The next morning, Suncloak had managed to get out of bed before Applejack could rudely wake him up again.
Sure, he hadn’t slept all that much, kept up by troubling thoughts, but right now, he needed to find some food. Some love, to be exact.
To his chagrin, there were almost no ponies outside. Again. Even worse, there were no couples walking around either. Again. Frustrated, he’d approached a mare and asked her what day it was. Apparently, it was friday.
That explained a lot. He’d been walking around the town during work hours, of course there wouldn’t be many ponies around. They were getting down to business. Friday was no different.
He sighed. Tomorrow, he thought, is saturday. Lots of ponies will be walking around then. That’ll be my time to strike! He rounded a corner, occupied by his planning. I’ll go to the park. A perfect spot for couples, and enough hiding places! They’ll never know what hit th-
His thoughts were rudely interrupted by his head painfully bumping into something. He took a few steps back, dizzily shaking his head. Great, another head-related injury.
He checked to see what he had bumped into. It was a white unicorn with a curly, purple mane and tail. This was one of the ponies he had seen on his first day in Ponyville: Rarity. And she was still as ugly as he remembered. Well, she was ugly according to changeling standards, which were obviously the only standards that counted here.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry!” she said. “Are you alright?”
The changeling’s head still spun. “Ow.” The myth that pony skulls were made of marshmallows was false, they were made out of solid steel. Or at least, that’s how painful colliding with one felt like. Suncloak shook his head once more. “I’m okay.”
Rarity gave him a once-over, taking note of his cloak and sunglasses. “You must be Suncloak,” she said. “My name is Rarity. You’re new to Ponyville, I hear?”
Well, that took care of the introductions. “Yes, that’s my name,” the changeling said. For the sake of routine, he continued, “And yes, I’m new to Ponyville. Nice to meet you.” It wasn’t nice to meet her. Unless a ‘nice meeting’ consisted of getting a concussion again and seeing something repulsive. “How do you know my name?”
“Oh, Twilight told me yesterday,” Rarity said as she adjusted her mane. It had to have been a very, very minor adjustment, as Suncloak couldn’t see any change. Mares and their manes...
“Well, I should be going, sorry for bumping into you,” he said as he started to step past her.
Rarity, however, sidestepped into his way. “Absolutely not!” she said. “I insist on doing something to make it up to you.” She gave him a quick look again. “How about I make you a new outfit?”
The changeling took a few steps back. “No, that isn’t needed,” he told her with a nervous chuckle, “I’m okay, really.”
The white unicorn reached out toward his cloak. “Oh, but look at this ragged cloak! It’s simply dreadful, if you don’t mind me saying. A fine ch- I mean, pony such as you shouldn’t be walking around in something like this!”
Suncloak deftly stepped away from her hoof. “Look, I’m not really comfortable with this!” Compared to this, his previous encounters had been pleasant. He was getting dangerously close to being discovered! Was this mare bent on being the bane of his existence?!
Rarity stopped her advance and pouted. “Pleeeaaase?”
“No,” the changeling told her adamantly.
“Fine.” Rarity sighed. “Maybe some other time? I think it’d be wonderful to design an outfit for you!”
“Okay, fine,” Suncloak told her. Whatever, as long as he could get rid of her for now. “I really should go, I’ll leave you to your work.”
He’d return to Sweet Apple Acres for now. There were no ponies around right now, and he’d probably need to wait until the next day. Might as well rest and conserve energy. He sighed and turned to leave Rarity behind for now.
To his dismay, she started walking beside him. “Oh, you’re going in the same direction as I am! How wonderful!” she said.
Obviously, the changeling had somehow landed in Tartarus and gotten a personal imp to follow him around. “Yes, wonderful,” he deadpanned. “So, you know Twilight Sparkle?” he asked her. Might as well attempt to steer this conversation into a meaningful direction.
“Why, yes I do!” Rarity said, “She told me about her little encounter with you.” Yes, the encounter in which he had managed to injure his head again and sprayed tea over a baby dragon. Twice.
“She’s the Element of Magic, right?” the changeling asked her. Rarity nodded in confirmation. “Applejack told me she was the Element of Honesty. Do you know of the other elements?” Time to see if he could get something useful out of this mare.
“Well, I don’t want to brag, but I happen to be one myself. I’m the Element of Generosity,” Rarity told him. “but I thought that was common knowledge.”
That might have been so for ponies, but not for changelings. Most changelings never paid attention to a lot of things ponies told them, and this had just so happened to be one. Kind of a major oversight, actually. “Do you know of the others?” Suncloak asked her.
“There’s Rainbow Dash, who is the Element of Loyalty,” Rarity started. He’d already met that one. “Then there’s Fluttershy, the Element of Kindness, and Pinkie Pie, the Element of Laughter. That’s all of us.”
Magic, Honesty, Generosity, Loyalty, Kindness and Laughter. The changeling drew a blank as to how these Elements were supposed to represent Harmony, though. However, asking a pony about it might seem suspicious, so he said nothing. He wondered if he would meet the last two of the Elements.
Their chat continued, mostly consisting of small chitchat and general nonsense. As they came to the Carousel Boutique, Rarity stopped.
“Well, this is my stop,” she said. “It was very nice to meet you.” She headed towards the boutique. “Maybe I’ll see you again later!”
Suncloak gave her a short wave. “Maybe. Bye!”
After Rarity entered Carousel Boutique, he waited a few moments. He glanced around to see if there weren’t any ponies around. When he didn’t see anything, he loudly said, “Finally!”
By the fancy crown of Queen Chrysalis, he couldn’t have taken any longer! She was so... White! She was so... Yuck! And she’d gotten dangerously close to unmasking him as well, he noted. Maybe he’d see her again. Hopefully he wouldn’t.
On the other hoof, she had been kind to him, even if he did act like a jerk. He headed towards Sweet Apple Acres. So far, all the ponies had been nice to him. Sure, they may be annoying sometimes, but he found that being in their company was vastly preferable to being alone in a scary forest.
If he’d be forced to stick around a village like this for the rest of his life, he probably wouldn’t mind it as much as he thought he would. That is, if he didn’t have to worry about his disguise all the time.
A short while later, he had reached Sweet Apple Acres once more. Maybe he could take another one of those naps. That seemed like a good plan.
As he walked through the orchard, however, he soon stumbled upon something quite different. In a small clearing, he found Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, who were doing some kind of activity involving throwing a small tennis ball at each other, catching it with their mouth.
Intriguing. What purpose could this serve, aside from laughing at one of the fillies when they missed catching the ball, tripped, or got hit by the ball? The changeling couldn’t think of any other possible meaning. Maybe the goal was to throw it so hard that the other pony’s teeth were knocked out of their mouth?
As he stood there, pondering this dilemma, Apple Bloom missed catching the ball. It bounced a few times and rolled to a stop right in front of the changeling’s hooves.
Apple Bloom gave him a surprised look. “Hello there, mister Suncloak!” she excitedly said.
The changeling cast a short glance at the ball. “Hi. What’re you three doing?”
“We were just throwing this ball around a little bit,” Scootaloo said. “We didn’t have any ideas for crusading, so we just decided to do something fun,” the little pegasus said, fluttering her wings.
Fun. Now there was something the changeling understood! Fun was very important for changelings. It was one of the first things they learned: whatever you do, remember to have fun. No sense in masquerading as a pony and not enjoy it. You could get away with all sorts of things, granted you didn’t get caught. When a changeling was done feeding, they’d often put themselves in an embarrassing situation, only to leave almost immediately after. If pulled off right, the original pony would have to deal with it, without them even knowing what happened. Some changelings were absolute masters at this, managing to create incredibly elaborate pranks on themselves.
Why, Suncloak himself had once managed to craft an ingenious plan involving several hundred salmon, a wheelbarrow and a windmill. It didn’t work out exactly as he had hoped, but it still turned out to be hilarious.
“Mind if I join in?” he asked the three fillies. He had no idea how they found this fun, but he hadn’t done anything fun in far too long. It was worth trying out.
“Sure,” Sweetie Belle said with a smile.
The changeling picked the ball up in his mouth and threw it in Scootaloo’s general direction. He wasn’t sure what was supposed to be fun about this, though.
They threw the ball around for some time, occasionally performing some kind of strange throw to make it interesting. It wasn’t amazingly fun, but the changeling could find some amusement in it.
“So,” he suddenly started, “when you welcomed me into Ponyville, you said something about ‘Cootie Mark Somethings’?” Might as well make some small talk. He caught the ball and threw it in Sweetie Belle’s direction.
“We’re the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Apple Bloom said enthusiastically. “We’re trying to find our cutie marks!”
“Well, not right now,” Sweetie Belle said after she threw the ball to Apple Bloom, “because we don’t really have any ideas. We’ve tried a whole bunch of things, but none of us has their cutie mark yet...”
Huh. Cutie marks were that important to ponies? Changelings didn’t have cutie marks. Well, they did if they changed into a pony, but they could just make a fake one, no big deal.
Apple Bloom caught the ball, and threw it to Suncloak again.
A thought struck him as he caught the ball and threw it to Scootaloo. “Just a question...” he started, “What if... One of your friends suddenly turned out to be a changeling?” Let’s not make things too obvious here. “What if, for example, Scootaloo had been a changeling for as long as you knew her?”
“Hmmm,” Applebloom started as she rubbed her chin. “Ah think Ah’d be okay with that.”
Scootaloo threw the ball towards Sweetie Belle. “Yeah, if Apple Bloom or Sweetie Belle were changelings, I don’t think I’d have minded that. They’re still my best friends! Besides, they’re way too cool to be changelings.”
Interesting. Sweetie Belle threw the ball back to Scootaloo. “I think I wouldn’t mind if anypony I knew turned out to be changeling. Everypony in Ponyville is still really nice, like my sister, and Big Macintosh, and even the ponies I don’t know that well.”
“Yeah, everypony here is pretty cool. You’re pretty cool as well, Suncloak. But not as cool as Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo said as she threw the ball in the changeling’s direction. It was a rather hard and wide throw.
Did that mean the ponies actually liked him? And they would still like him if he turned out to be a changeling? That felt... strangely reassuring. Why did he suddenly care about what these ponies thought of him?
Suncloak dawled, and the small ball overshot its target. The changeling had to jump up to try and catch it. As he reached out a hoof, his cloak started sliding off. Noticing this, he quickly pulled his hoof back and readjusted the rag he was wearing. The ball was nowhere to be seen, however.
“Hey, where’d the ball go?” Apple Bloom asked, looking around.
“I don’t know,” Sweetie Belle said, “I think you threw it a bit too hard, Scootaloo.”
“I didn’t-” Scootaloo started, but she cut off her sentence with a sigh. “Never mind, let’s look around.”
“Oh, Ah’ll get Winona, she can probably find it!” Apple Bloom said as she ran off. The other two fillies nodded their approval and followed.
“I’ll keep looking around here,” Suncloak said, “you three go ahead.”
After they left, he took a good look around. No ponies were watching. He held up the hoof he had used to try and catch the ball and pulled down the cloak.
He was looking at a hole. Or rather, a hole which was filled up by a tennis ball. “Stupid hole,” the changeling said. “Useless piece of chitin.” He bit down on the ball and pulled. It didn’t budge.
He pulled on it for another few minutes in a futile effort. This had to be the most stubborn ball ever made! Props to the manufacturer, though.
In the distance, he could hear Apple Bloom say something. “Winona, y’all go help Suncloak over there, we’ll look over here.” Who was Winona anyway?
As the changeling heard the excited yapping of a dog coming this way, he gave his hoof, with the ball stuck in it, a worried glance. “Uh oh.”
Not terribly far from there, Rarity walked along the path through the Sweet Apple Acres orchard, where she ran into Applejack. “Hello, Applejack!” she called out.
“Hey there, Rarity!” Applejack greeted her. “Ya came to pick up Sweetie Belle?”
“Oh, you know how fussy parents get when their fillies aren’t home in time for dinner,” Rarity said. Applejack nodded knowingly. “Where is she anyway?” the white unicorn asked.
“Ah dunno,” Applejack said, “she’s probably somewhere in the orchard, playin’ with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. And Ah thought Ah saw Suncloak headed in that direction. Did ya meet him yet?”
Rarity nodded. “Why, I met him just this morning. He’s a bit strange, but a nice fellow, isn’t he?”
Somewhere in the distance, somepony yelled, “No! Don’t stick your snout in that hole! OW! Especially not in that hole, you hairy grub!” A dog happily barked in response.
The two talking ponies did not notice.
“He doesn’t say a lot, though,” Applejack said, “an’ his hoof felt kinda weird when Ah shook it. But Ah guess Ah’m just a little bit on edge ‘cause of the whole ‘changelings taking over Equestria’ thing from last week.”
“Oh, I spoke to Rainbow Dash before I got here, she told me he has a nasty skin condition. It’s why he wears the cloak. It’s probably also why he turned down my offer,” Rarity said with a sad look.
“Let me guess,” Applejack said, “Ya wanted ta make him a fancy outfit?”
“Ow ow ow! Stop dragging me around, dog!” the same voice sounded from the distance, followed by a series of whacks. “Ouch. Wait, watch out for tha-” Another loud whack.
Again, the farmer and the fashionista didn’t notice.
“Regardless,” Rarity said, “I bumped into him rather rudely this morning. I simply have to apologize to a respectful and kind stallion such as him.”
“Yeah, he’s a nice colt. Seems to me he gets along just fine. Wonder how long he’s stayin’ here, though.”
Just that moment, three fillies came walking in their direction, accompanied by Winona, who had a tennis ball in her mouth. “Hi Applejack! Hi sis!” Sweetie Belle greeted the two elder ponies.
“Hello girls!” Rarity greeted back. She cast a glance at the sun, which was already starting to set. “Oh, we have to go Sweetie Belle, come along now.” Both ponies gave quick goodbyes and set off.
“Wait up, I’m coming along!” Scootaloo said, and went after them. “Oh, bye Apple Bloom and Applejack!”
After the others had left, Applejack turned to her little sister. “What were you three doing back there?”
“Oh, we were just throwin’ a ball around with mister Suncloak,” Apple Bloom said.
Applejack raised an eyebrow. “And where is he now?”
“Uh...” Apple Bloom started.
Right that moment, Suncloak hobbled toward them, looking rather ragged.
“Oh, there he is!” Apple Bloom said.
“Hey there, Suncloak!” Applejack said. “Ah didn’t see ya this mornin’. Where were ya?”
“I was out,” he briefly told her as he wobbled by. He took a few steps back, noticing that he overshot his mark.
“Well, we were just about to go have dinner,” Applejack said, not noticing his odd gait. “Come along now!”
After dinner, the changeling had retreated to his bed in the barn.
The ponies actually thought he was nice. The strangest thing was how good it felt when he heard that. It was almost as like he cared what the ponies thought of him!
That was incredibly stupid, he noted. He was a predator, and they were the prey. A changeling couldn’t just develop feelings for ponies! He sighed and shook his head. This was getting ridiculous.
Regardless, there was only one way to sum up the day.
“I hate dogs,” he said before he went to a well-deserved sleep.