Day Four: The Old Stories
“Wow, you guys weren’t kidding!” Scootaloo said as she lightly pushed “Rarity’s” lip back, exposing carnivore teeth. “She really is a wolf, and…” The little pegasus went silent as a frantic Ardi put his hoof over her mouth.
He looked around the inside of Sugarcube Corner, expecting a pack of enraged ponies to descend upon them. Thankfully the place looked empty, and at his insistence they’d taken a table close to the back and out of line of sight of the front counter. Even so Ardi rose and went to look. The lean stallion and chunky mare working at the front seemed not to have heard anything. Sighing in relief, he returned to the three fillies and the massive sundae they were sharing.
“Ahem, Sweetie Belle? Apple Bloom?” He looked down at the now squirmy little fillies. “What exactly did Fluttershy ask you about me?”
“Uhhh, not ta say nothin’ ta any adults?” Apple Bloom said, rubbing along her mane with one hoof.
“But we didn’t, Ar – I mean big sis,” Sweetie said. She pointed at Scootaloo. The little flier grinned at him through a mouthful of ice cream as Sweetie added, “Scootaloo’s not an adult, she’s a filly like us.”
“Pups,” Ardi caught himself, “Little fillies, that’s not the point. I don’t want the whole town knowing that I’m not, er, you know, who I look like.” He pointed a hoof at his distorted reflection in the silver bowl they were eating from. He shuddered to see warm chocolate dripping down its sides. The poison... “Besides, didn’t you make some special promise like I did not to hurt anypony?”
“Sure we did,” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle both said at once. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” They made all the proper motions as they did. Both of them looked at Scootaloo. The little filly snorted, swallowed her ice cream, and made a Pinkie Promise too. Ardi sighed in relief.
“But don’t forget,” Scootaloo said to Ardi. “You gotta keep it too, because you don’t want to break a Pinkie Promise!” Ardi wondered why the little yellow filly shuddered at those words as the flier-filly added, “Because breaking a promise is the best way to lose a friend!”
When Ardi dropped back down from the ceiling he saw that pony poisoner standing there, looking especially stern. For a moment, anyway. Then she smiled broadly at the fillies.
“So how do you like our triple-chocolate hot fudge giant sundae?” They cheered and waved their spoons. Ardi fought down a wave of nausea just thinking about it. Fluttershy explained it all to him, that he hadn’t really been poisoned back that last Nightmare Night, it was just that her friend Pinkie didn’t know he was a wolf. Or that chocolate was toxic to wolves, just like quince was to ponies. But still, he’d been raised on stories of ponies killing and poisoning wolves. And he’d almost died. Even as he thought about all of that, Pinkie Pie turned to him and said, “Hey, Rarity, are you sure you don’t want anything other than some lemonade and eggs?” She pointed her hoof at the plate sitting before “Rarity” at the table, with a tall drinking glass beside it and a half-finished plate full of scrambled eggs beside it. Pinkie hopped in place excitedly. “We got in some of that fancy chocolate from Prance that you like so much!”
“Oh, um, of course not, dear,” he said. More chocolate? Yuck! “Really, what I have here and what I got for the fillies,” he pointed at them where they ate enthusiastically, “Is entirely enough. Really. I’m quite sure.” He grinned nervously as Pinkie eyed him intently, smiling all the while. Something about this one left him suspicious about how much she knew about him.
“Right-a-rooney!” She said as she turned around and hopped away to help some more customers at the front of the store. Ardi sighed. He supposed he should feel glad that they’d had eggs here, though mostly ponies only used them for cooking. The fillies and Fluttershy warned him that many ponies would think there was something wrong with him, er, “her” just for eating eggs. And if they actually caught her eating meat?
“Ya fiend! Monster!” That palomino with the Stetson and the choppy-maned flier-pony both pulled their little sisters back from “Rarity” where she sat, a lovely bloody piece of meat dripping between her jaws. Little Sweetie Belle squirmed to get away from the pink poisoner. Sweetie frantically shook her head no as they said, “Rarity, you, you carnivorous devil! What were ya gonna do next? Eat fillies?”
“No, no, you have it all wrong!” Ardi finally gulped the meat down and spoke. The looks of disgust on their faces only got worse as he said, “I, it’s not what it looks like! It was only a deer, not a pony!” Before he could say anything else, Sweetie Belle got free from Pinkie and hurried to his side.
“’Sides, you’re all wrong! My sister isn’t some monster!” Sweetie reached up and with a yank, pulled the Rarity-mask from Ardi’s head. He yipped and tried covering his face as she said, “See? He’s a wolf, not a pony, so that makes it okay, right?” A shadow fell over them all. Ardi gulped to feel a sudden wave of heat washing over him.
“No, my dear little ponies,” the Burning Queen said, “This will make it all okay!” Ardi yelped and tried to run, only to be yanked off of his paws and held before a flaming figure of a pony that said, “If he likes to eat meat, then let him eat a barbecue!”
And fire roared down on him, and he howled.
Ardi shook himself free from the fantasy with a shudder. He turned back to the fillies. All three eyed him expectantly.
“So,” Scootaloo said, lowering her voice. “Then you’re really what Sweetie and Apple Bloom say you are?” Ardi flicked his ears in agreement, and then at her confused look remembered to nod pony-style. Scootaloo looked delighted. “Wow, this is so cool! Hey, you are gonna help us with that school project, right?”
“Of course, dear,” Ardi said. He looked at the books they’d already collected where they sat in their saddle bags and sniffed. “Really, those books are so full of lies and mistakes. I wonder if you, I mean if ponies, really know anything about wolves at all.”
“But if it’s in a book in the school library doesn’t it have to be true?” Ardi looked at Sweetie, who winced but persisted with, “I mean, Miss Cheerilee and Miss Twilight wouldn’t ever teach us something they knew was wrong.”
“True to ponies and true to wolves might not be the same thing, dears.” Meaning, we wolves know what really happened. Ardi rose and stretched, feeling vertebrae pop. By the way the fillies stared, that wasn’t something ponies or at least Rarity normally did. Sigh, one more thing for the ‘do not do’ list. “Now then, all done eating?” At their chorused agreement, he said, “Okay, then let’s head for home so I can straighten everything out. And so you three can enlighten other ponies.”
The three fillies seemed to have gathered up their saddlebags and were on their way out the door before he finished speaking. Ardi bit down on a yip of laughter. Pups seemed to be much the same despite different species. He passed by several ponies who were sitting down to eat outside – spear-heads, earth ponies, fliers including that derp-eyed grey one from the library. The little gray spear-head sat beside her as they shared a muffin. They both smiled at “Rarity” in greeting, and he made sure to smile and nod back at them. Privately he wondered when she’d taken that injury and how she’d survived this long.
He stared to see that little dragon from the library tree, dressed in a ridiculous hat and cloak and with a very fake looking mustache, trying to hide behind a copy of the local newspaper. A cupcake studded with gems sat before him along with what looked like one of the sodas the fillies drank. A second long he wondered if the dragon was following him.
He walked out the door with the best pony laugh he could manage. Who in their right mind would try to make themselves look like that when they wanted to be stealthy?
Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he followed the fillies back to the Boutique.
* * *
Certain that he’d gone unnoticed by her, Spike watched Rarity leaving Sugarcube Corner. She followed the Cutie Mark Crusaders – or at least, whatever looked like them – outside. After they left, he took out a small notebook and recorded his observations, speaking them out loud as he wrote them down. That was how they did it in those mystery stories that Twi’s mom wrote.
“At 12:15 PM, suspect appearing as Rarity entered Sugarcube Corner, along with her little sister, Applebloom, and Scootaloo, who I believe is still a pony. They spent an hour eating a triple-chocolate hot fudge giant Sundae, which seems odd given Rarity’s care for her figure. And she does such a good job of it too…” He sighed and drifted off into a reverie for a moment. He shook himself and added, “I observed them, well,” he scratched his head, “I overheard most of what they said, something about research along with complaints about the contents of Ponyville Public Library,” he sniffed at that. Like some Changeling had any business complaining about the books they kept! He added, “And they finished and left. Fortunately I remained unnoticed the entire time.” He closed the notebook and chuckled. “And Twilight criticized my skills at disguise!”
“Hi Spike!” Pinkie Pie hopped up next to him, a tray of pies balanced stop her head. Spike jumped and almost dropped his notebook. It did fall open in his claws, and before he could shut it, Pinkie Pie caught a glimpse of it. “Ooh, you’re keeping an eye on Rarity? Are you playing detective? Hey, can I play too? My shift is over and Mister and Mrs. Cake will be taking the twins to visit their aunt today…”
“Pinkie!” Spike all but snatched the notebook away. “I’m not playing. I think,” he lowered his voice when he saw other ponies giving them curious looks, “I think that something happened to Rarity, and that pony we saw that looks like her might actually be some,” his voice dropped to a faint whisper, “Changeling only pretending to be her.”
“Huh? Rarity, a changeling?” Pinkie tilted her head to the side, looking confused. “No, I think that one’s a different story.” Before Spike could ask what that was supposed to mean, she said, “I don’t think Rarity’s a Changeling, you silly-willy. I saw her with Fluttershy yesterday, and Fluttershy wouldn’t protect a Changeling.” She thought, rubbing her chin. “Then again maybe she would. She is Fluttershy, after all.”
“Pinkie!” Spike sighed and shook his head. When the party pony looked at him, he said, “Look, I just want to be sure, okay? If Rarity did get replaced by a Changeling, then the sooner we figure it out the better. And I don’t want her to know, okay? If she’s still Rarity, then she’d think I was being really dumb, and if she,” he gulped, “If she’s – not Rarity any more, then she might do something really bad. And it might be up to us to save Ponyville. And if she doesn’t know that you and I know, then we have an advantage. Okay?”
“Hey, sure! You can depend on me!” Pinkie hopped away, stopping at the door leading into the kitchen to stick her head back out and say, “I’ll keep everything quiet!”
“Phew, that’s over with.” Spike got up from his chair and looked around. Almost every pony inside, be they mare or stallion, filly or colt, was looking at him in confusion. Well, except for Derpy. It was hard to tell with her.
“Uhhh…” Spike gathered himself up, coughed, and said in the best “grown up” voice he could manage. “Never mind, fellow citizens. Carry on!” He turned and strode out the door. I wonder if anypony suspects who I am?
As soon as he left, Pinkie came bouncing back out from the kitchen with a second order of muffins and tea that she delivered to Derpy and Dinky. The little filly looked at her and said, “Miss Pie, what was that all about? Spike acted funny at the library too.”
“Aww, it’s okay,” Pinkie said, giving the little filly a head rub with one hoof, “Spike’s just playing that Rarity is a Changeling and he’s going to keep an eye on her. Mister and Mrs. Cake play games like that, well, kinda like that, with each other all the time, he’ll be okay!”
* * *
Sometime later, Ardi finally made it back to the Boutique. He entered warily, only to be reassured by Sweetie that Opal would be somewhere outside and not back for hours. There was also a note on the door from Fluttershy, promising to drop by later. With that worry out of the way, the mare-suited wolf went into the kitchen/dining room and sat down at the table. The fillies came in and set their notebooks and books on the table and eyed him expectantly. He looked at them and smiled back.
“Okay, what do you want to know about wolves first?” All three began speaking at once. Ardi held up a hoof and said, “One at a time! I can’t answer everywolf, I mean everypony, all at once!”
“Why do wolves eat ponies?” That came from Scootaloo. Ardi scowled at her.
“Where do you pony-pups keep getting that idea? Wolves haven’t eaten ponies for centuries, maybe longer!” He shook himself, herself? My language really isn’t built for working with a situation like this. “We will one day, well, Fenris will, but that won’t be for a long time. And he’ll only eat two ponies.”
“One day?” Sweetie said, sounding fearful. “What one day?”
“An’ who’s Fenris?” Applebloom said. “Is she somepony like Nightmare Moon or Discord?”
Ardi bit down on a growl. Remember, they don’t know, they’re innocent, don’t blame them for what other ponies did a long time ago.
“No, Father Fenris is NOT like Nightmare Moon or,” he choked on the name, “The Twisting One, that’s Discord,” he explained to them. Ardi cast his mind back to the Old Stories, told in dens on dark winter nights when a puppy Ardi snuggled against his parents or aunts and uncles for warmth. “Father Fenris is a he, and he was the First Wolf, the true Lupus Major. Long, long ago,” he said, warming to the tale, “Back when there was no such a thing as night and day, there was only the endless fire on one paw and the endless ice on the other, and a great whirling pit in between. The fire and ice were pulled into the pit, and it began to spin faster and faster until finally the first living things came out of it – Father Fenris who leapt forth howling with the joy of being alive; the Twisting One, who came forth laughing into a world that was unformed; and Day came from the fire and Night from the ice, the two winged mares…”
“You mean Celestia and Luna?” Scootaloo asked. She quickly added, “That’s not how us pegasi tell it. Rainbow Dash, she told me once how Celestia and Luna are supposed t’ have made everything together with Discord back before he got mean, and…”
“This isn’t the pegasus version, this is the way wolves tell it,” Ardi said. Scootaloo looked ready to say more, so he added, “You wanted to hear this, remember?” Scootaloo frowned but she settled down, her wings ruffling. Ardi cleared his throat and said, “Anyway, there were four, two males and two females, the first pack. They made more of themselves, so that the world became full of ponies, and wolves, and all the monsters that the Twisting One loves. And they tried to settle among themselves who was to lead.
“’I should lead,’ Night said, spreading her beautiful inky wings, ‘Because my Night was all that was before the sun began to burn. I will shine my light on all who hunt or work or play by it, wolf and pony and beast, without favor. And I shall make the Night beautiful, that all may see my majesty.’ And with that she shook her mane, and bits of the ice from it flew up into the sky and became the shining cold sparks we see there to this night. But before she could say more, Father Fenris shook his great shaggy head and said, ‘Not so; for until there was Day, how could there be Night?’ Night looked annoyed, but she nodded and stepped aside.
Then the Twisting One slithered forward, and he said, ‘I should be the ruler here, for I can create whatever I want, and turn anything into any other thing! And my monsters should be allowed to do whatever they wish, as I do. See?’ And with that he snatched up a handful of fire and a handful of ice. He threw them up into the sky and they stayed there, becoming round as balls. And the one became Moon, and the other, Sun. But once more Father Fenris stepped forward, shaking his head as he growled, ‘No, for you did not create everything. You did not create yourself. The pit made all of us, and to it we will all return at the end of all things.’ And the Twisting One tried to complain, but when Father Fenris showed his fangs that gleamed like mountains of ice at him, he fell silent.’”
“An then Celestia stepped up an’ said she ought ta run everythin, ‘cause without the sun nothin’ would live?” Apple Bloom rushed through it all, smiling at Ardi. “Miss Twilight told us once that unicorns in Canterlot kinda tell it like that.” The wolf shook his, er, Rarity’s head and sighed.
“No, pup, not like that. This is the true version, and…” He broke off with a low growl as Apple Bloom broke back in.
“How do ya know it’s the for-real an’ true version?” She scratched her mane with one hoof. “Ah mean, weren’t nopony around back then who’s still here ta tell it ‘ceptin the Princesses and Discord, an’ they never said…”
“They never said because they don’t want anywolf to know,” Ardi growled. He rose up, almost bristling through the maresuit. “Because they don’t want anywolf to know how they cheated us wolves, and…” The pony-pups’ eyes were wide, and from what he could tell of their scents, afraid. He licked his nose and sniffed at the flowery scent covering everything. How does this Rarity ever use her nose for anything, when all she can smell is flowers? He looked back at the three little ponies and made himself relax. And remember, they are pups. They’re not responsible for what happens to wolves. So stop scaring them. “I’m sorry if I frightened you,” he said, the words silkier than usual in Rarity’s musical voice. “Do you want me to finish the story?” They looked at him, and then nodded with a chorus of ‘uh-huhs’. He took a deep breath, made himself think of the story again, and started to speak.
“Then the last of the four stepped forward, Day, the Mare who’d come from the fire, and she spread her shining white wings wide as she said, ‘I should rule, for without me there is neither light nor life. Without me, no one will be there to see sister Night’s work, or for the Twisting One to change. And my ponies have covered the world with their herds. Father Fenris must tell his pups not to hunt by day, for I find them ugly, and it displeases me when they eat my subjects. I must be allowed to rule, or I will never make my sun set.’ And she sat back down while Night and the Twisting One looked unhappy and agreed that she should rule. And she smiled, for she wanted nothing to be in the world but her children, the ponies.
“But Father Fenris came forward one last time, and he said, ‘Not so! The fire was before you; and Night made her stars, and the Twisting One the sun and moon, without any help from you. And if my children did not slay the weak and slow of your own, they would eat up the world with their numbers. You are a part of us and not above us; and if your sun never set, everything that lives would burn and die.’ Day was unhappy to hear this. She flattened her ears, rolled her eyes and snorted, but in the end she gave way.
“So the other three looked at Father Fenris and asked, ‘Then who shall rule?’
“And he said, ‘It shall be so. Night shall rule when the Moon rides high in the sky, and when Her stars race the heavens like wolves on the hunt. Day shall rule when the Sun is risen, and the Twisting One will rule his beasts and changelings. They will make the lives of all difficult, that the strong and cunning may live and keep their folk healthy. And My Wolves shall hunt them all, that none of your children become lazy or weak or so many that they choke the other peoples out.’ Night and Day and the Twisting One hemmed and hawed so long it seemed no decision would be made; but Father Fenris yawned so wide the world could have fallen between his jaws, and when they saw his fangs they agreed with ill grace.
“And that is how the world was made, and divided between wolves and ponies and all others.”
Ardi sat back, eyes half shut and smiling. He heard their pencils scratching over the paper they had as they wrote everything down. He frowned to think that he’d done something many wolves would have been furious at – the Old Stories were meant to be kept alive, not written down and killed – but if it helped his folk, wasn’t it worth it?
Something tugged gently at his, well, “Rarity’s” tail. He looked down to see a wide-eyed Sweetie Belle looking up at him.
“Big sis, I mean Ardi,” she said, sounding curious, “You said that wolves don’t eat ponies anymore. But then you said in your story that Mister Fenris…”
“Father Fenris, little one,” he corrected her.
“…That Father Fenris said wolves were supposed to eat ponies, so there didn’t get to be too many of us. So why did they stop?” Her two friends suddenly gave him very wary looks. Sweetie looked hesitant, and added, “And I really don’t think that Celestia could have acted greedy like that, ever.”
“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, her eyes narrowing in suspicion, “What’s up with that?” Apple Bloom next to her looked almost as wary, scraping at the floor with one forehoof.
“That?” Ardi smiled at them. He walked away from the table and lay on his side on the floor where he felt more comfortable. “That’s another story entirely. Do you want to hear it?” They looked outside at the sunlight. He yipped a short laugh in Rarity’s voice and said, “I promise, it’s quick, and this is the end of it. Then you can go and play.”
That fast the three fillies were sitting on the floor near him. Sweetie looked like she would have lain against him if she dared. All three said only one word: “Okay!”
Ardi opened his mouth to start telling it to them, but at a scratching outside he frowned. He rose on his hind legs and peeked out the window. Nothing showed there but Ponyville across the railway tracks and river, a few ponies out on their business, and a sweet-smelling flower bush right beneath the window. Thorns showed long and sharp on its vines.
Wait. Did that bush shiver without any wind?
He dropped and looked back at the fillies. “Sorry, I just thought I heard something. Now where were we?” He cleared his throat and began, “’Long after the make and dividing of the world, the two sisters and the Twisting One began to grow tired of Father Fenris’ limits on what they could do…’”
* * *
Spike hid within the rosebush beneath the window, holding his breath against any chance of an outcry. Lovely pink and crimson flowers budded all around him. He remembered Rarity saying that she’d hired some special earth pony gardeners to make sure they sprouted early, or to kill some weeds, or something. There was some other plant in there with three-lobed bright green leaves that he crouched among. The sun shone directly on him, making him feel warm. The last thing he wanted right now was to warn Rarity, or whoever was pretending to be Rarity, that somepony was on to them. He heard more talking from inside in that voice that was so like-unlike the lovely unicorn’s. It sounded like her, but the words it used were nothing like Rarity’s elegant diction at all. Still, nopony came put after him.
“Phew,” he said softly, wiping one claw across his scaly brow and scratching a small itch. “I gotta be more careful. I can’t let that Changeling figure out that I know, so I can save Rarity.” Spike let his mind drift into an idea of how Rarity would thank him.
“Oh, my little hero! My dragon in shining scales!” Spike nobly accepted the kisses on the cheek Rarity gave him. The shreds of the cocoon she’d been held in still hung from her, and the evil, wicked, nasty Changeling who’d been pretending to be her was laying in the corner, covered in lumps. The rest of Rarity’s friends watched in silent awe of his bravery as the young dragon accepted his reward. “Oh, Spike!” Rarity said, interspersed with more kisses. She fluttered her eyelashes at him before saying in a husky voice, “How can I ever thank you?”
“Well….” Spike said what he could never have dared to say in reality, “We could go on a picnic? And maybe I could have a whole bucket of the best diamonds?”
“But of course, dearest Spikey-Wikey! Provided of course that Twilight agrees?” Unicorn and dragon both looked at Twilight where she stood nearby.
“Oh, of course, Spike!” she said. “In fact, I just got one of those new writing machines, a ‘typewriter’, from Canterlot. And it lets me send messages to Princess Celestia whenever I want, so now I can give you all the free time you so richly deserve for your selfless heroics!”
“Yay!” Spike jumped and whooped. The sun was shining, the grass was soft underclaw, and a spring breeze made everything pleasant. And Spike leaned in to give his maiden fair a kiss just as Pinkie Pie suddenly jumped in between him and Rarity.
“Hey, Spike! How’s the spying on Rarity going?” She held up one hoof and gently pushed him back. “And no offense, but you’re not really my type.”
“Ahh! Pinkie Pie!” Spike did a double take, shocked down to his scales. His heartbeat slowly returned to normal as he sank back into the bush. He remembered to whisper, “What are you doing here? I thought you had to work at Sugarcube Corner.”
“Oh, I got done a little while ago and the Cakes gave me the rest of the day off. First I went to visit Applejack, but she’s still looking for that big bad wolf that scared everypony and said she didn’t have time to play. Then I looked for Rainbow Dash, but she’s helping Applejack. Then I went to check on that movie caravan that’s coming into town but they said it’ll be a day or two before they’re set up and ready for everypony and I wish we had a real movie theater like they have in the big cities but then I guess they’d be rivals with the Cakes and Sweet Apple Acres and that wouldn’t be very good would it? So then I went to visit Fluttershy, but she’s on her way here to visit Rarity, and... hmmph!” The motormouth mare fell silent as Spike put his claw over her muzzle.
“Shhh! I’m hiding, so we gotta be quiet, remember?” Spike looked back up at the window, wondering if False Rarity overheard them. He could hear her talking to the fillies, telling them that crazy fairy tale. Pinkie settled as much as she ever could and listened beside him.
“And so, Night and Day and the Twisting One all decided to deceive Father Fenris. They knew he was strong enough to escape any bonds they laid upon him. They met and schemed.
“‘What can we use?’ Night said. ‘I tried to seal him within the ice of my windigos, but his anger burned so hot he melted a way out.’
“‘And I,’ Day said, ‘told my spear-head ponies to lure him with their illusions, and my earth ponies to dig a pit, and the flier-ponies to bring together all the winds in the world to catch him, but he just shook himself and dug his way out. He and his children eat my ponies without stopping! How will there ever be enough to rule, I mean,’ she said hurriedly when she saw the other two giving her cautious looks, ‘How will my ponies ever make laws, and jails, and armies, and high stone walls, and all the things that civilizations need, if they are not rid of his wolves?’
“‘Well, I at least tried something useful,’ the Twisting One said, picking up some small bugs and making them into the first parasprites just because he was bored. ‘I ordered the Changelings to pretend to be his wolf-brats, but he smelled the truth and growled and clawed the mountains and buried them all. Nothing in this world can catch or hold Fenris.’
“‘So then,’ the three liars said, ‘We must make a bond that is NOT of this world…’”
“That doesn’t sound like something a Changeling would say,” Pinkie broke in, looking oddly thoughtful and shaking her head. Spike scowled at her. Pinkie ignored his dirty look to say, “And why would a Changeling tell stories to the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”
“Pinkie!” Spike sighed and scratched his forehead in consternation. He could hear the soft scratching of his scaly palm over the rougher scales of his head. “Yeesh, she’s just faking, okay? Because she doesn’t want anypony to know. And she’s telling stories like those because, well,” Spike wondered himself. Scratching again and wondering why he itched so much, he said, “Because she wants to confuse them about Celestia. You don’t think Celestia would ever do the stuff that Changeling is accusing her of doing, would you?”
Pinkie listened again, as did Spike. The story seemed to be concluding.
“And so, with the chain they made from the sound of a cat’s footsteps and the roots of mountains, Night’s humility and the Twisting One’s honesty, they bound and held Father Fenris and left him within the Iron Wood. And they mocked him, and told him that now all the world was theirs, and that his wolves would die without him.
“But he just looked at them and growled, and said, ‘All your deceits will be repaid! Twisting One, Night and Day will cast you down and drive your monsters away as they will my wolves; and their children will control the world so utterly that not even the seasons will turn without them! And Night, Day will eventually tire of sharing anything with you. She will exile you and rule everything herself.
“But long from now, Night will return; and the Twisting One will go free again; and when these things that cannot be happen, there will be an end of all that the ponies have made and my children, the wolves, will cast you all down forever! And all shall once more be as it was meant to be!’
“And so we wait, and hope, and remember, because one day soon –!”
“Oh dear, what are you doing hiding in those bushes?”
Spike jumped and yelled while Pinkie turned and gave Fluttershy a smile. The butter-yellow pegasus looked horrified. Heavily laden saddlebags emblazoned with her cutie mark hung over her sides. A sudden and oddly both un-equine and un-Changeling-like yelp came from within the Boutique, joined by three startled cries from the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Spike thought as fast as he could ever remember.
“Oh! Uh, hi, Fluttershy,” Spike said, looking around. Pinkie just hopped over to the pegasus, looking back at him with a smile. The dragon’s gaze fell on the shiny green leaves scattered among the rosebush and he quickly grabbed a handful. Fluttershy eeped for some reason as he said, “I was just, um, checking out something for a paper on botany that Twilight’s going to write.” He rubbed the leaves between his claws. He wondered at how nervous he felt. His palms felt so itchy! “Yep, that’s what rose bush leaves are supposed to feel like.”
“Umm, Spike, I don’t mean to alarm you, but…” Fluttershy gulped. “Those aren’t rose bush leaves. They’re poison ivy. And I think they can go through dragon scales…”
“What?!?” Spike looked around. He was right in the middle of it! It was on his face, his chest, his tail, his claws! At the realization, the heretofore ignorable itching tripled in intensity. “Ahh!” Spike jumped and started scratching wildly. “Pinkie Pie! Why didn’t ya warn me!”
“I figured you must have a good reason for hiding in poison ivy just outside of Rarity’s window,” she said cheerily. “Besides, it’s never bothered me. Aren’t you immune?”
“No!” he yelled, scratching more than ever.
“Ooh,” Pinkie said. She somehow managed to sound both amused and sympathetic as she said, “Wow, you’re gonna be scratching for a week!”
Before she could say anything else, a small scaly purple ball shot out of the flowers, claws working wildly as it tried scratching everything at once, and looking almost like a blur as it raced into town, towards Ponyville Urgent Care. A thin howl followed it across the bridge as it fled.
“Oh, dear!” Fluttershy said. She turned to Pinkie. “Maybe you could make sure he gets to the hospital? I understand they’re using some new soaps made by Zecora that work very well at cleaning the oils out from skin. She gave me some once last year when I really needed them. I, ah, I have to bring these things in to Rarity.” She smiled and showed the saddlebags to her. “By the way, why was Spike hiding here?”
“Oh, sure thing, Fluttershy!” Pinkie said as she bounced off after the unfortunate little dragon. “Oh, and he has this crazy idea that Rarity’s not really Rarity.” Fluttershy felt happy that Pinkie was bouncing away and couldn’t see the look of horror on her face. “Did ya ever hear anything so silly?”
“Yes,” Fluttershy said, her voice feeble, “silly. Rarity not Rarity? Hah-hah.” And as soon as Pinkie bounced off, Fluttershy hurried inside the Boutique, hoping wildly that Ardi wasn’t about to start howling at the moon.
* * *
“It should be in the back, in one of the cabinets.”
Twilight Sparkle must have spent half her young life in the Library Tower. The giant hourglass centerpiece, the unicorn figureheads, the floor-to-ceiling shelves with Spike’s wheeled ladder, the balconied mezzanine facing the two-story window overlooking one of the Outer Castle’s garden courtyards. Now after two years away, she was back amid the musty smell of old and well-read books, accompanied by her old professor.
As the two unicorns passed under the mezzanine and into the stacks, Twilight glanced over the shelves, seeing how many of the books she could still identify. Large and hardbound, with titles in the alliterative style of Old High Equestrian.
“Cruel Canine Creatures of our Country…
Epic Tales of the Elements of Harmony…
History of our Divine Diarchy…
Daring Do versus the Changeling Invasion – wait, WHAT?”
The purple mare stopped dead, levitating the paperback book, no, the pulp, from the shelf for a look at the cover. Behind her, Professor Yorsets managed to stop in time to avoid a collision.
The pulp floated in front of them, held in the purple aura of Twilight’s magic – a black-maned golden pegasus mare rescuing not just a cocooned and off-color Celestia, but half a dozen young mares that bore a striking resemblance to her and her friends. Her voice dripping disdain, she said, “What’s this doing here?”
“Oh, that?” Professor Yorsets’ head poked around her to her right; his silver-blue aura pulled the paperback from her purple one. “Latest issue, not bad…”
Twilight shot the silver-bouffonted stallion a dismayed look as he continued in his educated Canterlot voice. “The students keep them here, along with some of the other pulps and bit novels. Gets them into the Library. Hmmm… I’ve seen that cover artist before; he always draws the Princess as pink as Cadence, and the way he emphasizes her flank…”
“Professor!” Twilight gasped in horror, pulled the offending magazine with its Pink Celestia away, shoving it out of sight under a set of Encyclopedia Equestria. “I had no idea this place got so messy; I’ll remove every one of them!” She turned, horn starting to glow like a small purple star…
“Twilight, focus!” The older stallion pulled up beside her. “You’ve been away for two years; this isn’t your library any more. There’s no need to purge it in the name of the Classics. And the newspapers and tabloids have said far worse about the Princess than showing her as a helpless damsel. Which pretty much happened at the Wedding when Chrysalis made her move.”
“But, professor –“ Twilight bit her lip. “Chrysalis was supercharged by the love she consumed from my brother, and the adoration ponies felt for Cadence. And Celestia couldn’t use all her power there, not without wrecking the entire castle and killing hundreds of ponies…”
“And Chrysalis had been preparing and powering up for some time. The Wastelands, remember?”
Twilight fell silent, remembering the morning’s briefing from Royal Guard Intelligence. Secret scouting expeditions to the Wastelands, emptied-out hives filled with dead and drained Changelings – including the husks of Hive Queens, their faded carapaces still showing different colors from Chrysalis’ swarm. The disappearances from all across Equestria in the months preceding the wedding…
“Now, let’s get what we came here for.”
“Right… Right. They should be in back, in the cabinets.” The purple mare shot under deeper into the stacks, the sweater-clad stallion cantering after her to a set of locked cabinets along the rear wall, lit by crystal-lamps.
Twilight peered into the leaded glass set into the hardwood doors, wrinkled up her nose at the faint layer of dust on the thick books inside, the grime on the thick glass. “Here they are – just who is taking care of the Library these days?”
“Prince Blueblood,” Professor Yorsets said as he came up to the cabinet, levitating a brass key from his sweater pocket.
“Blueblood? That Royal SNOB?”
“None other.” The blue-glowing key clicked into the lock; both unicorns’ horns glowed as they pulled the cabinet doors open. “The Princess ‘assigned’ him to the Library after the Gala Incident. I understand she ‘had some words’ with him regarding his conduct at the Gala – something about his treatment of an Element-Bearer and National Heroine.”
Held in Twilight’s aura, half a dozen tomes floated out of the cabinet. Most were old enough to have been bound with engraved and inlaid wooden covers. Professor Yorsets pulled a more recent but just as thick book – Equestrian Encyclopedia of Collected Magical Lore – from Twilight’s magical grasp.
As he opened it to the section on Polymorphics, Twilight stood amid her usual whirlwind of books, checking title after title. “Parallel Planes and Dire Dimensions… No… Applied Polymorphs and Ponies… Possible... Magic and Monsters of the Everfree… No… Wait! Here it is! Perils to Ponies: Perusing Altered Appearances, Volumes One through Three!” Flipping open Volume One, she looked inside.
“Is that it?”
She winced to see that old woodcut that she understood so well now, of something fanged and hairless transforming itself into a pony. The next page bore art of a wolf wearing a pony hide to lure innocent fillies to their doom. Twilight snorted at that. “Yes, it is. I do wish the author made some effort to separate fairy tales about wolves from actual threats.” Twilight closed it and sighed. “Some ponies in Ponyville still think that wolves can make themselves look like ponies. Like they were Changelings. I tried telling them, but…”
She set the books inside her saddlebags, the first two volumes on the left and the third on the right; Professor Yorsets floated Applied Polymorphs beside it, balancing her out, then turned to reshelve the others and relock the cabinet.
Twilight thought she heard a sound from above; her ears flicked up, straining to hear it again. Nothing, just the distant roar of the waterfalls and the clack of the cabinet locks.
The older stallion joined her. “Ready?”
“Yes. I am kind of surprised by all this, though. Polymorphics are temporary by nature…”
“But ‘temporary’ can still be a long time, especially if cast on an inanimate object. You remember?”
Twilight nodded, flicked her tail, and began reciting. “A polymorphed object ‘remembers’ its original form, and is always being pulled back to that form. The stronger the pull and the more extreme the polymorph, the shorter the duration. Living things have a stronger pull than inanimate objects, and living beings like ponies the strongest of all. That’s the key to Truesight and the Changeling-detection lamps.”
“And the key to our dealing with the Changeling threat. Changelings are living polymorphs, and should have the same limitations and weaknesses.”
The two passed out of the stacks and out from under the balcony. As they did a sudden wave of curiosity hit. “Professor? Is there anything to the stories about Princess Celestia polymorphing other beings into ponies? Whenever I’d ask her about them, she’d just get evasive about the whole subject.”
“Nothing definite,” the stallion replied. “Just old mare’s tales dating back to the First Coming of Nightmare Moon. Though there was one account – unconfirmed, mind you – of a burglar around a century ago who disguised himself under an illusion of the Princess to sneak into the Royal Treasury. According to the tale, the Princess caught him personally and decided that since he liked looking like a mare so much, she’d make it easy for him – and morphed him into one. Permanently.”
“Ouch,” Twilight said. She stopped at the doors. She had to hear this. “What happened to him, er, her?”
“Nopony knows. As I said, it was an old mare’s tale. It did surface in the tabloids a few years ago, in some sort of expose of the ancestry of a mare in the news back then:
“And so She
Who had been He
Begat the Pedigree
Of Fleur de Lis.”
“Fleur de Lis?” Twilight looked at her old professor like he’d turned into a Changeling. “The unicorn model? White coat, pink mane, tall as Princess Luna and just as slender, three stylized lilies for a Cutie Mark?”
“That’s the one. I wouldn’t have thought you knew her; you were living here in the stacks at the time.”
“I didn’t. My friend Rarity did. I met her when I was in Canterlot on my last birthday.” During Rarity’s slick performance attending both the Canterlot Garden Party and Twilight’s birthday party at the same time. “According to Rarity, she’d married into some minor nobility and became a lead mare in the Canterlot Smart Set.”
“And the pulps took it even further – stories about the polymorphed ancestor, with the polymorph wearing off at the worst possible moment.”
“Worst possible…” Then Twilight froze, her eyes going wide and face blushing like Fluttershy’s as she realized what he meant.
“Come on, Twilight. Nexus is waiting in the Starswirl Wing; let’s return before I corrupt you any further.”
After the doors closed and the library went silent for a few moments, a white-coated and golden-maned unicorn stallion in imported white silk slipped out from the mezzanine stacks, levitating a thick tome. With a strain of effort, His Mortal Highness Prince Blueblood re-shelved the genealogy that traced his descent from Princess Platinum. Then easing over to the balustrade, he studied the main floor below for sign of any other ponies. Nothing.
Dealing with the Changeling threat… That explained all the activity of the past few days – Aunt Celestia’s student recalled to Canterlot, the business with Archmage Nexus… So, there ARE Changelings in Canterlot! Golden-shod hooves beat a tattoo on the marble floor as their Royal owner quivered with excitement. And Aunty is going to deal with them all! Vile, hateful creatures, they chased me for furlongs – no, leagues – through the Palace! Blueblood shuddered at the memory of fleeing down corridor after corridor, the buzzing drone of Changelings drowning out that of Epona’s Tears as they chased him before Cousin Cadence and that muscle-bound commoner husband of hers – Ugh, what does she SEE in him? – saved him and Aunt Celestia and everypony else with that magic blast.
He looked down at the newspapers spread across the reading desks and sniffed. They all bore headlines accusing Aunty of “doing nothing” while reports of Changelings came in from all over Equestria. He’d wanted to do something to show Aunt Celestia that he – 52nd generation of the old Unicornian Royal Line by direct descent – was every bit as useful as those Elements of Harmony. Now he had a chance – he knew something that practically no pony outside the Sun Palace knew.
Humming to himself, Blueblood left the Library Tower.