Flying. It takes me until I’m out of sight of most of Ponyville before I finally become aware that I’m flying. Flying: one of the oldest dreams of humanity that had taken untold centuries before finally being realized, and even then only with the aid of terribly complicated machinery, yet here I am flying under my own power, with my own wings. Still, I’m careful to keep an even head and fly low and quick, just barely out of sight of the path that leads to Sweet Apple Acres.
Only when I’m near the southern most reach of Sweet Apple Acres do I slow down and eventually stop. Lighting upon a lonely cloud about large enough for maybe five pegasi crowding themselves flank-to-flank, I turn to look back at Ponyville, which from here is far enough away I can only make out the buildings around the edge of town, including Carousel Boutique and Fluttershy’s cottage. With a sigh of relief and inward nod I decide it should be safe enough to rest here for a moment—I am, after all, no Rainbow Dash at flying and the “sprint” has left me more tired than I expected—considering the only ponies around here should be the Apple family and they’re all Earth ponies who couldn’t get at me on this cloud no matter how much they wanted… if they can even see me here on this cloud.
With another sigh, this one more of satisfying relaxation, I let myself flop onto the cloud, the softness, incomparable to any cloth or bedding, forms itself into the perfect shape with just the right firmness. However, even as I feel the stress of the confrontation with Twilight leave my muscles, it congeals in my brain. Truthfully, I couldn’t have expected her to react to a Changeling taking on the appearance of one of her best friends in any other way; after all, Queen Chrysalis’s attack had been more personal for her than most, and, at least in the show, Twilight isn’t known for dealing with stress in the best of ways.
Still, there is something about her behavior just now that bothers me, niggling me from within my subconscious… something besides the speed with which she had decided to attack Fluttershy, this being something easy to explain with the aforementioned stress. No… it isn’t something Twilight had done that’s bothering, but something she didn’t do, I realize. She had been so focused on me that she had ignored any deeper implications of the others’ actions. She had to have seen how Rarity had dived forward to try to protect me from the blast, yet she had completely ignored it.
Stress couldn’t account for that, not completely, and even then I suspect it should only make her more wary and skeptical. Thinking back now, Rarity hadn’t used her magic—which would have been a big tell—in front of Twilight. She had also seen me, as a Changeling, sacrifice his disguise to save the supposedly real Fluttershy. How can she ignore the possibility that two Changelings had merely, perhaps by accident, taken on the same pony’s appearance? And by extension, how can I? Would two Changelings in disguise be able to tell themselves apart from the real one and I simply didn’t have that sense considering I hadn’t been born a Changeling?
Then again, such a thing would probably be investigated by Celestia, for Twilight is sure to provide her with a painstakingly detailed account of the events, and it seems likely the multi-millennial-aged Princess would consider the same logic as myself. Even if Twilight hadn’t addressed such and confront the other two, this doesn’t necessarily indicate she hadn’t considered it, and instead had made a tactical retreat lest she find herself fighting up to three Changelings alone. So, even in account of her mental state, it seems Twilight had taken the most logical course of action—and that poking disturbance in the back of my mind hasn’t disappeared.
However, if she didn’t confront the others and acted like she didn’t suspect them, then there should be no reason to leave all of us alone, instead she could have teleport-. Of course! That’s it! Twilight tends to teleport when she’s stressed! From being frustrated with Applejack not accepting help to worrying about being “tardy” with a friendship report… But that leaves the question: Why didn’t Twilight teleport then? She should have, whether it was irrationally, yet in accordance to how she acts when stressed, or rationally, and meant to keep everypony in her sights.
The only logical answer—and when it comes to Twilight, I think examining her actions logically is a fair method—is that she is neither stressed nor suspicious, yet that doesn’t make sense. She had, at least, seemed stressed, unless that had been an act for… some reason, and she had merely forgotten her own nervous tendencies, and, as I’d already reasoned, Twilight seems like she would be the pony most suspicious of potential Changeling impersonators (“imponynators”?). No matter the case, something is off about Twilight, yet she can’t be a Changeling either, as her magic is still pink-purple, and unless Changelings can learn to alter the color of their magic—something Queen Chrysalis hadn’t done, yet whether she can or not…—then there has to be one other variable I haven’t encountered or considered yet… Too many unknowns…
Lost as I am in my thoughts, the physical world seems almost a manifestation of a barely remembered dream, at least until a sudden gust makes my ears flick involuntarily, jerking me awake more quickly and efficiently than falling off a cliff in an actual dream. Just going to have to get used to that, I guess… unless I transform into a pony whose ears have been chopped off. The thought actually makes me grin as I stand and stretch; without any idea of how long I’ve “been out,” I figure I should get going… somewhere… anywhere else, and like that, my mood is brought down instantly.
My melancholy manages to last perhaps a second or so until I’m truly brought fully out of my thoughts by a strange color in the sky that’s quite close. Make that multiple colors moving toward me… actually, a rainb-. No! Rainbow Dash! The way my heart jolts I feel like I’ve just been struck by lightning, and my partially involuntary jump thankfully sends me right over the speeding pegasus, who I now know had been aiming to knock my head off at who-knows-how-many miles an hour if the battle cry she lets out as she careens under me is anything to go by.
Rainbow Dash may not be my “best pony,” but even if she had, I suspect I still would have moved her down a few places for using her velocity as a likely lethal weapon against me. Whipping my head around to follow her, I can tell she hadn’t expected me to dodge her, and she almost flies through the branches of a few trees, barely managing to swerve and, unfortunately for me, not knock herself out with an apple to her speeding forehead. All the same, she quickly regains control and makes a tight turn back towards me—I know I couldn’t hope to out fly her, and even if I manage to continue dodging her, she’s likely to get frustrated quickly and move on to a new tactic, so in desperation I shout, “Wait! Rainbow Dash, stop!”
That’s all it takes to get her to land on the cloud next to me, though I think it has more to do with her being shocked than actually listening to me. For a split second, my mind goes all the way to the beginning when Rainbow Dash had accused Twilight, “Are you a spy?!” just for knowing that Nightmare Moon would return, and even though Twilight had managed to convince Rainbow with some very short explanations, I can’t imagine it will be so easy for me. She takes on an aggressive stance, ready to lunge at me as she asks, “‘Stop,’ huh? Why don’t you convince me I should?”
I blink a few times, wondering for a moment why Rainbow Dash seems to honestly—as I can’t come up with any reason she would fake this—be giving me a chance to explain and defend myself, during which Rainbow Dash doesn’t do anything but continue glaring at me. As it is, the Elements of Harmony I quickly reason to be the answer. After all, loyalty implies trust, and if Rainbow is loyal and therefore trusts Fluttershy, her fillyhood friend and Element of Kindness, then Rainbow might pick up some hint of Fluttershy’s forgiveness in spite of her obviously much stronger guarded nature—which itself seems like part of the Element of Loyalty. Stop—now isn’t the time to theorize on apparent contradictions in the Elements of Harmony! Just think… I need to say something I can back up with what little I have on my side… “Well, for one I’m-… I’m not doing anything to anypony, nor planning to. After all, I’m not in disguise.”
I almost smile in the most smug way at how such a simple statement makes Rainbow Dash pull completely out of her stance, going from hostile to hesitant in a second. Maybe I overestimated Rainbow Dash’s distrust? Just as I finish thinking that, Rainbow narrows her eyes, making my muscles stiffen in anticipation. She looks me up and down slowly, then flutters off the cloud and circles me slowly; whether she does this to make sure I’m one hundred percent Changeling and not in disguise on any part of my body or to give herself some excuse to take more time thinking my words over, I have no idea. Either way, when she lands in front of me again, now looking more cautious than antagonistic, she responds, “Maybe… but this is pretty far away from everypony. You wouldn’t need to hide way out here.”
I grimace as I consider not answering and simply fleeing, but I quickly mentally shake that thought off—I most likely wouldn’t be able to go five feet before Rainbow Dash tackles me to the ground. Why, why, do they have to make this so difficult… well, at least Rainbow Dash is actually giving me a chance, unlike Twilight… hmm… “unlike Twilight”… “Unless I wanted to hide from weather pegasi, like you, which wouldn’t be a very good idea, sitting on a cloud without a disguise.”
Rainbow tilts her head and knits her brow as she considers these facts, though I think that her relaxing around me might have as much to do with me speaking so civilly as the actual points I make. Her eyes eventually settle on my hooves, though the holes of which I suspect she can see the cloud. “Yeah…” is all she says, and when I raise an eyebrow at that, Rainbow quickly adds, “I didn’t know Changelings could stand on clouds…”
Now that she mentions it, neither did I; I had simply settled down on this cloud from my tiredness and I hadn’t simply fallen through. I hadn’t thought beyond “need to rest,” but that isn’t the point that needs to be focused on right now—wondering about the workings of magical pony and Changeling hooves can be saved for a less pressing time. I raise my eyebrow even further as I say, “That’s all? You find a Changeling that’s not in disguise, he explains he doesn’t need a disguise, and you’re convinced?” I shake my head, both at the fact this sounds far too easy and at how I’m the one pointing myself out.
However, Rainbow Dash rolls her eyes as if the answer is obvious. “Well, when you put it like that, there’s no way a Changeling spy, who can look like any pony it wants, would be this bad.” The chromatic pegasus closes her condescending conclusion with a chuckle. I roll my eyes, but it’s only when my wings buzz in some instinctual show of irritation that I realize my ears are also pulled back. Surprisingly, Rainbow seems to catch onto this and quiets down. Even more surprisingly, she apologizes, if only in her own way, “I mean, I’m sure you’re a good Changeling,” and most surprisingly yet, she looks honest.
As a million thoughts shoot through my head I’m sure my eyes get a suddenly far-off look, as Rainbow gains a smirk that threatens to turn into laughter; it disappears as soon as I shake my head—one thing at a time—and look straight into her eyes with my own narrowed with seriousness. “What do you mean, saying I’m a ‘good’ Changeling? How can you… er… tell?” If nothing else, maybe I can use Rainbow Dash’s reasoning to try to figure out Rarity’s actions.
Rainbow, however, completely disregards my serious stare and laughs before calming herself down enough to explain, “Because you ask ridiculous questions like that instead of attacking me or running away.” She pauses to smile in a good-natured way. “That, and what you said yourself about not looking like any pony else.” With that, she lays down, places her head on her forehooves, and closes her eyes with a sigh, leaving herself undefended, yet looking completely unconcerned and even content. “Plus, anypony who takes an early afternoon nap on a cloud over Sweet Apple Acres has the right idea and can’t be all bad.”
I shake my head slowly as she explains this, only noticing she’s looking at me out of the corner of her eye and smirking at me when I turn back to her to respond, but she cuts over me. “Are you really trying to convince me you’re evil?” She shakes her head in turn as she pulls herself back up into a sitting position. “Because if you were evil, that’d be pretty dumb.” She pauses for a second, during which I consider the fact I had been out-logic-ed by Rainbow Dash of all ponies—not that I had been trying to convince her I’m evil, only to be a little more careful. “Look, Twilight can be the one to ask a bunch of questions, but I see what I see.”
At that I can’t help but sigh, in part both to relief, thankfulness, and amusement at Rainbow’s stubbornness, and for a moment I’m unsure what I should focus on and what I should say. Eventually, I settle on, “Thank you. I don’t think everypony would be able to say that, not about a Changeling, anyway.” I smile back sincerely, and I can only suppose Rainbow decides to ignore my fangs in favor of taking the expression for its meaning, for not a single muscle twitches. “You are more unique than just with your mane, Rainbow Dash; you have something-…” I stop in my tracks, unable to find a word, and Rainbow Dash waits with surprising patience. “-something else,” I finally continue, “that ponies can’t just learn or get.”
Rainbow Dash moves closer—almost daring close, another pony might say, but then another would say simply attempting to converse with a Changeling is daring—and all of a sudden I can feel some emotion begin to flow off of her and into me—not “love” but something that feeds me all the same. “Not a problem! I’m not the best friend a pony could ask for for no reason!”—There’s that ego; I knew it was only a matter of time before we met—“… Or a Changeling?” Rainbow Dash shrugs, but I’m more sure than not that Changelings aren’t remotely related to ponies despite the similarities, like dogs and cats. “So, you know who I am… what’s your name? Do Changelings even have names?”
A small jolt of fear runs through me—I hadn’t thought of giving myself a name; I hadn’t thought I’d ever have to give a name besides the name of a stolen identity. Only then, immediately after I realize that, do I recognize how strange such it is: to not need a name for myself because I assumed I would only ever need to give stolen names. I quickly shake off that line of thought, however, in favor of coming up with a Changeling-sounding name—not that I know what kind of names Changelings have, but if Chrysalis is any indication…—and to buy myself time, I answer her other question without thinking. “Of course Changelings have names. ‘Queen Chrysalis’ isn’t all title, after all.”
Movement—specifically, Rainbow Dash tilting her head questioningly—and the slowing of Rainbow’s emotions flowing into me, cut off my thoughts on coming up with a Changeling name. I almost facehoof when I remember Queen Chrysalis’s name had only been revealed outside the show. Swiftly deciding that letting Rainbow Dash voice her question and bring up a discussion on how I know the name of the Changeling that had taken the place of Twilight’s brother’s wife-to-be and led a siege against Canterlot would be not only awkward, but likely harmful to myself, I blurt out the first word that comes to my mind. “Anyway, my name’s Alternate.” She’s not going to just let it go! The way her emotion stopped like that is evidence enough! Stupid, stupid, stupid… That should be my name: Stupid!
Rainbow Dash backs up, obviously uncertain, but just as obviously not yet hostile again, and opens her mouth to ask that question, but she doesn’t get that chance; instead, a voice from the ground, distinctly accented, interrupts. “Rainbow Dash, don’t think I can’t see ya up there! What’ve I told’ja about sleepin’ on clouds over mah farm! Ya know ponies blame me for lettin’ ya laze ‘round here! Or ‘ave ya conveniently forgotten that again?” Both Rainbow and I jump in surprise, but I’m sure I’m the only one of us that has to fight back the instinct to transform to hide myself from discovery—If just transforming out of being shock is such a strong Changeling instinct… my philosophical part wants to examine the nature of Changelings again, but I quickly squash it. In between the fact I’m sure Applejack’s thoughts on Changelings would run parallel to Twilight’s, Rainbow’s current uncertainty, and both their speed with Applejack on the ground and Rainbow in the air, I know I have to concentrate on the situation lest something I don’t want to think about happen.
With a glance at me, Rainbow turns around and away from me to look over the edge of the cloud, presumably at Applejack, and anypony with her, though she’s probably alone, right? but my rhetorical question is near-instantly rebutted when the cheeriest voice I have ever heard asks, “Hey, Rainbow Dash, have you seen anypony around? I saw a pegasus I didn’t recognize flying this way. If she—or he—is new to Ponyville, I can’t let her or him get away!” When Pinkie Pie finishes, there’s a hollow sound like wood hitting wood, and I imagine she’s play-dastardly smacking her hooves together.
Rainbow Dash glances back at me, and both earth pony mares instantly catch on. I wince as they shout up at the same time, “Oh my gosh! Are you already friends with her? Or him?”
“Well, I’ll be, Rainbow! What are you doing way out here all alone with another pegasus?” Applejack teases. A range of emotions flash over Rainbow’s face: surprised, angry, embarrassed, uncertain, apologetic. Soon enough she settles on being unsure, her mouth working as she obviously struggles to find some way to explain. However, all I need to know is that she is, at least, pausing—not telling the truth immediately—so I quickly reason that if I can’t convince them all, I might at lease regain some trust from the only one who can get me up here so I have some chance to escape.
Stepping up next to Rainbow Dash, who looks up at me with eyes wide in surprise, but she doesn’t move, I look over the edge of the cloud. “I’m a ‘he,’ and not a pegasus, Pinkie Pie. I’m not new, either,”—and as long as I’m lying—“, and you already threw me a ‘welcome to Ponyville’ party, even though you didn’t know it.” I smile nervously down at them, trying to ignore how the simple sight of me makes the two below gape in shock.
Applejack recovers first, and she narrows her eyes at me before turning to Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow, what-… what are you doin’, just standin’ there right next to it?!” As Rainbow simply stares down at Applejack with the cogs in her head practically audible, I ignore—most unwisely—Pinkie darting under a tree, and instead focus on the renewed and steadily increasing care coming from Rainbow Dash.
I finally look away from the ponies below and back at Rainbow Dash when the flow surpasses what it had been before, but she doesn’t look up at me in turn; instead, her face is suddenly overcome by confusion. Looking back down, I see Pinkie has returned, carrying an eye patch in her mouth and bouncing a ball on her head; even Applejack is distracted, her attention shifting from me to the oddity beside her. Unsurprisingly, it’s the other earth pony that asks first, “Pinkie, Sugarcube… what are those?”
“They’re from one of the emergency kits I have stashed all over Ponyville!” Pinkie answers while continuing the bounce the ball on her head, even though she has long since stopped walking and can drop the ball next to herself. “I have balls and eye patches stashed everywhere in case of a ball or eye patch emergency! Or…” she bites into the string of the eye patch, cutting it in half, “a slingshot emergency! Take the other end! Take the other end!” Pinkie turns to Applejack so the continuing bouncing of her head makes the string slap the other earth pony in the muzzle.
Catching on quicker than me, Rainbow rears up and shoves me with her forehooves, whispering into my ear, “You better go!” Despite her welcome efforts, however, I don’t move quiet fast enough. Applejack bites onto the elastic string of the eye patch, and Pinkie lets the ball roll down her face and into the “eye patch” of the eye patch, then, quicker than thinking, she pulls it down with her forehooves—Applejack rears in tandem—and lets it loose. I leap into the air, wings buzzing, but Pinkie must have somehow accounted for that, and the ball slams into the side of my face with unexpected force—force enough to knock me unconscious for the second time in one day.