Life continued on in Ponyville. The Royal Wedding went off without further event, and Vinyl’s performance at the reception received rave reviews. For the most part, life quickly returned to normal after the changeling attack. The week following the wedding was peaceful and quiet.
For the most part, that is. In the home of Vinyl and Octavia, trouble stirred as it always did when the DJ got into one of her more mischievous moods. Currently, the white unicorn was being pursued around the apartment by a formerly gray earth pony, who was now a dusty shade of green.
“Vinyl! You get back here and own up for putting that dye in my shampoo!” the green cellist shouted.
“Ha! Not a chance! I think it looks good on you, Tavi!”
Wubsy sat and watched the event from the middle of the room, smiling at the sight of her two friends busily racing around the apartment.
“Just relax would ya, Tavi? I have a solvent, it’ll come right out!” Vinyl called over her shoulder as she emerged from their shared bedroom. This was met with a barrage of pillows flying at her with deadly intent. Vinyl easily caught the fluffy projectiles in her magic field and sent them rocketing back from whence they came. She then let out a yelp and dashed off, pursued by a green Octavia now covered in feathers.
A knock on the door brought them both to a screeching halt. Somehow, the knock seemed ominously officious. Though neither mare could pinpoint what about it set them on edge, Vinyl still urged Wubsy to head into the bedroom and hide.
With Wubsy safely out of sight, the mares answered the door, opening it cautiously. There they found Twilight on their doorstep, looking solemn and flanked by two royal guards. All three of them looked at Octavia with interest—Twilight in confusion and the guards with suspicion. Twilight asked the question that had to be asked. “Octavia? Why are you green?”
Octavia glared at her companion. “Vinyl decided it would be a big laugh to mix green dye into my shampoo.”
This explanation seemed to satisfy the librarian, but her escorts seemed more reluctant to accept the story.
“Octavia. Vinyl. I hate to intrude,” Twilight went on with a quiet apologetic voice. “I’m here on official business by direct order of Princess Celestia. As you know there was an attack on Canterlot not too long ago.”
The apartment’s tenants nodded, lumps forming in their throats as their guest continued.
“The Princess has decreed that all towns within the immediate radius of the changeling’s home jungle institute anti-changeling countermeasures. She has appointed me to lead the program for Ponyville. I’m afraid I must insist that I be allowed inside to search for changelings, as it is mandatory.”
Octavia and Vinyl stood with their mouths agape. Luckily, the guards misinterpreted their expressions of shocked disbelief as mere surprise at the intrusive and strenuous measures the Princess had put in place.
Twilight walked forward, followed closely by the two guards, and the residents parted to allow them entry. “This won’t take long, girls,” Twilight assured them as she took a place in the middle of the living room. “Just a quick detection spell to pinpoint any changelings that may be hiding here.” She raised her head and her horn glowed, casting an unnatural light into all corners of the home as the spell spread to explore every hidden corner.
She found what she expected, her spell returned the response that there was a changeling hiding in the bedroom. She could feel Wubsy’s panicked heartbeat; hear her rapid breathing. ‘I’m sorry, Wubsy,’ the purple mare thought. ‘I never meant to scare you.’ She concluded the spell and the guards watched her attentively, waiting for the verdict as only Twilight had felt the magic’s results. “All clear,” announced the librarian, and she felt a collective sigh as all present released the tension they had unconsciously been holding. Twilight’s horn let off another little spark, unnoticed by the two guards who had relaxed visibly. She apologized again for the intrusion and left the apartment to continue her rounds, the guards following her closely.
The two mares shakily made their way to the bedroom to check on Wubsy and as they entered, their eyes fell on a scroll that was lying on the bed. A large tag announced “To Octavia and Vinyl. Urgent.” Vinyl levitated the scroll up as Wubsy walked over to join them, looking concerned. Octavia read the hastily scrawled note out loud.
“Dear Octavia and Vinyl,
I must be brief as I only have a few minutes. If you are reading this letter, it is because I have just visited you under the orders of Princess Celestia in search of changelings and pronounced it all clear. I have teleported this note into your home to shed some light on recent events.
First of all, I would like to apologize for any distress my visit has caused. It is most likely that I was accompanied by the royal guard and therefore could not speak freely, hence this note. I must convey to you the importance that Wubsy’s existence in Ponyville be concealed. This in mind, I made sure I would be the one to cast the detection spell in your home to prevent Wubsy from being discovered. My team is one of five currently sweeping the town for changelings.
I need the opportunity to explain the full extent of what is happening, and there is not enough time to put it all in this letter. Also, I would prefer to tell you all this in person. To that end, I would like it if you would visit the library this evening so that I may explain. I’ve ensured that I will be alone for the night and the royal guard will not be watching the library. Please leave Wubsy at home, as the entire town is on high alert for any changeling behavior and any suspicious activity may end disastrously.
Your faithful friend,
Vinyl lowered the note onto the bed, looking like she expected it to explode. She turned to Octavia. “Well, that doesn’t sound good. What do you think?”
“If she wanted to turn Wubsy in, she could have done it while the guard was here. I think we’d better trust her for now and see what she has to say.”
The hours ticked by as though the day never wanted to end. Not being able to leave the house for fear of leaving Wubsy alone, they filled their time alternately fretting, trying not to fret, and fretting about not fretting. Eventually, however, the time came and Vinyl and Octavia (returned to her traditional hue) left their home and Wubsy, making sure to lock the door securely.
They approached the library trying to look nonchalant, and knocked on Twilight’s door once more. Twilight opened the door almost immediately and surreptitiously peeked around before ushering the girls inside.
As soon as the door closed, the room was plunged into almost total darkness. They heard the ‘Vweee’ of unicorn magic and spun to face Twilight, on edge and ready to fight their way out if needed.
But no attack came. “I’m sorry, girls,” Twilight said. “I didn’t mean to startle you—I was just casting the soundproof spell again. I should have warned you first.”
Both mares relaxed immensely as Twilight drew the curtains and trotted about the library, magically lighting candles until the library was once more illuminated.
Twilight headed up the stairs and then turned to face the nervous ponies below her. “Come on, girls, I have to show you this. It’s up here in my bedroom.”
The musicians followed Twilight up to her room, and both of their jaws dropped when she opened the door. The entire room was covered with maps and scrolls and various other papers. Twilight deftly navigated the mess, leaping and dancing from one patch of clear floor to the next and leaving her guests to navigate the minefield on their own. Had their current crisis not been so serious, the sight of the organized pony’s bedchambers in disarray may have been amusing. As it was, they crossed the room in silence, making for the oasis of clean floor around Twilight’s work desk. On the desk was a scattering of scrolls and papers, all of which outlined some kind of intricate plan.
The title of the largest scroll was laid out in Twilight’s careful calligraphy. It read, “Operation CLEaR; Changeling Location, Evaluation and Removal initiative.” The scroll itself was full of writing and precise hoof-drawn diagrams.
Vinyl stared at the scroll, attempting to decipher its contents. In the end she was forced to admit defeat. “What are we looking at here, Twilight?”
Twilight looked at the ground, clearly ashamed of whatever it was she was showing them. “Ever since the attack on Canterlot, there has been a huge outcry for Princess Celestia to take some type of action to protect the nearby towns from infiltration. She appointed me to plan and execute the initiative for Ponyville. I was going to warn you before they put the plan into action, but it happened a lot faster than I anticipated. The town council started enacting the first draft as soon as I finished it, despite my objections that it wasn’t ready. Everypony is so paranoid about changelings they want something in place now. I’m so sorry, girls. Because of me, Wubsy is in trouble.”
Octavia and Vinyl looked aghast. “You mean... you caused this?” Octavia stammered, unable to think clearly. “You’re the reason the entire town has a target on our backs, whether they know it or not?”
If it was possible, Twilight’s mood dipped even further. “I’m so sorry. I swear I never meant this to happen. You have to understand, I’ve been ordered by Celestia to put measures in place. I thought I’d have more time to get Wubsy safe before the town started going through with this.”
Octavia was about to lay into her again when Vinyl stepped up to defend the beleaguered librarian. “That’s enough, Octavia. She didn’t mean to hurt anypony and she didn’t have a choice in the matter. It’s clear enough to me she’s a victim of this too. You’re just looking for a place to vent your frustrations at and Twilight is not the right target for that. It’s the town’s knee-jerk paranoia we need to concern ourselves with.”
The cellist nodded. “Yes. You’re right, of course. We need to be concerned about what we’re going to do now. Can we get Wubsy out of town?”
“No,” Twilight said immediately. “One of the first precautions we took was having me erect a duplicate of my brother’s defensive spell around the town. No changeling will be able to pass through it, in or out.”
Vinyl nodded. “And even if we could, she’d starve out there on her own. Our only hope would be to keep her hidden.”
“Do you think you’re up to the task?” Twilight inquired. “I’ll do everything I can to keep your house out of the changeling detection team’s sights, but ponies will start to get suspicious if I do too much.”
Octavia thought it out. “You’ve already pronounced our house all clear. What are the odds that somepony else’s team will be visiting to check again?”
“None. Now that the barrier is up and your house has been marked clear, they won’t check it again without a reason to. I was sure to add that loophole under the excuse of a pony’s right to privacy. Assuming they stick to the first draft I wrote, you should be alright. Just don’t call attention to yourselves.”
“Good thinking,” Octavia admitted. “And I suppose I should apologize for blaming you earlier. You really are doing all you can to help us. Thank you.”
Twilight waved her off. “It’s nothing. You two are my friends, and now, so is Wubsy. I couldn’t just sit back and let her come to harm.”
Vinyl couldn’t resist hugging Twilight. “Thank you so much, Twilight. We’ve put you in a really awkward position and you’re handled it so well. I can’t tell you how much this means to us.”
“You’re welcome, Vinyl. I’m just so sorry that this turned into such a big mess. Now let’s go over the plans so you know what to expect in the coming months.”
The musicians agreed and set to work. Twilight carefully went over the details of the plan the town had put into motion - no easy feat, given that the residents of Ponyville had done so in spite of her objections that it was unfinished. It was only a matter of hours before the trio had fully reviewed the obstacles to come. They looked at it from every angle, hunting down any loopholes or blind spots that seemed even remotely feasible. Luckily, there were several that could be exploited due to a combination of hasty execution on part of the town and Twilight’s own reluctance to see Wubsy accidently ensnared in the net she had woven.
“Alright,” Twilight said finally. “I think we’ve done about as much as we can tonight. Any more time we put into this would just be over-preparing.”
Vinyl seconded the sentiment with a large yawn. “I think it’s about time we went to bed anyway. I don’t think I’ll be thinking clearly for much longer.”
Octavia and Vinyl rose and made for the door, thanking Twilight again and wishing her a good night. Twilight stopped them. “Just one last thing, girls. We haven’t gone over what we would do if she was discovered after all. There’s a reason for that. It’s because I never planned out any processes for that. The town is scared and reactional at this point. I don’t know what they would do if they actually found a changeling at this point, but with the state they’re in... I don’t think they would be merciful. I wouldn’t put it past them to conclude that she has to be destroyed.”
It was the subject they had been skirting around all night and now that it had been stated out loud, it hit them all like a bomb. Everypony stood silently, an awkward silence creeping across the room as nopony could think of a follow-up to such a grim idea.
After a few seconds that seemed to stretch on forever, Vinyl smiled widely. “Hey, no problem. All we gotta do is make sure she doesn’t get caught. Easy, right?”
This broke the tension sufficiently that the other two smiled at her. “You’re absolutely right, Vinyl,” Octavia said. She hugged her marefriend reassuringly. “No problem. We’ll keep her safe.”
With that, the two exited the library and started back towards their apartment. The silence had returned and set up camp, stretching out as they walked. It wasn’t until they were outside the door that Octavia broke it, turning to Vinyl. “Vinyl. I need to ask you something. This is important.”
“What is it, Tavi?”
“I know you, Vinyl. I know what kind of pony you are. And I know that if they do try to... execute Wubsy, you’re exactly the type of pony who would try to throw yourself in front of the bullet. I need you to realize that if you do, they’ll just shoot again. You’re not going to protect her by sacrificing yourself and I need to make sure you know that. You would just be forcing me to dig another grave.”
Vinyl looked resolutely at the ground. For the longest time she didn’t speak.
“Vinyl?” Octavia started to say. But she stopped short when she saw the telltale shimmer of tears falling in the moonlight. She rushed to comfort the DJ. “Vinyl, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Vinyl began to cry in earnest, attempting to speak between her sobbing. “No, you’re right, Tavi. If she’s in that much trouble I have to be ready to just let her go. It’s just so hard to tell myself I’ll be ready to just sit back and let them do what they would do. I’m scared, Tavi. I’ve never seen everypony like this. I never thought they would be capable of it.”
Octavia hugged Vinyl tight, her own tears beginning to stream down her muzzle and moisten the white fur she pressed her face into. “I know, Vinyl. I’m scared too. I’m afraid for Wubsy’s life and terrified of what it would do to you. But losing Wubsy would be horrific enough. Don’t make me go through it without you too.”
They released their embrace as Vinyl’s sobbing faded. She looked into Octavia’s eyes with the most weary and depressed expression Octavia had ever seen her wear. “Alright, Octavia. I’m not going to put myself in danger. I promise.”
The cellist smiled sadly and licked a tear off her companion’s cheek. “Thank you, Vinyl. It’s going to be alright, baby. You’ll see. All we have to do is keep Wubsy under wraps until this all blows over. It’ll be fine.” The reassurance was more for her own sake than for Vinyl’s, but the DJ perked up slightly despite that.
The unicorn lifted a hoof and brushed a strand of mane away from Octavia’s face. “Thank you, Octavia,” she whispered. “Thank you for being here for us. For me.” She leaned closer, closing her eyes as they shared a loving kiss.
“We had better go inside,” Octavia said after they had concluded their intimacy. “Wubsy will be expecting us.”
Indeed, as they opened the door, Twilight was sitting on their couch with a fretful expression painting her features. “How did it go?” Wubsy asked in the purple mare’s voice.
Vinyl broke down again. She rushed over to the changeling and hugged her tight, crying loudly. Octavia walked over and embraced them both. “It went well, Wubsy. We’ve come up with a good plan that should work. Vinyl’s just upset because the shock of the whole thing is finally setting in. We’re going to be alright. We’re going to keep you safe.”
The cellist looked out of the circular living room window and at the stars sparkling in the inky black sky. Unseen by the other two, her eyes welled up with tears as well as she whispered to herself, “With everything we have to give, we will keep you safe.” And she too began to weep.