It should have been raining. Rain at funerals was an old tradition, extending back to the pegasus battles before the unification. Yes, crashing into the ground wasn't technically a warrior's death, but...
It shouldn't still be so bright. The sky shouldn't have been blue.
Not that her opinion mattered. Really. If... if Rainbow's parents were okay with this, then she would let them be okay with this.
She watched as they approached the casket, her father wrapping his tail around the flanks of... no, not her father. Not her mother. Even if they raised her, she....
The couple looked in.
Her mo... the mare reached a hoof out, brushing the body inside; apparently the cocoon had preserved it very well.. She could see the shudder that went through her body. The mare nodded to the stallion, absently. They spoke to each other, too quietly to hear.
The other changeling--she supposed she had to call her Bonbon--hung her head low. Lyra stood just outside the cemetery, watching and glancing awkwardly at the fence.
It took a while before the married couple moved away from the box, stepping up to the podium. The mare cleared her throat.
"I... when I was called here, and I had the... situation explained to me, I had to wonder. Any parent would, I think. I... I considered what she meant to me." The mare gestured to the coffin. Then her eyes fell on the changeling. "And I considered what... what you meant to me. And in the end... You felt the same." Her eyes fell down. "I can't accept that my daughter is dead. I understand that filly is, but... I don't think my daughter is dead. I'm sorry. This is... wrong."
She stood there a moment longer. Her gaze met that of her husband's and she balked. Then she took a breath, closed her eyes, and trotted briskly out.
The stallion snorted. He looked at the casket, then back to where the mare now stood next to an uncomfortable Lyra.
He trotted up to the podium and took a steadying breath. "My daughter is dead. I know this and... and yet, I can see why my wife deludes herself. Because the pony that replaced her was... we loved her. Still do, I suppose. And she acted so much like Rainbow that we were fooled. If I understand correctly, she believed she was Rainbow. I... I will mourn my daughter's death, and the fact I was not there for her... and I will turn to the newcomer and say she was my daughter's sister." With a sigh, he stepped down and trotted back to his seat, his eyes avoiding the two ponies outside the cemetery.
Fluttershy took a breath, standing up and walking to the casket. Her eyes drifted over the body... and then she steeled herself and walked over to the podium. "Um.... I... If it really matters, I guess I believe that... that whether or not the changeling who was the replacement for Rainbow Dash is, um, Rainbow Dash.... it's not really what matters here. We are gathered here today, not to debate who is who and who is not, but to remember the life of one of the bravest, kindest fillies I have... ever had the honor of knowing. I... I know how we found her is... something of an issue, but I prefer to put that aside. I prefer to remember how she would always stop whatever she did to help. How she... how she would sometimes, heh, break into the vending machines and hand out little packets of cookies. How she would go up to the toughest, most fiery flyers and give them a hug before challenging them to a stunt-off. She even made up that term, stunt off.... she never finished the rules before...."
The yellow pegasus dabbed at her eyes.
"...Rainbow Dash was reckless, short-sighted, arrogant... and wouldn't ever let anypony down. I don't know if she's 'dead' or not, and I don't care. All I know is that she was one... heck of a filly. And I... I'll always remember that filly."
The stallion's wings drooped in shame as Fluttershy trotted quietly off the podium. Outside the cemetery, the mare collapsed into a heap of quiet tears. Lyra looked around nervously, rhythmically stroking her neck as her eyes roved across the funeral for some form of support.
Both the changelings stared at the casket for a long time.
Eventually, Bonbon stood up. She paused, turning the other changeling. "Do you want to...?"
The other changeling followed the holey hoof with her eyes and shook her head. "Go on. I'll... be right after you."
"Right." Bonbon nodded. "Right..." She walked up to the box, looking inside. Her silence was long. Then, with a sigh, she took her place at the podium.
"...I can't claim to have known this filly. I met her when she was dying and... and some would say that's when a person really reveals themself. From what little I got to see, she was caring, brave... she allowed herself to be replaced so that others wouldn't feel what I'm sure they're feeling right now. Loss. Pain. She... she wanted them happy." Bonbon sighed. "I sung her to her final sleep. I... I was a monster, then. And.... Well, she changed me. I... I wish I could have known her."
She turned to the fence, her eyes meeting Lyra's as she stepped off the podium. For a moment she wavered. Then she hung her head and returned to her seat.
That just left one.
The other changeling stood up, steadying herself. With every hesitant hoof step she was brought closer to the casket, closer to the horror within. Memories that were and weren't hers floated up to the surface, memories of mirrors and self image. And then...
It wasn't exactly like looking in a mirror, of course. The fact that the filly was dead and slightly stitched up and, well, a filly made it different. But it was far closer than what she had expected. It was almost like... like the face itself had never changed, like she'd only gotten bigger but not aged. The changeling couldn't help letting her hoof trail down the corpse's cheek.
This was what she had stolen.
Her eyes drifted to the filly's flank... and she took in a harsh hiss of breath. There, where everypony's destiny would be written, was the image of a cocoon bursting open to reveal a trio of bedazzling spectrum-winged butterflies.
The butterflies were small, an afterthought. It was clear that the cocoon itself was the focus of the cutiemark. Rough, discarded, no longer of any use.
The changeling stared at it, almost refusing to comprehend. That the filly had died to earn this mark... She tore her gaze away, stumbling to the podium,
Her mouth opened.
Her mouth shut.
Her mouth opened....
And she bolted.
It was shortly thereafter that a whispered shouting match was held outside the door of one of the palace's many guest rooms.
"No, I get that you raised her," Bonbon whispered harshly. "That's why I think you shouldn't go in! You'll just make things worse for her!"
"But we're her parents. That, at least, we can agree on." Silver Stocking flicked her mane back, shooting a quick glare at her husband. "Right?"
"Yes, dear. This isn't about us, this is about her."
"And that's why you should stay out here and let me handle this," Bonbon insisted. "Look, if the two of you can't even agree who she is among yourselves, how do you think she'll respond? She needs a changeling perspective on all this before she can really understand herself."
"I'm with Bonnie!"
The changeling sighed. "Lyra? I love you. I really do. You pulled me out of one of my worst places. But I don't think you should get involved in this particular argument, okay?"
Lyra blinked uncomprehendingly. "...why not?"
"Because this is a deeply personal problem for their daughter and you don't have nearly the level of subtlety that is necessary to handle it."
"I just want to help..."
Bonbon put a hoof on the shoulder of the pouting unicorn. "I know you do. And that is why I am giving you the most important job."
"You are going to take these two and make sure they have the most romantic date in Canterlot they can get right now."
"WHAT?!" cried the two pegasi.
"And I mean right now immediately move your cute patootie! GO GO GO GO!"
Lyra saluted. "AYE AYE SIR!"
"Oh no, you're not going to MEEP!" Silver Stocking struggeld in the sudden grip of magic. "Put us down now!"
"No can do ma'am! You heard my commanding officer!" Lyra giggled as she carried the two pegasi out. "She called my patootie cute!"
Fluttershy stared as they rounded the corner.
Bonbon rolled her eyes. "It's a long story that can be summed up as Lyra is Crazy." She paused. "Um... I'm not going to have to convince you to let me do this alone too, am I?"
"...Oh! Uh... I'll be right outside, but..." Fluttershy gestured to the door. "Go on."
Opening the door revealed a room that was almost normal, if one ignored the way that every reflective surface was either cracked or covered with a blanket, a dress, a rag. Bonbon raised an eyebrow as she trotted over to the changeling sitting next to the window, looking out on Canterlot.
"...so." Bonbon rubbed her foreleg awkwardly. "That was... intense."
"...did you see her cutie mark? Before you buried her, I mean."
"No. I... Back then, I was still nominally loyal to Chrysalis. I just did my job quickly."
The other changeling shrugged. "Makes sense, I guess. She probably didn't earn it until... until almost when she..." A sigh escaped. "Bonbon, she died to give me a life. Her life. Willingly. How can I accept that?"
"...do you know, when I met Lyra, I was... I was basically starving?" Bonbon closed her eyes. "See, that was a few weeks after I decided to break off from the hive. And from ponykind. I decided that changelings, we were all monsters. Me especially for letting her die, and... so I became this hateful, spiteful earth pony that would insult everyone that came near and Lyra just wouldn't take anything. I insulted her mane, her instrument, her parents, her lifestyle choice... all that, all to keep her away from me. And she would just laugh it off. I don't know what she was thinking. All I know is one day, she followed me to my little box, and--I tried, I really tried to get under her skin and eventually I snapped and dropped the disguise and...."
She sighed. "Lyra just said 'Oh hey, you look neat.' That's... that's what the filly had said too. And I just... I broke down."
The two of them were silent.
"...and then," Bonbon added, "she gave me a reason to live. Even after all I had caused." She chuckled. "Crazy little world, isn't it."
"...Fluttershy's right outside, you know. The rest of your friends, they're probably still worried. Scootaloo--"
"--was captured by Chrysalis."
The two changelings turned at the new voice. Rarity and a tear-streaked Sweetie Belle had entered the room, followed closely by Luna.
"Um..." Fluttershy poked her head in. "Princess, I understand your concern, but--"
Bonbon stood up quickly. "What do you need from me?"
"Tactics. Personality." Luna glanced at Rarity and Sweetie Belle, one eyebrow arching. "...perhaps comfort for the returned hostage. You were her candymaker, correct?"
"Ah, right. Tell you what, Sweetie, I'll make your favorite as soon as I can get to the kitchens."
"Oooooh! Rainbow bits, right?"
Bonbon smiled widely. "Exactly!"
Bonbon's smile remained, but her eyes grew hard and steely. "Except it always takes you a good three minutes to decide that."
Sweetie Belle blinked.
Then she smiled back. "Oh, darn. Very clever, traitor. I suppose that--" She suddenly convulsed, flickering between a number of forms as Luna overloaded her with magic before finally collapsing into a black changeling with a helmet.
Rarity backed away in horror. "What--but she was so like--she knew everything!"
"The real Sweetie Belle's back with the swarm, most likely." Bonbon shook her head. "Forced into the hive mind... Chrysalis is a bitch, but she's a smart bitch." She kicked the helmet. "Sending one of the Pure in disguise, we won't be able to get anything from him. Without the hive he's braindead, basically--"
"Wait wait wait, back up." The other changeling turned around. "Forced into the hive mind, that can happen?!"
"Yep. How did you think she controlled Shining Armor?"
Luna bit her lip. "This presents a problem. We know where they are most likely located but--"
"And you're saying they've got Scootaloo," the other changeling interrupted. "And they could force her into this hive mind too?"
"In... theory," Bonbon allowed.
"And this hive mind is directly connected to the mind of the evil sexy bug shapeshifter bitch?!"
"Sexy?!" Rarity cried.
Bonbon sighed. "That's a changeling instinct, we just find the queens irrationally sexy--"
"Okay, that is it." Rainbow Dash trotted toward the door. "I am NOT letting that bug rip out Scootaloo's brain."
"Wait, hold up, what are you doing?!" Bonbon held out a hoof. "Like less then a minute ago you were horribly depressed and now--"
"Now I've found something to live for. I'll rainboom over there and get the crusaders back, ten seconds flat!"
"Not as a changeling!"
Rainbow Dash looked at her insectile wings. "Right. Forgot. Doesn't matter, Luna, where am I headed?"
The princess lidded her eyes, but a small smirk formed on her lips nonetheless. "You do not even have a plan."
"Yes I do. Find the bug queen, beat her up, save the crusaders."
"Are you completely insane?!" Bonbon waved a hoof out the window. "SHE TOOK ON CELESTIA AND WON!"
"But she was defeated anyway. So either help me become a pegasus again or stand aside."
Bonbon blinked. Then she sighed. "You know what, I'm not even going to argue. I can get you back to how you were, but... you're going to have to let me link to your mind and temporarily take over your body."
"Just trust me. I think I've got a plan."