just the bed but this whole life she was borrowing, was comfortable. It was easy. There was so little to worry about when it came to basic survival. For all the things she despised about the pony way, even the most meaningless townspony lived in comfort and safety, and never had to worry where their next meal was coming from.

Chrysalis herself hadn’t even had that security when she was a Queen! Every day she worried if her infiltrators would be able to bring back enough love energy to sustain the hive. Somehow they always managed to scrape by, but it was lean. The ponies had no idea how easy their lives were…

She was just on edge because she was about to give up that security, even though she knew she had to. This was her last night in Ponyville. Already she was sure the neighbours of the mint green pony she was impersonating were concerned. Her act was slipping. It was well past time to leave. At least she had one last night to enjoy this comfort before everything in her life got thrown into limbo.

Chrysalis stared intently at a knot in the timber of the ceiling. She’d get up, wander gently around the house for several minutes, maybe read some dull pony magazine on the couch or have a glass of water. Refresh herself, then climb back into bed and try again.

Scrunching her eyes tight, she tried to will herself to get up. Scraping and clawing at the threadbare remains of her exhausted resolve, until she finally caught it and pulled herself upright. Eyes still shut tight she threw off the blankets and sat up.

A sharp, icy wind blew across her face and the changeling in exile shivered involuntarily. Her eyes shot open at the strange sensation, and she froze.

Darkness. In every direction darkness. The light of the moon barely pierced the shadows, and she realised with a start she was now standing. When had she moved?

Chrysalis turned, sharp snow crunching under hoof as she surveyed the unfamiliar landscape. What little she could see through the pitch black of the night was just more ice and snow. A flat, frozen, windswept wasteland everywhere she looked.

The cold bit into her, and she realised she was in her true form. She was sure she hadn’t transformed out of the soft body of the mint pony…

Panic followed the cold and sunk its teeth into her. She turned erratically, backing up as she did, searching for anything in the dark. Straining, she lit her horn as brightly as she could, but it did nothing to penetrate the gloom, instead reflecting off the fog and snow that whipped around her face and making it even harder to see.

As she felt the icy wind cut right through her a thought struck, piercing deeper than the cold and her fear. Temperatures like this could kill.

Shivering, teeth chattering violently, she stepped backwards in fear. No, no this had to be a dream! But then she remembered the marks left from her last two dreams. No! This couldn’t be how she died! There was still so much left to do. She’d never even lived her own life yet! Everything she’d done, trapped in service to the legacy of her awful-

Her panicked line of thought was cut abruptly short as she backed into something solid.

Chrysalis spun around, and tripped over herself in fright as recognition bit into her.

A colossal red crystal towered over the changeling queen. Staked into the earth, covered in jagged ridges and spikes, a thousand tiny crimson reflections stared back in terror at Chrysalis as she shrunk back from the looming crystal.

As she watched, all the reflections swam and pooled together. Running down to the base of the crystal like droplets of water, then suddenly coalescing and rearing up. An image of herself stared back at her with a sly smile on its lips, brow turned downward in malicious glee. Herself, but taller, stronger. Overflowing with a confidence that had been eroded by losses to ponies. An echo of her great-grandmother.

Before she could flee, the surface of the crystal rippled and wavered. The twisted reflection stepped forward and pressed a hoof against the inside of the unnatural mirror. On the outside, it bent and warped, stretching like taffy as the hoof tested the limits of the boundary.

Then suddenly it was through. The black glossy hoof shot forward and grabbed the cowering changeling from out of the snow at the base of the blood red monolith, and effortlessly pulled her through.

Chrysalis’ scream was cut short as she disappeared into the colossal red crystal, leaving no trace besides a confused mess of hoofprints in the snow, already being erased by the relentless wind.

The wind whistled eerily around the ominous scene as it battered the landscape, and only the moon was left to witness as snow piled high and the red crystal monolith was once again buried.

*****

Cadance awoke, catapulted into consciousness. Involuntarily she sat bolt upright in bed. Her mind was hazy, but her body was tense, as though startled into waking by a thunder crack.

Still feeling that she was several steps behind her body and the instincts that drove it to react, Cadance turned to the window beside her bed to peek through the curtain, seeking a glimpse of the storm outside. It took the princess a few moments of futile, hazy inspection to realise that something was wrong.

Where there ought to be a curtain concealing her bedroom window, there was just… empty space. Reeling, her mind caught up to her body and delivered a key piece of information. She couldn’t hear any rain.

Out of the distant depths of the darkness a voice split the night. “WHAT DID YOU DO?!

Cadance went rigid as the deafening sound shot through her. The speaker sounded very close, and she realised with a small gasp that she knew the voice. A variety of teenage scoldings rushed to fill the panicked space in her head. But something else was off.

When had she ever heard Celestia sound so violently outraged? She hardly ever raised her voice. The few times she had actually spoken anything remotely like that to Cadance had been out of overwhelming fear for her niece’s safety. Times when Cadance had been dangerously late home, or acted out and gotten herself hurt.

Another voice, sly and oily, crept through the cold, black air. “Exactly what was needed, surely you grasp what this will mean for the future of our species?”

The second speaker almost hissed. Her tone was a disquieting mixture of fear and snide self righteousness. It tugged at Cadance’s memory, pulling her in several directions at once, all of them painful and just out of reach.

Shivering, Cadance fought the impulse to dig for the splinters in her mind and focused her magic into her horn to light the room, jaw dropping at what she saw.

She was back in Canterlot palace. The pale light of her horn reflected off the white walls as she took in her surroundings. It was a perfect recreation of her bedroom as it had been when she first moved to the capital.

Before she could dwell further on her predicament, another outraged cry broke through the night.

“YOU HAD NO RIGHT!

It was definitely Celestia, and something or someone had pushed her too far.

The Princess of the Crystal Empire threw back the covers and scrambled to her hooves. There was a loud thud, as Cadance fell face first onto the floor in a very direct and blunt introduction to the tangible facts of her current situation. Once again, her body was not her own. Or at least… she realised on closer inspection, not as she knew it today.

Placed perfectly as if designed to bring her crashing down to reality, or whatever approximation she found herself in, was a full length mirror. It was against the wall past her bedside table, tilted down slightly for a small filly in what now felt almost like a cruel joke. Any hope of denial was swept aside as she beheld the image of herself, not quite nine years old. That awful point in her life where suddenly the whole world expected so much of her, and everypony except her had a say in what she was supposed to do and be.

Cadance’s shock at the state she found herself in was interrupted by the sound of that sly, cruel voice. Sounding uncomfortably close, almost like it was right by her ear, it slithered through the gap under her bedroom door.

“What do you know of it, worm? Who are you to speak of what ought and ought not to be? We are both merely moments in service to Her eternal life.”

Again the strange voice tugged at some deeply buried place in Cadance’s memory. As she crept over to the door she wracked her brain, digging for some sort of hint. When Celestia’s voice cracked the night’s sky again she was barely startled, but repetition did nothing to save her from aching in sympathy. The pain in her adoptive aunt’s voice was impossible for her to ignore, fueled by sorrow and boiling over into anger.

SHE IS DEAD! Why must you desecrate the living in service to a corpse?”

Arriving at the bedroom door Cadance pulled it open as quickly as she dared, cautious not to attract attention to herself, but eager to discover the identity of the unknown speaker. To her dismay, What she found there only raised more questions.

The hallway that her childhood bedroom was attached to was twisted, almost beyond recognition. The refined, regal architecture had been melted, warped and moulded like clay into an uncannily natural tunnel. Where windows ought to open out into the clear sky they were blocked off by an eerie dark grey stone, roughly hewn to fit the round tunnel that the hallway had been transmogrified into. The distorted hallway stretched off to either side of her, curving as it went so that Cadance couldn’t see what lay ahead in either direction.

After a moment of dazed confusion, she snapped back to herself and remembered her goal. The stranger was talking, but Cadance could barely make out what they were saying. She needed to get closer.

“Death cannot stand in the way of Her ambitions. I do only what She commands me. The only pony ever capable of standing in Her way wanes. That fool Celestia has been weak ever since she banished her own sister, but now she reveals just how far she has fallen. The Alicorn of the Sun has named an heir, she sees death on the horizon. The time is nigh for the true Queen of the changelings to return, and take control of Equestria and drag it screaming and bloody into a new age. We exist to serve Her, and She exists to conquer. Your failure was in daring to believe you had any other choice.”

As Cadance crept down the winding tunnel, she heard Celestia’s voice again, distraught.

“I do not care what She commanded you to do! I will not play your games any more Chatelicera! I will not ask again, undo what you have done or suffer the consequences.”


The cruel stranger, who Cadance supposed must be Chatelicera, cackled. “You have no power over me, child. Besides, it is far too late. Perhaps if you had intervened before it had hatched, but now, even I would be powerless to stop this.”

There was a scream of rage, Celestia’s voice again Cadance was sure, and a moment later a hissing, sparking noise, that might have been somepony casting magic. The sounds of the argument reverberated off the tunnel walls, and Cadance turned and hurried towards them. As she drew closer, tripping as she struggled to traverse the warped floor of the twisting tunnel, Cadance heard the cruel stranger again.

“Tantrum all you like maggot, your idiotic ideals of peace, all your dreams and ambitions mean nothing! Did you truly think you were Queen? You are merely a placeholder, unfit to be graced by Her majesty.”

Chatelicera paused to laugh cruelly. “You suffer now because you thought above your station. You were chosen because of what you could do for Her, because you were just strong enough to keep the colony fed. Because for all that you do possess, you are ultimately too weak to change anything. She will return, now it is just a matter of time.”

Cadance could hear that she was close, so so close now. She slowed to a crawl and listened carefully, trying to tell which room the speakers were in.

Chatelicera continued, vindictive glee evident in her voice. “You were chosen because you lack the resolve to do the one and only thing that would prevent Her from returning to claim Her throne. You could kill the vessel and end all of this, but you are predictably a coward. Bound by compassion and empathy, you can’t even bring yourself to kill me.”

The cruel voice of the unseen speaker Chatelicera rose into a ghastly cackle, which rang out, bold in its mockery. But it was cut short by a terrible crack of magic that shook the air, followed immediately by a resounding shriek of pain.

Rushing, throwing caution to the wind as the stakes skyrocketed, Cadance finally found the right door and pressed her face flat against it, desperately peering through the keyhole. Another burst of magic resounded, and a flash of light briefly filled her vision. After it passed, leaving blue spots in her vision, she struggled to put together what she was seeing.

Inside was an unfamiliar bedchamber. At least she thought it must be, it was hard to make out any of the decor besides a vague impression of earthy green darkness. But one of the speakers was clearly visible.

It was Celestia, Cadance was right! She was here, somehow, but her hair and mane were… different, long hanging strands like a willow tree, thrown about chaotically as she cornered the other speaker in the room.

The cackling returned, wavering, before ending in a bout of harsh guttural coughing.

“Magnificent! I see you have untold depths, Chrysanthe. But you are far, far too late child. Does this juvenile act make you feel better? Nothing will change if I die. I have done my part. You cannot kill your own offspring, you cannot undo what I have done. She will return.”

Cadance was finally able to get a good look at the stranger named Chatelicera, and almost recoiled in shock at what she saw.

It was her mother! Her dear mother, the one who had found her abandoned in the woods. But she was long buried, Prismia had seen to that.

Cadance blinked frantically as tears welled in her eyes, trying to dispel thoughts of the past. This was just an illusion she knew, but still she had to see more, she had to try and understand.

A gasp leapt unbidden from her mouth as she saw the face of the dead sorceress. As if summoned by the pain of memory, where Cadance’s adoptive mother had been a moment earlier, Prismia now lay.

She was laughing in the same strange voice Cadance had been following. Prismia’s body, struggling to stay sitting up in the far corner, shuddered as she laughed, blood dripping from her mouth.

The frightened princess bit her tongue to stop herself gasping again as she took in more details of the dreadful scene.

There were holes, seared through the sorceress’ body. Dark blood, nearly black, oozed from the wounds that peppered her body.

Cadance watched, wrapt in grim terror as the figure in Celestia’s form stepped towards the trembling body of the stranger shaped like Prismia. It was all that she could do not to cry out or flee, but whoever this Chatelicera was she had spoken of Celestia naming an heir. Cadance could remember that day clearly, when she had been presented to the whole of the nation, and named a Princess of Equestria.

That had only been very shortly after the real Celestia had adopted her. From what Chatelicera had said, it had only happened very recently from her perspective. It seemed to Cadance that she was being shown something important. A recreation of real events, a ghastly stage play built out of dreams. If so, surely it was an important glimpse into the past. She had to see this through, she had to know what it all meant!

The towering vision of Celestia, Chrysanthe, spoke again, and Cadance had to strain to hear her.

“Know this in your last moments, Mother.” Chrysanthe spat the word, as though the taste of it revolted her. “I will undo everything you strove for in this world. She will stay dead. Our race will not return to the darkness of our past, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

As Chrysanthe, still in Celestia’s voice, spoke, the ruined body of Prismia began again to laugh, harder this time. Blood ran in streams from her mouth and the holes in her body, but still Chatelicera laughed and laughed, spurred on as though by some private joke.

Finally she spoke, a sadistic smile still gripping her face madly. “Oh my poor stupid daughter, you always were overconfident.” Then bright green light grew on her horn as she began to cast a spell.

Try as she might, Cadance could not stop her body from blinking, even at this crucial moment. As she opened her eyes she saw the form of Chatelicera had changed again.

Lit weirdly by the pulsing uncanny magic building on her horn, Prismia’s shape was replaced by an elderly unicorn mare that Cadance didn’t recognise.

A blood red horn curved from an ash grey coat alongside a black mane that billowed like smoke. The unicorn’s face was lit eerily by the green glow of Chatelicera’s magic, within which swum flecks of purple and black. Something inside Cadance squirmed with recollection, but before she could dwell on it, Chrysanthe summoned a shield bubble around herself.

Too late Cadance realised what was happening. A moment later everything went white, and she felt herself scream and tumble backwards.

The explosion rocked against the door, throwing it off its hinges. It flew free, narrowly missing crushing Cadance as it shattered against the wall.

Shaken, she stayed where she had been thrown, curled up in a ball against the wall. As silence lay on the world around her, she poked her head up to investigate.

Clumsily Cadance found her hooves and stood. The room she’d been spying on was in complete disarray. Furniture was smashed against the walls, blown into unrecognisable shrapnel by the suicidal blast of Chatelicera.

Standing in the doorway, she scanned the wreck of the room, searching for signs of life. There was a pained noise as some of the debris began to shift slowly. Cadance ran forward. Whatever this was, reality, illusion, or somewhere in between, she had to try and help.

With all the strength her body had, Cadance pushed against a heavy piece of broken timber that lay on top of the pile of debris. After several long seconds of straining, it finally shifted, and she set about clearing the rest of the rubble to free the creature trapped beneath.

Her hooves found something warm, and she pulled them back to see. Bright red shone in the darkness of the destroyed bedchamber, dripping down Cadance’s hooves as she stifled her shock.

From the mess of destroyed furniture and crumbing stone, a magenta eye with a familiar vertical pupil stared up at her. Black carapace shuddered as the tall, once elegant changeling, Queen Chrysanthe, no longer hidden by the illusion of Celestia, struggled to breath.

Cadance stared back, paralysed.

*****

Chrysalis blinked up at the inky blackness where a moment ago someone, or something, had pulled her into the blood red crystal monolith. Once she was inside, the echo had vanished like smoke on the breeze. The exiled changeling queen lay where she had fallen, too shocked to move.

Above her, black swirled on oily black. She watched as patterns moved in the air above her, barely perceptible wisps of shadow that roiled and danced, turning over each other as they filled her vision.

She sat up and looked around. It was eerie, she thought, she was in pitch darkness, with no hint of light in any direction, but somehow she could still see. Everywhere she looked was a void, but she could see depth and movement as the black clouds twisted on a black sky, and soft black sand like ash shifted under her hooves.

Chrysalis looked down at her own body. She could feel herself, hooves sinking into the cool sand, but see nothing until she moved. She shifted uneasily, trying to delineate herself from the darkness.

She watched sand trickle down the gentle slope from where she disturbed it, and for the first time noticed the border between the ground where she lay, and the swirling void. She was on an island, and a tiny one at that, barely ten paces from one side to the other. A floating chunk of darkness in a whirling storm of shadow, whatever sense that made.

More grains of sand slipped into the yawning abyss as Chrysalis backed up towards the centre of the island, eager not to join them in their journey into the vast maw below. The changeling was nearly startled into an early moult as her hindquarters bumped into something cold and hard. She whipped her head around, eyes wide in bewilderment and fear.

In the centre of the tiny island, a harsh stroke of bright red split the darkness, creating violent contrast. It was a twin to the red crystal she had been dragged unwillingly into. The copy, or perhaps one and the same, stood jutting like a bloody dagger out of the small dark oasis.

The crystal towered over her, larger than life. Chrysalis stood cautiously and turned towards it, watching her reflection with a wary eye. The mirror image moved in sync with her and matched her gaze, but graciously that was all that it did. Nevertheless, she watched carefully, just in case it felt like moving on its own again. Staring deeper into the bright red depths, she searched for some sort of clue. Chrysalis was just about to give up and turn back to study the darkness when something caught her attention.

Her reflection rippled and dissolved in the surface of the crystal, like a pebble thrown into a pond. As the movement settled, she found her reflection replaced by somepony she couldn’t help but recognise.

It took Chrysalis several moments to process what she was seeing. The image was glassy and distorted, as though seen through a poorly made window, or on the surface of a pond. It felt as though what she was being shown was just out of reach, as though she could smash the surface of the crystal and reach in.

But even through the distortion, through time or distance Chrysalis could never forget that face.

The pink locks of Princess Cadance, unusually unkempt, framed a face that looked tired beyond belief, stained with grime and tears. An ache pooled in Chrysalis’ chest as understanding and memory coalesced. The wedding. Where it had all gone wrong. The image moved, as Cadance looked up from her reflection in the floor, showing a view of the rest of the cavern she was trapped in. Some small fragment of light filtered down into the cave from somewhere above, just enough to see the rest of the space, sealed deep below Canterlot Palace.

In the abyss of black and red, the shades of hazy blue and purple that glittered in the image of the crystal cavern nearly overwhelmed Chrysalis’ senses.

As she fought back the pain in her chest and the guilt that clawed at her heart, Chrysalis heard a voice. Barely a whisper, the changeling drew closer to the statue. The image loomed larger than life, and she held her breath to hear.

“Please. Somepony save me. Anypony. Please don’t let me die down here. Please let someone find me.”

Chrysalis felt something sharp in her throat, and a prickling in the corners of her eyes. She swallowed hard. She wouldn’t let them get to her. This was years ago. Who cares if Cadance suffered for a day or two, or three or four. She, Queen Chrysalis, was the one who had truly suffered, lost her kingdom, her meaning. The feelings of this snivelling pony meant nothing.

As Chrysalis gird herself in rusted, crumbling armour, the whispering voice went on and on and on. The beloathed pony princess praying to whoever could hear, sharing fear and anguish earnestly out of the desperate hope that somepony would come and save her. It came gushing out of her as she sat huddled in a corner of the cave, with nothing to do but wait for rescue, and hope that she wasn’t left to die alone and abandoned.

Just as Chrysalis felt her heart might split in two, the scene faded out, leaving only the blank red of the crystal monolith.

The stray changeling stumbled back as she was released, and half collapsed half sat in the black sand of the island. Tears trickled down her face, in spite of what she thought she knew.

Before she could recover, another large facet on the red crystal lit up with an image. It was to one side, not quite in view. Chrysalis lingered frozen for a few aching seconds before scrambling to her hooves and rushing over to watch.

On rough stone cobbles lay a body. A thin, elderly pony, unmoving. Its mouth hung open where a look of shock had died moments earlier. Eye’s stared unseeing, as bright red blood pooled around the skull in a perverse halo.

Chrysalis felt herself pulled forwards, caught in the tow of the gravity of the scene. The perspective shot up, revealing a crowd of onlookers.

“No… I didn’t mean to! It was an accident…”

Captivated, Chrysalis drew closer to the glowing facet of the crystal. She found herself mouthing the words just after they were spoken, becoming an echo of a memory.

The view shot back down towards the ground, skimming past the body of the earth pony sorceress and onto another pair of elderly ponies laying far too still a short distance away.

The small voice of a very young Cadance cracked as she continued. “She… she killed them… I had to stop her.”

Without a final look into the faces of the crowd, Cadance took off. Galloping at first, then stumbling for a moment as she awkwardly took flight. Seconds later she was high above the forest, leaving her home far behind.

The vision on the crystal grew blurry and the silence of the small dark island was flooded with the gut wrenching sound of a small filly sobbing as she fled from everything she ever knew.

The facet dimmed, and Chrysalis’ heart grew leaden as two more lit up to replace it, then even more a moment later.

Chrysalis found more scenes that she either recognised, or could piece together from what she knew. Cadance’s life, cut open and laid bare before her. As the stray changeling watched, yet more facets lit with the memories of the beloathed pony princess.

Here was the view out over a balcony in Canterlot Palace, a sweeping, dizzying scene of thousands of ponies here to see the coronation of their new princess. There, a night spent cold and alone in the forest under the waterfall. Much of it was mundane, but a great deal featured one or another supernatural threat. Several times Chrysalis glimpsed herself, and that heavy ache entrenched itself deeper in her stomach.

But even more often than she saw her own impact, Chrysalis saw traces of another dark figure. A particularly heinous smear on the history of the Crystal Empire. The King of Monsters himself…

Sombra.

Dotted all over the crystal memoryscape were traces of the dark tyrant that had enslaved the Crystal Empire. Had it not been for Cadance, the thousands of ponies that she now cared for and watched over would have been turned into an army. Enchanted and empowered by the shadows that Sombra commanded, they would have swept across Equestria like a plague of locusts.

That same plague would have grown and grown, and forced Chrysalis to decide between uprooting her hive from their ancestral home to flee, or standing to fight against the tide. To side with the ponies against the darkness.

In many ways Chrysalis knew she was much like the now dead King Sombra. But in just as many ways… she was different. She lived and breathed for the sake of her hive. Everything she did was for them. In that way, she mused uncomfortably, was she not just like the princesses?

The thought sat with her as she watched the myriad of memories play out in front of her. She felt herself being slowly crushed under the torrent, but she knew she couldn’t tear herself away. There was so much here that she knew her own mind couldn’t have fabricated. There was so much mind shattering detail.

As if to prove her point, Chrysalis was pulled from her introspection as a nearby facet lit up with a scene that Chrysalis couldn’t place, couldn’t even guess at.

A dormitory… no, a hospital bed maybe. A lavender unicorn filly sitting with a grey unicorn colt as he lay there, barely conscious, twisting under the covers as though wracked with pain. Both unicorns were silently sobbing, and the filly reached out and took the hoof of the grey colt as a tear slid down her face. Some sort of festival was visible in the corner, out the open window.

Before Chrysalis could take in any more details of the scene, the perspective shifted suddenly. It was hard to distinguish any particular sound among the quiet cacophony of a hundred painful memories, but she could almost swear she heard a small, unfamiliar voice whisper “I can’t take this anymore…” as the view suddenly flew out the window and soared into the open sky. The festival fell away below, and Chrysalis had just enough time to recognise the blue stone spire at the centre of the Crystal Empire, before the memory turned towards the horizon.

The frozen expanse of the far north yawned ahead of the flyer as the crystal facet faded to darkness.

Chrysalis sat very still, head spinning as her gaze lingered on the empty panel. She slid slowly to the floor, and hid her head in her hooves. This was all too much, what was she supposed to do with any of it?

Her queasy reverie was broken by a sudden sharp sound from somewhere behind her. Chrysalis pulled herself away and peered apprehensively into the darkness from where the clashing sound had seemingly sprung out of the thick shadows that choked the air.

In the grimness of her current predicament it was an alien sound. The chaotic tinkling bells of someone giggling uncontrollably, broken up by the occasional snort. It was somehow… deeply repulsive to Chrysalis’ senses, like an intrusion into a sacred space. She reeled in shock and disgust, feeling once again like she was out of her depth. A blind cave salamander in the sun.

As she stared, there was a distant, brief flash of light. Dizzyingly white on the ink black horizon, leaving two red dots in its wake that quickly faded to black. Then the laughter was gone, as abruptly as it had started.

Behind her, one by one the images on the red crystal faded to dark red, and after them the light in the monolith, the bright red lifeblood that had struck the shadowy sky with its contrast, ebbed, wasting away into barely a suggestion.

Chrysalis stared up at the space where the laughter had come from. An echo of the bright flash danced in her vision, but as she scrutinised the sky she realised it was closing in and coming down to meet her. Chrysalis felt the encroaching black clouds lapping at her hooves as they swarmed her tiny oasis. The lost changeling had just enough time to scream, before the abyss rose up and swallowed her completely.

*****

Cadance hung there, paralysed, staring into the eyes of the unfamiliar changeling at her hooves.

The strange changeling’s flowing locks of rose pink hair shimmered as she moved, disturbed by the jerky movement of the changeling’s body as it was wracked by coughing.

The stranger turned her face towards Cadance, and in fear the princess stepped back. A moment later she saw the room around her. It had changed as much, maybe more even, than the changeling surely dying before her.

It was a cave, smooth stone walls cut from dark grey, almost black stone. The jumble of furniture and other debris had taken on a more natural form… Moss, stone, and homely hoofwoven textiles. Blue shattered crystals glowed weakly. Was this where Chrysalis…?

Before the thought could finish, the regal changeling spoke. Her voice was weak, but the tone was strangely familiar. She wasn’t Celestia, but Cadance glimpsed in her voice a similar kindness.

“Do not fear little one. It will be alright, but first I need your help. Go quickly, fetch the Wayward Witch, she has not left our home yet. She is my last… my… hope…”

The voice gradually trailed off as Chrysanthe faded into unconsciousness. Cadance shook off the shock that had rooted her to the spot, turned and galloped out of the door as fast as she could.

As quickly as she had taken flight, she realised she had no idea where she was going. She stared down one corridor, feeling her heart sink as she trembled with nervous energy. It had sounded like this Wayward Witch was visiting, so perhaps she would be in a guest bedroom or some like, perhaps in the direction Cadance had come from?

In the gloom of the night, with the illusion stripped back, the nearly dark tunnel that extended ahead of her looked completely unfamiliar with its green-black stone and pale blue crystal glowing to gently light the path. Maybe she’d come from the other way, she thought shakily.

Cadance turned to run down the other corridor, and nearly tripped over her own hooves to stop herself colliding with another tall stranger.

A dull, dark brass carapace clad four long legs. In a distant way, Cadance was shocked as she noticed they lacked the odd, irregular holes that were so recognisably typical of changelings, at least as she knew them.

Before she could take in the rest of the newcomer, the little pink princess was lifted unceremoniously off her hooves, dragged by golden magic, floating into the air in front of the face of the stranger.

Rich amber eyes pinned Cadance in place and scrutinised her. They too were split by the iconic vertical slit pupil that seemed to be synonymous with changeling royalty.

The stranger spoke, and Cadance was struck as she recognised the voice almost immediately.

“Typical behaviour for a Princess of Equestria…” The voice dripped venom, and Cadance thought she caught a hint of shame before Chrysalis went on. “Always sticking your nose where it isn’t wanted. Are you satisfied, now that the tragedy of my upbringing is laid bare? My grandmother dead before my eyes, my mother’s blood on my own hooves as I ran to find that abominable stray that was the only hope of saving her.”

“It seems that now that I’ve lost my throne I’ve lost my right to privacy too. Oh no, I can’t have secrets if I’m to be saved. Another lost lamb to be torn apart and drawn into the flock, isn’t that right?” Chrysalis hissed. Cadance could feel the vitriol in growing as Chrysalis spoke, so bright now she felt it might burn her.

She struggled to speak, “What? No! That’s not what I-” But Chrysalis deftly cut her off any chance of explanation.

“Oh of course not. You thought you could open me up, make me feel like we were the same by showing me your past. As if I’m stupid enough to fall for the elaborate tapestry of lies you created for me. You thought if you gave me something in return, made me feel like I wasn’t alone, you could reach into my head and steal whatever you wanted!”

Chrysalis, gleaming gold and brass wherever she was usually green, was almost shouting now.

“WELL I AM NOT YOUR TOY TO DO WITH AS YOU PLEASE.” The exiled queen howled. The pain in her voice was unmistakable, and Cadance could see tears in the corner of those great gilt eyes.

The fight seemed to fade from her all of a sudden, as though forced out of her body with the last few words.

In a quiet, nearly pleading voice, Chrysalis continued. “You know, for a while I actually believed we might be the same. Part of me wanted to try to understand you, wanted you to understand me. If you had just asked, I might have told you. But now… I know there’s no hope left for me.”

Cadance felt something inside her snap. “No! Please I promise, I swear I didn’t do any of this. I promise, I’m not your enemy, I don’t want to hurt you! On my heart, on my life! I never-” She pleaded fervently. Panic stripped away any concern for dignity as she desperately tried to repair the misunderstanding. She couldn’t let whatever was growing between them fall apart.

“On your LIFE?” Chrysalis snapped, cutting Cadance off again. “On your life…? On your perfect, pink, pony princess wonderland? On everything you have that I have had TAKEN from me by YOUR kind? You swear?” The towering golden changeling stared intently at the beloathed princess floating in her glowing grasp.

Ice formed in Cadance’s throat as she tried to swallow. She stammered, “W-whatever is happening to us, I know that if we don’t work together we don’t have any chance. Whatever happened in the past, whatever we were and whatever made us, we’re here together for a reason, and I know in my heart that we need each other if we want to have any hope of getting out of this mess.”

Cadance struggled not to wilt under Chrysalis’ intense glare as she continued. “If I must, to regain the trust growing between us, I will stake my life on my word. If you really, truly think that I’m here with you because I mean you harm, then do what you must.” With the last few words, Cadance fought back her fear and met the changeling queen’s gaze with all the adamant sincerity and genuine earnest belief that she could find within herself. “I put my life in your hooves.”

For several long minutes, the two lost creatures stared intently into each other’s eyes, each hardly daring to blink, lest it break the spell.

Finally Chrysalis broke away, her golden gaze turning down to her side as she lowered Cadance to the floor.

“F-fine,” she spluttered. “You needn’t go so far.”

Cadance thought she glimpsed a blush lighting up the cheeks of the changeling as she turned away even further.

“I still don’t know that I should trust you… but I can try, for now.” She finished quietly.

Relief washed over Cadance, but was soon replaced with urgency as she remembered the crisis from a moment ago, and turned back to the room where Chrysanthe and Chatelicera had fought, only to find it gone, and the tunnel stretching unnaturally far, far into the distance.

All the colour had been drained out of the scene, and she couldn’t hear the laboured breathing of Chrysalis’ injured mother. The gentle noises of hundreds of distant sleeping changelings were gone too, replaced by a deathly shroud of silence.

Cadance trotted quickly over to Chrysalis’ side as fright took her, and wrapped one hoof around the towering changeling. “What’s happened? What do we do?” She whispered, as she hid behind the front leg of her ostensible nemesis.

Chrysalis was taken aback for a moment, staring down in disbelief at the soft pink thing clinging to her leg.

“I’m not sure.” She said, letting her defences crumble in the wake of Cadance placing her life on the line for her sake. For Chrysalis of all creatures, who more than once tried to destroy all that the beloathed little pony held dear. “I supposed we should look for some way to wake up, or to move the dream… forward.”

The silence stretched out to smother them. The hallways, frozen and emptied of life, now seemed so much more threatening.

Just as Chrysalis felt that the stillness was going to swallow her up and crush her, there was a bright flash of blue light, and the unmistakable sound of magic.

The two creatures turned together towards the source of the noise, and both gaped in shock at what greeted them.

Wreathed in midnight, the stars and night sky flowing from her as she stood, ironshod in confidence. As if there could ever be any doubt of who she was, a stark, bold icon of the moon shone proudly on her flank, neatly matching the tiara cast in deep blue that sat on her brow.

Princess Luna, Steward of the Moon and Guardian of Dreams regarded the odd pair of creatures with a cool and calculating eye as they stood before her.

Before either of them could find their tongues, Luna spoke, her tone dire.

“Thou must come with me at once. Make haste, for thy very lives depend upon it.”

Author's Note:

Hi yall, I'll (try) keep this brief, it's 6 minutes to midnight and I should sleep soon.

Chapter 7 is finally done, I haven't actually checked how far behind my last self imposed deadline I am, but the important thing is that the chapter is complete.

The thing about health is that if you don't slow down and rest, or address issues, they will rise up and force you to. I'm okay, don't worry. Just long term chronic things rearing up, then a month or two of absolute chaos intruding into my life and throwing my plans to and fro.

Things have settled down now I think. I'm happy to be writing regularly again. I think I learnt something about making mistakes and putting too much pressure on myself. Perfectionism leads to inaction.

I'm proud of this chapter, it's longer and more chaotic than I planned for it to be, but that matches the conditions that it was written in. It's also another case where I had planned for a particular sequence of events to fit into one chapter, only to have to split those across two chapters, which has the pleasant benefit of meaning that the next 5000 or so words will be very straightforward.

There's a lot of little clues and references in this chapter, it's hard to gauge how obvious or subtle anything is, but I hope that as you read you'll still be able to enjoy the feeling of piecing together a mystery. I think this chapter will raise at least as many questions as it answers.

The dialogue was really fun to write, and I got to have a lot of fun with describing characters. The new characters introduced in this chapter are some of the culmination of ideas I've been thinking about for two or three years now, I've always loved thinking about changelings and exploring royal and social dynamics. It's one of my favourite topics in fanart and fanfiction, and one of the main motivators for writing this fic. The other being to explore the under-developed depths of certain characters. After all, fiendship is magic.

It's late and I'm getting really drowsy. I know that there were other things I wanted to talk about here, but they've all slipped my mind. In the name of getting this posted I'll end things here. (So much for brief! Hello 12:37am.)

Thanks for reading, see yall again soon. :trollestia::heart:

PS: I promise the next chapter won't be such a long wait away!

Vivat Rex, Vivat Regina!

Comments ( 17 )

I love the idea of the story, but I have to confess that I'm completely lost. Hoping things will make sense at some point.

so happy to see a post for this! i'm definatly enjoying it.

11918385
we're not even halfway through the fic yet. i have everything planned out. i'm trying hard not to give everything away too soon, but Ch7 is filled to the brim with clues. it's not discord.:trollestia: also feel free to PM me questions, or post them here if you want. just be careful to use spoilers.

11918446
I'm patient. I'm just hoping there is a moment in the story that it either comes together or it's laid out bare so even dumbasses like myself will understand.

11918455
good things come to those who wait :trollestia:

I almost got confused several times trying to understand whose memories belong to whom.

P.S.

“Thou must come with me at once. Make haste, for thy very lives depend upon it.”

Am I the only one who imagined Luna in a T-800 Terminator suit?

Still sure that Discord is to blame for everything.

11919613
thank you! don't worry, i'll make sure you have plenty more to count lol :trollestia:

I love how the story is revealed like puzzle pieces. Both of them living through memories that aren't their own but in ways that reflect them. Really looking forward to more!!

Razzy #10 · June 6th · · ·

"Come with me if you want to live."

And the plot thickens... Surprisingly not Sunbutt's.

I very eagerly await the rest!! This is incredible!!

This was a great chapter! The prose has a nice flow to it and a good tempo. It was also vivid and colorful. The emotion could be felt really well. I am also enjoying the mystery aspects and the sense of discovery with each new chapter. The Luna cliffhanger was a nice way to end the chapter.

Jog
Jog #14 · 6 days ago · · ·

Ooh really enjoying this story this far.

I had to do it, sorry, there's 70 likes now...

11948187
no worries, i screenshotted the previous number already, im glad you liked my work! :trollestia:

I just read the whole thing in one go, really interesting! And of course I finish up on the hangiest of cliffs as well! :pinkiecrazy:

Login or register to comment