The purple unicorn Chip saw earlier developed a twitch to her eye, repeating like a broken record the question “Princess, what is going on here?”
“All in due time, my apprentice,” replied Celestia, guiding the masqueraded changeling to her carriage. The mare gave the guard that recognized Chip a sharp look just before he managed to say anything. The stallion shuffled his hooves and looked away.
“Hi Chip!” squeaked Silver Heart. “Where are we going?”
“I think it is time for you to go home, little one,” spoke Celestia, giving the guardsponies a sign to take her away. “I would love to meet your mom.”
Chip was astonished at the speed at which they reached Night Star’s home – it was getting dark outside by the time one of the guardsponies, apparently not tired at all, knocked on the heavy wooden doors.
“Coming!” sounded from inside.
Autumn Leaf opened the door, first surprised then startled by the regal presence of the Princess. His attitude changed greatly when he heard a high pitched “Daddy!” coming from the carriage – Silver Heart jumped down to meet her father.
There was much rejoicing, and Chip could swear there was a tear somewhere in Celestia’s approving gaze. The scene indeed was touching, with all the hugging, nuzzling and words choked by emotion. He himself didn’t feel compelled to cry, yet something pleasurable stirred around his body. It didn’t manage to push away the thought that Silver Heart would no longer be ‘his’. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
The Princess’ demeanor was calm in the face of the overly enthusiastic and grateful hosts. She allowed herself to be treated to a cup of tea and some biscuits, indulging in some idle chatter to loosen up the tense atmosphere a bit. Chip felt invisible, although he was quite sure no spell was cast on him. Did the royal mare have that effect on all ponies?
Come to think of it, Chrysalis wasn’t any better. Heh, no, she was a lot worse – on the other hoof, she didn’t have to care about her opinion amongst her subjects. The drones would love and adore her till death should she will it so.
Chip snapped back to attention when the conversation went from something… Well, unimportant, to the subject of Changelings.
“Night Star, is it true you know Chip here?” asked the royal mare, sipping from her cup.
The yellow pony looked at the colt, as if noticing him only now. She gasped and then smiled.
“Chip! Yes, yes I do your majesty.” Her face was momentarily drawn by horror. “Oh no…”
Celestia raised a hoof. “Before we go any further, I’d like you to know nopony is being put on trial here. I met this colt… Chip… Quite recently and found him a very interesting… Creature. I wish to verify his story of seemingly being different from his kind. Would you care to share your version?”
The adressed pony was silent for an agonising moment. The changeling begun to think Night Star would be mad over the whole mess with her filly and would downright shoot down Chip’s one and only way of saving himself.
“As you wish, your highness,” she finally replied with a curt bow. The story was told with many stutters and breaks for restoring her composure – all in all, the wounds in her heart and mind were still relatively fresh. The Princess was very supportive and did not push the mare, allowing her all the time she needed to finish her tale.
Chip was horrified by the narration – his imagining of what the prisoners felt was nowhere near the relation he heard now. Night Star wafted with fear and dread of memories past, shaking in the hooves of her husband who pet her mane reassuringly. This made the changeling feel guilty, although technically he was not the cause of this. This kind of feeling, the shame for his entire race, depicted as ruthless barbarians – it stung. He wished he could return to being a pony – there were limitations, but at least he would not have to carry the burden of being a monster.
The story ended as the moon peeked through the windows. Night Star managed to get through the part of her being rescued much easier, reassuring the Princess a dozen times over that Chip is a decent colt – smart, curious, honorable, maybe a little bit clueless at times, but not evil. It was hard to tell how the tale was received, though – Celestia retained her mild smile through the whole visit, only her blinking eyes and moving torso indicating she was not a statue. Not to mention the flowing mane, of course.
The Princess bid everyone a good night – the departure was delayed however by Silver Heart, who sleepily asked if she could come along. She didn’t want to listen to any measure of convincing, not even from the Princess.
“Silver Heart,” whispered Chip, nuzzling the small filly, “me and the Princess have some very important things to do. We’d love to take you, but your mommy and daddy haven’t seen you for a very long time. Don’t you want to spend time with them, too?“
“I guess…” mumbled the foal, pecking at dirt with her hoof.
“So here’s what we’re going to do – you go back home and be good, okay? I’ll be good too and if the Princess allows it, we can meet each other soon! But I won’t behave if you won’t.”
“I’ll be good, I promise!” smiled Silver Heart, hugging the blue stallion that Chip was now. Nopony rushed them and the embrace felt nice… Too nice to break off. He had to remember that feeling. The warmth, the sweet scent of love and friendship. He looked at the Princess, a plead in his eyes.
“Of course Chip will be allowed to visit, once we finish our little trip,” nodded Celestia, much to the joy of Silver Heart and her friend.
With a last wave and good bye, Autumn Leaf and his family sent the royal carriage off.
During the trip, the changeling dosed off a bit, put to sleep by the gentle lullaby the wind sang to him. He didn’t notice when the carriage landed in front of a giant castle of white. Half-asleep, he saw there were other buildings around, pretty much like in Ponyville, but more fancy; they were riddled with streets and alleyways all the way up to the gray stone wall of a mountain the whole city was latched onto.
Under escort of four guardsponies, feeling the shackles of some very subtle wards, he was shown to his temporary quarters – a room even larger than his den back at the valley, with a large bed, several drawers and items he could not name, let alone say what they did.
“Now, Chip,” said the Princess, standing in the door. Her eyes were tired and bloodshot, but that did not lessen the regal air around her. “The rules are as we agreed upon – no magic, no shape shifting, no nothing. If you give me the slightest reason to even think your intentions are vile, you shall be confined to the dungeons.”
“Yes, Princess. I shall remain in this disguise and stay out of trouble. I wish with all my heart I could spare you the trouble of confirming my credentials…”
“This kind of trouble is actually less than I expected from my first contact with your kind,” gently smiled Celestia. Chip noticed she did smile a lot – her face looked… Just right with that expression.
“I too wish there was a surer and faster way. Distrusting somepony on account of their heritage is cruel in itself, and I hope you understand I do this not for my own amusement, but for the good of the ponies whose lives depend on my judgment. One more thing… Troubles me. It was mentioned your kind feeds off of… Other ponies. In a way I’m afraid I can’t accept-”
“Do not worry about that, Princess!” shot out Chip enthusiastically. “We- I mean, I, can eat anything a regular pony does. It nurtures me all the same, but has no taste. Changelings simply prefer emotions due to-”
“I’m glad there won’t be any trouble with that,” cut in Celestia. Was she suppressing a yawn just now? “We’ve been up all night, so I guess you’d like to rest now. You will stay here for some time while I search for the other mares that were mentioned to have experiences with the changelings. If you need anything, just tell it to one of the guards at your doors. It is their job to bring you whatever you may need, within reason of course. Goodnight.”
“Thank you, Princess Celestia,” said Chip to the closing door. He was alone in this large room, sun peeking curiously through the curtains. How long it would take, he didn’t know. But he was optimistic – should it be Chrysalis, Chip would already be sprawled on the floor with his mind shattered after a violent investigation, left to be sucked clean of emotion and then thrown to rot in the sun. Celestia was a different type of ruler, one that the subjects could actually look up to.
This was the type of Queen that could lead a hive to being more like Chip – kind, curious, friendly. Should the changeling be given such a chance, he would swear loyalty to Celestia. He lover Chrysalis as a mother, but began to loathe her as a ruler – after all, he was betrayed, exiled and now on the mercy of what was supposed to be a mortal enemy. An enemy that is supposed to be cattle for the mighty predator Chip was.
As the colt lay to bed, a good mood overtook him – the soft beneath his skin was indescribably pleasant, he didn’t need to hide much at the moment (save for pretending to be a regular pony) and the future looked bright. He was looking forward to maybe exploring the place he was at. Should he be allowed to, of course.