Plague of Misery

by BaryonBrony

First published

A calamity has befallen Equestria, and only Cadence and the most unlikely of allies can save it

Cadence is all that's left. Her last companion made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure she could escape. Now, there is no one that was spared by the catastrophe that overwhelmed everything and everyone. Her only option left is to turn to the last pony she could imagine as an ally. Her powers useless, her hopes vanquished, Cadence must be prepared to fight for all she has left to save even a part of what remains...No matter the cost to herself. But, is it already too late?

Cannot Escape

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The sound of hooves beating on grass. Hard, ragged breaths just as loud as lungs pushed harder and harder to keep up. Hearts beat in ears so loud it was like the drums of death sounding the demise. The vapor of frigid air met with hot gasps trailed behind the two sprinting ponies as they tore across the field as fast as they could.

Twilight looked behind, her eye wide as she caught barely a glimpse of what was chasing them. "It's too fast!" She screamed, tears pouring from her eyes as she faced back forward, trying her best to put even a tiny bit more quickness to her steps.

"Don't look! Just run! Twilight, keep running!" Cadence yelled in bursts in between hard, gasping breaths.

"Cadence... I can't... it hurts!"

"Twilight, listen to me! Don't stop, you can't stop!" The sound of the Princess's commanding shout put motivation in the much smaller pony's legs. Twilight knew she couldn't wink to safety, and taking one look at the state of Cadence's wings only made her wince in compassionate pain. Her reverie was short-lived as a deep-throated laugh rose up behind them. Twilight cried out again, feeling something swipe at her tail.

Princess Cadence turned her head and the tip of her horn flashed as a bolt of pure light fired at the pursuer. It seemed to give a moments pause, just enough. With a sweep of a wing the princess drew Twilight Sparkle onto her back and put on the speed. She was practically flying across the seemingly endless plain now. She turned her head and again launched a powerful flash at the thing behind them. Hopefully giving her the lead needed, she aimed for the upcoming cliffs, ignored the fire in her legs and pushed into a sprint.

It didn't matter, she could still feel the wicked cold nipping at her heels already. The only sound was the rumbling laugh and Twilight's ragged breath. It sounded like her lungs were filled with broken glass. The very thought of it spurred Cadence on even harder. She wouldn't let it take Twilight. Not after the others... after the castle... She refused. "Hang on! You can't give up, not now!"

Twilight didn't respond but for more than a whimper. The sound of clinking chains followed as Cadence lifted her wings as high as she could, offering what balance she could to her exhausted passenger. "Run, run, run, run... you can't escape. Give up, give up, give up... you can't escape. Why are you RUNNING?!!" A hissing shriek followed after, huge clawed hands and sharp talons swinging and grabbing as they tried to catch the fleeing pair. But, for all the sounds and snatching, the creature was left empty-handed.

The cliff was coming up, if she could just make it there. Maybe she could pull off a simple glide... get far enough to rest if only for a few seconds. The snap of teeth and pounding of heartbeat drums in an all-consuming darkness followed like an unstoppable fog. Cadence glanced back, trying to gauge the distance only to see it was barely inches behind. She whipped her gaze back forward, trying not to think or imagine the horror that chased as tears welled and flew back.

"Cadence, why are you running from me? Cadence, please! Come back to me!" The princess fought the choking gasp rising in her throat at the sound that chased after them.

"NO! Not that voice... stop it!"

"Cadence... just give up! It isn't so bad! Stop running! Run, run, run, run... Why are you RUNNING?!!" The roar and laughter came back as she was only a few more steps from the cliff. The searing pain in her wings ignored, Cadence leveled them and readied for the big leap. She mustered what strength she had left and hit her back hooves right on the edge. With all the might she had left, Cadence launched from the edge and soared, chains leading back from her wings as pain tore through her whole body.

She felt something swipe at her back, and all the world seemed to slow as she felt lighter. She spun as best she could, raising a leg to catch as Twilight was pulled away by a dark claw. The young pony's eyes were half open, watching the princess fall away as her wings buckled. Tears were falling from them both as the distance increased, both knowing there was nothing that could be done.

Only one thing left, and as a tiny glow sparked at the tip of Twilight's horn she swung her head to aim right at the princess. The beam struck true, and Princess Cadence vanished in a flash and stars. The claw drew her up, making her face the pursuers all surrounded by the darkness and fog and eyes and claws. All those eyes staring at her, with their wicked smiles surrounded by the deepest thunder of a laugh. "Welcome back to us... little Twilight." The great jaws of nothingness opened, and all that remained as the fog cleared was the echo of a scream.

Denying Hope

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The darkness felt right... like touched by a whole that was perfect. There was no need to run anymore, everything made sense. Floating in the blackest pool, ripples of void spreading soundlessly as nothing but the soft whisper of breath filled the air. She opened a single eye, seeing nothing and closed it again. No point, no light, no reason to try.

A voice called out, far in the distance. The sound was foreign, alien. It made no sense, and was ignored. What reason was there to leave the pool, floating endlessly in the perfection of utter emptiness. The voice called out again, whether it was deafening or too quiet to make out made little difference. Everything was perfect, no point in trying. The pool was the most inviting thing, the place she had always meant to be.

The voice send ripples spreading across the pool with such force it brought her eye to open if only so slightly. A purple light, a flicker shamed by even the smallest of fireflies, floated there in the pitch. "Cadence!" That voice... "Wake up! You can't stay here! It's coming for you!"

"Twilight?" She felt so tired, the strength it took to muster the name send shudders through her whole body, muscles screaming for her to stop and return to bliss just floating in the pool. "My failsafe spell won't last in here! You have to escape!" The light bounced up and down then moved away, practically disappearing almost immediately. Cadence tried to lift her head to see where it went, but fatigue was all her spent body knew. It felt as if what little strength she had left was draining away just from raising her neck.

Looking down into the pool, Cadence's eyes shot open as she saw the black viscous ooze she had been lying in. It stained her coat like tar, and dripping from her mane like muck. The moment she saw what she was in, the pull it had on her became even stronger, threatening to drag her into its depths. Deep down, far below the surface of the black bog Cadence could see faces and teeth and grasping claws. A din of voices calling her name rose up, waving for her to join them deep in the mire.

Drawing up all she could, Cadence flung herself from the pool with a scream. She tried to run, but the muck staining her legs made them feel so heavy. She tripped, landing hard on her face, sticking fast to whatever the ground was outside the pool. She pushed again, but the muck held to the ground like glue, growing stronger and stronger until she was held fast. "No... please..." Her heart beat in her ears, she couldn't move a muscle as she felt that same horrific presence rising behind her.

The drumming beats filled the emptiness, the void echoing their approach. The presence had finally reached its prize, the last of the runners. Hooves and claws set down on the ground as rivulets of the ooze dripped and plopped onto the ground. Dozens of heads moved about through it as they all stared at the final prey. The bodies within it all cackled and giggled as they watched the princess try to fight, to escape. Even trapped she fought, it made the end all the sweeter.

A claw landed beside Cadence's head as the presence drew over her. Her eyes were glossy from terrified tears yet again, waiting for the abomination to finally take her. She couldn't watch, turning her only working eye forward. There, right before her, was the tiny light. It drew to the very tip of her horn, and touched against it. She heard Twilight's voice again as it spoke a single word, "failsafe."

When she came to there was a warmth on her face as Cadence pushed open an eye. Light burst into her gaze, blinding her as she squinted. The sun? No, this was not sunshine. The deep bluish green hue of the light her eyes were adjusting to was far different than sunlight. The warmth she felt wasn't from the light, but from the air itself. She was in a cave, and at the center of the ceiling a great sphere of blue-green glow illuminated the massive opening.

Drawing to her feet, the exhausted princess pushed her head up to get a better look, and saw a sight that twisted her stomach. Creatures like insects flitting this way and that through what looked like the most enormous beehive. A tiny prick of different glow drew Cadence's eye from the spectacle as Twilight's spell dropped away from her horn. "Failsafe! Won't fail to take you someplace safe!" And it was gone.

Cadence just stared at the air where the spell had vanished. The pain in her wings started to seep back into her nerves, the burning fire in her muscles, and the black muck that now stained her once shimmering coat and matted her mane in its oily grime. Each of them already a reminder of a horror she'd endured in only the past few hours. For all this, she now stared at the last place in all the world she would rather be. The Changeling Hive.

A deep, black fog seeped over the remains of two great doors. Broken glass and tattered cloth littered the ground, cast in shadow by the great emptiness. It made no sound, giving the clinking of chains within the ruined throne room a hollow echo against the stone walls. It stopped at the base of the stairs, floating up slightly as an unconscious form was left below.

A white figure stared from the throne's pedestal, watching in silence as the fog moved aside to reveal Twilight's still-breathing body. Icy eyes moved from her to the formless creature, and a scowl followed. "Where is she? I sent you after two, and yet I only see one." A venomous hiss filled the air, which only elicited a grin from the colorless figure. "And even after the magic, you still couldn't catch her? I made it so easy, and you still failed me. Leave... now... before I find a more capable hunter."

The fog vanished with a shriek, though one of fear more than the angry snarl it had given before. The colorless being uncoiled and rose up, as if stretching its unnaturally long, snake-like form. "Do you see what I have been forced to work with, my friends? Trapped for so long, enlisting scum and useless spell-beasts that can barely understand a word I say. It's truly sad."

One of the clawed hands rose and extended out to land beside one of the masses of chains, scratching the stone floor. Like a ghost, the body followed the stretched arm and came to stand beside the enchained prisoner. "I hope you like what I've worked so hard for. It isn't like I could do this on a whim." The faceless head drew closer and its neck extended and bent to look the prisoner right in the eyes. "I've given you such a wonderful gift. Look, all the things you love... I will make their dreams come true. I will give them their every desire. And the two of you... I will let you watch, let you see my gifts."

The white shape retracted, looming over Twilight as she began to stir. "First things first... wake up little girl. Wake up... open your eyes and let me see you." Her eyes did open, and the moment they fell on the faceless, formless thing above her she froze. "Oh... no, no... there is no need to fear. I will not harm you, pretty one. I only want to give you a gift. What is your fondest dream? I can make it come true." Only a whimper answered. "Poor, frightened... hopeless. You must have hope, it's so important." The sickly sweet voice, a woman's like a mother to her child.

Twilight shuddered, fighting back a scream as she stared at this almost formless terror that floated above her. "Who... who, are, you?" She whispered. The faceless head turned up, as if pondering the thought.

"It's been so long... perhaps I have forgotten. Or I haven't and simply like surprises. But a surprise is a gift, and I am giving them freely." A white claw lowered and tenderly settled on Twilight's head, causing her to go rigid. "You may call me... Despair."


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Barely able to put one hoof in front of the other, Cadence moved down the tunnel she had landed in. The warmth in the air, the soft bluish light from above, together they were the most comforting thing she had felt in as long as she could remember. The shock, the fear, all the things only a few hours had brought seemed to overwhelm all else. The princess would have found a smile in the irony of her situation if she wasn't battling her worn and broken body for consciousness.

What remained of the mire still matted in her coat dragged like lead, each step harder than the last. What little distance she could make just led her deeper into the tunnel before she finally collapsed. As her vision blurred to darkness, the last thing she saw was several sets of hooves approaching, followed by an echo of chattering. She faded into unconsciousness, and felt nothing more.

The mossy rumble of stone doors parting did not echo far in the massive room. Two heads turned, addressing the newcomer with eyes only as the diminutive creature skittered to the edge of a platform, almost like a stage, surrounded by veils and curtains that concealed everything within. The changeling drone hissed and chittered for a moment before falling quiet, keeping its head low. It did not need to wait long as ribbons of emerald light snaked out from between the veils and lifted them away. "What did you say?" A sultry voice inquired, hooves marked with holes descending to the drone's level as it kept its gaze to the floor. "She is here? Now?"

The drone nodded subtly. The queen simply made a low hum sound, almost like a purr as she thought long about what her subject had told her. "Bring her to me, and make sure she is unharmed. Be gentle now, young one." With an affirming hiss the drone turned and raced to the doors, already open by the royal guards. As soon as the messenger had left, the doors were closed again.

Chrysalis stared after the drone for a moment, as if pondering. She was surprised, but the day had not been a normal one. Unpredictable days often carried with them strange happenings. Turning back to the upraised floor, she released the spell she had lifted the veils with and let the coverings fall back. The queen's chambers were as much a throne room as they were her place of rest, and even a changeling desires privacy every so often.

Folding her legs beneath her, Queen Chrysalis stared at a mirror-like surface as the tip of her crooked horn began to glow. She tapped it against the glass, and watched as the surface rippled like water and the fiery green of her magic flowed through it. "Show me Canterlot." The rippling increased for a moment, but then died down to nothing. "Show me Cloudsdale." Again, the sideways pool sent thick rivulets out from its center, but again nothing happened. "Is there anything in Equestria I can see?" This time, no ripples appeared at all. "What has happened," the queen whispered almost too quietly to hear herself.

She laid there a moment more, her face drawn down. After what felt like an eternity, she looked back to the mirror and asked one final question. "Can I see any of my children outside the hive?" The mirror sent gentle ripples from its center as an image appeared. It showed a single changeling lying against a rock. Its chest was heaving, and its wings were barely tatters. There was no sound, Chrysalis could not hear if it tried to speak, but she saw it turn and try to run as the mirror went blank again. It was as if a blanket had simply been thrown over.

The queen let her eyes shut, allowing her magic to fade. There wasn't any point, it was as if the outside world was simply gone. What it could mean she feared to guess. She reveled in the silence and peace for the moment, waiting until the soft sound of the doors opening again caught in her sharp ears. Rising back up, she pulled back the veils yet again.

The jolt brought Cadence back, her eyes cracking open to see two large changelings at her sides. They had their heads bowed, and before them was platform surrounded by curtains. As the silken sheets were pulled away, a tall and regal figure stepped down and stood before the princess, held up haphazardly by leaning against the guards. "... You... I... You..." Cadence's voice faded, and her head hung low as fatigue began to overwhelm her again. Chrysalis followed with her eyes as the pony before her slid down to finally collapse in a heap.

While she may have lost the strength to stand, Cadence kept her eyes squarely on the queen before her. "We... we need... help..." She managed, wincing as she tried to push back up, but only managed in nudging her wing against the guard. "Nothing left... please... please..."

Chrysalis' gaze had been hard for only a moment, but now her eyes were unreadable. She simply stared at what she could only begin to guess was an Equestrian princess dying on the floors of her chambers. Her coat was matted in a black, viscous muck that looked as if she had just swam in the most vile pit of oily grime imaginable. Her eyes were bloodshot, breaths ragged... but the sight that most drew the eye was her wings. Thick metal rods had been stabbed through them, no less than four per wing. From each rod a chain hung, on top and bottom. Cuts and gashes covered what wasn't filthy. Never before had she witnessed such a sight. "Please..." Cadence's whisper was all that she had left.

Leaning her head forward, Chrysalis drew closer to her guest and spoke softly. "How desperate can you truly be that you have come here?" The queen rose back up to full height and stared down, only one eye addressing the mess at her hooves. "Are you so brave, or just foolish?" Cadence's eyes slowly shut, the question left unanswered. Silence remained in the chambers for moment after moment. Finally, with a click of her tongue against her fangs the queen addressed her guards. "See to her wounds. My curiosity will not be sated by a corpse." Lowering her head, Chrysalis took a closer look at the fainted princess. "And I assure you, many curious things have been happening today." Taking one small breath was all for the queen to recoil in disgust. "Augh! And see that she is bathed!"

The guards obeyed without a word and slid a cloth beneath their new charge, lifting it and carrying her away on the makeshift gurney. Within minutes a small group of drones was in the queen's chambers cleaning the residue left by Cadence. They did their duty, and departed without a word and again Chrysalis was left alone but for the two royal sentries. "... Most curious indeed. Guard!"

"My queen," one of the helmeted changelings responded.

"See that I am awoken when she is fit to be brought before me again."

"As you wish."

A pleasing scent filled the air, like hearth and blooms on a spring morning. It brought back pleasing memories, fleeting as they went. It was a smell just like this that morning that made her more happy than she could have ever imagined. Opening her eyes, Cadence smiled as she saw the flowerbeds around her extending for as far as the eye could see. "Cadence?" That strong voice, drawing the princess' attention to smile as her love stood beside her.

"Shining Armor... I missed you."

"Where are you?" He passed her by, looking this way and that as if lost. "Cadence?"

"If we're playing hide-and-seek this is hardly the way to ask me, silly. I'm right here."

"Cadence!" He called, truly searching as a hint of panic was rising in his voice. "Cadence, I can't find you! Where are you?!" His voice kept rising, his head turning and twisting as if blind to the world.

"Shining Armor, I'm right here! Right here, can't you see me?" She tried to touch him, but his body parted like mist from her hoof. "What..."

"Cadence, why didn't you listen to me?! Why couldn't we be together?!" Shining Armor yelled at the sky, tripping over something and sprawling out as he did. Cadence was at his side in a flash, trying her best to get her love to see her. "Why did you have to run?"

Those words could have stopped her heart dead in her chest. A sudden feeling of cold rushed over the gardens as the flowers wilted in seconds. She watched as the image of her love lifted his head, empty eyes staring right at her. Cadence felt her muscles lock, something holding her in place before she could even think to run. The sky turned black as Shining Armor stared at her, black muck spreading out below him as his neck began to extend so unnaturally it burned away any hope the princess had before. "Cadence... my love... why did you RUN?!"

"No!" She jolted herself awake, the tense coiling from the shock almost paralyzing her where she was. Cadence fought back tears as she tried to control her breathing. Her eyes were squeezed shut, but despite her best efforts two tiny streams began to slide down her cheeks. When she was finally able to relax, a weariness she had never felt before overtook her. She rested her head back down on the soft pillow, hating the horribleness of her dreams. "Shining Armor..." She mumbled, reaching out with a hoof trying to find her husband in the bed. She was alone, and only then did she notice the strange softness of the bedding. It felt like silk, not the unicorn-woven velvet of her normal bed.

When her eyes opened, she found herself in a shadowy room, only lit from a blue glowing shape on the ceiling above. It was a cave, though furnished like a palace. The bed she was in was comfortable, but alien. That was when she heard a chitter. Slowly turning her head to face the other way, Cadence nearly came nose to nose with a bug-like face and two wide blue eyes. "YAAAH!!!" The princess made one quick jerk and immediately regretted it. She cried out from the sudden shock of pain that came from her wings.

She looked at them, and saw they had been bound in silken bandages. She blinked a few moments as all the memories were coming back to her. The metal spikes that... thing had nearly imprisoned her with were gone, as was the muck she'd bathed in. She was clean, bandaged, and looking back she saw the changeling had taken a seat beside her bed and watched her placidly. "Um... did... did you do this for me?"

It looked at her and cocked its head to the side before chattering. Standing, its wings buzzed and it took flight up and out one of the honeycomb-like openings in the ceiling. The soreness in her legs burned, but nowhere near the pain that had once been for the princess. She felt the soft sheets and mattress beneath her and sighed, they felt heavenly. She was given a few minutes of this peaceful escape when a rapping came at the door before it was pushed open.

A rather large changeling entered, a helmet over its head that obscured all features but the eyes. "The Queen asks for an audience now that you have awoken." His voice held the same hollow-like sound Chrysalis' did, but one of definite male quality. The guard stood aside as four drones entered carrying a litter. "You will come with us."

Looking from the guard to the litter, Cadence finally nodded her head. "How could I refuse my gracious host?" The drones came to stand beside the princess's bed, and with some difficulty she was able to pull herself on board. With their passenger settled, the drones followed after the guard as he led the way out of the bedchambers. All the while, Cadence tried not to look up and around at the massive hive. Changelings were flying this way and that, and the buzz they made was very loud. None of which brought up good feelings in Cadence. She had always wished their paths would never cross again.

Closing her eyes, the young princess thought back to happier memories. The flowery field Shining Armor had proposed to her, the delight she'd had babysitting Twilight Sparkle. They were some of her happiest moments, her second family... but something nagged in her mind. It was as if a pull was drawing these happy recallings away. Even now, she was having trouble visualizing them, fuzzy and blurry and not all there. Laying her head down on the litter, there was nothing stopping her now.

There wasn't any fight left. Everything she'd gone through, all the pain she'd felt and the dream... all ending in the happy memories she cherished slowly fading into nothingness. It was too much. There, in the center of the changeling hive, Princess Cadence openly and bitterly wept.

Poison Memories

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Cadence wiped her eyes against her foreleg, drying the stains of her tears as best she could. The changeling drones carrying her litter occasionally chittered to one another, a few to her though their words fell on unknowing ears. The huge guard that led the way remained stoically silent. After everything she had gone through, Cadence thought she would be terrified. But, now that she found herself in the presence of the beings that nearly cost her everything she found warmth and caring... something that had never once crossed her mind.

The procession came to a set of thick, mossy doors. The front guard lifted his legs and pressed against them, the soft sound of grinding rock coming as they parted. It made the princess stare with surprise, these doors were immense and yet a single changeling could move them. Once the opening was just wide enough, the litter was carried through into a room that drew awe at the newcomer. She knew she'd been here, but her mind had been so unwound, she hadn't paid attention to the scope of this cavern. Blue lights like stars shined from so high above she could barely make them out. There were so many it illuminated the entire cavern in an eerie glow, just enough for the eye to adjust without difficulty.

When she could finally make out the true proportions of the expanse, she could see that this single room was practically an entire mountain that had been hollowed. In the center, underneath the greatest of the glowing shapes was a mass of curtains, veils, and tapestries held up by great pillars upon which runes and murals had been etched. The queen's chambers, she could feel it. This was a place of royalty. "My queen, your guest as commanded has been brought before you." The guard spoke in almost a whisper, bowing his head so low it touched the stone floors.

There was no answer, only a green shimmering light from within the veils that parted them to form a narrow opening. The drones obeyed and carried the litter to stand beside this entrance. Their passenger waited a moment, as if unsure of what to do. But, mustering her courage, Cadence rose on shaky legs and stepped through the opening. The moment she was through, the veils fell and shut out the light from outside. It was dark within, and the princess felt a lump growing in her throat. "Hu... ah... um... hello?"

A tiny prick of green light appeared to the side, and with a flash dozens of candles spread all about the veiled chamber lit. There, laying upon several cushions was Chrysalis, her horn aglow with the green fire of her unique magical powers. "Hello, Princess Cadence. Welcome to my home." Her voice was soft, but there was a tone to it that made Cadence uncomfortable. "I trust you have been treated well?"

"Y-yes... thank you. But, um... why would you help me?"

The queen turned a piercing eye to stare unblinking at the princess. Again, her gaze was completely unreadable, and it made Cadence want to simply crawl in a hole and hide. "What would you have done were it I that came to your doorstep, bleeding and begging? Did you think me heartless?" The question hung in the silence for a few moments. "Come, you are still tired and your wounds are fresh. I have no intention of doing further harm." Slowly the princess complied, painstakingly laying herself upon a large cushion beside the changeling queen.

"I would have thought, I mean, since what happened... you would not be happy to see me." Chrysalis finally turned her head and looked Cadence over for a short moment. "I thought you would have sought revenge."

"Revenge is for those ho have nothing and want nothing. You have something I want and I have something you need." The green fire that illuminated the queen's horn splashed dazzling color around her... but the air seemed to swallow it as it cast no shadow or light beyond the changeling herself. The magic separated and floated to the stone floor, spreading out until it gave the appearance of a glimmering pool. "What has happened in Equestria?" The queen stood and walked slowly to the other side of her magical pool, eerie light shimmering on her from its surface.

"I..." her voice trailed away, eyes just staring into the greenish water before her. Cadence's silence brought only a scowl to Chrysalis, her head leaning forward and fangs bared.

"There are more important matters than your aching heart, princess. Do not think you are the only one with something to lose here." This drew Cadence's attention, and the two locked eyes. "You aren't the only one with something... precious at stake."

"What do you mean?"

"Hmph," Chrysalis grunted with a turn of her head. "I mean that ponies are not the only ones suffering from whatever calamity you have allowed to transpire." The queen leaned her head down and blew gently on the surface of the pool. The water rippled softly, an image appearing beneath the tiny waves. It showed a single drone lying on its side. Cadence looked at it a moment, her eyes softening at the state of what she saw. The changeling was battered, its wings ripped apart, and its eyes mostly closed.

"What is this?" Cadence whispered, fearing what the answer could be. Chrysalis didn't answer, she was silently watching her guest. She had even taken to pacing back and forth on her side of the pool. The lithe movements, the unblinking gaze that pierced like blades... the princess was starting to feel like she was being watched by a predator. Finally, the queen looked down at the picture and hissed softly, almost like a sigh.

"One of my daughters, if you must know. Now, will you tell me why I have awoken to the sight of my children in such a state?" The impatience was beginning to sound in the echo-like voice of the queen.

"Is she... hurt?"

"She is dead." The matter-of-fact tone caught Cadence by surprise. She looked from Chrysalis to the picture, then back up.

"I am sorry. Truly."

"I don't want your pity," Chrysalis snapped as she backed up, blending into the dark except for her luminescent eyes. "I want more knowledge than I have. All I know is my children are dead, and I demand to understand the reason!" The sudden yell and stamp of a hoof excited the waters before her. Cadence lowered her head and nodded, minding the hurtful soreness of her wings as reminders.

"I don't know where it came from... or what it is. All I know is yesterday, A great shadow fell over Canterlot. It could be seen even from my own kingdom. When I came to investigate, I found only desolation. Dark magic has swept over nearly all Equestria. Creatures I cannot begin to describe hunt and devour any they can find." As Cadence recalled her story, the viewing pool was beginning to ripple again. Her story was being shown under its surface, as if the memories were given form within. "The castle was lost, we could not even get close. I... he... Shining Armor..." her voice trailed off, and the image froze showing a shadowy fog. Within it, Chrysalis could make out the shape of a unicorn.

"It took him?" Cadence only answered with a short nod.

"He gave me time to run. I made it as far as Ponyville, but I was too late there as well. Only a few were left, and the darkness was taking them so easily..." The pool shifted to a group of unicorns casting magic frantically, surrounded by foggy beings that moved with unnatural speed. Chrysalis watched as the fog would swoop in, snatch up one of the ponies and retreat. There was no sound... and for once she was glad of it. "I was able to drive them away, but one caught me before I could stop it. They did something to our magic, something terrible. I tried to cast a protective spell to ward it off, but it used my own magic to attack me. That's when... I mean it," she stuttered before gazing at her bandaged wings.

The pool showed the image of Cadence being swept into the darkness, masked by the shroud as it did its horrible deed to her wings. "If it was not for Twilight Sparkle, I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened. She saved me, and we ran. We ran for so long." Cadence felt like crying again, but her eyes were spent. There was nothing there to be shed.

"How is it you came to find your way here? I have spent a great deal of time hiding my hive away from outside eyes."

"A spell cast on me. Twilight meant it to be a fail-safe spell, but it nearly caused my capture. It is as if our very magic has been poisoned against us." Pacing slowly back and forth on the opposite side of the pool, Chrysalis seemed to take all that the princess recounted with a great deal of thought. The images in the emerald glow of the pool finally subsided, and the room fell silent and still. Cadence had rested her head on the pillow, woefully trying to push the hurtful memories away.

"So, that brings matters to you, princess." Chrysalis' regarded her guest with a cold glance. "What am I to do with you? You have told me little, and though my magic has failed to reveal what is happening this calamity has not reached my hive. What indeed shall I do?"

Drawing her head up again, Cadence let out a slow breath and met the queen's eyes. She mustered herself, keeping her expression calm and gentle. This was not time for past hurts or old grudges. If ever there was time for forgiveness, it was done and passed for what needed done now. Rising to her hooves, despite shaky legs, the Crystal Princess stood tall. She considered her words carefully, the very thought of what she was about to do gripped her heart. The queen had that gripping gaze locked on her, but Cadence paid no mind. "Queen Chrysalis, ruler of the Changeling Hive... I, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza formally request for your aid. I offer anything I have in my power as yours if you agree."

The silence following Cadence's request drew to painful length. Cadence kept herself up, whether by will or through some feat even she could not understand. Finally the queen stirred, walking over her pool as it parted for her hooves to step without a drop touching her. Finally, a few steps from the princess, Chrysalis stopped. That unreadable expression morphed into a smirk, fangs exposed. "Anything?" The question sent a cold spike down Cadence's back. "I do want one thing. The last thing you have and I need." Mustering her courage, the princess nodded and waited. "I want you..." Chrysalis drew closer and whispered, "to beg."

Frozen, that was how Cadence felt. She couldn't feel her legs, the hurt in her heart a weight threatening to tear from her chest. Now, her last hope desired the one last thing she could salvage. Chrysalis demanded her pride. The smirk, the fangs, the piercing eyes... all the queen had cut the princess. But, she remembered Twilight's face as the beast took he. Se remembered Shining Armor fighting off the darkness. She remembered the brave group in Ponyville fighting to the last pony to defend their home. All of them gone.

She let her legs bend, whether from exhaustion or compliance she frankly didn't care. With painfully slow movements she bowed her head. Everything Chrysalis had ever done to her had shamed her again and again. She'd almost stolen everything, and now she was being freely given all Cadence had left. But, if that was her price for aid, the princess was willing to pay. It wasn't about her. She wasn't important anymore. What few lives could be saved was worth a lifetime of humiliation.

Closing her eyes, Cadence drew the hardest breath of her life. Before she could utter a word, she felt something slip over her horn and into her mane. She looked up, and saw Chrysalis' mirror levitating in front of her. She saw her tiara placed rather haphazardly back on her head. She had thought it lost after everything, but there it was. "You would really beg me for help? I'm surprised to say, I didn't expect you to do it." There was something different in the queen's voice. She poked her head out the side of the mirror with a mirthful gleam in her eye. "But I must say, if you are willing to do that, than this truly means everything to you."

The queen set aside her mirror and strode up to stand right in front of Cadence. A tiny flash from her horn and the tiara centered and fit as it was meant to. "You already begged me, princess. Beaten, broken, the only words you could manage were a plea." Standing high, the Changeling Queen gazed towards her guest and bared her fangs, but this time without the smirk. "I accept your request. You have my aid."

Not waiting for a reply, Chrysalis strode to the wall of curtains and pulled them aside with her magic. Cadence shakily came to stand close, and there she asked a question she could not help but inquire. "After all that has happened between us... why would you help? I didn't think you would agree. I thought I would be sent back... or worse."

"My dear... I am not heartless. You had something I needed, and I had something you wanted. I have what I need, and you have what you want. Can we not be satisfied with this?"

"I barely remember what happened... how could I possibly have done this?"

Chrysalis turned away from the princess and into the dark gloom of her outer chambers. Her voice took on a vicious hiss as she said, "I needed to know what murdered my daughters, and you had just enough knowledge. You gave me all I required."

"What was it?"

Chrysalis' head whipped back around, her eyes glowing dangerously as she hissed through her teeth, "a target."