The clock in the room startled Chip who was reading his third book. According to the contraption, it was an hour after midnight. The changeling monitored the still unresponsive Twilight Sparkle and her dragon from time to time, but they didn’t really move. They were uninteresting. These books, however…
“Supernaturals” was a pleasant read. Lots of images, colorful descriptions about obscure herbal medicine… One entry in particular put a smile to Chip’s face. It was about Poison Joke – a plant that was from the Poison Oak family, but instead of causing an itchy rash, it plays a joke on the pony who contacts it. The plant looked exactly like the blue flowers the changeling ate quite some time ago in Everfree. So that was the whole deal with him changing into a pony? A joke? Well, nopony was laughing… That particular plant could have been broken, right?
The second book the colt got his hooves on was “Obscure Unicorn History”, a really large tome that surprisingly got swallowed up by Chip in a matter of half an hour. All the stories, myths, names and events were amazingly detailed, and the stallion nearly felt there, in the past, amongst the ancient fathers of unicorn kind. There were even quite a few articles about the Princesses – the fearless rulers of day and night, defending their people from threats and leading them to welfare.
The third tome happened to be some kind of fiction book, titled “Daring Do and the Frost Stallions”. It was fairly well written, although the heroine was too cocky for Chip’s taste. She put herself in dangerous situations far too frequently to call her sane, and most of the traps she fell for could be avoided from miles away. Nonetheless, he continued to read on, as some of the twists and miraculous escapes were entertaining to read about…
“Ughh…” moaned Twilight Sparkle, shuffling on the floor half-consciously.
Chip furrowed a brow and spared a glance at the pony. She was coming to, apparently. But Daring Do was just about to fall into a pit of lava, so there wasn’t much time to pay attention to the crazy purple mare.
“Spike… Ugh… There you are,” whispered the librarian, nuzzling her sleeping assistant. “I had the wildest of dreams just now… Somepony snuck into our house and nearly died under a stack of books… And there was a letter from the Princess herself, saying that-”
The note was lying there, on the ground. The words were exactly like in her dream – all written in tidy and curvy golden letters. Princess Celestia wrote to her. It wasn’t a dream… And there, by the table, bent over a book was… Was…
“Uhm… Excuse me,” squeaked Twilight, scrambling to her feet and giving out a wide, totally-not-fake smile. “A-Are you… By chance…”
Chip grunted, straining to look away from the page on which Daring Do was just about to dodge a giant Frost Stallion’s hoof. His eyes finally unglued themselves when the heroine did a miraculous backflip, during which she threw the Heart of Phoenix straight into the jaw of the monster, causing it to roar in agony.
“I’m Chip,” said the disguised colt plainly, putting the book away with a heavy heart. It was a really good read, all things considered. “And you’re Twilight Sparkle, yes?”
“Y-Yes!” nodded the mare, a bit too energetically. She scooped up the scroll her teacher wrote and read it again. “A ch-changeling… Whoa… I just…”
“Yes, I am a changeling. Can you show me that for a minute? I’m not sure what the Princess wrote anyway-”
“NO!” yelled the mare, hiding the paper behind her. She nervously giggled and backed away a bit. “I mean, um, it’s addressed to me. And it doesn’t say that anypony else should read it. Nnnope, nowhere to be found, hihi.”
Chip’s good mood instantly faded, blown away by a red flag raised in his head.
“Did the Princess tell you who I am? In that note?”
“O-Of course! Chip, changeling, scientific name… Umm, hehe… I don’t think there is any yet.” The grin on her face was so not-fake that it hurt to watch. “Friend of Princess Celestia and Luna. My new… Research buddy.”
Chip squinted, slowly approaching Twilight.
“Why did you say friend in such a way? ”
“What way? Whatever do you mean? Hey, what are you… Give it back!”
Chip managed to bring the paper to his eyes and read “My most faithful student” before the scroll burst into flames. Well, it more exploded really – the changeling’s silver fur got charred mildly by a flame licking his face.
“See?! I told you! My eyes only. The Princess must have set a spell to prevent anypony else from reading it.”
“Then why is your horn glowing?”
“Glowing? Where? Oh, this! I… Um… Hehe…”
The silence between the two was chilly. Chip was cautiously observing Twilight with half-closed eyes and the mare was exercising her facial muscles in yet another I’m-totally-not-hiding-anything-esque smile.
“Uhh… Twi… Whoa… I just had the wildest dream… You were there, and that freaky thing Celestia told you to-”
Chip again shot a cold look towards Miss Sparkle, who fed the baby dragon with her hoof, effectively stopping it from finishing the sentence.
“You silly dilly!” intoned Twilight, patting Spike on the head. “That was not a dream! The changeling- I mean, Chip is here! And that was totally not a dream! Princess Celestia indeed wrote a letter! And it totally burned down when our friend here was trying to read it!”
Alright, something was definitely wrong here. The two Ponyvillians were exchanging meaningful glances and looking at Chip as if he were a ghost. Why? What did Celestia write in that letter? Was there something that he should suspect?... No, that is just impossible. The Princesses, especially Luna, would not do something… Unexpected behind his back, right? They were friends, right?
Awkwardness persisted, as did the smell of thousands of books and dust in the Ponyville library. Twilight finally gathered her wits and suggested the trio sit down and get to know each other over a cup of aromatic cocoa.
“You can drink cocoa, right?” asked Twilight, handing the disguised colt a cup.
“I’ve never drank it, so I don’t know. Only one way to find out.” And with that, he drank the liquid in one go.
The mug got violently smashed against the table and Chip’s eyes watered heavily as he looked around in panic.
“What’s wrong? Are you alright?!” Twilight was dumbstruck by the silver-coated mare who was now grabbing herself by the throat and sticking out her tongue.
“Hoooot” gasped the changeling, still looking around for something to cool his burning throat with.
As soon as he saw a vase with some flowers, he pounced the jug and fell its contents breathlessly. The flowers stuck on his face and his wet torso didn’t matter – the demon that drowned his innards with fire was defeated, causing Chip to sigh with relief.
“Wow… You really didn’t drink cocoa before, have you? ” giggled the purple mare, loosening up a little.
“That… Was not… Funny…”
“Oh, sorry, khem… I guess I should have told you it was… Warm.”
“I still think it was funny. But you could have spared the mug,” snickered Spike, who had to collect the broken cup and clean some spilled brown liquid. “At least none of the books got stained. Now that would be a disaster.”
“Hihi, true, true,” nodded Twilight. Her eyes were locked on the silver mare, studying her every body part – the tail, cutie mark, legs, torso, neck, and head. Chip looked just like any other pony in Ponyville. What was so special about her? Or him?
“So, um, Chip-”
“Call me Wub… Just in case. You never know who might be listening,” interrupted Chip, glancing left and right, as if expecting to see somepony eavesdrop.
“Okay… Wub, umm, mind telling me exactly what does a changeling do? You look pretty much like a regular unicorn to me.”
“Oh? Didn’t your letter from Princess Celestia tell you anything useful about me? Hmm?” Chip took on a smug expression as Twilight blushed and put her ears down.
“Hehe… No, not exactly,” she admitted, scraping the floor with one hoof.
“Alright, listen here Twilight Sparkle,” started Chip, approaching the mare. Spike tried to stand in his way, but was shoved gently aside, much to his displeasure. “I am here to help. I don’t really care what was in the letter. If there was something only for you to see, so be it, I won’t ask. But from what I understand, we have to work together. You and I have to be able to trust each other. You may not like me, but if you won’t be sure that I’m being honest, how do you imagine our cooperation?”
“No no! I-I don’t dislike you or anything… But…”
“I don’t like buts,” cut in Chip, standing now face to face with the purple mare. “When you say ‘but’, you basically throw away everything you said before. There can’t be any ‘buts’ in our work. It is very important that we don’t second guess each other and finish our task as fast as possible. You do know what we are supposed to do, right?”
“Y-Yes! Find a way to defend ponies from… From changelings…” Twilight was evading eye contact. There was something more…
“I’m beginning to have doubts about our possible cooperation. I don’t feel I can trust you. I’ll have to speak with Celestia about this…”
Twilight cringed at the sound of her mentor’s name. The pony was squirming under the unrelenting gaze of Chip, who somehow managed to tower over the mare, despite being the same height as her.
“I… I… Wait…” It looked like the pony finally yielded. She sighed and looked Chip straight in the eye. “Princess Celestia wrote to me – it was a very personal letter. She told me that our mission, this task that she put on me and you, is by far the most important thing anypony could ever do. I am willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. You asked if you can trust me. You can trust me just as much as I can trust you. You are a pony… A changeling that I am supposed to find a shield against. I don’t know you and have my doubts… But Princess Celestia trusts you. She spoke very highly of you, and that means a lot to me. If she puts faith in you and tells me to work with you, I will… You must understand…”
Chip put a hoof on her shoulder and smiled.
“It is all so sudden,” admitted Twilight, again looking away. “One day I’m researching friendship and the origins of baby dragons… And then wham, the other I have to drop everything and focus on a super-secret project that Celestia herself put on my shoulders, together with a mare that I don’t even know!”
“A colt” corrected Chip.
“Well, you look like a mare, right?”
“Ah, yes, true.”
“So… Eh, I guess I’ll just need some time to adjust… And time is all that we don’t have, it seems.”
“This type of situation is new for me also,” admitted the changeling. “I had my doubts too before I got here… But there are ponies in my life that I want to see, places I want to go to. I need to finish this so I can carry on.”
Twilight sighed. She suddenly felt very tired.
The old clock made everyone in the room jump. It was really late.
“Eh… What am I saying…” Twilight put a hoof to her face and rubbed her eye. “It’s late. This talk is getting nowhere with my mind like this. I don’t know about you, but I need to sleep at least a couple of hours to think straight… Do changelings sleep?”
“Yes, they do, and we like it too. We don’t have many dreams thought…”
“Okay. I hope you don’t mind we wait with beginning our project till morning? I mean, I could take noted right here and now, but I can’t guarantee I won’t fall over and snore through some vital information…”
“I’m tired too. I think I’ll rest as well.”
“Umm… Spike? Spike… Oh, there you are.”
The baby dragon was sitting quietly, listening to the two talk. He didn’t make a sound during the conversation, deep in his own thoughts. The letter from the Princess was definitely a big life changer. This would be the biggest thing Twilight was ever caught up in. And this time, her friends would not be there to back her up. Only this stranger, this representative of the beings they are supposed to defend themselves against...
“Spike? Could you fetch some spare blankets and pillows for our guest?”
“There’s no need. I’ll sleep here, on the floor,” said Chip, lying down.
“Really, it’s no big deal-”
“I insist. We’ll work everything out in the morning, including a proper place for me to sleep and for us to do this research thing.”
“If you say so…” grunted Twilight. “Should I leave the lights on?”
“No, its best nopony is tempted to see why there is light in the middle of the night…”
“Oh, yeah, true… Well, good night!”
The lights were turned off and Chip heard hoofsteps fade away on the staircase. The changeling lay his head on his forehooves and let his thoughts wander.
This mare. This Twilight Sparkle. She was a strange one. The colt knew how a shocked pony looked and acted like – this was nothing compared to the rude awakening the pony would have when she saw him in his real form. Still, there was something wrong in this whole situation. She was way too tense about the letter and its contents. The blame was thrown on the sudden introduction and gravity of the mission, but even considering those factors… Chip had a hunch. The bad kind.
Eyes closed, the changeling listened to the monotonous tick and tock of the clock on the wall. It lulled him into an uneasy sleep, shadows haunting his dreams.
He dreamt of Celestia, Luna, Twilight and Spike, hunched together, whispering something. Chip couldn’t make out anything, no matter how close he came, and he could not speak out to them or draw their attention.
The whispers were malevolent and stopped suddenly when the four raised their heads and looked at the colt. Wicked smiles cracked their faces, revealing razor sharp teeth. Chip found himself naked, without his plate and unable to move. All around, blades, drills and other kinds of sharp medical equipment appeared, slowly closing in on the petrified stallion. His friends, old and new, watched as the utensils drew closer and closer… Touching his skin… Piercing his flesh…
Not a sound was made…