Stupid, stupid, ten thousand times stupid! Rotting twigs and fragments of bark disintegrated squishily under Bon Bon’s hooves as she galloped away from the bog. The evil little thing knew about her—about Lyra. A kelpie knew. She had talked to a kelpie. She had talked to one of the Shee. Bon Bon quickened her pace, hurrying back towards the happy banality of Ponyville and away from the Unseelie and Fey. She had kept aloof from that other world so long and so successfully that she had almost convinced herself that she really was separate from it and that nothing could drag her back.
Even now, as the sun sank lower in the sky and dusk dripped down out of the gnarled branches overhead, she was feeling, hearing, seeing, and sensing things that hadn’t wound their way into her carefully-maintained bubble of normalcy in years. That distant hollow piping wasn’t birdsong, but tiny flutes, carved with obsidian knives from the bones of toads and played by silver-furred pipers with colorless eyes. She shivered as she ran through an invisible thread of creased space, the scar left in the fabric of reality by elfshot fired Celestia knew—no, Epona knew how many hundreds of years before. Nearby in space and slightly sideways in time, something shaped like a pony but with legs many times too long was striding along on business of its own, laughing at a joke that Bon Bon wished she didn’t understand. And the smell…it rose up around her, seeping from the branches and twigs and small scurrying things with too many legs. It was a smell like fresh-plowed earth, but stronger and more alive, a smell of living magic full of eerie delight and uncontrolled by any unicorn or alicorn.
Bon Bon cantered to a halt and collapsed to her haunches. Too much, too much. She couldn’t make it back to Ponyville like this. If she tried she’d slip out of time and into Faerie, and if she ever wound her way back into the real world again hundreds of years could have passed. She closed her eyes, forced herself to breath slowly, and pushed the ancient eldritch thoughts out of her head, thinking of pies, saddlebags, curtains, horseshoes—Years ago when they were still getting to know one another, Lyra had tried to get her to wear horseshoes, and when she refused all of Lyra’s irritation with Bon Bon’s other oddities had boiled over. The resulting quarrel, the last major one they had ever had on the subject, had nearly ended their relationship. Bon Bon had wished that she could explain, but Lyra didn’t, couldn’t, and must never know that the touch of cold iron against Bon Bon’s skin was poison to her and to all Shee—better not think about horseshoes. Apples, chairs, beds, a warm fire burning in the hearth. That was better. Lyra’s smile, Lyra’s laughter, the warmth of Lyra’s body against her flank as they drifted off to sleep. That was best.
Green light flashed behind Bon Bon’s closed eyes, and when she opened them they were the eyes of an earth pony again, simple and plain and everyday. She could still hear the faint piping of the bushwoses and smell that insidious green scent, but the touch of horrible familiarity they had carried earlier was gone. She rose unsteadily to her hooves, and keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the pinnacle of the Ponyville town hall, just visible above the trees, she stepped forward, her breath still coming in short, harsh gulps. One hoof in front of the other. Soon she’d be home. Soon she’d hear Lyra’s voice again, talking happily about her latest modifications to the fing-er or singing as she practiced the lyre, and then the other voices would stop chittering and whispering in her ears.
Sooner than soon, perhaps. Even as she stumbled forward, Bon Bon heard, faint but distinct, her own name being called. The pipes of the bushwoses fell silent. The distant voice called out again, firm but tinged with a sliver of fear, and in the face of its solid, determined reality the eerie shadows and whispers surrounding Bon Bon coiled in upon themselves and disappeared, like water sinking into parched soil. Bon Bon gulped down good, plain, unscented air, and called out, “Lyra! Lyra, it’s me! I’m here!”
The Manehattan accent was back, but right now she couldn’t have cared less about that. Twigs crackled and leafy branches rustled somewhere up ahead and drew nearer, and then a green-white blur shot out of the undergrowth and collided with her in a fervent tackle-hug, knocking her to the ground. Bon Bon made a noise that could perhaps have been best approximated as “Oomp!” while Lyra kept hugging her, a stream of words tumbling out of the green mare’s mouth all the while: “…And I was so worried, and it was getting dark and Monsoor Cuisine said you hadn’t come by and the Apples were out in the fields but their filly said she hadn’t seen you come by either and I kept thinking about the hydra or maybe Bighoof really exists and he snatched you up because I heard he does that sometimes if he exists that is which maybe he doesn’t and I should have gone with you what was I thinking and…”
Bon Bon blinked, and then started laughing, partly out of relief and partly out of sheer amused happiness that Lyra was so fundamentally…well, who she was. “Ow! Easy, sweetie, easy.” She gave her marefriend a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay. I’m fine.” With a gentle push Bon Bon nudged Lyra up and rose to her own hooves. “See? No limbs missing.”
Lyra, reassured, promptly flipped her emotional dial from “anxious” to “indignant.” “Then what the hay happened!? You promise me a nice dinner out on the town, and instead you go off and get yourself all vanished, no reservation at La Musset Duh Avoyn (Several months earlier Lyra had decided that she was going to learn Fancy, and had approached the task in something of the manner of an ancient Pegasopolan warrior battling a manticore. Bon Bon suspected that the reason her marefriend had so much trouble getting a decent grasp on the language was that she had started out at “death grip” and hadn’t yet thought to loosen her hold), no rennet apples—“ She glanced at Bon Bon’s empty saddlebags. “—And no marsh mallow, either. And you—you’re shivering! And scratched, and muddy—Bon Bon, something did happen, didn’t it?”
Oh no. She had dealt with the actual stress so well, she had thought, but now that the piping and that…that scent were both gone and Lyra was with her, her traitorous body appeared to have decided that it was the perfect time to go to pieces. “N-no, really. I ju-just got los—I ju—I—” And then suddenly she was sobbing, clinging desperately to Lyra and blubbering out half-formed sentences as she tried to say that this was silly, that she’d be better in a second, that she didn’t know what had come over her but she was really better now, seriously… Lyra held her marefriend and said nothing, gently stroking Bon Bon’s mane as the yellow mare sobbed against her back.
Eventually, Bon Bon’s sobs subsided to tears, and some time after that the tears faded away into sniffles. She let go of Lyra, and murmured “Sorry. I don’t know what—“
“Ep ep ep! No apologies.” Lyra grinned and nuzzled her marefriend. “Let’s get you home. You can tell me about it then, and whatever it is, tomorrow I’ll bust its snoot good for messing with my main mare. But not now. Now, we just get you home and get some food inside you, mmkay?”
Bon Bon sniffled, and smiled. “Mmkay.” As the Sun set the two mares walked out from beneath the cloying shadows of the swamp trees into the wholesome, star-studded darkness of Princess Luna’s night. The silence they left behind lasted only a little while before the bushwoses began their thin, echoing piping once more.
The moon was a good deal higher in the sky now than it had been when the two mares made their way back into Ponyville, and the windows of Bon Bon and Lyra’s prim whitewashed house were dark and still. Lyra had fallen asleep about an hour before and lay sprawled beside Bon Bon in their bed, snoring gently, but Bon Bon was still awake, staring up into the darkness and thinking. Everything felt so right and safe, and it was so tempting to suppose that that really was so, and go back to life as it had been—as it ought to be. But it wasn’t that simple. She had made a terrible mistake, and nothing would be safe until it had been fixed. She turned her head to her right, reached out a hoof, and gently stroked Lyra’s mane. Such a clever, beautiful, wonderful pony—and that wretched kelpie knew about her. If that had been all, Bon Bon wouldn’t have been seriously frightened; deceitful as Aldrovanda was, she was also terribly lazy, and the kelpie had probably been quite honest when she said that reporting Bon Bon would be too much trouble for her to bother. But it wasn’t all.
An invasion! The Unseelie Court had kept to itself for so long, now, lurking away from the Sun in the shadowy, forgotten corners of the world and living on misplaced time, that Bon Bon had supposed that it would never creep out of its den again, but from what Aldrovanda had let slip that evidently wasn’t so. “What with Queen Chrysalis’ plans, you’ll soon have neighbors enough who’ll be less tolerant than I,” she had said…That couldn’t just be a changeling infiltration of Ponyville, which was what Bon Bon had been afraid of at first. Ponyville was too closely connected to Canterlot for the slow draining of life from the town to go unnoticed, and surely Queen Chrysalis wouldn’t dare to pit herself against the Sun and Moon Princesses with nothing but the power that she could leech from this little settlement. No, it had to be something grander; if there were going to be changelings in Ponyville, then there would also have to be changelings in Canterlot. And if there were changelings in Canterlot…
Bon Bon shuddered. This was big. Devastating, Equestria-crushing, world-dominating big. Somepony had to be told about this; the Princesses had to be warned. If they only knew to be on their guard and were able to stop things before they got too far out of hoof then surely Celestia and Luna would be able to put a stop to it and send the changelings crawling back into the shadows—well, all but one of the changelings—so that she and Lyra, and everypony else, would be safe again. She needed some contact with Canterlot, then. There was the Princess’ student at the library, Twilight Sparkle; she, Bon Bon knew, sent letters regularly to the Princess, and although Bon Bon didn’t know her well—she was something of a celebrity, and she and Bon Bon moved in different circles—they were acquainted by sight, and she probably knew enough about the Unseelie Court from her studies to take the warning seriously. Yes, that was it. Tomorrow morning, she’d head over to the library, and explain the whole business to Sparkle.
Or perhaps not. She hadn’t talked to Sparkle often, but she had had…encounters with her, and those encounters had not been encouraging. That pony wasn’t quite right; she was a terribly powerful mage, and sometimes Bon Bon suspected that all that magic had fried her brain a bit. There had been that time when she cast a spell which made parasprites devour a good three-quarters of the town, for example, and that horrible thing with the mind-control spell and the doll, and then her dragon had run amok, and then just a few weeks ago she had claimed that she had been visited by her time-traveling future self…
No, Twilight Sparkle was right out. She was a decent sort, and meant well—when she wasn’t stark staring mad she was really quite a nice pony, and she had saved Ponyville slightly more often than she had destroyed it—but she was not the pony you wanted to go to in a crisis: she’d probably decide that the sanest course of action would be to transform everypony into potted plants. It would have to be somepony in Canterlot, then, which would mean a trip to Canterlot itself. Bon Bon briefly considered directly contacting Celestia and Luna, but then rejected the idea with a shudder. She wasn’t so sure about Princess Luna’s stability either, not after last Nightmare Night, and Celestia was Celestia: Sol Invicta, the Eternal Light, the Daystar Undimmed. No, it would have to be somepony else; whoever was in charge of the defense of the city. The captain of the guard, maybe; somepony like that. He or she could relay the message to the Princesses, they would do whatever they needed to do, and everything would be safe and right again. Bon Bon’s eyes drooped, flickered once, twice, three times, and then closed as she drifted off to sleep.
“Canterlot!?” Lyra looked up from the breakfast table, dribbling fragments of daisy sandwich from the corner of her mouth. “Why? You never shaid anyfing—“ She swallowed. “—Anything about a trip. And you’d be gone all day! I thought we were going to have that dinner out on the town this evening, since it didn’t work out yesterday?”
Across the room Bon Bon swished the remains of the meal into their compost chute with a flick of her tail, and raised herself up to the sink so she could scrape blackened corn muffin batter off a pan with her forehooves. She bit her lip. “I know it’s sudden, sweetie, but…it’s important. I’m really, really sorry about this, but I promise it’s something I have to do.”
“But why?” Lyra slid out of her chair and trotted over to her marefriend’s side. “Bon Bon, level with me. You come back from Froggy Bottom Bog looking like you saw Discord dancing the mambo with Nightmare Moon, you have a panic attack in the middle of the woods, you won’t say a thing about what happened out there afterwards—Oh horsefeathers, it’s ‘won’t,’ not ‘can’t,’ and you know it—and now suddenly you’re off to Canterlot, no explanation, no heads-up, just ‘Seeya tomorrow, Lyra. Toodles!’ Filly, I’m not letting you go anywhere until you explain yourself. It was the Bog, wasn’t it? What happened out there?” Lyra lifted herself up to her hind legs, only a little awkwardly, and leaned over the sink beside Bon Bon, trying to catch her marefriend’s eye. “Bon Bon…why won’t you talk to me?”
Bon Bon winced. She could feel the worry in Lyra’s voice, and what’s more she could feel it—taste it? Not all the senses of a changeling could be described in the words of a pony—in the warm, buoyant threads of Lyra’s love for her, humming through the depths of her marefriend’s mind. She knew she needed to tell Lyra the truth; she’d known it for years, ever since she had first fallen in love with the strange, excitable unicorn. She’d even come close to telling her once or twice, but it was never quite the right moment…
Of course it was never the right moment. There never could be a “right moment” for admitting that she’d lied to Lyra for years about who and what she was, and no matter what it would be a hard and painful talk, and might mean the breaking of both their hearts. But it would have to be done, nonetheless. She owed it to Lyra.
“Y—yes. Yes, it was the bog. Lyra, I’m—” Say it. “I’m a—“ Say it. She needs to hear this. You need to admit this. “When I was younger, I—“ She stared into her marefriend’s eyes, and without consciously intending to she imagined them widening in shock, and then narrowing in hatred. She imagined the mare she loved drawing back from her, forehoof raised in disgust and fear, and then she imagined the love in the green unicorn’s mind writhing and dying in a sea of hate. Bon Bon’s shoulders slumped. “When I went to the Bog I met someone I used to know.” She couldn’t do it. Not now. “And I learned something dangerous from them.”
“Somepony, I meant. Don’t know why I said that.” Coward. She deserves to know. She deserves the truth. “But this thing I learned—I don’t know when it’ll actually happen, but it’s being prepared right now, and when it does happen it’ll be big, big and dangerous. I have to find somepony who can do something about it now, before everything falls apart. The Princesses need to know, and that’s why I need to go to Canterlot. So I can warn them. So that we—so that Equestria can be safe.” She bowed her head, avoiding Lyra’s eyes.
Lyra reached out a hoof and with firm gentleness lifted Bon Bon’s head back up again, forcing her marefriend to look at her. Speaking quietly and deliberately, she said “Bon Bon. What danger? Who told you? What aren’t you telling me?”
“I can’t, it’s—I—“ Bon Bon swallowed, and then sighed and closed her eyes. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Lyra, I’ll tell you everything as soon as I get back from this trip. Not just who I met, what the danger is, and what happened at the Bog, but everything. I’ll tell you why I have my fits, why I won’t wear horseshoes, even why my voice changes all the time! Everything! It’s all connected, and I owe it to you—I have owed it to you, for a long time—to tell you the truth.” She opened her eyes again, and met Lyra’s gaze. With a smile—a weak smile, yes, but a smile—she said, “That’s a promise, dear heart.”