"Did you hear? Princess Celestia is upping our defense against changlings!" a marshmallow colored unicorn told her friends. "They're becoming bolder by the day! Is there any way we can defend ourselves? Most unicorns can't do detection spells and it is hard to tell the difference between them and a normal pony without them."
"Well, we've got to try. It's not like we can just open up diplomatic trade with them after what they did." A lavender alicorn stated. "Now they're trying to sneak back into Equestria! We can't just let that happen!"
"Twilight's right!" A blue pegasus with a rainbow mane exclaimed. "The changlings tried to take over our home, remember? We would be fools not to defend ourselves!"
An orange pony wearing a cowboy hat sighed. "I can't even trust the pony I hired to help with the harvest this year! Fireflower's a good pony, but I just can't calm down around her!"
"She's a lot of fun at parties! I think you're just being paranoid, AJ. She's a great pony! It's pretty much impossible she's a changling! They have bad attitudes, remember?"
"Well, almost isn't really good enough, is it?" A yellow pegasus pony stated. "I mean, too be absolutely positive, we need Twilight to do a detection spell."
"No." Applejack said. "I don't want to hurt the feelings of anypony, you hear? if she isn't a changling, she'll be disraught at the thought that her own employer doesn't trust her. Besides, she isn't hurting anypony. We can deal with this with force if somepony gets hurt, but it'll just hurt her if she doesn't feel trusted. Now I want no more talk of this."
* * *
Fireflower knew Applejack didn't trust her. She had even put it in one of her letters. She had to write them every week, or else the guards would come for her. Queen Chrysalis thought it was a good idea to send changlings like her out to gather information. Changelings with feelings blended in better with ponies, apparently. She supposed it was true enough. After all, she made a more convincing pony than some of the ponyvillians. They had been dragged out into the street, screaming for spouses and parents and friends to help them as the were loaded into the van that took them to wherever they went. They never came back. Some said they were taken to worker camps to make things that equestrians needed. Others said they were taken to volcanoes and destroyed by the magma within them. Wherever they went, Fireflower was sorry for them. Fireflower. What a silly name. It blended in with the general populace, but it didn't really make sense. Changling names, however, were perfect. Like her own; Falling Ash. Or her nickname, Ashley. They were marvelous. Fireflower was a good name by Equestrian standards, though. It had a pretty good ring to it, and Ashley enjoyed it, as well as her identity with it. The one thing she didn't like was that there weren't many ponies who would trust her. Whenever somepony actively displayed that mistrust, however, she was able to go to Sugarcube Corner, where the pony Pinkie Pie always seemed to have one too many cupcakes or pies or something to cheer anypony up.
"Delivery!" Came a voice from the door. "Package for a 'Fireflower'!" The voice didn't sound like a delivery pony, but Fireflower went to the door anyway. The pony standing there was, in fact, in the uniform of the local mail office, however, and was levitating a package. "Sign here, please." He said, making it clear that it was a command, not a question.
"Alright, alright." Grasping the proffered pen, she signed the piece of paper before taking the package. She didn't expect what was coming next.
"May I come inside? It won't be for too long." The stallion asked. His next words caught her off guard; "The world is here today."
"Get the shovel, we'll bury our debts." it had been so long since she had needed to use the code. The last time had been when she first arrived in Ponyville. She allowed the delivery changling inside. "Now what's this about? I'll get all sorts of trouble from the neighbors for this, you know. Despite being mostly hospitable, nopony really invites the mailponies inside while they're on duty."
"Well this is important. Queen Chrysalis is going to be coming to visit you, and um.." He looked around nervously. "She wants to know if you've hinted at any outer relationships. She's hoping to take on a form by one of them."
"When my employers got suspicious about the letters, I told them I was just writing to my mom." Ashley stated. "Do I know you?" The last was purely quizzical, as she didn't recognize anything about her visitor.
"No, but if any of the Equestrians ask, I'm your cousin, and it is quite cold outside." It sounded like he was trying to appeal to her emotions to let him stay a bit longer.
"You should go now." She wasn't going to let him get the better of her just because of her emotions. "Tell my 'mom' I send my regards, and await her arrival. And giver her this." She handed her guest the letter she had just completed, after putting it in an envelope with her picture as Fireflower. "The past is behind us now."
"The future lies ahead." He sighed, and headed out the door to the mail vehicle that was either highjacked or fake. As it drove off, Fireflower turned her attention to the package.
"I wonder what's in here." She said quietly as she investigated it. It was a medium sized package with holes poked in the top. As she observed, a tiny yap emitted from it. Quickly realizing what was within, she opened the box and peered inside to make sure. There, along with a food bowl and some dog food, sat a small doberman puppy. Its ears and tail were not docked, making it infinitely more adorable. She withdrew the puppy and set him on the floor, before drawing out the bowl and food. She then poured the suggested amount into the bowl and set it on the floor for the puppy, who happily polished off all the food before running to the door. She picked him up before walking to the back door, which had had a dog flap installed by the previous owners. With some difficulty, the dog pushed his way outside. She would name him in the morning. Tomorrow was her off day, anyway.