As it turns out, trying to fly away had been a bad idea, for I had been over the edge of the cloud when Pinkie Pie and Applejack released the physics-defying ball-turned-potentially-deadly-projectile. For all the pain, a part of my mind is surprised I’m not actually knocked out—only dazed—for my senses begin returning to me before I even hit the ground. I try to at least slow myself down, but with my whole body still numb, I can’t tell if I’m successful. Either way, as I tumble to the ground, I see Rainbow Dash dive for me, but we’re much to close to the ground, and she sensibly pulls up before we both plow into the ground.
Just as thankfully, being so close to the ground saves me from suffering from any major injury other than some no doubt amazing bruises. My relief doesn’t last, however, as within seconds of my landing there’s a terribly bright flash of light from next to Applejack and Pinkie Pie— a light far beyond the brightness needed to force my eyes close. I already know there is only one thing—specifically, one pony—that can make such light, but my mind, at the edge of panic, needs to know. Sure enough, when I open my eyes, there is the living nightmare of Changelings: Princess Celestia glaring down at me with such an expression of anger I once thought reserved for beings like Discord and Queen Chrysalis. I can’t help but shiver.
Even through the shock and fright that always-calm part of me wonders how Princess Celestia had managed to find me. I don’t have to wonder for long, however, for as soon as the light of the spell fades completely there is a gasp of amazement that makes me flick my eyes towards the ponies standing beside Celestia before instantly returning to her. Twilight Sparkle is obviously the one who had gasped, and standing with her is Fluttershy and Rarity. “Of course! A tracking spell and teleportation spell!” As always, Twilight is excited by the prospect of a new spell—or combination of spells, apparently—no matter the circumstance.
Celestia ignores her student’s cry of astonishment and expression of admiration, not even glancing down at her as she focuses on me. For half of a second Twilight looks disappointed, but her mentor’s grim—and dare I say: malicious—expression reminds her of the situation, and she turns back to me with her face a mirror of the alicorn’s. Rarity tries to take a step toward me, but Twilight turns her glare to the other unicorn, and she puts her hoof back down. When my eyes are drawn to the motion I see the apologies in Rarity’s and Fluttershy’s eyes and know that they must have not only told Princess Celestia everything but also tried to convince her I’m not an enemy of Equestia… and that they had achieved nothing for their efforts.
Applejack and Pinkie Pie give a quick bow of respect, but, again, Princess Celestia seems not to notice, her eyes remaining on me, most likely suspecting that if she so much as lets me out of her sight for half a second I’ll cast some spell—I wish I knew what spell she thinks I could use…—that will allow me to flee… somehow—I really, really, wish I knew how she thinks I could escape. Rainbow Dash lands next to me, copying Applejack and Pinkie with an even quicker bow that’s only a step away from a head bang, but when she raises her head she’s not looking at Princess Celestia. “What the hay was that, Pinkie Pie! Applejack! Alternate wasn’t doing anything to you!” Everypony—and myself— even Celestia is shocked, and it isn’t difficult to figure out why. Imagine that… the Element of Loyalty berating her friends for attacking an enemy—a perceived enemy—of Equestria…
To my surprise, Pinkie Pie appears to recover first, looking uncertain; Applejack soon follows, looking angry and ready to rebuke the pegasus, but Princess Celestia, finally moving her eyes from me, catches her eye before turning to Rainbow Dash with a soft smile but hard eyes. “Rainbow Dash… Element of Loyalty… I am sorry I do not have the time to explain the situation completely, but you should know that barely an hour ago this Changeling took on the appearance of Fluttershy and tricked Rarity, feeding off of her love.” I wince at this accusation, as true as it is, Of course Princess Celestia would be a master of manipulation, more than a thousand years old… and who know how much more!?
Rainbow, for her part, doesn’t give this information the slightest moment of consideration; instead, she glances at Fluttershy and Rarity for confirmation before saying, “And they don’t look too upset about that. To me, they look sorry they couldn’t do more!” At this Rarity smiles in a strange way, as if thanking Rainbow Dash for her support, yet at the same time trying to warn her that going any further will be wasted breath. Fluttershy, however, takes her fellow pegasus’s words as an invitation to support her in turn, and without a hint of hesitation she steps forward to my other side and puts her muzzle under mine and her wing under my side to help me to my hooves.
I wobble as a headache from standing threatens to knock me out again, but Rainbow similarly doesn’t hesitate to lean against me. More quickly than I anticipate, my dizziness leaves me, and the answer comes almost instantly when my settling mind recognizes that strange flowing coming stronger than I have yet felt. After a moment of wide-eyed realization, I lean hard left then right to get Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash to sidestep away, breaking the physical contact, but the flowing doesn’t even slow, never mind stop—I lock my eyes onto Princess Celestia, not wanting to see either pegasus shiver and perhaps, judging by the strength of the emotions, suffer even worse than shivering only to feed me.
Princess Celestia looks between the three ponies who have vouched to defend me, then the three who are sure of my evil nature, before turning back to me. “Changeling, if you have been here for as long as you say, then you know that everything I do is for my little ponies—to preserve what features of a paradise I have managed to create for Equestria after much long and hard work. You, whether you intend it or not, threaten the base of this nation: trust. This fact would be enough for me to call you an enemy of Equestria.” As she speaks, my legs begin to shake with anticipation of “the strike,” whatever form it may take, I know I won’t be able to defend myself, until here, when my legs gives out, Fluttershy trying to catch me when I fall, but I retain enough control to fall towards Rainbow so my legs block her. “Before I decide what to do with you, I ask one question: do you regret what you have done today to Rarity and Fluttershy?”
My first thought is to say “Yes,” but immediately after, so soon that there isn’t even enough milliseconds for me to open my mouth, I wonder if this question might be some trick or trap. I wonder that, despite whatever answer I may give, Princess Celestia will try- no, she will be able to twist whatever I say to convince Fluttershy and Rarity and Rainbow Dash that I’m nothing but an evil Changeling who wants to eat all their love for each other. If she does, and if they believe her—and why wouldn’t they? She’s their Princess Celestia!—then they won’t care about me any more, and Celestia won’t have to feel bad about doing… anything to me! It’s not my answer that will “decide what she does with me,” but my defender’s reactions! So… I try to think of something, anything, I can say that can’t be twisted beyond further defense, but honestly, I can’t even imagine beating Celestia, a pony more than forty times my age, in even my wildest dreams.
Princess Celestia glares down at me as I continue to lay on my stomach, not daring to stand again; I try to give her the most pleading look I have never given before, but her expression doesn’t change. When I don’t answer, she turns to Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy, giving each a long, stern look, though much softer than she had just given to me. “While I commend each of you for acting by your Elements’ principles, Rarity, for selflessly defending it, Fluttershy, for holding nothing but pity towards a creature that had taken your identity, and Rainbow Dash, for upholding the values your friends hold most dear…” Rainbow Dash gets an odd expression on her face at this, looking like she wants to say something; Celestia must have noticed, as she pauses, but Rainbow doesn’t say anything, so the princess soon continues, “I must impress upon you that acting this way towards an enemy of Equestria is unacceptable, and while I shall not punish you for this first transgression, know that I will if this happens again.”
Immediately, by the deep sigh and the sudden, just-as-quickly-erased sullen expression, I can tell that she doesn’t like at all so much the idea of needing to threaten “her little ponies,” never mind actually doing so. After another moment, she turns to Twilight and manages to regain that “royal smile”; I suppose it’s to reassure that unicorn mare now looking apologetic for bringing near-divine admonitions upon her friends. “Also know this: no matter how you may feel for a Changeling, it wants nothing but your love, and everything it does will be towards that goal. No matter how much you give, your love will never be reciprocated—Changelings are incapable of emotion, and any display they give is only designed to gather more love for themselves.”
That last statement finally breaks through my sense of hopelessness, and even though I know nothing of other, “real” Changelings, I yell, “That’s not true!” Everypony turns from Celestia to me, making me suddenly self-conscious—making me more acutely aware that I have no idea what I’ve just said is close to accurate, but I know what I say next is true. “I am sorry… Fluttershy…” I turn to her, but as soon as I see the pity still in her eyes, I quickly cast my own to her hooves. “I’m sorry I took on your appearance, and, Rarity-”—I don’t so much as glance at her; instead I turn my eyes to my own hooves—“-I’m sorry I tricked you and took some of your love for Fluttershy.”
I have no idea how anypony is reacting to this, as I keep my eyes down as I consider how to continue, but I anticipate the next question. “I wish I could say I ‘regret’ it, but I would have starved otherwise, weak and hurt as I was. When I went-,” I frantically grab at the first story to present itself to my mind, “When I was hurt, I decided to go Fluttershy’s, knowing she is the Element of Kindness, I decided to take advantage of that, and intended to take on the appearance of some random pony, but I accidentally let her see me before I transformed. When she surprised me, I took on her appearance by instinct. I was too weak to perform another transformation, so I decided to take advantage of the fact I know Rarity is the Element of Generosity. I never intended to take anypony’s place, like Queen Chrysalis with Cadance, only to get enough love to live another day.” They’re never going to buy that! Not after what Celestia just said! To them, it’s just another Changeling’s lie…
When I blink, I see Princess Celestia, glaring down at me as I stand between Discord and Queen Chrysalis—a fan reduced to the level of the greatest villains the show has—and my only comfort now, as I start to shiver at the vision, is that one had been turned to stone and the other banished to some place unknown. Still, that calm anger, framed by a long and flowing pastel-rainbow mane that somehow makes the expression more powerful, convinces a part of me otherwise, and I squeeze my eyes shut, though that only makes the visions of myself suffering the most horrible tortures at Princess Celestia’s hooves and horn more vivid—being locked up and starved to death… vivisection… I was fooling myself with that “maybe merciful” drivel! Whether it be minutes or seconds, I have no idea how long I lay there shivering in fear of retribution from a practical deity before I feel a hoof on my shoulder.
Even before I open my eyes, I simply know it can be no pony but Fluttershy—the only pony who might still hold pity for a creature even after Princess Celestia herself calls it, without the slightest hint of doubt in voice or posture, an enemy of the entirety of Equestria itself. Still, I look up at her face reluctantly to see those eyes… turned away from me and up towards Celestia, reflecting the alicorn’s glare—Celestia looks as honestly taken-aback as I would feel that anypony could ignore such a speech, if I hadn’t known Fluttershy. The pegasus must notice me looking at her out of the corner of her eye, as she turns to me with a sudden smile. “You have nothing to be sorry about… and nothing to be scared of.”
At this, Rarity steps away from Twilight and Celestia, nodding and looking as serious as when she had taken on the manticore. Within those seconds as she takes her time to step next to Fluttershy with elegant unhurriedness, I realize that Fluttershy’s words and Rarity’s support is doing wonders for my shivering, if not so much for my fear, for despite their offer, I’m sure that all will still be for naught. Twilight, mouth hanging open as Rarity trots away from her, finally is able to speak when the other unicorn turns around to face the four before us. “You two still-!” Twilight stops when Rainbow Dash sidesteps back towards and over me, her body with Fluttershy’s forming something like a roof. “Rainbow Dash?! Not you-?! Argh!” Twilight cries out in frustration, and her forehooves lift up, half way to rearing up.
Celestia, however, turns to smiling and places a calming wing on Twilight’s back. “Twilight Sparkle, this incident being what it is, you should remember the lesson you learned in Canterlot, and not be so quick to berate your friends for doing only what they think is right. Also, you should recall to never dismiss your friends concerns, no matter how trivial—or serious—they may be.” While Twilight gapes at Celestia, I manage to keep myself from doing so. She’s-… She’s pretending to agree with them so she can convince them to twist their own opinions! I strange flare of anger bursts inside of me at that realization, but I daren’t say anything.
Twilight begins to stutter something, but Celestia doesn’t look down at her, only calmly putting a gold-clad hoof to her mouth, silencing her. Next to them, I notice Pinkie Pie mouthing something—maybe “Dashie…”—and while I can’t see much of Rainbow’s face from my position, she shakes her head, just barely moving. Applejack has an eyebrow raised, looking up at Celestia with uncertainty, yet trusting. “Now, Fluttershy, would you please explain why you continue to defend this Changeling?”
Instantly, I want to yell out, “No! Don’t! You’re only going to make this worse for yourself!” but my throat locks up—I know this isn’t true, not as long as Fluttershy eventually comes around to Celestia’s line of understanding—so, I simply lay there, letting Fluttershy explain with surprisingly little fear evident in her voice. “I believe…” Fluttershy looks down at me, “Alternate?” I manage to nod. “because of how he came to my cottage. I first saw him trotting out of the Everfree Forest, but he quickly galloped back in. I went out to investigate, and surprised him, making him fall on his right side. Him falling from behind the tree surprised me, and I ran, so I didn’t notice at first, but this cut,” she pointed at my cheek,” is on his left cheek, so he had to have been hurt before that fall. The fact he came to Ponyville to be treated by ponies proves he had no other choice, because treatments that work for ponies might not work, or even be dangerous, for Changelings.”
Rainbow Dash takes a small step to the side so she not standing so directly over me and can look at my bandages with new understanding before looking up at Fluttershy with a smile. After a second it looks like the other pegasus is about to say something, but Celestia speaks first. “It is as you say; even the Changeling itself admitted it had no choice, but I pose this to you, Fluttershy: For what reason didn’t it have a choice?” The alicorn only pauses for a tiny moment, not even enough for Fluttershy to start forming an answer in her mind. “It has already provided us with the answer: it was starving. As something I’m sure you are familiar with, Fluttershy, the more hungry an animal is, the more dangerous it is.”
At this, Fluttershy shakes her head slowly; whatever she’s denying I can’t tell, and she doesn’t—or can’t—respond. Celestia nods to the pegasus once, almost like a bow, before turning her eyes to Rarity, who begins without having to be asked. “I believe him because I believe Fluttershy. The way she confronted Alternate at my boutique was… strangely calm for a pony being imponynated by a Changeling, and being one of my best, oldest friends, not to mention a fellow Element of Harmony, I would trust her with my life.” Fluttershy lets out a little gasp—I’m sure she doesn’t like the idea of ever needing to shoulder that kind of responsibility…—while Princess Celestia frowns—Wait… did Rarity just come up with an argument that nopony could attack without attacking Fluttershy at the same time, thereby paradoxically convincing Rarity of nothing?! Clever mare!—but then she continues. “So, when I found the real Fluttershy out while Twilight was questioning Alternate, I trusted her when she asked me not to inform Twilight, and instead confront him alone while Twilight questioned Fluttershy.”—Well, that explains that…—“As soon as he was aware I knew who he was, he didn’t attack or flee, instead only asking me ‘what will happen’ to him.” The way Celestia’s eyes bulge at this tells me she hadn’t explain this so thoroughly before, when the alicorn had, in all likelihood, questioned them quickly before teleporting here. “Also, when Twilight was about to attack Fluttershy to prove who was who, she threw her out of the way of the spell, and took the attack himself.”
As she says this, Celestia slowly looses her frown, no doubt spotting a point of attack. “Yes, Twilight told me about that incident at the library, before we went to your boutique. She told me how you chased the Changeling, trying, apparently, to catch him and throw him out of the way in turn?” Rarity only nods slowly, unsure, as I am, of what Celestia is trying to get at. “Then it was successful in its attempt to manipulate your feelings.” Rarity shakes her head in the same manner as Fluttershy, but Celestia has more to explain. “Whether Twilight Sparkle attacked Fluttershy or the Changeling is of no consequence; it would have been found out either way. It knew its only chance of survival and escape was to convince you that it is ‘good’ and, from its apparent knowledge of the Elements of Harmony, knew also that Twilight would use the least amount of force she estimated she would need to knock a Changeling out of its disguise and nothing more if she knew there was a fifty percent chance of her spell hitting her friend. Therefore, he determined that it would be safe to be hit by the spell to garner your pity, while knowing that it would be revealed in any case, as attacking or fleeing would not be wise with Twilight nearby and capable of easily incapacitating it with her magic.”
Rarity grimaces, but she doesn’t so much as glance down at me questioningly, and her eyes hold onto her determination. I expect Celestia to turn to Rainbow Dash now, wanting to remove the last doubt, while realizing her attack on Rarity’s argument would likely end out her weakest, so she should move on quickly, but Applejack burst out, “What are you meanin’ by shakin’ your heads like that, girls?! How can ya’ll possibly think of trustin’ a known liar?!” Applejack takes an aggressive stomp towards us, which is mirrored by Rainbow Dash jumping in front of me and spreading her wings. This, in turn, makes me stumble back in shock, scrambling back to my hooves to avoid being trampled by Rainbow’s known-to-be-strong hooves—or so my subconscious says to try to excuse itself.
“What do you mean, AJ?! Alternate’s not a liar! Everything he’s said to me makes sense!” Rainbow punctuates each sentence with a stomp of a hoof, and when she finishes, Applejack opens her mouth to retaliate, but Celestia gently puts a hoof to her chest and, with a little pressure, forces the earth pony to step back to her original place. With a small movement of her head, as if using her muzzle to urge a reluctant pony in front of her to continue trotting, Celestia silently offers Rainbow to finish stating her reasoning, which she does slowly, hesitantly. “Alternate- I mean, I tried to attack Alternate at first, but he called out for me to stop… I thought that was kinda strange… him just calling out to me like that, I mean, instead of attacking me or running away. So, I got kinda curious… I guess, even though I know that doesn’t really sound like me…” As she says this, Rainbow Dash glances back at me with a strange blush on her cheeks. I quickly file that away under “think about with later” as she jerks her head back to Celestia to continue, now more confident. “So I gave him a chance to give me a reason to stop, and he tried to convince me he was evil instead!” She finishes with a quiet, short chuckle, as she notices that none of the four look the slightest bit swayed from their original position.
Celestia doesn’t speak immediately, and whether she knows or at least strongly suspects what will happen next, I have no idea, but I’m all the same surprised when Pinkie Pie is the one to speak up, sounding apologetic, and I realize instantly I’ve hurt even Pinkie with my actions, forcing her to refute her friends opinion. “Um, Dashie… that’s reverse psychology: it wanted you to believe it’s not evil, so it tried to convince you otherwise.” Noting Twilight’s shocked look, perhaps out of the corner of her eye, Pinkie cheerily preemptively explains. “Oh, I know all sorts of ways to trick ponies, but I do it for fun, not to eat ponies’ love for each other!” She finishes with a surprisingly frightening growl—or not so surprisingly, given how unpredictable and capable-of-more-than-the-average-earth-pony she is.
Rainbow Dash, to even my surprise, shakes her head more vigorously than Fluttershy and Rarity, and I can tell she’s readying herself to continue defending me, and Celestia also opens her mouth, ready to interrupt her, but I manage to yell first. “Stop!” I cry before biting Rainbow’s tail and tugging on it, prompting her to step back from in front of me, which she does with nothing more than a questioning look, not even startled into bucking in shock by tugging on her tail, which tells me more that that flowing feeling inside me—collective, as it is, I can’t tell how much of it is coming from which pony. I shake the thought off and step forward to Rainbow’s place, but turn to the one’s who had been defending me. “You’re just making this worse for yourselves!” I blurt out what I had been thinking before, making Fluttershy “eep!” and crumple in on herself and Rarity to step back, but Rainbow Dash gives me… an encouraging smile? I scrunch my eyebrows confusedly together at her for a moment before turning to my accusers. “Princess… Celestia…” I try to force myself to remain calm, but my legs begin to shake and my voice falters, turning abnormally high—I have to swallow before continuing, and though it helps me regain my words, it does nothing for my nerves. “please don’t punish-… don’t punish these ponies too bad- too terribly… they don’t… completely understand. I-.”
“Don’t think, Changeling,” Princess Celestia narrows her eyes on my, beginning to dissolve what little resolve I had managed to gather to confront her like this, and my shivering grows worse, but I remain standing without too much trouble, “that you can fool me with such obviously devious tactics.” I hear Rainbow Dash stepping forward at this, probably ready to defend me again, but I preemptively throw a hoof out to block her, and she stops instantly.
“I don’t.” I manage to shake my head, but the movement is stiff, like I’m losing control of my muscles, which isn’t too far from the truth, as I feel like I have to now look down at the ground, away from Princess Celestia, lest I fall again. “I never did, which is why-… why I was getting ready to leave Ponyville before you arrived… but I was interrupted by Rainbow Dash, and I knew I couldn’t out fly her… I took too much time, and then Applejack and Pinkie Pie-…” I trail off shaking my head a bit more smoothly than before, thinking, Rambling… you’re just rambling, you idiot… “Anyway, I know you’re going to do whatever you want to me, no matter what the Elements of Harmony think—you only want them to not be hurt by your punishment intended only for me—but I’m sure you can at least agree with me when I say this is useless; that none of you of you are going to be able to convince each other. So-,” I shiver so hard here my legs nearly give out, “I don’t want to stand here as you all argue about whether I’m a liar or not. So… go ahead… just turn me to stone already… or banish me to the moon… or kill me.”
I try to retain some tatter of dignity—call it a remnant of my human “maleness”—but tears quickly over run my ability to hold them, and they begin to slide down my muzzle and drip off my face. I expect to hear that unmistakable “eep!” of fear behind me, yet instead there is a cry of “NO!” that makes me jump. Fluttershy’s scream is followed immediately by a whoosh of air as she launches herself to stand beside me. Kneeling, she pleads for mercy towards me, “Princess Celestia, you-… you can’t! May-maybe what Alternate has done deserves some punishment, but-… but…” Fluttershy seems unable to finish her concession—or, I suspect, simply unable to say the word “kill.” Throughout this, Celestia glares down at me, and it’s not difficult for me to guess her thoughts—Almost certainly accusing me of yet more emotional manipulation… even though I can’t say of myself that I’m completely innocent of that… I’m sorry… Princess Celestia… I’m only doing what I need to do to survive…
Fluttershy has dissolved into sobbing by now, and Rarity and Rainbow have stepped forward to comfort her with gentle hooves rubbing her side and soft nuzzling. Celestia, obviously coming to some conclusion, finally turns to the trio beside me. “Very well… Seeing how you have remained by this Changeling so resolutely, convinced of its innocence-,” Twilight and Applejack gasp at this statement, the earth pony quickly looking ready to say something about this, but Celestia is quicker in restating herself, “-convinced it was not acting maliciously, only in self-perseverence… I will not kill it. Nor banish or imprison it in any way that would likely result in death by starvation. In fact, I will even ‘punish’ it in such a way that even unintentional harm should be greatly reduced…” As she pauses here, she returns to looking at me with a new expression that all the same communicates most clearly, You’re going to prove them wrong… I’m not going to forget you, “Alternate”. “I will banish it to the far west, past the borders of Equestria and into the Changelings’ lands.”
The thoughts that run through my head from that ultimatum make me grimace, in spite of the fact I’m sure that I would have been killed otherwise. She probably expects Queen Chrysalis to “send me back to Equestria,” and when she does, she’s going to shove me into Fluttershy’s, Rarity’s, and Rainbow’s faces to convince them of Changeling nature… Changeling nature… What will happen to me there, in those “Changelings’ lands”? Will they be able to tell me apart? Or… I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I try to dispel my worries of instead being imprisoned by Queen Chrysalis and starved there with that thought, but it only makes the question more prominent. Still knowing there is no use in worrying, I turn to Fluttershy, who now is crying more silently and with her head down. “Fluttershy… Fluttershy…” She doesn’t respond so then I dare, though hesitating, to lean down and try to lift her head with my muzzle, realizing too late that I unintentionally nuzzle her as I do so—What does nuzzling mean in Equestria, anyway?—and she moves at the lightest pressure. Once she’s looking straight ahead, I pull back and she stays in place, looking into my eyes. “Fluttershy, it’s going to be all right. I’m going to be all right, thanks to you.” Seeing the pleading in her eyes, and how she tried to speak, but chokes and only coughs instead, I still get a good idea of what she wants. “I’ll be fine, I promise,” and with a little smile, add, “Cross my heart, hope to fly/ Stick a cupcake in my eye.” That, at least, manages to get a choked laugh and wobbly smile out of her—out of the corner of my eye, I can see Pinkie Pie shifting on her hooves, apparently unsure of what she should think about a Changeling using her Pinkie Promise, yet using it all the same to make a sad pony smile.
With a little trill of excitement, and then a trill of horror, I realize just what I’ve done: make Pinkie Pie unsure! Of course, Princess Celestia doesn’t fail to notice this, and with a glance at Pinkie and sudden fear on her face that disappears quickly; I know she’s going to want to get this done quickly, so I step away from Fluttershy. Returning her glare to me, she shoots a quick glance of something I imagine—and I’m more certain than not I do imagine it—is like praise one might give to a worthy opponent. I nod, and nothing else is said as Celestia horn begins to glow, or I can’t hear anything that is said, for I begin to glow in tandem and my ears ring. I worry, in those slow milliseconds as the spell is weaved, that Celestia is not going to keep her word about not killing me, and while I realize I have absolutely no control of that, I still let out a sigh of relief when the ringing is released with a pop and the trees of Sweet Apple Acres are replaced with the flat desert of what must be the Changelings’ land.
This is quickly enough confirmed by the appearance of a number of swiftly moving black dots on the horizon that soon enough come close enough to be distinguished as Changelings—six Changelings. Noting that they are heading directly in my direction, and with their speed suggesting special training, I reason, in very much the same way as Rainbow Dash, that trying to avoid them would be A Very Bad Idea. As they are still perhaps a couple minutes away—one thing about the desert: it messes with one’s sense of distance—I take in what I can of my surrounding. It is, unnotably, first and foremost, nearly bare of anything but patches of tough-looking grass and low, small bushes and shrubs, their branches and leaves looking equally hardy. One thing that does break the monotony, however, is a line of obviously artificial wooden posts some distance away—far enough that I can’t tell if they’re bare or if there are some wires or lines strung between them—that stretch beyond the horizon in both directions. The border of Equestia, no doubt… and now I’m on the “wrong” side…
Something about those posts—not the fact the Celestia is on the other side—scares me, making me grateful I had been “dropped off” so far away; that scare, paradoxically, in turn makes me want to investigate them, to find find out if it has something to do with my new Changeling senses that scares me. However, before I can decide whether or not to head towards them, the Changelings land around me in a circle—I had been so entranced by the “fence” that I hadn’t even heard their wings approaching; now, however, I can hear them as they keep them moving even as they remain standing on the ground—Remaining ready to take off? Or intimidation, perhaps?
The one standing straight before me steps forward and states, “Queen Chrysalis wishes to see you, intruder.” I jump at the sound of her voice, then her actual words sink in, one in particular almost making me panic: Intruder!… Before I can even respond, all six begin charging their horns, that notable neon green magic then arcs between their tips, until it final lights all of them, and me, in a similarly colored aura. Just before it happens, I realize I am going to be teleported yet again, probably to the Queen herself. With a burst of green light that covers my vision, like when when I had transformed into Fluttershy, the spell releases, and, indeed, I find myself in what has to be the throne room of… wherever I am now.
Queen Chrysalis has been waiting for me, judging by the way she is already staring straight at me with those unique eyes narrowed with… curiosity… and how she is laid out upon the “seat” of her throne, legs stretched out and looking completely relaxed. However, it is the back of the throne that draws my eyes. It is in the shape, of all things, a cross, making it look very much like a giant tombstone of black glass. A cross… in my mind is a sudden flash of that scene after Chrysalis had revealed herself at Canterlot: the way she had jumped into the air and formed a cross with her legs—a strange position for a pony, and probably a Changeling. Obviously, the cross symbol means something very different for Changelings… something I can think about later!
The rest of the room is entirely bare—Spartan—except for simply-shaped chandeliers also made completely of black glass, and whose bright flames light the black stone floor, walls, and ceiling well, as if to spite their bareness. Some Changeling likes black… I try to step forward, but it seems teleportation isn’t the only spell the Changelings had cast, for I can’t move my legs, and upon looking down I see my hooves encircled by green rings of light—magical hoof-cuffs, it seems—and I suddenly become aware of a light pressure on my legs from all sides.
A motion of a hoof from Queen Chrysalis to approach her, however, and the pressure disappears, the Changelings still in a circle around me begin to walk most stiffly—Respectfully?—towards Chrysalis, and, after a second, I decide my only option is to follow. About five meters from the throne the hoof-cuffs tighten again, stopping me in place, and the Changelings, minus one, turn around and quickly form a line behind me. The one remaining bows, and with a quick glance back I see the five others rising out of their own bows. “We have retrieved the Equestrian intruder for your questioning as you requested, my Queen.” Her voice, unless all Changelings sound the same, reveals her as the one who had spoken to me. Wait… “Equestrian”?!
Before my mouth can even begin its decent towards hanging open, Queen Chrysalis, by her next words, seems to anticipate my reaction. “Of course I can tell that you are not one of my children.” She pauses to chuckle and add a smirk to her muzzle. “Please don’t tell me that your Princess Celestia thinks so low of me. I am Chrysalis!” With a buzz of her wings, she jumps up and stomps on her throne. “Queen of the Changelings! I can smell a transformation spell from ten-thousand paces, useless pony spy! How dare your princess think so low of me! I have half a mind to send your eviscerated body back to her as a warning!” Stuck as I am, All I can do is widen my eyes and shiver in fear… so soon after I thought I had just left such fear. Chrysalis, however, lays back down, folding her legs under her. “… But only half a mind. My other has a much better idea of turning a useless spy into a useful messenger. After all, anything can deliver a message, so long as it can speak… you can speak, can’t you?”
She grins wickedly down at me as I stare up at her dumbly; I had expected some aggressiveness as soon as I had been called an intruder, but this… I have to take a few moments, of whose length I’m uncertain, and Chrysalis seems willing to give me that time, not moving. Wait… “can ‘smell’ a transformation spell”? If she’s not exaggerating, then!… “You- Can you really smell transformation spells?” I try to sound nonchalant, as if it doesn’t matter, only obeying her request for a display of my voice, but even I can hear both fear and eagerness in my words.
A laugh, much different from the “dastardly” laugh I know, echoes in the empty throne room as Queen Chrysalis’s head is thrown back by her mirth. Eventually, after I finally realize the lone Changeling once in front of me had joined her fellows behind me, she calms herself and levels her eyes back upon me. “Yes, indeed I can… truly… and you have a very strong stench of it coming from you. Why, it’s so strong I believe Princess Celestia at least had the foresight of altering your magic to that of a Changeling’s, even! Of course, I already know she’s not completely stupid… but then there’s still you!” As she speaks she descends from her throne, stopping less than a meter from me, and finishing with a point of a hoof and soft chuckle.
“Me?…” I half question, but my mind doesn’t linger on the fact she thinks I’m a pony turned Changeling, but instead on the fact she thinks I’m a pony period… “but… but… you can’t tell what something was transformed from. You call me a pony, but you don’t know what kind of pony… Do you?” I don’t know where such boldness comes from—perhaps from the fact she has already stated she’s going to send me back as a messenger, but then all of a sudden I fear she may still make good on her the threat from “the other half of her mind.”
Immediately, I can tell Chrysalis doesn’t like that question as she frowns and lowers her pointed hoof slowly—and my fear grows closer. “You’re a pony. That’s all I need to know, because all that matters is whether or not you are one of that princess’s loyal pets.” Ending with an extended hiss, she turns away and returns to her throne, sitting on it and turning back to me. “The message you are to give Celestia is to remind her of how close I came to ruling her Canterlot. Remind her how my children managed to disarm her guards, even as they were swelled in anticipation of attack and could see my children breaking down that barrier giving them plenty of time to prepare! Remind her how I captured her Elements of Harmony. Remind her of the only reason I am not sitting on her throne is because of something I did not believe possible. Then, tell her that I will not be so ignorant or unprepared next time… Do you have all of that?!” She “asks” when I don’t so much as move a muscle for a minute.
Of course I do, as those are two of the best episodes, I know them more than most others, and as she stated each… fact I see in my mind those events she’s referring to, yet in such a way I have never thought of before—I would have cringed if I haven’t already seen so much of the Changeling way of life, and can recognize what I know is barely a fraction. Eventually, Queen Chrysalis stomps her hoof, shaking me, and I manage to nod then. Immediately, the hoof-cuffs dissipate, and with a “farewell” of, “Oh, and tell Princess Celestia that if she’s thinking of sending another spy, that I might not have another message for her,” and malicious grin, she activates her horn.
With another flash of green light, I find myself near where Celestia had sent me, yet now closer to the line of wooden posts—I stiffen upon seeing what my instincts had before told me to fear. There is no rope or wire or anything connecting the posts to create anything resembling a fence; instead, nailed to each post, are Changeling wings, their number varying from post to post, and not always in even numbers. I gulp and try my hardest to turn away and ignore them, managing to succeed to some—but still surprising—degree. Guessing I had been teleported to the Changeling side and supposing that I have a much better chance of survival in Equestria, I slowly and silently as possible—almost reverently—walk between two posts as close to the half way point as I can estimate.
I pause for a moment on the other side, thinking about what had just happened. Great… threatened with death by both Princess Celestia and Queen Chysalis… just surviving isn’t going-. “Hey!” I jump, and my heart jumps with me at hearing the stage-whispered call. “What are you trying to do, commit suicide?!”