I do not know how long I laid upon the cold, stone floor, staring aimlessly up at the ceiling. Days had passed, I knew at least that much for sure, as shafts of light appeared and were snuffed out, seeping in and ebbing away through cracks in the rock. Endless streams of thoughts passed through my mind, like a muddied, twisting river fabricated from my experiences, suppositions, doubts, and fears. Instar's words, her facial expression as she had told me the truth... was it the truth? Could she be trusted to reveal such sensitive information to one such as I? What did she have to gain from doing so? Everything is a game, she had said. Was there a way to stop playing?
Twice since my confinement in that small, cold nook within the rocky walls had food been brought to me, and each time, it had been sustenance that I found difficult to stomach. The third meal arrived before me, carried by a changeling drone within a small, hoof-crafted bowl. The appearance of the object was unlike any sort of artisan's work I had ever seen, and yet, it was carved with intricate markings and etched pictures. The bowl had been rendered from a glossy, black stone, one that resided within the ceiling of the cave, and seemed plentiful. Was it their usual medium? Did changelings produce art? Why was I being fed, to begin with?
The thoughts were quickly replaced with an all-encompassing nausea as I gazed into the bowl, finding for the third time exactly what I had hoped I would not. Meat. An unidentifiable, odorous slab of red, bloody, raw meat of questionable origin. Clearly, it wasn't some sort of changeling flesh, as they seemed to bleed blue- how ironic a revelation that had been. No, the meat was certainly mammalian in nature, with a high possibility of being from a pony. The drone set the bowl down before me, and despite the stench, and the mental revulsion at the thought of what I may have been eating, I couldn't look away. My temporary companion said nothing, though his expression spoke volumes. He was hungry as well... though it wasn't the bowl that he was eyeing. How much longer would I be kept alive? How much longer, until a drone defied Instar's orders and pounced upon me, looking to drain what little love I still harbored for Cadenza, or sink their teeth into my filthy flesh?
I slowly rose to my hooves with a shaky effort, feeling weak and really, quite hopeless. I lowered my muzzle and sniffed the meat, finding that same sick, rotten smell that turned my stomach and had lead to a pile of sick within the corner of the room. Avoiding the stench and soupy pool of vomit and excrement became harder and harder as the hours passed, to the point where living in filth had become my second nature. The things I would have done for a simple shower...
I looked up, my raggedy blonde mane hanging within my face and obscuring my view of the drone before me. The diminutive bug approached, speaking once again for the first time since he had begun visiting me. I had thought that the drones couldn't speak, in all honesty.
"Eat. Make it quick, and do not complain."
"W-why are you helping me? Did Instar order this...?" I let out a raspy cough, almost sure that I could feel my ribs poking into my sagging skin. Had it been days? Was it weeks, instead? I had only partaken in their foul meals when the hunger had become absolutely too much to bear... and the first time, I had been force-fed, to save me from certain death.
"No." The drone approached, pressing his nose to my own, our eyes locked. His gaze was piercing, while mine could barely keep focus. "It's me. Chrysalis," she whispered.
"Ch-" was all that I managed, before my jaw was clenched shut with a magical hold.
"You fool. Do not speak my name. I am not welcome among our people, but they cannot find me, so long as you don't fuck it up," she snapped. "Our time is near."
"Our... time?" I asked. "What window do we have? Why has Instar left me alone?"
"She loathes you. She's been brooding in private for the past two weeks, according to the other drones. She's likely hashing out her plan to use you to capture the princess, though she may also be plotting your death out of sheer irritation, Instar has killed for far less." Chrysalis paused to crack her neck. "I've been waiting for an appropriate moment to approach. I am fleeing to Canterlot, and you will make sure that I am unharmed in repayment for your liberation." Chrysalis held up the bowl, his hoof twisting unnaturally as the meat neared my muzzle. It took all of my willpower to prevent myself from throwing up.
"You... intend to use me, just as she has," I spat. I was growing so tired of being a pawn...
"In a sense. Follow me, and you will live. Stay with my daughter, and I cannot guarantee the same." He plucked a chunk of meat from the bowl, and held it a mere inch from my lips. I was hungry... so very, very hungry...
"But will you guarantee Cadenza's safety? What other hope do your people have?" I sniffed the meat once again, feeling sick. It was a pony... it must have been a pony. Changelings wouldn't slaughter deer, would they?
Chrysalis glowered, his expression darkening. "That is not your place to question. I've told you before that my daughter is insane. I don't support her radical ideas for our... 'salvation'. That is the most I can say."
My stomach rumbled. It wouldn't have been long before the hunger became unbearable, once again...
"I demand her safety."
"You can demand all you wish, little prince... but the facts remain. I can save your life. Eat, and we leave."
I cast one final, questioning glance to my apparent savior, before pressing my lips to her hoof and placing my teeth around the meat within her grasp. I gently sank my canines into the bloody hunk, shivering as the precious liquid began to ooze from its surface and dribble down my chin. The disgusting taste drove me wild, and I snapped my head to the side, stealing the meat and dragging it away from her. It was mine.
I let out a feral sounding growl as I tore through the squishy mass of muscle within my maw, reveling in the sheer bestial nature of my assault. It was a guilty, filthy pleasure, and one that I found revolting... but in a demented way, it was satisfying. To survive, now, others had to die... regardless of whom they may be. Whatever creature had given its life to Chrysalis had done so to sustain me, and their lifeblood ran from my chin to my chest, soaking my tattered bow tie and ruffles. Foal's tales of vampires sprang to mind as I watched my front become covered in blood, only for Chrysalis to slide the rest of the bowl toward me. I didn't refuse it. I consumed it all, ravenous in my insatiable hunger. The changeling merely watched, an amused expression plastered across her face.
"Are you even aware of what... or whom you're consuming, child?"
My chest heaved as I stared down at the bloody scraps beneath my hooves, barely noticeable to any but the famished. I hurried to scoop them from the floor, and licked my hooves in reply. I couldn't calm myself. I couldn't fight back the primal beast within. I had become no better than her, simply following my base instincts to survive...
"I suppose it doesn't matter. Now, follow me, and remain unseen." Without another word, Chrysalis turned upon his hoof and exited the nook, heading off and to the right, opposite of the direction that Instar had lead me.
"N-no..." I limped along, trying to summon some semblance of courage within my breast. The chimera... giving myself so that Shining could escape... I had done great things. Celestia was right. I was a prince worthy of my title, and not a beast. I had to survive to continue being a hero. A hero of nothing.
Chrysalis hissed, her drone disguise twitching in agitation as she lead me through tunnels unknown, deeper and deeper into the rock while she whispered. "What makes her any more deserving of life than us?"
"She is... she is a gentle soul. A bringer of love. She has the sweetest smile..." I recited, as though the words had been at the tip of my tongue for days, simply seeking an excuse to spill forth.
"And you know that I would not be, were I also loved? You know for a fact, that if not for the prejudice against our people, I, and my daughter, would still be monsters?" Chrysalis continued onward, the floor below us changing in elevation as we walked upward, toward the shafts of light creeping through the rock.
"Witch..." I replied, my bloodlust and exhaustion giving way to anger. Was Chrysalis any different? I couldn't trust her. She was just as shifty as Instar, and the saying about apples and trees was likely very true.
I didn't get much time to muse as Chrysalis spun, his body once again pressed to mine as angry whispers spilled into my ears.
"You proclaim us beasts, as you devour our meat. You live our life, scurrying in the shadows, consuming the dead to survive, and holding on to any scrap of love you can find to keep you going. All you can think of is your precious princess as you wallow in shit and await your fate, passively dying and assuming someone will come to your rescue. The world doesn't work that way, you insipid fool! You are not so different from me! From Instar!"
I fell quiet, letting her words sink in. What I had become over the past... had she said week and a half? Had it been more? I had been driven mad by hunger, despair, guilt, and anger. My grasp upon reality and my former life was tenuous, and Chrysalis' statements rang true. I was becoming no different. I may as well have been a changeling. Was I beyond redemption?
"Now, be silent. We must pass through the central chamber, and then, we will be outside."
I finally decided to acquiesce and shut up, only to find that I wouldn't have had a choice in the matter. Chrysalis led me into a large, cavernous room, where at least a hundred changelings rested in a state of torpor upon the stony outcroppings and within the walls. The entire area was silent, and almost serene, bar a dull, green glow emanating from a pool of viscous looking liquid to our immediate right. I paused to look down into the pool, only to feel the harsh impact of a carapace-laden hoof gripping the back of my neck.
"No. If you touch it, you will die. Amusing though it would be... I need you alive."