“Spike? Spike!” called out Twilight, looking all over the tree house for the little dragon. He was nowhere to be seen. Could he have gone out? Without a word? And where to?
“Twilight?” The changeling seemed quite irritated, sitting at the table with a carrot in his mouth. “Don’t tell me there is yet another urgent thing that requires your attention?”
“What? No, no, of course not. I was just wondering where Spike went to…” The mare chose to eat an apple from the fruit basket on the counter.
In silence, save for the munching and crunching their food made, the two ate their light meals and moved down to the laboratory. The doors were in very poor shape, and Twilight couldn’t decide if she should order new ones right now. After all, their research could get unintentionally seen, and Celestia only knew what Chip would do with a stranger the librarian couldn’t vouch for in the slightest.
“Guess a spell will have to do,” she mumbled, setting an alarm spell in place. It was the least taxing thing she could do, considering she had to focus on the task at hoof. That is, changeling research.
“… Is it just me, or are we doing slow today?” asked the mare, tapping her quill at the half-filled page.
Both of them seemed quite distracted and absent-minded. Twilight couldn’t think of many good questions to ask, and Chip took forever to answer even the most basic ones. This place, the laboratory, it brought back memories. Disturbing ones. Add that to the recent drama, and it was certain that this day was not meant for work.
“Yeah … there is something in the air that I don’t like,” mumbled Chip, pacing around the room, anxious for no obvious reason. What used to feel like a secure location, one far away from pesky eyes and curious ears, now felt like a hostile den, a faint smell of dread filling the air.
“Maybe we should take a walk,” proposed Twilight, putting her writing utensils away and smiling at Chip. “You know, I read somewhere that when a mind is too focused on one thing, it simply cannot see past certain difficulties or take on a different point of view.”
“We don’t have the luxury of time to do that, Twilight Sparkle,” snarled Chip, whipping his tail slightly. Everything was irritating him now. The room, the equipment, the pages filled with text, the quills, even Twilight herself, with that bored look on her face.
“Come on, Chip. I can see you’re worked up and restless yourself. Think about it,” she said, extending a hoof to stop the nervous colt. “What would you think Celestia would want? A brilliant, informative paper that could save Equestria from the potential threat of war? Or a rushed stack of pages filled with useless facts and anecdotes?”
“Are you suggesting I’m providing you with ‘useless’ answers?” whispered the changeling, lowering his head dangerously
“No, of course not!” denied Twilight, chuckling nervously. “It’s just that …Eh, be honest. Do you feel like working right now?”
“Do you feel frustrated, angry? Does this place, I don’t know, bug you for some reason?”
“Well, that is reason enough to leave it for now. Come on, don’t be stubborn about it.”
“But what if the Princess doesn’t approve?” Chip let out a sigh, allowing his face to relax slightly.
“Listen, I’ve been there, done that. The Princess is really understanding. I once obsessed over my own research too, pretty much to the point all of Ponyville was stampeding around, crazy over my Smarty Pants doll.” She stopped to giggle at the memory, earning a clueless look from Chip. “Never mind, that’s a long story, maybe later. Bottom line is, I’m pretty certain the Princess will pardon us if we take it easy one day and rest. Breakthroughs don’t have to occur each day.”
“Eh. Maybe. Fine. Then what do you propose we do?”
“How about…” Twilight put a hoof to her mouth and smiled. “How about that ice-cream at Sugarcube Corner? It’s still fairly light outside. And I haven’t been outside the library in like ages now.”
“Outside?” Chip groaned, looking upstairs with something reminiscent of uncertainty. “But … I am a changeling. I shouldn’t be out there. Not yet anyway.”
“But you look like a pony, right? I don’t think anypony else should see through your guise, and I already told you Pinkie is trustworthy.”
“Okay, perhaps, but what if somepony comes down here? This is a public library after all. They might come looking for a book or something and stumble upon our research-”
“I’ll just close up early. Really, there is no harm in going outside every once in a while. Plus, um, we can treat it as a form of field research. For your own research, right? You still want to learn about ponies, hm?”
“Yes, yes I do,” said Chip, livening up substantially.
“Then do we both agree that going outside and getting some refreshing ice-cream is a better idea than rotting down here and banging our heads against a wall?”
“I … okay.”
With a click, the library doors were closed, and Twilight hung a “Closed, sorry!” sign. Chip was squirming at her side, having second thoughts about this whole trip thing. Yes, he was thrilled to the very core to finally get to know more ponies, observe them in their natural habitat and all that. But what if Celestia would really be displeased with his actions? He didn’t ask for permission, and the Princess did keep him under guard while he stayed at Canterlot.
Did Twilight make a mistake by taking him outside? Would they both be in trouble if the ruler of day found out about this little field trip? Would she punish him or the librarian, on maybe both? How severe would be the punishment? How did the equine punishment system work anyway?
“Wub,” started Twilight, startling the changeling into jumping. “Relax, okay? Everything will be alright. Just try and relax. Breathe in the fresh air.”
Chip listened, inhaling deeply. The smells all around flared up his nostrils, telling him stories about ponies that lived all around – some of them happy, others in love, one or two sad or depressed. It was like a giant crossroads of scents, something he barely noticed while he first came to Ponyville, still under the effect of Poison Joke. Oh! That’s a good one, their research could explore how the plant works with changelings.
“Hey. This fresh air really is working,” smiled the changeling, taking in another full breath of delicious smells.
“Told you so,” giggled Twilight, beckoning him to follow her to Sugarcube Corner, still under siege by ponies demanding sweets.
They both stood in line, one that was quite long. Twilight didn’t mind, discreetly looking at the disguised colt. His head was whipping around, ready to fall off at any moment, and his ears kept twitching and shifting as if he was listening to several things at once. He behaved far better than Twilight anticipated. She kind of feared that the changeling’s hunger would best him and that her not-too-well-thought-through plan of loosening up would fail. Hay, if it were her, the Royal Guards and Celestia herself would already be here, trying to pry Twilight away from a random, undeserving victim.
What kept his primal instincts, those strong urges, under such great control? Probably the same thing that made him resemble a pony so much. His spark, or whatever he liked to call it. Something that was nearly absent in the changeling race, a rare mutation or sign of evolution. If more changelings had it in them, would they even need to be here right now, looking for a way to defend themselves? The creatures aren’t innately evil, although they do have their own set of instincts and … reactions Twilight secretly frowns upon. But right here and now, nopony would even dare suspect that in their midst, right next to them there was a creature nearly twice as tall and bulky than themselves. A changeling that could gobble them whole, reduce them to a shivering, drooling shell.
“Oh, hi Twilight! Hi Wubsy! What can I get you guys?” asked Pinkie Pie, extending her usual smile even more than it was ponily possible.
The purple mare snapped out of her thoughts. Everypony behind her was getting restless as she ‘umm’ed and ‘aahh’ed, only now noticing she was at the front of the line.
“Uhh, strawberry, Pinkie. And hold the sauce,” she finally decided. “How about you Wub?”
“Got anything spicy? And I do mean really spicy?” asked the changeling, cocking his head. The tubs filled with colorful cold stuff smelled nice, and it was a shame he would not be able to taste it.
“Oh, you like hot stuff, huh? Well, I always have a bottle of my special rainbow sauce! In case of sauce emergency, you know. But do you know why it’s called like that? Because it’s a real rainbow!” The mare procured a bottle filled with a swirling liquid, colors shifting and changing all the time.
“Where did you get that from, Pinkie?” suspiciously asked Twilight, already licking her strawberry cone. The cold cream felt divine on her tongue, earning a thankful sigh.
“Oh, from the factory in Cloudsdale. Remember when I dipped my hoof and was all like-” Pinkie Pie stopped and performed a complicated chain of twitches, hoof jerks and wacky facial expressions, followed by a barely audible ‘Hoooot!’ “Well, that was when I scooped some into this here bottle. It’s so spicy I use it only for special cupcakes,” giggled the mare. “But I can spare some for you Wubsy, if you feel you can take it.”
Was that a challenge? Pinkie’s cocky expression, the bottle tipped over a cone of vanilla ice-cream, a small droplet dangling like a threat from the bottle’s skirt….
Narrowing his eyes, Chip shot a hoof out and tipped the container, pouring a big portion of the gooey liquid onto his future cone. The pink mare giggled as she retreated her precious special spice.
“Are you sure you want that, Chip?” asked Twilight, looking at his rainbow colored ice-cream with horror. Nopony could eat that and survive, she thought.
The changeling deadpanned. “Pfff. It will take a bit more than words to frighten me.”
To make a point, he bit the ball of ice whole and gulped it down before anypony could utter a single sigh.
Spike was returning to the library after having, well, ran away for some time. He was hiding behind the large library table when the changeling was chasing Pinkie around, and then felt his guts churn when Twilight approached the beast, who for sure was going to hurt the pink pony.
Everything turned out more or less fine, with the wacky mare shutting herself in the kitchen and Twilight talking some sense into the colt. As they both went to talk with Pinkie, Spike fled the scene, afraid that he would be the next one to get ‘the talk’. He felt like he disappointed Twilight, being unable to stop anypony from doing anything.
The dragon was about to reach for the door knob when a commotion broke out near Sugarcube Corner. A bunch of ponies rushed towards the edge of town, along the road that led to the Ponyville Hospital.
Wait. Was that Twilight running behind the stampede? Yes, it was her! But why did she look so worried?