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Look, I Can Explain... · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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All is Fair
The door to the cell slammed open, and Shining Armor marched in.

Cadence raised her eyes, trying to flick her limp mane out of her face. She straightened as best she could, the chains on her hooves and wings weighing her down.

"Oh, hello." She give a weak grin. "I wondered when you'd show up."

"What do you think?" Shining preened, running a hoof through his lustrous mane.

"You've almost got it, Chrysalis." Cadence shifted again, searching for a more comfortable position. The cell - more of a cave, really - was lit by the dim glow of crystals and a warm glow spilling through the door. Strange apparatus lurked in the shadows. "But his left ear is a little larger. And your horn isn't quite right…" She trailed off, studying the 'stallion' before her judiciously. "Turn to the left, I can't see—"

Green fire swirled up, blazing away the borrowed shape to reveal a scraggly insectoid, eyes fierce.

"Awww." Cadence sagged.

Chrysalis stepped closer, a frown creasing her sharp features. "You don't seem very worried, Princess."

"Sorry about that." Cadence shuffled a length of chain away from her wing. "It's a little difficult to get in the right mindset. I mean, chains can be fun in moderation, but this is a bit excessive, don't you think?" She smiled sweetly up at her captor.

Chrysalis grit her fangs.

"And, well, this dungeon is pretty good." She nodded firmly at the creeping shadows, the half-seen tools and shapes in the corners. "But it's a bit too clean, if you're going for terror, you know? You could try gloating, though. Maybe that would—"

"It's a storage room." Chrysalis shook her head. "And I don't have the energy for a proper gloat. Cadence, what are you doing here?"

"Didn't your patrol do a proper report?" Cadence widened her eyes innocently. She scratched her horn, clinking a dirty golden horseshoe against the suppressor ring they had fitted her with. "They picked me up at your north border, just waaaandering through the desert, you know?"

"Wandering directly towards us." The Queen glared.

"Purely by accident, I assure you." Cadence shrugged.

"In the madlands? We both know that's not true." Chrysalis leaned in. "I want to know why you're really here, Cadence."

"Why don't you throw me in one of your pods?" The princess leaned in, lowering her voice. "You could drain my emotion, try some of your hallucination spells on me… I'm sure I'd be spilling the beans in ten minutes."

"As if." Chrysalis' voice was flat. "You think I don't know how you've been fighting us in Equestria? You think I'd let you, with your Crystal Heart behind you, anywhere near my emotions?"

"Worth a shot." Cadence leaned back. "But really, did you just come here to ask? Don't you have, you know, torture instruments, or something?"

"Would that make you more compliant?" Chrysalis quirked an eyebrow.

"Maybe!" Cadence grinned. "Being captured by you awoke something in me, I think. Ever since, I've been—"

"Enough!" Chrysalis flared her wings, looming over her captive. "What are you plotting, scheming?"

"I'm not like Aunty Celestia, you know." Cadence shoved her lip out in a pout. "I don't try and think everything through exhaustively."

"But you do have a reason."

"I do. And, if you let me out of these chains, I might even tell you." Cadence shook a hoof, clanking. "They're starting to chafe."

Chrysalis gave her a flat stare.

"Look, what can I do?" She shrugged, and pointed to the suppressor. "With this, I can't cast or fly. Even a few changelings could keep me under control. And it's not like I can run, exactly. We're surrounded by miles and miles of desert, and I don't even know which direction I'd need to head."

"I'll consider it." The Queen spun on her heel, marching back towards the door.

"Chrysalis, wait!" Cadence called.

The changeling stopped, turning back.

"It's…" Cadence drew in a deep breath. "It's because I love you."

"Hah." Chrysalis stormed out.

The door slammed.

Cadence sighed.

"Not too bad." She drew in a deep breath, and wriggled once, shaking most of the chains off, before stepping out of the loose manacles. Turning around a few times, she shaped the loose pile of links into a little nest and curled up uneasily. She tapped the suppressor and winced, but shrugged. "No plan survives contact, I suppose."

She woke to the door creaking open. The light in the cell grew, pulling her from uneasy slumber. She stood and stretched slowly, shaking out bedraggled wings and scratching at matted fur on her belly.

A quiet swarm entered, nondescript and unhurried. They replaced the dim crystals on the walls, banishing the shadows and revealing racks of shovels and picks. They brought in a pair of low beds, which they placed side-by-side. Sheets snapped into place, pillows and blankets were thrown on. Two plain chairs and small table were added, with a glowing centerpiece.

Cadence watched them work, eyebrows slowly climbing higher and higher.

Finally, another changeling walked in. "I apologize for the accommodations, Princess." He grinned, and it was almost friendly. "It's the best we could do on short notice."

"Really, I don't mind." She looked him up and down. He was noticeably taller than the workers, nearly coming to Cadence's nose. He neared her, and nodded easily. She noticed a tiny touch of ornamentation, a faint green tracery on his forehead that vaguely resembled a crown. "It's not like I'm exactly your friend."

"I guess not." He cocked his head. "Seeing as how you're single-hoofedly responsible for nearly every defeat we've suffered over the past few years. Still, perhaps that can change." He held out a hoof. "Nice to finally meet my nemesis, Princess. Call me Spiracle."

"The pleasure is mine." She tapped his hoof, spreading her wings in a tiny curtsy. "Just Cadence, please."

"Of course." He waved to the table. The changelings had added a small bale of hay and two plates, before filing out of the room. "Let's sit. Talk. Perhaps we can come to an understanding. It's not much, but I thought you'd be hungry."

Cadence's stomach rumbled, and she lowered her ears with a nervous laugh. "A little."

He pulled out a chair for her, then took his seat across from her.

"So." Cadence pulled the tiny pitchfork out of the bale, serving herself some and passing it to him. "I'll admit, I'm curious. Are you here to interrogate me, too? Did Chrysalis send you?"

"Not… exactly." Spiracle took a bite, munching reflectively. "This is, as it were, on my own initiative. Though I am curious why you're here. You could have simply waited at home, letting your match-makers continue their very effective campaign against our infiltrators. By coming here, you put yourself at risk of life and limb. Although perhaps that's not quite as big of an issue for an alicorn."

"Well, it's not like I'd come back instantly." Cadence tapped her fork against the edge of her plate, staring off into space. "Hearts-and-hooves day isn't until spring. So, you would have… what, four months to work unimpeded if you knocked me off here? Although I assure you, I'd come back with a vengeance."

"Not to mention what your husband would do." Spiracle shuddered delicately.

"True." Cadence smirked. "Shiny might not be quiiite as good at spreading love through Equestria as I am, but the Crystal Guard would totally act. And, well, when you've got an emotion-driven artifact designed to 'protect the land from evil' behind you…"

"Yes, yes." Spiracle waved her off. "I get it. For somepony with the gall to walk into an enemy stronghold, you act out a wonderful impression of powerlessness, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza."

"Flattery will get you everywhere." She giggled, but sobered up quickly. "This visit is on your own initiative, you said?"

"Mmm." Spiracle swallowed the last of his hay, and leaned back. The light played over his green-black shell in glistening patterns, but a second glance showed he was thin, the holes in his legs gaping. "This hive is… well, we're in trouble." Cadence moved to speak, but he hurried on. "Of course, I understand that you're simply protecting your own. I get it. And if this farce of a war has made anything clear, it's that we simply have no chance in Equestria. We can't live here. We're cowering in the madlands after you threw us out, and now your Crystal Heart empowered matchmakers are rooting out the last of our infiltrators."

He sighed. "In short, we're doomed."

"So, you plan to…?"

"Leave." He leaned forwards, placing his forehooves on the table. "Pack up and go, straight through Discord's waste, until we find somewhere we can survive. We'll be out of your mane. And, if I have anything to say about it, we won't repeat the same mistakes we made here."

"But." Cadence reached for the pitcher, pouring herself a mug of lukewarm water. "Will you have anything to say about it?"

"I'll do my best." Spiracle rubbed his temples. "And I thought maybe we could work together."


"You're here for revenge." He looked up, gaze frank. "It's the only explanation."

"You said it, not me." Cadence smirked. "All Chrysalis did was imprison me, hypnotize my husband, and attack my nation."

"Of course. Although, you seem calmer than I'd expect," Spiracle said.

"I've had some time to think about it." Cadence shoved her chair back and sighed. "And I've made my decisions."

"Well." Spiracle reached under a wing, producing a small package. "As a show of goodwill." He placed it on the table between then. It leaked silver light.

"How generous," Cadence drawled. "I was wondering if I'd get this back." She shook the cloth, and a glittering bangle fell out. It was set with a glowing bead, which sparkled as she hooked it around an ear. "But why should I help you with anything, Spiracle?" She crossed her hooves behind her head. "All I need to do is wait, and this problem will take care of itself."

"True." He slumped slightly. "But you are here, and for your own reasons."

They sat in silence a long moment.

"…Alright." Cadence surrendered, turning to look him right in the eyes. "You're right, of course. I'm here for revenge." Her eyes narrowed. "Chrysalis hurt me. So I'm going to return the favor, and I know exactly what hurts the most." Cadence chuckled.

"I'm going to break her heart."

Spiracle grimaced, but nodded slowly. "Well. I don't know how much I can help with that. But… there's something you need to see, I think." He closed his eyes and rubbed one holey hoof across them. "I should be able to convince Chrysalis that antagonizing you isn't worth the trouble. Tomorrow, you'll be free to wander the Hive, as long as you stay in public areas. Ask someling to direct you to Imago."

"Will do." Cadence yawned. "Sorry. I haven't slept very well."

"Rest, then." Spiracle collected the plates. "Make your decision, and come find me tomorrow."

"Mmm." Cadence barely waited for him to leave before tossing back the sheets. She grimaced at the sand and dust covering her coat, but crawled in anyways.

It was the least of her worries.

The changeling hive was much more pleasant than she had pictured.

It was tunneled through sand, the grains packed tight and coated with a tough, greenish sealant. Crystal lamps illuminated wide halls, winding gently in artistic patterns. The doors were stone, thick and rough-cut but balanced so precisely a breeze would swing them open.

Cool air ruffled her mane, drifting up towards the surface. The changelings might go in for utilitarian, but this was by no means the dank, moldering mound she had pictured a 'hive' as.

"Excuse me." She stopped a passing… well, they looked like a pony. But she was quite sure Fleur Dis Lee didn't have wings. "Can you tell me where Imago is?"

"Of course," the changeling answered easily, rattling off a string of directions. Cadence did her best to commit them to memory, before giving a friendly nod and stepping away. There hadn't been a single yell of anger, strange look, or even comment on her appearance. She had found a currycomb and brush on her table, so she didn't look the wreck she had been yesterday, but it still surprised her.

I wonder if this is how they feel, walking into our towns… She pondered the thought as she trotted through the halls. Finally, she reached a nondescript door, and knocked once.

The door swung open from the gesture, letting quiet voices out.

"—but Daring Do didn't quit! She—"

Cadence frowned, leaning in.

"—and threw the Ring of Scorchero—"

That sounded like…

"—Ahuizotal howled! He—"

"Chrysalis?" The princess poked the door again, and it swung wide.

Sure enough, the Queen was inside. She sat on the floor of a wide room, with small toys and trinkets scattered around. A foal-sized bed sat in one corner, under a window that let in actual sunlight, giving the room a natural luminance. She was holding a book in her aura, and her eyes went wide as she looked up and saw Cadence at the door.

Next to her, on the floor, was a changeling filly. She had a strong jaw, a delicate, spiraled horn.

And a flowing blue mane, striped with lighter blue.

"Sun and stars…" Cadence breathed.

"Cadence?" Chrysalis' voice was tremulous, panicked. "Look, I, I can explain!"

The filly cocked her head, studying the princess curiously as Cadence's slowly grew wider and wider.

"It wasn't, I didn't, it was his love!" Chrysalis dropped the book, leaping forwards to stand between them. "Not his 'love', but his love, you see? His love for you! I didn't, I couldn't, she just hatched like that!" The Queen's voice trailed off in a half-wail.

"Moooom, let me see!" The filly stood, trying to walk around Chrysalis, but the Queen held her back.

Cadence's voice finally returned. "…I'm not a changeling, little one." She knelt, looking Chrysalis' daughter in the eyes. "You must be Imago."

"Mmm." The filly nodded. "And who are you?"

"I'm Cadence." She leaned in, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial stage-whisper and spreading her wings slightly. "I'm a princess. Just like you, I guess?"

"Not quite." Chrysalis shoved herself between the two, pushing Cadence back. "Listen, dear." She turned to Imago. "Mom needs to talk to Cadence for a moment." She shoved the alicorn towards the door.

"It's going to storm again," the filly said, looking out the window.

"What?" Both larger ponies turned. Outside, a curtain of sand could be seen, sweeping slowly towards the hive. Strange colors mottled its surface, and it surged and swirled in uncanny patterns.

"Wingshreds," Chrysalis cursed. Her eyes flicked back and forth between Cadence and Imago. An alarm started ringing, somewhere off in the tunnels. "I need to go, dear." She leaned in towards Cadence, scowling hard. "If you hurt my daughter at all…"

"I would never!" Cadence raised a hoof to her breast, shock evident on her face. "She's a foal! I love foals!" She sat down, next to the filly. "We'll just talk."

Chrysalis grit her teeth and gave one last warning stare, before turning to gallop away.

"Is that a madstorm?" Cadence asked, turning to the window and dropping to her haunches.

"Yeah." Imago sat beside her, staring into the distance. "I think they've been getting worse. They're building something out there to help, but the really crazy parts of the desert keep moving closer."

"Discord," Cadence sighed. "If it didn't cause trouble, he never would have made it."

"But…" Imago frowned. "Isn't he a statue? In Daring Do…"

"Not for the past few years." Cadence pulled a pile of blocks closer, and started absently stacking them. "But he made the madlands before he was sealed, a long, long time ago. He wouldn't do anything like that now."

"Why not?" The filly joined the game, carefully setting blocks into arches and pillars.

"He's changed." She flicked her ear, the starred bangle shifting. "He decided to be friends with ponies."

"Ponies," Imago said reflectively. "You're pony, not a changeling."

"That's right."

"Mom doesn't like ponies."

"Me especially, I bet." Cadence placed the last block, and looked back out the window. "Hey," she pointed to a squat, regular structure just visible at one edge. "Is that what they're building?"

"Yeah!" Imago turned, conveniently distracted. "It's really cool. It's got all these triangles, like this." She traced a few shapes on the floor, indicating nested shapes. "If Mom puts some magic in it, it can hold the storms back. It's the only thing keeping the hive safe." Her voice lowered. "But it's really hard on her."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Cadence patted Imago's mane consolingly, looking at those almost-blue-enough eyes, glimmering with facets. "Maybe I can help."

"Why would you help?" The filly turned, scrunching up her muzzle.

"Well, that's why I'm here." Cadence gave a disarming grin. "I'm trying to save her, after all."

"Hmm." Imago tilted her head, considering that.

"Ooops!" Cadence knocked the tower of blocks down. Imago didn't quite seem satisfied, but left off the questions as they began rebuilding.

"Imago, can you tell me where I'd be able to find Spiracle after this?"

"Probably out there." The filly gestured to where the edifice was. The storm had parted around it, streaming away on both sides, leaving the hive clear. "Fixing stuff."


Cadence found the exit of the hive after a mere two or three false starts. She finally stopped a passing Pinkie Pie, and asked for directions.

Uncanny, she thought, watching the changeling bounce off down the corridor, humming happy. That… That was a changeling, right?

She shook the thought away, and stepped out of the hive. The entryway was low and wide, curling several times to keep blown sand from getting into the cave. A few changelings, with and without disguises, were busy sweeping it back into the dunes.

She shaded her eyes against the sun, spreading her wings for balance as she made her way towards the whatever-it-was they were building out in the wastes. She fell once, trying to flap but forgetting the suppressor rendered her wings lift-less. Eventually she neared her target.

There were more changelings here, swarming around an artificial flat-topped hill. A mound of sand had been sculpted into a triangle, and sealed with the same hard coating they used on the inside of the hive's walls. Arrayed on top were more triangles, carefully arranged in patterns of decreasing size, repeating inwards and upwards in a logical, totally ordered way.

"What do you think?"

She turned to see Spiracle, recognizing him by the crownlike sigil marked on his head.

"A nice piece of spellwork." She started walking, circling it clockwise. "It can really repel madstorms?"

"It just did." He pointed inwards, towards the uncompleted center. "We're still working on it. The smaller the pieces get, the better it works, but the more effort it takes to make them." He pointed out in the desert. "Look, you can see the detritus the storm kicked up."

She gazed out into the wastes, and nodded. An eclectic assortment of knickknacks and oddities were scattered and buried in the sand, marking a rough wedge around the point of the triangles. She saw half a couch, a ceramic tea-set, a potted cactus, and some strangely melted clocks.

"We scavenge some useful stuff out there."

The stood in silence a long moment.

"So, have you considered my proposal?" He turned to her, breaking her from her reverie.

"What are you planning, Spiracle?" Cadence looked up, to where the sun was scorching its way across the sky. The dunes unrolled around them, the hive hidden under their protective layers.

"I'm going to exile Chrysalis." He stepped up to the triangles, pushing one ever so slightly out of alignment. "She's weak, indecisive, and deluded. We need a stronger leader, someling who can lead us out of this mess she landed us in."

"And that would be you?" Cadence's mouth curled into a smirk.

"It could be." He chuckled. "But that's not the point. Believe it or not, I'm doing this for the good of the hive."

"…Maybe you are, at that." Cadence shrugged.

"Did you meet Imago?" He grinned.

"Yes!" She grinned back. "She was so cute!"

"She is that." He turned, and they started walking back towards the hive. "But, when Chrysalis goes, Imago won't be able to stay with us."

"Where will they go?"

"No idea." He shrugged. "But… whatever you do to Chrysalis…"

"Don't worry." Cadence smiled reassuringly. "I may be here for revenge, but I'm no monster. Imago will have a good home, as long as I have any say in the matter."

"Good." Spiracle sighed. "Anyways, the plan." He pointed back to the array. "I'm going to put that, ever so slightly, out of alignment. Next time a storm hits, trying to hold the whole thing together will knock Chrysalis flat." His grin sharpened. "That's when we'll make our move. It should be simple enough to oust her when she's exhausted and helpless."

"And my part?"

"She needs to be distracted." The stepped into the shade of the entrance. "If she has time to look over the array, she'll realize something's going on."

Cadence grinned. "Distracting. I can be distracting." She stomped the sand off her hooves, and looked back at her sandy coat distastefully. "Tomorrow. Today, I need to find a bath."

"Bucket." Spiracle shrugged at her glare. "Sorry, bucket's the best we'll be able to do, I'm afraid."

"Then I'll have to cope."

She found Chrysalis the next day, in the lowest parts of the hive, after wandering the halls aimlessly for quite a while.

The room they were in was dim and cool, deep under the sand and filled with rows of strange pods. It was empty otherwise, broad and square and sparsely utilitarian. The yellow glow of the lamps shed a diffuse luminance over the whole thing, giving it an eerie alien feeling.

"What is this?" She tapped on a nearby pod. It squished emptily.

"Cadence?" Chrysalis turned away from what her work, pushing a pair of half-moon spectacles up her nose. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you." Cadence flicked her now much cleaner mane out of her face. "What are you working on?"

Chrysalis stared at her a long moment, before sighing. "Rationing."


"What else?" The changeling snapped. "We barely have enough for a week, and we can't expect more, until…" She broke off, glaring at Cadence.

"How does it work?"

"Why would I tell you?" Chrysalis snarled.


"No!" Chrysalis stepped forwards. "Don't you act all sugar and spice. Not you, Princess Cadence!"

"Wait, Chryalis, I don't want—"

"You don't want?" The Queen surged forwards, spreading her wings threateningly. "You don't want? Don't want to what? Drive us to starvation? Eradicate my people? Trap us in the armpit of no-where, fighting off sandstorms that are literally insane?"

"Now, hold up." Cadence leaned forwards in response. "You're blaming me for this? Really? Me!?" Her voice rose. "You, who invaded my country, attacked my family, hurt my friends?"

"We were starving!" Chrysalis pointed her pen at Cadence. "Have you ever gone to bed without knowing if you'd have a meal the next day? We're not ponies, Mi Amore. We can't eat grass! And—"

"—And that makes it all right?" Cadence snarled. "You're allowed to hurt ponies, as long as you really, really need to? And who gets to decide if you need to enough? Who gets to choose—"

"What else were we supposed to DO?" Chrysalis stomped a hoof in anger.

"Did you ever consider asking?" Cadence snapped, flicking an ear so her starred bangle glinted. "Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, there was a better way than trying to hurt and steal?"

"Phaw." Chrysalis spat. "Because you would have helped. Because you 'love' us."

"But I do!" Cadence's tone softened. "That's what I said, that's why I'm here!"

"Right." The Queen's face went hard. "Mi Amore Cadenza, guardian of the Crystal Heart, leader of the matcmakers, who are once again starving us out, hunting us town-by-town across Equestria, loves changelings."

"You just, you just need to stop hurting us!"

"You. First." Chrysalis spun. "Get out of here, Cadence. Dying might not kill you, but I bet it can still hurt."

Cadence stood for a minute, letting the emotions steam off her coat. Finally, she slumped and turned.

"Alright." She walked back to the door, shoving it open.

"Princess?" A small voice asked. She looked down, and found Imago standing there. "Are you alright? Is Mom alright?"

"Maybe." Cadence huffed. "Yes. No. I don't know." She hung her head and let her tail droop as she headed back to her room.

She was sitting on her bed, mulling things over, when a tentative knock came from the door.

"Come in," she called listlessly.

"Miss Cadence?" The door swung open.

"Come in, Imago." She scooted to the side, patting the bed for the filly to climb up on. "Is your mom doing alright?"

"Maybe." The filly frowned. "She's thrown everyling out of the throne-room, and she's sitting there drinking something from green bottles."

"Pff." Cadence leaned over and nuzzled the filly. "And you? Are you doing alright?"

"I think so." Imago lowered her head. "I wish Mom was happy. I wish we didn't all have to fight like this. I wish, I wish…"

"Shhh." Cadence patted her gently. "I'm sorry, Imago." She rubbed her eyes. "I shouldn't have gone in there and talked to her like that. I expected… I don't know what I expected." She sighed. "I wanted to come and help, but… maybe this was too much for me."

"I wish we didn't have to be changelings." The filly frowned. "Being changelings is hard. And Mom says that being a princess is even harder. She tells me things that happened to her, and says that I can't ever give up. I have to be strong, stronger than anyling, so I can be whoever the hive needs me to be."

"Does she?"

"And that a princess can't let anyling look down on them, and that they can't ever give in or give up."

"That's…" Cadence considered it for a minute. "Well, maybe you're half-right." She stood slowly, stretching and shaking her mane out.

"Where are you going?" Imago asked.

"I can't give up just yet." She smiled back. "But I think maybe I need to give in. I'm going to apologize."

Cadence drew a few deep breaths, standing before the doors of the throneroom.

They were tall and imposing, etched with beautiful reliefs and touched with gold to highlight the tracery. It was almost vine-like, gold and growing things carved into solid stone to stand against the press of the desert.

She gathered her courage, and pushed them open.

Chrysalis was sitting, not on the throne, but at a folding table just to one side. The room was minimalist but grand, power implied with swooping arches and patterned floors. Early afternoon sun lanced through a skylight, highlighting the huge, sculpted seat in the center and scattering sparkling rays from its golden tracery. The Queen was slumped on a cushion, a smattering of half-empty bottles and a mostly empty goblet sitting before her.

"Cadence." She looked up, spotting the alicorn, but did no more.

"Queen Chrysalis." The princess took a hesitant step forwards.

"Come in, come in." The changeling gestured widely, with a slightly wobbly hoof. "My honored enemy! Have a seat, have a drink. Let me tell you about my troubles."

Cadence walked over slowly, eventually sitting on the bare floor. The table was a little tall, but she could still reach the wine.

"This is the good stuff," Chrysalis said. "Only the best for Her Majesty." There was an indistinct burr to her voice. "So, why are you here?" She poured Cadence a glass. "Worked up a good gloat, maybe?"

"…No." Cadence sipped the wine, and coughed in surprise. It was thin and sour.

"Only the best," Chrysalis smirked dryly.

"I'm here to apologize."


"Yelling back." Cadence took another sip. The wine was far from 'good', but it did have the bite of liquor.

"That's a left-hoofed apology, if I ever heard one."

Cadence sighed. "It's all I've got, though. I didn't - don't - mean to fight you, Chrysalis."

"Right," The Queen said. "You 'love' me."

"You could check, you know." She turned a few bottles, reading the labels. "Just tap into my emotions."

"Right. And give you a chance to use your Heart on me." The Queen pushed a bottle over. "Do I look like I was born yesterday?"

"No." Cadence poured a jot into her glass and sipped again. A little better. "It might be easier if you were. Not quite so… hardened."

"Hah." Chrysalis swirled the wine in her glass, watching it sparkle in the sun. "It didn't take long for this world to start hardening me. I've done my best to shield Imago from it, but…" She slumped further. "Do you know what it's like, Cadence?"

"What what's like?"

"Scrabbling, fighting, hurting, for years and months and days, to build yourself something worth having, only to watch it all fall apart around you?" Chrysalis drained her cup.

"Maybe not," Cadence admitted.

"But that's not even the worst thing." Chrysalis tossed the glass, catching it easily her aura. "Suddenly, everything I built, it wasn't enough, because, because now I've got her, and, and it's not for me anymore." She locked eyes with Cadence. "It's not enough. It never was, and it never will be, because it's falling apart faster and faster, and there's nothing I can do." Her lips curled into a snarl. "And nevermind me. It's all going to come down on her head. And I can't save her." She threw the goblet with blurring speed. It burst on the wall, silver shards scattering smoothly across the floor. "I never could. All I can do is hold on, and wait until the sky falls and crushes us both."

"I'm sorry." Cadence found another glass, half-full, and passed it over. Chrysalis accepted it with a nod.

"Don't be."

Cadence cocked an eyebrow at that.

"I know, I know." The Queen waved her glass. "I said all that. And, alright, I feel all that. But, even if you're my enemy, I can tell when something's my fault. You're right; I started it. And honestly? I wouldn't care. I always expected to go out in a blaze of glory. Except, well, it turns out I do care. And I don't want to burn those near me. Some things change everything."

Cadence nodded.

"Well, I…" Chrysalis froze, as a distant ringing sounded through the room.

"So soon?" Cadence looked to the roof, where the sunlight was already dimming.

"Buck." Chrysalis threw her second glass, watching the wine explode across the floor. But she forced herself to her hooves. "Just what I needed."

"Wait, Chrysalis—"

"Can't." The Queen marched off. "I'm the only 'ling strong enough to power that monster array. And if I don't do it, the madstorms will shred this place." Her voice fell.

"And everyling in it."

Cadence found Spiracle standing by the door of the hive, gazing into the storm.

"You can't let her do this!" She skidded to a stop next to the changeling.

"Chrysalis?" He gave her a puzzled glance. "I couldn't stop her if I tried. Besides, she's already out there."

"She's still weak from yesterday!"

"It's unfortunate, sure. But—"

"And she's drunk off her ass!" Cadence grasped his shoulders, pulling him close. "Listen to me Spiracle. She can't do this. Those storms are no laughing matter. This one's stronger, too, and, and…"

"…She won't make it." A shadow of regret crossed the changeling's face.

"That's all you have to say?" Cadence screeched.

"That's how it goes, I guess." Spiracle shrugged her hoof off and gave her a puzzled look. "Why do you care, anyways? You wanted your revenge."

"Not like this!" Cadence gasped.

"So you don't get to stare into her eyes at the end," he said dryly. "But maybe it's better this way. It'll be an accident. You can take the foal. We'll move south, head for antelope lands maybe. I think I can do a convincing antelope."

Cadence stared at him in shock for a long moment, until light hoofsteps in the corridor called her attention back.

"Miss Cadence?"

She turned to find Imago galloping towards her.

"Is Mom going to be alright?"

"I…" Cadence gulped, looking out at the storm. "I don't know."

"Please!" The little changeling threw herself at Cadence's hooves, lowering her head to the ground. "Please, princess! I know I shouldn't beg, but… please, please help her!"

Cadence glanced at the swirling sand, flashing with wild magic. It would strip flesh to bone, twist bone to who-knows-what, and scatter the detritus across the barren, uncaring wastes. She felt the suppressor ring on her horn, and shuddered. She didn't know if an alicorn could even resurrect from that sort of treatment.

"Of course." She spun, dashing towards the array.

"Wait!" Imago leaped towards her and she slowed for a second, enough to scoop the filly onto her back.

"Hold on!" Spiracle called.

They ignored him.

She dashed towards the array in long, slewing arcs, scattering sand underhoof as she slalomed and skidded around dunes and over ridges. She nearly fell several times, over-correcting or stumbling, but steadied herself at the last second.

It took much, much longer than it should have, but they eventually neared the array.

It was an impressive sight.

Chrysalis stood at the center, horn arching and spitting. The triangles surrounding her were fizzing with light, a pure electric radiance that washed her sickly green aura with vibrant life. The spell was working, slicing into the storm with knifelike precision, although the defects were obvious. Several of the triangles were dark, shadows spreading in rays from the center of the fractal outwards in long beams of shadow.

"Chrysalis!" Cadence yelled.

No response.



She stepped up onto the outer triangle. The magic tickled her hooves, but didn't hurt.

"Mom!" Imago called.

Chrysalis' eyes snapped open.

"What the hay—!"

"We're here to help!" Cadence called.

"You can't!" The Queen yelled back. "Get back to the hive! This is a strong one, and the array—" She winced as something cracked, a fragment of cement whizzing past her head. Another black spot appeared, quickly spreading to the edge of the pattern. "Get back to the hive! It should hold for one storm! Head south, get past—"

"Shut UP!" Cadence yelled, scrambling onto another triangle. The magic was stronger here. She glanced back; she wasn't cutting a shadow into the magic. Yet. "I'm going to help you, whether you like it or not!"

"You're suppressed!" Chrysalis shouted, exasperation evident in her voice.

"Oh!" Imago scrambled forwards, reaching for Cadence's horn.

"Don't bother," Cadence said. "It takes a key." She leaped from one pillar to another moving further towards the Queen.

"Then how…" The filly's voice was nervous.

"I'll think of something," Cadence responded grimly. In moments she was standing before the Queen. The storm was pressing in, walls of sand grinding towards them. In the dim light, she could see the strain in the changeling's face and ears, every bit of her strength of will focused on maintaining the magic flow through the array.

"I'm telling you, get back," Chrysalis ground out.

"And I'm telling you no," Cadence spat. "I'm going to help you."

"How?" Chrysalis yelled. "Why?"

"Because." Cadence lowered her horn.

Chrysalis' eyes went wide as she realized what the alicorn was going to do. She struggled to pull away, but she couldn't stop channeling the spell, not with the storm all around them.

"Like I said." Cadence squeezed her eyes shut, channeling the barest trickle of magic past the suppressor ring.

"I love you."

And their horns touched.

The emotion nearly knocked Chrysalis off her hooves.

Cadence could feel her mind, whirling with surprise and shock and pain and anger and so very, very much fear.


Because you're worth it.

But I hurt…

I know. The alicorn soothed the changeling. You did. And I hurt you back, remember?

I, I!

But I didn't want that to be it. Cadence opened her mind, and Chrysalis saw the long, spiraling journey the alicorn had taken. How she had crawled back up from the depths, from rage, to anger, through pain and despair, until she had finally gotten up one day, laughed, and stepped into forgiveness. So it won't be.

So she reached down, down, down into her mind, pulled up every ounce of love she had, and poured it into the Queen.

If one of us needs to bend, it can be me.

And Chrysalis, standing on a pillar in the middle of a sandstorm, felt her heart break.

"Mom!" Imago leaped from Cadence's back as the Queen's eyes blazed white.

"She's fine." Cadence caught the filly mid-leap, pulling her back. "She'll be okay."

"What's happening, what did you do?" Imago twisted and pulled, looking around. The array was brightening, white magic burning back the black strips, cutting into the storm.

"She just needed a hug, I think."


Cadence winced as the array ignited entirely, thrusting a pillar of incandescent magic skywards with immense force. It hovered a moment and split, slashing into the storm. The curtains of sand shredded, her ears popped as the air pressure jumped, and suddenly, everything went still.

"Haaaa, haaa, haaa…" Chrysalis stood panting in the middle of the array, exhausted. But the despair was gone from her eyes.

Imago pulled free, darting to her mother.

"You alright?" Cadence stepped near, throwing a wing over the Queen.

"Give me a minute," Chrysalis said, blinking rapidly. There were suppressed sobs in her voice.

Sounds of yelling came from the direction of the hive.

"What… haaaah… what now?" Chrysalis looked up, and laid her ears back at meeting Cadence's gentle gaze.

"Come with me to Equestria." Cadence offered her a hoof. "Spiracle was planning to throw you out of the hive." She grimaced. "You might be stronger now, but you can't keep this up forever."

"I, haaah, know." Chrysalis sucked in a long breath, straightening up. "I always knew it. But I needed to keep going. I couldn't hold out long enough. But I had to." She picked up Imago, and settled the filly on her back. "What will it be like, there?" She wiped her eyes. "Equestria. Do you have nicer prisons there?"

"Heh." Cadence smirked. "I have a fairly… comfortable one. But you," she poked the Queen, "need a prison about as much as Luna needed the Tantabus."

"That what?"

"Nevermind that. Tell me, did you ever find out what happened to the changelings my matchmakers got ahold of?"


"They're married." Cadence smiled at Chrysalis, who stared back in shock. "Every single one of them. Quite happily, too. I can't promise we'll do the same for you, but we can try."

"So you really did come to help."

"Well, I wanted my revenge, too." Cadence tilted her head, freeing the starred bangle she wore. "This is from Luna, when she heard what I was going to try." The alicorn leaned forwards, slipping it over the Queen's ear. It fit perfectly. "She knows better than anypony; nothing hurts worse than regret. And I should know; nothing comes with more regret than a broken heart."

"Th-thank you." Chrysalis rubbed the bangle.

"You're welcome." Cadence looked back to where changelings were pouring from the door to the hive. She turned north, towards Equestria. "You coming?"

"I have to settle things here." Chrysalis' voice hitched. "Here, let me…" She produced a key from her mane, reaching for Cadence's horn. The suppressor fell away.

"Don't be too long, then." Cadence spread her wings wide, and lifted off with a strong flap.

"I'll wait for you."
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