Twilight was slowly roused out of her sleep by the feeling that something was watching her. She tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but it was no use. It had taken her nearly an hour to fall asleep the previous night and she was actually tired then. There was no way it was going to happen now that she was somewhat rested.
She reluctantly opened her eyes to see a small changeling sitting on the floor near her bed, staring at her.
It had been a rough night for her. Between the not quite so comfortable gel bed, the lack of a blanket, and a mind that wouldn’t slow down, she had tossed and turned all night. And now to be awakened like this? Twilight wasn’t in the best of moods.
“What, haven’t you ever seen a pony before?” she asked testily.
“No,” the small changeling said. “I’m still too young to leave the hive, so you’re the first pony I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh. I see.” Well, this was awkward. She sat up in her bed. “Uh, well, for future reference, ponies don’t really like being stared at, especially when they’re sleeping.”
“Okay,” the changeling said as he continued to stare at her.
Twilight fidgeted and tried to smile. This whole situation was making her more than a little uncomfortable. She had to do something to get him out of the room.
“Uh... oh! Could you go find Nurex and tell him that I’m awake now?”
“Okay.” The changeling finally stopped staring at her, lifted into the air, and buzzed out of the room.
Twilight sighed in relief. Now with some privacy, she got out of bed and gathered her saddlebags. She wished she had a mirror to make sure she looked presentable, but then again she hadn't brought a brush or anything so she supposed it was a moot point. After a quick glance out the entrance of her room to get her bearings, she teleported down into the central cavern to wait for Nurex. A quick glance at the crystal pillar in the center of the cavern told her that it was past noon, if she was reading that correctly. She was shocked that she had slept in so late! She hoped her friends wouldn’t be too worried...
As she waited, she noticed that the changelings going about seemed different today. They seemed a bit less energetic, a bit down and distracted. Every now and then, one of them would give her an odd look. She may not have any emotion sensing abilities, but she could swear those looks were full of apprehension and a bit of hope. Did Polistae finally get around to spreading the news of what had happened? This was a surprisingly mild reaction if that was the case. If this was Ponyville, there would be rioting in the streets!
Lost in thought about this as she was, she didn’t notice Nurex approaching. “Good morning, Twilight!” he said cheerfully.
She turned towards him in surprise. “Oh! Good morning, Nurex.” She glanced back at the crystal pillar. “Or, I guess afternoon would be more accurate.”
Nurex looked at the pillar as well. “Yeah, you really slept in late.” He turned back to look at her. “Is that a normal thing for you?”
“No, quite the opposite,” she said with a shake of her head. “I’m usually a very early riser, but then I’ve never slept in a changeling hive before.” Her expression turned serious. “Nurex, everyone seems different today. Did Polistae release the news of what happened?”
Nurex’s cheerful expression dimmed slightly. “Yeah, she did earlier this morning. Everyone is kind of afraid of what’s going to happen, but we all trust in our queen to see us through. She thinks this book of yours is the best bet we have to fix our terrible first impression among ponies, so we're all hoping that you can make something happen.”
That explained some of the looks she had been getting. What had started out as a quest for academic fame was turning into one of the most important tasks she’d had since vanquishing Discord!
Twilight put a hoof to her chest, a solemn look on her face. “Nurex, I promise that I’ll do everything I can to make sure this works out. I won’t leave your queen or your hive disappointed.” She blinked as she remembered something. “Speaking of Queen Polistae, how did that talk you had with her go?”
He looked to the side and gave a small shrug. “It wasn’t so bad. I still got a pretty stern talking to because for the whole book thing, but considering how badly everything could have gone, she’s actually pretty happy with how things have turned out.” His face broke out into a smile. “Oh, and I also asked her about getting some things for you!”
Twilight hadn’t noticed until now that Nurex had a rough set of saddlebags made of hardened emorphic gel. He levitated them off his back and deposited them on the ground near Twilight. They were a simple affair, little more than a pair of bags with a connecting portion between them. She peered inside.
It was some chunks of the glowing crystals and some small cocoons of emorphic gel. Her eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh, I had completely forgotten about asking Queen Polistae for samples to take back with me!” She wrapped her hooves around him in a hug. “Thank you so much, Nurex!”
Nurex awkwardly returned her embrace, unused to such physical interaction in his natural form. “I-it’s really no big deal, Twilight! I just want you to be able to do the best job you can on this book of yours.”
Twilight withdrew from him. “I still really appreciate it, Nurex.” She rearranged some of the materials in her own saddlebags to make room for the samples and transferred them over. “I should probably get going then. I’m sure my friends are starting to get worried.”
His face lit up. “Oh, about that! Queen Polistae decided that it would be best if I went back with you, in case you have any more questions about changelings.”
“Really?" She smiled. "I'm glad to hear that! Are you ready to go, then?”
“Yep!” Nurex said excitedly.
“All right then, time to head back to Ponyville!”
Novel exited the White Tail Woods in high spirits. The trip so far had been uneventful, with Art Style wishing them both good luck on the way out having been the most notable thing.
“Ah, it’s so nice to be back under the sun!” Novel said as he looked up into the sky, only a few clouds marring the perfect blue color. He turned back to Twilight who was trailing behind a ways, still under the shade of the forest canopy. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the hive, but I’ve been living as a pony for so long that I really enjoy the sun now, too. It’s kind of funny actually, I—”
A rainbow blur fell out of the sky and slammed Novel into the ground. “Ha! I’ve got you now, mister bug pony! Now what have you done with Twilight!?”
Twilight trotted out into the sunlight. “Rainbow Dash! What do you think you’re doing!?” she demanded, looking none too pleased with her friend.
Dash had a dazed Novel pinned to the ground and responded without taking her eyes from him. “I’ve been waiting out here all morning, waiting for this bug pony to come out so I could be sure you were—” Her head whipped up towards Twilight as she finally realized who she was talking to. “Twilight! You’re okay?” She got off from on top of Novel and trotted over to Twilight.
Twilight gave a sigh of exasperation. “Yes, Dash, of course I'm okay. I told you I would be, didn’t I? What did you think was going to happen?”
Dash looked at her disbelievingly. “You mean you went to a changeling hive, and met a changeling queen, all by yourself, and nothing bad happened?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she answered with a simple nod.
Dash looked crestfallen. “But... I was sure that something was going to happen, and that you’d need our help, and...”
Twilight put a sympathetic hoof around Dash’s shoulder. “Look, Dash, I know that you've just been really worried about me, and I really appreciate that. It’s something that any good friend would do. But you really need to exercise a bit more restraint.”
Dash's expression suddenly turned suspicious. She threw Twilight's hoof off her back and backed up a few steps. “Hey, wait a second! How do I know you're not just a changeling pretending to be Twilight?” she asked, glaring at Twilight.
Twilight raised a brow. “You really want me to prove that I'm Twilight?”
“Yeah, that's right!” she shouted, stomping a hoof into the ground. “Prove to me that you're not a changeling!”
Twilight smirked. “Would a changeling know about that party Pinkie threw last month where you and Caramel got a bit too deep in the cider and—”
“Whoa, whoa, hey!” Dash waved her hooves wildly in a gesture to stop, her eyes wide and face turning red. “Alright, I believe you! You really are Twilight! Geez...”
“Good,” Twilight said. She looked past Dash to see Novel getting up off the ground. “Now, I think you owe somepony an apology.”
“What?” She followed Twilight’s gaze towards the approaching Novel, who was glaring at her. “Oh! Uh...” She sheepishly rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Yeah, so uh... heh, sorry about dive bombing you like that, Novel. I... guess you’re not actually that bad of a bug pony after all.” She offered a hoof. “So, are we cool?”
Novel continued glaring at Dash for a moment, then glanced at Twilight before finally accepting her hoofshake. “Yeah, we’re cool.”
“Awesome!” She lifted up into the air. “So hey, you two are heading back to the library, right?” Twilight nodded. “Great! I’ll come with. I gotta admit, I’m kinda curious about what a changeling hive is like.”
“Now, the most fascinating thing was the emorphic gel! I’ve never seen a magical lattice framework quite so...”
Rainbow Dash was floating listlessly alongside Twilight, now regretting having asked her about the hive. Of course Twilight would go into full egghead mode if she asked her about what had happened! She thought she was going to go crazy when a suitable distraction finally presented itself and she immediately perked up. “Oh hey, Twilight! We’re almost back in Ponyville now!” She landed next to Twilight leaned in close. “You probably shouldn’t be talking about that kind of stuff where other ponies could hear you, right?”
Twilight stopped in mid sentence to take in her surroundings. “Oh my goodness, you’re right, Dash! I had gotten so caught up in telling you everything that I completely lost track of where we were!”
Dash pressed her advantage. “Sorry I couldn’t listen to the rest of your story, Twilight, but I have some, uh... cloudbusting to do!” She lifted back up into the air and waved. “See ya, Twi. I’ll catch you later!”
“Bye, Dash!” Twilight waved back as Rainbow Dash flew off. “Well, that was a pleasant stroll, wasn’t it?” She turned to Novel and noticed he had a frown on his face. “Something wrong, Novel?”
“Rainbow Dash still doesn’t like me all that much. I wasn't getting any positive emotions from her at all. She didn’t even say goodbye to me just now...”
Twilight smiled in response. “Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about that.” She continued walking again, Novel falling into step behind her. “Dash just takes a while to warm up to ponies, is all. She’s a bit too suspicious for her own good sometimes.” She chuckled. “In fact, when I first moved to Ponyville, she thought I was in league with Nightmare Moon! Just because I knew who she was!”
Novel gave her a confused look. “Really? Nightmare Moon?”
“That’s a story I’ll have to tell you some other time. Come on, we have to get back to the library so I can make a report to Princess Celestia!”
Novel stumbled slightly. “P-princess Celestia!? Why do we have to tell her about everything?”
Twilight turned to look at Novel, her mouth in a frown. “You don’t like Princess Celestia?”
“No, it’s not that,” he said, rapidly shaking his head. “It’s just, she was in the very middle of the attack on Canterlot. The entire thing was meant to overthrow her! If anypony has reason to be angry with changelings, she does!”
Twilight smiled again. “You don’t have to worry about that, Novel. I know Princess Celestia better than most ponies, and I can assure you that she’s one of the most calm and reasonable individuals around. Once I explain everything, I can guarantee that she won’t be angry at you, or any other changelings.”
Novel looked down to the ground, a frown still on his face. “If you say so...”
Twilight grinned. “Just trust me.”
The rest of the short trip to the library proceeded in silence. When they finally got there, Twilight knocked on the door. “Spike, we’re back!”
The door opened, revealing Spike. “Hey, Twilight. Hey, Novel. Welcome back!”
They both entered the library. “Did anything happen while we were gone, Spike?” Twilight asked.
“Nah,” he answered while shaking his head. “Most of the time something happens around here, it involves your friends, and they already knew you were gone so it was pretty quiet.” His expression turned excited. “But I wanna hear about how your trip went!”
“And I can’t wait to tell you, Spike!” Twilight began, just as excited as Spike. “In fact, we’re going to have to write a lett—” Twilight froze mid-sentence as a bolt of realization suddenly hit her. Spike still didn’t know about Novel! And she couldn’t write a letter to Princess Celestia without Spike knowing what the letter was about. She was going to have to tell him. But how?
“Uh, hey, Spike? Could you come down to the basement with us? There’s something else you need to know before I can tell you how our trip went.”
Spike rose an eyebrow in curiosity before giving a shrug. “Sure thing, Twilight, whatever you say.”
The three of them entered the basement and took a seat around a small table in the middle of the room. “Spike, you’ll always trust me, right?” Twilight asked.
Spike gave her a confused look. “Of course I will! You know I’ll always be behind you all the way. That’s why I’m your number one assistant!”
Twilight nodded. “Good. We’re going to show you something that’s probably going to scare you a bit, and I want you to remain calm. Do you think you can do that?”
“Come on, Twilight, of course I can.” Spike puffed out his chest. “I’m a dragon, after all, I don’t get scared that easily!”
“Alright then.” She turned towards Novel. “Novel?”
Novel looked down at the ground and then was covered in green fire as he changed back to changeling form. Silence reigned in the room. Spike’s jaw was on the ground and it took him a few moments before he could finally say something.
“That. is. awesome!” Spike exclaimed.
Twilight and Nurex both blinked in confusion at the unexpected response. “What?” Nurex asked.
“I had no idea you were such a pro at illusion magic, Novel!” Spike exclaimed. “Heck, I think you might be better than Twilight!” He got up from his seat and walked around to table to get a closer look. “Oh man, this illusion is amazing! It looks so real! I bet you could scare the horseshoes off of everypony with this on Nightmare Night!” He began poking a claw through one of the holes in Nurex’s leg. “You’ve even got the holes in the legs! How do you do that?”
Nurex was at a complete loss for words, leaving it to Twilight to clear up the confusion. “Um, Spike? That... isn’t an illusion. Or a disguise.”
“Ha!” Spike laughed. “Good one, Twilight. You mean to tell me that Novel is actually a... real... changeling?” Spike looked up at Nurex and they both stared at each other for a few moments.
“Hi,” Nurex said with a nervous smile.
“Gwah!” Spike jumped back and fell on his tail.
“Spike, it’s okay!” Twilight reassured him. “Novel is a friendly changeling! And so is his entire hive!! Those were the friends of his that we went to see. They have nothing to do with Chrysalis!”
“Really? A friendly changeling?” Spike picked himself up off the ground, not taking his gaze off of Nurex. “If you’re sure, Twilight.” He suddenly turned to look at her in shock. “Wait, you said you went to a changeling hive!?”
She smiled. “That’s right, and I’ve learned a whole lot about changelings! Now we just have to write a letter to Princess Celestia. Think you’re up to the task, Spike?”
Spike, having regained his composure, was now looking at Nurex with curiosity having replaced any fear he might have had. “Of course, Twilight. I can't wait to hear this one! Lemme just get some things to write with.” Spike went to a small cabinet in the corner of the room where Twilight stored writing materials for use during experiments.
“Thanks, Spike. I knew I could count on you.”
Spike returned with paper and quill and spared another glance at Nurex before turning to Twilight. “Alright, Twilight, whenever you’re ready.”
Twilight cleared her throat before she began. “Dear Princess Celestia. I’ve recently made a remarkable discovery...”