Unchanging Love

by luxuryyacht

Chapter 2 - In search of answers

Chapter 2

Zecora's hut came into view as Twilight Sparkle approached the glade where the eccentric zebra had made her home within the Everfree Forest. Colored lanterns and carved masks dotted its exterior in an organic manner without coming off as haphazard. She moved up to the front door and knocked with her hoof.
"For a friend who knocks, no door shall block," a voice from within beckoned. Twilight opened the door and went in. The domicile was a simple single room design. An iron cauldron dominated the space, beneath a baffled flue in the roof that allowed the smoke and steam to rise up and out of the home harmlessly. The medicine mare was at the back of the hut, carefully measuring out herbs.
"Hello Zecora, I hope I'm not interrupting anything, but I wanted to get your opinion on something," Twilight said once she had closed the door behind her. She moved in closer to Zecora to get a better look at what she was doing. Zecora began to crush the various ingredients with a mortar and pestle. "Oo, what are you working on?" she asked, her mind racing to get to the answer first by mentally comparing the assortment of ingredients to concoctions she was familiar with.
"One who is pink and bristles, seems to have a bad case of the sniffles. When he drinks this cup, he will be fixed right up," the zebra replied as she turned and tipped the mortar's contents into the barely simmering pot. "Now that work is done, I can attend to fun. How may I be of service, to a pony who looks so nervous?" Zecora asked looking back to her visitor.
"This was found in Ponyville recently, do you know what it is?" Twilight asked after she brought out the jar of green ooze and set it on the counter Zecora had been working at. The zebra took one look and her expression became grim.
"That I do, as do you. Those buggy ponies that change, are indeed quite strange. This slime they use to create a cocoon, that traps ponies so that to their lives they can attune."
"So they, what," Twilight started, realization creeping in, "absorb the memories of cocooned ponies so they can imitate them better?" Zecora nodded gravely, eyes narrowing.
"You prove your intellect, of this you are quite correct," she confirmed, as Twilight bit her lower lip and eyed the jar. That was it then, she thought, there's at least one changeling in Ponyville, and it could be anyone.

A cuckoo clock sounded in the Golden Oak Library. The three young fillies sat near the library's log book, ready to do their duty should somepony come in to check out a book. Scootaloo let out an exasperated groan, "How long have we been waiting here?" she grumbled, head dipping low in boredom.
"It's only been like ten minutes," Applebloom said, eying her friend who had decided to take up residence sprawled out on the floor.
"Hey, so far being cutie mark librarians hasn't been so bad," Sweetie Belle pointed out, hoof raised. "We haven't been covered in tree sap even once," she added, looking at Applebloom for support.
"Well you haven't," Scootaloo shot back, eyes flashing, but refusing to move to put any force into the look.
"Well no one asked you to make sure the chimney was clean," Sweetie scolded as she whipped back around to look at Scootaloo who had, at this, lifted her head to get a better look at the pony she was arguing with.
"What-" Scootaloo started, cut off by the sight of the door swinging open to reveal a huge drum of what was labeled 'Ink' "the hay is that?!" The drum wobbled into the room toward the little fillies, their mouths agape, and crashed down to the floor as an exhausted little purple and green baby dragon came into view. He was panting heavily, leaning with one claw against the heavy burden. After a moment he said breathlessly, "It's Twilight's monthly supply of writing ink. There was a mix up on the delivery so I had to bring it over from 'Quills and Sofas'." Then, looking around "What are you guys doing here? Is Twilight home?" he asked as he straightened up.
"She went to ask Zecora about some green gunk we found," Applebloom explained, then with a gesture to her friends, "She asked us to look after the library until she got back.”
"Gak," Scootaloo said crossly and then flopped onto her back, protesting the world.
"Green gunk, huh? What, like changeling slime?" Spike asked, his arms crossed and with an eye-ridge twitched up.
"Gaaak," Scoots pined.
"Changeling?" Sweetie Belle said quizzically, a blank look crossing her face.
"Yeah, you know, those things that tried to ruin Cadence and Shining Armor's wedding last year. They trap ponies in this green gunk and take over their lives. They couldn't fool Twilight though, she noticed right away that something was wrong with the way Cadence was acting," Spike elucidated, adding with a nod, "She's smart like that."
"Gaaaaaaaaaak," came a faint whisper from the Scootaloo section of the floor. The others continued to actively ignore her.
"So these changelings pretend to be ponies? Why would they do that?" Applebloom asked, dumbfounded.
"Oh, I think I remember Rarity mentioning something about them. They feed on love right?" Sweetie Belle offered hopefully, a spark of enthusiasm flickering across her face.
"Exactly," Spike said, flicking a claw at the unicorn, "and their queen had been impersonating Cadence so she could feed on Shining Armor’s love for her, and take over all of Equestria." he intoned gravely.
"Of course!" Scootaloo exclaimed, shooting straight up into the air, wings buzzing, "Girls, we have to go! You can handle the library, right Spike?" Vitality had apparently flooded back into the little pegasus.
"Hmph, sure I can. How do you think Twilight can go on all her adventures?" Spike said, chest swelling, then added seriously, "Running a library is a big responsibility."
"Great! Let's go Cutie Mark Crusaders!" the suddenly vivacious pegasus shouted as she grabbed her confused friends and bolted out the door.

At the Well's, a mare was in the kitchen, her forelegs resting by the sink as she washed the last of the dishes that she had been neglecting due to literary pursuits. She wore her silver mane long, in a style that hadn't been in fashion for nearly a decade. Her coat was a pale blue that accented her cutie mark of a little covered well beset with coins, perfectly. She hummed softly to herself as she worked. The tune was a common lullaby, one that she had sung to Comet countless nights, and the memories the song conjured helped make her work less burdensome. As an earth pony, she of course had to do all the steps by hoof. Unicorns could use their magic to aid in the chore, and she had heard of several clever pegasi who employed their wings to aid in drying, but she didn't mind, she did it for her family.
As she was putting the last of the dishes away, she heard the front door open and the sound of two sets of hooves entering the house. She turned to see her husband enter the room, saddle bags full. His eyes shone with a look as if he hadn't seen her in months, as opposed to the five hours it had actually been.
"Hi honey," he said quietly as he moved in for a nuzzle, and then added a little louder, "How're things going around the house?" She breathed in Inkwell's scent, as if storing it away for later and backed away as she said smiling.
"Swimmingly, dear. I just finished up the dishes, so the only thing left on my list is the garden."
"Wish, you know I can't swim!" He feigned a wince as he jokingly admonished her, causing her to roll her eyes as she grabbed his saddlebags with her teeth and deposited them on the newly open counter.
"Go on up to your writing room. If that's the best you've got, you're going to need a head start on that new novel," Wishing Well joked as she set about emptying the bags. Inkwell brought his hoof to his chest and made a pained face at his wife, then flashed a quick wink and then left to make his way upstairs. "Comet?" she called out to the house. "Could you come in here and help me please?"
"Yeah, alright," Comet grumbled as he moped into the room.
"Don't drag your hooves son, I just waxed that floor," She said, in that way that’s so automatic and matter-of-fact that only a mother could manage it. Then pausing her activity, after placing a jar of jam in the cupboard, to turn and add, "What's the matter Comet?" Comet looked up at his mother with his mouth shut in a way that made it seem like steam was building up inside the colt.
"It's Dad," he finally blurted out. "He just goes around acting like a goof all the time. Why can't he comport himself with more dignity?" he said, fumbling somewhat over the words, but the hoof stamp at the end really sold the line. Wishing Well was rocked back by this display, but only for a second. Her look of shock giving way easily to one of compassion.
"Your father is the best stallion I have ever met, and believe me, he's had a much longer run at aggravating me than you," she said as she ran a hoof through her son's mane. "No matter what he might have done that embarrassed you, believe me, if you think long and hard over your life, he's done infinitely more to build you up into the best you can be." Comet looked away briefly, but then helped his mother put the rest of the shopping away.
"What's this? Jewels Barn?" Wishing Well asked as they hit the bottom of the bag and the book from earlier was revealed.
"Oh, that's the book dad wanted me to read," Comet said with a tinge of disgust in his voice. "He didn't ask for my opinion, he just said I'd like it."
"A Journey to the Center of Equestria," she read off the cover, then picked it up and held it out to her son, who took it, begrudgingly. "Trust him on this one, or at least read it to prove him wrong." She threw in the last option with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Either way, just make sure you’re honest. Both with your father, and with yourself.”

Over the next hour Spike managed to change out the ink in the storage closet, re-shelve all the books in the return, and dust the reading room. "Ugh, I'm pooped," Spike said to the empty room, then added, while eying his bed, "Yeah, I think I've earned some shut eye." He fell like fresh-cut timber, his sheet flipping up and over him in an instant. As soon as his eyes closed they flew open again to the sight of Twilight's muzzle just inches away from his face calling, "Spike! This is no time for a nap!" He winced briefly, and grumbled, "I dunno, seemed like a pretty good time a minute ago," then maneuvered himself so that he was facing her rather than have her continue to loom over him.
"Where are the girls, Spike? They were supposed to be waiting here for me," Twilight queried intensely, her teeth began to clench ever so slightly, and her eyes were looking big.
"They left after I got back from my errands." Spike said with a shrug.
"Did they say anything before they left?" Twilight asked stepping closer, eyes widening.
"Yeah, hang on, let me think," Spike said, crossing an arm over his chest to better facilitate the the claw tapping on his chin, "Let's see, I said I brought your ink, they said you went to ask Zecora about a thing," he paused and then placed both fists on his hips and looked down at the ground, "what else..."
"Spike, this is important, think!" Twilight demanded, stamping a hoof and furrowing her brow so much even the furrows had furrows.
"Uh, Twilight. You're standing in my bed..." Spike pointed out timidly, a claw extended towards the little basket full of pillows, blankets, and unicorn. A flicker of pure feminine fury flashed in the unicorns eyes, but she just very deliberately stepped out of the baby dragon’s bed, her gaze never leaving Spike's.
"You have to remember, what else did you talk about," Twilight said levelly.
"I don't know, we talked about Cadence and Shining Armor's wedding and then they left all excited." Spike shrugged, then added, "They're a mystery."
"Wait, you were talking about changelings weren't you!" Twilight exclaimed, her eyes nearly popping out of their sockets.
"Uh, maybe..." Spike answered, shrinking back a bit.
"Gah!" Twilight blurted out, throwing her head back in frustration, "Come on Spike. We have to find them before they get themselves in to trouble." She spun toward the door and waited until she felt that familiar weight of baby dragon.
"Got it!" Spike said, his courage returning now that he felt he was free from Twilight's wrath, and leapt onto her back as she galloped out the door.