by Prane

Chapter 1

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“Keep it steady… a little bit to the left… I said left… MY LEFT, not yours! Now, a bit higher… higher… ah, just perfect! Now take the other banner and hang it on the opposite wall.”

Queen Chrysalis was content with how the first of two major tasks for today was progressing. Preparations for welcoming an envoy from Equestria were in full swing, even if she sometimes couldn’t really believe that a pony – a pony! – was going to set hoof in Hive Chrysalis of his own, unconstrained will, and that she was the one who actually agreed to host him. Just another sign of how much the state of things had changed since their last great campaign for Canterlot. The plan itself was brilliant even if it ultimately failed… well, at least she had those few minutes of glory, those few verses to sing in that play, so to speak. Good times, good times…

But those times were gone. Today, changelings were trading brass tips of their spears for silver tongues in their mouths and the language of conquest for the one of diplomacy.

“What’s next on the list, Lili-Iqqel?” Chrysalis asked her trusty advisor.

The changeling fluttered her shear wings and approached the queen. With a sleek, black as tar carapace, large fangs and bald head with protruding horn she looked like any other member of her species. Only the eyes were distinctive – violet in color, as for every changeling of the Speaker Caste.

“You need to approve the choice of courses for the welcome feast, my Queen,” Iqqel replied, landing beside Chrysalis and skimming through her list again. It seemed that most of the items were already checked on.

“I trust the cooks completely,” Chrysalis said, to which the advisor nodded and marked out that penultimate task. “Did the Tender Caste deliver sufficient amount of food?”

“Zolo-Sallik has brought vegetables this morning, but we’re still waiting for Zoli-Yttel and her herbs,” Iqqel said. “There are no other matters that would require your attention today, apart from greeting and hosting the guest when he arrives.”

Chrysalis sighed with relief and took a glance at the list. SIGN THE CULTURAL EXCHANGE TREATY WITH EQUESTRIA, the last point was stating. And since it couldn’t be checked until later today she might as well return to her own affairs.

“Commendable job, Iqqel, as always,” she said. “I will return to my chambers now. You may go.”

The advisor bowed and fluttered away to help the others decorate the ballroom. Chrysalis valued Iqqel for her calmness and unbeatable organizational skills, and although the concept of friendship itself was elusive, not to mention debatable when it came to the relations between the sovereign and the subjects, she had to admit that she enjoyed her company. Besides, Iqqel had already saved her from making a fool of herself on numerous occasions, more than once stepping in and taking the blame instead.

Across few short corridors and staircases, Chrysalis hurried up to her study, a part of the Spire where she could conduct research and practice magical arts without being disturbed. She had been working on a very complex spell for some time now, and today she was going to finalize it. According to a dusty old tome her agents had commandeered several weeks ago, the spell would allow her to split into two separate, yet identical beings possessing the same knowledge, personality traits and power. Not just a mirror image of her, but something much more than that: an assistant for the queen.

Why would she want one? The question was: why wouldn’t she? For someone who could take shape of literally everyone, being literally everyone one at a time was painfully limiting. Not to mention that another Chrysalis would effectively double the amount of time she had for her subjects.

The Hive was growing in numbers and Chrysalis knew that signing the treaty would open borders for many new challenges and pony-related issues. And she already felt overworked sometimes, because being the single most important element of the changeling society, the queens seldom had time for themselves. Rarely leaving the Spire nowadays, she was spending most of her time on paperwork instead of tending to her subjects in person.

But with the perfect assistant she was going to create that was about to change. She felt a slight thrill of the crime – after all, this kind of cloning magic was forbidden in most civilized lands, and Equestrians, who banned it first, surely wouldn’t approve her endeavors. But they weren’t going to find out, were they?

Chrysalis approached a hexagonal mirror standing in the middle of the chamber, surrounded by a complicated pattern on the floor arranged from silver dust, colorful luminite and some other magical reagents. Consulting the book, she lit an enchanted, catalyzing candle and placed it directly beneath the mirror’s bronze frame. She took a deep breath and focused on her reflection.

Green stream of magic emerged from her horn and set the pattern alight, releasing colorful mist which immediately moved towards the mirror. Guided by the candlelight, the mist slid through the flame and rose up above, sticking to the reflection of Chrysalis like miasma. Once her whole image got covered there was a bright flash of light, sound of glass shattering and a sudden explosion which pushed her back.

Chrysalis dared to open her eyes. The spell apparently worked!

Surrounded by broken pieces and bent frame of the mirror there was another Chrysalis standing right in front of her. However, she didn’t seem to be an ideal copy. Her mane and wings were in color of ripe oranges instead of expected dark cerulean, and while the real Chrysalis was studying her counterpart with a dose of disbelief in her green eyes, the magenta-red ones of the other changeling seemed to be smirking just like the rest of her face.

“Yo!” the duplicate exclaimed cheerfully.

“Are you… me?” Chrysalis asked.

“Indeed I am. Or perhaps you’re me?” she replied, her voice sounding just like Chrysalis’ own: as if several beings were talking together, though each slightly out of sync with one another. “I couldn’t tell, the duplication magic is so complex. But fun!”

Now Chrysalis realized that something probably went wrong with the spell. While the body of the other changeling was very similar – she even had holes in her legs in the exact same places – there was something different about her general demeanor. Real Chrysalis would never call something as complicated as arcane arts ‘fun’. She would also never dye her mane with such an exposing color. And, most importantly, she would never smile that fatuously and that wide for no apparent reason. In fact, discovering that the muscles of her face were capable of producing such expression was quite a surprise.

“Thanks for inviting me to the party!” the duplicate said. “It is high time to liven this place up… and I intend to do just that. Our subjects deserve that, you know.”

‘Our’ subjects? That sounded ominous. Why not simply ‘your’ subjects?

Chrysalis trotted to a table and opened the book once again, searching frantically throughout its content. The spell description clearly stated that the duplicate will be aware of being one, that it will obey orders and depend on its creator. It was also supposed to look exactly like the original – not slightly like, not kind of like, exactly like!

Just then she reached an excerpt she’d swear that wasn’t there before. On some rare occurrences the copy might–

“See ya!” the duplicate waved and fled outside the chamber.

“Wait!” Chrysalis shouted and ran to the doors. “You’re supposed to be my assistant! Come back here, RIGHT NOW!”

She threw the book aside, never finishing the sentence which she should have probably read long before casting the spell. It didn’t matter now – she had to act, accepting that the price of not familiarizing with a cause was to deal with the effect itself. After mere seconds of galloping down the stairs and through the corridors, she found herself back in the ballroom. The other Chrysalis was already there.

“Subjects! Seize the impostor!” the real one commanded.

After a moment of dismay and stir, a group of yellow-eyed changelings of the Worker Caste dropped the banner they were just about to hang and rushed to capture the queen look-alike. They got immediately reinforced by a couple of Spire Guards who flanked her from the top.

As soon as they were ready to strike, she disappeared in an unnatural sparkling cloud of red smoke, leaving a fall of something colorful in the place where she was just standing. Was that… confetti? What kind of teleportation magic leaves behind useless, impossible to dispose of pieces of shredded paper?

The impostor appeared fraction of a second later on a decorative chandelier composed from several greenish and bluish faintly glowing crystals.

“Tsk-tsk, isn’t that improper for the queen of the entire nation to treat guests like that?” she said, swinging on the chandelier over the heads of confused changelings. “Can you imagine what would the visitor from Equestria say? There wouldn’t be any treaty after that, that’s for sure!”

Chrysalis glanced at her motionless subjects. For a reason most likely hidden within the dispersing cloud of after-teleportation smoke they were just standing idle and not attacking, but only grinning blissfully with their bald heads covered with confetti.

“Get down or I’ll blast you into the depths of Tartarus!” Chrysalis shouted.

“Aw, don’t be like that, Chryssi!” the other changeling replied from up high. “Can I call you Chryssi? It has such a nice jingle to it, just say it with me! Chry-ssi… Chryssssi. Chryssi!” she giggled. “Hear it. Taste it. Smell it!”

Chrysalis felt strangely entranced now that scent of teleportation smoke had reached her nostrils. Best described as carrying the epitome of a party within, the smell was the one of burned out sparklers, spilled beverages and cooked treats too exotic for a traditional changeling diet. But there was something else to it… something captivating, reaching deep into her very self. Something compelling, almost impossible to resist…

“You may call me…” Chrysalis shook her head and waved away the scent. “I am Chrysalis, the Queen of the Changeling Hive Chrysalis and you will obey me!” her voice boomed. “What have you done to my subjects!?”

“Consider it a foretaste of what I’ll do with the rest of our Hive,” the duplicate grinned, then teleported to the other side of the ballroom, reappearing just next to the exit. “Until next time, Queen Chryssi!”

Chrysalis winced and dashed to her subjects, using magic to repel teleportation smoke and multicolored confetti descending from the chandelier. She dragged away one of the Spire Guards and shook him a couple of times.

“What is your condition? Gollek? Captain Keko-Gollek, answer me!”

“I am… well,” the blue-eyed changeling of the Warrior Caste replied. He blinked several times, slowly straightening up and regaining his trademark sturdy posture. He stretched his legs and smiled widely. “Surprisingly well, my Queen. As if I had just harvested affection from a pair of newlyweds ponies.”

Though she gave no sign of it, Chrysalis felt relief knowing that this particular veteran of the Canterlot Campaign was unharmed. Gollek was one of the first changelings she found after she had landed on the other side of Equestria, far away from home. She lost many brave soldiers that day... some didn’t find their way back to the Hive and others simply deserted. Either way, that was a loss which she, as their leader, could never forgive herself.

“Go check on the others,” she said and trotted under the chandelier to attend to Iqqel. “Did the smoke harm you in any way?”

“I don’t think it was supposed to be harmful,” the advisor replied, speaking much faster than usual. “Quite the opposite: it was a bit overwhelming, but weirdly invigorating. Refreshing. Rejuvenating. Stimulating!” she almost shouted and immediately covered her mouth. She took a couple of deep breaths before continuing in her regular calm and steady voice. “Forgive me, my Queen. I seem to be talking too much, which leads me to believe that the smoke was some kind of love energy.”

That explained it! Love!

Pure, nourishing energy which manifested itself in many forms. You could find it in a passionate kiss between two lovers, sincere smile of a child and warm hug shared amongst friends. While not essential for changelings to survive, the love energy allowed them to grow stronger. Upon acquiring sufficient amount, a changeling’s reactions became quicker, senses worked more efficiently and the general mood was increased – curiously enough, such description would classify ‘love’ as a drug in Equestria and few other nations.

A changeling infused by the love energy was slowly releasing it into his surroundings, like a wave of warmth and positivity reaching all nearby changelings to feel. But if too many saturated changelings happened to be in the same place for too long, the release could turn into an overpowering intoxication and cause similar effects to that weird teleportation smoke.

So much for creating a helpful assistant! Chrysalis had nothing against her subjects getting tipsy with love from time to time, but her duplicate was apparently capable of causing drunkenness all across the Hive. That couldn’t be allowed to happen.

“Your orders, my Queen?” Gollek inquired. “Shall we hunt down the impostor?”

“No, captain. This is my responsibility,” Chrysalis stated, then addressed the rest of the changelings gathered in the ballroom. “Subjects! Your orders are to prepare the Spire for the arrival of the Equestrian envoy. Table, chairs, nothing too fancy. We don’t want to appear as if we wanted to impress him.”

“And do we?” Iqqel inquired with a sly smile.

“Of course we do!” Chrysalis replied. “If you want to visit Canterlot and bring some souvenirs for your clusters without resorting to disguise and subterfuge, make our guest regret he wasn’t hatched a changeling. By the end of the day, he is to return to Equestria and tell everyone how magnificent the Changeling Hive Chrysalis is!”

The changelings cheered in response and went back to their duties, chattering about their plans for sightseeing Equestria and at the same time flooding Gollek with questions about Canterlot. Iqqel didn’t join them immediately, but approached Chrysalis and bowed.

“You truly are thinking ahead, my Queen.”

“I wish that was true,” she replied with a frown and headed towards the exit. “Now go and make this day perfect!” she said, then muttered under her breath, “I will go deal… with myself.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 27 Minutes
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