Smoke and Mirrors

by TeaPartyCannon

Chapter 7: Of Cupcakes and Flutterponies

Mirror slowly took one step after another through a leafy tunnel until she emerged into a beautiful valley. Lush green grass and trees covered all of the area except for its rocky cliffsides, and hundreds of flowers lit it up in a rainbow of colors. A waterfall flowed down into a river that stretched throughout the entire valley.

Hearing the sound of laughter and the fluttering of wings, Mirror looked up to see a group of ponies flying above her. They were entirely unlike the ponies she had seen and known of her entire life; though they flew through the air like pegasus ponies, they had large, translucent butterfly wings instead of feathery bird ones.

“What is this place? It doesn’t look like anywhere I’ve seen before.” Mirror said to herself as she walked forward into the valley. She stepped up to the bank of the river, still looking towards the sky at the ponies above her.

A cool breeze blew through her mane, and a quick glance at her white hooves told her she wasn’t in her natural changeling form, or even in her default pegasus form. A look at her reflection in the river confirmed this. Her coat was pure white, and her mane and tail were a bright yellow. Her eyes were the same magenta color of her pegasus disguise, and she wore a large purple bow on her tail. Like the ponies above her, she had two purple butterfly wings sprouting from her back. The strangest part of her new appearance, though, was her lack of a cutie mark; both sides of her flank were completely blank.

To say Mirror was confused would be an understatement. This form was completely new to her, and she had never had the need to create an entirely new disguise for herself. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pony like this before, either. Where am I?”

Looking back up at the sky, Mirror watched as two more butterfly-winged ponies flew down and landed amongst the flowers. As they landed, the petals broke off and flew up around them, carried by a strange wind. Mirror stared at them in awe, their appearances telling her that they were different from the other ponies in the valley.

The older pony stood as tall and lean as Queen Chrysalis, which gave Mirror the impression that she was the ruler of these ponies. She had a light yellow coat, a flowing pink mane, and light pink eyes. A red antenna adorned her head and seemed to act as some sort of crown, and her pink wings sparkled and glowed with light. Her cutie mark was three pink roses and seven rose buds.

Standing beside her was a much younger pony, no more than a child, who still stood as tall as the ponies that flew through the valley. Her coat was a light sea-green and her mane and tail were a glossy blue. Her eyes were dark green, she possessed a smaller green antenna, and her light blue wings gave off the same sparkling light as the pony beside her. Like Mirror, she had no cutie mark, but that was likely due to her young age. Despite their differences, Mirror knew that the two winged ponies had to be related.

“Those ponies have to be royalty; there’s no doubt about it. So, if the taller one is the queen, then that would make the smaller one the princess, wouldn’t it?” Mirror looked at them in confusion. “…What is all this?”

Mirror continued to watch the two ponies. The princess seemed to be saying something to her mother, but Mirror was unable to hear what they were saying. It wasn’t a matter of them being too far away to hear; there was simply no sound coming from them even though they were clearly conversing. The young princess looked upset for some reason, and even though the queen seemed to be comforting her, her sour expression remained. She turned away from her mother, closed her eyes, and looked to fly away.

Suddenly, the ground began to shake violently, knocking Mirror off her feet and out of her thoughts. Flapping her new butterfly wings, she lifted herself off the ground and watched in horror as the sky filled with dark, thundering clouds. The ponies around her screamed in terror and desperately tried to fly away as a dark phantom, lit up by energy constantly shifting in color, appeared in the sky. The being surrounded itself with crackling energy, which shot down to the ground right in front of the queen, who held her daughter protectively close behind her. As the lightning cleared, the phantom hovered before them in a corporeal form.

What floated before them was the strangest creature Mirror had ever seen. The best she could compare him to was a chimera, but even that failed to describe him fully due to the amalgam of various Equestrian species that made up his body, more complex than any chimera she had seen. The strange being smiled maliciously and snapped his griffin-like talons, releasing a huge wave of green magic over the entire valley. The force of the magic wave threatened to knock Mirror and the rest of the butterfly-winged ponies out of the sky, but it passed quickly enough. The valley became silent.

A burning pain suddenly shot through Mirror’s body. Her wings gave out, sending her crashing to the ground below. Through the pain, she was dimly aware of the other ponies experiencing the same thing around her. Her vision fractured, and she could see her white hooves melt into the black, hole-filled hooves of a changeling. Looking behind her, her breath caught in her throat as she saw her wings were on fire, quickly burning down until they were small, dull, and perforated. Another stab of agony went through her as she felt her horn burst out of her forehead.

Letting out rasping gasps of pain, she looked back towards the two royals. The princess was lying on the ground, twitching with an expression of pure agony on her face as she gazed at the jagged horn that protruded from her head. With her new horn and black, hole-filled body, Mirror realized that she looked exactly like a young Queen Chrysalis. Though the queen seemed to be in just as much pain, she stood tall and glared up at the chimera floating above them, even as she slowly transformed herself. The creature was doubled over with laughter, paying no mind to the queen’s glare as he relished in their destruction.

With her forced transformation finally complete, the pain subsided just enough for Mirror to become aware of her surroundings. With a jolt of horror, she saw that the beautiful valley was dying around them. The trees, grass, and flowers wilted and withered away until the ground was rocky and barren. Mirror tried to move, but her body wouldn’t respond to her commands. The ground shook once more, then split open beneath her. She fell down into the bottomless fissure, screaming the entire way.

Mirror crashed face-first onto the floor, shocking the changeling out of her sleep. Wildly looking around, she soon realized that she was not lying broken at the bottom of a crevice, but was instead lying on the floor of Fluttershy’s bedroom, next to their bed. Morning sunlight streamed in through the open window, and Mirror felt her heart rate slow back down to normal as she realized she was safe and okay.

It…it was just a nightmare. Oh, thank Chrysalis, it was just a dream! Mirror thought, picking herself up and looking around. It was indeed morning, and the bed she shared with Fluttershy was empty. The pegasus must have already woken up.

That was some dream, though; so vivid… Mirror walked over to the open window and looked through it. Her view outside of the sunny field was quiet and peaceful. No one was out and about just yet.

Memories of the previous night, of the mad with anger Golden Harvest and of General Carbon, who had saved her, came flashing back. After that horrible experience, she had left the party long before it ended, not having the will to be around so many ponies and possible-changelings anymore. The cottage at the edge of the Everfree Forest had been the best place to be alone for the night.

First Golden Harvest, then that weird nightmare; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Mirror sighed, feeling near-overwhelming guilt and frustration bubble up within her. It’s not fair! Why couldn’t she learn to live with the swarm? I’m getting along just fine without it! But seeing her so angry and upset, it hurt, and I don’t understand why…

Deciding that she wasn’t going to get anywhere talking to herself in the quiet bedroom, Mirror trotted downstairs into the kitchen, where Fluttershy was busy preparing a plate of pancakes.

“Good morning, Fluttershy!” Mirror said in the peppiest tone she could muster. The pegasus turned around in surprise, though when she saw the changeling, her expression softened into a more comforting, motherly one. She must be thinking about last night…

“Mirror! Good morning, how are you feeling? Any better?” Fluttershy asked, giving her a sympathetic smile.

Mirror couldn’t help but smile back. “Not really. Last night was really…upsetting, and I don’t think I’ll be getting over it just like that.”

Fluttershy flew over to the table, set down the plate of pancakes, and invited her to sit down. “Do you want to talk more about it while we eat?”

Mirror sighed, but nodded and sat down in her seat. The two ate in silence for a while as she tried to find the words to start with. “…I just don’t understand. All my life, I’ve been raised with the belief that being a part of the swarm was the best possible thing; that if you were a part of it, you had a family that loved you and true happiness. It’s what Queen Chrysalis has told me, it’s what the older drones have told me, and it’s what I’ve been told every day through our connection.”

“…And then, this synthetic changeling, Golden Harvest, shows up, completely insane and murderously angry, and blames me for everything that happened to her!” Mirror went on, “And the worst part is that she’s probably right! I met her right before the invasion, I could have got her out, but I didn’t, because I thought she’d be happy with us! I told her she’d be happy with us! But she wasn’t! She was crazy and miserable and it’s all my fault!”

“…It’s not your fault.” Fluttershy said, after a period of thought.

“Huh?” Mirror asked, looking at her in confusion.

“We’ve been together long enough for me to realize that changelings and ponies think very differently. You honestly thought you were giving her a better life by not freeing her, right?” Fluttershy asked. Mirror nodded in response. “Then it’s not your fault. You can’t help having been raised from birth to believe that changing ponies against their will was ultimately for the best.”

Mirror nodded, but winced slightly at the blunt wording. Fluttershy continued talking. “I’m not saying it was okay for you to leave her. You didn’t know. But what happened was an awful, awful thing, and to be honest, I haven’t slept as well as I usually do ever since you told me about the conversion process.”

Mirror shrank into her seat, looking ashamed. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. You sounded so happy when you were talking about it; I didn’t want to interrupt and ruin it.” Fluttershy said.

“…It’s hard.” Mirror lamented, “To be told one thing all your life, only to find out that you’ve been dead wrong all along. During our battle, I honestly felt like a part of my world was being stepped on and shattered before my eyes. I mean, I understand that ponies view us as monsters, but I thought that would change if they experienced our way of life.”

“But you understand now, don’t you?” Fluttershy asked, “Ponies don’t think the same way as changelings. We value individuality and privacy, and most ponies would never want to be connected to thousands of thoughts at all times. Maybe changelings see conversion as a blessing, but ponies see it as a living nightmare.”

Mirror thought about Fluttershy’s words. “…Changelings don’t empathize with ponies. We’re not supposed to; we’re supposed to see your species as a food source and nothing else. General Carbon says I have empathy sickness, a mental disease that allows me to feel love and other emotions towards creatures outside the swarm.”

“Is that why you’re so different from the other changelings?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well, I was still pretty friendly for a changeling even before getting this sickness, whenever that was. But yeah, I think that’s the reason why I’m attached to you and Pinkie and why I feel so terrible about Golden Harvest. This is all so new and confusing; I don’t know how to deal with it.” Mirror sighed.

“I guess you’ll just have to deal with it as it comes. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ll figure out what to do.” Fluttershy said, giving a supportive smile.

“Thanks for the pep-talk, Fluttershy, but if I don’t do something, the guilt and uncertainty will eat me from the inside out.” Mirror said, “I have to do something; I have to find Golden Harvest, and I need to find some way to help her!”

“You really think you can fix this?” Fluttershy asked.

“I don’t know, but I have to try!” Mirror said, She hovered in the air as she spoke. “Maybe it’s just the empathy sickness talking, but I’ll never be able to live with myself if I don’t at least try to help Golden Harvest. If it’s the last thing I do, I will find a way to help her regain her life!”

The cottage door suddenly swung open and Pinkie Pie rushed in. “Matchie, I need your help!”

“AH!!” Startled by the sudden entrance, Mirror shrieked and dove underneath the table. Pinkie pulled the changeling out by her tail.

“Matchie, I know you’re still vulnerable and traumatized over what happened last night, but I really need your help!” Pinkie Pie panicked, “I need you to cover for me at Sugarcube Corner!”

“Wait, what?” Mirror asked, double-taking at her words. “From all your panicking, I thought this would be urgent.”

“This is me!” Pinkie Pie said, adding in the last part as an afterthought.

“So what’s the deal this time? I’m not going to be dragged on another fetch quest, am I?” Mirror asked, looking annoyed at the thought of her last lone endeavor into Ponyville.

“…No. Rainbow Dash and I had this huge prank extravaganza planned for today where we’d take every prank we could think of and pull them all over Ponyville. We were planning this for weeks, and it’s going to be so fun!” Pinkie squealed, then snapped back to business. “Or at least it was, but Mr. and Mrs. Cake have to be out of town until tomorrow morning! Pound and Pumpkin have a babysitter to watch them, but now they want me to run Sugarcube Corner for them!”

“I still don’t see what the problem is here.” Mirror said, “So your prank extravaganza thing clashes with you having to watch the bakery. Just tell Rainbow Dash and have her put it off until tomorrow. Problem solved.”

“No, you don’t understand!” Pinkie Pie wailed, “I Pinkie Promised Dashie that we’d do it today! I Pinkie Promised! I can’t break a Pinkie Promise, I mean, can you imagine that: Pinkie Pie breaking a Pinkie Promise? No, it’s unthinkable! Please, Mirror, just for today?”

“How do you expect me to manage a bakery by myself? Knowing my luck, I won’t even be able to bake a cake without setting the oven on fire!” Mirror said.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that! The Cakes were really nervous about trusting me with Sugarcube Corner, so they left a huge list of instructions for me! You can use that!” Pinkie said.

“But still, I’ve never baked before! Or ran a business! What if I run into a problem I can’t solve?” Mirror asked.

“If it’ll help, I don’t have anything planned for today, so I can come and help you, if you’d like.” Fluttershy offered, “Well, at least until noon, anyway. Then I have to come back and feed all the animals again. But I can come back after that.”

Mirror thought about it for a moment, then relented. “Alright, fine. Hey wait, don’t I have to pretend to be you if I’m going to take your place?”

“Yup! You get to be me for a whole day! Isn’t that exciting?” Pinkie Pie said.

“But I don’t know how to be you!” Mirror cried.

“Ah, it’s easy. You just have to really happy, bounce a lot, and compliment everypony!” Pinkie said. “Here, try it on me! Compliment me!”

“Uh…your love tastes like cupcakes.” Mirror finally said. Well that was stupid. Have I learned nothing from all my time here?

Pinkie was silent for several uncomfortable seconds, then broke into a wide smile. “Aw, thank you! See, just like that; you’ve got this! Though, try to make it sound less changeling next time, okay?”

“Alright, got it. When do I have to go?” Mirror asked.

“In about half an hour. Don’t worry, I’ll keep out of sight and keep Rainbow Dash away from Sugarcube Corner so that nopony wonders why there are two Pinkies in town. It’ll be perfect!” Pinkie Pie cheered.

“I guess, but…” Mirror trailed off.

“What’s wrong?” Pinkie asked.

“I was going to go see if I could get any word on Golden Harvest and try to help her.” Mirror said, “This whole thing sounds like one big distraction.”

“Well, you can’t help somepony if you don’t know where they are, can you?” Pinkie asked.

“No…” Mirror agreed, remembering how Golden Harvest had disappeared by the time she returned to the cottage last night.

“I’ll help you out, then! I’ll listen around and see if I can find out anything about what happened to her! Knowing is half the battle, after all!” Pinkie said, “It’s the least I can do, since you’ll be helping me with this!”

“…Thanks, Pinkie.” Mirror said, smiling. She was then swept up into a hug by the pink pony.

“No problem, Matchie! See you later! You too, Fluttershy! Bye!” With that, Pinkie Pie released her and bounced out the door, closing it behind her.

The silence between the two didn’t last as long this time. “Well, I suppose we should get going then. I want to stop off at Twilight’s library before we go, okay?” Mirror asked.

“Okay, but why?” Fluttershy asked back.

“I had this really weird dream last night.” Mirror explained, “Well, it was more of a nightmare, but I want to see if Twilight has any books on what I saw in it.”

“Alright, that shouldn’t take too long. We’ll want to be on time to help Pinkie, after all.” Fluttershy said.

“I know, I know. Let’s go, then.” Mirror transformed into her pegasus form and flew out the door. As she flew through the sky, she relished the feeling of wind blowing through the fur on her left leg. Fluttershy had finally decided that her leg was fully healed and removed it from its cast last night before she went to bed. Mirror had been too upset to enjoy it then, but she now took full delight in it as she zipped through the air, slowing down every so often to keep pace with Fluttershy.

Soon, the two arrived at the large tree house that contained Twilight’s library. Mirror pushed open the door and walked inside, Fluttershy behind her.

“Hey Twilight, are you…home…” Mirror said, trailing off as she looked at the purple unicorn. Twilight was hovering in the air, held up by a pair of beautiful butterfly wings. Twilight looked away from one of her books and smiled down at them.

“Mirror, Fluttershy! I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing, right?” Twilight asked.

“Right.” Mirror responded.

“Well, Fluttershy already knows this, but I’m sure you don’t. For the Best Young Flyer Competition a while back, I tried out a spell to give a pony wings so that we could accompany Rainbow Dash to Cloudsdale and watch her compete. The spell turned out to be really complicated, though, and I only had the magic power to make it work on one pony, Rarity, and the rest of us had to use a cloud-walking spell to get there.” Twilight explained, “It’s a long story, but it ended with the wings burning up and Rarity almost falling to her death. These wings are made of gossamer and morning dew; they’re very fragile.”

“It was the day Rainbow Dash pulled off that Sonic Rainboom!” Fluttershy told Mirror.

“Really? I must have missed it.” She said. I was probably back at the hive or something. A Sonic Rainboom, huh? That would have been nice to see.

“Right, well, I’m just doing some experimenting to see if I can make these wings a little more durable. We wouldn’t want something like that to happen again.” Twilight said, landing and flapping her wings a few times. “So, did you come for a visit? Spike’s out getting some supplies right now, but if you need anything, I’m sure I can help.”

“Actually, I do need your help. I had this weird dream last night.” Mirror said.

Twilight froze. “What kind of dream?” She asked.

“I’m not sure. I was in this valley that I had never seen before. The strangest part, though, were the ponies in it. They had butterfly wings, just like the ones you have now.” Mirror explained.

Mirror could feel an aura of anxiety coming off the unicorn as she looked up towards the second floor of the tree house. “Ponies with butterfly wings, huh? You must be talking about flutterponies.”

“Flutterponies?” Mirror repeated. Is that what they’re called?

“Yeah, they’re mythical ponies that were said to live in an isolated valley. If they ever existed, they don’t anymore.” Twilight said. “Hold on, I have a book on them, if you’re interested.”

Flapping her magically-made wings, Twilight flew up into her bedroom and brought down an old-looking book. She handed it to Mirror who read the title; “Mythical Creatures of Fantasy and Reality.”

“The book talks about a lot of species, but flutterponies have a pretty detailed section.” Twilight said.

“Why was the book up there?” Mirror asked.

“Well…after the changeling invasion, I started looking for books that might have anything on them. I thought that book might have some useful information, so I’ve been planning to read it.” Twilight answered, “Anyway, is that what you came here for?”

“…Yeah, it is. Thanks, Twilight!” Mirror beamed. She turned to Fluttershy. “Hey Fluttershy, how much time do we have left?”

“I’m not sure, but we should probably get going soon.” Fluttershy responded.

“What are you girls doing today?” Twilight asked.

“Errands.” Mirror said, before Fluttershy could respond. “We have to go pick up some stuff at Sugarcube Corner before the line gets too long.”

“I see. You should get going, then. Morning rush has probably already started.” Twilight said.

“Yeah, probably. Anyways, thanks for the book, Twilight! I’ll be sure to return it when I’m done!” Mirror said, tucking the book under her wing and trotting out the door. Fluttershy exchanged a few words of farewell with Twilight before following after her.

As the two neared Sugarcube Corner, Mirror stopped and stared at the long line waiting in front of the bakery door. They must be waiting for Pinkie to open. Better hurry, then.

Mirror ducked into an alleyway and threw her book to Fluttershy. “Hold this!” Hiding behind a wooden crate and having Fluttershy confirm that the area was clear, she used her shape-shifting powers to change into a mirror image of Pinkie Pie. She came out and started towards the bakery, making sure to add a little spring to her step as she went. Despite everything that had happened, she couldn’t help but feel happier at the chance to be someone else and get away from it all for a bit.

“Excuse me, coming through! Sorry everypony, we’ve had a few unexpected delays, but Sugarcube Corner is now open for business!” Mirror said as brightly as possible as she bounced past the line of ponies and threw open the bakery door. She went behind the counter as Fluttershy took a seat at a nearby table and waited for her first customer.

A cream-colored earth pony with a blue and pink mane came up first. Mirror recognized her from the Daring Do fan-mob that had chased her on her first day. Mirror grinned and greeted her, relying on the descriptions Pinkie had given her about all the ponies in Ponyville to identify her. “Hi Bon Bon, what can I get you?”

“Hi, Pinkie! I’d like two watermelon cupcakes, please. I’m getting one for Lyra, too.” Bon Bon said.

“Sounds fun! Two watermelon cupcakes, coming up!” Mirror looked down into the glass display case, scanning for whatever looked like a watermelon cupcake. They weren’t labeled, though, so she had no idea what she was looking for.

Uh oh… Mirror thought. A yellow hoof reached in and grabbed two cupcakes covered in a reddish-pink icing with black sprinkles. Looking to her left, Mirror saw Fluttershy pull them out, place them in a bag, and hand them to Bon Bon. “Here, that’ll be two bits, please.”

The earth pony nodded and pulled out two gold coins, placing them on the counter and taking the bag. She got out of line to let the next pony though.

Mirror raised her eyebrow at Fluttershy. The pegasus smiled supportively. “Don’t worry, I’ve helped out here plenty of times before. I know what to do.”

“Thanks, Fluttershy.” Mirror smiled. Together, the two ponies served costumer after costumer for the next fifteen minutes. After that, the next pony to come up was a brown earth pony stallion. Mirror recognized him right away, to her surprise.

“General Carbon?” Mirror asked in a hushed voice. Fluttershy looked at him in shock and confusion as she realized that this was the changeling Mirror had told her about.

The earth pony raised an eyebrow at Mirror, but smiled good-naturedly. “I’m not sure I know who this “Carbon” you’re talking about is, Miss Pie. Is he a new friend of yours?”

“Um, yeah! He is! He looks a lot like you, you know; I just got you guys mixed up for a moment! Sorry, but it’s all sorted out now, Doctor Whooves!” Mirror laughed nervously. Thank Chrysalis Pinkie told me about every pony in Ponyville, I wouldn’t know his name otherwise! Still, maybe it’s for the best that he acts like he doesn’t recognize me; it’ll keep his cover hidden better.

“That’s quite alright, Miss Pie. I’m sure there are plenty of ponies similar to myself running around!” The Doctor laughed. “Anyway, I’d like half a dozen rainbow-iced cookies, please.”

“Half a dozen rainbow-iced cookies, coming right up!” Mirror looked beneath the counter display case, but didn’t see anything rainbow-colored. She looked at Fluttershy, who shrugged.

“…If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to go check in the kitchen. We seem to be out right now. Be right back!” Mirror said quickly, then zoomed through the doors into the kitchen, where a bunch of sweets were already premade. She saw a long scroll of paper hanging from one of the cupboards, so she ripped it off to read it. The list had detailed instructions on how to prepare various kinds pastries.

“This should be useful.” Mirror said to herself, setting the list down and looking into the oven. A cake was baking within, and would need to be taken out soon. She turned to the table counter. A plate of cookies was set out in it, and they were still warm to the touch. Mirror guessed that Pinkie had pulled them out of the oven before she left. Looking to her right, she saw a bowl of rainbow icing that just needed to be spread onto the cookies.

Grabbing a knife, Mirror scooped up some of the icing and spread it out over six cookies. Looking triumphantly at them, she remembered that Pinkie said that rainbow icing was really sweet. Well, she hasn’t steered me wrong yet. Besides, I’ll need a sugar rush if I want to keep this up all day.

Quickly making another cookie, Mirror threw it into the air and caught it in her mouth. Swallowing, she mentally counted the seconds. She reached three before she started screaming and a jet of fire burst from her mouth. Panting heavily, she looked for something to put out the scorching taste, then rushed to a large cake and thrust her face into it. Pulling it out, she sighed in relief as the pain was instantly doused by the sugary frosting.

Sweet, my carapace! I should have trusted Rainbow Dash on this one. Mirror thought bitterly, only now remembering the pegasus’s warning. Scooping up the cookies into a bag, she walked back out and gave them to Doctor Whooves. The stallion stared at her with mild confusion.

“You’ve…got some frosting on your face.” He pointed out.

Putting a hoof to her face, Mirror realized that it was indeed coated with frosting from the cake. She smiled brightly and shrugged it off. “It’s a new thing I’m trying out. Do you like it?”

The Doctor stared at her a moment longer, then nodded. “Yes, it looks very good on you. Thanks for the cookies, Miss Pie!”

“No problem! You look great, by the way! Come again!” Mirror waved as he left, adding in the compliment as an afterthought.

Walking back behind the counter, Mirror noticed that Fluttershy was still looking at her frosting-covered face. “Um…are you alright?”

“Fine, no need to worry!” Mirror said. Regardless, though, she decided it was better to get all the frosting off, so she stuck out her tongue and licked it off in one go. Briefly wondering how she managed to do that, the changeling shrugged and continued to work. Another half-hour soon passed. “You know, this isn’t too hard.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Fluttershy smiled.

Mirror nodded and turned to the next pony in line. “Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! How may we help you?”

The pony was a black unicorn with a black and silver mane and purple eyes. The unicorn was staring at her in surprise, and Mirror felt uncomfortable underneath her puzzled gaze. She realized that she had no clue who this pony was, even with all of Pinkie’s knowledge in her memory. Despite her nervousness, Mirror put on a wide smile. “Hey, are you new in Ponyville? You must be, because I’ve never seen you before! I love meeting new ponies! What’s your name?”

The unicorn seemed to be in deep thought for a moment, then replied, “I’m Moonbloom. You’re Pinkie Pie, right?”

“Yup, that’s me! Pinkie Pie, party pony extraordinaire!” Mirror said, posing for good measure.

“Well Pinkie, I have this friend; her name’s Minuette, I’m sure you know her. Anyway, I want to throw her a surprise party, since her birthday’s coming up soon.” Moonbloom explained.

“Really? That’s great! I’m sure it’ll be lots of fun!” Mirror gushed, being sure to mimic Pinkie’s excitement towards parties.

“Exactly, that’s why I need to talk with you somewhere private. You know, to discuss it?” Moonbloom said.

Mirror’s smile dropped as she realized she was being asked to plan something she knew nothing about. “Well, I’d really love to, but we’re kind of busy right now…” It was true; the line was still pretty long.

“Oh, I know! I just want to tell you about my ideas for it. We can plan it later.” Moonbloom said.

“Alright, let’s go to the kitchen to talk about it.” Mirror relented, hopping into the kitchen. Moonbloom followed in shortly after, and Mirror noticed she was limping on her left hind leg. Wonder where she got that from…

With the door closed behind them, Mirror turned away from the unicorn and began looking at the list of instructions the Cakes had left. “So, what did you have in mind for the party? We have to make it as fun as possible, you know!”

She heard Moonbloom giggle behind her. “You can drop the act, Mirror. It’s just us now.”

Mirror froze, the list falling to the floor. She turned around and stared at Moonbloom in shock. “How…how did you…?”

The unicorn’s horn glowed, and her eyes flashed green. When they cleared, they were a solid purple. She smiled softly at the earth pony. “It’s me, Ditto.”

Mirror stood frozen in shock, wide-eyed and her jaw hanging open. Ditto started to look somewhat uncomfortable as the time wore on. Just as she opened her mouth to speak again, she was suddenly swept up into a hug by an overjoyed Mirror.

“Ditto! Oh, Ditto, it’s you! Thank Chrysalis, you’re okay! You have no idea how happy I am to see you!” Mirror gushed, holding the changeling tight.

“That’s…great, but…Mirror…my ribs…crushing me!” Ditto struggled to get out as Mirror’s grip tightened. Realizing this, Mirror let go of the changeling, who fell to the ground and gasped for air.

Mirror blushed in embarrassment. “Sorry. It’s just, well, I’m happy to see a friend after all this time. The last two changelings I’ve met since ending up here haven’t been all that…friendly.”

“Yeah, I heard about that. Your horn broke, so you can’t see any of us unless we reveal ourselves.” Ditto said. “You’ve talked with General Carbon already, right?”

“Yeah, I have, but I don’t want to talk about it.” Mirror said, trotting over to the sink and pouring a glass of water for herself. “Anyway, let’s not talk about me. I want to hear about you. How did you fix your eyes? They actually looked pony-like! And where did you get that limp?”

“I learned an illusion spell that makes my eyes look like a pony’s, and my leg broke when I crashed after the invasion at Canterlot.” Ditto said, “Luckily, I met somepony kind enough to help heal it. It’s not perfect, though, so I’ll have a limp until it heals.”

“Huh, both my foreleg and horn broke when I crashed. Fluttershy helped my leg heal, though, so the only problem now is my horn.” Mirror said, “Isn’t that funny? You’re a changeling with a horn but no wings, and I’m a changeling with wings but no horn. Funny, huh?”

“Um, I guess…” Ditto said, looking unsure on how to answer.

“So anyway, where have you been all this time? I’ve been staying at Fluttershy’s cottage; are you living with anypony right now?” Mirror asked, taking a drink of her water.

“Actually, I am! I’ve been staying with Twilight at her home.” Ditto answered.

Mirror suddenly choked on her water and started coughing. Forcibly setting the glass down, she gasped heavily for several moments before gasping out, “Twilight?!”

“That’s right. After the invasion, I crashed into her tree house. I stayed there for three days until she came back, but I was unconscious for most of it. I’m surprised nopony noticed and came looking.” Ditto explained, “Anyway, she and Spike came in, she found me, she freaked out and accused me of threatening Ponyville and waiting to ambush her, and I told her that that wasn’t true. There was a lot of shouting that morning.”

“And she just let you stay?” Mirror asked.

“Yeah, she saw how injured I was and how I wasn’t a threat to anypony, so she agreed to take care of me. I didn’t really understand why at the time, but now I do; she was just being a good pony and helping someone who really needed it.” Ditto said, “Of course, she was still a little freaked out over there being a changeling living in her house, so she kept me a secret and confined me to her bed whenever anypony came over and didn’t let me go out. This is the first time she’s let me leave; she told me last night that if I didn’t do anything bad while she was out at your party, she’d trust me to go out.”

“Huh, that sounds like what me, Pinkie, and Fluttershy are doing.” Mirror said, laughing nervously at the irony. She took another drink of her water.

“Um, yeah, about that…I might have told her that you were also a changeling…” Ditto said hesitantly.

Once again, Mirror choked on her drink at the revelation. “You what?!”

“I just recognized that you had the aura of a changeling! I didn’t know it was you! I figured that if Twilight was okay with me living with her, she’d be okay with you being with her friends!” Ditto defended herself.

“And was she?” Mirror asked.

“Well, she did get a little caught up in her friends keeping such an important secret from her, but she calmed down pretty quickly once she remembered that she was doing the same thing.” Ditto said.

“Okay, well, as long as she hasn’t told Celestia on us…” Mirror sighed.

“No, she hasn’t. She trusts me.” Ditto said.

“…So, how’s it been? Living with Twilight?” Mirror asked.

“It’s been nice. I was never well-liked at the hive anyway; you and Queen Chrysalis were really the only ones who cared about me. But living with Twilight has been nice; she cares enough to keep me fed, she’s got plenty of interesting books for me to read, and, well, it’s been nice. Even though we invaded Canterlot and tried to enslave Equestria, she still trusts me…” Ditto trailed off, looking rather upset about something.

“Something wrong?” Mirror asked.

“Well, she trusts me. She trusts me not to do anything that’ll bring harm to Ponyville, and I don’t want to lose that trust.” Ditto confessed, “I want to tell her about the invasion, but General Carbon will be so angry with me if I do! Maybe I’ll just hide under a rock while it’s going on-”

Apparently, Mirror still hadn’t learned her lesson about drinking while talking with Ditto, as she once again choked on her water and spent half a minute gasping for breath. Finally, she got one word out. “Invasion?!”

Ditto winced at the volume of her voice, hoping that no one had heard her. When no one came, she answered, “You didn’t know? General Carbon didn’t tell you?”

“No, he didn’t tell me anything! What invasion?” Mirror panicked.

“Keep your voice down! We don’t want anypony hearing us!” Ditto whispered, “General Carbon is planning an invasion of Ponyville soon using the changelings that were blown here by the blast and the ones that were already here undercover beforehand.”

“What? Why? That goes completely against Queen Chrysalis’s orders for a situation like this!” Mirror whispered back.

“…General Carbon is convinced that Queen Chrysalis is dead.” Ditto said.

“But that’s impossible! Queen Chrysalis is immortal; she’s lived for over a thousand years! She can’t be dead!” Mirror said.

“I know, but no changeling has seen or heard from her ever since the Canterlot invasion failed. If she is alive, she’s probably in no condition to lead us.” Ditto said.

“But, what about High-General Double? She’s second-in-command to Queen Chrysalis; only she has the authority to declare war! Does she know about this?” Mirror asked.

“General Carbon has been using magic to separate the thoughts of the changelings in Ponyville from the rest of the swarm. Unless she knew about the invasion beforehand, I don’t think so.” Ditto explained, “Besides, most changelings like High-General Double, but a lot don’t approve of her having her position and only listen to her because Queen Chrysalis said to. I think General Carbon sees this as a chance to prove himself over her and gain control of the swarm. He’s got plenty of support; a lot of the changelings here would prefer him as High-General over her.”

“…High-General Double and General Carbon never did get along. Now that I think about it, they were always fighting with each other for power.” Mirror said, “But still, attacking Ponyville so soon, and without Queen Chrysalis! That’s suicide!”

“Maybe, but what can we do? He’s a general, and we’re just soldiers. He has more power than us.” Ditto said.

“It doesn’t matter! The Queen’s word is law, and nothing can overrule it! I have to find General Carbon and make him see that!” Mirror decided, “When is the invasion?”

“I don’t know. Soon, I’d guess.” Ditto answered, “General Carbon said he’d give the signal when it was time.”

“Then there’s no time to waste!” Mirror said. She began trotting towards the door. “Where would Doctor Whooves would be at this time? He’ll have to follow his schedule if he wants to keep his cover, after all.”

“Doctor Whooves? What makes you think that General Carbon is Doctor Whooves?” Ditto asked, raising an eyebrow.

Mirror froze and turned back to the changeling with growing horror. “What?”

“General Carbon isn’t replacing the Doctor,” Ditto said. “He’s replacing-”

A loud, high-pitched beeping noise suddenly rang out, cutting Ditto off mid-sentence. Covering their ears, both changelings turned towards the source of the noise, the oven, which had smoke billowing out from it.

“Ah, the cake! I forgot all about it! Dear Chrysalis, can I not do anything on my own?!” Mirror growled, quickly grabbing the fire extinguisher. She opened the blazing oven and pressed the nozzle, firing white foam inside. The flames were quickly doused, leaving only a ruined oven and blackened pastries behind.

“Mir-uh, Pinkie, are you alright?” Fluttershy asked, poking her head inside. Ditto quickly cast her illusion spell over her eyes again. “What’s going-”

“Everything’s fine!” Mirror said quickly, “We just need a new oven, that’s all! But beyond that, nothing’s wrong! There’s nothing to worry about!”

“…Okay, if you say so…” Fluttershy said hesitantly, deciding not to press the issue and pulling back out into the bakery’s main room.

Sighing in relief, Mirror turned back to Ditto, who had her hoof to her head and seemed to be in deep concentration. She set her hoof down and gave Mirror an apologetic look.

“…I have to go. Sorry, Mirror.” Ditto said, quickly walking out the door. Mirror moved to follow her, but decided against it as the changeling left.

Was General Carbon talking to her? If General Carbon isn’t Doctor Whooves, then who has he been all this time? I wish she would have told me. Mirror walked back out into the bakery and got back behind the counter. Fluttershy took note of her somber expression.

“Is something wrong?” Fluttershy asked.

“We can talk about it later.” Mirror said quickly. She put on a bright, fake smile for the grey, blonde-maned pegasus in front of the counter. She recognized her as Ditzy Doo. “Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! How can we help you?”

“I’d like a blueberry muffin, please.” Ditzy ordered. Fluttershy nodded and looked to find one in the display case. “Hey, have you guys seen Carrot Top around?”

Mirror felt her heart skip a beat. She struggled to keep her smile up as she replied, “You mean Golden Harvest?”

Ditzy’s unaligned eyes widened in surprise. “You know about that? She doesn’t like anypony calling her by that name; she prefers Carrot Top. You must be really close friends to know that! That’s so great! So, have you seen her anywhere?”

Ditzy’s words only served to depress Mirror further. Does she really hate me so much that she doesn’t even want me calling her by the name everypony else calls her? I can’t believe it…she’ll never forgive me, will she?

As Mirror’s spirits hit rock bottom, she swore she heard the sound of a balloon deflating. Her pink hair fell over her right eye, long and straight and darker than before. Looking at her body, she saw that her coat was a darker shade of pink as well. Both Ditzy and Fluttershy noticed this and gave her concerned looks.

“…Nope! Haven’t seen her! Sorry, you’ll have to ask somepony else!” Mirror said. She grabbed the muffin and shoved it into Ditzy’s hooves. “Here, it’s on the house! Now if you excuse us, we’re going on lunch break!”

The line of ponies groaned and grumbled. “But you’ve been open for less than an hour! It’s not even noon!” One pony complained.

“Well then we’re going on breakfast break!” Mirror snapped. “Now everypony out! We’ll be open again in an hour!”

Fluttershy silently motioned for them all to leave. No one wanted to argue with an angry Pinkie Pie, so the ponies slowly filed out of the bakery, still grumbling all the while. Ditzy left as well, but not before placing a single bit on the counter as payment for her muffin. When Mirror and Fluttershy were the only ponies left in the bakery, the timid pegasus finally spoke up.

“Mirror, does this have to do with Carrot Top?” Fluttershy asked.

Mirror pushed past her and sat down at the table, grabbing the book she had gotten from Twilight. “No, of course not. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she hates me so much she won’t even let me call her by the nickname that everypony else is allowed to use! Why would you think that?”

Fluttershy winced at the hurt and anger in her voice. Mirror felt guilt crawl in her heart once more and sighed. “Sorry Fluttershy. I’m just trying to deal with a lot of stuff right now. I’ll talk to you about it eventually, I promise.”

Mirror flipped open her book and began looking for the section on Flutterponies. I can’t tell her about the invasion. It’ll just worry her more, and it won’t do any good. If I can’t find and convince General Carbon to stop, then we won’t be able to do anything about it without blowing the cover of every changeling in Ponyville.

Finally finding the section labeled “Flutterponies: Fairies of Fantasy,” she began to read, hoping to take her mind off her problems.


Flutterponies were a mythical race of ponies with butterfly wings known for their power and beauty. Their magical wings gave them the ability to both fly and to perform magic without a horn. They lived in relative isolation within a land called Flutter Valley, which is believed to have once been within the area known today as the Badlands.

Flutterponies fed off the love of the land and the love ponies had for each other. In return, they used their remarkable powers to care for the land and help it to prosper. They were a neutral race and preferred to stay out of conflicts unless it directly affected them. Despite their gentleness, they were a powerful race whose magic was capable of defeating the strongest of foes. While no flutterponies exist today, there has been evidence from Pre-Celestian times to support their existence, but this evidence is insubstantial and prone to fraud.


Mirror read on, enraptured by the information the book held. If what’s written in this book is true, then could it be possible? Could changelings be what are left of the flutterponies? If so, why would Queen Chrysalis not tell us?

As Mirror read, she quickly lost track of time. All too soon, Fluttershy told her that their “breakfast break” was up and that they needed to get back to work. Mirror transformed into her happier-looking Pinkie form, and the two continued to tend to the bakery’s costumers until noon, when Fluttershy had to leave to feed her animals, leaving Mirror to run Sugarcube Corner by herself until Fluttershy returned an hour later.

Eventually, the time came for the bakery to close. Pinkie Pie still hadn’t returned, so Mirror opted to stay and wait for her while Fluttershy headed back to the cottage. Waiting in Pinkie’s room, the changeling looked at her reflection in the mirror and dropped the perky shell to see a darker, straight-haired Pinkie Pie behind it.

Mirror ran a hoof through her surprisingly long hair. She put on a small smile. It actually doesn’t look too bad.

Finally, the door opened and light spilled into the dark bedroom. Mirror turned around and smiled for Pinkie Pie, who stood in the doorway, staring in shock at her appearance. After a few seconds, she grinned and spoke.

“That doesn’t look like me at all, silly!” Pinkie said, giggling.

“Maybe not now,” Mirror said, leaping onto the bed and bouncing on it as it settled, “But this must have been you at one point, right? How else would it happen to me as soon as my spirits were shattered?”

“What happened? Running the bakery wasn’t that bad, was it?” Pinkie asked.

“Oh no, not at all! I had Fluttershy’s help, so everything went completely fine!” Mirror said, her voice quickly growing louder and more angry. “In fact, nopony ever suspected that I wasn’t you! Even when your friends came by, I kept up my cover perfectly! I was the perfect replacement for you!”

Pinkie looked thoughtful as she spoke. “…Does this have to do with that time I insulted your shape-shifting at Canterlot?”

Mirror narrowed her eyes and glared. “As a changeling, I take great pride in my shape-shifting abilities. I don’t enjoy having them belittled, especially when I can’t see what I did wrong!”

Quickly engulfing herself in a green cocoon, she leaped off the bed and landed in front of Pinkie, now a brighter replica of the hyper earth pony. “What did I do wrong?! I’ve checked it over countless times, and even Fluttershy can’t find what differentiates me from you! What part of me is so off that you could say you’d “seen better” than a shapeshifter?!”

Pinkie stared at the angry changeling in silence, maintaining eye contact until she suddenly burst out laughing. “Oh, Matchie! I can’t believe you’re still upset over that! You changelings really hold onto your grudges!”

“What do you mean?” Mirror asked, backing off and raising an eyebrow.

“Well, a grudge is when you harbor negative feelings towards somepony that wronged you, so holding a grudge means you don’t forgive easily! Also, did you know that grudge rhymes with fudge? I did, but I didn’t know if you did-” Pinkie Pie rambled on.

“Not that! The other thing!” Mirror growled.

“Oh, that! Right!” Pinkie laughed, “Oh Matchie, there’s nothing wrong with your disguise!”

Mirror stared at her, completely dumbfounded. “…What?”

“Your disguise is perfect! Even I can’t tell us apart!” Pinkie said.

“…What? But if you thought that, why did you say you’d seen better at the invasion?” Mirror asked.

“Hey, we were fighting for the fate of Equestria! I was just getting into the spirit of things! You know, taunting, you fight like a cow, that sort of thing! Not that cows are bad fighters, but you know what I mean!” Pinkie said.

“…So, there’s nothing wrong with my imitation? You approve of it?” Mirror asked.

“Absolutely!” Pinkie nodded, putting emphasis on the word.

Mirror blinked, then slowly put on what was probably her most genuine smile since meeting Ditto that day. “I’m…I’m glad you approve, Pinkie.”

“No problem! Oh, by the way, I asked around Ponyville about Carrot Top for you!” Pinkie said. Her smile dropped into a frown. “Nopony’s seen her since last night. The guards haven’t arrested any changelings, either.”

“…Then she either escaped somewhere else, or she’s back at the hive.” Mirror said, “She knows about the horn’s connection to the swarm. I wonder if she’s tried breaking it yet.”

“I don’t know, maybe. So, what are you going to do?” Pinkie asked.

“I’m not sure. Without my horn I have no way to find her.” Mirror sighed, “Maybe I’ll just wait until after the invasion. If we all live through it, anyway-”

“Invasion? What invasion?” Pinkie asked.

Mirror froze, silently cursing herself for letting that slip. Nice going, featherbrain! Well, no sense avoiding it now…

“…I met a friend today; a changeling named Ditto. She told me that General Carbon is planning an invasion of Ponyville.” Mirror explained.

“What? Then we have to tell everypony!” Pinkie said, somehow looking both excited and worried at the same time.

“I’m not sure that’ll help. It’ll just get everypony on edge, and it may just make General Carbon prolong the invasion or declare it sooner. I don’t even know who or where he is, so I can’t talk him out of it.” Mirror said, “Besides, without Queen Chrysalis, we’ll be much weaker than before. I’m sure you and your friends will be able to handle it when the time comes.”

“What about you? What will you do?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to fight against other changelings, but this is a direct violation of Queen Chrysalis’s orders and by law, I’m required to apprehend traitors to the swarm.” Mirror said, “I’m not sure what I’ll do.”

Pinkie said nothing, instead choosing to hop onto her bed and gesture for Mirror to join her. “Come sleep with me tonight!”

“What?” Mirror asked, not sure she had heard that right.

“Come sleep with me tonight. It’s just us until tomorrow morning, and we’ll be up before Mr. and Mrs. Cakes come home.” Pinkie said, “Come on, it’ll be fun! I’m sure Fluttershy won’t mind.”

Mirror sighed and changed back into her changeling form. She fluttered onto the end of Pinkie’s bed. “What about the invasion?”

“We’ll figure something out tomorrow. It’s too late now.” Pinkie said, “Besides, you don’t even know where to start looking for this “General Carbon” guy. We can go investigate tomorrow and use our detective skills to find out who’s a changeling and who’s not!”

“Do either of us have detective skills?” Mirror asked.

“Well, I’m pretty sure I do. Maybe. We’ll find out tomorrow, won’t we?” Pinkie said.

“I guess so.” Mirror walked over to Pinkie and curled up under the covers, keeping her distance from the pink pony like she had with Fluttershy. To her surprise, Pinkie pulled her next to her in a tight hug.

“Um, Pinkie? What are you doing?” Mirror asked, feeling a little uncomfortable.

“Come on, Matchie! If we’re going to sleep together, we might as well do it right!” Pinkie said, giggling at the embarrassed changeling.

“Are you sure this is allowed?” Mirror asked.

“I don’t see why not. Plenty of ponies do this!” Pinkie said. “Now just relax! You’ll never fall asleep if you stay so tense and nervous!”

“Right…” Mirror said, forcing herself to relax. She was sure that she would be blushing if changelings were capable of such a thing. After several moments of silence, Mirror decided to speak up again, “Hey Pinkie, do you think things will work out?”

“What do you mean, Matchie?” Pinkie asked.

“Well, it’s just, the invasion, the whole conversion problem, the changeling hysteria; it’s all so complicated. Do you think everything will be okay in the end?” Mirror elaborated.

“…I think so! Everything always turns out alright in the end!” Pinkie said. “You know that old saying: “It’s always darkest before the dawn!” Don’t you worry; we’ll get our happy ending!”

“…I hope so.” Mirror said, smiling softly.

“I do too! But it will happen, trust me!” Pinkie smiled back.

Her fears calmed just the slightest bit, Mirror felt herself relax and slowly drift off to sleep. Just before that happened, though, Pinkie spoke up once more.

“By the way, next time we do this, we’ll remember to invite Fluttershy! We’ll have three times the fun!” Pinkie said.

“W-What?!” Mirror stuttered.

“What? A slumber party with three ponies is three times the fun of a slumber party with one pony! It’s not even a slumber party in that case!” Pinkie giggled.

Mirror just grinned at the childish pony and focused on getting to sleep. It soon came, and she drifted off, feeling that it wouldn’t hurt to let go of her troubles for just one night.

The glowing chrysalis split open with a sickening rip, dumping its inhabitant onto the hard stone floor. Giving a pained shout, the creature shakily stood up and shook off the strange liquid, taking in large gulps of stale air. Her wings fluttered in agitation, but she forced them to lay still. With a jolt, she realized that she had wings, and this painful realization nearly made her break down and cry right then and there. She pushed down the urge, though; she had far more important things to worry about.

Shakily walking towards the entrance, marked by a sliver of moonlight shining in through the crack in the wooden boards, she stopped in front of it and closed her eyes. Her twisted horn glowed and fired an explosive blast of green magic at the door, blowing it to pieces. Fresh air rushed into the room, and she breathed it in greedily after days of imprisonment within her cocoon.

Climbing up the stairs, she finally emerged from the cellar into a dark apple orchard. Her horn glowing once more, an apple was ripped from the tree and shot towards her. It smacked into her snout and fell to the ground, but she ignored the slight pain and picked it up. Taking a bite, she relished in its taste and the much-needed boost of energy it gave her. The urgent information she had suddenly came back to the front of her mind.

Moonlight shone down into the orchard, illuminating it clearly. The light revealed a dull orange coat, a messy blonde mane, and two solid green eyes lit up with alarm and terror.

“Ah…Ah have ta warn the others!” She gasped in a voice rusty from disuse, “Queen Chrysalis is in Ponyville!”