Chip broke the surface of the water rather violently, causing a wet geyser to erupt and spray at the guardspony and a spa pony that was approaching. The changeling got startled straight off the bat by two things – a screaming light blue mare and an equally surprised Pegasus stallion.
Oh. Yeah. He was a changeling now. His disguise dissolved back in the water. Hmm.. Oops?
With even more splashing, the black colt took flight and gauged the situation. The spa pony was backing away shrieking like mad; the guard was spreading his wings in a low stance, ready to lunge at Chip. It was time to leave this place and approach Ponyville from a different angle. It was a shame he would have to leave Silver Heart behind… Maybe he’ll manage to slip a goodbye before she has to go back home?
Steam flooded the room as the changeling bathed himself in green light and disappeared. The guardspony backed up against a wall and was throwing bewildered looks left and right, looking for the monster that popped out of nowhere. The spa pony finally calmed down, courtesy of being unconscious.
Chip silently landed near the exit, taking a last look at the room. Water, a half-empty tub, a confused Pegasus and fainted pony. He smirked, making sure his invisibility spell worked properly. His carapace still felt rather hot from the flame spell he cast on himself – he learned a lot from his experience with the Everfree fog -- water breaks camouflage.
The changeling stepped into the light of day, His head deep in thought. He was no longer a pony. That meant no more icky surprises from his own body, more resistance and the ability to fly and cast magic. On the other hand, he would miss tasting things and feeling the touch of fur on the naked skin. Now, come to think of it, there were other things missing here and there that he didn’t pay attention to earlier. If he could only remember what those were…
Chip was too deep in his own contemplations to notice a large white alicorn exit Sugarcube Corner while talking to a purple unicorn. The white coated pony’s attention snapped to the guard who darted out of the spa, shouting something incomprehensively.
The changeling snickered as he snapped back to reality, observing as the white stallion relayed the recent happenings. There was a lot of hoof waving, erratic wing movement and sound effects that Chip enjoyed. Everypony stopped and listened as well, so it was easy to approach the carriage on which Silver Heart still sat.
“What could it be Princess?” heard Chip as he passed the purple unicorn. He noticed she had a star with several sparkles on her flank.
The colt was about to speak to Silver Heart, who was less than a hoof away, when he had ice slide through his back.
“A Changeling.” The voice was so close to his ear Chip jumped back surprised, nearly losing his grip on the invisibility spell.
She was looking at him. The tall white mare with a sun as a Cutie Mark was looking him straight in the eye. What gives? Chip quickly checked his hooves – they were nowhere to be seen. He didn’t feel wet as well.
“I thought they were just a rumor,” continued the pony, taking a few steps to circle the vehicle. Yes, she was still looking at him. And heading his way. “But it seems I was mistaken.” With that, the black colt felt pressure rise around him. Barely visible golden mist enveloped him – the same particles surrounded the mare’s long horn.
“What are those… Changelings, Princess? Princess Celestia?” The purple unicorn was ignored as the one named Celestia re-entered Sugarcube Corner.
Chip felt dragged, floating just above the ground. He was unable to move and could only watch the doors open before the crowned pony. A rather kind looking blue mare with a mane that brought cotton candy to mind bolted immediately to her side.
“Left anything behind, your Royal Highness?” she asked in a nervous voice.
“No… I’m sorry, but I have the most odd of requests.” The voice of the princess was calm – too calm for the grip that she had over Chip’s body.
The changeling tried to struggle, flexing his powerful muscles, but to no avail. He didn’t want to hurt anypony, but dread started getting the better of him and he wanted to cast any spell that would break the alicorn’s concentration. Nothing happened though. Fire, Teleportation, Telekinesis, nothing worked! It was not possible. He didn’t feel an inhibitor ward anywhere. How could he not reach out to his magic!? Wait, what did that… Celestia… ask of that fat pony again?
Without another word Chip got dragged up the stairs to a small room. There were several balloons and party decorations there, along with a few chairs around a gramophone sitting on a table. The doors shut right behind the changeling’s flank, mechanical clunk coming from the knob.
Without much warning, his invisibility spell was torn in half and the colt himself fell to the floor. He was dazed – not much from the fall as from the sudden rending power that broke his grip on the illusion spell.
“A changeling,” said Celestia calmly, standing in front of the stallion. “In my kingdom. I heard stories of your kind. Very bad ones. Even downright cruel tales.”
Chip finally recovered and stood up. They were almost the same height, him and her. The colt was slightly shorter, but more bulky. And the thick chitin made him look more dangerous compared to the crystal clean white coat the mare had.
“Why did you come here?” she asked.
“Do you know not how to speak?”
“You may choose – answer my questions or let me think up my own answers. I would prefer the former. Please.”
“I’m Chip,” finally replied the changeling. He felt like the stupidest equine alive. One moment of bliss and forgetfulness and here he was, talking to this powerful creature who will probably end his fantastic journey through Equestria before it even began proper. “I came here to study ponies.”
“So, you are a spy,” concluded Celestia, straightening herself.
“No. I came here of my own accord. This has nothing to do with my kind.”
“And why should I believe you?” The royal brows lifted, the eyes underneath them scanning the changeling’s body.
“You asked me to answer your questions. Those are your answers.”
“I wish I could trust you,“ sighed the Princess. “The stories about the changeling race do not allow me to, unfortunately. Confusion and masquerade are in your very nature – am I correct?”
“I can change forms, true. But I am nothing like the rest of my brothers and sisters.”
“Pray tell, why?”
“I have a soul,” blurted out the changeling. Now that he thought about it, it sounded stupid.
“What would you mean by that?”
“I… I have a mind of my own. And that mind led me here. I hoped I could mingle, be accepted here… At least here…” Chip sighed. He decided that truth was the only way to maybe escape this situation. Truth and humility.
He bowed to Celestia, just like he has many times to his Queen. Facing the floor, he said “I give my life to you. I wish no harm to you or your people. I am an outcast of my own kind, thrown out for who knows what.” A small light bulb shone in his head. “There are ponies who know the real me. They can testify of my… My good intentions. I don’t ask that you believe me – I only plead for some kindness.”
Chip closed his eyes, hearing his heart pound in his ears. Hopefully, he would hear the words the Princess had for him…
“Princess, what is happening?” asked Twilight Sparkle as her mentor came out of Sugarcube corner. For some time now the young adept noticed that the white mare’s horn was glowing. She was casting magic – but what for? Without a word to anypony else, the regal pony addressed the filly that was lazily watching the whispering crowd that just wouldn’t dissolve, despite the commendable effort of the royal guards.
“Excuse me, miss Silver Heart.” The little foal jumped up and slowly locked her giant green eyes with those of the princess. Her small mouth opened in awe. “Would you please come with me?” asked Celestia in a sweet voice.
“What the hay is going on here!?” exclaimed a bewildered Twilight, watching as her teacher once again entered the building, Silver Heart following her nervously.
Chip was once again stranded in… Well, whatever it was that held him. He had to admit that the mare had quite a powerful horn, being able to keep someone like him locked down and unable to perform magic of his own.
He spent only a few minutes in silence, alternately scolding himself for carelessness and hoping that the Princess will turn out to be as kind to him as he once was to the helpless mares in his den.
That is how a prisoner felt. Dread, uncertainty, fear. He felt like hiding under that tiny table, closing his eyes and hoping that things would just turn out well. Or end fast enough for him not to notice.
Chip was still calculating just how much he would have to suck his gut in to fit under the stool when the Princess returned, followed by Silver Heart.
The colt’s vision went black for a second and his heart missed quite a few beats – did Celestia think that the filly was a changeling too? Would she hurt her? Would she torture her in front of his eyes for information on his kind?
Panic caused him to struggle even more against the spell – his guts churned with worry and hysteria to the point he was ready to throw up.
“Silver Heart,” said Celestia, “Do you know who this is?”
The foal smiled and approached Chip, nuzzling his forehooves. From her perspective, the changeling was standing still with a blank face. “Of course I do! He’s Chip! Cool huh? He has a horn and wings just like you! Are you two related? Huh huh?”
Celestia was only slightly taken aback by the outburst of words. She didn’t know the extent of changeling powers, but a subtle scan didn’t give her even the faintest hint of the filly’s mind being tampered with.
“So, you know him. Did he take you away?”
“No, your Royal Princess,” admitted Silver, fitting herself under Chip’s belly. She looked uneasy and the words that followed were more mumbling than anything else.
“What was that, sweetheart?” asked the royal mare, taking a few steps forward.
“I ran away from home so I could spend time with Chip,” repeated the filly. She was blushing heavily and didn’t meet Celestia’s eye at all.
“Is that so? But why would you run away? You don’t like your mom and dad?”
“I love them very much! But I… Chip is my friend. I wanted to spend time with him and play. But I couldn’t, he was sick. He had a hangover,” proudly said Silver, much to the confusion of Celestia. “So I snuck out of home and went looking for him. We met in the Everfree and then had some adventures! We met a zebra! Do you know what a zebra is?”
“Yes,” smiled the Princess. “So, Chip here is your friend, yes? How long do you know him?”
“A couple of days,” admitted Silver. She didn’t lose her resolve though and continued: “My mommy knows him better! She told me stories of Chip and how he helped her and the others get back home! She was just like a princess trapped in a castle of an evil Queen and Chip was a knight hero!”
“Your mother knows Chip? Hmmm… Very well then. Could you please wait downstairs while I have a word with Chip?”
“Wow, Chip,” chuckled the filly, “everypony wants to talk to you! That’s what you wanted, right? Right?”
The changeling didn’t move an inch, staring into space with a blank face. The Princess gently pushed the filly out of the room before she would get suspicious and locked the door behind her.
Chip felt the spell keeping him still lift – he flew forward and straight onto his face. His tense muscles were aching from all the strain he put them through – the whole conversation he was struggling to break free.
“A wonderful child chose you as her friend. Very honest and cheerful.”
“Please, leave her out of this,” begged Chip, picking himself up. “If you need somepony to punish, just punish me, please. Please…”
“Nopony is going to get punished. For now,” remarked the Princess, spreading her wings. “I’m still hesitant to believe your story. We will have to check everypony you had contact with. And we shall begin today. During that time, I wish for you to disguise yourself as a regular pony. If you behave, I will not have to keep you locked down like I did just now. Try anything, and I do mean anything and I shall have you kept in the dungeons until my investigations are done. Are we clear on that?”
“Crystal clear, my Queen.”
“I’m a Princess…”
“Yes… Of course! Princess…”