Suncloak’s house was comfy, cozy and silent.
A bit too silent, actually. It wasn’t a surprise; the changeling was the only one currently living in it. Unless he’d start talking to himself, it was bound to stay silent. Considering he was not a pony and thus, not insane, he would probably never talk to himself.
He flopped onto his couch and sighed. Sure, he’d discovered that he could get love by becoming friends with ponies, and even managed to become friends with the Elements of Harmony, but that wasn’t much use to him if said Elements were out of Ponyville at the moment, having some kind of grand adventure. Or a tea party.
Aside from an unusually loud racket from one of his neighbours every morning, he hadn’t heard much from the ponies in Ponyville. A few days had passed since he took up residence, but he didn’t have the courage to go out and try to befriend other ponies yet.
Because, honestly, he had no idea how he succeeded in the first place. He had been forced to act nice to a few ponies, and then, they were suddenly friends. In hindsight, that made no sense to Suncloak. Then again, a lot of things ponies did made no sense to the changeling. Like thinking white is a pretty colour.
A sudden noise outside his house wrenched Suncloak from his musings, making him look outside through the window.
A grey pegasus mare with a scraggly blond mane and tail and a pair of saddlebags was hastily flying off. Oh, and his mailbox wasn’t standing up straight anymore. The lid was morosely hanging from one hinge as well.
“Oh, come on!” Suncloak exclaimed as he went outside to check. Okay, maybe he was going insane. Repeated exposure to ponies could do that.
The damage was... salvageable. Then again, he probably didn’t need to repair it, he noted as he inspected the lid. After all, he never got any ma-
...There was actually an envelope inside the poor mailbox. And there was a pretty big bulge in it, too! Confused, yet curious, Suncloak took his brand new mail out of its box.
After some fiddling, he managed to tear open the envelope with his fangs. There’s a surprising use of teeth, the changeling thought. Inside the envelope were two things. The first was a letter written in a messy hoofwriting:
The other item in the envelope was, indeed, a muffin.
As the changeling munched on said muffin, a few things came to mind. One, his neighbours wanted to be friends with him! Great! A source of love and a way to get rid of boredom. Two, why did they wait a few days to get him this letter? They lived next door, it shouldn’t have taken that long. And why did his mailbox have to suffer?
He finished his muffin and went to one of his neighbours. The ones who made a racket every morning, to be specific. Even if they weren’t the ones who sent him the letter, he could still ask what all the noise was about, and maybe get them to stop. A good night’s sleep was valuable, after all.
As Suncloak knocked on their door, he took another look at the letter. The Hooves family... It sounded like a standard pony name. Most likely, they’d be nice individuals, not crazy, like the Elements of Harmony. Maybe a little weird, because hey, they’re ponies, but nothing too bad.
The door opened to reveal a grey pegasus mare with a blonde mane and tail. The same pegasus who crashed into his mailbox?! Oddly enough, her golden eyes were both looking in different directions. It was... strange. “Hello?” she asked.
“Uh, hi,” the changeling said, “I’m Suncloak. Uh, is this your letter?” he asked, presenting the letter, “I’m... your new neighbour?” He held out his hoof.
The grey pegasus gasped loudly and started shaking his hoof with much vigor. “Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh hi! I’m Derpy Hooves! Welcome, it’s so nice to meet you! Did you like the letter? Did you like the muffin?” she gushed, shaking the changeling around. Realizing she might have been a bit too enthusiastic, she let go of Suncloak’s hoof. “Sorry.”
The changeling’s eyes lolled about in their sockets before settling in an odd position, both pointing a different way. Hey, at least he looked sort of similar to the wall-eyed mare before him. He used his hooves to gently adjust his eyes. “Doesn’t matter, this happened to me before. The letter and muffin were a nice surprise, but why did you wait a few days to put it in my mailbox? And why did you have to damage my mailbox in the process?”
“I didn’t wait a few days,” Derpy said, “I posted it as soon as possible, and then the mailmare came to pick it up, and then she delivered it!”
“Okay...” Suncloak said, scratching the back of his head with a hoof, “but that doesn’t explain why you trashed my mailbox.”
Shocked, Derpy looked at his mailbox. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I was just really excited to finish my rounds and deliver the letter an-”
“Wait, what?” the changeling interrupted her, “You’re the mailmare?”
Derpy nodded excitedly. “Yessir! I deliver the mail around Ponyville! But sometimes, I kinda crash into things,” she added with a frown.
“But you... Why wou... That... You know what, never mind,” Suncloak said. He could’ve asked her in great detail as to why she didn’t just put the letter in his mailbox, but then again, she was a pony. They didn’t always do the sensible thing.
“So, what brings a changeling like you to Ponyville?” Derpy asked. “I was at your welcome party, but I didn’t hear your story.”
“Uh, it’s kind of a long story,” the changeling said. And not that amusing, either. It was mostly about him getting hurt in some way or another, and anyling who enjoyed a story like that was kind of a jerk.
Derpy Hooves rubbed her chin pensively with a hoof. “Well, how about this?” she asked after a few seconds, “I broke your mailbox, so I’ll treat you to lunch. You can tell me all about your story on the way there!”
Well, lunch didn’t sound too bad. Sure, Suncloak couldn’t get nutrition from it, but food was still tasty. It provided him with a good opportunity to harvest some love, as well.
That, and he couldn’t afford any food himself, since he didn’t have any bits.
However, just as he was about to take Derpy up on her offer, he noticed a black shape looking at the two ponies from an alley a small distance away from them.
Before he could investigate or say anything, Derpy zipped in front of him. “Well?” the grey pegasus asked eagerly.
Suncloak leaned to the side, but he didn’t see the whatever was looking at them anymore. “Uh, sure,” he said.
“Great!” Derpy said before walking off. “I know a great place, just follow me!”
Suncloak threw another glance toward the alley where he thought he saw something. Again, nothing. Maybe he was just a bit paranoid. He shrugged and went after Derpy, smelling some love in the air around him. It was a little bit, but it smelled delicious, and he wasted no time in taking it in with his changeling magic.
“...and that’s pretty much the whole story,” Suncloak said, before taking a bite out of his sandwich. Derpy had taken him to a restaurant a few blocks away. They’d ordered sandwiches, sat outside, and Suncloak had told the grey pegasus his story.
“Well, I guess that proves anything is possible. An actual changeling, living in Ponyville,” Derpy said between bites.
“So, how about you?” Suncloak asked. Just don’t ask about the eyes, he thought, that’s probably inconsiderate. “With your eyes, and stuff.” He mentally slapped himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He gave her an awkward, apologetic grin.
“Oh, these?” Derpy asked, pointing a hoof to her eyes, as if she had another set of them somewhere. “I was born with my eyes this way. I can see just fine, but sometimes I get a little disoriented.”
Phew, disaster averted. Honestly, Suncloak was expecting some kind of sob story, but it turned out okay.
“Your letter said ‘The Hooves Family’. You have a husband?” Suncloak asked. A few days ago, such a detail would have been crucial to him, but not anymore. He wouldn’t steal love anymore, but just act nice and then, somehow, receive love.
Derpy nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! Everypony calls him Doctor Hooves. We have a daughter too, her name is Dinky.” Oh, great. A foal. The Cutie Mark Crusaders had barely been bearable, and now Suncloak was living next door to one? “Speaking of Dinky, I have to pick her up from school in a few minutes,” Derpy said as she finished her sandwich.
Suncloak finished his sandwich as well. Sure, he would have liked to savour it a bit longer, but taking your time when someling had to go in a few minutes wasn’t very nice... right? “Well, I shouldn’t keep you from your business,” he told Derpy.
However, just as he was about to get up from the table, something caught his eye. On the other side of the street, again from an alley, he was being watched. He could only see the face, but he could tell it was black, had big, blue eyes and... fangs?
...Wait. It looked suspiciously like another changeling. Didn’t he specifically give all other changelings the message to bugger off and leave Ponyville alone? Then again, he was only one changeling, and Queen Chrysalis would probably have no reason to listen to him. She did throw him out of the hive, after all.
He turned back to Derpy. “Hey, did you see that?” he asked her, pointing to where he saw the other changeling.
Derpy turned around and looked into the alley. After a few seconds, she said, “Uh, I see an alley. Do changelings find that strange?”
“No, I meant...” Suncloak turned to point at what he saw, but the other changeling was gone. That was weird. Did he imagine it? In hindsight, he didn’t smell anything, aside from the little bit of love around him. No changeling scent. Was he forgetting something again? He did that way more often than he’d like to admit. “Uh, never mind. Must’ve been my imagination.”
They both turned back around to find a new mare standing right next to their table. Said mare was a unicorn with a minty green coat, a white and light green mane and tail, and golden eyes. She reminded Suncloak of someling, but he couldn’t remember. From the wedding in Canterlot, maybe? She was very excited and giddy about something, running in place and producing a soft, high-pitched ‘eeeee’. It was probably the most unsettling thing Suncloak had seen in the last few days.
“Hi, Lyra!” Derpy said. “What’cha doing here?”
“Hi, Derpy!” the unicorn said, who was apparently named Lyra. “I was just passing by.” After a very short pause, she inched closer to Suncloak. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your new friend?” she said with a big grin and an exaggerated wink.
“Oh, right,” Derpy answered. “Lyra, this is Suncloak,” she said as she motioned between the two with a hoof, “Suncloak, this is Lyra.”
“Nice to meet you, Suncloak,” Lyra said. “So, you’re a changeling, riiight?” she said, her grin growing larger.
“Nice to meet you, too? And, uh, yes.” What gave it away? The fact that he was black, had big, blue eyes, fangs, a crooked horn, bug-like wings and chitin? It could’ve been an educated guess, though.
“Can you change into a human?” Lyra stared at him very, very expectantly.
“A what now?” Suncloak asked, perplexed. Now there was an odd request, if he ever heard one.
Lyra raised an eyebrow. “You know, humans? Bipedal, hairless monkeys? Have all sorts of really cool adventures? Like in the books. Changelings read books, right?”
“I... I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Suncloak said. He’d never heard of ‘humans’ before. They sounded very, very strange. Had changelings ever heard of this? Probably not, so it must be something obscure.
“Aww.” Lyra looked at the ground, apparently very sad. Did Suncloak make her sad? Friends probably weren’t supposed to make each other sad. If he wanted to befriend as many ponies as possible, he should try not to let them down like this.
“Uh, I’m sorry,” Suncloak told the disappointed unicorn, “I just haven’t ever seen one.” Changelings could change into pretty much anything, if they knew what it looked like. They could even change into inanimate objects, though they had to take a deep breath before doing so. Rocks don’t usually breathe.
Lyra suddenly lit up again. “Oh! Then I can just show you one!” She abruptly turned to Derpy. “Do you mind if I borrow Suncloak for a while?”
“Not at all,” Derpy said as she put some bits on the table as payment for the sandwiches, “I have to go pick up Dinky from school anyway.” She stood up from the table and extended a hoof toward Suncloak. “It’s been really fun meeting you, Suncloak!”
The changeling shook her hoof. “Uh... Likewise.” This meeting had been pleasant right? If pleasant was the right word. This kooky pegasus broke his mailbox and led him to meet another weird pony. It wasn’t all that different from his earlier experiences with ponies, and he wasn’t really bothered by her, either. Yes, it was nice having met Derpy Hooves.
As Derpy flew off, the three of them exchanged farewells. Surely, they’d meet again. She was Suncloak’s neighbour, after all.
“Well, come on!” Lyra called out to the changeling as she started walking off, almost bouncing around from excitement.
Suncloak cautiously followed the energetic mare. From one weird pony, straight into the next...
Lyra swung open the door to the house. “Bon Bon, I’m home! I brought a guest!” she yelled into the house as she stepped inside.
Suncloak followed after her. “Bon Bon? You didn’t mention you were living together with someling.” In fact, she hadn’t mentioned anything besides random information about these ‘humans’ she was so excited about. Somewhat amusing, but the changeling was actually more interested in learning something about the mare herself. That would probably be more useful if he wanted to be friends with her. He wasn’t so sure if he wanted to, though.
“Well, it’s not really living together, it’s more.. Oh, there she is!” Lyra said as Bon Bon descended from a flight of stairs.
Bon Bon was a cream coloured earth pony mare with a curly pink and blue mane and blue eyes. “Sheesh, Lyra, you don’t need to shout,” she said with a reprimanding tone, before she looked over to Suncloak. Her eyes grew large as she approached him. “Well, would you look at that! Lyra, you sure do bring over... unique guests sometimes, you know that?” She eagerly extended a hoof towards Suncloak. “My name is Bon Bon. You must be the changeling that appeared in town a few days ago! Suncloak, right?”
“That’s right,” Suncloak said as he shook her hoof. “It’s nice to meet you.” This time, he was sure it was ‘nice’ to meet a pony. This pony seemed kind and actually rational, something the changeling could appreciate in a pony.
Lyra quickly ran past them and bolted up the stairs. She opened a door, and upon looking inside, grimaced. “Uh, Suncloak, could you wait downstairs a bit? I have to, uh... Totally not clean up! I just have to water my lobster!” She hurried into the room and shut the door before there was any reaction.
“Meaning her room is a total mess and she has to clean up,” Bon Bon deadpanned. “Oh well, come further. It’s not every day that we get a changeling in our house!” she said as she went to what was probably the living room.
There, she offered a seat next to a table for Suncloak, and sat down across from him. “So, what brings you here?” she asked after a moment.
“Oh, I was out having lunch with my neighbour, Derpy Hooves, and we came across Lyra,” Suncloak started, “and then she asked me something about changing into a ‘human’, whatever that is.”
Upon hearing that, Bon Bon smacked herself in the face with a hoof. Hard enough to actually look painful, too. The way she didn’t flinch made Suncloak think that perhaps she was used to slapping herself. “I should’ve known,” she said with a groan, “she went on and on about how ‘cool’ it would be if she could actually ask you to do that.”
Suncloak grinned awkwardly. On the one hoof, it looked like he finally found a normal pony, but on the other hoof, did he really know what he was getting himself into right now? He would just have to have faith. Faith that he could get through this with some understanding of the concept of friendship.
Sadly, he had little idea how friendship actually worked. In other words, he was starting to feel more and more doomed.
“So, you and Lyra live together?” the changeling asked, trying to steer the conversation in a different direction.
“She rents a room,” Bon Bon explained, “because she can’t afford a house of her own. She doesn’t make a lot of money by just playing the lyre.” Lyre. Lyra. What an extremely creative name. “And if she does make money, she spends it all on books and other stuff about humans...” Her face lit up a little. “But I’m making this sound bad. I think life would be boring if Lyra didn’t live here!”
And that’s where she stopped making sense to the changeling. Living together with a crazy pony was fun? Or did ponies find constant headaches funny? If a changeling acted like this around others, they probably wouldn’t make many friends. Then again, changelings didn’t really become friends with each other. The relationships varied from ‘enemies’ to ‘rivals’.
Maybe I should stop comparing everything to changeling standards, Suncloak thought. No, wait, that’s stupid. How else can I make sense of these ponies?
Something occurred to the changeling. “Oh! Lyra looked familiar. Was she at the royal wedding in Canterlot?” Well, it couldn’t hurt to ask. Maybe she was one of the bridesmares, or something? The ones that got brainwashed?
Oh, wait. That probably wouldn’t be good for their alleged ‘friendship’, right?
“Um, no. Neither of us could afford that, really.” Bon Bon replied sheepishly.
“Oh, okay,” Suncloak said, relieved. Yeah, trying to become friends with a mare who was brainwashed by the changeling queen... Maybe not a good idea. Luckily, it hadn’t been Lyra at the wedding. Maybe a pony who just looks a lot like her? Sheesh, all these ponies look so much alike. Why couldn’t they all be more unique, like changelings?
Suddenly, they heard a rummaging and a loud crash coming from above. “I do hope she doesn’t break anything,” Bon Bon said. “Celestia knows how many bits I had to cough up last time she made a hole in the floor.”
Suncloak raised an eyebrow. “She breaks parts of the house? And you have to pay for it?” Any changeling doing damage to the hive would probably be kindly requested to go and partake in some useless mission far away from the hive. Apparently, ponies didn’t do the same, they just kept health hazards close to them. Which explained why crazy things happened pretty often in villages like these, actually.
“Well, I earn enough money,” Bon Bon said as she stood up from the table and headed for some other room. “I make and sell candy. Want to try some?” She went into the kitchen and took a jar out of a cupboard.
“Sure,” Suncloak said. Even though he was starting to get his doubts, Bon Bon seemed like a kind mare. And, well, free candy. That made everyling look good in the changeling’s book.
Bon Bon opened the jar and held it out for Suncloak. Inside were delicately wrapped balls of candy. Well, hopefully it was candy. Suncloak took one out, unwrapped it, and flicked it into his mouth.
Surprisingly, it was delicious! Delicious, sweet and soft candy. Yes, this mare would be excellent to keep as a friend.
After that, the pony and changeling chatted for a bit, before Lyra came galloping down the stairs. “My lobster has been watered and everything’s ready! Suncloak, can you come upstairs please please pleeeeease?” she rambled, almost bumping into the changeling.
“Calm down, Lyra, it’s not the end of Equestria or anything,” Bon Bon said with a sigh. Considering the speed at which Lyra was going, it was quite easy to think it was, though.
“I know, I know, but this could be the best thing in the history of best things!” Lyra answered impatiently. To be honest, she reminded Suncloak of Pinkie Pie, except less impossible. No less energetic, though. “So, Suncloak, you coming?” Lyra asked again, staring at him very expectantly with big eyes.
“Well, it’s why I came here, so... lead the way,” Suncloak answered. Might as well go through with this crazy idea. If it got him new friends, then why not? If he had to get some love from somewhere, it might as well be from a crazy pony.
He followed Lyra as she rushed up the stairs again, and into her room.
Said room was a complete mess. A few pieces of clothing, some books, and a whole lot of paper were strewn out over the floor. There were two bookcases filled to the brim with books, most of them featuring something about humans on the cover. Somehow, Suncloak got the feeling that Lyra actually did water her lobster, even if he couldn’t see any in the room.
The only things that were kept clean were the unicorn’s bed, the lyre standing on a nightstand and some odd metal bulk, standing opposite to an open window.
Before Suncloak could say anything, Lyra pressed an open book in his face. “Look! This is what a human looks like. Can you change into it, pleeeeease?”
Said book contained a picture of... What, exactly? Lyra said it looked like a ‘bipedal, hairless monkey’. Well, that’d be an insult to monkeys. How would something stand up so straight like that? It was only mostly hairless, either. The actual parts with hair looked pretty good, but the rest was just plain, bald ugliness.
Well, regardless of how ugly it looked, Suncloak couldn’t exactly do anything with just a picture. He had to see a creature for real, not a picture in a book. It was kind of hard to see exactly how a creature behaved or even breathed if you had to judge from a picture.
He pushed the book out of his face. “Sorry, I can’t do anything with a picture,” he told Lyra, “I need to see a live thingie, because I need to see how it actually stays alive.”
Lyra suddenly deflated. “Aww. They’re all just make believe, so you can’t see a real one.” She suddenly lit up again. “So that’s why I’m gonna find one, if it’s the last thing I do!” Meaning, yes, she was totally bonkers.
“So, you’ve got a lot of stuff around here,” Suncloak said, eager to change the subject.
“Yep!” Lyra said enthusiastically, “I’ve got all my books on humans,” she said, lifting a few books off the ground with her magic, “and some...” she dropped the books and looked at some of the papers, “oh, some sheet music for my lyre,” she continued as she dropped the papers and floated her lyre over, playing a short tune. “Oh, and there’s that machine I bought, but it isn’t working,” she said, pointing to the large metal thing in the room.
Suncloak cautiously stepped over to the thing. “What is it, anyway?” Why a pony would need a giant slab of metal in their room was completely beyond the changeling. Couldn’t they have used the resources to build houses? The thing looked simple enough, actually: a huge metal box with a big button on it.
“Well, it’s supposed to be some kind of power source thingamajig,” Lyra said as she put her lyre down on the nightstand again, “based on a machine from one of my books! But, like I said, it’s not working...”
Suncloak clapped his hoof on the machine’s button. “Oh, so if I press this, nothing will-”
“Wait, no, don’t touch-” Lyra shouted, reaching out to the changeling.
She was too late, however, as a part of the machine suddenly shot out, whacking Suncloak in the face and launching him out through the open window.
“-that,” Lyra finished. “Darn. I promised Bon Bon that wouldn’t happen after the third time...” She looked out the window to see Suncloak collapsed against the front door of the house on the other side of the street. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?!” she shouted to him.
“Buh,” responded the crumpled heap of changeling.
“Don’t worry, I’m coming!” Lyra shouted to him, as she hurried out of the room and downstairs.
There, Bon Bon was giving her a very annoyed look. “Let me guess,” was all she said.
Lyra chuckled nervously. Very nervously.
On the other side of the street, Suncloak was still collapsed on the ground. Well, not entirely on the ground; his hindquarters were propped up against someling’s front door. It wasn’t quite the most comfortable position he’d ever been in, but he felt a bit too dazed to stand up.
He was so dazed, in fact, that he saw a changeling’s head pop out of a nearby bush. “Psst! Hey!” it whispered to him. How funny, a hallucination that actually talked to him! Suncloak shook his head to clear the dizziness away. That’d get rid of that silly changeling.
While shaking his head did clear the dizziness, it didn’t get rid of the other changeling. “Hello? #37? Wakey wakey!” it called out to him, keeping its voice low.
Wait, so if this changeling wasn’t a hallucination, then... “What are you doing here? Didn’t I specifically give the message that all changelings were to bugger off from this village?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
“Look, we just want to talk,” the other changeling said. We? Huh? “Can you meet us at the edge of the forest later today?” After a moment’s hesitation, it added, “Please?” with a look of pure disgust.
“What are you talking ab-” Suncloak started to say, but was cut off by his rump suddenly falling down on the ground. Apparently, someling had opened the door he was partially leaning on. Suncloak checked to see who was so rude to interrupt his... interesting conversation.
Holding the door was a white unicorn mare with a large and messy, blue and light blue mane. Her eyes were obscured by a pair of sunglasses. “Well, there’s the unexpected visitor of the week,” she said with a friendly smirk.
“Uh,” was all Suncloak could say. He glanced back toward the bush, but the other changeling was already gone. He glanced back and forth between the new mare and the bush a few times. “I can explain?”
“No need,” the unicorn said as she extended a hoof to help him up. “This is about the fourth time Lyra has launched somepony into my front door. I thought Bon Bon told her to dismantle that thing, though...” Yes. Lyra launched him. Suncloak didn’t do it himself. No, really!
Suncloak accepted her hoof and hoisted himself up. “You’re used to this kind of shenanigans?” he asked. A changeling being launched into your front door would probably cause most ponies to have a minor to major freakout. The fact that this mare didn’t so much as blink an eye did not comfort Suncloak in the slightest. Then again, she was wearing sunglasses, so he couldn’t actually see if she blinked. But did he want to become friends with more crazy ponies? Couldn’t he meet another sane one, like Bon Bon?
“Oh, don’t worry,” the unicorn answered, “I’ve seen more crazy stuff at parties. I’m Vinyl Scratch, I played the music at your welcome party!” Oh, yes. The music. That had certainly been... special. He hadn’t expected ponies to enjoy music that was similar to what changelings enjoyed, with low, deep sounds. Turns out that this disgustingly white pony did have some taste.
Right then, Lyra and Bon Bon came trotting towards them. “Is everything okay?” Lyra asked.
Vinyl inspected her door and swung it about a little bit. “The door’s just fine. And I think Suncloak here is fine, too.”
Bon Bon sighed in relief. “Thank goodness. We wouldn’t want a repeat performance of last time.”
“What happened last time?” Suncloak asked.
Lyra suddenly looked very, very guilty. “You really don’t wanna know. I mean, uh, nothing, nothing at all!” She chuckled and grinned apologetically at Bon Bon, who was giving her a piercing glare.
Right. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to ask further about this subject.
“But hey, you two never told me you were friends with Suncloak,” Vinyl said.
“Oh, we only met today,” Suncloak said, “Lyra dragged me over from a restaurant where I was lunching with Derpy Hooves, my neighbour.”
Vinyl pushed her sunglasses down slightly and peered at Lyra over the edge, revealing two bright red eyes. “Seriously? Lyra, you’ve barely known this changeling for an hour and you’ve already catapulted him through your window?”
“Hey, I already said I was sorry! And besides, no damage was done, right?” Lyra responded indignantly.
“Eh, I’ve had worse,” Suncloak said. Being thrown away from the changeling hive for miles and miles had been infinitely worse than merely thrown across the street. No, when it came to being thrown and slamming into objects, the changeling had most definitely had worse.
“See? Everything’s alright!” Lyra said. She made a small leap of joy, but that was cut short by Bon Bon fiercely tugging on her tail, causing the unicorn to faceplant.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Bon Bon said through her teeth, “but Lyra, I think I told you we had to do some grocery shopping today. You didn’t forget, right?”
“Uh... yes,” Lyra admitted as she lifted her head.
Bon Bon shook her head in defeat and sighed. “Whatever am I going to do with you? Well, it’s been nice meeting you, Suncloak. See you later!” she said as she walked off, dragging Lyra behind her.
Lyra waved excitedly as she was dragged off. “Bye Suncloak! Bye Vinyl! Talk to you later!”
Suncloak and Vinyl Scratch stared at the two until they disappeared from sight. Well, that certainly was... Suncloak couldn’t really find a word for it.
“Odd ponies, aren’t they?” Vinyl asked nonchalantly.
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, kinda?” Suncloak said. He scratched the back of his head. “To be honest, if I hadn’t ever met Pinkie Pie, I’d be weirded out right now.” Now it was just a mild case of confusion.
Which made Suncloak question what was wrong with him. An unusually energetic pony had indirectly catapulted him out of a window and into a house. Sure, it was actually his own fault, but wasn’t that why there were warning stickers on most hazardous material nowadays? Sheesh. If he had experienced any of these things before he had been banished from the hive, he’d have bailed out a long time ago and looked for different ponies to take love from.
There was only one possible thing to say. “I’m really confused,” Suncloak said as he scrunched up his face. What he wasn’t confused about, though, was the amount of love he could smell in the air around him. He took it in, his horn subtly glowing green.
“Eh, that makes sense when you’re catapulted into somepony’s house. Wanna come inside for a bit?” Vinyl asked with a chuckle, gesturing for the changeling to enter.
“Sure,” Suncloak said. Why not? If he could make another friend today, that’d be incredibly useful. More friends meant more love, and more love meant less hunger for him. That, and the friends he had accumulated so far might have been crazy, they were at least interesting to be around.
He entered the house to find a surprisingly much smaller mess than he had anticipated. Vinyl’s mane may have looked unkempt, her house was fairly clean. The most prominent thing was a large turntable, complete with speakers. There were also a couch and a chair standing around a small table.
“Welcome to the Casa de Vinyl Scratch, home of Ponyville’s premier player of passionate pieces! Or just the local DJ, whatever you wanna call it,” Vinyl said with a sweeping motion of her hoof. “Want a drink?”
Suncloak shook his head. “No thanks.” The upside of being a changeling meant he didn’t need to eat or drink, so he could safely decline.
“Okay, make yourself at home then,” Vinyl said as she rushed forward, jumping over the couch and landing on it, bouncing up once.
Suncloak decided to walk around more carefully and sit down in the chair. He wasn’t even sure he’d jump on his couch like that in his actual home. “So you make music, just like Lyra?” he asked. Two ponies with the same profession being friends? If they were changelings, there’d be a very large chance they’d be bitter rivals. ‘Bitter rivals’ meaning ‘hating each other with a fiery passion’.
“Well, yes and no,” Vinyl said, scratching her chin, “she plays music on the lyre, and often some other instruments, and I take samples and make songs out of them. Like what you heard at the party! Did you like it, by the way? I had no idea it’d be a party for a changeling.” Yeah, Suncloak could think of a few other ponies who hadn’t anticipated that. Well, except one.
“The music was very...” Suncloak waved his hooves around, trying to find the right word. “...musical?” If changelings could have cutie marks, Suncloak probably wouldn’t have one that was related to music. “It was more enjoyable than I had expected.”
“Cool!” Vinyl said. After a few seconds, she smirked. “Y’know, I’d never have guessed that I’d be talking about music with a changeling.”
Suncloak snorted. “I’d never have guessed a lot of things that happened the last few days. Being thrown for miles, meeting a lot of ponies and becoming friends with them. I couldn’t have imagined a more ridiculous scenario.”
Vinyl laughed. “I can see where you’re coming from. So, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen?” That’d be either Pinkie Pie or Lyra, obviously. “Aside from Pinkie Pie or Lyra, obviously,” she added. Darn.
Suncloak scratched his chin for a moment. The weirdest thing? Not counting Pinkie Pie or Lyra, that’d be really difficult. Everything was really weird, from the way ponies treated each other to how the changeling miraculously managed to blend in. But the weirdest... “What I really don’t get is why everyling in Ponyville was so fast to accept me.”
“There are some ponies who don’t trust you, though. I just think you haven’t met them yet,” Vinyl added. “They tend to keep out of your way.”
Oddly enough, Suncloak felt both comforted and saddened by that. Comforted because it was as he had initially expected, and saddened because... well, he didn’t really know. “Ugh. Ponies. Confusing.”
“Oh come on, it’s not that weird,” Vinyl said, “you just gotta get used to it. Go with the flow a little! Or at least, that’s what I tell everypony who steps inside a club for the first time. Maybe you’re not even the first changeling who found this way of life.” She chuckled a bit. “Just don’t worry, okay?”
That reminded Suncloak of the changeling he had met outside Vinyl’s house, who told him that they wanted to talk. That changeling had said that ‘we want to talk’. Who was ‘we’, and why were they here? It was way too soon for an actual squad to have come to Ponyville.
There was only one way to find out: actually meet them and hear what they have to say. Who knows, maybe they aren’t egoistic jerks like a lot of other changelings!
Yeah, right. If anything, previous encounters with changelings only cemented the fact that they were incompetent, white grubs.
Speaking of white, Vinyl stood up from the couch and headed toward the turntable. “Bah, it’s too quiet here. Wanna listen to some music?”
Suncloak shrugged. “Sure, why not?” It wasn’t like it could hurt him anymore than he already hurt himself today.
I need to stop tempting fate like that, Suncloak thought to himself as he walked through Ponyville, turns out music really can hurt if you play it too loud.
Vinyl Scratch’s music had been loud, yes. So loud, in fact, that it had hurt the changeling’s ears somewhat. Luckily, the white unicorn had been well aware of this possibility and turned the volume down, but the damage had already been done.
Suncloak absent-mindedly rubbed his ear with a hoof. Apparently, ponies have an uncanny ability to hurt others, he noted. If his life didn’t depend on it, he’d probably question what insane direction his life was currently taking. Again.
He sighed as he made his way toward the Everfree Forest. Not the very best of ideas, but the other changeling had asked him to come there. They’d even added a ‘please’, which, admittedly, was very impressive for a changeling to say to another changeling.
A few minutes later, he had reached the edge of the forest. Except... there wasn’t anyling there. “Hello?” Suncloak called out. “I came, just like you asked. Now can I just throw you out and get this whole thing over?”
A changeling’s head popped out of a nearby tree. “Oh, you actually came? You’re more gullible than I thought,” the changeling said as it dropped out of the tree. The slightly more slender figure told Suncloak that this was, in fact, a female.
That made Suncloak raise an eyebrow. “A female, this far from the hive? You don’t see that very often,” he noted. Females were often kept closer to the hive, because... To be honest, Suncloak didn’t even know. Some important aspect decided by the queen.
“You don’t see royal guards this far from the hive that often, either,” the female changeling said. “Oh wait, you aren’t part of the hive anymore.”
Suncloak sighed. “Are you just here to insult me or can I tell you to buzz off and leave?” He shouldn’t really have expected any different, though. This was how a lot of changeling conversations went.
“No, wait!” the other changeling hastily said, “Look, we just came here to ask you something.”
“Ask me something? ‘We’? What are you talking about?” Suncloak asked. This was starting to get confusing. What was this changeling talking about?
“Oh yeah, I forgot. I’m not the only one here,” the female changeling said with a look of realization. “Come out, everyling!”
On cue, five other changelings appeared from the nearby bushes, one even having transformed himself into a bush. They all arranged themselves in a neat line, the female included.
“Right,” she started, “I’m #14 of the grub teachers, and you’ve already met #21 of strike team four,” she pointed to the changeling next to her, “and then there’s #45 of hive planning, #7 of lower troop management, #18 of long-range reconnaissance, #2 of accounting...” she continued, pointing at all the changelings in order. “Wait, where’s #145?”
Oooh no. Numbers that high never meant anything good. Numbers that high were really bad. You never wanted to be close to a changeling with that high a number.
#14 rolled her eyes. “Where are you? I swear...” Yeah, looks like she didn’t like the high numbers either.
A nearby vine shook and rustled.
“Aha!” #14 exclaimed and pulled the vine out of its tree.
Said vine coiled up, and with a burst of green flame around it, changed into a very small changeling. “Aww.”
If there was anything worse than young ponies, it had to be young changeling grubs. At least, in Suncloak’s opinion. They were small, loud, obnoxious and just downright horrible. They often had high numbers because there were a lot of them and none of them had any group to be identified as a part of.
“Well, this is grub #145,” the female changeling said as she picked up the tiny changeling and put him on his hooves.
Suncloak slapped himself in the face with a hoof. “You seriously brought a little grub here? Why, in the name of Queen Chrysalis, would you do that?” Grubs were never found this far away from the hive, unless... “Let me guess, they sent him to you to see some field action following an accident involving him, a significant portion of the hive and some white substance?”
The other changelings looked surprised and dumbfounded. “Uh, yeah,” #14 said, “How’d you know?”
“Intuition,” Suncloak proudly said. Of course, how else would he have become a royal guard?
“Oh, I see. Experience,” #14 deadpanned. Darn, she was clever. She turned to the little grub again. “Now don’t do that again, little cicada. We don’t want to lose anyling.”
Suncloak groaned. “Okay, now what did you want to ask me? If you try to insult me again, I’ll call the Elements of Harmony on you!” Okay, that was a major bluff, the Elements weren’t even in town at the moment. But hey, what these changelings didn’t know could hurt them.
#14 looked expectantly at #21, the changeling Suncloak had met a few days earlier, for a moment. “Well, come on, I know I agreed to do the talking, but that doesn’t mean you guys can stand around and be useless all day long!”
#21 sighed. “Sheesh, fine.” He turned to Suncloak. “Uh, hi. We met before and stuff, you know, when we made a few jokes, and I asked if you wanted to come back to the hive, and you were all like ‘nope’?”
“Don’t remind me,” Suncloak grumbled. Still one of the worst conversations he’d had in his life.
“Right, so, I told you that there were some changelings close by, right?” #21 continued. “Well, tadaah!” He made a sweeping gesture with his hooves. “Here we are. I kinda told them everything you told me, and we wanted to ask you how you did it.”
Suncloak groaned. “Could you stop being so stupidly vague? It’s not like you’re building suspense or anything, just ask the question, you reverse-rolling dungbeetle!”
“Okay, okay. Sheesh, I was right when I said you were never in a good mood back then,” #21 said. “Like I said, I told the others what you told me, and we started thinking. Maybe you weren’t as crazy as we thought, ‘cause you sure seemed to be doing fine. So we thought, maybe we should check this out for ourselves, see if we can become friends with ponies. It seemed like it wasn’t that difficult, and a lot more convenient too.” He turned to #14 again. “There. Happy?”
#14 rolled her eyes. “Yeah, except that you forgot the part where you were being really adamant that #37, I mean ‘Suncloak’, was actually insane. And the reason we’re actually going is that we want to find out how a changeling who ranked lowest in his old group managed to overpower and intimidate someling ranked third. Either the ranking system is messed up, or you’re just a really bad rank three.”
“Hey, I resemble that remark!” #21 replied indignantly. He didn’t notice a few other changelings snickering, having trouble not bursting into laughter. Which was probably for the best.
“Okay, so you want to be friends with ponies,” Suncloak said. No idea why you’d want to do that, though. You don’t know how crazy these ponies can be. Or how white, he added mentally. “Then what do you need me for?”
“Well...” #14 started, scratching the back of her head. The other changelings were doing their absolute best kicking dirt around or looking in a different direction.
“We dunno how,” the little grub said.
That was a baffling answer. How could they not understand that? “It’s easy!” Suncloak exclaimed, “You just act nice to ponies, then... something happens, and then you’re friends! Don't you ever pay attention to the ponies you steal love from? They're always saying 'friendship this, friendship that, blah blah blah' and stuff like that.” Seriously. How moronic were these changelings?
“Oh,” #21 said, “but how do you act ‘nice’, exactly?”
Suncloak groaned very loudly and sat down, burying his face into his front hooves. “By not acting like a jerk. You know, not explicitly telling a pony that you hate them, or think they’re really ugly because they’re white. Basically, follow that whole ‘Elements of Harmony’ shtick they have. Think how ponies think in terms of friendship.”
“But what’s ‘friendship’?” #145 asked.
Suncloak sighed. #145 was a little grub, of course he didn’t understand such strange concepts yet. “Friendship is...” Suncloak started, looking for the right word, “Friendship is weird. I don’t really get how it works myself, and I really don’t know how I managed to become friends with so many ponies already.”
For a moment, all changelings were lost in thought, until #14 broke the silence. “How about this: we disguise ourselves as ponies and try to become friends with real ponies. Every week, we come together here to share what we’ve learned, and try to understand friendship that way! We can tell the hive that it’s for research purposes, or something.”
“That’s a very good idea,” Suncloak said, “but I don’t see how I’m helping you out in this. And besides, I can’t even smell you.”
This time, all the other changelings smacked themselves in the face with a hoof, except #145. “You seriously have an awful memory,” #21 said. “Security protocols dictate a new scent every two months, according to the cycle. The swap was yesterday. And we can’t tell you what it is, because you’re banished from the hive and whatnot.”
“Oh, right. I knew that, I was just... verifying,” Suncloak bluffed.
“Horrible memory and a horrible liar. I get why you were ranked lowest, but I don’t get how you managed to become friends with ponies,” #14 said with a sigh. “We’ll use a code name for our group or something. Like... ‘Friendlings’?”
“That is the single dumbest name I have ever heard,” Suncloak said. With heavy emphasis on ‘dumbest’.
“Says the changeling who came up with the name ‘Suncloak’,” #14 countered.
“Hey, I was caught by surprise! Three fillies asked for my name and I had to come up with something in like 5 seconds! I don’t see you doing better!” Suncloak defended himself. Coming up with a pony name was already difficult, let alone a good one. Couldn’t ponies be numbered as well? That was far easier to remember.
“Look, this arguing is getting us nowhere,” #14 said. Hah, she backed down! Another discussion thoroughly won by Suncloak! “You know the most about friendship, because you already have a bazillion friends. You can be our boss, or our teacher, or something.”
Boss? Teacher? Yech. Suncloak didn’t become friends with ponies just so he could teach other changelings about it. “No, I’m not doing that,” he told the other changelings.
“Can’t believe I’m doing this again,” #14 said with a look of disgust. After a few moments preparing herself, she said “Please? Yuck.”
Saying ‘please’ twice a day? That was very impressive, to say the least. “Fine,” Suncloak said, “but don’t expect me to teach you something every week. If I haven’t learned anything, I can’t tell you anything.”
“That sounds fair. Did you learn anything yet?” #21 said, looking at Suncloak expectantly. The other changelings joined him in this.
“Let’s see...” Suncloak muttered to himself. He pondered about the four ponies he’d somehow become friends with that day.
Derpy Hooves, the wall-eyed mailmare who had damaged his mailbox, but turned out to be a very well-intentioned and kind mare.
Lyra, the energetic unicorn who had dragged him around and generally weirded him out, but Suncloak couldn’t deny that he found her upbeat personality endearing.
Bon Bon, who was a good friend of Lyra’s and a more serious mare, but she was a comforting safe haven to balance out Lyra’s chaoticness.
And lastly, Vinyl Scratch, the laid-back DJ who took the craziness around her in stride while still finding words of encouragement.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned today,” Suncloak started, “it’s that anyling can become your friend. No matter how crazy or silly, as long as you just enjoy being around them. It might get really confusing, but that’s just a new way of making everything interesting.”
The other changelings pondered for a moment. “I think we can work with that,” #14 said, shortly afterwards being met by a chorus of agreement. “Then I think that’s all for today, since the sun is going down.” #14 pointed toward the sun, which was indeed setting. Did time really go that fast? It seemed like only minutes ago that Suncloak had gotten out of bed...
“So, we’ll meet back here in a week, right? What do you suggest we do in the meantime, boss?” #21 asked Suncloak.
“I suggest you work on a disguise and a pony name, and try approaching some ponies to see if it’s working and maybe if they want to be friends with you,” Suncloak said. “And don’t call me ‘boss’.” That just sounded stupid. He didn’t go through all that trouble to get a pony name just so others could call him ‘boss’, that would be ridiculous.
“I think we should all get some sleep now,” #14 said, to which #145 replied with a soft yawn. They all agreed, and jumped into the trees to finding a spot to sleep.
As Suncloak turned to leave, #14 called out to him. “See you later, boss.”
Suncloak sighed as he started walking home. Well, this wasn’t at all what he had expected. Sure, the other changelings were jerks, but he hadn’t expected them to think his new way of life had merit. They were even willing to try it out!
With a smirk, Suncloak turned around. “Oh, by the way, the Everfree is filled with creatures like manticores and cockatrices! Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite! Or any of the other beasties!” he yelled back.
He could hear some very, very panicked rustling coming from the trees. Sweet, sweet revenge.
Suncloak laughed to himself as he quickly left. Yes, today was interesting, to say the least. Surprisingly, it had been fun, too!
But why did Suncloak have the strange feeling that this was only the beginning of a whole lot of craziness?