“AHA! I knew it!” Twilight Sparkle strode forward with her jaw firmly clenched. “Who are you? How long have you been here? What did you do with the real Rainbow Dash?” Behind her, four ponies stared forward with unflinching eyes as they blocked the exits from Applejack’s barn.
“Girls, please. I wanted to tell you.” The changeling drew itself upright, still trembling from the force of Twilight’s spell. “This is me. I’m really Rainbow Dash.”
“You,” said Rarity, “are a changeling and a liar.”
"I know that! You think I don’t know that? I had to live with that every day!” The changeling shuddered. “I gotta say, I’m almost kinda glad you know now. I didn’t want you to find out like this, but… hey. This is who I am.”
“Hold up,” said Applejack. “You’re sayin’ my friend’s been a changeling all the years I’ve known her?”
“Yeah.” The changeling nodded. “All I really wanted was for someone to like me for me, y’know? So I figured, hey, why don’t I stop trying to copy someone else and let the world see how awesome I really am? But if you knew I was a changeling, nopony would give me a chance. So I did this.”
“Plausible,” said Twilight Sparkle, “and understandable if it’s true. I just don’t know if I can be sure, though.”
“So, um, what do we do?” said Fluttershy.
“The only thing we can do,” said Twilight. “Research! I remember seeing a spell to tell how long a shapeshifter’s been in one form. If we can find it, I’ll be able to tell if she’s telling the truth. Who wants to help me search the library?”
“Ooh!” Pinkie Pie bounced with excitement. “Pick me! Pick me! I love research.”
“Yyyeeeah,” said Twilight. “I remember what happened last time we tried that. Pinkie, why don’t you stay here and guard the changeling? The rest of us will handle the research.”
“Yay!” said Pinkie Pie. “I love guarding!” The other four ponies filed out, leaving her alone with the changeling that had once been Rainbow Dash.
“Pinkie, please,” said the changeling. “You believe me, right? You gotta believe me.”
“Of course I believe you, silly!” said Pinkie Pie. “I’ve been waiting for this for so so long!”
“That’s good to hear. I was kinda—wait. What?”
“Did you really think you could run away?” Pinkie Pie stalked forward with a maniacal grin splitting her face in two. “Did you really think we wouldn’t find you? Oh, you’re just so silly!”
“Pinkie Pie, you’re creeping me out!”
“I have a surprise for you, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie stopped with her face mere inches from the changeling’s. “Guess what it is!”
“Oh my gosh. He sent you, didn’t he?”
“Of course he did!” A green flash lit the barn. When it faded, a leering changeling stood where Pinkie Pie had been a moment before. “And you’ll never guess what happens now!”
“’Scuse me a moment,” said Applejack as she stuck her head in the barn. “I forgot to grab my—well, now. Look what we have here.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” said the changeling that had been Pinkie Pie.
“Girls!” Applejack rushed into the library, panting hard. “Girls! Come quick!”
Twilight looked up from a heavy tome. “Is it important? Kinda in the middle of something, here.”
“You bet your sweet tail it’s important!” Applejack gestured frantically at the three ponies before her. “We got ourselves another changeling, and I can prove it!”
“Oh, my,” said Fluttershy. “I guess there’s no use hiding it anymore.” A ring of green light rolled over her body. Where it passed, her yellow coat was replaced with chitin as black as night. “I’m sorry.”
“Fluttershy, I’m shocked!” said Rarity. “You, too?”
“Hold up,” said Applejack. “I was gonna say Pinkie Pie’s a changeling, and I tied her up in the barn. She said something about looking for Rainbow Dash for years.”
“Oh,” said the changeling that had been Fluttershy. “Just kidding?”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” said Rarity. “It seems we have a bona fide infestation on our hooves.”
“I don’t give two bits for anypony’s bones just now,” said Applejack, “but we gotta do something about all these changelings.”
“Help!” came a shout from outside the library. “Somepony help!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Just what we need. Alright, let’s go check this out, then we’ll deal with our changeling problem.”
“Filthy ponies!” The changeling wrestled with its captors, but three ponies were more than enough to hold her still. “Get your stinking hooves off me!”
“All these years!” cried the neon green unicorn as she struggled to hold the changeling in place. “I trusted you! I thought—oof!” She reeled back as an insectoid hoof-analogue connected with her gut.
Twilight Sparkle pushed her way through the crowd. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Bon-Bon!” said a brown stallion as he grappled. “She’s been replaced by a changeling!”
“You fool,” said the changeling. “I was never a pony. All I wanted was to live in peace, away from my kind!”
Twilight sighed. “Maybe there’s something in the water. We just found a whole bunch of changelings, too.”
“What? No!” screamed a mare from the watching crowd. “They’re on to us! Get them!” Green lights flashed throughout the town square. A dozen changelings advanced towards the brawl.
“It seems we’ll be getting our hooves dirty after all,” said Rarity.
Applejack spat. “Come on, y’all. This ain’t my first rodeo.”
The two of them charged at the changelings. The town square filled with flying punches and shrieks of pain.
“This is bad,” said Twilight. “This is really bad. SPIKE!”
The dragon appeared at her side. “Hey.”
“Spike, take a letter! ‘Changelings here. Send help quickly.’ Get that to the princess!”
“Sure thing.” Spike scribbled on an ever-present roll of parchment. “Is that ‘quickly’ with a K-W or a Q-U?”
“Who cares? Hurry!”
“Alright, alright.” Spike exhaled emerald flames over the letter, sending it on to its destination.
Twilight glanced around. The commotion had attracted almost the entire town, and more ponies were arriving by the second. This was getting out of control. She rushed into the brawl, laying about with kicks and blasts of magic. In a matter of minutes, Twilight and her two remaining pony friends were surrounded by a ring of unconscious changelings.
Three more changelings streaked into the town square. “Alright! Let show those—oh, wait,” said the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash. “Guess we’re too late.”
“Oops,” said the changeling that had been Fluttershy.
A blinding flash of white light appeared above them. “TWILIGHT!” boomed the voice of Princess Celestia. “DO NOT WORRY. HELP IS HERE.” The princess descended from the sky.
“Actually,” said Twilight “I think we’ve already taken care of—”
Another flash of white light, brighter than the first, and rows of royal guards were in the square with Shining Armor at their head. “Twilie!” he cried. “What’s going on?”
“A whole bunch of changelings tried to—”
The next flash was a dazzling cobalt. “HAVE NO FEAR, TWILIGHT SPARKLE,” said Princess Luna. “WE HAVE COME TO YOUR AID.”
Two princesses and half a hundred soldiers converged on Twilight Sparkle. “What seems to be the problem?” said Princess Celestia.
“Well, there’s all these changelings,” said Twilight.
“Also there was some sort of trouble about bones,” said Applejack.
“I see,” said Princess Celestia. “Shining Armor, take the changelings into custody.”
“HOLD,” said Princess Luna.
“Huh? But why?” said Twilight.
“YOU FOOLS HAVE FALLEN INTO MY TRAP. THIS IS JUST AS I PLANNED.” A column of green light enveloped Princess Luna. When it faded, the changeling queen stood in her place.
“Wait,” said the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash. “What?”
“WHAT?” Princess Celestia’s voice echoed across the town square.
“What.” said Twilight Sparkle.
Princess Celestia recovered her composure. “GUARDS!” she shouted. “Seize her!”
Queen Chrysalis only grinned. “Reveal yourselves, my minions,” she said.
Shining Armor saluted. He transformed into a changeling, as did the guards behind him.
“Oh, come on!” said Rarity.
Princess Celestia glared at the thing that was once her sister. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I am taking over your pathetic country,” said Queen Chrysalis. “But first, one little thing. One of these ponies used to be one of my subjects, but she tried to escape. That ends now. You will return her to me.”
“Oh!” said Applejack. “You mean Rainbow Dash. Or not Rainbow Dash. That changeling, anyway.”
Chrysalis looked at the changeling Applejack indicated. “No,” she said. “Not that one. Captain! Tear this town apart until you find my changeling.”
“At once!” said the changeling that had been Shining Armor.
“Wait!” came a voice from the crowd. “I’m the one you want.” The crowd parted to let an amber mare step forward.
“Miss Mayor?” said Applejack. “You’re a changeling?”
“I’m afraid so.” The mayor dropped her illusion, revealing her true changeling form. “You see, I was once the foremost general of the changeling queen’s armies. I spent my life fighting ponies who had the one thing I always desired—true love, freely given. After many years, I couldn’t take any more. I ran. I created this form, and I came to Ponyville. All I wanted was to earn the respect of—”
“Alright, alright,” said Twilight. “We all know the genre.”
“A moment,” said Rarity. “If the changeling queen is looking for you, then who’s looking for Rainbow Dash? Or not Rainbow Dash, but—oh, you know what I mean.”
“I am!” The crowd parted once again as yet another pony approached.
The ponies stared. Rarity spoke first. “Mister Cake,” she said flatly.
“Of course! Every pony needs bread. What better disguise to keep track of the whole town?”
“And you would be what, exactly? The changeling king?”
“I,” said the ersatz baker, “am Lord Chitin.” A green flash, and he was a regal changeling of a height with Queen Chrysalis, but with a broader, more powerful build. “The hive is mine by right of birth, and I intend to claim it from my dear queen. This day marks the culmination of years of planning. Your false friend there,” he gestured at the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash, “is but a minor problem. She will be dealt once my rule is secure. Now, my servants, come to me.”
The changeling that had been Pinkie Pie bowed and approached Lord Chitin. Green flickers speckled the crowd as several dozen changelings dropped their disguises and assembled behind their master, including—
“Twilight?” Princess Celestia was lost, almost dazed. “You, too?”
“Of course,” said the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle. “I’ve had years to study the most powerful, most closely guarded secrets of ponykind. Now, dear teacher, you’ll see what I have learned.” She grinned a fanged grin.
“Cute,” said Queen Chrysalis, “but futile. You are still outnumbered. Captain! Seize the traitors!”
Lord Chitin threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, I think not, my dear queen. Captain, show her who you truly follow.” The changeling that had been Shining Armor grinned and advanced towards Chrysalis, fangs bared. “You see,” continued Chitin, “during the chaos after your failed coup at the wedding, I managed to replace the captain of the guard with one of my own followers. Amusingly enough, this captain is the brother of my false Twilight Sparkle.”
“Wait a minute, now,” said Applejack. “You mean the real Shining Armor is related to that—that—” she pointed at the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle. “To that?”
“No,” said the changeling that had been Shining Armor. “Of course not.”
The changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle rolled her compound eyes. “The real Shining Armor is no longer relevant. My brother there is the false Shining Armor, who we put in place after the wedding.” She paused. “Of course, the Shining Armor we replaced turned out to be one of the queen’s changelings, impersonating Shining Armor. Boy, was that awkward when we found out.”
“Excuse me?” One of the guard-turned-changelings raised a hoof-analogue. “So who am I working for, now?”
“ME!” roared both changeling leaders. The guards exchanged confused glances.
“Enough,” said Queen Chrysalis. “With or without the guards, I have more than enough minions to defeat you. Assist me, all of you!”
Rarity looked up in surprise. “But our cover—”
“Is no longer relevant,” finished Chrysalis. “Look around, you fool.”
"Yes, my queen.” Rarity transformed into a changeling, as did Applejack, Spike, and most of the remaining onlookers.
“You see?” said Chrysalis. “I am unstoppable! Ah hahahaha!”
“You underestimate my loyal guardschangelings,” said Lord Chitin.
“But wait,” said a guard. “I’m not sure who—”
Lord Chitin ignored the interruption. “Your reign ends this day, my dear queen. I’ll crush your little army like so many bugs.”
“We’ll see,” said Chrysalis. “But before we fight, let’s catch those runaways. I don’t want them getting away during the battle.”
“Agreed,” said Chitin. “Guards! Seize Rainbow Dash!”
"Sorry, where?” said the changeling that had been Shining Armor. “I don’t see her.”
“That changeling! The one who was pretending to be Rainbow Dash! Just start seizing!”
The changeling captain advanced. Many of the guards hesitantly followed him. The changeling that had been Rainbow Dash backed away. “Hey, now, guys,” she said. “We’re buddies, right? Friends?”
“Now just a minute!” Granny Smith tottered forward, interposing herself between the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash and the oncoming guardschangelings. “You whippersnappers want her, yer gonna have to get through me.”
“You,” said the changeling who was once Shining Armor. “An old, weak pony.”
“Sure looks like that, don’t it?” She grinned. “But y’all already know things ain’t always what they look like.” An emerald flash replaced the decrepit pony with a snarling changeling in the prime of youth.
“Woah!” said the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash. “Cool!”
Lord Chitin shot an exasperated glance at his rival. “Another little trick, my dear?”
“No,” said Queen Chrysalis with a small frown. “No, this is something else.”
“Eeyup.” The changeling that had been Macintosh dropped his disguise and stood beside his ostensible grandmother. A couple dozen more changelings discarded their pony forms and joined them.
“We are the New Larval Republic!” said the changeling that had been Snails.
“That’s right,” said the changeling that had been Berry Punch. “We came here to get away from you tyrants and your games. We just wanted to live among the ponies in peace, but we’re not going to let you take away an innocent changeling who’s only trying to be free!”
Lord Chitin smirked. “As if there are enough of you to stop us.”
“Oh, but there are,” said the changeling that had been Berry Punch. She gave a short, sharp whistle. Green lights burst from all sides of the town square as the park benches, lampposts, fountains, and mailboxes transformed into changelings. “You’re surrounded, you big bully.”
“Hold it,” said the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle. “Hold it!”
The assembled mobs, gangs, and armies turned towards her. “What?” said Lord Chitin.
“Look around you,” said the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle. The town square was filled with gleaming fangs and translucent wings as far as the eye could see. “Is anyone here actually a pony? Are ponies even a real thing?”
There was silence as the former townsponies took stock of the situation.
“I’m a pony,” said Princess Celestia.
“Nah, you’re an alicorn,” said the changeling that had been Applejack. “Totally different.”
“But wait,” said Princess Celestia. “If all of you are changelings, then where is my sister?”
“Still on the moon, of course,” said Queen Chrysalis. “She never returned. It’s been me all along.”
“No, no,” said Lord Chitin. “The false Luna who was banished was, in reality, my own sister.”
Celestia quite literally glowed with inner fire. “THEN WHERE. IS. MY SISTER?”
Chitin shrugged. “It’s been a thousand years. You can’t expect me to keep track of every little detail. Now, are there any more interruptions, or can we move on to the part where I rise triumphant over all?”
“Not just yet, I’m afraid,” said the changeling that had been Rarity.
“Oh, what now?” Chitin hissed.
"I have a revelation as well. You see, I am not working for the queen after all. I have, in fact, been spying for the New Larval Republic. Now that battle is to be joined, I see no need to keep up this façade.” The changeling that had been Rarity moved to stand with her faction.
“Traitor!” shrieked Queen Chrysalis.
“Yes, quite. Spike, Sweetie Belle, would you be so good as to join me?”
“You know, my real name isn’t actually Spike.”
“Close enough. Are you coming or not?”
“Yeah, of course,” said the changeling that had been Spike. He rushed to join Rarity, along with the changeling that had been Sweetie Belle.
The changeling that had been Rarity turned to the guardschangelings. “How about you? Wouldn’t you like to live free of, uh, free of whichever royal oppressor you’re currently following?”
Queen Chrysalis cast a worried look at Lord Chitin. “This Republic is growing too powerful,” she said.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Lord Chitin. “Changelings of the New Larval Republic!” he bellowed. “Help me defeat the queen today, and I shall not threaten your independence.”
“ENOUGH!” shouted Chrysalis. “Forward, my minions, and seize that changeling!”
A hush fell across the town square. “Well?” said Chrysalis. “What are you waiting for?”
“Beg pardon,” said the changeling that had been Applejack, “but am I one of your minions? I done lost track.”
“Yes! Yes you are!”
“What about me?” asked a guardschangeling.
“Of course! You, too!”
“No, wait,” said another guard. “I thought we went over to the NLR.”
“But weren’t we working for Chitin?” said the changeling that had been Shining Armor.
“Same difference,” said the first guardschangeling. “The NLR is working for Chitin now.”
“No we’re not!” said the changeling that had been Snails.
“Everyone QUIET!” shouted the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle. Changelings stopped their bickering to listen. “That’s better. Now, let’s try to work this out like civilized po—uh, like civilized changelings. Spike, get me some—”
“I’m not actually Spike.”
“Whatever. Just get me some graph paper. Flowcharts are the only thing that can save us now. If I can get the leaders over here, please, we’ll get this straightened out.”
Lord Chitin cleared his throat. “And why should I go along with this instead of, say, crushing you all and sorting out the details after?”
“If we just let chaos break out here,” said the changeling that had been Twilight Sparkle, “anyone with half a dozen followers will think she can start her own faction.”
“A dangerous precedent,” agreed Chitin. “Very well.” He joined the changelings clustered around the former Twilight Sparkle and her newly-acquired graph paper.
"But what about my ponies?” Princess Celestia wailed.
“I’m having enough trouble keeping track of my own subjects,” said Queen Chrysalis. “This pony thing is your problem.”
Princess Celestia gasped and sank to her knees before curling into a quivering ball of horse.
Changelings milled about the town square as the leaders debated. Occasional snippets of an argument escaped their conclave: “…long after I had convinced them to…” “…actually working for the fake…” “…replaced her with a proxy by the time you…”
The changeling that had been Rainbow Dash sidled up alongside the changeling that had been Applejack. “So, uh, you wanna go find some lunch while they work all this out?”
The changeling that had been Applejack took a cautious step away. “Hold up. Ain’t we supposed to be enemies?”
“Maybe? I’ve got no buzzing idea.”
The changeling that had been Applejack shrugged. “Sure, let’s go. They ain’t gonna miss us just yet.” The two changelings wandered away from the town square. “So did anyone ever get to the bottom of that business with the bones?”
“We’re insects, AJ. We don’t have bones.”
“Guess it’s settled, then.”
“I guess,” said the changeling that had been Rainbow Dash. “Do you think we should keep an eye on them? You know, in case something actually does happen?”
“You fools!” came a high-pitched shriek from the square. “I have you all right where I want you, for I am secretly a double changeling!”
“Nope,” said the changeling that had been Applejack. “I reckon we can just steer clear for a while.”