"She's almost ready."
Twilight flung her book aside and jumped up. "Really?!"
Bonbon nodded, glancing at the cocoon in the corner. "Give it about half an hour, and you'll be sweeping up silk." She grinned wryly. "I'm ready to stop being a spare body, thank you very much."
"Aheh, yeah, um...." Twilight's eyes darted left and right. "You said food, right?"
"Food and friends. Lyra's out gathering everypony--"
"SPIIIIIIKE! SPIKE IT'S ALMOST TIME!" The unicorn galloped down the stairs. "You can dust later, Spike, we've got less then half an hour to get things prepped!"
"Relax, Twilight, I pre-cooked everything!" Bonbon giggled to herself as she heard the dragon's voice waft up from below. "You just have to hit it all with a warming spell!"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot..."
The cream earth pony rolled her eyes, taking her seat beside the cocoon. "I don't think those two would survive without each other. Hey, why was Spike locked up between the weddings anyway?"
A faint rustle came from the cocoon.
"Wait... the Mukade are real?"
"Wow. I knew Chrysalis had pinned the blame on somebody, but the Mukade... we got off light, all things considered." Bonbon shivered. "If they'd had gotten their hooves on Spike--"
"Spike doesn't know about the Mukade," Twilight interjected as she came upstairs. "All he knows is that somebody was after a young dragon, and I'd prefer it stay that way."
"...yeah, that's probably a good idea. Don't want him having nightmares." Bonbon's eyes darted around. "So... um... how have things been with you?"
"Oh, you know, mostly okay. Been seeing a therapist for my..." Twilight sighed. "My guilt complex--"
"The past is the past, Twilight. I left a child to die and..." Bonbon sighed. "Take it from me, letting your mistakes define you can lead you down a very dark road. Focus on what you have now." She smiled gently. "You've got Spike, one of the greatest assistant/brother/sons I have ever seen. You've got your family, filled with ponies that love you and a couple that happen to be family. You have five of the best ponies in the world as friends, and the adoration of one of the best pony towns as a local hero." She waved around the room. "And your own library, how cool is that?!"
Twilight giggled. "Okay, okay, I see your point..."
The two of them perked their ears as they heard the door downstairs opening up.
"Twilight, we've got company!"
Bonbon and Twilight shared a look. Then they braced themselves.
A flurry of hooves ran up the stairs. There was Rarity, panting heavily as she dropped an emergency sewing kit against the wall. There was Pinkie, helping Spike carry a ridiculous amount of food. There was Fluttershy, talking quietly with Rainbow Dash's parents. There was Applejack, trying to keep the cutie mark crusaders in line. And there was Lyra, standing casually on Princess Luna's back.
"P-Princess Luna!" Twilight stammered as she swiftly stood up. "What are you doing here?"
"As per certain treaties, miss Rainbow Dash is to be the Queen of the Equestrian Hive Mind." Luna pulled a scroll from her feathers. "There's a lot of details to hammer out, but I do require her to sign this as soon as she can."
Bonbon narrowed her eyes. "Lyra, why are you standing on Luna?"
"I think a better question would be, why wouldn't I be standing on Luna?"
"Because I am your wife and seeing you on another pony might make me outrageously jealous."
"Good point." Lyra hopped off the night princess. "But it brings up another point. Bonbon, I want babies."
The cream mare blinked, suddenly aware of all the eyes on them. "I... what?"
"Foals, bundles of joy, pitter patter of little hooves." Lyra stalked forward. "You, me, offspring. You've got the equipment, we just have to use it."
"Um, I don't know if a pony and a changeling can--"
"Ponies are naturally magical, and part of that magic extends to the development of infants. We can stabilize cross genetic material far more easily than other species. Look at mules, Bonbon. Or Zonies. Or hippogryphs. Heck, centaurs, Bonnie!" The green face jammed into the cream one. "CENTAURS!"
"I... don't... they aren't-- can we talk about this later?"
"Okey doke." Lyra pulled back and sat down with a grin. "But we are going to talk about this later."
There was an awkward moment where nopony really said anything.
"....SO! Luna." Twilight smiled. "Equestrian Hive you said."
"Ah, yes." Luna nodded. "The Changeling hive mind is a natural extension of their empathetic abilities, and formed as their society did. It is so key to their culture that they based their morality around its presence and its usage. They became.. not less individual, but more willing to give up aspects of themselves and bond deeper." She shook her head. "Changelings who didn't want to be a part could leave, but it was... considered a form of hermitage. It still is. And because of our own view on altering minds, ponies became seen as savages...."
She paused for a moment. "...Twilight, where did you get that quill and scroll?"
"Library, spare writing supplies. This is fascinating, a whole different morality system..." The unicorn looked up at her, eyes shimmering eagerly. "Tell me more!"
Luna stared at her for a few seconds.
Then she shook her head. "All that to say that the hive mind in and of itself is... not evil. In fact, I was temporarily in a position of power.... Changeling Queens, you must understand, are usually selected by the Hive, metamorphosed from a deserving drone using the hormones secreted by the crown of another Queen. They can direct a hive mind, it is true, but that is only because they bond with it on a far deeper level during their metamorphosis."
Luna tapped her hoof. "What Chrysalis did was fueled by misconception and arrogance. As part of the peace treaty, I have... made a motion to build a similar mental construct for Equestrian usage. Changelings who feel that Chrysalis's methods are intolerable can break away and join this new hive mind, and... there may be benefits for ponies who choose to join as well."
Bonbon hesitantly raised a hoof. "Ah... I don't know if you realize this, but, um, it takes some time to build a hive mind--"
"That will not be a problem. A significant portion of the changelings that were installed as sleeper agents broke off from the hive mind after Chrysalis revealed her plans to invade. They have formed a secondary hive mind of their own. I've talked to them, and they've agreed to the situation." Luna gestured toward the cocoon. "All Rainbow Dash would need to do is... administrate, for lack of a better term."
"Dash, a leader?" Spike crossed his arms. "Well, there goes the country."
"Hey!" Scootaloo shouted. "Rainbow Dash is totally a responsible leader type pony! She runs the weather service, after all!"
"That's... terribly convenient," Bonbon managed. "I didn't even realize they... well, I just assumed--"
"Chrysalis is a warlord, not a tyrant." Luna shrugged. "She didn't enslave any changeling that didn't willingly enter slavery, but she did prefer loyal citizens to deserters." She flicked her wings. "Her hatred toward you is more because of her own prejudice regarding your spouse."
Lyra snorted. "She's just jealous."
"...Whatever the reason," Luna continued, "she has officially banished you from the swarm."
"Totally jealous, she was checking out my tail all through the wedding."
Bonbon blinked. "Wait, seriously?"
"Yep." The unicorn shrugged. "Flattering and all, but totally creepy."
"...You're just messing with me, aren't you."
"You'll be happy to know the entire Chrysalis hive is currently mining crystal from the Canterhorn mines to pay their reperations," Luna deadpanned.
"IRONY ROCKS!" Lyra grinned. "Cause, you know, that was where she put Cadance. Cause of the thing."
Twilight sighed. "Right..."
Another long and awkward silence filled the library.
"So..." Fluttershy coughed a bit. "When is Dash going to... come out?"
"Oh! Oh it should be any time now." Bonbon nodded. "Bit of warning, she's going to be very hungry and running partly on instinct. Don't get between her and the food till I say it's safe."
"Will she need, um..." Twilight coughed gently, gesturing toward her horn. "You know... unique dietary supplements?"
The cream mare rolled her eyes. "You let me worry about that part, okay?" With a flash of green fire she'd shifted into a black and chitinous form, her silky mane and tail still a bit shorter than usual. "She'll be fine. I can just--"
Without any warning the cocoon began to bulge and stretch. Instantly everyone's eyes were drawn to the spectacle. Anticipation built as some threads split and curled away; the struggling grew more intense with each passing second.
A horn shaped like a black lightning bolt ripped out through the skin. There was some frustrated muttering before it retracted, and a bit more shifting. A hole riddled hoof emerged through the gap, tearing down through the cocoon in quick, short bursts. Soon enough it was joined by another hoof, the pair pushing outward, and it was only moments later that the horn reemerged with a gasping face in tow.
"AIR! ACTUAL FRESH AIR!" Rainbow struggled forward, pulling herself out as quickly as she could. "I had to marinade in my own sweat for three and a half weeks, you have NO idea--"
"Dashie it's so good to see you face to face again!" Pinkie beamed brightly, nudging a large hayburger forward.
"Haha, Pinkie, I get it. Funny!" The changeling knelt down and tore half the burger off in a single chomp. "Mmmph. Mmmm. Mrm, yeah, that was good. Oh great, my leg's still caught in--"
"Let me help you with that." Bonbon pushed the last of the cocoon away from Rainbow Dash's rear leg, leaving the shell to fall to the ground. "Oh, you might want to stretch your wings now. best to get them uncrimped as soon as possible."
The new queen swallowed the second half of the burger. "What, now?"
"Yes. Just... roll your shoulders and flatten your shell."
Rainbow Dash nodded, pushing up with her longer legs and standing as tall as Luna herself. She narrowed her slit blue eyes, testing the new set of muscles underneath the blue shell on her back. A few azure ridges around her thorax opened and closed as she flicked her blue silky tail in frustration.
And then the buds on her shoulders sprung out, unfurling into long thin paddles that shimmered in the light. A spectral pattern traced through the translucent veins, reds and yellows and blues curling round and round mixing in an image almost like the sky itself. Each experimental flap bathed the room in a glittering rainbow of color, and it seemed as though a bank of clouds dashed through the wings themselves.
"...pretty..." Pinkie murmured.
"Wow. Okay... that's... Bonbon, what the hay is up with my wings?"
"Um... If I had to guess...?" The candymaker shrugged. "I have no bloody clue. Maybe making rainbooms altered your body when you were young, or something to do with the Elements, or maybe it's just a genetic quirk."
"Huh." The room descended into quiet contemplation once again.
Scootaloo piped up. "I, personally, think they look pretty awesome."
"...Yeah. Yeah they do. You know what?" Rainbow grinned. "I think I'm ready to test these babies out."