"I hate to sound like some annoying little kid, but are we there yet?"
Lightning Dust was clearly in a fairly bad mood today. But then, she had every right to be, given her surroundings. For this was not the green and lush field of Equestria. No, this was a place few ponies ever came, or even knew that much about. A vast dry expanse of barren rocks, mud and sand, stretching as far as the eye could see. It was hot. It was unpleasant. It was the last place anypony would ever want to find themselves if they had the choice.
This was the kind of place mares would want their children about. The stereotypical place "bad little ponies" would go. In truth nopony would ever be so cruel as to send one of their own out here. For this was not a place for the feint of heart. Those who came out here only ever knew hardship. And those were the lucky ones, for this place was known to be the home of terrible beasts and other horrors that rivalled even the monsters of the Everfree Forest.
But as much as Lightning wanted to just turn around and go back to the safety of Equestria's borders, she had little choice but to be here. Because, just a few metres ahead of her and walking forward with purpose, was her partner in all this. A pony-like figure clad in black robes, covering all of his body. The one who had put her on this path. A path from which there was now no return.
Sombra. Former ruler of the Crystal Empire.
It had been a few weeks since Lightning had learned who it was she was working for, and when she found out, she had to admit that she was scared. Very little could unnerve her, but this was no ordinary unicorn. It was a pony whose history was as dark as his abilities. If ever there was a unicorn you didn't want to mess with, it was him. But, despite her better judgement, she'd decided to continue helping him with his plan, having acted as a spy and helping him keep up to date with what was happening in Ponyville.
In fact, it was immediately after her last report, that of the dragon attack, that he decided to up and move to another place to continue their work. Though why he decided to travel to a place like this, she had no idea. But her pondering would have to wait as her "partner" spoke up for the first time since their journey began.
"Your long wait is at and end Lightning. Our destination is in sight." He said calmly.
Lighting looked ahead and saw a sight that was remarkable and intimidating at the same time. It was a mountain of some sort, but of a kind she'd never seen before. It was sticking out of the middle of the wasteland, clearly visible and imposing. It was formed of a rock darker than the kind they'd been walking on, and all over there were massive holes, as though something had been digging into it. The whole thing gave the impression of a termite mound if it was blown up to extraordinary proportions.
"What is this place?" She asked.
"This, Lightning, is where we will find some who can aid is in my plan."
The pegasus raised an eyebrow at that.
Sombra turned to her, his head and face still obscured by his cowl and black mask respectively.
"You did not think we could carry on with just the two of us, did you?"
Lighting decided not to press the matter. It hadn't really occurred to her, but he did have a point. The kind of change he was planning required many working towards it. But still, she wondered, what kind of help could be waiting for them in a place like this? As they approached the mountain, Lighting caught sight of one of the holes, this one close to the ground. It was clearly how they were going to get inside the placer, though the sheer level of darkness within disturbed her.
"You're not afraid of a little darkness, are you?" Sombra asked mockingly.
Lightning frowned at him for that.
"I'm not afraid of anything!" She replied.
The dark unicorn chuckled before continuing onwards, stepping into the hole and walking without fear. Lightning meanwhile was more hesitant. She knew deep down that something bad was in here, but if she was going to achieve her own goals in all of this, she'd have to carry on. And so she followed Sombra deep down the tunnel. With every step they took, Lighting could begin to hear a strange sound. It was a buzzing of some sort, like a bee-hive.
Eventually, Lighting could begin to see something ahead in the darkness, a green glow. As the two of them pressed forward, they arrived at the exit to the tunnel, and what was within shocked Lighting. For they had stepped into a massive central chamber, no doubt stretching throughout the inside of the mountain. Ten thousand ponies could fit in here and still have room to spare. But that alone was not all she had to be shocked about, for she soon saw the source of the green glow.
All over the chamber, dotted about the walls, were thousands upon thousands of green dots in the darkness. Lighting could see that these dots were moving, and it soon dawned on her that they were eyes. Green eyes attacked to bodies black as night. The creatures looked like decayed ponies, feral and savage, and bearing razor-sharp teeth. And those eyes glared menacingly at the two who had now entered their chamber.
"Changelings." Lighting said disbelievingly.
She'd heard stories about these creatures, but had never actually seen one. Nor did she want to. These creatures, despite only having appeared in Equestria recently, had immediately become known far and wide as a major threat to the ponies. For these creatures had launched an all-out assault on the nation's capital, Canterlot, the only such attack the city had ever faced. If it hadn't been for the involvement of a handful of ponies, Canterlot, and by extension all of Equestria, would have surely fallen that day.
The chattering sound from so many changelings was almost deafening, but soon the chatter stopped as Lighting and Sombra heard a voice.
"Calm yourself my children. Is that any way to treat guests?"
The voice sent chills down Lightning's spine. She had no idea who that voice belonged to, but she already didn't want to know. She began to back away slowly, but Sombra stood his ground, instead choosing to reply.
"Do I have the honour of addressing chrysalis, Queen of the changeling?" He said.
Lightning looked at him. The guy must have had nerves of steel to be standing in the middle of so many dangerous creatures and not even flinch, no to mention addressing their leader directly like that.
"My my. Such manners. Other ponies could learn much from you......your majesty." The voice replied.
Sombra's cowl moved, indicating to Lightning that he was now looking directly up.
"You know of me?" He asked.
The voice then chuckled, a sound Lightning found unpleasant to hear.
"Bu of course. News travels fast, even in the wastelands. Your attack on the Crystal Empire was quite a display."
"You flatter me your majesty. However, I did not come to reminisce." Sombra replied.
Then there was another sound. Another buzzing, but far quieter than the one they'd heard from the swarm moments ago. Lighting squinted her eyes, trying to find the source of the sound amidst the green gloom. Eventually, she managed to catch sight of a figure descending from the upper area of the chamber. As it got closer, Lightning got a better look. It was no doubt a changeling, given it's colouring. But she was far larger than the others, and bore a mane much like a pony would. But it was the eyes Lighting focused on the most. Those green, piercing eyes. They were the eyes of a predator. Eyes that Lighting wanted to look away from, yet could not.
The figure, Chrysalis Sombra had called her, lowered herself onto the ground and walked up to the cloaked figure of Sombra.
"If this were any other pony, I'd let my children have their dinner early today. But then, you are not any other pony, are you?" She said.
Sombra shook his head.
"No. What I am however, is a pony that finds himself in need of assistance."
Chrysalis chuckled again.
"Help? Oh yes Sombra, you are indeed in need of help. I can tell just from looking at you. I assume you're not in the best of heath right now?"
Sombra raised a hoof and clasped it over the front of his cloak.
"The crystal heart was more potent than I expected. the damaged it caused to me was......severe."
Chrysalis tilted her head again.
"And still you seek to move against Equestria? Against the princesses? You're tenacious, I'll give you that much."
This time it was Sombra's time to laugh.
"Perhaps. But there is more than enough fight in me to carry on. But even I can see the folly in attempting to strike alone. Which is why I have come here, to you."
Chrysalis raised an eyebrow before turning away from him and gesturing to the thousands of changelings still clinging to the walls of the chamber.
"No doubt you seek to add changeling might to your arsenal to use against Celestia and her kind? As much as I would love to put that sun mare in her place a second time, I will not risk it. My kind already suffered much at the hands of the magic of ponies. To try it a second time would doom us for sure."
"Alone, that might be true. But if we join forces, we can achieve what neither one of us could accomplish alone."
Chrysalis faced him again, now frowning.
"Pretty words Sombra. But unless you can offer something more concrete than promises, you'll find no allies here."
Although his face could not be seen, Lighting could tell that he was smiling.
"What if I were to tell you that I had a certain.....influence over a very important pony. A powerful pony. A pony whose words and actions held sway over much of Equestria."
Chrysalis' frown lessened a little. Clearly, Sombra had piqued her interest. She took a few steps forward.
"You have my attention. What is it exactly that you propose?"
Sombra gestured with his hoof, inviting her closer. The Queen, clearly suspicious, nevertheless moved closer. Sombra leaned forward and began whispering to her. Lighting strained to hear what was being said, though she believed it was to do with that they'd set in motion already. Whatever he was telling her, it was working. For the expression on Chrysalis' face changed to one of interest, and then to a more devilish grin. She backed away from Sombra once he'd finished whispering before letting out a loud laugh, which echoed throughout the chamber.
"Oh my dear Sombra! I do adore the way your mind works!" She said jovially.
Sombra bowed his head a little.
"I thank you your majesty. I take it that I can count on your support?"
Lightning looked from Sombra, to Chrysalis, who was clearly giving th matter a great deal of thought. Whatever Sombra had told her, it had impressed her. After a few minutes of sheer silence from her, Chrysalis gave a smile before replying.
"Very well. you shall have our aid in this. The changelings will support your plan."
Sombra bowed his head once more.
"Thank you. This choice you make today will not go unrewarded."
Chrysalis raised a hoof, catching his attention.
"But when Equestria is yours, I expect you to fulfil your end of the bargain. And in addition to that, I want those two love-birds brought to me in chains." She said menacingly.
"My Queen, It would be my pleasure."
Lightning didn't know how to feel about all this. Here she was, in the den of her people's most dangerous known foe, assisting them in doing something no other pony would ever even dream of doing. When she'd started working for Sombra, he had convinced her that her dream was worth any sacrifice she could make for it. And at the time, she'd agreed. Being the best, and being known as such had occupied her every waking moment.
But now, looking at those two surrounded her, and considering what company she was now keeping, it was impossible for her to not feel just the tiniest bit of doubt over all of this. But she had other things to worry about, as Sombra was now walking towards her. He stopped mere inches from her, which allowed her to gaze into the slits in his black mask where his eyes should be.
"And now, Lightning.......the REAL work begins."
With that said, Sombra began to walk past her. Lightning kept her gaze on him, never saying a word. the way he'd said that disturbed her to say the least, but not as much as it did to have him say his next words, which were said without even bothering to look back at her.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with a young princess."