Earlier, at the party...
Twilight stepped out the side door of the barn right behind Rainbow Dash, the transition to the cool nighttime air causing her to shiver. She was not too impressed with how her friend had just treated Novel, and was interested to know what excuse the pegasus could possibly have for having acted like that.
Dash looked around, making sure there wasn’t anypony else within earshot, before turning back to her friend. “So, Twilight, that was Novel Tale, right?” she asked with a very serious look on her face.
“Yes, that’s what I said his name was,” Twilight replied sternly.
“The same Novel that wrote those books you tried to get me to read?” Dash continued.
After the success of the Daring Do series, Twilight had tried introducing Rainbow Dash to some other books. Dash had read the first few books in Novel’s series, but had ultimately decided that they had too much talking and not enough action for her tastes.
Twilight's scowl was replaced with a look of confusion. “Umm... yes?” she responded hesitantly, suddenly unsure where Dash was going with this.
“The same Novel whose latest book had that changeling character you told me about?”
Dash had stopped reading Novel’s series, but she and Twilight still talked about their respective favorite stories from time to time, and Twilight had told Dash all about Novel’s latest book and the changeling creature that was in it.
“A changeling character that was exactly like the changelings we fought in Canterlot?”
Twilight had been so busy since the invasion, first finishing the wedding and helping organize the cleanup in Canterlot, then helping prepare for the influx of refugee ponies to Ponyville, that she actually hadn’t noticed the similarities before. Now that Dash mentioned it though, she was absolutely right. Aside from some color differences, the changeling character described in the book was nearly identical to the ones that attacked Canterlot. But nopony had known that changelings were even real, let alone what they actually looked like, before the attack...
Twilight’s eyes slowly widened in shock as she realized what her friend was implying. “Dash, you don’t think that Novel...”
“Yeah, I do, Twilight,” Dash said, nodding grimly. She flapped her wings, lifting a few inches off the ground, and floated right up to Twilight so that they were face to face. “I think that Novel might be a changeling,” she said ominously before backing off again.
“No... No, that’s crazy!” Twilight exclaimed, shaking her head in disbelief. “That can’t be!” Novel was one of her favorite fiction authors, somepony she looked up to. The possibility that he had been replaced by a changeling was a bit much for her to take in all at once.
“Think about it, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash insisted. “How else could he have known so much about what changelings are like?” She jabbed a hoof at her chest. “I think that he was replaced, and that latest book wasn’t really written by Novel Tale at all.”
“But his latest book had the exact same writing style as all his other books!” Twilight said, still not quite willing to accept what Dash was saying. “I was able to tell that there something was wrong with Cadance because Chrysalis couldn’t replicate her personality, and I hadn’t seen Cadance in years! You know how much I love reading, Rainbow. I definitely would have been able to notice if somepony other than Novel had written that last book!”
Dash shrugged, not having an answer to that one. “Look, Twi, maybe it’s just a big coincidence. Maybe that pony really is Novel and he just got lucky at guessing what changelings looked like.” She crossed her hooves over her chest. “All I’m saying is, this is way too important for us to not at least look into.”
Rainbow Dash did have a point. If there was evidence that somepony was actually a changeling, then it was their duty to investigate, and the facts that Dash had brought to light were a bit much to brush off as just a coincidence. Twilight gritted her teeth for a moment before sighing in defeat. “Alright, Dash. We’ll... talk to him about it first thing tomorrow morning. For now, lets just try to enjoy the rest of the party.”
Dash grinned. “Thanks, Twi.”
Twilight found Novel Tale sitting by the snack table with a stunned expression on his face, a plate with a slice cake in one hoof, and a fork hanging out of his mouth. “Enjoying yourself, Novel?”
“This... this has to be some of the best cake I’ve ever had!” He replied in awe. “In fact, this must be some of the best food I’ve ever had, period!”
A small grin crept onto Twilight’s face. “Yeah, Pinkie is a great baker, especially when it comes to parties. She really puts her heart and soul into everything that goes into making these events, including the food.” She chuckled quietly to herself. “I guess you could say it was made with plenty of love and care.”
Twilight tried to keep the upbeat mood she had had when she had had first arrived, but the conversation she had just had with Rainbow was weighing heavily on her mind. The possibility that she was talking to a changeling who had replaced one of her favorite authors was doing a terribly effective job at preventing her from enjoying herself. Still, she tried to do her best to hide it. She didn't want to bring his mood down as well if it turned out Dash was wrong.
Fortunately, he seemed to be enjoying himself too much to notice. She spent the rest of the night not letting Novel out of her sight. He ended up eating a lot more cake, playing some pin the tail on the pony, and he even participated in some strange game Pinkie had dug out of somewhere that involved spinning a dial and placing your hooves on colored spots on a mat on the ground.
Much like a number of other ponies at the party, he partied the rest of the night until he finally collapsed from exhaustion. Twilight carried him back to her house with the help of her magic and tucked him away in the guest bed. She wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow...
The next morning...
Novel was roused out of a deep sleep, not by the sun shining through the windows—though the morning sun was indeed shining brightly—but by a strange combination of emotions being directed at him. Some fear, some anxiety and apprehension, some anger and suspicion? He slowly opened his eyes to find Twilight and the five mares she had introduced him to at the party, all standing, and in the case of a certain pegasus, flying, off to one side of his bed, watching him intently. The baby dragon that had helped move him in, Spike, if he recalled correctly, was nowhere to be seen. Still not fully awake, he wondered what they could possibly be doing here when he recalled the events of the party last night. With his mind longer clouded by an emotional energy overdose, he was quickly able to put the cyan pegasus’ reaction to him and Twilight’s more somber mood afterwards together with his bedside greeting this morning. Any remaining drowsiness quickly gave way to a sinking feeling of dread; he really hoped this wasn’t about what he thought it was.
“M-morning girls...” he said as he got out of bed. He tried to act as though nothing was out of the ordinary, but it was no use. He wasn’t very good at handling pressure even under the best of circumstances, and this was already easily turning out to be the worst situation he had ever found himself in. “Is this, uhh...” He gulped noisily. “Is this how you usually wake up guests?”
Twilight’s expression looked very serious with some undertones of reluctance. Novel didn't need to focus on her to know that she was the source of the apprehension being directed at him. “Novel,” she hesitantly began, “we... need to talk about something.”
Any hope he still had that he was just misinterpreting the situation completely evaporated. He had to try deter this conversation, anything to buy some time to think. “Talk? Well, I-I’d love to, but, I’m... uhh... I’m just too hungry to even think straight right now!” He chuckled nervously to himself. “I’m sure that whatever it is can wait until after breakfast, right?” he said with a forced smile as he moved past the mares towards the stairs.
He made it to the top of the stairwell before Twilight spoke again. “It’s about your latest book, Novel. The one with the changeling in it.”
He froze with his front hoof about to take the first step down the stairs and slowly turned around to look at Twilight, fighting to keep the smile he really wasn’t feeling on his face. “W-what about my latest book?”
Twilight’s ears folded back against her head as she began; it was clear that she wasn’t happy to be talking about this. “Novel, that description you gave of the changeling... it was almost identical to the changelings that attacked Canterlot. Nopony knew what changelings looked like, or that they were even real, before that. It’s... a bit too much for us to pass off as a coincidence.” She averted her eyes and looked down towards the floor. “What we’re trying to say is...”
“Novel, we think you’re a changeling!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she pointed a hoof at him from where she hovered in the air, apparently having had enough of Twilight prancing around the subject.
Any hint of control he still had was completely gone now. This was easily the worst morning in the history of Equestria. “W-what?! T-that’s just crazy talk! Come on, l-let’s just all forget about that a-and go get some breakfast!”
“You’re not getting off that easy, pal!” Dash shouted, “This is serious!” She dashed forward a few feet towards Novel to drive the point home.
Novel sidestepped what he thought was going to be a charge. Unfortunately, he had forgotten he was standing next to a flight of stairs and stepped right off the top step. He made record time down the rest of the stairs.
“Oh my goodness!” Fluttershy shouted, any fear over Novel possibly being a changeling instantly forgotten. She immediately took off down the stairs with a flap of her wings to see if he was okay.
The rest of the mares stood there a few more moments, stunned at what had just happened. Twilight was the first to recover and ran towards the stairs, though she was dreading what she would find. Based on Novel’s reactions, she suspected now that Dash’s suspicions were actually right. She skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs and looked down.
Sure enough, there was Fluttershy at the bottom of the stairs, cradling an unconscious changeling in her hooves.
Applejack quickly joined Twilight at the top of the stairs, and her eyes bugged out at what she saw. “Land sakes! You were right, Dash, he was a changeling!”
Dash quickly flew over to the stairs and looked down. “I knew it!” she shouted angrily. “I’m gonna buck his head clean into his torso!” She dashed down the stairs, but only made it a few feet when her tail was caught in a purple glow.
“Hold it, Dash, we can’t just rush into this,” said Twilight, her horn aglow.
Surprisingly, Fluttershy was the next to speak. “Twilight’s right, Rainbow Dash,” she said, not looking up from her examination of the potentially injured creature she held in her hooves. “This changeling is already hurt because of us, and hurting him even more is the last thing we should do.”
Rainbow Dash had an incredulous look on her face. “What!? Are you serious? He’s a changeling, he—”
Fluttershy turned to glare at her. It wasn’t quite The Stare, but it was enough to stop Dash’s words in her throat. “He hasn’t done anything to harm us yet, or shown any signs of intending to,” she said confidently, her voice laced with steel. She looked back down to her patient. “He deserves nothing but the same kindness we would show any other pony.”
Even given the seriousness of the situation, Twilight couldn’t help but grin slightly at the shocked expression on Dash’s face at having been cut off by Fluttershy of all ponies. “And that’s not the only reason, Rainbow.” She moved down the stairs, the others following. “It’s just not a good idea in general to act so rashly when there’s so much we still don’t know.”
“What’s there to know!? He’s a changeling!” Dash shouted. “They attacked Canterlot; they’re the bad guys!”
“We can’t just assume that!” Twilight shouted back at Dash. “For all we know, this changeling might have nothing to do with the changelings that attacked Canterlot!” Having reached the bottom of the stairs, Fluttershy gently laid the changeling on the ground as Twilight approached to examine it more closely. “For instance, this changeling has a different coloration than the changelings that attacked Canterlot.”
“Yes, I couldn’t help but notice that myself,” Rarity said. “That sky blue... back plate thing, is a much more appealing color than that dark, navy blue the other changelings had.”
Twilight leaned down to the changeling's face and opened one of his eyelids with a hoof. "His eyes are a different color as well."
"They are?" Rarity asked, clearly intrigued. She stepped around to the front to get a look and smiled at what she saw. "My my, that is a simply lovely shade of magenta!"
Twilight smiled for real this time. She could always count on her friends to act like themselves, even in strange situations like this.
Dash, however, wasn’t impressed. “Ok, so he’s a different color! Big deal!”
"That's not all, Dash," Twilight continued. "He hasn't been acting like the other changelings, either. You weren’t with him all night, so you wouldn’t have noticed, but I could tell that he really did seem to be enjoying himself at the party last night.”
Dash snorted dismissively. “He was probably just pretending to enjoy the party to lure us into a false sense of security!”
“Nope! Twilight’s right, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie said, hopping up into the air to get her friend's attention. “I get a twitchy eyelid and a quivery lip whenever somepony isn’t enjoying one of my parties, but didn’t get any of those last night, so he must have been enjoying himself!”
“We don’t even know if your Pinkie Sense works with changelings!”
Twilight let out a quiet growl. “Dash, that is enough! Why can’t you just give this changeling a chance?!”
Dash crossed her hooves defiantly over her chest. “Look, Twilight, if it was a pony, a griffon, or even a diamond dog, I’d be willing to let them talk. But this is a changeling!” She gestured with her hooves dramatically as she continued. “They attacked Canterlot, their queen hurt Princess Celestia! We would have all ended up trapped in cocoons with all of our emotions sucked out or something if Shining Armor and Cadance hadn’t done that magic wave thing they did! Unless they’ve stuck their neck out for one of us, then there’s no way I’m giving one of them a chance!”
Applejack looked thoughtful for a moment before frowning. “You know, Twi, I’m afraid I’m gonna hafta side with Dash on this one. It’s true that we don’t have any proof that this here critter is on the same side as the ones what attacked Canterlot, but at the same time, I think it’s just too durn risky to keep him here. Now, I dunno ‘bout beating the stuffing outa the feller,” she shot Rainbow Dash a disapproving glance, ”but I think we should at least let Princess Celestia know about this right quick so that she and the Royal Guard can take care of it themselves.”
Twilight's looked to the floor and gritted her teeth as she thought. Her practical side knew that Applejack was right; keeping a changeling around was a very risky thing to do. However, largely based on his actions at the party last night, she had a strong gut feeling that this particular changeling wasn’t a threat to them. If they let Princess Celestia know that they had found a changeling, she would probably have a sky carriage arrive in Ponyville to pick him up before he even woke up, and she didn’t want to subject him to that if he really didn’t mean them any harm. If only she had some kind of evidence that he truly wasn’t on the same side as Chrysalis, then she could—
Twilight's face suddenly lit up. “Wait, this changeling has actually helped us out before!” she said excitedly.
Dash’s face screwed up in confusion. “What?”
“Back in Canterlot, when we were making a run for the Elements of Harmony, he stopped another changeling that was about to take me down!”
Applejacks eyes widened in shock. “That’s right! I plum forgot all ‘bout that!” she said. “A changeling had leapt from a roof and was fixing to ride you like he was at a rodeo, but Novel knocked him outa the air with a bolt of magic right before he could land on ya! If’n it really is this feller what wrote that book, then it musta also been him that saved ya!”
Dash looked shocked. “Seriously!? Is that why you two were lagging behind? And you didn’t tell any of us!?”
Twilight blushed and rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. “Well, we were kind of busy afterwards fighting a small army of changelings, and then with the wedding party later, I kinda forgot...”
“Yeah, there was a lot of stuff happenin’, but that ain’t no excuse for forgetting somepony doing us a favor like that.” She pulled her hat down over her face in embarrassment. “Well, shucks, now I feel right terrible, about to condemn this feller after he’d stuck his neck out fer us.”
Dash stared at Applejack is disbelief. “Not you, too, AJ!”
“Consarn it, Dash!” Applejack slammed a hoof into the floor for emphasis. “This feller has done us a good turn, so the least we can do is give him a chance to explain himself!”
Dash crossed her forelegs and hovered in the air for a short while, looking at Applejack defiantly. “Alright then, fine,” she finally said with a sigh. “We won’t immediately kick his flank and ship him off to Princess Celestia.” She turned to look to Twilight. “So what’s the plan, egghead?”
Twilight gave a relieved sigh before continuing. “Well, like I said, there’s a lot of questions here that we don’t have answers to. And the quickest way to get answers is to ask!”
“What, so we’re just going to talk to him all nice like?” Dash asked sarcastically.
“Of course not.” Twilight looked back down to the changeling on the floor. “We still don’t know how trustworthy he is, especially now that his cover is blown. We’ll have to make sure he’s properly restrained while we get some information from him.”
“Oh, you mean an interrogation, huh? Just like what those Neighzi's did to Daring Do in Daring Do and the Platinum Crown!” Dash rubbed her forehooves together and grinned wickedly. “Now that I can get behind! So how are we gonna do this?” she asked eagerly.
Twilight looked at Dash knowingly. “I am going to make sure he’s properly restrained and take him into the basement. No offense, Dash, but I don’t think I’d be able to get a straight answer out of him if you were around. Especially not with how you feel about him.”
“I’m afraid I would have to agree with Twilight on that point, darling,” Rarity said.
Dash crossed her hooves and gave Twilight a disappointed look. “Fine...”
Rarity turned back to Twilight. “But, Twilight, dear, are you certain you can handle this interrogation on your own?”
“It’s just one changeling, I’m sure I can handle it,” Twilight said, with just a hint of uncertainty in her voice. Interrogation methods was a topic she’d never done research on. She had read a few stories with interrogation scenes though, including one of Novel’s own books, ironically enough. She would have liked to properly research interrogation techniques, but there simply wasn’t any time for that sort of thing. “I know a lie detecting spell, so it’s not like he can trick me or anything. I just have to act real angry and intimidating, right?”
“Yep, and shine a bright light in his face, too!” Pinkie said excitedly.