"Minuette, Twinkle Shine, Miss Heartstrings, I'm, I'm so sorry, what that witch planned to do to you, and Moondancer, what that witch DID do to you," Princess Cadence said.
"You . . . you had nothing to do what with what Her Majesty, what she . . . what she did to me."
"I'm still sorry this happened to you, Moondancer, it shouldn't have happened. It wouldn't have happened if Chrysalis hadn't captured me in the first place," the Princess said, lowering her head. "And I'm sorry I let that happen. If I'd seen her coming and defeated her before she'd absorbed Shining's love, none of this would have happened."
"You couldn't prepare for an enemy you didn't know anything about Cadence," Minuette said, "Nopony knew anything about these monsters. You'd just as soon be blamed for not seeing an invisible pony."
"Her Majesty . . . made sure nopony knew anything about her, she made absolutely sure. You weren't . . . you weren't supposed to expose her there, in front of so many ponies. She wasn't even planning to fight . . . to fight Princess Celestia head on. She was planning to swarm her with Changelings and stab her in the back. You forced her to change everything. She's already had to adjust it several times."
"If this is her winging it, I'd have hated to see things 'go according to plan,'" Lyra said looking out a stained glass window.
"Nothing ever goes according to plan," Minuette said.
"Her Majesty doesn't think so. You said she exposed herself trying to kill Blueblood for ruining her plan. She's a...she relishes control. She feels she's scraped her way to the top so she deserves to have everything go her way for all she's endured and worked for."
"And that's why we're going to win," Cadence said firmly. "She's not the only one who can endure."
"And we'll be right besides you Princess," Twinkle Shine cheered.
"No, you won't. You were going to be turned into her slaves, I won't risk-"
"Princess. With all due respect," Twinkle Shine said, "You agreed to have three fillies help to keep them out of WORSE danger, what makes you think you could stop us from helping?"
"Them I can't royally order."
"Actually you could, it just wouldn't work anymore than with us."
Cadence felt a headache, "I wonder if Auntie has days like this."
"Cadence," Twinkle Shine said, "If this is about Sunset-"
"No it isn't. This is nothing like Sunset."
Lyra knew from her friends' letters that they weren't talking about Princess Celestia's old apprentice.
"Princess, you know we're not just your hoofmaidens, we're your FRIENDS, and we'll stick by you through anything."
"I just don't want you to be hurt. This is a war, and you're not soldiers."
"Don't worry," Minuette said, giving the Princess a look reminding her that she wasn't the only one who remembered a world war that no longer existed and the horrors that could result. "You'd be surprised Cadence, we'll watch each other's backs, and yours. Ever since...Sunset...We've been PREPARING for this day. The day we'd have to stop it from happening again. We're READY for this. And that psychopathic witch doesn't know it. If she did, she'd not have made the mistake of firing us."
" . . . Lyra Heartstrings."
"Yes, Your Highness?"
Cadence put a hoof on her shoulder, "It is an honor, that I accept you as one of my hoofmaidens de facto, and bridesmaids."
"Princess . . . I can't really be a replacement for-"
"Don't even go there. THAT is an order I expect you to obey!" Cadence said in a no-nonsense tone that made the unicorn nod her head meekly. "I accept you as a new friend."
"Welcome to the team Lyra." Minuette and Twinkle Shine hugged her. Then Moondancer as well. The Alicorn of Bonds felt stronger just being near them.
"I think I was already a part."
"Yes?" They asked.
Cadence hugged them with her hooves and wings, "It's WONDERFUL that you're all safe!!! And I AM sorry for everything that witch told you, said to you, using my face!"
They hugged in return. "We're just happy, that wasn't really you, and we're sorry, we didn't realize you'd NEVER say those things!" They nuzzled her together, and she nuzzled back.
"If you forgive me, then I forgive you. There is nothing more to say!"
After being patched up by Minuette, Moth had simply sat there in one of the pews, she had shifted back to her mirror image of Bon Bon, no pony had told her not to, and it simply felt more natural. Bon Bon simply sat next to her, not even looking at her, Moth couldn't bear to look at her either.
Lyra was speaking with the maidens and the princess, but stole glances at her, she didn't look angry, she looked hurt, betrayed, Moth whimpered and hugged herself. The others were now ignoring her.
"Moth," Bon Bon asked, "How much of what I remember is true?"
"Everything from when you first laid eyes on me in Ponyville to now."
" . . . So everything before that was a lie you invented?"
"Who did you take the place of in my mind?"
"NO CREATURE! Bon Bon, I didn't take the place of anypony! You never had a sister for me to take the place of! Those memories you have? . . . We made them together. You filled in the gaps yourself. I placed myself into your memories, what you thought of me, what we did together, everything else was you. Even Chrysalis couldn't rewrite someone's entire memories without some contribution."
"And that makes it okay?"
"No it doesn't...not at all. I understand if you feel violated...you have a right to be..."
"And Lyra? Tootsie?"
" . . . It was the same with them, you made it easier to sync up their memories of me with yours, when you invented me visiting or seeing you before, their memories had to be adjusted to, an empty day at the house doing nothing became a visit from 'Auntie Moth.'"
"How many others ponies in Ponyville did you do this to?"
" . . . Not a one. I Pinkie Promise. It was only you and your family. I managed to steer the memories of us together enough so it wouldn't be things you'd find too big contradictions."
"How could you make my memories lie to me?"
"Our memories lie to us all the time, we rewrite them ourselves to fit with what we felt and thought at the time."
"THAT ISN'T WHAT I MEANT!"
Moth startled and whimpered, shrinking away from the identical mare. "How could you do this to me? To Lyra? Our foal? How could you do something like that Moth?!"
"Because I was terrified! I was terrified I'd starve to death! That you'd put me in a zoo! That Her Majesty's lies that ponies would kill Changelings on sight were true! I was terrified Her Majesty would have spies in Ponyville who'd root me out!"
" . . . why, why didn't you ever tell me? Didn't you trust us? Trust me? After all the years we've been family."
"After what I did?! After what I've done?"
"And you thought it was better to just keep it going?"
"I didn't want to lose you! For the first time in a long time I was happy! I was just accepted. If I fell short, you'd be there to pick up the slack, because you knew I'd do the same for you. I belonged again, and . . . you loved me, I never once had to encourage it, you didn't just talk about things we never did, we talked about things we were doing. About what you wanted...about things we'd actually done together. . . and Rosedust help me, I loved all of you."
"Moth." Bon Bon said strictly, "Stand on all fours. And don't move until I give you permission to."
The changeling obeyed.
Bon Bon struck her. "That was for Lyra." Moth didn't move. Bon Bon hit her again. "That was for Tootsie!" Once more.
"And that was for you?"
"No. That was for yourself!"
Moth looked in surprise.
"You can move now. So, making candy, doing voices, the running of the leafs, our freaking out when Nightmare Moon arrived, Discord, Princess Gaia, that was all you? It was real? It happened?"
"Yes. And it's . . . actually funny you should mention 'Candy.'"
"The name I wanted to tell you when we first met was 'Candy', not my real name. But I was so delirious when I spoke I gave you my real name." Sitting on her rear with her rear knees up and her forehooves on her back knees looking down sadly.
"I'm happy I got to know you by your real name. Or was it all an act?"
"None of it."
"And I should believe that because?" Her voice wasn't accusing, if anything, it was leading.
"Because I have nothing left to lose.
"Changelings can't feed on their own love, it's like a snake eating its own tail, our magic doesn't recharge on its own and our magic is our life force, all I have is a bucket riddled with holes I have to keep filling. Every drop giving to others is one more drop towards it being empty, dying. But it hurts worse when I don't share it. I told myself I'd move on after I was strong enough. But being called by my real name, using your appearance but not your identity. . . . I was warned about it as a nymph. 'Beware, some changelings can get lost in a role.' "
"A child, a foal, is that strange I used to be little?"
"No Moth, not at all. I remember being with you when small."
"I inserted myself into those memories. All you remember are lies."
"Was everything we did together in Ponyville since you came a false memory too?"
"So who were you pretending to be exactly when we did the running of the leaves together?"
" . . . your sister."
"And you've been exactly that for YEARS Moth! You haven't stole any love form me! I've given it to you same as I give it to Lyra!"
"And all based on a lie."
" . . . if it's all a lie, then if we've never meant anything to you . . . why are you crying?"
" . . . I'm a predator, no, I'm a PARASITE, not even that, I'm a parasitoid, we don't don't attached to a host and leave it at that, we harvest them dry, and find a new victim. There is nothing natural about us, we aren't predators hunting prey, we're a plague."
" . . . If that's true, then why are Lyra, Tootsie and I still alright?"
" . . . I never forced it out, I never took more than you gave me. All the love I vomited back to you, you kept returning several fold."
"You said you were scared of the Queen's spies finding you, why were you scared of that?"
"Because I'm legally insane. When I see you Bon Bon, I see a person, not a walking emotion battery, and as far as the hive is concerned, that's no different than if you knew a pony who thought stacks of HAY were people! And that eating hay was cruel and not thinking about what the HAY wanted. Like griffin and their meat-cattle, I'm crazy for feeling bad for feeding off of innocent ponies, that it's wrong to leave emotionless husks in our wake. If you met a pony who preached it was wrong to suck an orange completely dry. THAT is what we're taught as nymphs, and it's proof of insanity, to put the needs and wants of cattle, above the needs and wants of the hive, of people."
" . . . in other words, because you have a heart?"
"No. Bon Bon that isn't it. We know kindness, cruelty, happiness, sadness, we just don't think non-changelings' feelings on the subject MATTER, after all, we're hungry, what does it matter what our food thinks? The most we cared was as much as you care about someling torturing a simple animals."
"But you do." Bon Bon then -HUGGED HER?!- And Bon Bon kissed her in each spot where she had struck her.
"Don't you get it si-, Bon-Bon? Everything before you met me in Ponyville was a lie. . ."
Bon Bon didn't stop hugging her. She then began to nuzzle her. Moth couldn't stop herself from absorbing the love Bon Bon gave her anymore than a pony could control their esophagus. The taste was as familiar as Bon Bon herself, her determination, her yin to Lyra's yang, her joy for Tootsie, the way she made Moth feel whole.
Moth admitted, "But if there can be such a thing as a 'good lie' . . . it's . . . whatever."
"YOU SAID EVERYTHING BEFORE PONYVILLE WAS A LIE! SO EVERYTHING AFTER THAT WAS A TRUE RIGHT? Running of the Leaves? The Sisterhood Social? Nightmare Night? Hearth's Warming Eve? THOSE MEMORIES ARE REAL! WE FORGED THEM TOGETHER!"
"I'm nothing but a walking lie! Just stop it!"
"NO, YOU'RE NOT! YOU'RE MY SISTER!"
" . . . How can you say that? After everything?"
"Am I mad at you? YES! I'm mad at you for using your magic on Lyra and Tootsie! I'm mad at you for not saying ANYTHING all these years even when it could have helped us, helped ALL OF US, am I disappointed in you? Yes. Am I angry? Yes. Do I think you were being a complete idiot? Yes. Do I think you deserved that beat-up? . . . Yes. Am I disgusted at what you did to my family? You have no idea. . . But all these years, you've been nothing but family too. I don't hate you. I can't hate you! I'd never hate you! You're my sister who messed up, and who has the goodness in her to do her best to make it right! And I'm here to help you do that!"
" . . . H-how-?"
"We're ponies. We're not supposed to believe in grudges, everypony here will forgive you eventually, I'm SURE of it. Just like I forgive you, sister. We're supposed to believe in our herd, and you're a part of it."
Moth recoiled, then sighed. "...So that's what it is. It's this face, isn't it?" She shed her disguise. "See? I'm not a pony. This is my true form. You don't need to feel guilty about hating me."
BonBon didn't release her hold, even as the clear flames burned her a little bit and she was hugging hard exoskeleton instead of fur. "I don't hate you, so I have nothing to be guilty about."
Moth's compound eyes blinked. "...You...you really mean that?"
"You're the love vampire, are you still getting love from me?"
"Do you have to take it?"
"So I'm giving it to you?"
Bon Bon looked up, right into the Changeling's compound eyes. "The face doesn't matter. Wear any face you want. They're all just masks my sister is wearing...and if this is what you look like under the mask?"
Bon Bon looked to Pinkie Diane. "Pinkie Pie, you've got a camera, right?"
"...Why would I?"
"Because you're Pinkie Pie."
Pinkie gave a smile and produced a camera. "You're right."
"Bon Bon, what are you doing?" Moth asked.
"Don't you DARE put on a disguise. And don't move."
Bon Bon positioned Moth next to her in a pose. Moth recognized it. "This is..."
"Shush. Hold still! Let Pinkie snap the picture!"
Bon Bon motioned to Pinkie Diane as she took her own pose. Pinkie snapped the picture, which slid out from the front of the camera. A few moments later, she showed it to Bon Bon and Moth.
"Hold still sis! Let mom snap the picture!"
"Alright! I'm holding still!"
"But...that memory was fake! I put it in your head myself!"
"I know," Bon Bon said. "So I replaced it with a real one. Besides, I'd always been meaning to replace one of the few pictures we 'took together' but managed to 'lose', now's as good a time as any."
Bon Bon looked to Pinkie. "Keep that picture safe, alright? I don't have my saddle bags and...well...you're Pinkie. It's going on the wall WHEN we get home."
Pinkie nodded and slid it into subspace. "I'll keep it safe, cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"
Moth was stunned. "You...you really don't care I'm a monster?"
"Chrysalis is a monster. You're not."
"...I've sucked ponies dry a long time ago, Bon Bon..."
"And now? If you had a chance to set things right?"
"...I'd take it...I'd do anything I could to make them whole again. To give them back what I took...except another life. Mine, yes...but not another."
"Then you were a monster. Not anymore. Now you're my family, my herd."
Tears began down Moth's face. Love...it just kept flowing into her...she didn't know how her body was HOLDING this much love. "...And...and you and Lyra...Tootsie...you're my swarm..."
The Changeling's magic glowed for a moment...then shattered to reveal magic exactly the same color as Lyra's.
"...Your...your magic just changed..."
"...A Changeling's magic match's the one to who they've pledged their loyalty...Lyra's the only one in our family with a magic color for it to match..." she said, giving a small smile.
Bon Bon hugged her. The Changeling finally hugged her back. "I love you Bon Bon..."
"I love you too Moth..."
For the first time in my life...I didn't feel sick giving love. Not one bit.
"I never saw you as a monster. Not once."
" . . . Yes."
All eyes were on Fluttershy now.
"As . . . as Nightmare Whisper, I saw into the hearts of every pony in Ponyville, Cloudsdale, and . . . lots of other places. Yes, I knew. I don't remember the entire life of every single pony everywhere, and I promised myself to keep what I learned secret that I shouldn't have learned in the first place. But I couldn't forget that, and I knew from the beginning, that you, and changelings like you, don't mean any harm."
"What? What do you mean, you don't mean any . . . there are . . . there are other changelings like me in Equestria? Who?"
"That isn't my place to say."
Rainbow Dash face hoofed, "Fluttershy! Respecting ponies' privacy is one thing, but 'secret invasion of evil love-sucking bug ponies'?! Don't you think that's something you should have shared?!"
"I said I didn't keep a memory of everything I felt in every pony's heart. And the changelings I felt . . . the ones my magic touched . . . they really didn't mean any harm. They had no intention of taking over Equestria or doing this. Some where afraid, like Moth wwas, which is why I kept it secret. They were afraid of 'Her Majesty' but I didn't really see anything saying who it was, so I assumed they meant Princess Celestia or somepony else."
"So you just happened to MISS all the changelings who work for queen ugly?! That's stupid! That's super-stupid sent on a rocket from exploding planet-stupid!"
"Rainbow Sweetie is in that witch's clutches and I won't blame Fluttershy for something she didn't know," Rarity defended.
"Moth spoke, "Or . . . the ones she did touch, were never told anything, they might have not even known there was going to be an invasion period. Chrysalis wouldn't have told them anything she didn't want them to share with 'the harvest.' I didn't even know if Chrysalis' invasion would happen in my lifetime period. She got this far by doing everything so slowly that nopony would notice. The Queen wanted nopony to find out about her plans until she'd already won. Plans like this function on a strict 'need to know basis', many changelings don't even know who their co-conspirators are or what the POINT of their orders are. Like a cog in a machine has no clue what the machine actually does."
"Well that didn't happen, and isn't going to happen," Princess Cadence said. "Thanks to you, we can rip the cogs right out of her machine by freeing the others."
"And girls," said Pinkie. "I was hooked up to that orb too, and I can't remember everything I felt either," she explained. "It was like hearing a lot of ponies talking at the same time. I kinda remember Moth was guilty about something, but not what she was guilty about. I was as surprised by the Changelings as everypony else."
Cadence gave it thought. "Auntie said that Alicorns have an infinite memory but mortals don't. It makes sense something a being like Nightmare Whisper could remember, a mortal would have to delete a lot of it or even not process it period to continue functioning period. Even an Alicorn would have difficulty professing that much information all at once. It's not surprising neither of you can remember everything you saw. It's lucky you can remember anything you girls saw."
The Princess remembered after
Makarov had been deleted, how it'd taken months for her mind to process all the new memories from the timeline where he'd never existed. She shuddered to imagine what it would be like trying to process new memories of everypony.
"That might explain why I didn't remember what Moth did before leaving the hive but remember she was a Changeling," Fluttershy noted. 'Maybe Princess Celestia made it so some of the memories are in my butterfly too...because it'd be too dangerous for my mind to hold them all.'
Fluttershy whispered stroking Moth's backside, "And what I remember about you changelings, your hunger. And how much it hurts. A hunger that never ends. A hunger that never truly leaves you. Is never done with you. A hunger that always returns no matter how much you gorge yourself. Able to think and feel, but always in the cage of the hunger."
Moth looked at the meek yellow pegasus and slowly trotted towards her, and knelt in front of her. "If you know what we are, if you know what we feel, then . . . You're a goddess now right?! Then tell me . . . " The changeling began to cry. "What kind of black hearted god would make us this way?"
"...I don't know," Fluttershy said softly. "I... Do I look like an Alicorn? Nightmare Whisper is gone, that's why like Cadence said I can't remember everything in perfect detail I saw, it'd be dangerous for me to while I'm a mortal...but I know one thing..." she said, looking Moth in the eyes. "Nature has many parts, many types of things. You're able to live in harmony with ponies, right?"
"And you don't hurt them, do you?"
"...Not by feeding..."
"And the hunger, it isn't nearly as bad with them, is it?"
"No...it's...it's almost gone because I'm being filled constantly...around them is one of the only times I feel satisfied...And...actually...right now I actually do feel full."
Fluttershy put a hoof on her shoulder. "Then maybe you're not the one deviating from what whatever spirit made you made you to be...maybe you and...the other Changelings I felt are the only ones who are doing what they actually made you to be. Perhaps Changelings are supposed to be symbiotic, not parasitic? And that's why you feel so hungry when you're feeding how the Hive taught you to feed, but full when you eat how you have been? Maybe you're honey bees who think they're mosquitoes?"
"I . . . I never thought about that way before . . . I . . . " Moth looked very unsure of what to say. "It's just, all my life . . . but then in Ponyville . . . it was like, but I was told . . . thank you Princess Gaia."
"Please, just Fluttershy."
"Welcome to my world," Princess Cadence said. "Just be glad they haven't started swearing by your body parts yet."
Fluttershy blushed. "They might start doing that?!"
"They swear by my mane all the time...And Auntie's beard, even if she only had one for ten years three centuries ago...it's a long, humiliating story..."
Adrenaline was spent, the ponies were no longer running for their lives or at each other's throats, many finally had a chance to reflect.