The earth pony, unicorn, and pegasus walked into the bar. It was halfway into the evening, and the place was dead empty. Twilight Sparkle took a quick count of the ponies in the room: two guests, sharing a booth in a corner near the entrance, a stallion bartender, and a waitress. The bartender stood out the most to the student; he was a skinny—lanky even—earth pony with tan fur and a teal mane and moustache. Not a pony I’d expect to ever see in Canterlot, the unicorn thought to herself. The building itself was narrow, with mostly booths and the bar itself making up the places to sit, and just a couple tables near the back where it opened up a bit more. Pinkie hurried to a table at the back and motioned for her two friends to follow.
Seconds after all three ponies took their seats, the waitress walked over, a unicorn with magenta fur and black mane. “What can I do for you all then?”
Pinkie Pie responded immediately with, “A mug of Blue Luna for each of us!”
The waitress nodded. “Sure thing.”
Twilight watched the waitress walk back towards the bar as her mind raced to come up with a plan. Come on, you just... have to get both of them drunk! Then hope that their disguise falls... oh, well, that can’t be too bad of an idea. That book she sent said this should do the trick.
“So, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight started, waiting for both sets of eyes to land on her, “Do you like drinking? You seemed to make an order there pretty quickly.”
“DO I?!” Pinkie said with a gasp, leaning over and shoving her face within an inch of Twilight’s, “I love drinking! Oh, especially fancy mix drinks! You can combine so many juices and liquors and sodas and it’s all so bubbly and throat-warmy and fizz-fozz-fantastical! It’s great for parties and great for friends and mixing them is so fun because you can make so many different things and experiment and,” she drew in a large breath before yelling out, “You can use HOT SAUCE! I totally forgot about bloody mares, oh my gosh it’s been almost a year since I last had one—”
Fluttershy brought a hoof to Pinkie’s shoulder, which somehow instantly quieted the rambling pink mare. “Pinkie, I think she gets the picture.”
Pinkie nodded, only giving an “Okay!” to end her monologue on the wonders of drinking.
“Right...” Twilight said. “How about you Fluttershy? I’ve definitely never seen you drinking before.”
“Oh, well, that’s because I don’t do it often.” She nodded to herself, as if needed the reassurance. “I either do it alone at home when I’m stressed out, or sometimes I go out with Rarity. Mostly because she ends up drinking too much and—” Fluttershy threw her hooves over her mouth, where they remained for several seconds before she pulled them back and said, “I, uh, don’t think she’d appreciate if I said that...”
Twilight drew a hoof across her lips as if to zip them shut. “My lips are sealed, so long as she isn’t hurting herself.”
“Oh! No it’s nothing like that. She just has trouble getting into bed sometimes, and I’m just more than happy to help.” She nodded to herself again.
The waitress returned with the drinks, the wooden vessels filled to the brim with beer, foam cascading over the lip of each mug. “Tell me if you need anything else, ‘kay? Don’t think we’ll get much business today, with that big changeling attack yesterday.”
“About that,” Twilight started, “Why would you open if you didn’t expect any business?”
“You complaining?” The waitress responded.
“Well, uh, no, it’s just—”
“Then be happy. The fact is, some ponies just need time to themselves and a drink, and we’re probably the only bar in the whole city that’s open, ‘specially after that changeling attack, but The Barrel and Barley doesn’t let anypony down.” She turned back towards the bar, then looked back to Twilight. “Spread that around, would you?”
“Ehehe, sure thing.” She looked at her two friends, each already having taken sips from their drink. Well, actually, no, one of them definitely isn’t taking a sip, she thought as she looked to Pinkie, who drank her entire mug in a single swig. The unicorn then, without thinking, took a drink from her own mug.
The thing that struck her the most right away was the bitter taste. It stung her mouth, and she coughed somewhat before swallowing it, where it left a burning trail down her throat and into her stomach. The taste remained in her mouth, leaving her to give a distasteful glance at her mug.
“Don’t like beer huh?” Pinkie said, “That’s okay, we can try again later. Nopony likes their first taste of beer.”
Fluttershy slowly raised a hoof, garnering the attention of her two friends. “Actually, I liked my first taste of beer...” she said, blushing.
Pinkie laughed and Twilight’s eye twitched.
Twilight burst through the bathroom door, and walked straight to the mirror above the singular sink in the room. She took a good look at herself, trying to see if anything was off. She still had the same purple fur, same navy mane with a pink stripe, same unicorn horn in the middle of her forehead. Well, glad that’s all settled then... now if only I could drive away this pounding headache. She brought her hooves to her temples, rubbing them in a futile effort to alleviate some of the discomfort, though simply bringing her hooves up that high felt like a chore in of itself. She felt her stomach heave a little bit, but she kept it down. I don’t think... I’ve drinken that many... wait what time is it even? She tried to recall how much time had passed, but she hadn’t even thought to look at a clock, though she didn’t even remember seeing one in the entire establishment. How many drinks was that now? So many different mixes... short island iced teas... hobby cart bombs...
I just wanted to have a fun night of drinking with the girls, she thought to herself. My first time spending a night with them that wasn’t a sleepover... and then that stupid letter. That stupid stupid letter... oh Celestia, why did this have to happen?
She felt sick recalling it. She still couldn’t think about it without wanting to scream. She remembered reading the letter, the words and the horror they held within them, and in a flash, the entire letter passed through her mind:
Dear Twilight Sparkle, my most faithful student,
I apologize for sending you this letter in the middle of the night, after such a trying day, but it is imperative that you read this as soon as possible. If this is Spike, you must give this letter and the book that came with it to Twilight as soon as you possibly can.
My sister and I have been overseeing the reconstruction of the city. The damage is minor, but it is there—homes were destroyed and some city blocks still aren’t safe enough to be traversed by large crowds. In our time overseeing the reconstruction, something terrible has come to light: there are still changelings in Canterlot. We are not sure how, but it appears that some of the changelings that were still in pony form were not thrown out of Canterlot when Cadance and Shining Armor’s love took form of a spell expelled them from the city. They also don’t seem to be revealed by any kind of direct spell; it takes physical or chemical elements to weaken them to the point where they will reveal themselves. Whether all of this is a fluke or a plan dredged up by the changeling queen is uncertain, but irrelevant.
Upon this discovery, my sister and I devised a spell that could locate these creatures, though the spell only does so much in narrowing down where they are. One changeling’s “signal” can take up two-to-three blocks.
As such, I must tell you with great dread that we believe one of your friends has been replaced as well.
We are unsure of when this happened, whether it was during the battle for Canterlot or after, but the fact remains: one of your dear friends has been replaced. It took us all of the past several hours alone to figure out who it was, and we could only narrow it down to one of two: Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. One of them has been replaced by a changeling, and we are unable to tell which one. We also do not know what happened to your friend, though we are certain that they are somewhere in Canterlot still.
With this letter, I include a slip that will let you check out a certain book about changelings. From chapter 10 and on, the book covers changelings with incredible depth. With it, you should gain some vital clues as to how to figure out who it is. My sister and I are too busy to help you, and for that we apologize. You must figure out which one of them is the imposter, and bring them to me. They are probably scared, Twilight. Scared and alone, and to them, you are more of a threat than anything else. Do not hurt them.
I believe in you, Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight shoved the thoughts of the letter out of her mind, them alone making her want to shut down and just shiver in place, and the pain of intoxication didn’t help at all. Her headache seemed to worsen, and her body grew heavier, though she wondered if that was from the alcohol, or from the stress of the situation. You may be alone in this, but don’t give up now. Your friend is depending on you.
She took one final glance around the bathroom and decided that she was ready. She turned from the mirror and waltzed out the door.
The book had been beyond helpful. As soon as she had received the letter, she had rushed to the library, emptying shelves in a frantic search, not caring of what happened to the other books of the library. She had then found it, checked it out, and teleported with it back to her room in a mad rush. She did a thorough scan of everything from chapter ten and on, as Celestia had said, and from what she could tell, it had apparently been written by a changeling who had lived his life as a pony because he decided that he didn’t want to live among the hive with the other changelings. He wrote the book to explain as much as he knew which included how to get a changeling to show their true form.
The book listed several methods for revealing a changeling, from beating them nearly to death—an idea that Twilight herself felt sick for even thinking about—and various potions that might drop the disguise, though she didn’t quite recognize the names of most of the ingredients and figured it as due to the age of the book. The final method the author of the book wrote was to use drugs; though more wild types of drugs from the time were listed, it had a section about alcohol, where it mentioned that if a changeling was drunk enough, they might let their disguise fall by sheer loss of will. Twilight knew that that was the only chance she had at this. She had to figure out which of them was the changeling that night, or they would probably grow suspicious.
And do what? Fly away? Isn’t that what you want? Twilight shook the sudden thoughts from her mind. It had been over a day since the wedding and a second Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie still hadn’t been found. If the search took too long... no, can’t even think about that. This is the only chance I have, so I better make it count.
She cantered out of the side hallway that held both bathroom entrances, and back to the table. It had been a simple plan that she had come up with on a whim. It was her first night out drinking after all, and she knew that Pinkie would probably treat her and whomever she invited. Once everypony was comfortable, she challenged Pinkie Pie to a drinking contest, while constantly nagging Fluttershy to drink as well. Though she had lost count of the drinks, she still hadn’t come up with any hints as to which one of them was the fake, but she knew she was getting closer: if anything, Pinkie had had more to drink than her, and Fluttershy had matched most of what they were imbibing... though Twilight was starting to lose track just before she went to the bathroom.
She took her seat, where an eager Pinkie Pie looked to her with excited eyes. “All done throwing up?! Then let’s keep going!”
Fluttershy gave Twilight a worried look. The unicorn brushed her off and said to Pinkie with an incredulous frown, “I wasn’t throwing up, I just needed a moment.”
“Ya-huh, sure sure.” The party pony motioned the waitress over. “Three banana daiquiris please. With a little extra banana for my poor, inexperienced drinking buddy over here.” She leaned over, patting Twilight on the back.
“Coming right up,” she replied with a grin.
Twilight knew she was running out of time, and so far, little progress had been made. She decided to question Pinkie about her odd smile. “Pinkie... you seem oddly competitive tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
Pinkie glanced over towards the unicorn, then got out of her chair, walking around and placing a hoof over her friend’s shoulder. “Oh Twilight, Twilight, Twilight... can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, Pinkie.”
“Have you ever seen me in a contest before?”
Twilight paused. Did she just flat out ask me if I had ever seen her do an activity before? That seems... I don’t even know what to think. Is it a ploy? Is it part of her answer? Is she trying to fool me? Augh... you just go along with it Twilight. You can’t do anything until you find a contradiction anyway. “I don’t think so, but I vaguely remember that one time we had to go get that napping dragon to leave Equestria. How many games of tic tac toe in a row did you win?”
Pinkie blinked, in a way that Twilight was almost sure was surprise. “What does a game have to do with a contest, silly?”
Twilight raised a hoof as if to answer, but came up with nothing. Pinkie logic... it has to be her. “Okay, so if I haven’t ever seen you compete before... is it because you aren’t competitive?” Pinkie shook her head. Twilight sighed and said, “Okay, then why?”
“Because Pinkie Pie doesn’t lose contests very often.” She stood back finally, poking one hoof into Twilight’s chest. “Be it a drinking contest or an eating contest, ponies don’t seem to be able to beat me.” She chuckled and returned to her seat. “Eating or drinking so much is just so fun because it all tastes so good and I mean if ponies are making all that food then somepony should eat it right? Nopony in Ponyville ever challenges me to eating or drinking contests anymore though.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “For some reason, I’m not at all surprised.”
Pinkie tilted her head. “Really? Is it because I’m totally drinking you under the table?” As if on cue, the waitress returned with three tall glasses, filled to the brim with a bright yellow, smoothie-like mixture. Before Twilight’s glass had even reached the table, Pinkie appeared to have almost finished drinking hers in one long swig. Twilight quietly noted in her mind that her own came with a straw, though when she looked over to Pinkie’s now empty glass, she saw no straw.
Ignoring the silly grin plastered over Pinkie’s face, Twilight took a drink from her glass. She first noticed the banana’s sweetness and cold of the ice, and in seconds, she felt the quiet bitterness of the alcohol in her mouth, and the faint burn once again as she swallowed. She particularly liked this glass, and decided she wanted to savor it, ignoring the speed at which her competitor had been drinking.
She decided to turn to Fluttershy, who was simply taking sips from her glass, staring straight ahead. Her friend’s silence and faraway stare were starting to bother her, so Twilight decided to break the silence. “You okay Fluttershy?”
Fluttershy made a quiet eep sound, clearly surprised by the sudden words. “O-oh, hello Twilight. How is your evening going?”
Is she nervous? Why is she nervous? Actually... if she was the changeling... it would make sense. She’s matched most of our drinks for the night, except for the ones she didn’t like, which I think only amounted to two. I should probably press her on the matter. “Fluttershy, is something the matter?”
She gulped. “I-I... I just feel really bad about earlier.”
She can’t mean... “Earlier?”
“W-when I said that Rarity drank too much sometimes... oh, I shouldn’t ever have mentioned that, now she’s going to hate me.” Fluttershy carefully brought up a hoof and hit herself in the side of the head a few times, punctuating each impact with an “ow.” To Twilight, they looked like harmless pokes than actual punches.
“What do you mean?” Twilight pressed, still not sure of what to make of the way their conversation was going.
“W-well... I don’t wanna lie to you girls, but sometimes... she does drink a lot.” Fluttershy pushed her own drink all the way to the center of table while she spoke. “Sometimes she gets so upset when she finishes a huge order—one that takes her all day and night to fill—the client ends up hating it for some reason, even if Rarity followed their request down to the letter.” Fluttershy took a deep breath, as if she was having difficulty breathing. “It isn’t always just that either; sometimes a client will come in and say that they ‘miscalculated’ how much money they really had, and have much less than the order costs, but Rarity almost always gives them the clothes anyway.”
“Couldn’t she just, you know, keep them around?” Twilight asked. “Surely somepony else in Ponyville would want to buy whatever she makes.”
“Well, Rarity says that she doesn’t mind,” Fluttershy explained, now shifting her hooves uncomfortably in her chair, “‘All part of being so generous, sometimes I just give my clothes away, hahaha,’ she’ll always say. ‘I’m happy to see them go to a good home...’ and then she’ll take a biiiiig swig, and I just feel so awful about it...”
“She isn’t hurting herself is she?” Twilight asked, now genuinely worried about her friend back in Ponyville.
“I... I don’t honestly know! I hardly drink when I’m with her those nights, I’m just there so she can vent to somepony... and apparently I’m the only pony she trusts enough to talk to when she’s like this, so she’s never asked anypony else to do this.” Fluttershy sniffled. “And here I am, telling you two all about it, exactly like she didn’t want me to... what kind of friend am I anyway?”
“Hey, don’t be like that Fluttershy!” Pinkie almost yelled out, before realizing she had been too loud, even for herself. “Don’t you remember what you promised her? That you wouldn’t keep secrets from each other? Shouldn’t that go for the rest of us too?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “This is just a little part of her that she didn’t want you girls to know about. She’s never been so bad that she couldn’t walk home at night... I think she’s just embarrassed. Please... believe me, she’s just, you know, tired and stressed out and sometimes she just needs those nights to talk to somepony, and that’s what I do. I’m there for her...”
Twilight nodded. “I believe you Fluttershy, but try and talk to her about it okay? I won’t mention it unless she does, but now all we’re going to do is worry.”
The caretaker nodded. “O-okay... let’s just stop talking about it okay?” Her two friends nodded, letting the conversation draw to a close.
The unicorn took another sip from her glass as a peaceful silence fell over the group of friends. Twilight mulled over the conversation with a mental fine-toothed comb. I don’t think Pinkie’s the changeling, even after all of that competition talk. She has lots of memories of Ponyville, and there’s no way a changeling could have that. Fluttershy on the other hoof... what she’s saying is supposedly a secret. There’s no way Rarity would admit to something like that. But I still don’t have any proof. Augh, why can’t this be any easier? Are changelings trained from the day they’re born to do this kind of thing?
She took another sip from her glass. It had lost most of its sweetness.
The desperate unicorn found herself in the bathroom again, this time almost tumbling head-over-heels as she barged through the door. One hour and three drinks later, and even she could see she was partially, if not completely, drunk. Pinkie seemed to be getting oddly more confident as the night went on and Fluttershy seemed to get quieter and quieter, though she was fidgeting oddly. Twilight interrupted her own thoughts in order to put all of her concentration into getting back on all fours and get to the sink again, but this time she found that her body would not cooperate, and she collapsed in a heap. At least the floor is clean... they must really not have had any business today.
Her head was pounding. She knew drinking was supposed to cloud the mind, but this pain, this throbbing burning in her head, that was what she hated. She could do without thinking for a little bit, but she didn’t expect it to hurt this much. Probably just from drinking so much... ooooh am I going to regret this in the morning...
Her body ached as well. Her legs had barely kept up with her movements when she made her way to the bathroom, and as she looked back at herself only seconds ago, she wondered how she had even gotten there without falling over. She closed her eyes to concentrate, willing her legs to move and hold her upright, which responded only after a minute of pure focus. Standing on all fours in front of the bathroom mirror felt like a major accomplishment, so she looked at herself as a reward.
Her cheeks were red, her eyes were droopy, and her legs were wobbling in ways she couldn’t even see. She laughed at herself. She looked miserable. Yet somehow, she had been able to notice the little things of her friends. Their personalities were off. She’d spent over two hours in that bar, alone with the two of them, and found nothing blatant and nothing factual. But she found other things.
As the night went on, the two seemed more and more suspicious to her. Pinkie was getting more combative and confrontational, challenging Twilight when she attempted any kind of contradiction. Fluttershy, on the other hand, hadn’t spoken much at all except to defend the poor, intoxicated unicorn. Twilight knew something was off, but then, she had never seen her friends drunk before. She could tell they were, too—given how much they had to drink that night, of course they were. They had tell tale blushes, and words stuttered and mixed sometimes.
How much longer could she go on like this? She was lucky that she hadn’t thrown up yet, but she felt that that couldn’t be too far off. Rum and Vodka weren’t low in their alcohol content after all. It was only a matter of time, and that was really the last thing she wanted to do when trying to “show off.” Twilight sighed to herself, feeling broken, but not yet defeated. She had to keep trying. Maybe that book meant you had to get them so drunk that they were gonna die anyway... yeah... that’s it... She turned from the mirror and headed back to her table, exerting minimal effort in pushing aside the bathroom door and walking past the bartender as he stood aside in the hallway.
Twilight took her seat at the table, not bothering to look up at her two friends. “You okay Twilight? You don’t look so...” Pinke stopped mid-sentence, sputtered a few unintelligible syllables, and dropped her head onto the table. “Good.” She looked up for a second, and Twilight saw a shimmer of green in her eyes. Twilight blinked, rubbed at her eyes with a hoof, and saw nothing unusual from her pink friend.
Fluttershy looked to Twilight with a sodden smile. “Are we... shure we dun... want to go back to our roomsh?” Fluttershy said, resting both of her forelegs on the table as her eyes seemed to half close from either exhaustion or intoxication. Twilight wondered if that was anxiety she heard in her friend’s voice, or if she herself was just so tired that she somehow confused her drunken slurs for a deeper pitch.
Twilight simply slumped over in her chair, unsure and unresponsive. She knew she had to keep going, but simply the thought of drinking anything made her stomach’s contents rise into her throat a little. Her body ached, her head was pounding. It was easy—just fall over, and your friends will bring you back to your room. Easy peasy.
You have to do this Twilight... I know it hurts, and it aches and you just want to fall over and go to sleep, but damnit these are your friends. You have to keep going! If you don’t keep them going until one of them loses their disguise... you really will be alone.
Twilight looked up at her friends. Pinkie had trouble lifting her head off of the table, though her efforts showed her clearly straining. Twilight wasn’t sure which of the three of them was more drunk than the others, but it didn’t matter. She still had a shot. She had to keep going.
“P-Pinkie... I think... I can handle another drink or two. Let’s try that beer again,” Twilight said, “and if either of us pass out or throw up here, then they lose.”
Pinkie nodded with her head still against the table, and after a few moments of silence, she threw up her forelegs with a cheer. “All right! Let’s... ah!” Pinkie slipped out of her chair, falling onto the ground. Before either Twilight or Fluttershy could even mutter a response, Pinkie was on all fours again, a shining smile on her face. “Let’s have another drink!”
Fluttershy blinked away her far-off gaze and said to Pinkie, still in a slur, “I know you want ta win Pinkie, but thish ish her firsht time drinking. Shouldn’t we go back?”
Pinkie turned her head to Twilight. “Do you wanna go back yet, Twilight?”
“I don’t want to go back if you don’t want to,” Twilight responded hastily.
The pink pony shrugged. “If that’s what you want!” Pinkie motioned the waitress over once more. “How about one last beer for... all three of us. Fluttershy won’t mind, right?”
“Well, actually, I think I’m okay for the night—”
The waitress seemed to ignore her, levitating three mugs all the way from the bar to the table like it was nothing. “Here you go girls. Never seen three ponies drink so much before in my life...”
“Noooooo problem,” Pinkie said, taking an obviously big swig from her mug. Twilight watched her and then glanced at Fluttershy, who was looking at her mug with a certain disinterest, but decided to take a sip anyway.
The drunken unicorn slowly took somewhat long swig from the mug. It was still bitter, but she hardly cared anymore. This is it Twilight. This is your last chance. Make it work. Just don’t drink this too fast... oh Celestia is half the mug empty already? Twilight looked down, observing the definitely half empty mug. She glanced up, then back down to her drink, and then did a double take.
In front of her sat two changelings where her friends were.
Twilight blinked. Still there. She rubbed her eyes with her hooves. Still there. She even took another drink, quickly tossing some of the mug’s contents down her throat. A changeling where Fluttershy was sitting, and a changeling where Pinkie Pie was sitting. Still there. She couldn’t tell them apart, except for where they sat. They both had the same black exoskeleton, same translucent wings, same hooves and horn with holes punched through-out, same teal eyes. Both of her friends that night had been changelings.
Twilight screamed, prompting both changelings looked up at her, then across the table at each other, and jumped out of their seats.
“You’re a changeling!” said the changeling who had been in Pinkie Pie’s seat.
“So are you!” said the changeling who had been in Fluttershy’s seat.
Twilight looked between the two of them, unable to so much as find a hint of a rational thought in her mind. This has to be a hallucination, something is going wrong, this can’t be real, they can’t both be changelings, where are my real friends, what is going on?! She put her head back onto the table and covered it with both hooves and screamed, “I just want my friends back!”
Twilight locked her head onto the table with her hooves, holding it down as hard as she could. It hurt so much, she couldn’t do anything else. She felt tears streaking down her face, she hurt, she didn’t want to be here anymore. She wanted to be in that tower, where she had spent her life growing up as Celestia’s star pupil, she wanted to go back to the library in Ponyville and just huddle in bed and wait for all five of her real friends to appear and tell her nothing was wrong.
Sounds played outside of her mind. Was it fighting? She didn’t know. Things were breaking, tables knocking into ponies, glasses shattering on the floor. She didn’t want to be there anymore. She tried to cast a spell, but she didn’t even feel her horn glow. She couldn’t focus on anything, her head hurt so much.
Then something rammed itself through her head. A spike pierced through her skull and through her brain and into her mind and her throat and her consciousness and she thought she was dead and she screamed so loud the pain hurt so much she wanted to let all of the pain out of her horn and destroy all of Canterlot so that whatever was doing it would stop.
And like that, it was over, and the world lost its light.
The first thing Twilight realized was that the pain was gone. The sounds of fighting in the bar had subsided. She still ached, but she knew that was from the alcohol. Her head was clear. She could think, hear her thoughts, pay attention to everything around her. It was as if that night hadn’t happened and she had been teleported to that spot from the outside. Her body was aching, but she could feel the cold stone of the floor against her side. When did I fall out of my chair? Augh, doesn’t matter, just get up...
She struggled to get to all fours, and finally opening her eyes, she took a quick survey of the room. The lights were still on, and she noticed that both the bartender and the waitress were in a heap next to a wall on the far side of the room, but even from there she could see them breathing. She then looked to the changelings. One of them was unconscious on a table at one of the booths, only ten feet or so from the student herself. The other changeling was sitting with her back against the wooden barrier that supported the chairs between booths. She was breathing heavily, but otherwise wasn’t moving.
Twilight got out of her chair. She seemed to be able to walk a lot better now. What’s going on? Was the drinking not causing everything that was wrong with me tonight?
She walked over to the changeling, who only glanced in her general direction as the unicorn arrived, adding a grimace when she saw who it was. “Hello, uhm, Twilight.”
The voice was distorted, deep, but still sounded feminine. “Hello... changeling.”
The creature recoiled, as if the words themselves had struck her. “Please, you have to listen to me—”
“Save it!” Twilight said, her horn now starting to glow, as she had wanted only moments ago. “What have you done with Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy?! Where are my friends?!”
“I haven’t done anything! Believe me, I haven’t!”
“No!” Twilight yelled. “What. Have. You. Done. With. Pinkie Pie. And. Fluttershy.” Her voice was stilted and bitter, anger building slowly as the changeling tried to deny her involvement. Of course Celestia hadn’t been able to tell them apart... there were two of them.
The changeling cowered in her weak position. “Y-you don’t understand... please... I haven’t hurt anypony!”
Twilight pointed a hoof at the other changeling. “Is that your accomplice?! Why did you both replace two of my friends?!”
“I haven’t done anything!” the changeling shrieked in response. Twilight fell back in surprise. The changeling got into the fetal position, her back to the unicorn. “I... I stopped her from hurting you. You were screaming so loudly... I just couldn’t take it.”
It was then that Twilight’s now-clear mind remembered a key line from the letter she received from the princess, one so vital but somehow forgotten in all of the fear: They are probably scared, Twilight. Scared and alone, and to them, you are more of a threat than anything else. Do not hurt them. Twilight studied the changeling before her with her eyes. She was tired, hurt, but most of all, she looked defeated. she was staring at the ground, shivering in fear as she sat helpless in the fetal position.
She decided that she could at least listen.
“Okay... okay, I believe you. You didn’t mean anything bad to me or my friends, and you saved me even. Thanks.” Twilight turned away as she spoke, walking to a nearby chair so she could give her still aching legs a rest. “But don’t think I trust you or anything.”
The changeling didn’t respond. Once Twilight sat herself down in a chair and was facing the changeling from a comfortable distance away, the creature spoke up. “Are you really going to listen to me?”
“I have to give you a shot. You aren’t trying to hurt me and you even saved me.” Twilight explained calmly. Even if she only has self-serving intentions, now two of my friends are missing... I’m not about to take her side in this.
“Could you... please stop calling me a changeling? I-it feels awful.”
“But isn’t that what you are? A changeling?” Twilight paused, and when the changeling didn’t respond, she continued, “One of the foot soldiers that attacked Canterlot? That attacked my friends and me? That tried to take everything I love from me?!” she yelled. She immediately covered her mouth with a hoof. Whoa. I hadn’t meant for that to come out.
The changeling didn’t budge, but Twilight swore she heard her sniffle. The student mentally cursed her temper and said, “I-I’m sorry for that... it was uncalled for.”
“N-no, it’s okay. The changelings did do that. But...” she slowly got to all fours. “I... what I’m trying to say is that, while I am a changeling... I am Fluttershy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I... just let me change first, okay?”
The green line of magical light enveloped her body, and in a second, she went from the body of a changeling to the body of a certain butter-yellow pegasus.
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “You keep saying you’re Fluttershy. Like, the Fluttershy from Ponyville?”
“Yes, that’s who I am. I haven’t even been in changeling form for over ten years.”
“Ten years?” Twilight’s jaw dropped. “So did you replace her?”
“No... at least, not according to my parents.” The changeling finally looked up at the unicorn, and saw her perplexed expression. “See, I... I wasn’t born a pony or from ponies, because I’ve always been a changeling. They apparently found me when I was just... a filly I guess, a little changeling, and when I saw them, I just... turned into Fluttershy. I was so young that I can’t even remember doing that.”
Twilight nodded slowly, and the changeling continued. “I always thought I was a pegasus pony. A pegasus pony scared of heights and of flying and of fighting and all this stuff... and one time, just a few weeks before I finished flight school... I asked my parents about it. And they told me. They told me how to change what I look like and everything... and that I wasn’t really their daughter...”
Twilight listened with a discerning ear, still not entirely sure of her story. “Okay, so you’re the Fluttershy I’ve always known. How would your parents teach you that kind of stuff though?”
The pegasus nodded eagerly, apparently wanting to continue her story. “Well, they had a book that they had borrowed from Canterlot. It was the only one they could find that had any mention of changelings, so it was pretty easy to find.”
A book about changelings... wait a second. “Uhm, I think I may be able to set my mind at ease for a bit, if you will just... uhm, I don’t...” Twilight scratched the back of her neck with a hoof. “I can’t really trust you, so if I just... bind you with magic, would that be okay?”
Fluttershy nodded. “O-okay... just come back, please. Don’t leave me here.”
“I’ll come back, I promise.” Twilight’s horn lit up, and two glowing, mauve bands appeared. Fluttershy didn’t move as they circled around her legs and her chest and enclosed in an instant, pinning her hooves together and her wings against her body. Twilight quickly did the same to the other changeling that was still unconscious on the table, and then teleported.
Her room at the castle was as she left it that evening. The four poster bed was as messy as she had left it. The white stone of the walls and floor was still spotless, and the red carpet extending from the door was untouched. Luckily, Spike had left that morning with the others, so he was off in Ponyville. It’s a good thing I’m not sharing this room, she quickly thought to herself. She looked around the room, searching for her goal, finding it in moments: a certain book sitting atop the covers of her bed. She picked it up and was about to return to the bar in another flash of magic, but she had a sudden idea. She quickly looked it over, checking both the inside and outside of the cover, then flipping through all the pages. She quickly lowered her horn down to it, tapping the outside, and cast a spell over it, and then looked over all of it again. She smiled to herself, and with another effortless flash of her horn, she teleported back to the bar.
Nothing had changed, except that Fluttershy had somehow lost her disguise, and lay on the floor as a changeling, still magically bound.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re back, Twilight. I was, uhm, a little worried,” she said upon seeing the unicorn return.
Twilight frowned. “How come you don’t look like Fluttershy right now?”
She looked down at herself, then back to Twilight. “The fight with that other changeling really took a lot out of me... and with all we had to drink tonight, it’ll be a while before I can maintain my form all the time.”
“Right...” She levitated the book over to Fluttershy-changeling. “Is this the book that yours parents used to teach you about changelings?”
Fluttershy examined the book closely and said, “What? No, this isn’t even close to it. The book my parents had had lots of information on a bunch of creatures, and the last several chapters were about changelings. It wasn’t a whole book about them.” She sniffled again and said, “The author... even has a section about how he was a changeling his whole life, and no one ever knew, and he was just as happy to be a pony. So my parents figured we could do it too... but I guess that isn’t going to work now, is it?”
Twilight dropped the book, ignoring it as it bounced once and landed next to Fluttershy-changeling. It became engulfed in a violet light, and the title and appearance of the book changed. “H-hey!” Fluttershy-changeling called out, “Th-that’s the book that my parents had!”
“No no no no no no no no no, you’re, you really are... a changeling.” Twilight was stumbling backward, her mind racing. “I can’t... believe it.”
“I-it’s okay Twilight...” Fluttershy hung her head. “I don’t... I wouldn’t expect anypony to be my friend anymore—”
In an instant, the magical bonds holding Fluttershy’s wings and hooves dissipated, and the unicorn dived, taking her friend in a hug, crying with relief into her shoulder. “It’s really you! I can’t believe it’s you Fluttershy!”
Fluttershy laid still as Twilight cried into her shoulder. After a few dumbfounded moments, she said, “What?”
“I-I was so scared that you were just a changeling pretending to be my friend, and that this whole night I had been alone. I was scared that not just one, but two of my best friends were missing, replaced by fakes. But,” she paused, attempting to wipe some of her tears away, and said, “You’re really you. You’re really Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy pulled herself away from Twilight, and the unicorn looked into her eyes. They were wide, teal, but their arched shape showed that she was still both confused and scared by the entire ordeal. Fluttershy paused before saying in an even more confused tone, “Y-y-you aren’t mad?”
“Mad?” Twilight laughed. “How can I be mad? You’re Fluttershy! Oh sweet Celestia you’re Fluttershy... only she could look a gift horse in the mouth so badly.”
“I-I think I’m just a little confused still... you said that you thought that it wasn’t just one, but two friends who were replaced? Does that mean... you knew Pinkie was a changeling?”
“Something like that...” Twilight giggled. “I’ll explain that later. Let’s get you back to my room. Will you be able to transform after a good night’s sleep?”
“Sure, but... what are you planning on doing about her?” She pointed to the other changeling. “She’s still unconscious, and I’m pretty sure she wanted to hurt you...”
“Hurt me?” Twilight glanced at the incapacitated changing, then back to Fluttershy. “Celestia said that the fake was probably going to be scared and alone.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “No... she was the cause of all that pain that made you scream. It was almost non-stop for five whole minutes while we fought, echoing throughout the entire bar.” She shuddered. “Then I realized her horn was glowing, and she must have been causing it. So I severed whatever connection she had with you with my own magic. That stopped it, but you passed out, and we fought for another few minutes before I... I hit her against the table and she hasn’t moved since.” She glanced over to the changeling. “I... I haven’t even checked to see if she was breathing... I was just so mad that, that she was hurting you so much.”
Twilight stared at Fluttershy for a moment, thinking. So if the changeling that replaced Pinkie Pie was trying to hurt me somehow... then... wait... she quickly levitated the book she dropped earlier and opened the front cover. Celestia marks certain books in her library so that she gets notified, right? Twilight recalled the last time it happened... she checked out a book about magic as a filly that she wasn’t supposed to find, and indeed, Celestia was in her room only minutes later to take it back.
It only took her a second to find it, but there it was. The flag—the message that meant that Celestia would always know who checked out this book. Which means that... that Celestia knew when her parents—
Twilight laughed to herself, cackled even. Everything made sense now. All of it. Celestia’s carefully chosen words about the changeling. Saying that she couldn’t tell if it was Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie. Saying that the changeling was scared. Saying that she shouldn’t hurt them. It all made perfect sense if Celestia knew that she was a changeling. Did she simply... remember, for all those years, that Fluttershy was a changeling? Well, maybe when you live for a thousand years, you learn to do that.
“Twilight? What’s the matter?” Fluttershy asked, concern clear in her tone.
“Just... nothing’s the matter Fluttershy. Everything is fine.” She smiled. “Everything is going to be fine. Let’s get you to my room, and I’ll turn him over to the guard.” Twilight lit her horn and picked up the unconscious changeling, laying her on her back.
Fluttershy suddenly spoke up, asking, “But... but what about our friends? What are they going to think of me?”
Twilight stopped at the door. “What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you going to tell them?” Flutteshy asked.
“Only if you want to,” Twilight answered. “This isn’t for me to decide Fluttershy. You have to do this.”
“But...” her ears folded backwards, “What if they hate me?”
“Well, some of them may be angry at first, but I don’t think any of them could hate you. You’re Fluttershy!” Twilight said, chuckling.
“But... I’ve been lying to them for all these years! How can I ever face them again if they knew what I was?”
Twilight turned to her friend. “You’ll just have to trust them Fluttershy. They’re your friends, and they deserve that much, don’t they? I just don’t think it would be right for them to not like you anymore just because you were a changeling. And friends always try to do the right thing.”
Fluttershy looked down for a bit, unmoving and silent. Twilight looked on, not wanting to force her friend into a decision or corner. “When I tell them...” Fluttershy said without warning, “Will you, uhm, be there to help me? I would be, uh, probably too scared to otherwise.”
Twilight grinned. “I would Fluttershy. Now let’s get back to the castle so you can get some rest, and the guards can find Pinkie Pie.”