Shining Armor was filing paperwork.
Unlike his younger sibling, he had no love for lists and checks and long rambling reports that essentially boiled down to stating that the only thing wrong in a certain sector was paranoia. He didn't hate them, of course, otherwise his relationship with his sister would have been far more strained than it was. He just... tolerated the paperwork as a necessity, an unfortunate aspect of his job of commanding an active section of the guard.
Inside he wanted to leap to action and fix all the problems of the world. Help Cadance and Twilight recover, find Rainbow Dash and rescue her from a hive of scum and villainy, slam a hoof into the Changeling Queen's FACE... But duty came first, and duty required that he figure out what was happening in the city before figuring out what to do.
Still, what he wouldn't give for a distraction...
"Sir!" A guard ran in, flicking a quick and sloppy salute. "There's a changeling in the entrance hall!"
"What?!" The unicorn shoved his stool back, rushing around the desk. "How did it get in?!"
"Through the front doors, sir!"
"Through the front--You let a changeling just waltz in?!"
"It was shapeshifted sir!"
"Then how do you know it's a changeling?!"
"It dropped its disguise sir!"
Shining Armor blinked. "...what?"
"It... dropped its disguise, sir."
For a moment the captain of the guard stared at the footsoldier, jaw hanging open in disbelief. "It just... just like that?"
"Um.... it also said 'I surrender peacefully' before... uh... it dropped its disguise."
That got the captain's attention. "Right. I'm going to see to this myself." Something was definitely off about this whole thing, he mused as he trotted briskly down the hall. A changeling just surrendering like that? Even if it was a rogue--which, technically, he supposed was possible--revealing themselves so soon after the assault would be near suicidal. The rogue had to have a very good reason to turn itself in. Or this could all be a trap--
Shining Armor recoiled as a green hoof slammed into his muzzle, taking but a second to brace for combat. Already his assailant was leaping toward another guard, trying to stab his leg with her horn and failing horribly. "YOU PALACE PUNKS WON'T TAKE HER AWAY FROM ME!"
"Lyra, I'm surrendering willingly."
Shining glanced at the new voice, and then did a double take. An undisguised changeling was looking at the attacker with annoyance in her pink eyes, something he never even suspected changelings could do.
"I don't care what they threatened you with, I'm not letting them execuAAAAGH!"
The unicorn dangled from Shining's telekinetic grip, her head swinging inches from the carpeted steps as he stepped forward. "Ma'am, you just attacked on duty members of the royal... wait, weren't you one of Cadance's bridesmaids?"
"Well, not the real Cadance but--" She shook her head. "Look it doesn't matter! All that matters is that I won't let you kill Bonbon!"
"Shining Armor isn't going to kill me Lyra," the changeling droned. "He's going to throw me in a dungeon and interrogate me."
"Oh yeah, like that's SOOO much better!" The unicorn glared at the captain of the guard and punched at the air. "Come on you wimp! Let go of my tail, I'll wrestle ya to the ground!"
The changeling pulled her hoof through her cream-pink mane and let out an infuriated sigh. "Okay, you know what? She's not responsible for her actions. I hypnotized her."
"What--? NO! I'm completely lucid! Ask me anything!"
"Lyra, I'm trying to get you out of trouble here!"
"I'M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT YOU!"
Shining Armor shut his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to fight back the headache he felt coming on. "Obviously I'm missing a few details. Private?"
"Did this changeling engage in any hostile or magical action during the time you have observed it?"
"No sir. The unicorn just charged in and started wailing on us, sir."
"I WAS SAVING HER FROM YOU!"
"Lyra, you're making things worse."
"Okay you know what?" Shining released his grip, letting the mare fall down. "You're both under arrest, and you're going to get cells across from each other. And if either of you acts out of line, it's the other one that's going to get the lashing, is that clear?"
Unicorn and changeling both jolted up at that. "But that's not fair--" "She's an equestrian citizen--" "I was the one that attacked you--" "We're not acting together--"
"I SAID IS THAT CLEAR?!"
The two of them gulped simultaneously. "Y'ssir."
"Good." Shining Armor nodded to the guard on his left. "Take your squad and escort these two to their cells. Make sure they're kept in the eastern dungeon, have them watched at all times, regularly fed, the usual." He rubbed his forehead. "I'm going to go make sure Twilight knows about this... then I'm going to go get a drink."
Twilight took a deep breath, nodding to the guards positioned to either side of the cell door. "I'm here to see our new... um... does she count as a prisoner if she surrendered willingly?"
"...okay, fine. I'm here to see our new prisoner and... talk. Talk to her."
The guard rose an eyebrow at her hesitation. He had been specifically assigned to this position due to his almost Sherclopian analysis ability--after all, even changelings had to make mistakes sometimes--and he could already tell that something was off about the princess's protegee. She was obviously Twilight Sparkle, of course--the way she walked, the way she groomed, practical and efficient--but there were things off. Slight creases under the eyes. Ears ticked back half a titch. A nervous flick of the tail.
"Are you sure you are capable of doing that in your condition?"
Twilight sighed. "Thanks for your concern, but I'm fine. Maybe a bit sleep-deprived and nervous... but I can handle this. Princess Celestia wouldn't have trusted me with this if she thought I was incapable of performing my duty!" She smiled reassuringly at the guard, unaware of the slight flick of her right ear.
"...very well. Just try to keep calm, miss Sparkle." The guard opened the door. "We wouldn't want another Smarty Pants episode, would we?"
The unicorn flinched as she trotted in. "You slip up one time and nopony ever lets you live it down..."
The changeling chained to the wall smirked. "To be fair, it was one incredible amazing doll."
"Look, I had a bad day alright?!" Twilight blinked, narrowing her eyes. "Wait a minute... how do you even know about that?"
"I was there,Twilight. Want-it Need-it and everything." The changeling shuddered. "I haven't ever used mind control and after that I don't think I ever will."
"Wait wait wait. You were there for... You've been in Ponyville for a whole year?!"
"Well, actually I've been living there for a little over a decade..."
Twilight sat down heavily, staring at her. "A changeling queen... hiding out in Ponyville for more than ten years..."
The changeling raised an eyebrow. "Um... I'm not a queen."
"What--? But, but you have a mane! A-a-and the eyes--!"
"The eyes glow blue when a changeling connects to a hive mind, stronger blue the bigger the hive." The prisoner patted her mane. "As for this... all changelings grow silk. It's just that most changelings use the silk in the hive's cocoons and whatnot. Although Chrysalis claimed she was saving her silk for 'the royal eggsac'. As if that would EVER happen. Complete control freak, she was."
"You've met her."
Twilight nodded in understanding, her eyes distant. She was still trying to process everything that she'd just heard. A ten-year hidden changeling completely willingly giving her the name of her queen and explaining things about her race without any provocation... just how exactly was she supposed to respond to this?
She started, snapping her gaze to the changeling. "What? Yes sorry. I drifted off there for a moment, I... let me start over. What were you doing in Ponyville?"
The changeling sighed. "Well... at first, I was just a scout. Then I decided to go rogue, faked my death in the hive mind, and I've spent the good part of my time there just making candy." She smiled goofily. "Well, there was the occasional side activity Lyra insisted on..."
"Lyra? Wait, she was dating that candy... maker...."
Twilight stopped, her eyes widening slowly. The changeling nodded.
"Hey Twilight. Sorry, the mint pellets are going to be late this week." Bonbon tugged at the chain around her neck. "Extenuating circumstances, you understand."
"But--you--ten years--" Twilight shook her head. "You and Lyra are changelings?!"
"Um... no. I'm a changeling. She's just an idiot."
"Wait, why would she attack the royal guard if she wasn't a changeling?"
"I reiterate: idiot."
"I heard that!" came a shout from across the hall. "I thought you loved me!"
"Just because I love you doesn't mean I think you're perfect!"
Twilight rubbed her temple. "Wait. Okay, wait. I thought... I thought changelings fed on love."
"Yes. We can also feel love." Bonbon shrugged. "It was a shock to me as well, but I'm head over heels for that crazy mare. I mean she took on the royal guard for me! Granted, she lost..."
"Only cause Shining Armor cheated!"
"Hey!" Twilight shouted. "That's my brother you're talking about!"
"This is the strangest interrogation I've ever heard," one of the guards quipped.
"This is the only interrogation you've ever heard," the other reminded him.
"I think we're all getting off topic here," Twilight said, holding up a hoof. "Now then. I'm... supposed to find out why you're here and what you know."
"You mean why did I turn myself in?"
"Well... I suppose that's a good enough place to start, yes..."
Bonbon sighed, slumping onto the ground as she closed her eyes. "It kind of ties into why I went rogue in the first place. See, us scouts had found Equestria was a great place to get love--which, yeah, we eat. Of course, at the time if we went with an out and out invasion, we'd have been trounced. So Chrysalis ordered us to install sleeper agents--unpupated changelings, basically infants in suspended animation, we'd transfer the memories of a pony over to them and then... remove the pony."
Twilight took a breath, but nodded. From a tactical viewpoint that made some sense. "So... you killed a pony?"
"Actually no, I got lucky." Bonbon's ears folded back. "I was walking back home when I found a filly who was... pretty much screwed anyway. Heh, when I walked up and told her she probably wouldn't survive, she took it really well. Worried about her family... heck, the first thing she asked was if her friend was okay." She shrugged. "So I told her I was a shapeshifter, that I had a baby shapshifter here and hey! Why not let me transfer your memories so her family didn't worry? And she was like, yeah sure."
Her breath caught. "And after... after that... she... she asked me to hold her and... and sing to her. I'd taken the form of, of her mother, right off the top of her mind... I... I held her..." She shook her head. "She had a smile on her face when..."
Twilight blinked, tears coming to her own eyes as she put a gentle hoof to the prisoner's shoulder. "It's okay. It's okay, you... you helped her in her final moments. You couldn't do anything else."
"...I... I'm fine Twilight." Bonbon took a shuddering breath. "I mean, it was years ago. I've moved... beyond that."
They sat in silence for a moment.
Eventually, Twilight cleared her throat. "Um... So... if this all happened around a decade ago... why are you here now?"
"...do you know how that filly died?" Bonbon chuckled wryly. "No, I didn't tell you, did I. She died because she plowed into the ground at high speeds. Very high speeds." Her eyes narrowed. "Rainboom. Speeds."
The unicorn's eyes snapped wide.
"And yesterday Lyra came home, telling me that the crusaders thought Dash had been kidnapped by changelings." Bonbon shook her head. "I never connected her to the hive mind, so tell me Twilight Sparkle: Where is she now?"
"This is nuts," Apple Bloom muttered, pushing another branch out of the way. "We shouda left this to tha guard."
"The guard is big, shiny, and clangy." Scootaloo snorted, looking up through the branches for any watching eyes. "We're small, stealthy, and silent. We are so much better at sneaking around than they are."
"Ah'll give ya small."
"Oh come on AB!" Sweetie Belle hopped up and down beside her friend. "Relax! Just think of this as another crusade! Who knows, your special talent may be in spy-seeking, right?"
"Do either of ya'll know where we are?"
"Nope. That means we're getting close." Scootaloo pressed an ear to the ground. "If you want to hide, you'd hide off the map. Basic logic!"
Sweetie Belle nodded. "That makes sense."
"...Seriously?" Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. "Ya really expect we're just gonna find tha changelings any second now?"
"Well..." purred a new voice. "Not unless we find you first."
The fillies froze.
Slowly, they turned to look behind them.
Chrysalis smiled. "My my my, three little foals lost in the woods?" At the flick of her ear, black shapes oozed out of the branches and surrounded the crusaders. "I think somebody should ensure your safety."