Some Clever Title That Doesn't Make it Obvious This is Just Another Stickbug Meme

by TheDriderPony

Chapter 1: A Dance With/Of/For Destiny

To say it was a beautiful day in the Crystal Empire was to imply that there was some conceivable point at which it was not beautiful, which was an abstract impossibility in a town constructed of and populated by glittering crystal. Even when Sombra was in his heyday it had merely become a dark beauty, twisted and sinister yet strangely tempting. Such was merely the nature of the Crystal Empire.

Cadance, Empress of all she surveyed (so long as she didn't stand atop the tallest castle tower which offered a splendid view beyond the edges of her one-city-big-Empire), agreed with this assessment. There was nothing in her lands which was not a paragon of beauty.

The city was beautiful, the crystal ponies were beautiful, she was beautiful (though a few awkward moments in high school had taught her not to say such things aloud. Or at least not in public). From the beautiful sweeping architecture to her beautiful hellion of a toddler, all was beautiful and all was good.

Incidentally, all was apparently not good, unless some of her citizens had decided that they were so beautiful that their only recourse was to scream about it. In most cases, screaming was not an indicator of excessive beauty.

With a push of magic, she rolled across to the balcony (Flurry Heart's latest obsession, bless her heart, was wheels and she had taken to transmuting them onto anything her horn could reach, two-thousand-year-old royal thrones included) and checked in on the chaos.


Fires dotted her city like freckles on the face of one of her sister-in-law's less attractive friends. A line of flames like a green river ran down the main boulevard, cut back across a couple side streets, hopped over a block of municipal buildings, and worked its way towards the palace itself until it came too close for her to bend her neck and see.

"Well." She weighed her words with utmost care, considering every iota of information, every scrap of strategy, and every page of emergency plans that her grand and well-educated intellect could bring to bear. "That doesn't look good."

Such was the wisdom of an alicorn.

"Fah!" exclaimed the exceedingly smaller alicorn that clung to her head like a bloated parasite in a frilly jumper. This was either a declaration of war spoken in the millennia-lost tongue of the ancient ponies of the Zo'an steppes, or the closest she could come to pronouncing 'fire' with only half of her teeth.

"Yes, that is fire," Cadance cooed as she lifted her young one off her face and placed her into a more dignified riding position on the back of her neck. "But it's not the right color for fire. Do you know why that might be?"

Flurry considered this. The clockwork mechanisms that composed her mind spun and whirred and clicked with such intensity that it was nearly visible through her features as they scrunched in concentration. After a span of deep judgement and analysis, she arrived at an answer. "Ma'ic?"

"Good! It's magic fire. And magic fire means we need to head to the bunker. Can you say 'bunker'?

"Bun'ba." Flurry intoned with a solemnity worthy of such a dire situation.

With a few magical nudges, the throne reversed course, soon abandoning the vaunted ceilings of the throne room for a quieter, secluded stretch of service corridor. Between the perfectly polished crystal floors, the hall's abandonment by the staff, and the throne's new wheels, they ate up the distance like a princess in a pie factory. Until they reached the stairs.

Sombra had always been obsessed with stairs, much to future historians' confusion. Very few could claim to understand the fathomless depths of that madstallion's mind, let alone his motivations, and most of those that said they could were lying. After all, this was the tyrant that had frogmarched his citizens into the crystal mines when he was fully capable of—and quite well known for—magically manifesting towering pillars of the stuff at will. With bonkers achievements like that under his belt, his decision to install a thoroughly excessive and in most cases completely unnecessary number of staircases in the palace had seemed barely a footnote in his reign of madness. Suffice to say, one could rarely travel more than a single hallway in the Crystal Palace without encountering a staircase.

Cadance and her charge abandoned the throne at the head of the stairs, the elder shuffling down as quickly as the sharply turning spiral allowed. Crystal-shod hoofbeats rang in the silent halls like the pealing of bells calling out to warn others of the emergency. Not a soul remained in these upper floors; of all modern teachings she'd tried to drill into her anachronistic citizens, the value of proper evacuation plans had been the knowledge to sink in.

She pulled a hairpin turn around a corner, her wings acting as an airbrake and counterweight, only to come to a dead stop at an unexpected obstruction.


A shadow stood before her, blocking the road forward as solidly as any wall. It was a monster, a villain. The great stain on Cadance's perfect life that plagued her Empire, her pride, and her dreams.

Down the hall, past the portraits of bygone royals, was a figure as thin as sin itself. Barely more than a skeleton, its bones burned black by the smoldering coals of hatred and bound together with anger. Holes bored through its legs and body like the rotted teeth of an old fishwife, bringing to bear the same sense of nausea and unease. Its name was known—spoken of in silent whispers between frightened foals and bandied through ghost stories and nightmares nearly as frequently as Sombra. Cadance knew it all too well.


The Changeling Queen—Mistress of Shapechangers and recurring root of Luna's nightly battles in the Dream Realm—sneered in response. "I see you're taking to leadership well. At the first sign of trouble every single pony under you runs like a dog with its tail between its legs. How distinctly... pony."

Cadance's will was like an iron wall, stalwart and unyielding. "What do you want?"

"Only what I have always wanted." Her eyes flashed a hideous green not unlike a toddler's face just before they throw up over the freshly reupholstered chariot seats. "Revenge. And today I shall have it!"

With a stride like a lion prowling, she approached the cornered Princess, confidence bursting from her seams. Cadance's resolve flickered for a moment, but the feeling of her daughter shifting on her back quickly hardened it. She would not fall here. She would stand her ground.

"You've out-thought the greatest of my plans," Chrysalis continued as she slunk closer, "over-powered the strongest of my spells, and overwhelmed the masses of my armies. After all this, you've left me with only my most powerful trump card. An ancient technique, forbidden from use even by my own ancestors for fear of its magnificently addicting power. I suppose congratulations are in order for having driven me this far: they shall be the last you ever receive."

Stopping a few lengths away, Chrysalis lowered her body, joints popping and cracking like sappy firewood tossed onto the hearth as she bent further and farther than an equine body had any right to. Knees or elbows or wholly new joints that Cadance lacked names for thrust into the air above her like obsidian spires, all holes and ridged edges. Her mane, long and wet like swamp grass, draped along either side of her face till it nearly dragged on the floor. Wholly, it looked rather uncomfortable.

"Behold! The dance of my people!"

Chrysalis began to sway. She picked up speed like a charging dynamo as she got into a rhythm, joints thrusting out to either side like spears or pistons. And then came the music. Air rushing through her holes created notes that hung and whistled longer than any sound should have naturally, blending together into a hypnotic melody. Hair blocked holes seemingly at random as she swung, making the tune change and twist unexpectedly even as the underlying theme remained the same. Even after only a few moments Cadance could feel it pulling at her mind, tugging at the strings of thought like a cat picking apart a yarn ball.

She fought it, fought back against the music and the mesmerizing swaying. Chrysalis had been right—it was addicting. Better than wine, better than rich food, better even than the fantasy of catching her husband in a scandalous affair. Colors seemed to blur and shift with the dance, creating afterimages that quintupled the amounts of Chrysalis in the room— something that would have sent her into a frenzy of rapid-fire spellcasting only a few minutes ago, yet now felt fine.

Had it been only a few minutes? To her it felt like hours, days. Had there ever been a time when she was not watching The Dance? In highschool? At her wedding? While birthing Flurry-

The thought snapped Cadance back to her senses. Flurry Heart. She was there too! And unprotected!

She reached for her child, but her hoof met only air.

"Flurry no!"

But it was too late. The child had seen everything.

Though she lacked the correct number of joints and those she did have lacked the proper range, little Flurry Heart was still crouching down in front of Chrysalis, knees bent and body bobbing side to side in a childish imitation of The Dance, only a half-step out of time.

She'd been stickbugged.

Chrysalis cackled. "Look! See how easily I have corrupted your Youth! Soon you too shall know my greatness! And I will—"

In a move that put Horseibal, Naponyleon, and Salad Dinner to shame, Flurry Heart giggled, her horn crackling with arcane might, and transmuted the Changeling Queen's hooves into wheels.

The Dance transformed into a second, even more intense stage with deeper bends and wilder movements. That, or Chrysalis had lost all control of her body and was struggling to merely stand upright. She lit her charged up her horn to dispel the enchantment, but Flurry turned her horn into a wheel as well.

The littlest alicorn jumped and landed in a hug on Chrysalis' face, no doubt eager to start climbing over her new ebony jungle gym (foals truly have no concept of fear). Her dexterous climbing— for once the numerous holes served a functional purpose!— only made the Queen flail about even further as the unexpected weight made her center of mass shift about uncontrollably.

"Get off me you gremlin!" Chrysalis cried to a giggly response. She slid backward.

Cadance, in a moment of purely mundane foresight borne of parental instincts, realized what the immediate future held and grabbed her daughter off the invader with a wash of magic. Chrysalis regained her composure respectably quickly, even as she continued to roll backwards.

"None can defeat me! Get—Yipe!!"

This was either a pledge of undying loyalty in the apparently-not-as-forgotten-as-some-seem-to-think-it-is language of the ancient steppes, or the sound a changeling makes when her back legs roll off the top ledge of a truly enormous staircase and she finds that her momentum has suddenly picked up rather quickly. The following yelps and screams solidified the probability that it was the latter.

Cadance peered down the stairs. It was one of Sombra's personal pet projects. Chocked full of spells that warped space so the top connected to the bottom seamlessly. Cries of pain already echoed from both below and above her. She closed the door.

"Excellent technique," she praised as she tousled her foal's mane. "With a talent like that, you'll be cleaning up actual big-league villains in no time."

Flurry giggled and whistled, the notes oddly reminiscent of a particular stickbug's dance.

Author's Notes:

Get stickbugged lol


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