Queen Chrysalis Loves Tea

by Zephyrus Scary

Chapter 1: Ponies Misrule, Changelings Drool

Queen Chrysalis Loves Tea

Zephyrus Scary

Oh, this was surely the end for her. Really, though, when one is immortal, then ending up in a situation like this is all but eventually guaranteed, no?

“Guard,” she said as she pointed to one such, “kick me across the muzzle to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

The guard’s only response was a deep gulp before he approached the throne, took flight, turned, clenched his eyes, prayed, sold his soul for good measure, and bucked.

She flew from the throne and hit the floor with such a crack that would have inspired pride of strength in nearly any other situation.

As the one gaped at his results, other guards galloped from all directions, but their concerns were silently hushed by a waving hoof.

“Guard,” she grumbled out as she tested her tongue and jaws, “is the letter from Princess Celestia still there?”

“Uh… uh…” The guard’s breath came sporadically as he processed the question, “Oh!” He flew down where said paper—which had inspired this debacle—had fluttered, forgotten. Snatching it up in flustered haste, he nearly ripped it as he hurried to open it and find the signature. “Ah!… Yes,” he finished with a resigned sigh, then turned the paper around and telekines-ed it towards her, expecting she’d demand proof. “‘With Love, Princess Celestia’.”

The guards flustered over her again as Queen Chrysalis allowed her eyes to close and her head to fall back, though when she spoke, they jumped back as one. “Does she think she’s being funny? Is, ‘with love’ the best Changeling joke the great Trollestia has? Well, ha. ha. ha.”

“My… Queen,” one guard said as he again stepped forward, glancing around for some support, the most he got was shrugging shoulders and small brushes of empathy—tasty and warming, like hot cocoa, but hardly much else. “This is no joke. I was given this letter by Princess Cadance, who said—specifically!—‘Give this to your queen.’”

This got her eyes to snap open. “You mean she knew who- what you are?” Now all eyes were on him, concern for the queen no longer necessary, and warm empathy turned to blustery confusion and the beginnings of fear.

“Ah… Er… Maybe…?” The guard bit his lip; him being a Changeling with fangs and other sharp teeth, this caused him to yelp and put a hoof to his mouth to rub at the pain. “That is… she might have…” Apparently, the guard could go on no further; no matter how he swallowed, the lump in his throat would not be moved.

Yes?” Queen Chrysalis hissed, rolling herself to her legs, her motion smooth and controlled as would be expected of a predator, and the targeted guard took a few steps back. “Maybe she knew…” she said as she stepped forward on each word, “like this!” With that, she launched a beam of acid-green magic straight at the guard. The bright, flashing light left everyone blinded for a moment, but when their vision cleared, they found the supposed guard to be… a guard! This was surprising because it was actually of the pony variety. -pegasus, to be specific.

The spell being more intended to knock back and disorientate than actually hurt (though still it had the power of a Changeling Queen behind it!), the pony quickly returned to the conscious world. He groaned to see it, for any fake world was surely better than a real Changeling hive! “How-… How did you-? Princess Luna thought-… nnn-. Great. Just… Oh-no.” He mumbled, half-incoherently.

Queen Chrysalis stood still above him, letting him work out his fear and regret; they couldn’t feed her, of course, but it was such a delightfully sour, tangy mixture. Just as she was ready to demand an explanation, he raised himself again, and even surprised her by looking straight into her eyes, though for that, she supposed that he couldn’t have been chosen for this mission for absolutely no reason.

“Look, that letter’s not a joke, or lie, or any kind of trap. There really is an- ah… -a problem Princess Celestia has sort of run into. -and the other princesses have decided that only the use of a doppelga-eep!

That cry was caused by Queen Chrysalis leaping just shy of stomping onto the guard, and then she leaned down, practically hissing, all amusement from the situation or his emotions gone. “‘use’, hmm? ‘use’!? Is that what weak, little Cadenza and the Bookworm Princess think!? That a Changeling Queen can be ‘used’!? -would ever allow herself to be ‘used’!?” Their muzzles were now just millimeters apart. “Tell me why I shouldn’t feed on you until you’re a husk right here, now!” The Queen then left her lips slightly open, just enough to draw attention to her fangs, and with how fear so quickly pervaded the room, she couldn’t help how the corners of her mouth curved up, however slightly

“Uhm… Uh… Uh…” His breathing now came in little gulps, jaw hanging open—he didn’t doubt for so much a Planck-second that she’d kill him, and that she’d enjoy it, even without the fact he’d just accidentally insulted her. “That-… You-… You’d be taking Princess Celestia’s place!” The only shock Queen Chrysalis showed was to forget to keep her fangs showing threateningly; this emboldened him, though still his voice was so high he would have been embarrassed if he had enough faculty to care. “You know how loved she is, of course! -and, like I said: no trap! I swear on the Princesses’ names! You’d just have to do this tiny thing for us, and we’d let you just… walk around and whatever while disguised as Princess Celestia! So, you- uh- see?” Around now, he started to calm down, for Queen Chrysalis had pulled her head back slightly, slowly… thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t have to worry about anything like, ah, well, you know: being found out and blasted out of town, or anything like that. -that you Changelings… probably… worry about?”

She snorted at the half-question, and only his extensive training helped, for he dare not flinch, as if to imply she disgusted him—no, he shall not move no matter how many droplets of Changeling snot there might be now slowly seeping into his coat! Soon, though, he forgot such worries as Changeling-carried disease and other yuckiness when the Queen snorted again, then lifted her head in full laugh; indeed, it was such a laugh that it even lasted long enough for the guard to wonder at what control and strength it must take for her to remain standing.

Eventually, Queen Chrysalis said in between stray chuckles, “Oh, whew… Well! I can at least approve of these methods! Though tell me, whose idea was this, hm? Which high-and-mighty princess debased herself with this suggestion of espionage?” Then what a wicked grin she gave! -though really it was hardly different from any grin that ever appeared on that chitined face.

To make it worse, she got exactly what she hoped for: “Uhm… actually, Princess Cadance was the first to bring up, but-” He did not stop for any particular reason, then, except to stare in somewhat-horrified fascination at that unruly grin growing ever further on the Queen’s face.

“Indeed?” She asked as she got her lips back under control, and he could do nothing more than nod a few times. “Then this I have to see.” She turned to her guards, all clustered behind her except for the one still near the throne, and announced, “Prepare the-! No… No, wait. This isn’t an invasion, after all… Hrmmm…” Indeed, she was most puzzled at the prospect of travel without intent to conquer. So, she turned her head to the pony guard. “How are we to arrive in Canterlot? Did the Princesses say?”

The guard tapped his chin. “W-Well, it wasn’t, uh, ‘part of the plan’ for me to be found out, so… You would arrive as a Changeling would, I suppose… -in disguise?” He offered.

The queen snorted again before turning her body half back towards him and raising her head high. “Hmph! -and did they bother to explain to you to tell me what use is a disguise when they are expecting me?”

Again, the guard seemed to take the question seriously, visibly pondering before, again, arriving at nothing but a best guess to present for her consideration. “I suppose, but they don’t know when you’ll arrive, ah, would they?”

“Heh. Not if my powers as a Changeling Queen have anything to say about that. Heheheh… Yes-ssss… I like that, pony-guard. In fact, I just might like you too much for your own good.”

He, however, didn’t seem to be paying much attention, but his brow was creased as if by worrying visions. “Actually, they probably don’t even know if you’ll ever arrive, but if you decided that and then found me out then, too, what were… the Princesses… thinking… would happen to me then?!” At that final word, he jumped to his hooves, but instantly feel back against the wall and hit the ground again.

“Hmm… Becoming disillusioned, are we?” Queen Chrysalis muttered more to herself than asking of him, flicking her tongue out and frowning at the bitter, rotting smell; the guards behind her flinched and gagged—some even dared to take a step or two back, but their Queen didn’t even turn her head to glare at them. “Don’t be so dramatic about it: Most of you pony guards are worthless anyway… nearly as worthless as the guards of my own throne room are at stopping ponies from entering!” At that, all of the Changelings in the room—even the one near the throne itself, who had now recovered somewhat—stood straight. “Hmph, don’t bother with the show, since you’re all already fired!” Yet as loyal as ever, they scattered, knowing they were dismissed. “-except you, Bucky McOneBrainCell,” Chrysalis shook her head slowly in exasperation, having telekinetically grabbed the one who’d obeyed her order to kick her face.

“Huh? What… do you mean… ‘worthless’?” The pony meanwhile fallen against the wall, sitting, but barely—more hunched over, almost to kissing the floor.

Queen Chrysalis now rolled her eyes, though no one, neither pony nor Changeling guard, saw it. “The part you should be more concerned with is, ‘most of you guards’.” This was enough to get him to lift his head and give the queen a quizzical stare, but no more. “Hmph! While you might have failed your mission as given, Guard, I know potential where pony princesses, it seems, are blind.” Nothing. “By which I mean, you should consider the possibility you are undervalued by your Princesses. -and don’t make me say anything more. Changeling Queens don’t do… compliments.” She then, in a rare reversal of nasal airflow, sniffed haughtily.

The pony blinked, turned and looked over the one remaining Changeling guard, then, incredibly, a small smile graced his disheveled, Changeling-magic-beaten face. “You called him Bucky.”

A Changeling Queen blinked. “-McOneBrainCell. -and are you serious? Am I the only one here who heard myself say you have something to be more concerned with?” The Changeling guard glanced, confused, between the Queen and pony.

“-but he kicked you in the face when you asked him to, and you called him Bucky for it.” The guard allowed himself a tiny chuckle at that, closing his eyes as if in reminiscence. “I don’t think many ponies, even in the guard, would do that for any of the Princesses, you know?…”

“Comparing a soldier-class, literally born for battle, to a squishy sack of food, who only don armor and grab a spear because of a mark ‘of destiny’ magically appearing on their butt…” The Queen shook her head, and patted the said-soldier’s head as if he was a colt. “That is hardly a compliment.”

“Oh?” The pony guard tilted his head in teasing faux-confusion, at which the mighty, proud Changeling Queen let out a mighty, steaming snort. “Did I ever say anything about ‘compliments’? Although really, I suppose it’s in a Changeling’s nature to deny-deny-deny.”

Queen Chrysalis opened her mouth, but stopped, eyes widening then narrowing, before she let out a quiet snarl and grumbled. “Fancy ourselves clever, do we? Well, I’ve heard what you ponies say about pride, and I say…-” The guard, now sitting fully up, leaned forward. “-you really should have born a Changeling.”

The queen laughed at the pony’s blank shock of her admission, redoubling when he, lost in thought, also loses his balance and falls on his muzzle; even “Bucky” joins in, and then, so does the pony guard.

“This-… Why doesn’t this sound as insane as it should?!” The pony was barely able to say, hugging his spasming middle.

Chrysalis’s laughter began to die down soon after this question. “Perhaps it isn’t,” she said with a thoughtful hum—at this, her two guards also quieted. “Ponies always have seemed to me to have odd ideas of what ‘sanity’ means.”

“Well…” The pony stood tall and rigid—no sign of what had just occurred except a few smudges of dust on the side upon which he laid. “Don’t count me among them any longer.” In a whisper so soft even Chrysalis, no more than six or seven feet away, barely heard, he added, “‘Sanity’ is being with someone who cares, even if they present it with a veneer of cruelty.”

The Queen flicked an ear, the tip of her tongue shot out for a mere millisecond, and her pupils slightly dilated—none of this was noticed. “Yes-ssss… Prepare, my Guards! It seems our next trip to Canterlot is coming sooner than expected!”

She turned and began to walk away; the Changeling guard transformed into a copy of the pony and followed her—when the pony failed to comply by the time he was halfway to the exit, he turned and urgently motioned, come. The pony guard, who had been staring off, blinking dumbly at his own action and the Queen’s sudden declaration, he obeyed, even if only for not knowing what else to do after defecting.

Stumbling into the narrow passage of rough stone wall beyond, the pony would have managed to stay on his hooves, if not for the sight that awaited him. “P-Princess! -Celestia!?”

“Not quite, Dummy.” The eyes of the “Princess” flashed green and slit-pupiled, at which the pony sighed and pulled himself up once more—How many more times would he fall until this ordeal was past? Too many, he was certain.

“Heheheh. Relief to see your ‘princess’ is the Changeling Queen in disguise? My, what would she think to see how her ‘harmony’ bought so little loyalty?”

The not-a-Changeling-in-disguise guard grumbled, “Loyalty is valuing somepony under the trust they value you in turn.”

“Aren’t you just full of platitudes today.” The Queen slowly narrowed her eyes looking down at her newest minion.

He shrugged. “Well, today is a strange-.”

Chrysalis stepped on his back with enough force and surprise to make his legs crumple instantly, and he hit the floor with enough force to knock the wind from him. “Stop it. Changelings don’t do platitudes, and for all intents and purposes you are Changeling now.”

She stepped back, and to her (unexpressed) surprise, he stood again nearly instantly and saluted. “Ye-urnk-haah-Yes, uh, Your… Queenliness.”

As she would to a soldier born to the hive, she pointedly ignored the pony’s vow. “Indeed… until we can figure out how to extract those ‘intents’ and ‘purposes’. -along with your pony-ness,” The Queen added to remove any doubt from said intents-and-purposes-Changeling, and again he showed no waver from her cruelty—or as he would call it, her queenly-veneer.

The Queen then began to lead them through tunnels different from the one the pony had taken on the way down. Eventually, voice more bored than concerned, the pony asked, “Queen Chrysalis, are you sure you should go disguised as Prince-?”

“Yes,” she cut him off, and her tone offered nothing else; the guard did not even shrug at this, as if he did not expect anything more, so when he long considered the point finished, he was surprised by her explaining as they came upon an exit of the hive. “This is exactly how I got into Canterlot the first time, you know, only as Princess Cadance then. Ponies don’t care if they’re ninety-nine percent sure that a princess shouldn’t be where they see them; they wouldn’t dare to question her, so all they do is bow, salute, or stand in awe.”

At that, they stepped out under the sunlight, as the glare faded from the pony’s eyes, he did a doubletake upon seeing them standing perhaps not even a mile from Dodge Junction, and a waiting train, plain to see. “Watch,” the queen said to the pony, “and act as if nothing is out of the ordinary.”

The queen and Changeling soldier walked purposefully, unconcerned, and the pony jumped in line after only a step or two. “What is out of the ordinary, anyway, My Queen?” He asked with all apparent earnestness, but his playfulness tickled the Changelings’ tongues, and they laughed lightly in appreciation of both joke and taste. “I’m serious,” he insisted against his own emotive evidence, “What’s out of the ordinary about a few Changelings going on a hunt?”

Queen Chrysalis snorted and looked down at him out of the corner of an eye, “Must I remind you that while I have admitted to liking you, don’t think I’ll let you get away with pushing too much. As your Queen, you must allow me to keep the title of ‘most snarky’.”

The pony had a quick retort ready. “That, and you’re currently disguised as Princess Celestia, in plain view of the ponies of Dodge.”

The soldier winced and the queen chuckled lowly. “For now, but what is to become of you when we are left alone in our royal compartment?”

But the pony walked at the Changeling Queen’s side, unconcerned.

Because he knew this train would offer no privacy, no matter any improvised “royal” compartment.

- - - -

Naturally, in the company of “Princess Celestia”, it was all too easy to board the train, even with zero bits. All the same, the Changeling Queen found something to grumble about: the aforementioned lack of privacy. Everypony in their car had eyes and ears for nothing but the Princess, and her general air of unamusedness caused them no lack of visible concern; particularly, her new pony guard watched her twitching brow as if waiting for a pegasus to set off a massive thunderhead.

“Uhm, My Q-Princess…?” The other guard eventually dared to probe, and as said Q-Princess turned her head to him, the other put hoof to face once he assumed himself out of her field of view. She then turned from the now-shivering guard to look around the car in an arc.

Finally, she burst. “Can this lot not grant a Princess some privacy!?” She screamed at nopony in particular in a fair imitation of the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice.

-And incredibly—or perhaps not so at all—the ponies all rushed for various exits instead of questioning their princess’s most unusually vexed demeanor. One pegasus even, not willing to wait in the scramble for the door, leaped out a window after dancing anxiously in place for a few seconds.

“So this is how it happened…” the pony guard mumbled once the car was clear, shaking his head. “This is how-” He sighed and looked to the ceiling. “-you replaced Princess Cadance without suspicion.”

Chrysalis chuckled. “Prey must always be stupid in regards to their predators’ ways, otherwise the predator would starve. You expected it to work any other way?” She reached out and brushed a hoof through his mane like a mother might. “Well, you are still technically a pony.”

Said technically-pony pushed the offending hoof away. “So, you have a plan?”

Chrysalis let out a kind of growling-hum, narrowing her eyes at the pony guard. “Of a sort,” She eventually said, “I shall listen to this… request of theirs, then if it is suitable, I’ll demand some compensation or other that will enable me to take Celestia’s position for myself permanently with nopony the wiser, and take Equestria in the name of the Changeling Empire!” And she began to laugh manically, though it hardly fit Celestia’s voice, it could be construed as only all the more mad-sounding for that—the disguised Changeling soon joined her.

The pony guard, however, unseen to his Queen, lowered his head into his hooves, and only dared think to himself, And you don’t think everypony is expecting you to try something like that?

- - - -

The rest of the train ride was unsurprisingly quiet, particularly considering how Chrysalis glared at any pony that attempted to reenter the car, and all quickly retreated and soon no longer tried. The pony guard managed a nap, telling himself there was nothing that could be done before reaching Canterlot, the Changeling guard remained aware and vigilant, and whatever thoughts the Queen—for she occasionally grinned wickedly or frowned in concern—she kept to herself.

At a whistle, the pony jerked and yawned awake; the Changeling regarded him with obvious disdain, which the pony took notice of once blinking his eyes open. “What’s that look for? Did you expect the train to be attacked by Changelings or something?” He yawned again and turned to idly look out the window at the city of Canterlot sliding into view; the changeling guard looked to his queen, who chuckled, making him blush.

“Now, time for the real excitement,” the pony guard muttered to himself as he stood and began to make his way to the door out.

“Oh?” The Changeling Queen hummed as she came up beside him, as he’d stopped to look over his shoulder questioningly. “Am I not ‘real’ enough for you?” She whispered in that faux-sweet tone, only more disconcerting to hear in Celestia’s voice.

“Certainly real enough,” He said with admirably level tone, “but, and no offense, one Changeling Queen is hardly equal to four Alicorns and Prince-Consort Captain who, I might add, I’ve all betrayed and deserted, versus you having already been my enemy until earlier today.”

The Queen leaned down her head until they were eye to eye and flashed her fangs through the disguise of Celestia, then licked the underside of his chin and raked her teeth through the fur of his neck—he didn’t flinch or otherwise move until she withdrew and pulled her head back up to normal height, only then tilting his head to keep eye contact. “Well, well, I suppose I can at lest spare a compliment to Shining Armor for training you to hide your fear so completely… to all but a Changeling, of course.”

“You needn’t, My Queen, for he’s not responsible for that, I can tell you,” he said with a short, quick bow of his head.

She chuckled in appreciation of his prostration. “Hmm? Indeed? That’ll save him the embarrassment of being unduly praised, then.” The pony guard looked up with head tilted in question, but she had already walked past him to continue out the train.

“Don’t bother,” the Changeling guard whispered, coming up to his new fellow. “The Queen likes embarrassing ponies nearly as much as feeding off them. Why do you think she revealed herself after Twilight Sparkle recovered the real Cadance?” He nodded as if knowing the pony’s nonexistent answer. “-because revealing herself just then, right after Twilight Sparkle proved herself right and before the ponies could process the revealing and come to their own conclusions, would be most embarrassing for Princess Celestia and Twilight Sparkle’s other friends.” He nodded again as he began to follow his Queen, and then said, seemingly to himself, “She bragged about causing chaos so much, you could’ve sworn she was Discord in disguise.”

The pony raised his brows at that, but very soon shock his head, grinning at his own silly foolishness. “Nah. There’s no way,” he muttered to himself before cantering after his Queen, long since now having stepped off the train. He arrived at the door just in time to witness one of his ex-fellow guards finally turn around to follow the line of sight of all the ponies staring at the “Princess”.

“Oh! Huh?” The pony guard saluted, but it was ruined by the confused tilt of his head. “Princess? When-?… When did you get on the train?”

The Supposed Sun Supporter Sneered, and reSponded as She might if approached by a Sack of Stinking Slime. “When I wanted to.” She then rolled her eyes and made to walk around him, no longer even looking at him. “When else?

“O-of course!” The guard shivered as if Celestia’s voice was that of a windigoes’ instead, and he saluted (more properly this time) as she walked on with her muzzle still turned up. Yet he thought to himself once she passed, Jeez, I’ve never seen the Princess in such a state! She’s acting a lot like Princess Cadance did when the- “Huh, wouldn’t that-…Uh-oh!” His eyes widened, and the Earth pony could have been mistaken for a unicorn, he disappeared so quickly.

- - - -

The guards at the gate of the castle saluted as the trio of infiltrators approached; one of them said, “Princess Celestia! I would urge you to hurry, or you’ll certainly be late!”

Great. Late for what? The pony guard wondered, and glancing at the Queen, saw she wished the same damning question.

The Changeling guard sniffed haughtily, “The Princess is never late. As busy as she is, whenever she manages to arrive should be good enough for everypony else.”

The Queen’s new recruit only took a split second to see the plan, and held in his chuckle well as he thought, Yes. So much for ‘McOneBrainCell’.

“Rmm, yes… I would normally say so, too, but this is a meeting with Princess Luna, Princess Cadance, and Princess Twilight. -and Prince-Consort Captain Armor.”

Even being a recent-turned renegade, the pony ex-guard couldn’t help but shake his head slightly, at the least, as the passed the gate. Ouch. To be forgotten by your own underlings just because a title doesn’t match up… Good thing no one’s around that would report that sort of thing. He looked up at the fake Celestia as they entered the castle proper. -and for them to be believed by the Prince-Consort himself, he inwardly corrected.

On they walked through hallways and staircases, only interrupted by the occasional staff that insisted on bowing to the Princess whereever they happened to be standing when they saw her, rather than step to the side like a sane pony—with every such pony shoved against the wall by Chrysalis, her frown deepened, and when her brows began to twitch, the pony guard decided he better distract her before the next pony unwittingly earns the wrath of a ruthless Changeling Queen.

“So you know where this, ah, meeting is, then, Your Highness?”

Yes,” she answered as they passed yet another maid seeming to wish to clean the floor with her lips, but once out of her earshot, clarified. “The room was indicated in that damnable letter, and I gathered much information about the castle the last time I was here, so of course I know exactly where to go.”

On and on they walked some more, until they passed a maid, at who the pony guard blinked and stared upon noticing, even looking back over his should at her. I could’ve sworn she’s- “Ah, My Queen, are you absolutely certain you know the way? I believe we just went in a cir-.”

I. Know.” Chrysalis growled, her eyes flashing green and slitted, seemingly involuntarily, so the pony guard thought. “Wait.” So she then stopped and closed her eyes, horn dully glowing green and pulsing out thin waves. “Ah, they must be there? Yes,” she said, now looking up at the ceiling, eyes glowing green as well, until she blinked, and then horn and eyes were normally disguised again. “This way.” Naturally, she didn’t wait, but promptly turned about and began to not-quite-canter along her determined path.

Now, it was all too easy and fast for the pony guard, whose heart accelerated as he began to realize this would be his reckoning as much as Queen Chrysalis’s, and her fate he would all-too-likely share, no matter the outcome.

As soon as the door opened, however, his heart froze instead, not from fear, but absolute confusion. “Ah, so our sister finally arrives,” Luna announced, then turned to add conversationally to the real Celestia sitting at her side, “Perhaps she was busy eating a cake she simply had to finish?” She grinned in pranksterlish glee, but Celestia never saw it, only wing-slapping her sister across the muzzle without sparing a glance.

The traitor pony released his breath and his muscles relaxed so he nearly fell to the floor.

The fake Celestia stepped forward, looking as cool and in control as the real one; without moving her head, her eyes roved over the guards that lined the walls, all looking more serious than usual and with weapons ready. Finally, she broke character and snorted. “You know, I’m almost insulted, seeing you think these… snacks would be enough to stop me if things went South.” She settled into the only remaining chair, which was directly across from Celestia, then grinned, showing her fangs. “Of course, I only say that with love, Princess Celestia.”

Said Princess groaned, drawing confused looks from Twilight, Cadance, and Shining, while Luna merely shook her head; taking note of those stares, Celestia grumbled, “That was meant to imply the incentive Equestria would offer you, Queen Chrysalis, and nothing more.”

Chrysalis chuckled, allowing her disguise (finally) to burn away. “I wonder about that.” She then playfully tapped her chin in faux thought, all the while grinning. “I’ve never fed from a ‘nation’s love’, nor heard of any Changeling doing so, so I wonder if it really would be ‘Equestria’ or… you?”

Celestia rose from her seat, but Luna smacked her with her wing hard enough to make her fall beneath the table. “Nay. ’Twould indeed be the common citizen of Equestria on which you would feed.” Luna seemed pleased by the shock, then disappointment that only a master diplomat would’ve seen on Chrysalis’s face. “-and this they would offer, for you would go out in the guise of my sister.”

The Queen closed her eyes, frowning in thought, and when she opened them, Celestia had recovered, and her mystically waving mane was now flowing around Luna’s seat, hiding her from view except for the occasional hoof poking from the mass and attempting to pull it away. Chrysalis licked her lips while ignoring this in favor of something far more important. “Well, even I can’t lie that that sounds very enticing and, hmm, generous, I suppose, and yet…” Then she stared significantly at Cadance and Shining Armor, “-I also can’t lie that that sounds very suspicious.”

Shining snorted and Cadance’s eyes hardened as she said, “Those sound like easy lies to me. You know we’re not stupid enough to not expect you to take advantage of this, right? Which would mean, at the least, you don’t think it’s gener-.”

“Yes, yes.” Chrysalis yawned and waved a hoof dismissively. “That’s a very interesting point, Mayor Cadance. I’ll be sure to keep it in mind, but right now the busy and important mares are talking.” She chuckled and the Changeling guard, still in disguise, laughed with her; when he noticed that Twilight was giving him a curious tilt of her head, the pony guard also laughed, but far too late. “However, I suppose I can spare a last word of advice: If you don’t wish to look the fool, only talk about that which you have experience in. So now I have to ask: How much experience in lying do you have?”

Cadance harrumphed, then after a few seconds too many, responded, “-and how much experience do you have with generosity?”

“What we need from you is to help us prevent an economic disaster of heretofore unseen scale.” Celestia swiftly cut over the argument, whether to spare Cadance embarrassment or simply get this business over with being unknown.

Chrysalis hummed then chuckled low. “I appreciate your confidence in me, Princess, but I’m afraid I would only lead Equestria to ruin, and no matter what else you might think of me, I do like ponies being around for me and my children to feed from and all.” She then looked up at the ceiling, licking her fangs. “Although, as an initial proposal, I could apply a few… how would you say this diplomatically… ‘strategic cocoons’ to ease the budget, and ‘create’ a few nobles who would be more agreeable to-”

“Seriously?” Twilight now finally cut in. “You being a villain and all, I didn’t expect much from you, myself, but… just… seriously?!”

Chrysalis gasped and put a hoof to her chest. “I can’t believe this of you, Princess of Friendship!” She then took in a shuddering breath as tears formed in her eyes; Twilight, however, remained unfazed. “To hear such bigotry from you of all ponies! How am I suppose to know anything about money when my very species—something I can’t control—has no need for such things!” Chrysalis then put her other hoof to her chest and closed her eyes, breathing deeply and hiccuping occasionally.

Twilight stared hard at the Queen for a long moment (and Luna, if she had known, would have been most thankful Celestia’s mane still hid her laughing self away, but alas, she was to be bereft of this chance of humor) before snorting with derision and barely contained rage, then she stomped on the table with both forehooves, stood, and turned to Celestia. “Princess, are you still sure we nee-!”

The elder sister held out a hoof for silence, which Twilight quickly obeyed; Celestia now had her face turned down toward her lap, looking simply exhausted. “Yes. You have made yourself quite clear enough on this point before, my dearest student. I am not finished here, though you are free to leave.” Celestia then somehow managed a calm smile for Twilight’s benefit, and the other princess took a massive lungful, looked like she might shout for a few seconds, but forced herself to let out the breath slowly, closed her eyes, and sat down—meanwhile, Chrysalis had let up the cragodile tears and had glued her grinning eyes onto Twilight.

When Twilight opened her eyes again, however, she kept them purposefully and determinedly from Chrysalis; this was harder than she expected, and her gaze fell upon the two supposed guards, switching rapidly between them in her effort to not look at the Queen. Celestia had just begun to speak once more—“Now, as I was about to say-”—but Twilight had evidently not heard, for she cut over her, having reached some conclusion that could not be delayed.

“What are you doing still sitting there, next that villain, and in front of your own captain, even!” Twilight pointed accusingly at the one who had laughed too late, and he flinched damningly. Once over the shock—quickly, being a soldier—he turned to see the Queen looking down at him with an expression that seemed to say “Let’s see how you handle this one on your own”, and his new fellow passed a look of pity around Chrysalis’s back.

Before he could answer, Cadance, who had tilted her head at Twilight’s “question”, was shocked straight and wide-eyed, and said, “Oh. She didn’t put you in a cocoon or just kill you?”

Again before he could answer (though in this case it wasn’t really necessary), Luna managed to finally gain a grip on Celestia’s mane (somehow. Even Twilight did a doubletake after noticing this from the corner of her eye). “Did I hear our messenger is alive? Ah-ha! Indeed, now we see! How lucky for you to have caught the Queen in this agreeable state. -for a certain definition of ‘agreeable’, that is.”

Celestia, at all of this sidetracking, let her forehead hit the table, and she simply left it there.

Luna’s supposed congratulations, however, only incensed the guard to answer before more could interrupt him and, worse, assume his stance on the matter. “Actually, Princess—Princesses and Prince-Consort-Captain, I have chosen to advance my career by seeking a position with someone more willing and able to take advantage of my skills, and with more respect for loyalty. That someone being Her Majesty, Queen Chrysalis.”

He barely had chance to finish his short speech without being cut off by a snort from Twilight. “‘Skills’? Please. Even Fluttershy was more effective at fighting off the Changeling forces than you and the rest of the Royal Guard. -and please don’t mention the ‘L’ word again, or we all might die from laughing.”

The guard huffed and met the Princess’s glare, which was hardly different from the one she’d just given Chrysalis. After a few seconds, he turned to his Queen and asked, “My Queen, if I may?” She merely chuckled and waved her head in Twilight’s general direction; he stepped onto the table and strode, unchallenged, up to Twilight, who leaned back with a grimace of disgust at his approach.

“What are-?” Is all she got out before he spun, quicker than seeing, and bucked her in the face with both hooves—she flipped over the back of her chair and bounced across the floor for a good distance.

Strangely, not a single one of the guards lining the walls moved to help her, but no one noticed.

Instead, they all stared, grinning or mouths open, as the newly minted “Changeling” returned calmly to his seat at the Queen’s side. As Chrysalis patted him across the withers in approval, the first pony, Shining Armor, regained composure enough to speak. “What from Tartarus?! That-! You have a deathwish, soldier?!”

The guard made to retort, but Chrysalis shot back first. “Oh, put your big-mare panties on and admit it, Prince Lunch Tray: You all deserve a good buck to the face from every one of your ‘guards’.”

Shining frowned and made a number of angry, disconnected sounds until Cadance rolled her eyes and answered for him. “So it’s as you deduced. What does it matter? So Equestria doesn’t need guards. Unlike yours, they’re still happy and healthy. They’re just-.”

“‘They’re just for us Princesses to use as we will,’” Queen Chrysalis said in a perfect Changeling-imitation of Cadance’s voice, then showed her fangs and her eyes glittered with glee, as if she knew something the Princess didn’t—and she did, because her newest had provided the perfect distraction. “Is that what you were going to say? Hmm? Have you not heard stories from Dear Consort about what life is like on the lower rungs of the ladder? Oh! -but I’ve forgotten…” She turned to the Prince then and chuckled low. “You’d never spent any real time ‘down there’, did you? After all, Little Twi-Twi’s magic surge-”—Chrysalis waved a hoof towards her, as she had just, finally, returned herself to her seat—“-shot you up through the ranks nearly as fast as she tested out of grade after grade!”

The Queen then paused to tilt back her head in a most infuriatingly superior fashion and give a slow, mocking laugh—both Cadance and Shining stood, looking ready to answer, but Chrysalis continued, “-but more to the point, I ask you if it is this guard’s fault—or any guard’s—that he has a Cutie Mark for a useless position?” Still, she didn’t give anypony time to answer. “More-more to the point, do you realize yet what powerful weapon you just gave me? What if I, as part of my demands for accepting this ridiculous arrangement, require you to announce to all the Royal Guard the truth of their employ? At which point, I would offer them a position more worthy of their talents back at my hive. What do you think of that, Mayor Breakfast and Captain Lunch?”

With a grimace, Cadance gave a twitchy toss of her head and made to answer, “As if anypony would be willing-!” However, Shining Armor tapped her whither and attempted to act discreet, though all eyes were on them, while indicating the guards all around them, who were whispering to each other and nodding with rather serious looks (which was saying something for the already stoic, vigilant Royal Guard).

There were then a few seconds of relative silence as all of the ponies at the table looked around; Luna recovered first, and stomped on the table in manner of a judge’s gavel and demanded, “Is this threat of mutiny!?” At the question, all froze.

Before any could step forward to speak for the platoon, the one at Chrysalis’s side snorted, and in the silence left by Luna’s implied threat, it could have been a cannon blast. “You can’t pretend to care any more, Princess of Mooning.”

Luna gasped, then shouted, “-and as for you-!”

Yet he cut over her, his calmness overpowering her anger, “You didn’t speak up just now when Twilight disparaged me, nor at Cadance’s admission, so you have no deniability.” Then he took a deep breath, raising his shoulders like a cat readying to pounce, staring hard at Princess Luna.

While the princess was busy grasping for some retort, Shining Armor shook his head and answered for her. “You haven’t been on this mission for half a day, and already your new ‘queen’ has corrupted you so much?”

The guard shook his head and made to answer, but one of those against the walls stepped forward and hit the floor with the butt of his spear to gain the table’s attention. “If this is truly how the rulers of Equestria have viewed the Royal Guard, then keeping us around is the…” He screwed up his muzzle with both the distaste of the notion and the struggle of putting his emotions to word—Chrysalis, however, lapped her tongue discretely and grinned wider at the emotions coming from the surrounding guards. “-the most insultingly infantilizing thing I’ve ever heard of!” he finished with another slam of his spear.

Another stepped forward then, appearing emboldened. “-and if we’re so worthless, why do you care if we mutiny? Why would you care if the whole guard disbands and joins Queen Chrysalis?! If anything, you should be happy we’ve found how to better apply our special talents. So… are you happy, or have you really never cared at all?!”

Shining Armor put his forehooves on the table and stood in similar manner to how Twilight had before, glaring in turn at the two offending guards. “Soldiers, this is a dangerous path you’re-!”

“Boooooo!” Numerous guards all around shouted their Captain down, which made him cringe and sit back. “Mutiny! Mutiny!” The entire platoon took up the chant. “Mutiny! Mutiny! MU-! -TI-! -NY!

Suddenly, the room was overtaken by commotion, the Royal Guard shouting insults or demands of explanation, all of which were lost in each other, as others slammed the butts of their spears against the floor in frustrated anger and others ran for the doors. “Spread the word! Spread word of the two-faced captain and the callous princesses!” One paused at the doors to shout back at the room, his voice carrying over the din; they obeyed, and in mere seconds, the room was left in disquieting calm, with the Princesses and Prince either gaping in disbelief or with their face in the forehooves.

Luna was of the former, and the first to recover. “Art. Thou. Serious?!” She Canterlot Royal Voice-d her frustration, hitting the table with her right forehoof, leaving a small crack and chip. “All of this because my dear sister couldn’t keep a single cup of tea in her stomach!?”

Celestia, being of the latter, brought her head slowly up from her cupped hooves to wearily stare at Luna. “Really, I’m still right here, Lulu.”

The Night Princess looked up, eyes wide. “Hark! Do I hear the Voice of Evil once more? Shall I become Nightmare Moon once more, and so be banished to a place that makes sense? Woe! Cry woes for the poor Princess, driven insane!”

With grit teeth, Princess Celestia took her sister’s horn in her magic and forced to her to meet her eyes. “You do know you’re partially to blame with that ‘agreeable’ comment to the Changeling Queen, nay?” She then looked around at her other fellow rulers, giving each a few good seconds under her gaze, like that of magnifying glass under her own Sun, multiplied a few thousand times; each hunched their shoulders guiltily. “If any of you had half a molecule of sense, you would have seen the guards’ attitude shifting.”

“P-Princess…” Twilight began, which alone cooled Celestia’s gaze a great amount, but whatever her thought, she never finished.

“What?” Queen Chrysalis muttered, almost seeming to herself, but it was enough to catch everyponies’ attention to see she was staring at Luna with wide, confused eyes. Then she asked, louder, “What… was that about ‘tea’?” The last word was high, as if it caught in her throat, and she swallowed.

It took a few seconds for all of their respective trains to switch tracks. The first to move was Celestia, who groaned, blushed, and looked determinedly at anything other than a pony or Changeling. Luna was similarly incapacitated, growling and grinding her teeth as her glare switched between sister and queen.

Twilight eventually coughed for attention. “It’s why… Princess Celestia decided to contact you and make this offer,” she said the name with clear emphasis on the fact she disagreed. “In public, the Princess got sick soon after her morning tea. Then she, ah, began to rant about how much she hated tea.”

“Just you wait, my faithful student.” Celestia stared as hard as she could through her tired eyes. “Just you wait until you’re forced to endure something you hate for over a thousand years, then we’ll all see what you think.”

The Queen eyes glittered, something Cadance was too late to recognize. “All of you except Shining Armor, that is.”

The offended stallion pulled back his head and flattened his ears; Cadance gasped and was quick to put a supportive wing across her husband’s back, then growled, “That’s low, even for you.”

Having earned the exact reaction she was going for, however, Queen Chrysalis simply threw her head back and laughed, and her two underlings chuckled. Before anypony could raise any more issue with the Queen’s jab, she stopped laughing relatively quickly to say, “but back to business: What was this about tea, again?” and again her voice hiked on the word “tea”.

Twilight let out a huff, looking as if she was ready to continue ranting at the bullying of her brother, but then took a deep breath and continued. “Long story short: The public is in a panic over Princess Celestia’s actions. Most are under the impression she’s been replaced by a Changeling—most likely you, actually—since that was the, ah, ‘official’ opinion by the rest of us princesses immediately following the incident.” Her voice slowly trailed off as her blush grew; she managed to recover impressively quickly, clearing her throat before saying, “Needless to say, we’ve found now she’s completely herself in both body and mind, but… Equestria doesn’t know that yet, and we’ve been keeping it secret because of a, well-…” She turned, stuck for words, to Princess Luna, who did well to hide the rolling of her eyes.

“It’s only been three days since my sister’s faux pas, but already the economic and social implications are proving devastating. All tea shops and teahouses have remained closed this entire time, and all tea-related items from other stores have been removed from their shelves, from teapots to teaspoons! As if this wasn’t bad enough, those with tea-related Cutie Marks have turned reclusive, or would hide their flanks with clothing before going out in public! We have even heard that stallions in the brothels are refusing to perform teabagging for-!”

Twilight suddenly dove under the table as if to search for something dropped, even though the table had been completely bare this entire time; Princess Cadance began coughing hard and loud enough to make Luna stop talking, and Shining pounded her back until she recovered and began speaking before Princess Luna could continue. “Yes, well- hack -once she recovered, Auntie Celestia’s been adamant about never sipping another drop of tea again as long as she lives. We thought it might be okay to go ahead and announce this, until an urgent letter on these trends and statistics came in.” Cadance gave a nod towards Twilight, but she was yet still out of sight. “After that, we were stuck for a solution until Celestia suggested contacting you. We thought she was joking until she said she was going to send a messenger to your hive if we couldn’t come up with anything better in ten seconds.” She sighed and looked down like a scolded dog. “-and, obviously, we failed, which sure is saying… something.”

Chrysalis, however, squared her shoulders and raised her muzzle haughtily. “Yes, and that ‘something’ is that I’m the undeniable best, the only one at this table capable of single-hoofedly saving Equestria!” She snorted with derision, and with her most malicious smile yet, looked down her muzzle at each pony in turn (except Twilight). “No wonder none of you have ever taken the title of ‘Queen’. You must all be subconsciously aware you’re not worthy of it.”

Twilight, in the shocked silence, jumped back up from under the table, shouting, “-and my friend Rarity threw out all of her tea and tea sets, even the rare, exotic stuff, all together worth hundreds of bits! -and Applejack stopped selling leaves for apple tea, even though she said it could cut her farm’s revenue by fifteen percent, and the rest of the Apple family is probably doing the same, she said! -and-!… Oh. Eh-heh heh…?”

“I get it, now,” Chrysalis said into the awkward silence left by the youngest princess’s outburst. “I’ll play the part of a tea-loving Celly, restoring peace and order to the tea-world, and as a result, the rest of Equestria and ultimately the world at large.”

The table fell silent again at this summarization, though this time more in incredulity. Shining armor could be seen mouthing to himself, and Chrysalis was sure she saw, “-and ultimately the world at large,” followed by a tiny shake of his head. The Queen decided this was more or less confirmed when he said out loud. “Well, that’s… one way to put it. The plan is for you to appear at morning and evening tea, as well as the occasional public appearance for a noon tea at a teahouse, or to cut the ribbon at opening tea shops.” He coughed into his hoof, buying time before finishing. “Also, to excuse the Princess’s actions three days ago, we will need to announce that you did, indeed, replace the Princess.”

At this, the Queen narrowed her eyes, staring at the Prince-Consort for a long time, and nopony dared to “save” him for fear of driving off their Changeling savior-to-be. Eventually, she turned contemplatively to the ceiling and said to it, “So, for all of this ‘saving the world from tea-based doom’ trouble, I’m not only expected to be paid a pittance of ‘public love’ for the Princess, but pretend I’m the one who almost caused the very doom I’m actually preventing?” The whole table, except Celestia, flinched or shifted guiltily. “Well, Princess Celestia, was this your plan? -to pitch this ‘offer’ to me, and worse, to expect me to take it?”

“No,” she answered simply, and her fellow ponies gasped and stared at her with unspoken questions. “I was trying to inspire this lot into coming up with a real plan, yet here we are.”

Luna grumbled, “Just like you sister, to try to secretly manipulate others to solve your own problems. I should have suspected, and I shame myself to admit I didn’t.”

“Well, then,” Chrysalis stood, though if anypony was paying attention, they would have noticed the drool at the corner of her lips and how she wavered, as if questioning her decision for a split second. “If we’re done here, I’ll just skip on down to the barracks to collect my new army before leaving.”

She turned and began to make good on her words, but her Changeling guard remained seated and looked over his shoulder at her with confusion and longing, and also with drool sneaking from his lips.

“P-Please, Queen Chr-Chrysalis,” said a new voice, which made her turn around. Then, she finally noticed an Earth pony maid, who had been there the entire time, but was so completely unassuming as to be virtually unnoticeable, instead of the author simply forgetting to mention her earlier. No. He purposefully didn’t mention her so as to set up this joke.

The maid stood and walked around the table to stand before the Changeling Queen, even as she trembled to do so; this revealed her Cutie Mark to be that of a fancy jar with tea leaves poking out and a few more tea leaves around, as if they had spilled out. “For so many generations, my family has made and served tea to the Princess. Won’t you at least try it?”

Chrysalis swallowed another mouthful of saliva, but definitively turned her head away and once more made for the door without even answering.

“I-I’d like some tea.” The sudden answer from right behind her made the maid eep! and swivel around, her turn nearly synchronized to Chrysalis’s.

However, as the Changeling Queen glowered at her subordinate, the maid blushed, curtsied, and rushed around said Queen out the door with a quick, “Right away! My best brew!” over her shoulder.

As everypony else was focused on the two Changelings, Princess Celestia wearily looked down into her lap, but managed a small smile as she thought to herself, Plan G, here we go…

The guard shivered under his Queen’s continued glare, but stood—or rather, sat—his ground. “We c-can at least stay for t-ten or fifteen minutes and have a cup.”

Chrysalis blinked at him for a few more seconds before rolling her eyes, swallowing, and returning to her seat. “I… suppose,” she said as she settled into regal-rigid position; as the Queen had closed her eyes with a carefully constructed, unconcerned, patient expression, she did not see the guard’s gleeful, anticipating smile—everypony else did, though.

“Wait. Wait,” Shining Armor said as he tapped his temple as to physically settle his thoughts, then pointed at the Changeling guard. “You… actually want tea? -as in, to actually drink it? -drink the tea?” His voice got higher with each question—more and more incredulous.

The Changeling tilted his head. “Yes…?” By the disgusted, scrunched-muzzle, tongue-poking-out expressions this earned from around the table, he was sure he’d gotten something wrong somewhere. “Do ponies do something different with tea? Do you… bathe in it, maybe…?” He tilted his head to the other side.

“No, McOneBrainCell,” Queen Chrysalis answered after rolling her closed eyes, “they do drink it, yet-…” She opened her eyes and roved them over the gathered royalty, very much like a predator. “Something is obviously wrong here. There’s some story, some secret between the Alicorns even I don’t know. Interesting…”

Twilight, it seemed, could no longer contain what ever was in her any more than her mentor had been able to hold her tea. “It’s no ‘secret’, much less one held ‘between Alicorns’! Tea is disgusting! It tastes like dirt! I’d rather eat a plate of moldy, boiled nightshade!” Twilight finished with a dramatic, exasperated throwing-out of her forelegs.

Chrysalis blinked with blank surprise at the outburst, then did a double take when she noticed everypony else nodding; her guard, who had never infiltrated pony society, merely scratched his head in confusion. She then asked, “-and everypony thinks this?”

“As far as we can tell, from those we’ve asked in confidence.” Twilight drew a paper seemingly out of nowhere, and tapped it. “So far, one hundred percent admit they secretly hate tea, and some have added additional comments, such as ‘It’s the worst. thing.-’ huh? ‘-EVAR!’? ‘Evar’? Ever…?” Twilight grumbled something that might have been “Rainbow Dash” as she conjured a quill with which she crossed something out and wrote over it.

“Then… why?” was all the Queen was able to say, but by Celestia putting a queezy hoof over her stomach and Luna giving her sister a glare, while everypony else turned curiously to the eldest Princess, they all understood her question.”

“It just… got out of hoof,” she started. “Back when Equestria was young, and just beginning to build relations with our neighboring countries, a flock of griffon nobles visited. One of them brought a… gift of tea. At the time, griffons considered it a kind of extravagant luxury, only for the richest at the most important of events. It’s sometimes funny to think back on that and see how they now think tea is ‘childish’ or ‘a pony’s drink’.”

“Sister, thou art delaying.” Luna used her magic to discreetly pinch her sister’s ear.

The Sun Princess maintained composure. “I was simply providing the context. Now… Of course, the tea was as disgusting as it ever was, but I drank it and complimented it for the sake of diplomacy. This, apparently, prompted the griffon king to gift a wagon-load of tea for the celebration of our successful negotiations. As you can imagine-” (though the two Changelings couldn’t) “-I was hesitant to drink all of the tea myself, so I left the castle’s kitchens with instructions to give tea to anypony who asked, and spread the word of my… generosity.”

Luna snorted, and appeared to be having trouble holding in a laugh.

“Yes. Well, I was certain that this could serve to deplete the reserves of tea while ‘informing’ my ponies of our newest ally’s export drink. Oh, what a fool I was…” Celestia looked upwards and shook her head, before shrugging her wings and returning to the story. “I hadn’t realized, you see, that my guard would have heard my complement of the tea, and thus it spread. First, only to the nobles, who decided that if the Princess of the Sun liked it, it must be good, no matter their own thoughts on the taste. Then from the nobles, it ran down the ranks, each believing that they must be wrong if those of higher stature described it as a ‘delicious, exotic, luxury drink’. Before I realized it, my entire country was crazy over tea, with young ponies even already starting to get Cutie Marks related to tea, so I decided I had to maintain the illusion ‘for a little while’, to avoid offending the griffons, if nothing else. That is, more or less, the tale of tea: an entire species deluding itself over a fake compliment.”

Luna added, “-and now, it’s too late to ‘pull out’, as it’were. Tea has become too tightly wound in our economy and, in the case of ponies of certain Cutie Marks, our very lives. As has already been explained, Celly refuses to so much as touch another drop of tea, so we need a double, who can stand to drink it.”

The Changeling Queen, however, bared her fangs at the Moon Princess, which she, to Chrysalis’s surprise (though she hid it well), returned in kind. “I’ve already answered this insulting question. I said ‘No’.”

The two remained glaring at each other for a good minute. When the Princess refused to bow down, Chrysalis jerked her gaze away and stood suddenly. “Come along, guards, we are not staying for-” she swallowed “-the tea party.”

The pony recruit stood at the order, but the Changeling guard remained seated. “I’m staying.”

Near instantly, Chrysalis whirled and was nose to nose with her guard. “What,” she demanded, tone perfectly flat.

The guard tried to pull his head back, but his queen moved her’s in perfect synchronicity. “I said, I-I’m staying. I w-want tea.”

Chrysalis fought hard—her hardest!—to keep her composure in face of that last word, but all too soon she had to swallow, and he knew what it meant; her threatening posture was broken.

Shining, with his smirk, broke the silence. “Well well, Chrysalis, how does it feel to lose your guard to ponies?” He put his chin on his hoof in a faux-contemplative look. “-and let’s not overlook the implications here: If Changelings like tea the way ponies hate tea, then you just might lose an army right as you gain one.”

Before the Queen could respond, her possibly-ex-guard grinned and nodded. “Yes! We Changeli-mmm-. Mm? Mmm!” He waved his forehooves frantically, finding his muzzle shut tight by acidic green magic.

Chrysalis was slowly climbing towards hyperventilation as she crouched, as if readying to pounce. Eventually: “No! NO! It’s-. -not-. -FAIR!” She stomped with both her forehooves, like a tantruming foal, then pointed, eyes narrower than ever, at the princess sisters. “How?! How did you know our weakness?!”

Celestia played dumb well, but inside was cheering wildly, ready to snatch her victory. “What weakness? All I’ve done is offer you tea and the oppor-.”

“YES! That’s what I mean! Our weakness! TEA! It’s irresisti-mm!” This time, Chrysalis stopped herself from speaking, putting both forehooves over her mouth, and now her eyes were the widest they’ve ever been.

No one moved, either in shock or anticipation.

Eventually, the Queen lowered her hooves and squeaked out, “You wouldn’t happen to just, oh, let me go ahead and use a little spell on you all now, would you? I promise it’s not a memory rewriting spell. Okay?”

Everypony slowly shook their head in almost freakish synchronicity, as if they all agreed by Changeling-like hivemind that this didn’t deserve a voiced answer.

Just then, the tea maid returned, and instantly the two Changelings’ noses went to the air, sniffing deeply; the guard let out a happy sigh of anticipation as a tray, carrying a large teapot and with enough cups for everyone, was placed before him, and the Queen slumped, unable to prevent a dreamy smile from appearing on her muzzle.

“Fine…” was all she said then before taking lazy, almost drunken-like steps back to her seat, at which her guard, dutiful yet, poured her a cup. Then, after pouring his own, he paused and considered his newest fellow, still technically a pony… He shrugged and poured him a cup as well, levitating it around their Queen; he did well to keep a straight face as the steam flowed around his muzzle, though Shining gagged in sympathy until Cadance smacked the side of his head with a swiftly opening wing.

Chrysalis took her cup into her hooves as gingerly as if it were a newborn kitten, lifted it to her nostrils, closed her eyes, and took her deepest breath yet—so deep, the ponies almost expected her to drink it through her nose before the end of it. When she pulled the cup away again, she blinked as if just waking from a most pleasant dream, then looked into her cup, and stuck out her long, forked tongue, swirled and coiled it into the cup to get as much surface area into the tea as possible, then slurped her tongue back into her mouth faster than seeing.

Her Changeling guard then copied her, and the pony guard did his best by lapping at it like a dog.

“Mmmm…” The Queen slumped in utter relaxation, so much so that her pony guard stood up, ready to catch her should she tip over, but with a giggle, she straightened her posture again. “Oh, yes. Wonderful.” She stuck her tongue in again, but not so much this time. “An old romance, with a hint of helping each other in a past adversity, and-” another lick; another giggle “-and a very healthy ‘night life’.”

The implication hit Twilight first. “You mean, tea tastes like love?”

Queen Chrysalis’s tongue was once more busy with the cup of tea, so merely nodded.

The royal ponies, at the answer, all looked between themselves, grimacing and sharing one thought: I’m glad I hadn’t been born a Changeling. Then Cadance continued Twilight line of thought, “-but tea… tastes… like dirt. -rancid, swampy dirt. H-How-?…” She didn’t know how to voice the question, with all its most revolting implications.

Finally, Chrysalis withdrew her tongue again with a now-all-too-familiar flash of fangs. “So, are you saying you’d rather I call you the Princess of Swamp Slime, or is Mayor Cadance just fine?” She then lowered the cup for the first time since she picked it up, and went on without allowing Cadance to answer. “Perhaps to your inferior senses, they seem the same, but I feel confident in saying the griffons would agree that you’re just wrong.”

Twilight huffed and opened her mouth, but Queen Chrysalis continued over her. “Yes, I know. It’s not your fault.” She paused to lick her tea again, shaking her head sadly. “It’s almost tragic, really, like watching a blind puppy run off the top of a staircase.” She chuckled, and her two guards copied dutifully. “Oh, wait. My mistake. I meant hilarious!” She and her guards laughed out loud then, before she finished with, “Really, Celly, even the puppy would learn to stop running off the stairs! Ah, it’s too bad the Griffon Kingdom has fallen into anarchy; I always thought those gruff featherdusters could learn to laugh a little more, and this would just be perfect.”

Princess Celestia, for her part, kept her back straight, even as Chrysalis poured another cup of tea and levitated it across the table and wafted it around under her nose. After a dozen seconds of earning no reaction, Chrysalis gave it up, leaving the tea sitting before Celestia while turning to the maid. “Tell me, pony, how would you like to serve those who would actually enjoy your brewing?”

She, at being addressed by the powerful and antagonistic figure, jumped and cowered; she then turned to the Royal ponies, looking at each in turn, but they only shrugged or kept neutral faces, except Celestia, who had a look on her face that seemed to say, “Do whatever you want,” yet the mare’s voice remained frozen, though she opened and closed her mouth several times; The Queen, pouring a second cup for herself, seemed completely unconcerned and unusually patient.

Sensing no answer forthcoming, the Changeling guard asked then, in between licks of tea, “What’s your name?”

The maid flinched at the odd quality of the Changeling’s voice, but it was clear, especially when the Changeling looked upset at himself for scaring her, that she was all too thankful to have something—anything—else to focus on than the Queen. “Oh, I-I’m Tea Caddy.”

He smiled wide enough to show off his fangs, but she didn’t draw away from him.”Your name has ‘tea’ in it,” he observed simply. “That’s nice.” He began to stick his tongue in his tea cup again; it was empty, but he didn’t notice, for he was now too busy staring at Tea Caddy.

She blushed and forced herself to turn away, but the sight of Princess Celestia’s full cup, as well as the other royals’ cup yet untouched, poked at her heart too sharply that she had no choice but to turn back. Then she found the Changeling’s smile so genuine and his eyes so warm in spite of their blank, cold color that she wondered why she turned away in the first place.

“Oh! Allow me,” she said somewhat automatically, finally taking the tea cup from the Changeling’s magic without a hint of fear now, then quickly refilled it and presented it to him.

“Oh?” he muttered, looking intently into the tea, wondering how he had failed to notice it being empty, for he would’ve sworn he still tasted love. Although, now he did think of it, it had tasted slightly different, but that he explained to himself as a testament to her skill in brewing.

He sensed her staring at him, and looked back up—though she wasn’t aware of it, she had scooted to the edge of her seat, and leaned on the table in his direction. He smiled again and scooted towards her, too. “Thank you… Tea Caddy.” He said her name with a deep sigh, as if saying her name was as tasty as the beverage itself.

“By the new moon. Ugh.”

Luna’s voice hit the two like a both of lightning—so sure the only thing missing was scorched fur and chitin—and they both shifted to sit straight and square in their seats.

Sister…” The eldest Princess growled before leaning over to whisper into Luna’s ear—the only hint anyone else got as to the content of Celestia’s urgent, secret scolding was Luna muttering, “G? Really…?”

When Celestia sat straight once more, Luna coughed awkwardly for attention, though she needn’t have bothered, and announced, “We retract our earlier comment. Continue.” -and she glanced between the brewer and the Changeling guard as if actually expecting them to return to their flirting, though the two now stared instead into their respective laps, only daring the slightest of glances at each other.

Suddenly, the doors burst open and a platoon of guards ran to surround the Changeling Queen; she remained fixated on her teacup until it was once more drained, before looking out of the corner of her eye at the patient guards.

Noticing this, one of them stepped forward and saluted. “Your Majesty, Queen Chrysalis, we have come to report the mutiny was a success! The entire barracks is currently packing for the move to your hive, and should be ready within the hour!”

He remained still in his salute as he waited for her response, and true to his well-disciplined guardhood, was not fazed in the slightest by the glares of various intensity which the pony Royals now shot at him.

Queen Chrysalis withdrew her tongue from her tea, sighed, and brought the cup to her lips to gulp down the last bit. She then turned to look at the guard straight on and said, “Return, and tell them to unpack. We’re staying.”

Though he dropped his saluting hoof in shock, Chrysalis payed no mind, but turned back to the table to pour yet another cup of tea for herself. No one noticed Princess Celestia beginning to smile, as Princess Cadance shouted, “What?!

At nearly the same time, the guard stuttered, “Your… M-Majesty?” and those assembled behind him looked between themselves with anxiety, and in some cases, regret, clear on their brows.

Queen Chrysalis chuckled as she poured yet another cup for herself. “Worry not. I will still give you positions worthy of your talents, but I have decided to accept the Princesses’ offer.”

“Really?” Cadance and Shining Armor asked simultaneously in confused disbelief.

Really?!” Twilight stood and shouted in angry disbelief at nearly the same time.

“Really…?” Luna added lastly, a hoof brought up to her muzzle to hide her amusement.

The pony guard still sitting at Chrysalis’s side began, “If I may ask, My Queen, … ah…-”

“Why?” Everyone else at the table asked, with varying tones of voice.

The Changeling Queen sighed and closed her eyes, pausing as if praying for patience. “I suppose the simplest way to put it is that, much like the griffons and ponies in the past, the power of tea has brought us together, which is nearly as good as the power of love.”

Author's Notes:

Tea Caddy x Bucky McOneBrainCell OTP

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