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Twilight Sparkle was lying on her bed, thoughts churning in her worried head. She couldn’t decide if the task frightened her to death or excited her beyond belief – she was doing something nopony else in equine history has ever done before. That means there are no manuals, no scripts, no tips that she can look up to for guidance. She will have to document every single thing by herself, which meant that she would have to be diligent beyond her even wildest dreams of organizing and creating checklists.
The mare’s mind was racing – does she have enough paper? Is the ink supply sufficient? Celestia, what if they break too many quills? Today is Wednesday, and if they go out by Thursday, that will be 3days before the new shipment arrives!
“Spike? Spike! Are you asleep yet?” urgently hissed Twilight, squinting to see the basket in which the baby dragon usually slept.
A loud snore erupted, the kind that was associated more with sawmills rather than ponies. Or dragons. Did he always growl like that? How in the hay Twilight could sleep in such a racket? She would have to look into ways of thawing that noise in the future…
“Ugh, what am I thinking about!” she whispered to herself, knocking her head with a hoof. “I need to get some sleep, otherwise I’ll perform poorly tomorrow. Today, I mean. Oh dear, it’s already three in the morning. Only four more hours before sunrise…”
Try as she might, Twilight Sparkle did not sleep that night.
Chip woke up rather tired. The dream he had faded away, leaving behind a faint feeling of worry. The sun was beginning to rise, illuminating the library and the multitude of colorful book spines arranged neatly on the shelves.
The changeling yawned, looking around the room. Apart from books, there wasn’t much here – a few tables, windows, doors, the staircase from which he fell… Not a good place to do this whole research thing. It needed to be a secluded area, where nopony could enter, preferably with heavy doors and no windows. A cave in the forest or some kind of secret room…
The colt picked himself up from the floor and approached one of the doors. Behind them was a Ponyville street – so that was the exit from the library. Obviously not a good choice. The second door led to a small, sunny kitchen. Only one window, but no locks and way too little space for some of the things Chip was forming in his mind.
The next door looked promising, though. It was heavy, wooden with steel reinforcements. And it was definitely closed shut. Well, at least until Chip cast a spell taught to him by Celestia. He wasn’t a locksmith and didn’t understand much of the clicks he heard from inside the locking mechanism – all he knew was that he had to arrange the holes inside into a pipe, adjusting heights of each lock element. It took some time, but soon the doors were wide open, allowing Chip entry into a dimly lit chamber.
This would be perfect. A staircase down led to a space that didn’t have any lights and was littered with some strange contraptions with light bulbs and needles and things. If all that got removed, there would be enough room for him and the mare to “research”. And since there was only one exit from the room, there was no possibility of eavesdrop, other than direct teleportation into the room. Which meant the changeling had to ask the librarian just how many ponies knew of this place, and if any of them were unicorns that could jump on them unexpectedly.
“Hello? Anypony in here?” sounded from above. “Ch-… I mean, Wub! Where are you?”
“Down here!” yelled the changeling, making his way up the stairs. “This place is perfect to work in. One door, no windows, hidden… What?”
“I thought that room was closed” said Twilight, cocking her head. “Spike, did you do anything in the laboratory last night?”
“No ma’am” replied the baby dragon, standing in the frame of the kitchen door. “Why?”
“I opened the door myself, Twilight Sparkle” admitted Chip, causing a stern look from the librarian. “What?”
“Didn’t anypony teach you it is rude to poke around in somepony’s things?!”
“Rude? I was just looking around. It’s not like I broke into your house or anything.”
The purple mare deadpanned. “Really? You didn’t?”
“No, I was brought here.”
“… Aaaaha. Still. It’s not nice. To poke around. In other pony’s stuff.” The look on Twilight’s face was a mixture of bloodshot eyes, an angry look and worried expression. She didn’t look healthy at all.
“Ugh… Spike,” she addressed the dragon, “I’ll need a double extra strong black coffee. Hold the sugar this time. Wub, you want something to eat? I personally feel sick and can’t even think of food right now…”
“I’m fine, for now. The sooner we begin, the better,” replied Chip, beckoning the mare to follow him down to the laboratory.
There was quite some arguing between the two about the usefulness of the equipment stored in the underground room. Chip wasn’t stubborn about most of the items, and once he learned what they did he decided to leave them alone until further notice. Some of the tables and chairs naturally had to go – the changeling did the heavy lifting while Twilight was cringing, trying to swallow the extra strong drink she ordered.
Half an hour later, it was time to begin – the purple mare still looked out of shape, but the rush of caffeine made her a bit more lively and organized.
“Okay, first things first. We need to organize the work as much as possible, so we don’t encounter any unforeseen obstacles that will delay us. Is there anything you need that we have to get for you?”
“Like what?” asked Chip.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking! I haven’t got the slightest clue what you need! Moonstones to change forms? Some rare types of candy? The blood of a mare sacrificed at midnight in the name of Smooze?”
“Yeah, I’ll need that last one. And pronto,” nodded Chip.
Twilight froze, one of her eyes developing a twitch. “R-Really?”
“No, but I’d like to see it nonetheless. What’s a Smooze?”
The librarian sighed with relief, lowering her head. “Are you even taking this seriously?” she asked with irritation.
“Yes. Why would you think otherwise?”
“… I have no idea if you are discording me or not. But this is no time for fun and games, we need to get to work…”
Spike, who was listening to the conversation with mostly a straight face couldn’t help but giggle, trying hard not to fall down and erupt into full blown laughter.
“… This is getting us nowhere. There is no way we can organize work like this…”
“Okay, listen,” interrupted Chip. “Let’s try this – you ask questions, the things you want to know, and I simply answer them to my best ability. Is that okay? Just ask questions.”
“I know! But there are those important questions that need to be asked first and there are those that are irrelevant or only mildly important. What if I ask the wrong one? What if the answer will spawn another question that will lead us off topic or worse-”
“Ugh, just stop!” cried out Chip. This mare was obviously insane. She talked too much. “Less talking, more doing. Don’t think, just ask. It doesn’t matter what – we’ll sort it out later. Right now, you need to know something about me, anything that can help us.”
“But… But that-”
“No buts! Just ask! Anything!”
The silence that fell in the room was frustrating. This was all that Celestia had? An undecided pony that could not make up her mind? A stuttering mess that could not think fast on her hooves?
“Excuse me?” Chip furrowed a brow.
“MoC. Mare or Colt.” Twilight blushed, putting her ears down. “I’m sorry, that’s a dumb question, I just-”
“Colt.” Replied Chip, snorting. “Keep going. There are no dumb questions, only stupid answers. And I’m not one to make fun of our work.”
“Umm… Okay…” Twilight briefly smiled, lightening up a little. She hovered over a piece of paper, quill and ink and wrote down a single word – Colt.
“So I take it changelings have colts and mares?”
“Yes, for some reason yes.”
“Do you reproduce…. Umm…. Like normal ponies do?” The purple mare blushed again, her eyes wandering around the room.
“I don’t think so. We are born from eggs which a single changeling – our Queen – lays once a year. The eggs are hatched during the next twelve months according to demand. ”
“Wait, hold on a second,” said Twilight, furiously writing everything down. She made a few arrows, each coming out from a different word – Queen, eggs, once a year…
This wasn’t an ideal way to conduct research. No, this was no way to do any kind of scientific work. But it was the best thing available at the moment.
There was no clock in the room and Twilight only noticed the passage of time when her stomach begun to growl loudly. It was an embarrassing sound that stopped Chip mid-word and caused a surprised look on his face.
“S-Sorry. I haven’t eaten breakfast or anything… W-Would it be alright if we took a break? Five, maybe ten minutes?”
“Hmm… Why not. Just show me the notes that we have so far. I’ll be down here when you come back,” said the changeling to the leaving Twilight.
He looked down on the several pieces of paper, all populated with neatly written letters, some arrows and things scrawled on the sides. There was a lot of information about the changelings in general – their physical attributes, some habits, a few pages about the Queen herself… It felt weird, reading this. His words were now encased in ink, and they would last for some time. Would this become a book? Would it get a shiny cover like the rest of the tomes upstairs? What would be the title?
Ponies would read Chip’s words. That realization… He thought that writing a book involved more of something… Something highly spiritual. The author would close his eyes, reach deep into his red hot soul and pour it onto the pages. Letters would then be left to cool and turn dark, finding their place on the paper scraps that eventually formed a book. What he did here… It wasn’t like that at all. He just answered obvious questions, nothing magical about that. His words got written down in plain ink, on plain paper that was lying around everywhere.
“I’m back, sorry for the wait,” shouted Twilight from above, startling Chip slightly. She was wiping her face with a napkin which she later threw away, hitting the baby dragon that followed the mare.
“Oh, sorry Spike. Shall we continue?”
Twilight excitedly levitated over a fresh page and dipped a white feather quill in ink. The doors to the laboratory closed, cutting off the unsatisfied growling of Spike who returned to his daily chores.
“Twilight” said Chip, pacing around the room. “So far, all you did was ask me to tell you something. You take all my words for granted. Don’t you think that’s weird?”
“Huh? What do you mean? You weren’t lying, were you?” The mare pointed the quill at Chip who stopped.
“No, of course not. But wouldn’t it be easier if you actually saw a changeling? Me describing it to you sounds… Silly.”
“Oh. Yeah… I guess you’re right… Hihi, silly me. Then, uhm, whenever you’re ready!”
Twilight was reaching for another page, wanting to draw how a changeling looked, when the silver coat of the mare in front of her burst into green flames. The librarian yelped and threw herself back, gathering as many flying notes as she could. The fire was burning only for a second or two and when it vanished, the pony’s jaw made a clanging sound when it hit the floor.
Before Twilight stood a large, black stallion. He had a long, curved horn, thin, wasp-like wings and hooves riddles with holes. His whole body was encased in some kind of chitin armor, quite thick from the looks of it. The changeling’s eyes were focused on Twilight, light blue spheres cut in half by cat-like thin pupils. Beneath that predatory gaze was something more than met the eye – a kind of spark, an intelligent look that made the whole towering creature look… A little less scary than it normally would.
“Well?” intoned Chip in a deep voice, a reverb in his voice causing Twilight to jump a bit.
“I-I… I wasn’t expecting… This…”
“That only shows that changelings are masters of disguise. Of course, now that I think about it, the changeling you see before you isn’t a good example of a typical valley-dweller. I am unique, you can say. A regular drone is around your height, less muscular, more slender… Are you writing that down?”
“What? O-Oh, yes, yes, of course!” Twilight gathered her dropped utensils and wrote down what Chip said in his charming, yet threatening voice.
“Twilight, it’s getting late, I think it’s- What the hay?!”
Spike closed the doors with such force that they recoiled, revealing a fleeing tail of a screaming baby dragon.
“What’s up with him?” asked Chip, watching as Twilight bolted up the stairs.
“Oh, feathers! Spike! Spike! It’s okay, it’s Wub! Come back…”
And with that, Chip was alone in the room yet again. He felt mildly tired and his body was telling him it was time to eat. Heh, it was funny really – he was so focused on telling the tale of his people that he totally disregarded everything else. He didn’t even remember if the pony had an emotional scent or not.
He was having fun. At first the purple mare was hard to cooperate with, yes, but once she got into the spirit of things, her quill would not stop unless a page got filled to the brim with ink or Chip had to ponder a tricky question. There were around forty pages now, some of them bearing small sketches of changeling body parts – faces, hooves, wings, some armor pieces… Twilight was a very good writer and drawer, Chip had to admit that much.
Chip’s stomach communicated once more in a series of growls and sucking noises that it needed something. Yes, it was time to eat. Disguised as Wub, the changeling made his way up the stairs and closed the doors behind him. He turned the key in the look and took it with him to the kitchen, laying it down on the counter.
Upon inspecting some cupboards and one container that was cold inside, Chip found himself some salad to munch on. As always, there was no taste to his meal. For only a second he wished he could eat at least a nibble of the Poison Joke. Just enough to awaken his taste buds to the wonders of pony cuisine. Gustav’s meals would finally get the applause they deserved and Chip would have yet another nice thing to look forward to during his days.
“Wow, Spike got really scared,” said Twilight, entering the kitchen. “I didn’t expect him to react in such a way. Sorry.”
“Fo whut?” managed the changeling, chewing a mouthful of green leaves.
“Well, you could’ve felt offended… Or something. I know I wouldn’t like if ponies screamed when they saw me.”
The changeling swallowed and ripped out a fresh leaf of salad. “I got used to it.” He mumbled.
“Oh… I see…”
“It’s late,” noticed the changeling, hearing the cuckoo clock bang nine times in a row. “How about we call it a day? I can see you’re tired.”
“No no, I’m fine,” smiled Twilight, scooping some salad for herself. “But I guess we shouldn’t overdo it on the first day. Now that we have something to work with, it should be easier to start out with a fresh mind tomorrow.”
“Yeah, something like that,” agreed Chip, finally feeling full.
“Oh, shoot!” twilight stomped in frustration. “I totally forgot to arrange a bed for you! This time I insist that we do something about it. We can’t have you sleeping on the floor forever!”
“I’ll be sleeping downstairs, with the notes. I’ll close the doors from the inside and open them in the morning. This is the only key, yes?” asked the changeling, levitating the silver trinket to Twilight’s eyes.
“Yes, it is. Are you sure you want to sleep down there? It can get really hot and stuffy during the warmer days.”
“Even better – at least it will remind me of home… A bit.”
Twilight smiled and nodded. “Okay, suit yourself. You want any blankets or something?”
“No, thank you.”
“Fine. Then I’ll just write a letter to the Princess and go to sleep…”
“What letter?” Chip furrowed a brow, stopping Twilight in the door frame.
“About our progress here. I bet she’s eager to hear something, even if it is this late at night…”
“You can’t write to the Princess. Mail can be read by anypony smart enough to catch it as it flies to Canterlot. I’ll deliver a report to the Princess personally.”
“Oh… Really? I think it will be less hassle if we-”
“No. The Princess told me to personally leave the letters for her in a safe spot in the castle. We can write it together if you want, but I alone will deliver it. Trust me.”
“… If that is what the Princess said...”
Silently, Chip popped into existence in a dark room. He cast the search spell, briefly illuminating a few shelves of books that were populated with rather thin books. Nothing was hiding in the room except for the special stash, which only Celestia and Chip had the right to open. The report he put in the safe spot was brief – Twilight met Chip and their cooperation, although bumpy at first, yielded the first 42 pages of changeling physiology, habits and history. It was planned for the next week to look more in-depth at the changeling body, what it consists of and how to disable it without causing harm.
It was time to go, when a wild idea appeared. Chip noticed that some shelves had double rows of books… The tomes at the back were hard to see. Especially the ones in the back. Sooo… Just how many times a day did Celestia have time to read books anyway? Not much, probably. So would she notice a tome or two missing from the back row of a top shelf in the corner of the room? Probably not. And even if, Chip would return it the next night. “100 funny facts about mares and colts” sounded like quite an educational title, and the changeling was promised he would learn from Twilight Sparkle about ponies. A little aid in the form of a book would be ideal to help him understand!
Smiling and satisfied with his reasoning, the changeling teleported out of the room. It was not nice to poke around in other pony's stuff… But it’s not like he was stealing or anything, right?