"Applejack!" Apple Bloom leapt toward her sister as she stepped off a pegasus-drawn chariot, tears in her eyes. "You're here, you're really wait a minute. Are you a changeling?"
The orange mare chuckled, ruffling her sister's mane. "Eeeenope. This here's one hundred percent genyouwine Apple. Got tha hat, got tha accent, got tha powerful hugs--!" She wrapped her sister up in a bone creaking embrace, smile dropping away as her own eyes grew wet. "Dang it Bloom, Ah was so worried... why'd ya go and run off like that?"
"Ah was just trying ta keep Scoots and Sweets safe... Guess Ah bungled that one right up, huh?"
"Rarity!" Sweetie Belle clung to her sister tightly. "I'm so sorry I ran off, and, and that I got caught by changelings, and--"
"Shh shh shh. It's okay, it's okay." Rarity hugged her sister tightly. "It's not your fault."
"...Well, running away was a bad idea," the elder unicorn mused, "but as for everything else you couldn't really control it, could you?"
"And I think you've been through enough as it is." Rarity shuddered. "Being forced to be in that hive mind... Nopony should go through that, least of all a filly."
"To be completely fair," Lyra pointed out, "I've found willing connections to be amazing."
Rarity glared at her.
"...in... that... they helped me with some mental issues," Lyra continued awkwardly. "Alongside other benefits I will not discuss in front of foals." She coughed into her hoof.
"...What are you doing here?" Scootaloo asked curiously.
"Oh, I'm like the second expert on changelings right now. The first one is back in Canterlot, helping Luna with... stuff," Lyra explained casually. "So I'm here to make sure the situation works out, yano?"
"Huh. I never pegged you for a changeling expert."
"I have my ways," Lyra said mysteriously. "Anyway, it looks like the whole thing's been dealt with, so as soon as Chrysalis is captured--"
"We have Chrysalis in custody," Major Celestia reported, striding up with a hoofcuffed and unconscious changeling queen. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy trailed behind her, the yellow mare giving everypony an awkward smile while the cyan one strutted forward proudly. "She did attempt to escape, but our contingency plan worked out well."
"That's good to know, Major." Twilight Sparkle stepped off the chariot, giving Rainbow Dash a look. "Were there any problems on your end?"
"Nope, everything went off without a hitch!" Rainbow smirked. "Luna's running the hive now, we've got Chryssy in chains, and Scootaloo is safe." She ruffled the orange filly's mane. "And the other crusaders, of course."
"Ohmygosh do you know what this calls for?" Pinkie squealed.
Twilight rolled her eyes. "A party?"
"Why don't we head back to Canterlot first, Pinkie?"
"Yeah, okay, throwing a party in the middle of the woods would be a little bit odd..."
Apple Bloom blinked at Pinkie Pie. "What are ya doin' here anyway? Ah can get Rarity and AJ being here, and Rainbow too, but you and Fluttershy and Twilight all coming down..."
There was a moment of awkward silence. Scootaloo noticed that most of the other ponies were not looking at Rainbow Dash.
"I... was put in charge of the mission to capture Chrysalis," Twilight offered.
"And Fluttershy's talent with animals proved instrumental in accomplishing the mission," Celestia added.
"And I..." Pinkie paused. "...am... Pinkie Pie!"
The fillies all looked at her wide, forced smile. Applejack pulled her hat over her eyes.
"...I got nothing," the party pony admitted with a shrug.
"Okay, question two: How did Rainbow Dash recover?!" Apple Bloom pointed at the pegasus. "She was in tha hospital last I heard!"
Dash started "How did you know about that?!"
"Cadance told Scootaloo!"
"She what?!" Rainbow shook her head. "That was a private thing! I didn't--how could she--AAAAArrRRRGGH!"
Scootaloo sighed. "I was... really worried when I didn't see you around after the invasion. I kind of, um, forced it out of her." She grinned broadly. "But I hear you took on a whole bucketload of changelings to get there! That must have been awesome!"
"...oh." She rubbed the back of her head, smiling awkwardly "Yeah! It was totally... I took out, like, thirty on my own! Heh. They only got to me, um, after I pushed that filly out of the path of, uh, a falling piano."
"A falling piano?"
"Yep! There was a piano on a balcony, because Canterlot, and the changelings threw it off for some reason, and it landed on my leg and, yeah, things went downhill from there. Literally. I was fighting downhill with a broken leg. And they needed six--eight changelings to finally knock me out, six to hold me down and two to do the punching!" Dash grinned widely. "Even then I managed to totally bite some new holes into their legs!"
"Oh good grief," Twilight mutttered.
Scootaloo's eyes glimmered with awe. "So coooooool...."
Apple Bloom raised a single eyebrow.
"Yep. Totally what happened." The blue pegasus brushed off a foreleg casually. "So! Chariots. Canterlot. Let's all get up and ship out, ponies!"
"Oh my, yes!' Rarity nudged Sweetie Belle onto a chariot quickly. "We simply must get back. I'll have to redo the whole wedding ensemble...."
"Wait, is tha wedding still happening?"
"Why of course, Apple Bloom! Not even an invasion can stand in the way of true love!" The fashionista sighed, a small smile on her face as her eyes drifted dreamily toward the sky. "In fact it was true love that stopped the invasion!"
"We've just mostly held off until the changeling situation was handled because having a wedding right after an invasion would be in poor taste," Lyra explained. "Now vaminos vaminos! Let's get back quick!"
"Heh, don't have to tell me tw--EErrrgh!" Rainbow Dash stumbled suddenly, clutching at her chest with a panicked wince. "OW ow ow ow, what was that?!"
"You okay there Rainbow?" Applejack stepped forward carefully. "Cause if something's wrong--"
"Nah, it was just this sudden burning in my OH DEAR CELESTIA!" The pegasus curled up without warning, her stomach heaving as she attempted to breath. "Ow ow ow, okay, yeah something is definitely wrong..."
Twilight frowned, levitating her onto a chariot. "Then we better get back post haste."
As soon as the chariots hit the ground, Twilight jumped out and hugged the waiting guard captain. "Shiney! What's been going on here?"
"Well, Princess Luna is in an odd half-trance state, but our intelligence agent tells me that's normal, we've finally managed to clean up most of the property damage from the invasion, and after some security check's Spike's been allowed out of his room again. What's up with you?"
"Queen Chrysalis is captured and incapacitated, the Crusaders are back, and Rainbow Dash has been suffering increasing gastrointestinal pains." Twilight paused. "At least I hope they're gastrointestinal, because otherwise I have no idea what's going on."
"I'm gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie...." The blue pegasus rolled onto the ground. "I can't feel my hoooooooves..."
"Oh my gosh, somepony help Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo had hopped out of her chariot and was rushing around the pegasus with terrified fervor. "The bug queen must have done something to hurt her again!"
"Or maybe fighting her broke out her old wounds," Sweetie Belle added. "This is not good... Rarity, didn't you say the Elements of Harmony healed up your tail that one time with Nightmare Moon?"
"I--yes, but--" Rarity pointed at the writhing Rainbow. "She's loyalty! I don't know if she would--"
"EVERYPONY STAND ASIDE!"
The ponies all stared as a new figure walked onto the landing courtyard, striding with a cold fury that could have emanated from an alicorn. She paused to give Lyra a good twenty-five second long kiss before leaving the fluttering unicorn behind and coming up to the groaning blue pegasus.
"Hey wait a minute--" Scootaloo stepped between her and Rainbow Dash. "You're a changeling!" She glared up at the creature. "I'm not letting you get your hooves on her, you big--!"
"Your favorite candy is juice cubes, you once took twice as much as you paid for but paid me back the next day, yes I am Bonbon, and yes I told Rainbow how to beat queen Chrysalis." The changeling took a breath, and let it out. "Now I think I know what's happening, but I need to look at her first. Can I do that?"
"Uhhh...." Scootaloo blinked twice. "I... guess?" She awkwardly stepped to the side. "Erm. So you're a good changeling then?"
"It would be more accurate to say I'm not a bad one." Bonbon knelt down to Rainbow. "Now then, miss Dash, I need you to answer one question and I need you to answer it truthfully."
"Oooooooh ooooow yes, ask, ask!"
"Did you swallow, on purpose or by accident, any of Chrysalis's mane?"
"I...." Rainbow screwed up her face. "I... Maybe? I remember choking on something for a moment--AAAAAAUGH! Did it do something?! Is it poison?!"
"Well, that depends on your definition of poison. Congratulations, Rainbow Dash, you are becoming a changeling queen."
"Wait," Apple Bloom said, shaking her head. "Changeling hair can turn ponies into changeling queens?"
There was an awkward pause.
"Okay," Bonbon said very calmly. "I've got to get you into a cocoon in the next ten minutes or the transformation will kill you. You've got until then to explain things and patch it all up." She started tearing out her mane and tail as quickly as she could.
"Uh, um--" Rainbow hissed and curled up. "Okay, uh, Scootaloo?"
"Remember when I told you about how I earned my cutie mark?"
"Yeah, apparently OW ow ow apparently I actually died doing that." Rainbow grinned awkwardly. "But Bonbon took my mind and stuck it into a changeling filly--"
"Nymph," Bonbon corrected, laying her mane out in neat little rows.
"Nymph, whatever, and then I was a changeling except I didn't know it until just after the invasion of Canterlot."
Scootaloo blinked a bit. "Wait, what?"
"Yeah, strange but true."
"That just... wait, what?"
"We're still cool, right kid?" Rainbow bit her lip. "I mean, I'm still... the pony that you made a fan club for and all..."
"Uh... I... you..." Scootaloo sat down heavily. "Sure, I, I guess--"
"Hey Dash, I don't have enough silk here. Can you drop your morph so I can get at your tail and mane?"
"Uh, sure, I AAAAARGH! Ow ow ow..."
The orange filly stared wide eyed as her idol burst into green flame, revealing a black form almost totally curled up in on itself. She winced when she noticed something pushing against the chitin from inside, twisting just underneath the black shell. "Oh, uh, wow. That... is both cool and highly disturbing."
"Rearranging internal organs is kind of like that kid!" Bonbon was already tearing away the tattered blue mane and tail. "You ready to go in, Dash?"
"Wait wait wait. Twilight! I wanna say I'm sorry." The changeling looked up at the unicorn. "Sorry for not believing you about Cadance and just leaving you there. That was wrong. I was wrong."
"That's.... It's alright, Rainbow Dash." Twilight sighed. "I understand why you all--"
"No, it was wrong, and I'm sorry, end of discussion, why is my stomach melting?!"
"Right, here we go. Don't worry, girl, it'll be all over soon."
The ponies could only watch in nervous fear as Bonbon wrapped the other changeling up with threads of silk from their head and tail. Rarity flinched when she spread saliva all across the bundle, but she didn't say anything in objection.
Finally, Bonbon flumped back panting. "There, that's it. Give her, oh, a month or two, and... she'll be taller." She rubbed at her horn. "Wow. Okay."
"A month or two of stillness?" Fluttershy shook her head. "Oh, I don't know if Dash can stand that."
"...Oh, don't worry. I think, I think I can help with that." Bonbon collapsed. "Right after I take a nap, that was surprisingly exhausting...."