Honey Pie

by SPark

Won't You Please Come Home

Pinkie was having a sad day again. She'd woken up this morning in a terrible funk, so once again she was in the kitchen doing the baking. I was at the register now; I'd had enough practice to work it unaided. I knew Pinkie's low mood wouldn't last. Tonight was the talent show and usually the very thought of it was enough to send her bouncing off the walls—sometimes literally.

I greeted ponies and made change without any real enthusiasm. Pinkie's depression was dragging me down as well. As the day passed though, she cheered up a bit, and so did I. Soon it was less than an hour until closing, after which we would dress in the matching outfits Rarity had made for us and head to the town hall to perform. I was still nervous about the idea of drawing attention to myself, but since Pinkie was looking forward to it so much, I was willing to do it for her sake. It would make her happy.

"Good afternoon!" The Mayor's cheerful voice rang through the bakery. She trotted up to the counter with a smile.

I smiled politely in return. "How can I help you?"

"One dozen assorted donuts, please. I wanted to treat the lovely ponies helping set up things for the talent show tonight. They've worked quite hard!" Her smile grew. I didn't smile back. In fact, it was all I could do to not gape at her in horror. I couldn't taste any emotion from her.

"I'll box those up for you," I managed, and turned away to fill a box with donuts.

When I turned back with the full box she had put her hooves on the counter. Leaning over it, her face far too close to mine, she whispered, "This is Chrysalis Hive territory. Whoever you are, you don't belong here."

I took a step back, but she merely took the donut box and walked off with it, leaving me to gape at her.

Sweetcake! I felt that. What happened? Are you okay?

We have to go to Twilight; now! I said silently to Pinkie. Turn off the oven and run!

What is it? What's wrong?

The Mayor has been replaced by a changeling.

And that's bad?



I'll explain it when we get there. There's no time to waste. I flipped the sign on the door over to the closed side and bolted outside, with Pinkie on my heels.

We raced to the Golden Oaks Library, and it was all I could do to not pound frantically on the door. I didn't want to alarm any strangers who might be at the library, but my insides were a knot of worry and fear.

Thankfully, Twilight opened the door almost immediately. "Sweetcake? Pinkie? What is it?"

"Bad news. Very bad news." I tried to look past her, to see if she was alone.

Her eyes went wide, and an acrid hint of alarm wafted from her. "Oh no! What is it?"

"I kind of don't want the whole town to overhear." I looked from side to side. Nopony was nearby, but still...

"Ah. Okay." She stepped back, letting Pinkie and me inside.

Once the door was shut I could see that the only other person with us was Rainbow Dash. She put down the book she'd been reading and trotted over. "So, what is this 'bad news'?" She made air quotes with her hooves, seeming unconcerned.

"I just saw the Mayor, and she's been replaced. That means there's a changeling invasion in progress right here in Ponyville."

"What?" Rainbow's casual expression vanished in a flash.

"But... couldn't it just be like Derpy, a changeling replacing her for a day to gather food?" asked Twilight.

I shook my head. "No. Especially not since it's my old hive doing it. They'd never replace anyone in power just for a day's feeding. It's not worth the increased risk of replacing a public figure. This is a full-on invasion, I'm sure of it."

Twilight frowned. "That's not good. Not good at all."

"I'll say!" said Pinkie Pie. "What about the real Mayor? What will they have done with her?"

"There will be a nest somewhere in town. They'll have the ponies they've replaced there, cocooned so they can be controlled and fed from."

"So if we could find it, we could free the Mayor, and whoever else they've replaced," said Rainbow.

I nodded. "Yes."

"But it could be anywhere," said Twilight.

"No, not anywhere. It'll be underground, almost certainly. And it has to be somewhere that the Mayor and the other replaced ponies would have an excuse to go frequently."

I could see Twilight's eyes tracking back and forth as she mentally flipped through the possibilities. "The town hall, it has to be. It has a basement, underneath the stage. It's used to store old records, and they also sometimes use the trap door in performances."

"Oh my gosh, that's it!" said Pinkie. "When we were there to rehearse yesterday they told Snails that he couldn't use the trap door for his magic act, because it was broken and unsafe! They had a lock on it and everything. It has to be there, that's why they wouldn't let him go down there."

"Then we have to go rescue the Mayor and the others," said Twilight, her face setting into an expression of firm determination. It tasted like aged cheddar, strong and sharp. "How many changelings are there likely to be in this nest?"

I shook my head. "I can't say for certain. Probably not that many. I saw the real Mayor only a few days ago, she wasn't replaced that long ago. So it's still early."

"Then let's get going, the sooner the better!" said Rainbow eagerly.

"We can't just run off," said Twilight. "We need a plan."

"What's to plan?" said Rainbow. "Go, kick changeling flank, rescue ponies, ta-da! We beat up a lot of them in Canterlot, if there's only a few here, it'll be easy."

"Not necessarily." Twilight frowned again. She started pacing back and forth, thinking. I watched her go, trying to think of some plan myself. I had a moment's wonder about the fact that I'd moved to help these ponies against my old hive without even thinking about it. But Pinkie was my hive now. The changeling replacing the Mayor had been right when she had recognized me as being from some other hive. I was. Ponyville wasn't Chrysalis Hive territory, it was my hive territory. The other changelings were the ones who didn't belong here.

"We don't know for certain how many there are. I think what we need to do is scout the town hall basement and find out," said Twilight finally.

"Okay then! Let's go!"

Pinkie bounced in place. "Yeah! To the rescue!"

"Okay." Twilight nodded. Then she looked at me. "Sweetcake... You said this is your old hive. Are you sure you want to fight against them?"

"Yes," I said. "They're not my hive anymore."

"Hey, how can you doubt him? He's the one who ran straight here to warn us about the invasion!" said Pinkie.

"I'm not exactly doubting him, Pinkie. But if I understand how changeling hives work, he'll be fighting against his brothers and sisters. I know that if I had to fight against my family, even if it was to save my friends, I'd have some conflicting loyalties."


"Twilight is right," I said, nodding. "In fact... maybe I should stay behind. I can watch through Pinkie's eyes and tell you anything you need to know through her without needing to be there."

"Woah, cool!" said Rainbow. "Can you look through mine too?"

I chuckled. "No, only Pinkie's."

"Actually that's probably good. It would be pretty weird to have somepony else in my head."

"Well, we have a plan. And we have a backup in case anything goes wrong, too." Twilight smiled at me. "So let's go."

They went out the front door, Twilight locking it behind them. I settled myself on the floor and closed my eyes so that I could see through Pinkie's.

The trio cantered through town to the town hall. When they arrived it was deserted. It was after hours for the ordinary business of governing, but too early yet for anypony to be there for the talent show. Pinkie led the way to the stage, where the trap door was, near the back wall. Twilight's horn glowed for a moment, and the lock fell away. Her magic lifted the door. The three ponies stood for a moment, looking down into the blackness below. Rickety wooden stairs led down, but the light didn't reach to where they touched the bottom.

Pinkie went first, creeping silently down the stairs. She wasn't afraid at all. When she glanced back I saw Rainbow Dash hovering just behind her, looking confident and unafraid. I couldn't taste her at this distance. Twilight, as she followed after, looked a little more wary.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Twilight summoned a tiny spark to the tip of her horn. The light fell on what was unmistakably a changeling nest. Dark resin was plastered to the walls, hiding their original texture and shape, turning the basement into a series of smaller chambers. In most of those chambers hung green cocoons, cradling ponies.

There were no drones currently present, which made sense. There were no young to tend here, nor solid food to grow here; the main task would be to infiltrate the town and capture new ponies to replace.

The number of cocoons worried me though. I had thought, with the Mayor being replaced only a day or two past, that there would be at most a dozen of them. There were easily twice as many, maybe even three times.

Be careful, I said silently to Pinkie. There are more changeling replacements in town than I'd thought.

"Sweetcake says to be careful," whispered Pinkie. "There are a lot more replacements than he expected."

"More than I expected too," said Twilight. "I think I've seen enough. Let's-"

There was a thud, and the light coming down through the trap door above cut off. All three ponies whirled around to face the stairs. There were three ponies on the stairs. One was the Mayor. One was an earth pony stallion I didn't know. The last was a blue unicorn that I recognized as Minuette. I'd met her when I first started working in the bakery. She hadn't been back since, so she could have been a changeling for weeks.

Rainbow Dash immediately swooped towards them, but Minuette's horn glowed with green light and she swatted Rainbow from the air. Rainbow fell and didn't rise; the spell had knocked her out.

Pinkie's heart was pounding with fear, but she braced for combat courageously. I wished I could be there with her, I knew how to fight. She'd never been trained, and I couldn't pass my training through the bond. Knowing what the moves were wouldn't be enough. But surely Twilight's magic would be enough.

Twilight yelled and shot a beam of magenta power at Minuette.

She laughed, a scornful sound, and blocked it with a green-glowing shield. A swift beam of power licked out from the shield an instant later. Twilight cried out as it struck her. She fell.

"Twilight!" shouted Pinkie. Minuette looked at her with a malicious smile, and for a moment her eyes flashed green. I felt fear stab through me. Drone eyes were blue. Green meant an under-queen. No wonder she'd been able to best Twilight. Things were far worse than I'd feared. Your only hope is to get around her somehow, you can't fight her, Pinkie!

I can't leave Twilight and Rainbow! If she gets me, have Spike send for the Princess. She leaped at Minuette, but another green beam of power reached out to her, and sudden blackness claimed her.

My eyes snapped open, seeing the library around me without really registering it. I could still sense Pinkie, she was alive. She was unconscious now, though. Soon she'd be encased in a cocoon and replaced with a drone. I couldn't just leave her to that fate.

She'd told me to have Spike send for Princess Celestia. I'd finally met the little dragon who was Twilight's assistant last week. Was he here in the library somewhere? I got to my feet and went in search of him. He wasn't hard to find, he was upstairs, napping in a basket.

I nudged him with one hoof. "Spike?"

"Huhwha?" He opened his eyes and blinked up at me.

"Pinkie told me to have you contact the Princess. It's very important."

He shot upright. "It is? What happened? Where's Twilight?"

"She's been captured by changelings. They've invaded Ponyville."

"Holy cow, really?

"Yes, really. You need to tell Celestia."

"Right away!" He scurried off, down the stairs. By the time I reached him he had a paper and quill in his claws and was scribbling away frantically. He rolled the result up and then set it on fire, which was not at all what I'd expected. "There," he said. "She should reply any minute now."

There was a long silence.

"Any minute now," repeated Spike.

"How long does it usually take?"

"Oh, well, sometimes it takes hours for her to reply, but when it's something important she usually sends a response right away. I don't know what could be taking so long."

"I can't just sit here and wait. I have to go do something."

"Like what? If it's a whole changeling invasion, it took Shining Armor, Cadance, and a super-strong spell that I don't think anypony else could cast, to kick them all out last time."

"I still can't just sit here." I started pacing back and forth. I couldn't. Pinkie was everything I had. Sitting and waiting while she was in danger just wasn't an option.

I couldn't just charge to the rescue by myself though. I would be facing an under-queen. I was only a drone. Her power was an order of magnitude at least beyond mine. I needed help. I thought of Pinkie Pie's friends. Rarity was no warrior. Neither was Fluttershy. Applejack, perhaps, might be. And she might perhaps know some other pony who could fight with us.

"I'm going to go get Applejack," I said.

"Do you want me to come with you?"

I looked down at the tiny dragon. He was obviously just a nymph, nowhere near full grown even for a pony, let alone a dragon. I couldn't take him into danger. "Why don't you wait here for Princess Celestia's reply? There are some details she will probably want to know. The changelings have a nest underneath town hall, and there is an under-queen here who's quite powerful, though not as powerful as the queen herself."

"Okay. I'll write her another letter, and tell her to hurry while I'm at it." He picked up the quill and paper again.

I didn't wait around while he wrote, I sprinted out the door. Heedless of any attention it might draw, I shaped a pair of wings and shot into the air as soon as I was outside. The sun was touching the horizon in the distance as I zoomed away from town, towards Sweet Apple Acres.

I landed next to the farmhouse in a flurry of dust. "Applejack! Applejack!"

Her head poked out the farmhouse door. "Sweetcake?" She looked at my wings in bafflement. "What's wrong?"

"My old hive is invading the town, they've made a nest in the basement under the town hall. Pinkie Pie, Twilight, and Rainbow Dash have all been captured. We have to rescue them! But there's an under-queen there, I can't fight her alone. She's too strong. I need help."

Applejack's eyes had gotten wider and wider as I poured out my frantic story. There was a hint of acrid fear from her, but mostly she tasted of surprise. "Holy buckin' horseapples. You sure about this, Sweetcake?"


"Alrighty then. Guess I better call the cavalry." She turned back into the house. "Hey! Big Mac! Get yer flank out here!"

A moment later a truly gigantic earth pony stallion trotted up next to her. He regarded me with a look of mild curiosity. I could taste an intense interest, as citrus-bright and strong as Twilight's had been, behind the bland expression.

"This here is Sweetcake, he's Pinkie Pie's special somepony, and I guess I can probably tell ya that he's also a changeling, since I figure he ain't tryin' too hard to hide just now, what with the wings and all."

I felt vaguely embarrassed by that, and made the wings vanish, returning to the ordinary unicorn form I'd grown accustomed to.

"Anyhow, he says there's a passel o' other changelings tryin' to invade the town, and they've got Twilight an' Pinkie an' Dash at the town hall, along with some kind of... what did you call it?"

"An under-queen. Like Queen Chrysalis, but not as strong. Stronger than I am, though."

"Right. There's gonna' be a whole crowd o' ponies at the town hall by the time we get there, seein' as how the talent show is tonight. So they'll be outnumbered pretty badly. I reckon all we got to do is get to the basement and show ponies that there's an invasion, and the changelings'll turn tail."

I'd nearly forgotten about the talent show, but Applejack was right. There would be hundreds of ponies in the audience. The changelings would run, rather than fight, faced with odds like that. Just so long as the whole audience didn't turn out to be changelings. But no, that wasn't possible. There had been maybe three dozen pods in the basement, at most. There couldn't be any more than that, and they probably wouldn't all be present. At least I hoped they wouldn't be. I realized that panic was making my mind wander. I corralled my thoughts and nodded at Applejack. "Yes. We can fight if we have to, but a revealed changeling's first instinct is to flee."

"Good. Then let's go."

Her brother nodded, still without having said a word, and followed Applejack as she headed towards town at a gallop. I went after them.

Applejack could really run. Surprisingly for a pony his size, so could Big Mac. I had to work to keep up with them. Still, it seemed to take forever to reach the town. I was panting hard, but not feeling as tired as I had expected, when we finally arrived at the town hall.

The doors stood open, pouring golden light out into the twilit town. Ponies were still arriving and there was plenty of empty space remaining, but a good sized crowd had already gathered. The curtains were drawn aside from the stage. I caught a glimpse of the Mayor, standing behind a podium that was set to one side of the stage. My attention was on the stage itself, though. The trap door was there, and Pinkie Pie was beneath it.

Applejack and Big Mac hesitated once we were inside, but I didn't. I ran straight for the stage and jumped up on it. A murmur of confusion ran through the crowd. I ignored it. I didn't care about anything but reaching Pinkie Pie.

Suddenly a figure stepped out from behind a piece of scenery set there in preparation for some act or other. It was Minuette. Or rather the changeling under-queen who had taken Minuette's place.

Her eyes narrowed as she glared at me. "You are making a huge mistake," she hissed in a low voice. "No one challenges Chrysalis Hive." Her horn lit with green light.

I summoned my own magic. "Just let me past and I won't have to hurt you," I said.

"I think not." Power shot at me from her horn. I blocked it, and to my shock, my shield held. With a sudden feeling of hope I countered with a blast of my own. She blocked it, but I felt her shield shudder.

I was stronger than she was.

My heart soared. Of course! Pinkie Pie's love! I'd been feeding on enough to power half the hive. With that to draw on I could beat any changeling save perhaps the queen herself. I poured more power into my attack.

The crowd of ponies behind me was growing noisier. I still didn't care. I just had to get past Minuette, that was all.

A yell and a thud behind me broke my concentration for a moment. I glanced over to see Applejack fighting with the Mayor, while Big Mac was facing off against the earth pony I'd seen in the basement. Several more ponies were moving through the crowd towards the fight. A burst of power struck me and I swayed, returning my attention to the battle before me. Minuette snarled at me and left off her attack, raising a stronger shield instead. I poured more power into my attack, beginning to realize the full extent of the reservoir of power I had at my disposal now.

Minuette screamed suddenly, a sound of pure rage, and flung herself at me. For just an instant, her horn touched mine.

And our minds joined.

I nearly went to my knees. The hum of the hive poured into me. I could sense Minuette in front of me, frozen in shock at what had just happened. I could sense the Mayor and several more changelings behind me. I could sense several working in the basement below me, finishing the pods holding my friends. I could sense the others scattered around Ponyville. And I could sense those who waited back at the hive itself. Hundreds and hundreds of minds touched mine. I felt tears gathering in my eyes. My hive was back.

One mind, powerful beyond measure, reached out to me. What is this? A new changeling? How can that be? Ah no, I see. A little lost lamb, returning to us. How interesting.

The Queen's mind grasped mine. I felt her rifling through my memories like the pages of a book. My! You will make the best double agent possible. A changeling, known to be a changeling, yet welcomed by ponies. You even have the trust of their pretty little Princess. Amazing!

The crowd was still murmuring behind me. Applejack had stopped fighting when the Mayor had. I barely knew they were there, all I knew was the touch of my Queen's mind against mine, filling the aching emptiness that I had almost forgotten. Tears trickled down my cheeks.

But what's this? A bond with a pony? Oh no, that will never do. She will cause far too much trouble. I felt the Queen reach deeper into my mind, seeking a way through it, to the bond that tied me to Pinkie Pie. She was going to cut it.


Do not defy me, drone. You belong to me.

No! I belong to her. I am her special somepony!

What? Don't be ridiculous! The Queen laughed in my mind and reached again for the bond that tied me to Pinkie Pie.

I hissed defiance, my horn lighting once more. I remembered my training, and the trick I'd learned so that I could fight without knowing what my opponent intended. Even as she was still feeling about for the bond that tied me to Pinkie, I reached out with my magic and cut the bond between the Queen and I.

I felt her snarl of anger at my defiance, not through the bond that I'd cut, but through a thousand other bonds with my hive-mates. I felt her reach again, this time through them, seeking to grasp me once more.

I summoned every scrap of power I had and reached for every one of those hundreds and hundreds of bonds. My horn blazed as I strained to grasp them all. The queen was close now, her will trickling into my mind. "No!" I shouted, aloud and in my mind as well. My horn so bright that I could see it through my closed eyelids, I finally cut the bonds, all of them, that tied me to the hive.

Just like that, I was alone again in my mind, save for one small, sleeping voice. Pinkie was once more all I had.

I heard cries and shouts erupt around me. I opened my eyes to see Minuette still standing in front of me, looking utterly shocked. Her shock was suddenly replaced by a wicked grin. "It's a changeling!" she cried. "Kill it!"

I looked down at myself. I had drawn on my power too hard, and had reverted to my natural shape. Already the cries of alarm behind me began to take on notes of anger. I turned, to see a crowd of ponies that were rapidly headed towards becoming a mob.

Well, if I was going to go down, I wouldn't go down alone. My horn lit, and I had just enough power left to cast the changeling reveal spell that Twilight had taught me on Minuette.

"She is a changeling too," I said. "And I only came here to make friends. She came here to replace your friends and take over the town."

Minuette hissed at me in rage. When she spoke I could hear an echo of the queen herself in her voice. "Very well. You win for the moment. But this is not over, traitor! We will return. Never trust anyone again, little one. Anypony you meet could be me, slipping back to take my revenge!" Then in a flash of green light she was gone. I turned away to see several more flashes as the rest of the changelings followed her.

I was left alone, standing on a stage, in front of half the town of Ponyville. Dozens of eyes fixed on me. The air was full of the taste of emotions, ranging from confusion, to fear, to rage. Any minute now rage would win, and they would attack. I couldn't run, however much I wanted to. Pinkie Pie was still there, beneath my hooves. I couldn't just leave her.

The muttering of the crowd grew louder. A voice shouted, "Kill the changeling!" A growl of agreement swept through the crowed. I took a step back, cringing before all those angry faces.

Suddenly something jumped between me and the angry mob. "Now hold on just a minute!" It was Applejack. She tasted strongly of determination. I nearly could have made a meal of it. "I know y'all don't like changelings none. Heck, I don't like 'em much either. But Sweetcake here ain't like the rest of 'em. He ain't replaced any pony, and he ain't here to invade us. He's here 'cause he's Pinkie's friend. I reckon he's my friend too, and I ain't going to stand by and let y'all hurt him. So if any of you want him, yer goin' to hafta' go through me first."

"An' me," said Big Mac, stepping up beside her.

The tone of the muttering changed instantly. I couldn't hear any individual words, but I could tell that not a one of them wanted to tangle with Applejack and her brother.

Applejack nodded firmly. "That's more like it. Now Sweetcake came to warn us that there was a nest o' changelings right under our hooves here. He's goin' to show us where they are, and we're goin' to set free all the ponies they caught. Right, Sweetcake?"

"Yes ma'am," I said. I went over to the now-unguarded trap door.

Before I could open it there was an explosion of soft light that poured down all around me. I looked up to see Princess Celestia hovering over the stage. Ponies gasped and bowed throughout the room. I bowed as well as the Princess landed next to me on the stage.

"Sweetcake," she said, smiling. "Spike has told me how you came to warn Twilight of danger. I see that you have done even more than that. You have saved Ponyville. You have done very well, my little changeling."

"Th-thank you," I stammered. Then I looked at the trapdoor again. "All I wanted to do was to save Pinkie though."

"Then let us do so," she said. She bent her head and touched her horn to the lock. It dissolved into smoke. The door swung open in the grip of her golden magic. She stepped back, the door itself obviously too small to easily admit her. I didn't hesitate, I dashed forward.

The changelings that had been working here were gone as well, vanished along with the under-queen. All that remained were the pods, with their cargo of sleeping ponies. I didn't have to search to find Pinkie's, I went straight to it. Behind me Applejack started looking at the other pods. "What're we supposed to do now?"

"Cut open the pods," I said. "Let the ponies out." I lit my horn and tore open the one holding Pinkie. The green liquid drained from around her. Her eyes snapped open. She coughed, spewing green out. I helped her to her feet, where she coughed again and again, until her lungs were finally free of the stuff.

Around me other ponies were moving, tearing open other pods. I had no eyes for them, all my attention was on Pinkie Pie. Her eyes opened and she immediately wrapped her hooves around me tightly.

I hugged her back, clinging to her with something like desperation. My mind clung to hers too, holding on to that single bond with desperate strength. I had come so close to losing her. The queen had nearly cut my bond with her. And I... Suddenly I realized what I'd done. I had cut my bond with the hive. I'd gotten back the thing I wanted most of all, and without even thinking about it I'd tossed it aside to be with Pinkie.

I started to shake. Pinkie just held me tighter. "It's okay," she whispered in my ear. "It's okay. I'm here." I'll always be here. Always. I know what you did for me. I know you love me. I love you too, my Mister Sweetcake Changeling. I'll always love you.


Pinkie's "Mister Sweetcake Changeling Saved The Town" party had drawn the biggest crowd I'd ever seen in my life. I think every single pony in town attended it. She held it outdoors, because it was too big to fit in any structure in town. Though I suspected that Princess Celestia's presence at the party was the reason for most of the crowd. Certainly ponies crowded more eagerly around her than they did around me. I didn't mind. I'd never liked being the center of attention.

Still, I tasted far less apprehension in the air than I'd feared, given that I was myself again, wearing my true form. Applejack hadn't wanted me to hide, and to be honest I felt odd about going back to being a pony. The whole town had seen me. What would be the point? I had, however, changed one thing about my appearance. I'd taken a small page from the ponies themselves. The moment when a pony discovered their destiny was marked on their flanks. I'd marked it on my own by using my talent to shape a cutie mark.

So although my hide was chitinous again, and I had a stiff crest rather than a mane, my cupcake cutie mark declared that I had aligned myself with the ponies. Though in truth I'd mostly aligned myself with one pony in particular; the pony who had first shared the taste of a cupcake with me. The pony who was my special somepony. The pony who came bounding through the crowd towards me and tackled me in an enthusiastic hug.

"Isn't this a great party, Sweetcake?"

I laughed. "It is, yes."

"Howdy there, y'all," said Applejack, walking over to us with a smile. Fluttershy was with her, though she seemed to be half-hiding from the crowd behind Applejack. "Enjoyin' yer party?" Applejack tasted of friendship, pure and sweet and almost as good as love.

"I am, yes. Though I'm not entirely comfortable with such a large crowd of ponies all paying attention to me."

"I know just how you feel," said Fluttershy. She smiled at me. Friendship was radiating from her too. I pulled in a little of it, though I didn't really need to. It was just nice to not taste fear of me from her. There was a thread of unease directed at the crowd, but I understood that.

"Hello, darlings." Rarity beamed at all of us. I beamed back. There was still an edge of revulsion to her feelings, but there was a strong thread of friendship from her as well. She might not like how I looked, but she liked me.

"It's a shame the talent show had to be canceled. Do you know if they'll hold another one? I may have to make you new outfits for it, the color scheme doesn't suit you at all any more, Sweetcake darling."

"Hey there!" Rainbow Dash dropped down out of the sky next to me. "Put 'er there!" She held out a hoof and I hoof-bumped it. Friendship flowed from her as well, flavored with fruity admiration. "Awesome party, Pinks!"

"Thanks!" Pinkie bounced happily in place next to me.

"Hello, everypony." Twilight trotted up, with Spike seated on her back. He had a gemstone-topped cupcake in his claws. "This is a really terrific party, Pinkie! How did you ever bake so much in just one day?" The friendship from her somehow made what I tasted from the others even stronger. All together it was as good as love. I felt like could have fought a dozen under-queens in that moment.

Pinkie looked around, then said in a conspiratorial whisper, "Don't tell anypony, but Princess Celestia's pastry chef baked about half of it."

"Do I hear my name being whispered conspiratorially?" said a mellow voice from next to me. I nearly jumped.

"Princess Celestia!" I bowed, and so did the others.

"Rise, my little ponies. And changeling." She smiled benevolently at me. Friendship came from her too, tinged with a maternal care that was practically love. With Pinkie beside me too, sending me pure love, I felt positively giddy with it.

"I wanted to thank you again, Sweetcake, for what you've done for my ponies, and for me. The spellcasting project I was working on delayed me unforgivably, but you saved the day before I even arrived. You were very courageous." I shifted, not knowing how to respond. The queen had never praised me. I wasn't used to praise. But Celestia continued. "I was... lax in following up on Chrysalis' invasion as well. Obviously she began working to invade Ponyville almost as soon as she was cast out of Canterlot. I cannot help but suspect that she wished to gain revenge against those who aided in her defeat." She looked around the little group significantly, before returning her gaze to me.

"She swore revenge against me too," I said. "After I cut my bond with her. She said that I would never be able to trust anypony, because anypony could be her, coming after me."

Celestia nodded solemnly. "Obviously steps will have to be taken. I was willing to allow Chrysalis to simply go her own way, but if she will not leave us in peace then something must be done."

"What, exactly, are you going to do?" asked Twilight.

"I don't know yet. There is so much we don't know about Chrysalis and the changelings."

"I can probably tell you more than I did before. Now that I'm not in shock from losing the hive I remember more than I did. I'll do whatever I can to help."

"Even if it means war against your queen and your family?"

I shook my head. "She is not my queen any more. The hive is not my family anymore. Ponies are. My friends are. Pinkie is. I don't want to let the changelings harm them."

"Once again I must thank you, Sweetcake. We will speak again of these matters." Celestia nodded regally to me. "And Twilight, I would speak with you as well. But for now I believe I will go and have another cupcake." With one more regal nod she was gone, striding gracefully through the crowd.

"War with the changelings. That's a scary thought," said Twilight.

"I think we can take 'em," said Rainbow Dash.

"I hope it doesn't come to that," I said.

"Well, if she's all bent on revenge, it might," said Rainbow Dash.

I shivered a bit at that. Having the queen herself coming after me was a frightening thought.

"It's okay, Sweetcake." Pinkie put an arm over me and hugged me. "We won't let her hurt you."

"Yeah, she'll have to come through us!" said Rainbow Dash.

The others were all nodding and agreeing, crowding close around me, pouring their friendship and care into me. I smiled, my worry easing. They were there for me. They weren't going to leave. Maybe I didn't have a hive bond with the others, but they were my hive too. They were closer, even than my hive had been. They were not just an impersonal hum in the back of my mind, they were my friends, who cared for me.

With their friendship and Pinkie's love I could do anything, maybe even challenge the queen herself.