The very first thing I recall upon awaking is a pain in my head, followed quickly by a dullness through the rest of my body, like a thick sheet over my senses. I can at least tell wherever I had fallen asleep—Why can’t I remember?…—is exceedingly lumpy and hard. And why does it feel like my brain was run over by an 18-wheeler? I moan to myself as I shift and turn over, trying to find some little comfort in whatever—… The ground?—I’m laying on.
One final shift and a knife-twisting pain arcs through the numbness and headache. Flinching, I immediately pull my back off of what I assume to be a sharp rock, and in the next instant I open my eyes and freeze. The first thing I see are the trees all around me; their number and sunlight-defying canopy create a terribly claustrophobic, still air.
Physically shaking my head to free myself from the questions of how and why I’m in a forest, I only renew my headache. After a moment of scrunching my eyes against the pain until it begins to recede, I take a more careful look around. The first thing I take note of are the trees' strangely twisted trunks and branches—so very different from the tall, straight trees I know. Then, I would have tilted my head at their color—That can’t be normal. Or at least healthy…—if I had not thought I might have renewed my headache with such a motion. Finally, as I turn my head to take in a panorama, I find I’m on a path—How fortunate—and that every tree has the same sickly hue.
“Hello?…” A male voice, distinctly monotone, apparently not ruffled in the slightest to find someone laying on a path through a twisted forest, asks from what seems to be behind me. I flinch at hearing any voice at first, then, ignoring a strange sensation in my ears, I whip my head around, and my vision blurs with the pain of my slowly diminishing headache for a moment before sharpening to find… nothing? I try to spot anything out of place, such as might indicate someone hiding behind a tree, but after a few moments of careful searching, I see nothing out of place, at least as far as I can tell in this unfamiliar environment. I jolt again when the voice returns, and it takes a moment for me to process what “he” says. “One… two… three…”
My mind would have exploded with questions if I had any clue where to start. Instead, as my mind goes blank, I let myself flop back onto the ground, and I stare up at the star-like spots of the noonday sunlight sparkling through the leaves. I’m more prepared when it speaks again, and again sounds like it is speaking from somewhere behind me… Which would be under the ground!
“Hello?… … … Three… two… one…”
I lay there, considering this: The only explanation is that the voice is in my head, but… How? Who?… Why?… Nothing. I can think of no way to gather clues for these question, never mind even compiling a list of possibilities. The voice continues repeating its call—“Hello?” Countdown… “Hello?” Countdown…—and I find myself absentmindedly “speaking” along with it in my mind as I grow more and more apathetic towards even considering trying to find the answer.
Maybe I’m going crazy? I finally consider as some fly begins to buzz around my head, and I flick my right ear, then left, to try to tell the bug it’s not welcome. I open my eyes slowly as I consider that—Wait…—until it finally cuts through, making my eyes shoot open, and I jump and land on all fours. I-! People can’t flick their ears! yet even as I deny it, the fly returns and my ears—my now alien ears—flick on their own.
I stand and try to reach up with my hands to feel my ears, to find what has become of them, but I lose my balance and fall onto my chest, arms splayed out before me. Instantly, I forget about my ears, as I now see that my arms are no longer arms, but black—as if burnt, but I feel no pain—stumps, my hands missing—but again there is no pain—with holes drilled right through them—and still no pain, the absence of which is now disturbing me more than the agony such injuries should have inflicted upon me.
I lie still, staring at the holes and the dirt evident through them, until again that male voice calls out its unconcerned hello, and my whirling mind grasps onto it in desperation. “WHAT’S GOING ON!” I scream at the top of my voice, but instantly feel sheepish at the outburst. I let out a long, calming breath, close my eyes, and wait. As time stretches on and I know it must be far past the point for the voice to count down, then call hello again, then countdown again, I snap one of my eyes open in shock, then open the other more slowly and in confusion.
“Hello?…” I call back, but nothing answers; the only things I hear now are the sounds of the forest. I look back down at the remains of my arms, and with my panic receded I now realize they are not injured at all. What I first had taken for blackened skin is instead black… fur? I question, but unless it is my eyesight and not my arms that is altered, there is little way to deny it.
Bringing the ends of my arms, where the holes cluster, up to my face, I find their insides are covered with similar fur, and I can find no trace of the slightest scar. Finally, though my arms end abruptly, their sudden terminations into flat ends look as if they have been made by a cleaver chopping straight through them, at least from certain angles. Turning one arm around to inspect where I before would have suspected to find a cauterized cross-section of my arm—though I now have no theory, with my "burns" turning out to be black fur—I instead find healthy-looking black flesh and—I blink a few times before accepting it—a hoof.
I turn back to the holes with new eyes—eyes with recognition in them. There is little to doubt, except my own memory, for there is only one creature I know of with this combination of features: hoof, black fur, and holes that go right through what I now recognize as my new forelegs. I turn to look down at my body, and find nothing out of place—nothing different from the average Changeling.
My first reaction is to cry. The tears quickly build, but I fight off the urge to blink them away for as long as I can—I don’t know why—until finally they become too much, and I shiver as I close my eyes. The tears’ trails flow strangely down my face, confirming—if I had lingering doubt—that my entire body has been changed. At first, my tears confuse me—Are they of happiness? Or sadness? Or fear? Something I haven’t considered?—but my alien ears, splayed back, cut through the possibilities, and I shiver again before shouting in vain. “Changlings… aren’t… real!” but I might as well have shouted that Equestria or anything else in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic isn’t real; my voice, cracking and devoid of conviction, reflects my thoughts.
I feel some things on my back—My wings… No use denying—come alive and, by some instinct, lift me slightly off the ground and back onto four hooves. In futile efforts to ignore my plight, I examine again the forest, and recognize the forest, if not the path, for what it is. “The Everfree Forest… What else?” I say to myself with attempted snark, but all I manage is something like a lack of emotion.
I hang my head—one small corner of my mind noting how very exaggerated this gesture is with my elongated neck and horizontal body—and blink rapidly against the incoming tears. As the puddle beneath me builds, so does something yet named build inside me. It roars out of me with a sudden straightening of my neck and a stomp from my hindhooves. “This is always how it goes! A wish always has to be granted in the worse possible way! Why?!” Half way through, my shout turns into a wail, then dissolves into sobbing so that “why” is barely recognizable even to myself.
I don’t know how long I stand there, pitifully bemoaning my state, but a low… sound from something else in the forest makes me quickly shut up. Things—Ursas, hydras, cockatrices, dragons—flash through my mind and without thought I start running down the path, my wings beating hard to propel me ever faster along the ground. My one sane thought keeps me on the ground: anything too tall wouldn’t be able to see me through the canopy.
Vaguely, as I continue running, I wonder where exactly I am in the Everfree Forest, and where this path will take me. My first conclusion is that I strongly hope I’m not running towards Zecora’s. I almost trip when I shiver at the thought of what she might do to a Changeling, for surely Twilight Sparkle, ever vigilant, would have warned her—that, or Zecora’s own knowledge and wisdom would have her already informed.
My second thought is to hope I’m also not heading towards Fluttershy’s—I don’t even want to begin imagining how I would frighten her in this body, but my mind betrays me, and I stupidly shut my eyes against the slideshow of Fluttershy’s terrified realization and subsequent running away from me—Could anyone stand doing such a thing to Fluttershy!?
Naturally, though I seem to have adjusted, at least physically, to this drastically different body without much trouble, running with my eyes closed leads to a predictable stumble, which degenerates into a full trip that sends me tumbling head over heels—or hooves?—into a sliding stop. I lie there for a moment, mentally going over the various stings from the scrapes I’d just given myself, until I realize how red the back of my eyelids are—red from strong, unbroken sunlight.
Jumping back to my hooves without regard to my protesting injuries, I smile—finally smile—at the exit. Satisfied with the idea nothing (too) terrible lives this close to the edge of the forest, I trot much more slowly, almost with carelessness, to the opening in the trees. The glare of the sunlight recedes to reveal a field of grass, spotted with flowers, among which bugs and birds flitter about.
Finally! I’ll be out of this forest, and-! I stop dead. –and what? I have no idea where I am (who knows how large the Everfree Forest is?), I have no idea who I may meet out there (though whoever it may be is almost certainly better than what I may meet in here), and, most importantly, I have no idea what may happen to me if I do meet any…pony.
I shake these worries off, or at least shove them into the back of my mind so I can focus on getting out of this—to stress—dangerous forest first. I don’t take five steps before a most peculiar sensation makes me stop. Something, most easily likened to hunger, scraps against my insides like sandpaper. I gulp and look back down at the ground. Right. Hunger… Changelings feed on… love. Right…
I sigh and raise my head back up, trying to steel myself. Who knows how long I had been unconscious? It doesn’t matter, as either way, it seems now I need to learn—quickly—how to eat like a Changeling. I start forward again, now hoping that I would find ponies there, but all the same trepidatious about not only meeting them, but what I would have to do to them…
How easy it had been, from the other side, to think of the Changelings as evil as Twilight had said. To feed on love—certainly, something nobody, and nopony, would give willingly… not true love—with no chance or hope to… to change… I snort, thinking that surely the irony must be no mistake, as long as… I stop at the idea. The idea for the potential for change. Certainly something I have recently, deeply, and quickly become very acquainted with… but only on the physical level—like a Changeling.
Do the Changelings have the potential for change?-emotional change? Better question: Why wouldn’t they? I ponder this for a long while, though of course I have no way to answer. There is simply too little to go on… that, and it quickly becomes hard to concentrate as my hunger makes itself known with another rough scrape against my insides. Can’t think on an empty stomach… or whatever I have now.
I never have been good with thinking while hungry, which I hoped wouldn’t work too terribly against me in getting my first meal as a Changeling, for cunning in the deception would surely be better rewarded… and make it less likely that I would be caught. Already, however, my stomach (or whatever—how exactly does a Changeling feed on love?) is working against me, for as I think on this, in my always-futile attempt to ignore my hunger, I step thoughtlessly out of the forest and into the sunlight of a mostly cloudless day.
I blink, clueless, at the what-I-think-at-the-time convenient cottage right at the edge of the forest for too many seconds before my brain finally catches up with my body and, with a buzz from wings, I launch myself back into the forest. Sliding to a stop behind the closest tree, I rise myself onto my hindlegs and place my forehooves against the tree to stand roughly vertical with it—a position which surprisingly doesn’t feel awkward.
As I stand still, panting and trying to slow my heart, a realization hits me: I’m a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and not even two hours after waking up in Equestria (not counting the unknown amount of time spent unconscious) I’m already stalking ponies! Now, it may be for a good cause—not starving to death—but still, the idea of it hits me hard, effectively stopping my heart for a second.
Regaining myself after who knows how long, I nearly peak around the tree when again a realization hits me, this time from my fan knowledge. Cottage. At the edge of the Everfree Forest. Surrounded by grassy hills with flowers and bugs and birds and- There is only one conclusion I can draw—only one pony I can think of who would live so—some might say suicidally—close to the Everfree Forest: The very pony—besides the zebra—that I had hoped not to run into!
I groan, and my hunger groans with me… Dare I attempt to head into Ponyville itself? Certainly not like this. But as who?… Better question: How does a Changeling transform? I pause, considering this, for, though I have been handed along with this body such things as being able to walk and run—or trotting and galloping—on four hooves and, at least, hovering with my wings, searching my body and mind for how to transform draws an utter blank.
Perhaps there is some kind of limitation? I can only change under certain circumstances… I hope that’s it… and I hope that I figure it out, quick, otherwise… I shiver at the thought of a slow death of starvation, making my forehooves clatter against the bark of the tree I’m still standing against. This, in turn, knocks loose only a sliver of bark, but that is, apparently, enough to make my loose my footing—or “hoofing”?—and I fall to my right side, shutting my eyes in shock.
My yelp of pain from more dirt getting into my still open and sensitive cuts isn’t enough to cover up the tiny yelp of fear, as quiet as it is. Consciously, I already know who it is—who it can only be—but my subconscious forces my eyes open, and is still shocked to see Fluttershy standing over me.
I wonder for a few milliseconds why she’s suddenly standing here of all places: Had she seen me before and come to investigate? Fluttershy? Perhaps she had thought me only an animal?… certainly (though I hope otherwise) a Changeling is not a type of pony, so technically she would have been correct, I suppose. Does that mean I can be… “Stared”? a mental shiver, and the moment is gone.
Instincts kick in again with a flash of green over my vision, and even before it clears, even without having to look at myself, I simply know that I must have transformed into Fluttershy. Though I think there are certainly people—humans on Earth, that is—who would have gone to great lengths to have such a thing to happen to them, all I can focus on, as I look up at Fluttershy, is keeping myself from crying again as it happens just as I had envisioned.
First, the look of shock that quickly melts into confusion. Then, in perhaps the most horrible moment of my life, or at least a very strong contender, fearful realization that overtakes her entire face, morphing it into something that would never appear on the show, and from there, it flows over her body, making her shiver in the most terrible way.
It’s some small, strange mercy when she finally comes back to herself and starts galloping away from me as what I both hope is, and hope is not as fast as she can. After she rounds her cottage, I sigh and flop to the ground, only then realizing I’m much more hungry than a minute ago and feel exhausted. I guess transforming takes a lot of energy… I sigh again, this time at the finding of the useless information, for surely I have blown my chance, with Fluttershy no doubt going to get one of her friends, and I'm hurt and hungry almost beyond the point of rational thought.
I consider waiting, just letting myself be found out by everypony as the lame Changeling I am. What would happen then? I have little doubt Celestia would at least be informed of me, but as to what would happen after?… Would she merely instruct Twilight on what to do with me, or come down herself? Not even that is certain…
Though it is difficult for me to imagine what might be done about me, I am absolutely certain of one thing: it would not be kind. Maybe merciful, but not kind. If she banishes me, would I have a better chance wherever she deems to send me? But there’s no certainty that’s what she would do… and that’s when I get up.
Better a chance with myself than betting on anyone, or anypony else. Even Celestia. Especially Celestia, at least as I am. I nod to myself, and faintly I think about how the straight-lipped, steadfast, and stern expression I have now must look strange on Fluttershy’s face… Fluttershy’s face… no need to waste this transformation… I need love, and fast!