Octavia woke the next morning feeling refreshed, content, and perhaps a little sore from the previous night’s rambunctious activities. She allowed her eyes to flutter open lazily, taking in the peaceful sounds of morning. Her eyes closed once more and she sighed blissfully, snuggling up against the warm gray body wrapped around her from behind.
Her eyes snapped open again. Indeed, the hoof currently draped around her torso was gray—not white as she had expected. In fact, something about that particular shade seemed very familiar...
The clues suddenly aligned themselves in the musician’s mind and in a flash, she had leapt out of the bed—blanket modestly wrapped around her—and was glaring at the gray mare who still lounged on her bed.
“VINYL!” Octavia screamed with as much rage and indignation as she could muster.
Vinyl answered her call a moment later, walking through the bedroom door to see Octavia’s blanket-clad form seething at the duplicate that currently occupied the bed. “Hey! Toga party!” Vinyl enthused, grinning cheerfully.
“This is not a joke, Vinyl! Could you kindly tell me what that THING is doing in our bed?!” the cellist shouted, pointing an accusatory hoof toward the false mare.
Vinyl looked hurt. “Aw, c’mon Tavi. She’s Wubsy, she’s not a thing.”
Octavia sighed in defeat. “Very well. I apologize to you and Wubsy.” Then her previous rage returned. “Now what is SHE doing in our bed?”
“I did that. She looked cold last night, so I invited her to sleep in the bed with us. That was after you had passed out from...” Vinyl smirked. “You know.”
The gray earth pony built herself up into a towering inferno. “Then why does she look like me?”
Vinyl shrugged, the very picture of calm. “I dunno, maybe she likes you. So did you hear what happened at the castle yesterday?”
“She LIKES me? That’s the best you could come up with? I woke up with some strange pony’s hoof around me this morning!”
“Not really strange. After all, it was your hoof. So anyway, they’re saying there was some kind of attack.”
“I don’t care who’s hoof she was mimicking, it was still her hoof. And your hoof is the only one I remember giving consent to having wrapped around me in the morning!”
“Aww. That’s sweet, Tavi. But you remember how I was supposed to play that wedding reception last night?”
“Vinyl! She was SPOONING ME!” Octavia’s yelling finally reached a crescendo.
Vinyl looked from her own Tavi to the one on the bed, who was wisely keeping as silent as possible. Then she looked back, a lascivious grin spreading across her face as she peered over her glasses. “Now that I’m sorry I missed.”
“Can’t you take anything seriously?”
“I’m trying to, Tavi! I’ve been trying to tell you there was an attack on Canterlot yesterday! And I think I figured out what Wubsy is.” Vinyl levitated a newspaper into the room, holding it in front of Octavia’s face so that she could read the headline. “I went out to get breakfast for all of us, and this is the talk of Ponyville right now.”
Octavia’s eyes settled on the page. “Changeling Attack on Canterlot” was printed in large, bold type on the top. Under that in slightly smaller print was, “Royal Wedding Postponed due to Invasion.”
Octavia took the paper in her hooves, dropping the blanket in the process.
The article read:
A full-scale invasion interrupted the royal wedding in Canterlot yesterday. Panic and confusion dominated the scene at the castle as a race of creatures known as changelings attacked during the much-anticipated wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza to the Captain of the Royal Guard, Shining Armor.
The bride and groom have declined all comments; however, Princess Celestia released a press statement to outline the events of the attack.
According to Her Highness’ account, the ceremony was underway when her protégé, Twilight Sparkle, revealed that Princess Cadenza was actually an impostor. Ms. Sparkle had rescued the real Princess Cadenza from confinement in a forgotten cavern under Canterlot Castle. The imposter revealed herself as the Queen of Changelings, and ordered her swarm of changelings to attack the city.
Fortunately, the Changeling Queen and her army were ejected from Canterlot soon after by a powerful spell cast by the bride and groom.
‘I am so very grateful that the attack was repelled before any serious injuries were sustained,’ Princess Celestia said. ‘I myself am recovering from an injury inflicted during my battle with the changeling Queen. I am told everypony, myself included, will be making full recoveries and that repairs have already started on Canterlot. I would like to thank my diligent student, Twilight Sparkle, for her conviction and courage in bringing the impostor to light. I would also like to extend my warmest thanks to her friends, who were instrumental in fighting off the invasion. Lastly, I would like to commend Princess Cadence and Captain Shining Armor for their love, which repelled the invasion.’
In spite of the chaos, Princess Celestia has given her assurances that the wedding will continue as planned, and that Princess Cadenza is making a full recovery from her ordeal.
Changelings are creatures living deep in the untamed jungles to the east of Equestria and are defined by their insect-like appearance, ability to alter their form and mannerisms to mimic anypony they see, and unique manner of feeding which involves secretly replacing somepony and absorbing the love intended for them.
Octavia looked dumbstruck. She kept reading the description of changelings over and over again. It all fit. “Vinyl, do you mean to tell me you think Wubsy is a changeling?”
“No. I’m trying to tell you I think she’s Celestia,” Vinyl quipped with a sarcastic smirk.
“Don’t joke, Vinyl, this is serious. According to this article, changelings are dangerous!”
Vinyl looked pensive for a moment. “Yeah, I was worried about that too. That’s why I rushed home when I read it. I was afraid I’d come home to just you and I’d have no way of telling if Wubsy had taken your place. But when I saw two of you, I figured that wasn’t very likely. I mean, I guess you could both be changelings trying to pull a fast one on ol’ Vinyl, but that seems like a bit too much effort.”
Octavia nodded, reasoning through Vinyl’s logic. “Either way, we need to know for sure. We need more information.”
“Yes.” The voice came from the bed. Octavia and Vinyl found themselves slightly startled, having almost forgotten that they were still in the company of another pony. “Yes, I am a changeling,” the pseudo-Octavia spoke clearly and calmly. “I was part of the attack on Canterlot, but I was separated when the attack was repelled. I wish I could say I participated against my will, but seeing as a changeling who is attached to the swarm has no will of its own, that would be a lie. I honestly don’t know why I’m still alive. By all rights I should have been killed when I was cut off. But this I do know: somehow, I can now make decisions for myself. And I’ve decided that I have no wish to do anypony harm—least of all the two of you, to whom I have grown very attached.”
The two mares goggled at the changeling on the bed, attempting to process what she had just said. It was Vinyl who finally broke the silence.
“Well, I trust her.”
“Vinyl!” Octavia cried in exasperation. “She just admitted to being a creature that we know to be dangerous and just flat-out told us she was part of the attack on Canterlot! And you trust her just like that?!”
“Well, yeah. I mean think about it, Tavi. If she was out to get us, wouldn’t she have replaced you while I was out and the two of you were here alone? You were just lying there sleeping, after all. She couldn’t have known I’d learn about changelings while I was out. And if she was so dangerous, why would she bother telling us she was dangerous?”
Octavia thought this out for a moment. Her marefriend was right. She hated to admit it, but she was right. “Okay. I’ll admit there’s more here to be considered. But I still think we need more information about this before we jump to any conclusions.”
Vinyl smiled. “I know just the place. But Wubsy will need a disguise. I don’t think she should use Berry Punch again; we lucked out that nopony noticed there were two of them last time. Wubsy, did you see anypony in Canterlot you could become? Somepony that isn’t likely to be wandering around Ponyville?”
A mental image of one pony in particular sprang into her mind. An image that caused her gut to wrench with guilt. A small mare with a vivid orange mane who had been trembling in terror when Wubsy had seen her. The mare she had been about to feed on right before she was ejected from Canterlot. “Yes. I know who I can mimic.”
Minutes later, Vinyl Scratch, Octavia, and Carrot Top exited the apartment and began their trek towards the town library.
As the three mares trotted through town square, Vinyl heard something that made her mane stand on end: a deep, pleasing baritone voice calling, “Carrot Top?”
All three mares turned around to see a large red stallion standing in the square, a heavy wagon behind him. “Oh. It is you. I thought you were out in Canterlot this week for the wedding.”
Vinyl’s heart began pounding in her chest, all the while Octavia giggled sheepishly. “Hello, Big Macintosh.” Octavia offered, trying to give Wubsy the stallion’s name.
Wubsy quickly picked up on it. “Hi, Big Macintosh. I was in Canterlot but what with the attack and the wedding being delayed, I decided to come back for a bit to tend to my... garden. Vinyl and Octavia are lending me a hoof. I see you’re rather busy yourself. Doing chores on the farm all day today?”
“Eeyup.” The crimson stallion smiled.
“Well we don’t want to keep you, you look rather busy. You take care, won’t you?”
Big Mac smiled a wide, honest grin. “Eeyup.” Then he nodded his farewells to the three mares and set off on the path back to Sweet Apple Acres.
Vinyl and Octavia both heaved a sigh of relief. “Good going, Wubsy.” Vinyl said, her legs shaking a little. “Big Mac could have blown everything. That was quick thinking.”
Wubsy smiled at the praise. “I just hope nothing else goes wrong.”
The three mares arrived at the library after their close call, and Vinyl knocked on the door.
Twilight’s dragon assistant answered the door. “Oh. Sorry, the library is closed. Twilight is really busy with planning—”
“Who is it, Spike?” the melodic voice of the town librarian emanated from somewhere inside.
“It’s Vinyl, Octavia, and Carrot Top!” Spike yelled into the library.
Twilight appeared at the door. “Let them in, Spike. I’ve got some time to help them with whatever they need.”
Spike opened the door as the three visitors filed inside, gingerly closing it behind them.
“You’re lucky you caught me. I’m only back from Canterlot for a few hours to take care of some errands for Princess Celestia, then I have to take the chariot right back to finish the wedding plans. So, what can I do for you, girls?” Twilight asked, sitting at a small table and gesturing for the others to join her.
The three sat, looking extremely nervous. It was Octavia who spoke first this time. “Twilight. This is a matter of grave sensitivity and must be handled with the utmost discretion.”
Twilight took the subtle hint. “Spike! Could you head down to Sugarcube Corner and have Mrs. Cake put a half dozen cupcakes on my tab for our guests? And get yourself a treat while you’re there; the girls and I need a bit of privacy for a while.”
Spike nodded and smiled. “You betcha, Twilight. I’ll take my time.” And with that, the baby dragon left the library on his errand.
Twilight waited for the door to close before turning to her guests, now a bit more subdued since something serious was obviously at hoof. “Okay, girls. What is it you needed to talk to me about?”
Octavia took the lead. “Before we go any further I need your solemn oath that this does not leave these walls. And also that you will try not to panic.”
The mood was obviously not ripe for a Pinkie Pie swear, so she just nodded seriously. “I give you my word that this will be held in the strictest confidence. And I’ll do my best to stay calm.” Twilight’s horn glowed, and all the curtains in the library slid closed. The doors latched shut as well. “I put a soundproof spell on the library. Nopony will hear this conversation but us.”
Octavia nodded, satisfied. “Twilight. I must inform you that this pony beside me is not, in fact, Carrot Top.”
Twilight couldn’t help but smile just a little. “Alright, I give—you got me. Who is it then?”
Octavia and Vinyl shared a glance, then Vinyl nodded to Wubsy, who nodded back before a jet of green fire revealed her true form.
It was fortunate that Twilight had had the foresight to place a soundproof spell on the library. It turned out her best efforts were insufficient and, had the magic not been in place, her scream could have been heard all the way to Canterlot.
Seconds later, Twilight was on her hooves, her horn pointed at the cowering changeling and glowing dangerously. “Stand back, girls, you don’t know what that thing is. I’ll take care of it.”
Her view of her target was suddenly obscured by a white blur. Vinyl stood between the librarian and Wubsy, her forehooves outstretched to block any spell Twilight may cast. “Stop it, Twilight. You need to hear us out.”
Twilight looked shocked. She was protecting the changeling? But why? “Vinyl, step aside. These things are dangerous! You don’t know what they can do to a pony!”
“Yes I do. I read the paper this morning, Twilight. I know what she is and what she can do. She had the perfect opportunity—plenty of opportunities, really. And she didn’t. I also know that she spent all night in our bedroom last night not doing it.”
Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry. Just what was it she spent the night not doing?”
Octavia noticed the implications and rose to her hooves. “Now Twilight, I know you can’t be suggesting what I think you are. You have to believe that nothing of the sort could possibly—”
Vinyl interrupted her with a sidelong glance. “I dunno, Tavi. You didn’t seem as upset as I thought you’d be with Wubsy spooning you this morning.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide. “She was what?”
“I—it was nothing like that! I assure you whatever she was doing this morning was perfectly innocent!” Octavia rushed to defend herself against the scandalous implications.
“And you would know this how?” Vinyl asked with a voice thick with suggestion.
“Vinyl, you’re not helping,” Octavia bit back.
Twilight broke up the imminent brawl. “Relax, Octavia. I believe you. You don’t seem like the type to go around jumping into bed with anypony that comes along.” She glanced at the still-grinning Vinyl. “Her, on the other hoof, I’m not as sure about.”
Vinyl opened her mouth, torn between indignant disagreement and a snappy comeback; however, she felt the heat from the look Octavia was shooting her and decided that now would be a very healthy time to return to the topic at hoof. “ANYWAY... my original point is, there’s more about Wubsy to be considered. We need your advice, and that means you have to give her the benefit of the doubt until we know more.”
Twilight looked into Vinyl’s eyes and saw conviction in her: the same conviction so many had ignored when she herself had been trying to alert everypony to the false Cadence. She felt her determination falter, ashamed to have judged the changeling prematurely. “You’re right, Vinyl. It’s wrong of me to jump to conclusions before I know the whole story. Please go on.”
Everypony returned to their seats before Vinyl continued. She told how she had found Wubsy and brought her home, how Wubsy had been left alone with Octavia without anything happening, and their decision to learn more before doing anything rash.
“So you see, Twilight, we need to know more. And I figured since you know more about almost everything than anypony in town, and because the article said you were the one who uncovered the fake princess, that you could help us find out if it’s possible she’s telling the truth. We need to know how much we can trust her.”
Twilight nodded, understanding their plight. Then without warning, her horn glowed again and she blasted all three of her guests with a wave of magical energy which knocked them all on their backs.
“What gives, Twilight?” Vinyl fumed as she righted herself.
“It was a charm-breaker spell. I had to be sure that she was the only changeling, and that you two weren’t being controlled. It looks like everything is on the up-and-up, but I’m still glad to be sure. Come here, girls. I was actually studying the changelings when you showed up.”
Twilight rose and lead the other three to her reading lectern, where a book on changelings was already open. “According to existing research, changelings are a hive race who feed off of love and positive emotions, slowly draining the pony they’re feeding on until they just don’t have the strength to go on. They assume the form of somepony well-loved and soak up the love meant for that pony. But you already know all that, that was in the papers. Anyway, according to this book, changelings can’t exist individually; they require the presence of the swarm. They’re all linked into a giant hive-mind with the Queen at its center. Whenever a changeling is cut off, it dies.”
Octavia rounded on Wubsy. “So she’s still a part of the swarm! She’s a spy sending them everything she sees!”
“Not necessarily,” Twilight cut in. “The book goes on to say that there have been rare instances where a changeling has been cut off from the swarm and, instead of dying, seems to develop a will of its own—however limited it may be. The results range from the changeling merely going catatonic until it dies to it actually starting to seek out food on its own, with the mental functioning somewhere at the level of a dog. The specimens examined never last long, however. With no source of nourishment they quickly starve for affection and die after about a month.”
Vinyl glared at Octavia for her outburst, who blushed and rubbed the back of her neck. “I see. I suppose I was a bit hasty.”
Vinyl turned her shaming glance away from Tavi and asked Twilight the question that burned in her mind. “You said when they feed off somepony’s love, they weaken that pony. Is Wubsy feeding on us? Is having her around eventually going to kill us?”
“I don’t know. The evidence doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t seem hungry, and if she was involved in the changeling attack she would have spent a lot of energy. She should be famished. But usually the changelings cast a mild control spell so their prey doesn’t feel themselves weakening—a kind of emotional anesthetic. However, I broke any spells on you two. If she were feeding on you, then you would know.”
Octavia looked concerned. “Then who has she been feeding on?”
“That’s just it,” Twilight said, looking distraught. “It should be you! Changelings require close proximity to feed. If she was feeding, she should be sapping the two of you the whole time.” Then she looked up from the page, an idea occurring to her. “Vinyl... Do you love Wubsy?”
Vinyl beamed and embraced her pet, who cuddled against her happily. “Of course I do! I fell in love with her the moment I saw these big, adorable doe-eyes!”
Twilight smacked her hoof against the side of her head. “Of course, that’s it! It’s so simple!”
Octavia and Vinyl looked at her in confusion. “Care to explain your epiphany, Twilight?” Octavia asked gingerly.
“Don’t you see, Vinyl? You’re feeding her, she’s feeding off your love—the love you’re willingly giving her! She doesn’t have to steal it from you! The fact that the love is meant for her is making all the difference!”
A green plume signaled the arrival of a second Twilight Sparkle. “Well, I could have told you that.”
Twilight gasped. “She talked!”
Octavia and Vinyl looked at the changeling and back to Twilight. “Well of course. We told you what she told us earlier.” Octavia explained.
“I don’t think you understand,” the real Twilight explained, becoming excited. “She didn’t just speak. She turned into me and then spoke!”
Vinyl got to her hooves, looking almost as excited. “Twilight! You’re right!” Then her face went blank and she spoke with a voice dripping with sarcasm. “We don’t understand.”
Twilight blushed apologetically. “Sorry. What I’m saying is she couldn’t speak until she turned into me. According to my research, changelings aren’t truly sentient. Even the ones who break free are more on par with dogs—only the Queen has true sentience. Scientists have been wondering for ages how a changeling could mimic sentience so perfectly as to fool everypony around them. It was widely thought that the Queen thought for them. But now it’s becoming clear! When a changeling copies a pony, they don’t just copy the form and the voice. They actually borrow the capacity for sentient thought! Do you girls know what this means?”
Twilight’s enthusiasm was greeted with stares of incomprehension. Vinyl’s voice was the one to answer. “Uh... no?”
Twilight leapt in the air, skipping around the library. “It means I’m going to publish the definitive research paper about changelings! The first scientific paper on the subject in over a century!”
Three bemused stares bored into her enthusiasm, deflating it like a balloon.