• Published 30th Aug 2013
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A Stranger Among the Voices - Tystarr


The arrival of a strange creature sends ripples through the lives of several inhabitants within Equestria.

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Chapter four: Choices

Twilight Sparkle was not having the best day thus far. Oh, it had started innocently enough as such days do, devious in their subtle way of luring one into a false sense of security. The only saving grace about the whole thing was that there was no conceivable way she could have known what would unfold on that day. Seven words, seven innocuous words that when separated are as common as night and day. Many of the brightest minds had spent years researching the mystical power inherent when the words go together in the exact right order, and yet, none had ever come to a conclusion.

It was even rumoured Clover the Clever had spent some of her years delving deep into their mystery but all to no avail. Twilight Sparkle, with all her past experiences really should have known better; at the end of the day she had no-one to blame but herself. Perhaps it was due to the stress of helping Fluttershy with the chimera issue she had, having aided in sending it back into the Everfree with several of her closest friends. In fairness to her mood at the time, she had earlier almost had her tail bitten off before she teleported, leading to the dragon-head instead dining on a rather moss-covered rock.

Then, after that, she and the others had gone to go see Applejack only to be waylaid by Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo attempting to get their cutie marks looking after Opalescence, Angel, Tank and Gummy. After a chase, several teleports and Rainbow Dash getting an ill-tempered cat stuck in her mane, they had instead decided to call it quits and head home.

With mud beginning to dry into her mane and coat, tired, frustrated, and simply wishing to have a bath and curl up with a good book, Twilight was not expecting to encounter an explosion from the kitchen as soon as she entered her home. Spike then staggered out from the explosion’s origin, waving a hand before his face to ward off the smoke, various bits of frosting and gems clinging to his scales before he noticed the mare standing before him. His expression shifted instantly to amusement as a large wad of frosting had found a new home upon Twilight’s muzzle, her eyelids half closing as she exhaled loudly in frustration.

It was there, at that particular moment that Twilight spoke that which could not be taken back.

“How can this day get any worse?”

Having gotten the chuckles out of his system, Spike offered a paper towel that was gratefully accepted within the mare’s magical grasp, promptly used to wipe the offending frosting from her face.

“Sorry Twilight, I was trying to make a cake for Rarity, but… uh… Well, you see…” Wriggling under the unicorn’s scrutiny, the young dragon struggled to get the words out. Twilight upon sighing looked into the kitchen, easily putting two and two together.

“Let me guess, you used the ‘flour’ that Rainbow Dash and Pinkie left here yesterday, didn’t you?” A long sigh followed her words as she made a mental note to kindly ask the two to stop their pranks. Or, at the very least, keep them out of her house. “It’s fine, here, I’ll help you clean up then I’m going to go upstairs, have a bath, write my friendship report to the princess, and curl up with a good book.”

All seemed normal on an initial glance, well, as normal as a room covered in remnants of baking could be. Yet, Twilight noticed that Spike was looking somewhat nervous, more so than one would expect after she already said that she wasn’t mad about the mess. Avoiding her gaze, fiddling with his claws, and swishing his tail slowly all reinforced her suspicion. Of course, there was also the small observation that the dragon was trying, ever so slowly, to creep out of her sight and back into the kitchen.

Well, that’s not suspicious at all.

“Spike… did something happen?” Another pause followed before Twilight thought to clarify with a raised brow, “other than the exploding cake.”

Halting in mid step Spike turned and rubbed the back of his head, grinning widely all the while.

“Uh… nope, nothing I can think of.” As Twilight continued to gaze at him with an ever raising brow, she could have sworn sweat started to glisten upon his forehead, which, given he was covered in scales was rather impressive. Under the scrutiny Spike fidgeted, he squirmed, and finally threw his arms into the air to confess all. “Okay! I maaay have had Dinky visit. And I maaay have, through no fault of my own just to be clear, given her information that led her to maaaybe heading into the Everfree Forest.”

“What?!” Twilight’s voice caused Spike to quickly flail his limbs in an attempt to stop the unicorn from barging straight out the door.

“No, no, no! It’s okay, she’s safe! I told her big sister and she, Applejack and Big Mac found her and they got back into town a few moments ago. So… She mustn’t have actually gone in.” Another pause was given as Spike grinned somewhat nervously seeing Twilight’s expression demanding further explanation. “It’s true! I saw them all head back, although it kinda looked like Big Mac was carrying something but they all looked fine. I’m surprised you didn’t hear Lily.”

Twilight furrowed her brow; she and the others had indeed heard the mare screaming something while they were making their way back into Ponyville, but then, Lily being Lily they had thought little of it.

“I think we did hear her. What was it this time?” The situation diffused, Twilight had relaxed somewhat, enough at least that she was already working on her mental checklist on how to relax further for the evening. Spike seemed to think on this question before shrugging, grabbing a mop to start cleaning up the mess.

“Heck if I know. Something about a foal hummer or something, you know Lily.” Twilight nodded at her ‘number one’ assistant’s comment while absently scooping frosting and cake matter into a dustpan.

“Well, I’m glad everyone is okay.” Although the unicorn’s words were calm, internally she was conflicted.

I’m glad that Dinky was found, I hate to think what would have happened if she hadn’t. Still… Lily screaming about something usually has some truth to it.

Excusing herself she left Spike to finish the last few spots, her weary body insistent on the promised bath.

Ugh, far too tired right now. I’ll investigate later, if it was important I would have heard about it by now.

Reaching the top of the stairs she sighed softly and trotted into the bathroom, a hind hoof used to close the door behind her, far too tired to even bother using her magic.

What… A… Day. And it’s only the afternoon!

Thoroughly annoyed at the day thus far, Twilight made her way over to the bath already feeling her muscles relax in anticipation. Although, as she passed the window she found that her attention was being pulled to a most peculiar sight, even by Ponyville’s absurd standards. For whatever reason, Cosmic was rolling slowly past the Library and, perplexingly, the stallion had his limbs and muzzle tied with rope.

“Ooookay.” Twilight blinked as she watched the stallion awkwardly move along all the while trying to formulate words around the muzzle restraint – garbled as they were. Her momentary hesitation on whether she should assist or not was thankfully solved when Time Turner trotted over and freed the stallion’s muzzle.

“Dooooooomed!”

Okay, something is up. But, it can wait until after I have had my bath.

Twilight sighed as she watched the rope be retied around Cosmic’s muzzle before Time Turner shook his head and dragged the stallion off. Content that the situation was… well, somewhat resolved, Twilight decided her bath was well overdue; plus, she was starting to stink. With a touch of magic the faucet ran, the towel was readied, and she very gratefully slipped into the tub for a long, relaxing soak.

Or, that was the plan. Barely after getting clean she heard a knock at the door, her ears flattening while trying in vain to hide her head under the waterline. Sadly the desire for oxygen put a stop to her ingenious plan as the knocking grew more urgent.

“Spike!”

Her call was met with grumbling from the floor below, the sound of the door opening shortly after. Confident that Spike would dissuade whoever it was or – at the very least – have them come back later, Twilight exhaled and tried to relax once more. Fate, however, was not going to be kind to her on this day.

“Uh… Twilight, you really need to come down here.”

Pulling herself reluctantly out of the bath, Twilight removed the plug. As her attempts at relaxation slipped away much like the water down the drain, a towel was snatched and wrapped about her body. Normally she would take the time to dry herself off, but by this point in the day she simply wanted the one who interrupted her to know that he or she had done so. Maybe it was petty, but her carefully planned afternoon was already a miserable failure.

Working on getting her best exasperated expression right, Twilight opened the door to head downstairs. Whoever it was that had interrupted her bath would feel guilty after seeing her in a towel, that’s for certain!

However, as she made her way down the stairs she immediately dropped her guilt-trip plan as her features shifted towards worry. For none other than Applejack stood with Spike nearby looking worried, the mare having her hat pushed down to hide her eyes from view.

“Applejack?”

The question held concern, for the usually smiling and steadfast mare looked… defeated, upset over something. Immediately Twilight put forth a list of possible scenarios in her head that could have caused the issue.

Appleblight? No, that’s been dealt with this year. Perhaps something to do with Granny Smith… No, I would have heard about that already.

Deciding there was only one way she could possibly get to the bottom of the matter, Twilight pushed her inquisitive desires aside. Instead she offered the one thing that Applejack looked to desire more than anything else, the shoulder of a friend to listen. So, she did.

Several times Twilight had to stop herself from interjecting with a question but eventually the other mare had unloaded the entire tale of what had occurred, well as far as Applejack was aware of at least. Some things, such as Dinky’s perspective were purely second hand knowledge and speculation. Nevertheless Spike sat beside Twilight, an awed whistle escaping him as he digested the meeting with the ‘Foal-Hunter’ and what had followed afterwards. Twilight however was struggling to comprehend the whole thing.

Oh, in essence it was all easy enough. Dinky, after talking with Spike had gone into the forest looking for a flower to give to her mother. She then encountered the chimera that Twilight and the other girls sans Applejack had ‘persuaded’ to return to the Everfree. While running away Dinky then encountered the ‘Foal-Hunter’ who, according to the filly had then saved her, driven off the chimera, and then collapsed due to her injuries near Fluttershy’s cottage.

Following this Applejack, Big Macintosh, and Amethyst Star all found Dinky and went to help with the Foal-Hunter before realising what it was. Doctors came, treated the creature and then carted it off to the hospital due to its injuries. Finally, it appeared that the creature was restrained on the bed in case something did happen.

In all honesty, Twilight believed every word of it. If it were anyone else she might be slightly dubious, but with Applejack it was hard to doubt the mare. She was the Bearer of Honesty, and while this didn’t make her friend the paragon of the element, it did add weight to her arguments. Plus, Twilight reasoned, Applejack was an abysmal liar at the best of times.

She hasn’t scrunched her nose, or averted her gaze, or even bit her lower lip this entire time. But… a strange bipedal creature, one who can fight off a chimera? Who supposedly eats foals but saved Dinky? There’s too much not making sense in this...

“Oh!” Spike’s sudden outburst caused the two mares to look surprised down at him, the dragon slamming one fist into an open palm oblivious to their reaction. “Lily must have been screaming foal hunter, not foal hummer.”

Several seconds passed before Spike realised both Applejack and Twilight were looking at him with expressions akin to bafflement.

“What? It makes sense!”

Sighing at her assistant, Twilight instead smiled and turned her attention to Applejack. Thankfully her friend had eased into a sense of calm after going over the events of the day. With an adjustment of her hat, Applejack looked out the window wistfully while her tail flicked behind her, betraying the mare’s mood.

“Twi… I don’t rightly know what to do.” Taking a deep breath Applejack turned to regard Twilight with her full attention. “I mean, Dinky is pretty darn sure that the creature saved her an’ all. And… An’ I’d like to believe her; I really would! But… I’d hate to be wrong about somethin’ like this.”

So Dinky believes that the so called ‘Foal-Hunter’ saved her, but… Ugh, this doesn’t make any sense!

“I know Applejack, I could understand if the creature took her into the forest or away from Ponyville, but to bring her straight to Fluttershy’s cottage before passing out?” Twilight furrowed her brow; there was something she must have been overlooking. Somewhere there was a vital clue to all this to help see the reasoning.

“Maybe it wanted to get more foals?” Spike offered his views only to have Applejack hum thoughtfully before shaking her head.

“I thought of that too Spike, but the critter’s left arm was in pretty bad shape. There’s no way it could’ve snatched another young’n let alone gotten away.” Applejack’s reply made Spike shrug before rubbing at his head with both sets of claws.

“Ugh, this is frustrating. Why would a creature that hunted foals bring one back to Ponyville?!” Spike’s words echoed Twilight’s own inner struggle before something clicked. The whole situation didn’t make sense, that was the problem and in such was also a possible solution. Turning she regarded Applejack with a smile, her eyes wide as she was on the cusp of an epiphany.

Unless… Unless it doesn’t actually hunt foals at all!

“Applejack, you said that it was the others who mentioned the Foal-Hunter right?” A nod was her answer but before the farm pony could raise a question Twilight steamed ahead. “Right… and you also said it was making noises that you couldn’t understand at all?”

Another nod and word of agreement was given, Spike now looking intrigued as Twilight began pacing, her thoughts flowing as if a faucet had been turned all the way on.

“I think that it was attempting to communicate, of course this is just a theory as I was not there to listen, but… You said it looked frightened, upset about what was happening when it was sedated? Add into the fact that Dinky’s account from what you’ve told me, and that it took Dinky out of the forest while injured.”

Applejack blinked as Twilight continued to pace before turning her attention back to the other mare.

“Applejack, what do you think?” The question caught the earth pony off guard before she adjusted her hat, one fore hoof scuffing upon the library floor. A few seconds passed before Applejack exhaled, her eyes looking to meet Twilight’s before gazing aside in shame.

“Twi, honestly? That critter didn’t look like no creature who would eat a foal. It looked… well it looked downright terrified, of us. I know what the others were say’n and all, but when I looked down at its face, I felt like I was the one who was doing wrong.” Applejack’s shoulders sagged as she spoke her mind, Twilight trotting over to pat her friend reassuringly on the back.

“I believe you.” Three simple words, but they also held weight. Weight enough that a relieved smile came to Applejack’s face, one met by Twilight. Following comforting her friend, she then levitated a leaf of paper along with a quill before her assistant.

“Spike, can you take a message for Princess Celestia please?”

Spike eagerly snatched the items out of the air before seating himself, quill held at the ready. Several more seconds passed as he waited expectantly before lowering one brow, the quill used to scratch at the scales on the side of his head.

“Sooooo… What do you want me to write?” The dragon’s question hung in the air before Twilight begun to pace slowly, Applejack watching on curiously as the unicorn went back and forth. Clearing her throat Twilight found herself back within her zone of comfort. She would send the letter and then go and see this creature for herself while waiting for the princess to reply.

“The only thing we can say Spike.” With a nod of her head, Twilight took a deep breath, fixing her assistant with a gaze. “We tell her everything we know.”

~~~~~~

Twilight felt… well she wasn’t exactly sure what she felt. Nervousness, excitement, maybe even fear? They all were topping the list but definitely not even the tip of the iceberg. She could hear her heart hammering in her chest while butterflies played havoc in her stomach. Part of her was exhilarated, the other half terrified of the responsibility now laid upon her.

“Twilight?”

Normally when a letter was sent it took at least a few minutes for Princess Celestia to reply, sometimes longer if she was busy. Yet, several times at least, the princess had replied promptly, especially when the matter was urgent. That could have been why it was deemed not too unusual when a reply was given shortly after theirs was sent, at least initially. Any preconceived notion of normality was, at least to Twilight, quickly abolished once the letter from the princesses materialised.

How did I not notice it initially?

As normal, Spike belched up a scroll, yet this one caused more than a little trepidation within Twilight upon sighting it. The reason for her unease was due to the seal. Confusingly, it had not been one of Princess Celestia’s scrolls; instead, the mark of Princess Luna held the paper tight. With a glance at Applejack and a silent nod shared between the two mares, Twilight had gently plucked the scroll and eagerly unfurled it to read aloud for the benefit of all.

Even now as she ran through the town towards her destination, her mind mulled over what she had read before leaving the library.

-@-

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

Thou art wise to seek the guidance of my sister, yet in this regard I am the one that hath encountered this ‘Foal-Hunter’ already within the realm of dreams. Thine information on the creature’s abilities seemeth… inconsistent as I am sure thou hast picked up on. We, that is to say, my sister and I are both heartened to hear that Dinky is safe. I recall meeting her at the festivities upon Nightmare Night.

However, be that as it may, we have allocated this task upon thee, Twilight Sparkle, to find out more about this creature. Your friend Applejack would appear to be correct in her reservations, as what I have glimpsed within the creature’s dreams hath provided me with concerning information. The creature is lost, afraid, and hath possibly made the most unusual of companions. But, perhaps most important of all, I have discovered she is not from our world.

We do not feel the creature is hostile, but utmost care must still be undertaken. Due to the situation in Canterlot my sister and I are unable to come directly. However, we can think of no other pony more suited to the task but thee, Twilight Sparkle. We wish for thee to keep us informed, and be assured, any information I glean from her dreams I will verily pass unto thyself.

~Princess Luna

-@-

“Twilight!”

The voice cut into her inner musings causing Twilight to slow to a less demanding canter. She became aware of her mane being tightly gripped leading to a small wince to cross her features.

“Ow! Hey, careful Spike!” The accusing glance back at her passenger was met with the dragon folding his arms, an unamused look given back. With her ears pushing into her mane she gave a small bashful smile to the dragon. “Too fast?”

“That… and the fact I’ve been trying to get your attention!” A scroll was clasped within Spike’s fist as he waggled it before Twilight’s nose, her attention immediately pulling towards the broken seal.

Princess Celestia!

“Hey!” Spike huffed as the scroll was forcefully removed from his grip, an apologetic smile given before Twilight ceased her running to read.

-@-

My most faithful student,

Spike, if I know my student, she will be racing towards the hospital now, please make sure she gets this message. Twilight, the task bestowed upon you by both Luna and myself is because we believe in you. Be yourself. That, more than anything else, is all we can ask of you in our stead.

-@-

Twilight paused to flick an ear. A glance at Spike was met with an innocent grin, forcing her to concede that perhaps she just might have been a little overwhelmed by the responsibility. Nonetheless, it was more than a little flattering that the princesses thought so highly of her.

-@-

I wish I could be there to do this personally instead of inconveniencing you my dear Twilight. But, as you well know, previous events have kept us tied to Canterlot. Have faith in yourself, and please report back anything you come across in your findings in regards to this ‘new arrival’.

- Princess Celestia

-@-

Twilight exhaled softly as she rolled up the scroll to place it within one of her saddlebags. It was true that she had left the library in a hurry after the initial letter had arrived. Applejack had politely declined coming back to the hospital with her, instead wishing to go check up on Big Mac back at Sweet Apple Acres. Once the mare had left, Twilight had been like a tornado, pulling on her saddlebags, getting paper, quills, and anything else she might need stuffed into each. Part of her was somewhat nervous on what the state of the library would be when she returned.

The whole event was somewhat of a blur if she were to be completely honest.

Okay Twilight, calm down. Sure the princesses are relying on you… Sure this could be a dangerous monster you’re going to go try and get information on. Okay… that really isn’t helping. Calm thoughts, calm thoughts.

Resuming walking – this time at a far more leisurely trot – Twilight passed through the city centre. Several ponies gave her a smile and wave as she proceeded towards the hospital, the greetings returned each in kind.

“Hey Twilight?” Spike’s voice filtered into her ears as she perked both, peeking back while making the last turn needed. Her brow rose seeing the dragon looking thoughtful, a claw rubbing under his short snout. “Doesn’t that pony look familiar to you?”

Unwilling to stop to get a better glance, Twilight tilted her head while trotting. She saw ponies fretting, several stuck in intense conversation, or, in Pinkie Pie’s case, running through Ponyville haphazardly with her pet alligator rested atop her pink mane. One mare in particular however did catch her eye, primarily due to doing none of the above. The pony, a brown pegasus, limped past the fountain behind them, seeming to be actively avoiding all the others nearby. While the mare did spark a certain amount of familiarity, along with some suspicion, Twilight had bigger things on her mind. Still…

I can see why Spike noticed her, but… weird, I feel I know her from somewhere too.

“You’re right Spike; I wonder where I’ve seen her before?” Pushing the mystery aside for now, Twilight resumed her pace as she approached the doors to the hospital. The pegasus had already turned down a side street and out of sight anyhow, so there was no point to keep dawdling.

“Yeah… I know I have seen her somewhere before.” Spike mused as he folded arms over his chest, staring intently before giving a frustrated groan. “Was it was at the Running of the Leaves, or maybe from Canterlot?”

Suppressing a small laugh at her assistant’s frustration and musings, Twilight instead opened the doors with a gentle tug of her magic. Instantly the scent of disinfectant hit her nose, and… well, she wasn’t sure if sterility had a smell, but if it did that was what she would use to describe the hospital. Immediately however she noticed something else, something very prevalent within the atmosphere.

They all look so… scared.

Looking to the waiting rooms saw them almost deserted; all in all, only three individuals seemed to be waiting, two ponies and a donkey. The ponies were nervously glancing at a stairwell leading to the second floor while the donkey was trying to bury her face into a newspaper. The key word Twilight noted, was, trying. If the trembling of the paper wasn’t enough to make reading difficult, then the newspaper being held upside down certainly would have.

Is this all because of the Foal-Hunter, can it really be that scary? Just what have I gotten myself into?

Taking a deep breath, Twilight trotted towards the receptionist desk. Oddly, she spotted the mare behind the counter constantly glancing towards the stairwell, almost as if it were a ravenous demon that would eat her should her vision stray too long. Deciding the direct approach would be the best, Twilight cleared her throat before trying to get the receptionist’s attention.

“Hello?”

What she most definitely was not expecting was an explosion of papers to fly into the air, the receptionist, Ink Sketch, also flailing her forelegs before a loud thump signalled the other mare’s introduction to the floor. A wince passed over Twilight’s features as Spike suppressed a snigger with both claws, a glance back at the dragon enough to warn him to behave.

“Are… Are you okay there?” Twilight trotted closer, rearing up to rest hooves on the counter to peek over. The sight of a dishevelled mare met her gaze, orange mane falling over the receptionist’s face as she struggled to get her breathing under control.

“Twilight Sparkle?” A small laugh of relief passed from Ink Sketch as she got back to her hooves, exhaling loudly before offering a smile. “I thought you were… Never mind, how can I help you today?”

“Well…” A quick glance around the room seemed to push in the idea that tact might be somewhat required. “I’m… I’m here to see the new patient?”

Understanding dawned upon the Ink Sketch’s face, mane blown from the mare’s eyes as she leaned over the counter, her voice lowered to barely a whisper.

“The Foal-Hunter… right?” A pause followed before the receptionist flicked through some papers, her horn glowing a soft azure as she hummed quietly. “Upstairs, room 14b.”

“Thank you.” Making her way towards the stairs, Twilight instead paused to look back at Ink Sketch as a question popped into her mind. “Has there been any trouble so far?”

A look of surprise slipped over the receptionist’s face before she lowered both ears, almost as if that was the first time she had actually considered what was asked.

“I… well, no actually.” Ink Sketch’s demeanour became more relaxed as the truth slowly seemed to settle into her mind. “Come to think of it, so far it has been relatively quiet.”

Interesting…

Thanking the other mare, Twilight trotted upstairs, lost in her own thoughts as she half paid attention to the numbers on the doors while she passed them by. She was… excited. Oh, undoubtedly nervous as well, that went without saying. But this was something so new, and the prospect of the creature being dangerous was beginning to become less and less of a possibility.

Okay Twilight, this isn’t a big deal. Sure, it’s just that the princesses have tasked you with finding more out about this strange alien creature, who may, or may not eat foals. It’s not like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about another culture, no, an entire new life or anything.

Her ears flattened as she exhaled. So far the day had been rather… intriguing if one were to classify it. She had driven a chimera back with the aid of her friends, been involved in a maelstrom of animals and fillies, and now… now? Now, she was perhaps on the verge of one of the biggest discoveries of her generation. If – and it was still a big if – the creature did turn out to be from another world and was friendly…

I could get to learn about a whole new culture, no! A whole new world!

Well, she could barely contain the excitement that was bubbling within. Of course, on the other hoof, if it was really a creature that simply feasted upon foals…

“Miss Sparkle?”

The male voice caught her off guard causing her to backpedal to an open door she had just passed. Within the room stood Nurse Redheart and Doctor Carehoof, both looking over two large x-rays pinned onto the wall before them. On a quick glance Twilight could make out it was a skeletal structure, perhaps of a diamond dog, although the skull was lacking a muzzle and… Well, on second thought, it looked nothing like a diamond dog.

“Please, come in.” The doctor moved aside to allow room for Twilight to join them, Spike instead slipping off her back to stretch his legs. Once she had entered, the stallion turned to regard the picture again before raising a brow questioningly towards her. “I presume Applejack contacted you, and the princesses have sent a message on how to deal with this situation?”

Oooh... uh, not exactly but how do I say that?

Clearing her throat Twilight shifted on her front hooves trying to decide just how to state they had put her in charge instead. Normally she would be proud of the fact, but the way they were looking at her made her confidence stutter somewhat.

“Aaaactually, they asked Twilight here to deal with it.”

Twilight lowered her brow at Spike’s more blunt way of putting things across, a bashful grin coming to her face as she noted the twin looks of discontent given her way from the medical professionals. A look was shared between the two before they gazed in Twilight’s direction again, her attention pulled away from giving a half-hearted scowl in Spike’s direction; much to the dragon’s bafflement it seemed.

“What Spike meant to say is that due to how busy the princesses are because of... Well, because of what happened at the wedding...” Memories of changelings raining from the sky and almost having her brother marry the queen herself – later identified as ‘Queen Chrysalis’ by Cadence – pushed to the forefront of Twilight’s mind. Moving that all aside for now, she continued. “They have asked me to investigate and learn about the creature on their behalf.”

Moving past the pride those words built within her, Twilight watched the stallion and mare share another look before Nurse Redheart smiled. Doctor Carehoof instead exhaled shortly after before rubbing at a temple with one of his forehooves.

“Well to be truthful, we know very little.” The stallion directed Twilight’s attention to the x-ray pictures as he cleared his throat. “And, admittedly I have never seen a creature like this before. Her teeth alone create an argument against the foal eating theory. Aside from the canines they appear to be more used for crushing than tearing. Honestly, just from what I have looked at so far, they resemble our own teeth much closer than those of say a wolf or other predator species.”

Does that mean she really isn’t…?

Twilight’s interest must have drifted onto her features as the doctor gave a small nod then continued.

“But… upon saying that, while healing her body I discovered her bone structure appears far less resilient than that of a pony’s. Alarmingly, even her skin appears to be softer and less durable, and I would presume easily damaged. In essence what I am trying to say is, while she could conceivably hunt foals she would be like the dog that chases the metaphorical carriage. A kick, even from a young pony, would very likely cause a nasty injury.” A tap to the x-ray brought Twilight’s attention to the left shoulder area. “Now, upon arrival she had a deep laceration on her left shoulder which we healed with magic; that was the easy part. Her body is completely alien to us and while she does have the same organs to a certain extent, how her body reacts to healing magic long term is unknown.”

Doctor Carehoof exhaled again, rubbing between his eyes with a hoof before a look of frustration fell over his features.

“Miss Sparkle, to be blunt, I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. Her biology is similar enough to our own while still being different enough to vex me. We have done all we can so far, her major wounds are dressed, and her body is responding positively to the healing magic cast. That shoulder however seems to have sustained severe tissue damage, which even on an earth pony would take several days to heal. But the creature herself? Well… that is impossible to say.”

Twilight listened, her ears flicking as she looked over several other images on the board. Two were of the injuries sustained before healing, yet another was a full body picture after presumably being cleaned and undressed. The reason she suspected the undressing was the last image that showed the Foal-Hunter wearing clothing, which, at best, could be called soiled and torn.

“She was dressed like that when we found her.” Nurse Redheart must have noticed where Twilight’s attention was and sought to explain. “It’s odd though; given the state of the clothing any pony would have discarded it. She was risking infecting her wounds by continuing to wear it.”

Strange… Why would she continue to wear clothing that badly damaged and as filthy as it was? Unless… perhaps it holds meaning to her? Sentimental or perhaps she, if she truly is as Princess Luna said, wears clothing constantly where she comes from.

Twilight debated quietly over the matter in her head. All of the earlier nervousness was now being pushed aside as she could finally get a look at the strange creature. There were so many unanswered questions, which, in turn, led to the feeling of excitement bubbling within her chest again.

“I can see she lacks noticeable amounts of fur, scales or anything else on her skin.” Twilight said, talking out loud as she looked up at a picture, eyes narrowing to study. “I would guess from this that she wears the clothing as protection as opposed to decoration? But… that doesn’t explain why she would keep them on when they were so damaged, and… filthy.”

Maybe it is to keep her warm?

“That was a possibility, but they are no different from anything we would wear.” Doctor Carehoof sighed as he moved to tug a container from under one of the benches. With a bronze glow the top flipped off releasing a truly pungent smell.

“Ack! That stinks!” Spike pinched his nose while waving a claw before his face. “And here I thought nothing could smell worse than that time Twilight tried to- mmph!”

Her assistant was cut off by a dark-pink glow pinching his mouth shut, a nervous laugh escaping Twilight’s mouth as she waved off his comment. Clearly no-one wished to hear about the time she tried to combine spells; all in an attempt to make something to get her instantly clean after an all-nighter. The results were… less than satisfactory, instead removing the odours off her and into the surroundings.

It took over a week to finally get rid of the smell… ugh.

“Hahaha, oh Spike… you’re such a kidder.” Quickly changing the subject, Twilight instead looked at the contents of the box, wrinkling her nose as the stench invaded her nostrils. Breathing through her mouth she levitated up some items of clothing, noting that they seemed rather basic in design. The skirt itself was self-explanatory as was the top, holes where forelegs would go easily being identifiable. Of course they were stretchy enough that even a pony, say the size of Big Mac could possibly fit them. That particular mental image had to be squashed quickly lest she burst into a fit of giggles.

Getting her mind back on task she levitated out the next two items, one consisted of two larger pieces of fabric. Attached to this were elastic like bands with a clip upon the back and two other straps. A look at the other ponies was met with equal bafflement, although Spike helpfully suggested it might be a hat of sorts.

“She wore them over what we presume are her…” Nurse Redheart started to explain before pausing and sparing a glance towards Spike. Immediately her cheeks tinged slightly crimson before clearing her throat. “What I meant to say is that she wore them over the… mounds on her chest.”

Spike raised a brow, a claw scratching at the side of his head as he tried to figure out just what the nurse was going to say before correcting herself. Thankfully, especially for Twilight, the dragon shrugged and deemed it unimportant as he instead gazed at the box, lost in thought. Her own attention returning to the article of clothing levitating before her, Twilight slowly turned it around to analyse from every angle.

The elastic hints at support, but that just makes me wonder about the purpose of the extra tissue on her chest. They could be like udders perhaps or maybe for water or fat storage?

The mysteries of the item were put aside as she looked at another object in the box, seeming to be made of the same material as the previous yet lacking any clips. There were three holes, one large and two small, the purpose of which eluded the unicorn as she frowned in thought. Although, she could have guessed at some point it might have originally been closer to the white of the other item. It was incredibly stretchy too she noticed, at least around what she presumed to be the waist band.

“And those were worn around her hips.” Again, Nurse Redheart offered some form of explanation validating Twilight’s suspicion. Taking the time to scribble down a few notes as she levitated the items, the unicorn looked on thoughtful at the article of clothing.

Ah, that explains the holes then! Maybe… Maybe they are used to hide her genitals, or to act as a nappy of sorts? But it’s so small, what use would it be as such?

Twilight’s nose scrunched as her second idea had some element of truth to it, but again it conflicted with what Nurse Redheart had said. If it was to act as a nappy, then she would have discarded it and not continued wearing it.

Then that means it must be worn either for warmth or… more likely, to provide modesty. That’s the only reason I can think of for not removing once… Ew. Ew ew ew!

Scrunching her nose at that thought, she removed the last two items. Thankfully these, like the skirt and top were the easiest to identify. They looked to be coverings for her feet, the configuration of toes and heel not unlike that of Spike’s, if longer and weird looking. The shape did intrigue Twilight somewhat, noting that they covered the top as well as the bottom of the ‘foot.’

Placing all the items back in the box – and sealing it to hopefully contain the stench – Twilight looked up at the images again. By this point she also noted that the doctor and nurse were conversing while Spike remained looking thoughtful, his gaze at the once again sealed box.

“So…” The beginning of a comment from her assistant certainly got Twilight’s attention, her head tilting as Spike folded arms over his chest. An annoyed glance at Twilight showed he hadn’t gotten over her cutting him off earlier, or perhaps the method used. “That’s kinda horrible.”

“What is Spike?” Twilight queried as Spike realised he had all eyes upon him. Turning somewhat bashful he rubbed at the back of his head before gesturing up at the picture of the sedated creature.

“Well… you know. I mean if what Princess Luna says is true, and she isn’t actually after foals...” Spike gestured absently with a claw before frowning. “Well, let’s just say if I saved somepony, and then got tied up and stuff, well I wouldn’t be happy.”

Spike…

“You’re absolutely right.” Twilight nodded as Spike blinked, looking slightly caught off guard before pointing to himself curiously.

“I am? I mean, of course I am!” A nod of the dragon’s head met with amusement from Twilight as he puffed up his chest only to look baffled shortly after. “But… uh, what exactly am I right about? Just… you know, so we’re on the same page and all.”

“Everything you said.” Twilight favoured Spike with a smile as he rubbed under his chin, Doctor Carehoof and Nurse Redheart watching curiously.

“Even about the hat thing? Because, y’know, I’ve been thinking, and it does sound like a silly id-“

“Okay, everything you said after that point.” Twilight chose to ignore the confused look on Spike’s face as he turned to the two medical ponies; a gesture asking for them to explain met with their two equally baffled expressions. “Do you mind if I take the clothing with me?

Her request was met with further confusion before Doctor Carehoof rubbed the side of his head.

“Well… I suppose there’s no issue. We’ve already made sure it held no magic or pathogens harmful to ponies when we cleaned her. But I must ask whatever for?” His question was met with Twilight smiling, a plan already formulating within her mind.

“I have a hunch, but I need to speak with Dinky first. Do you know where she is?” Twilight’s question looked about to be answered by Doctor Carehoof only for an interruption to occur; the interruption in particular being the sound of rapidly approaching hoof steps. The owner of the noise, a blue mare with her green hair styled much like Nurse Redheart’s, appeared somewhat anxious before noticing the doctor.

“Doctor Carehoof, you’re needed downstairs.” The mare, Nurse Tenderheart, finally noticed there were more than medical ponies in the room, a small nod given in greeting before continuing. “It’s nothing serious, and I tried to say you were busy, but she insisted that it simply must be you to look at her sister.”

Twilight watched as the doctor exhaled, following up by rubbing at his muzzle with a hoof. She noted that at least he seemed aware on who this ‘she’ was.

“Well, I guess there are worse things than being wanted.” With a nod towards those in the room, Doctor Carehoof slowly trotted out, adjusting his coat as he did so. Almost as an afterthought he paused outside, looking back in to nod again at Twilight. “Nurse Redheart here will show you to where Miss Derpy and her daughter currently are. I wish you luck Miss Sparkle, please do keep us informed.”

With that both Tenderheart and Carehoof could be heard trotting downstairs until, with an apologetic smile, Nurse Redheart tilted her head.

“They’re still here?” Twilight was a little surprised, she knew that Applejack had mentioned that Dinky and Derpy hadn’t left before her, but for them to remain still?

“Yes, Dinky refuses to leave until the-“ Redheart paused before giving a small smile, “…patient awakens. You’ll find them down the hallway, just before room 14b.”

That’s the room the receptionist told me was where the ‘Foal-Hunter’ is kept.

Musing on this, Twilight nodded her thanks before Nurse Redheart smiled again, excusing herself to go check on her other patients on the floor. Left alone with Spike, Twilight adjusted her saddlebags prior to trotting towards the doorway. It was only when she was about to cross the threshold that she noticed the dragon hadn’t followed, her head tilting to look back at her assistant shifting hesitantly on his claws.

“Spike?” Her question lingered as Twilight watched Spike grin nervously only to pat the box containing the creature’s garments within.

“I was thinking, I should stay here and make sure these don’t go anywhere. Wouldn’t want them to go missing, right?” Twilight favoured Spike with both a smile and quick nod. She could tell quite easily he was hesitant of going near the Foal-Hunter. He would never admit it of course, but she could play along to save his perceived dignity. He was her special little helper after all.

“Okay, I won’t be long.” Turning to trot away she felt a soft tug on her tail causing her again to stop and look back, noting Spike twiddling his claws absently before looking up to meet her gaze.

“Hey… uh, you’ll be careful, right Twilight?” His concern touched her as Twilight found a smile once more on her face, a reassuring nod given in his direction.

“Of course Spike. Besides, she’s restrained, so even if she is as dangerous as everyone says I’ll be fine.” Her words seemed to relieve the little dragon as he nodded reluctantly and sat down, poking the box absently. With the situation resolved, Twilight trotted down the hallway, one ear flicking as she heard Spike give a grunt of displeasure.

Oh Spike, you couldn’t help peeking in the box could you?

Amusement crept over her features until she turned a corner, the smile instantly faltering upon seeing a pegasus seated before room 14b. The pegasus, Derpy, was currently peeking into the doorway of the room, seeming to intently watch the inhabitant within. Curious, Twilight approached before noting that her hoof falls alone were not enough to get the mare’s attention.

“Derpy?”

The innocent questioning tone caused the pegasus to almost jump, wings spreading wide while her tail appeared frazzled. Looking back at Twilight with her distinctive cross-eyed gaze, Derpy exhaled in relief upon seeing the speaker.

“Oh, Twilight it’s you.”

Twilight looked thoughtful seeing Derpy’s reaction but pushed it down, instead smiling warmly as she approached before sparing a glance at the room behind the pegasus.

“Hello Derpy, I was actually hoping to find Dinky and ask her a few questions concerning the... events of today. If that’s alright with you of course?” Twilight watched as the mare seemed to digest the words before peeking back into the room, her wings fluttering and tail flicking with clear nervousness. Confused that the mare, usually so bubbly and helpful, was snubbing her, Twilight’s bafflement grew as Derpy begun talking to someone out of sight. It was only when a young voice replied that she realised what was going on, perking both ears to listen in on the conversation.

“Sweetie, Twilight is here and wishes to talk to you.”

“O-Okay.” The voice was timid but undeniably that of Derpy’s daughter. Then, before Twilight could react, the pegasus moved to look at Twilight again, her voice lowering in volume as she leaned closer.

“Twilight, is… is Dinky going to be safe in there with it?”

The question itself posed a problem, and it was clear that Derpy was looking for reassurance. With one yellow eye staring at her filled with worry, while the other was gazing more at the ceiling, Twilight could only bite her lower lip before sighing, finding herself unable to lie towards the pegasus; even, even if she desperately wished to allay the mother’s concerns.

“I…I honestly don’t know Derpy, but I can promise you I will find out.” A small smile was added as Twilight thought back to what Spike had said just previously, about how he would feel in the same situation as the creature. “But… I have a feeling Dinky will be fine in there, if the creature meant to hurt her, it had plenty of opportunity to do so yet it instead brought her back to Ponyville. Now, now I want to find out why.”

With a hesitant nod from the filly’s mother, Twilight slowly trotted in, and to be truthful, she was not entirely sure what to expect. However, just as Applejack had said, within the warm glow of the hospital lighting she saw the slumbering form of the ‘Foal-Hunter’ upon one of the beds, wrists along with feet restrained while the blanket hid most of the body from view.

To see pictures of it were one thing, to see it in the flesh was quite another. It seemed, tall, far taller than she expected. Although, gauging off the length of the creature, Twilight surmised that were she to stand on her hind hooves she would possibly be able to look it in the eye. She found her gaze lingering on the creature for a few seconds more before she tried to find just where Dinky was located.

Thankfully she didn’t have to look long. Yet, Twilight could not have expected to find the filly curled on the floor near the ‘Foal-Hunter’s bed, seemingly making herself as small as possible. With blonde tail draped over her muzzle, Dinky’s golden eyes could barely be seen peeking past the strands of hair to look at Twilight.

Um…?

“I’m sorry!”

The outburst from Dinky caught Twilight completely off guard, one of her forelegs partially raised as she regarded the filly. The young unicorn in response whimpered softly and buried her face further into her tail.

“Please don’t be mad!”

Blinking, Twilight settled upon all four hooves again as her mind slowly caught up. She saw how Dinky was quivering slightly and, heartbreakingly, the whimpers were growing in volume.

I was so obsessed with the creature and the task from the princesses I completely forgot about earlier.

A small smile crept over Twilight’s muzzle as she regarded the filly while approaching tentatively.

She must think I’m angry. Oh Twilight, you really can be single-minded sometimes.

“Dinky, while I am disappointed at you running off into the forest and worrying not only Spike, but your mom and sister too….” Now standing before the filly, Twilight lowered her head only to be met with two golden eyes again peering timidly up at her. “Spike and I are just glad you’re safe. You’ll never do it again, right?”

After a small head shake followed, Twilight gave a small giggle and rubbed a fore hoof gently into Dinky’s mane. Thankfully, the filly raised her head into it, smiling ever so slightly.

“I promise, Twilight…” A look of guilt fell over Dinky’s features before she peeked up at Twilight, slowly moving into a seated position all the while. “Please tell Spike I’m sorry too.”

Oh Dinky…

Stealing a glance back at the doorway to see Derpy watching on all the while, Twilight then smiled at the mother before looking back at the filly.

“I will, and he won’t be mad at you. Spike was just worried about you like all of us, that’s all.” A little nod was given by Dinky in response while Twilight continued, all the while fishing out a notebook and pencil with her magic from one of her saddlebags. “But, I came here hoping to ask you some questions about what happened, mostly to do with the creature there. Would that be okay?”

Twilight could only blink as Dinky’s demeanour changed instantly, the little unicorn peeking up at the sleeping figure before her ears drooped. Despite this, the filly looked determined as she snorted from her nostrils.

“She saved me, and she hurt herself doing so but no-one but Applejack believes me!”

Momentarily caught off guard, Twilight could only be surprised by the earnest tone to the filly’s voice. Again, like Applejack had mentioned, Dinky remained steadfast in her version of events.

She truly believes it, with all her heart.

Part of Twilight felt, well, she felt relieved that was the case as she scribbled her thoughts down onto the paper before smiling at Dinky.

“I want to believe you too Dinky, I really do, but for that I need to know everything about what happened.” Keeping her tone soft, Twilight made sure to keep the inner conflict off her face. She wasn’t lying; she truly did wish to believe Dinky’s version of events. Yet at the same time, Twilight herself needed facts, tangible evidence to support the theory building in her mind. Even if it was purely so she herself could believe without any doubt.

I can’t risk being wrong, no matter how much the evidence is stacked towards the creature being innocent.

Dinky seemed to mull over this before giving a nod of her head and begun recounting everything that had happened to her. To be fair, Twilight listened patiently for the first part, although she felt a little bit of personal guilt when the chimera was mentioned. If she and the girls had not driven it back at that point in time, Dinky might never have encountered the beast. Regardless, her interest was instantly piqued when the tale got to the part of the initial encounter.

Twilight found herself interrupting several times, queries asked primarily of what the creature was doing at the time and her subsequent reactions. Sadly, Dinky couldn’t remember much of the initial meeting, her young mind quite possibly overwhelmed by that particular point. What she could however recall with clarity was that the creature saved her and injured itself in the process, or as Dinky kept correcting much to Twilight’s shame, herself, the creature was not an ‘it’. The filly’s mention of the green fire distracting the chimera did cause concern within Twilight, yet she refused to let it show.

Green fire? Only creature I can think of that could do that is a dragon, could there have been one helping her? Spike said he didn’t follow and I believe him, so another? No… No that would have been noticed, surely. So if it wasn’t a dragon, then what else has green fi-

Twilight’s eyes went wide upon remembering back to her brother and Cadence’s wedding. Back to certain creatures, the colour of their magic, and the flames that enveloped them when changing shape, when they cast magic. Changelings.

Could… Could the ‘Foal-Hunter’ actually be a changeling? No… If that was the case the disguise should have been detected when they healed her. Think Twilight, Think! Okay, given from where Dinky said the creature was in relation to the chimera, the explosion must have happened from the brush side of the path. Then… That means there must have been somepony, or something else which caused the fire…

Twilight blinked twice as something in Princess Luna’s letter suddenly gained a far more ominous air with this new information.

Is that what she meant when she mentioned ‘she had made the most unusual of companions?’ A changeling!? No… No, don’t be ridiculous Twilight, why would a changeling be friendly with anything let alone a creature such as her? All they do is consume emotions. Still… This does bear further investigation later.

Thankfully Dinky had not noticed Twilight’s lapse of concentration, continuing instead to recount events. The part where the creature was clearly struggling only to pass out upon getting Dinky to safety was another curious event, another point towards the sleeping female acting completely against how a hunter of foals should. The cynical side of Twilight suspected that it might be a ruse to get access to more foals, but that was quickly discarded as soon as the thought presented itself. For one, it simply defied rationality for the creature to act in such a way.

Everything I have heard and seen so far makes it hard to believe she would, or even could, hunt foals. To get so badly injured, not to mention risking her own safety to get Dinky back to the village is… Well, it doesn’t make any sense. If she truly wished to eat a foal, she had the perfect opportunity but chose instead to save her prey. What I have heard, and what I have seen seem to point to only one logical conclusion.

After hearing the rest of the tale, primarily just to reinforce what Twilight already suspected, she thanked Dinky for her time and excused herself. Passing by Derpy on the way out she once more tried to reassure the pegasus prior to heading back towards Spike. Trotting slowly she mused over her thoughts, glancing at the notes she had written before seeing Nurse Redheart had returned, conversing with Spike within the office.

“Twilight! Did you talk to Dinky?” Spike queried while munching on some candy, possibly having been coerced out of the nurse while Twilight was away. Giving him a nod, the unicorn then turned to regard Nurse Redheart, the mare looking curious as Twilight smiled.

“I did, and I have a strong feeling that she isn’t a Foal-Hunter, although I would like to come back later tonight, hopefully when the creature has woken to validate my theory if that’s okay?” The nurse blinked at Twilight’s words before looking thoughtful for a moment.

“Well, being quite honest, even with that amount of sedative, a pony would have woken up by now.” A small frown creased Nurse Redheart’s features before she exhaled. “Thankfully her vitals seem to be fine and the doctor checks to see if the healing is holding every half an hour.”

So either the sedative reacts more potently with her chemistry or…

A glance at the nurse’s expression seemed to confirm her other theory, which was that the creature had been given simply far too much initially.

“But, you’re welcome to come back Twilight.” The nurse followed up with a reassuring smile before glancing back down in the rough direction of where the creature slept. “I just hope that Dinky is right, I would hate to think we’ve put ponies in danger by having her here.”

Noticing the concern clear on Nurse Redheart’s face, Twilight levitated up the box of the creature’s clothing. With some effort she managed to get it into one of her saddlebags, although over half was conspicuously protruding from the top, but at least it wouldn’t fall out. Spike, seeing she was getting ready to leave wandered over and clambered onto her back, staying silent the whole exchange. Yet, his young eyes constantly strayed up to the pictures on the wall and looked to be deep in thought.

“Don’t worry Nurse Redheart. As the doctor said, she appears to be little threat, and, honestly, I could barely detect any magic within her.” Twilight restrained the urge to frown at what she had just said. While talking to Dinky she had remained receptive to any magic around the area, hoping to pick up a trace of something. True, the creature had magic about her, but they had all been spells cast upon her, not from her herself. Most concerning was the fact the faint magic she could sense within the creature was more akin to that of a unicorn’s. What that meant was a complete paradox to Twilight, but given she knew so little about this so called ‘Foal-Hunter’ to begin with it remained just another mystery to be solved.

Nurse Redheart, unaware of the inner musings of Twilight, simply nodded her thanks and gave a fond farewell as the unicorn left the room, trotting slowly towards the stairs leading down.

“Hey… Twilight?”

Perking her ears at Spike’s voice, the mare in question turned her head to look at the contemplative dragon upon her back, one claw stroking under his muzzle before he continued.

“I’ve been thinking, if the Foal-Hunter’s body is weaker than a pony, and it doesn’t seem to have much, if any, magic and stuff...” His voice trailed off before he folded arms over his chest, his brows furrowing as he blew a little smoke in frustration. “Then how the heck would it even get a foal in the first place?”

You know just the right question to ask sometimes Spike.

As a smile found its way to Twilight’s face she leaned back to nuzzle the dragon earning a small sound of surprise as he tried to fend her off, his cheeks burning as she giggled softly.

“That Spike, is the underlying question on why I doubt she is as dangerous as everypony other than Dinky originally seemed to think.” Shifting her weight to get the saddlebags comfortable to her sides, Twilight resumed trotting, continuing to speak as Spike listened. “And remember, the only one who has actually had any time with the creature is Dinky herself, the others all seem to have only second hoof knowledge to go off.”

Her words seemed to cause Spike to give a thoughtful hum, digesting what she said as he spared a glance back the way they had come. Smiling to herself, Twilight made her way down the stairs only to blink at the voices drifting up from the waiting room.

“It was only a scratch!”

“Only a scratch? Sweetie Belle, a scratch is what one does when she brushes her coat too hard.”

“Well, you didn’t need to make such a big deal over it.”

“A big deal? A big deal?! My little sister comes home looking like she rolled around in my scissors, and I, being the responsible big sister that I am, rush you to get them tended to and I am the one accused of making a, big, deal?!”

“Well… when you put it that way… But you still embarrassed me in front of everypony!”

Realising who the voices belonged to, Twilight still wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted her when she reached the bottom of the stairs. Standing in the waiting room - now otherwise empty save for the receptionist - stood two female unicorns. Both were white furred and female, one with a long loose-curled purple mane and tail, while the younger of the two had a much tighter-curled mane and tail of pink and purple. The little sister, Sweetie Belle was swathed in bandages with sticky plasters also positioned somewhat haphazardly over her face and side.

This fact did not go unnoticed by Spike who Twilight could hear trying to restrain a snigger upon her back.

“Sweetie Belle, I certainly wouldn’t have had to make a ‘scene’ as you so call it, if you had not decided to give poor Opal a bath after harassing her all day. You know my little baby gets upset if I am not the one who cleans her.”

I… Most certainly would not call Opal a little baby…

“Uh… girls?” Twilight attempted to interrupt only for Sweetie Belle to stomp both front hooves as she huffed up at her big sister. Any rebuttal however was cut off as Spike finally lost the fight to restrain his laughter.

“Hahahaha, it’s Mummy Belle!”

Blinking, Twilight exhaled in response to the guffawing dragon upon her back. A look of apology was given, although Sweetie Belle was looking more thankful for the interruption than the name-calling directed her way.

“Hi Twilight, Spike!” Blinking as her name was spoken so enthusiastically, Twilight then had to deal with an energetic white filly bouncing before her. Opting to instead stand still while Ink Sketch and Rarity watched, lest she accidentally step on the filly, she smiled and gave a nod towards her friend while Spike slipped off her back to converse with Sweetie Belle. Or, more apt it seemed as she perked an ear, to try and come up with a better name having quickly abandoned his first attempt.

“Twilight, darling, what brings you here?” Rarity trotted forward, her annoyance with her sister long forgotten as she flipped the mane from her face. “I thought you had intended to go and rest at home?”

Yes… That was the plan…

Unable to retain the sigh that escaped her mouth, Twilight gave her friend a tired smile. Levitating the letters from a saddlebag, she moved them over to Rarity, allowing the other unicorn to envelop them within her own aura. A questioning look was given as Twilight nodded, indicating for the letters to be read in lieu of a spoken explanation. Ink Sketch watched on curiously as Rarity’s eyes scrolled back and forth, a long gasp escaping the mare as she looked first at one letter, then the other, before gazing directly at Twilight.

“Is this all true? Oh it must be true what am I saying? Just look at that seal!” Rarity offered the letters back as Twilight stowed them away shortly after. Sweetie Belle, now evidently curious, trotted around to peek up at Twilight, and then back at Rarity before one of her ears flattened to the side.

“What are you both talking about? What must be true?” Sweetie Belle blinked after her question as Spike cleared his throat, one claw resting against Twilight’s left foreleg.

“Oh, nothing special… Just that me and Twilight have been given a task by not only Princess Celestia, but also Princess Luna.” Rolling her eyes at Spike’s clear attempt to impress Rarity, Twilight instead cleared her throat before levitating out the clothing box.

“Well, not quite as Spike put it, but yes, I have been tasked by the princesses to find out more about the creature upstairs. I was hoping to take this home and study it and then-…” A glance was given at Ink Sketch who was practically leaning over the counter in her eagerness to overhear. Seeing she had been spotted, the mare sat back down and tried to look busy with paper work, pausing to peek over every few seconds. Exhaling again, Twilight smiled at Rarity as she nudged the pink-aura-encased box with a hoof.

“Anyhow… So far everything points to the fact she is as Princess Luna said, or at the very least, not what others think she is. From an anatomical analysis alone she wouldn’t be able to restrain a resisting-“

“Yes Twilight dear, I am sure that is very fascinating.” Cut off by Rarity, Twilight could only frown before noticing where the other unicorn’s gaze was fixated. Moving the box she noticed the mare’s blue eyes follow it with almost ravenous curiosity. “But, do tell, what is in that box?”

Blinking in surprise, Twilight noticed all three other females were looking intently at the container as she herself winced slightly. Sharing a glance at Spike, the two of them knew very well the horrors laid within the otherwise innocent-looking object. Deciding that explaining would be the quickest path on the way to getting back home, Twilight nudged the box again.

“Well… They’re the creature’s clothing which I-“ Once more she found herself interrupted, an excited gasp passing from Rarity’s mouth as the mare shifted on her hooves. The distance between the two of them was quickly removed as the white unicorn leaned closer, her eyes sparkling as Rarity lifted a hoof slowly towards the object of her desire.

“Clothing? Of a creature not from our world?” Regaining her composure, Rarity bounced her mane with one hoof before exhaling in a wistful fashion. “I simply must see them! Imagine it, clothing tailored from another world. Oh! I bet they’re simply breathtaking!”

“Yeeeeah, that’s one way of putting it.” Spike offered, not so helpfully, as he scratched the back of his head. A gesture of his claw was given as Twilight felt her hold on the box be contested by an azure aura slowly encroaching over her own. While it wasn’t forceful, she could see the pleading look upon Rarity’s face, and, unable to resist, released the container as an excited squeal escaped the other mare upon getting her prize.

“Rarity… I really wouldn’t open that-“ Alas, too late the warning was given as Twilight watched the lid being lifted off. Not long after, the look of joy upon her friend’s face instantly became one of disgust as the mare levitated the box a full pony length away from herself. Sweetie Belle, having been just as curious as her big sister, scrunched up her nose as she shied away, a hoof waving before her face to try and ward off the stench.

“Yuck! That smells worse than Scootaloo’s cooking!”

Now, while Twilight thought that might have been a little unfair towards the filly in question’s cooking – not to mention that Sweetie Belle really shouldn’t be judging others on their culinary arts - she couldn’t argue that it stunk. Rarity however, upon getting over her initial shock, wrinkled her nose and peered at the items, removing the skirt before wincing at what she saw.

“Truthfully, while the state of the garments are… questionable.” Rarity started speaking while Spike offered a few other words that could be used to describe the article of clothing. Twilight had to admit, she was slightly impressed that he used the word pungent showing he had at least looked at the dictionary she got him last year. Nonetheless, Rarity moved the skirt closer as she scrunched her nose, all while looking over the item with a critical eye.

“The stitch work is, I must confess, somewhat intriguing. They are however skilfully done, although personally I would have gone with a blind stitch along this edge in the interests of presentation.” Turning the skirt over in her magical grip, Rarity slowly had her disgust give way to excitement. “Oh, this thread used, I have never seen it before, nor this fabric! It is a travesty that it is so soiled and filthy… and… Well, torn.”

Twilight found herself slightly caught off guard as Rarity abruptly returned the clothing into the container before sealing the lid. Spike meanwhile was trying to flatter the unicorn while Sweetie Belle asked multiple questions only for Rarity to gently urge her to shush for a moment.

“Twilight, dear… I must ask just what you intended to do with these items?” Twilight blinked as her friend put forth the query. A bashful smile found its way upon her face as she looked aside, a hoof rubbing absently into her mane.

“Well, I was going to – as I said – analyse it and then clean and try to repair them…” Seeing the confusion upon the faces directed her way, Twilight sought to explain further as she took the container back into her own aura. “What Spike said earlier gave me an idea. The creature, I am now certain, saved Dinky and then collapsed from her wounds. I have turned everything I know so far over and over in my head and it all leads back to the same conclusion.”

A pointed hoof towards the container was given by Twilight before she gave a small smile. “I hope by giving her back something of hers it will make things easier. Besides, from Princess Luna’s letter she seems to think the creature is lost and scared. This should hopefully help with that.”

I hope…

“I still don’t get what I said… are you sure it wasn’t the hat thing?” Spike looked baffled, Sweetie Belle increasingly so as she tilted her head. A shrug was given the filly’s way by Spike as the two conversed, Rarity instead trotting forward to gently envelop the container with her own magic.

“Twilight, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not even I could repair these. That’s especially true given their... current state.” Seeing what she said had caused Twilight to look slightly downcast, Rarity continued as she smiled, blue eyes twinkling once more. “So, I insist that you allow me to take these off your hooves.”

Confused, Twilight tilted her head, barely paying attention as Spike and Sweetie Belle were now discussing how one could wear one of the items of clothing as a hat. She knew her friend enough to know that Rarity was heading somewhere with what she was saying, but…

Wait, is she actually going to…?

Almost as if reading Twilight’s thoughts, Rarity gave a smug look as she posed, fore hooves pushed together while tossing her mane.

“It would be a chance of a lifetime to match my skills against something from another world.” Rarity spoke with conviction, her gaze resolute as Twilight could almost feel the desire burning within her friend for the task. But… But, she could also tell Rarity wished to help out anyway she could.

Oh… she has that look in her eyes so there’s no dissuading her. Rarity, thank you.

With a clearly false sigh of defeat, Twilight relinquished her magic off the container, a delighted ‘squee’ escaping from Rarity as she claimed her prize. Hugging the box to her chest, the unicorn danced about on her hind hooves before pausing, aware suddenly that everyone was staring at her. Clearing her throat, Rarity settled upon all four hooves before tilting her nose into the air.

“Off we go Sweetie Belle, we have things to do.” Turning her head, Rarity gazed at Twilight while a gracious smile teased her lips. “Thank you Twilight, I shall not disappoint.”

“Oh Rarity, you could never disappoint anyone.” Spike’s infatuation caused Twilight to roll her eyes while Sweetie Belle giggled. Rarity for her part gave a warm smile as she trotted over, bending down to push her front hooves against Spike’s cheeks.

“Oh, thank you my wittle Spikey Wikey.” Smiling at the scene before her, Twilight watched with amusement the dragon burn red along his cheeks. Rarity’s little sister also seemed to find amusement in the act as she trotted for the door, Rarity turning to follow her out with the container floating behind.

“Thank you Rarity, I mean it. I’m sure whatever you make will be wonderful.” Twilight’s words caused Rarity to pause, a warm smile given back before a small nod followed.

“I will have it to you first thing in the morning, come Sweetie Belle, I have planning to do!” With that the sisters departed, leaving Spike swooning as he watched Rarity go. Twilight however was looking somewhat incredulous at the departing unicorns. She turned the information over in her head, tore apart the comment and still it didn’t make sense. No, the problem was it did make sense and that is what worried her.

“Did… Did she just say she would make an entire outfit for a creature she hasn’t even seen, all by tomorrow morning?” Twilight mouthed her thoughts out loud, blinking as she heard a wistful voice beside her.

“Yeah… Isn’t she wonderful?”

Sighing down at the dragon, Twilight plucked him up in her magic to place him upon her back. Giving a nod towards Ink Sketch she trotted for the exit. “Come on Casanova; let’s go home so we can write a letter to the princesses about my plan.”

Saying goodbye to the receptionist, Twilight left the hospital and begun her journey home, already starting to imagine what she would say to the creature when it woke. Anxiety gnawed at her gut as she thought of all the possibilities. But, all she could do for now was hope.

Hope she was right, and, hope that she wasn’t putting Ponyville in danger by believing the so called ‘Foal-Hunter’ was anything but.

~~~~~~

Lurking behind the buildings of Ponyville, a pegasus limped; her destination seemingly random to those who looked on. That wasn’t to say she was being ignored, no. Much to the mare’s annoyance she was having concerned ponies constantly coming up to her offering aid. Thankfully most were dissuaded with a firm glare and stern refusal, others required more robust denial before leaving her alone.

Then there was the pink mare.

No matter how much Chrysalis tried she could not deter the pony from following her. She had even managed to lose the pony once or twice with some subtly casted illusion spells only to have the mare find her shortly after. What made it worse was that the pony was another Bearer and as such, one that she very much desired to not be anywhere near. Truthfully she wasn’t really sure on just what the six mares could do, but Ivy Touch would speak fondly of them, as would Steel Point, her, or more accurately, Rosebloom’s parents. She had also learnt that the elements when worn could stop a deity of chaos, and frankly, that was more than enough reason for her to avoid going anywhere near them.

Yet, try as she might, she could not shake the poufy pink-maned mare that continued to harass her. Honestly, it had been her own carelessness that had landed her in this mess in the first place. She had, regrettably, been lost in thought, distracted – much like how she had been captured initially by the brothers – only to be spotted by the one known as ‘Twilight Sparkle’. Out of all of the Bearers, that was the one she wished to avoid the most given that ‘Rosebloom’ was known to the mare, even if just in passing. Sure she had altered Rosebloom’s appearance slightly, but it had been quick, haphazard even, and as such would not hold up under scrutiny. With a little time alone she could alter her appearance further but that led back to her current predicament.

What are the chances of bumping into a pony down the back alleys? Apparently far too high for my liking.

“You should really get that leg looked at you know, but how did you get injured? I injured my leg once and it was no fun, I had to stay in bed and I couldn’t dance, or bounce, or play with Gummy and-…”

Oh… for the love of the All-Mother, please, shut. Up.

Chrysalis had long since given up trying to discourage the mare from following her, now relying instead on the silent treatment. Much to her frustration that strategy proved to be going as effectively as any other she had attempted. Exhaling loudly, she instead turned her head to regard the mare once more, noticing blue eyes shining with delight back at her.

“Look, just how long are you going to follow me for?” The question was met with a tilt of the pink mare’s head as she looked, amazingly enough, thoughtful. Of course the entire expression was ruined by the fact she still had a toothless small alligator upon her mane, one eye of the creature blinking independently of the other.

“Weeeeeell, I was going to keep you company until you got to the hospital.” A caring smile passed over the pony’s face as Chrysalis groaned inwardly. “I mean, what would happen if you fell or something bad happened to you? Nopety-dope, I am going to make sure you get there safely!”

Fantastic… Wait, was that even a word?

With her frown increasing, Chrysalis continued limping all the while resisting her body’s attempts to heal the wound. She had long decided she required that nectar if the need arose, then given her current state of luck, there was also the fact the leeching effect upon her body was going into overdrive. If she thought it bad while in the cage, now, while disguised, it was gorging itself on her reserves.

It seems when I’m not in my natural form it gets worse.

Chrysalis mused on this while toning out the pony bouncing beside her recounting something about how she knew everyone in Ponyville. The drain on her nectar reserves continued to trouble the changeling, but now there was another reason. She could tell her body was changing, but for what reason eluded her. For one her spell casting had increased exponentially, as had her natural abilities. At first she had suspected it was due to Legend feeding her, but upon reflection that wasn’t the core reason. Sure, the emotion was wonderful, and made her feel warm throughout but all it had done was fill the gaping hole of hunger.

No… the sensation, whatever it was, seemed to be altering her. At first she thought it a malady, but now when she wasn’t starving to death she realised that she was changing. Stronger, faster, able to contain more nectar or, alternatively, use it more effectively.

But, why? Why am I changing and what into?

There was one possibility but Chrysalis firmly dismissed it. There were tales, ancient even in changeling terms, of a queen rising from a broken hive. But those were stories, nothing more. Queen Chrysalis, curse her name, had always led their hive, and until recently, was presumed continuing doing so forever.

There is no way that is happening. Me? A queen? Of what? A broken remnant hive who I already failed? Yeah, I can see that working out well. Go me.

“Heeeeeey, are you okay?”

Suddenly aware of a pink hoof being waved before her face, Chrysalis ceased walking to regard her unwanted companion curiously. Well, technically companions if one were to include the alligator, even if Chrysalis would have preferred its company over the mare it resided on.

“Yes?” Keeping her tone just the right amount of annoyed, Chrysalis flattened her ears only to see the mare smile as her ears perked through the cotton candy-like mane. Rolling her eyes, Chrysalis found the mare smiling in a genuine fashion, one that actually disarmed the disguised-changeling.

“Do you need help walking with that leg, is it hurting that badly? Oh! I forgot to introduce myself because I saw you and I didn’t know you, and that made me all excited because that means you’re new, and that’s supertendulous because that means I get to meet a new pony! But then I saw you were hurt, so I was worried, and that’s when I bumped into you! I’m Pinkie Pie and this here is Gummy, he’s extra glad to meet you!”

Suddenly finding herself on the receiving end of an impromptu introduction, not to mention an alligator being shoved in her face, Chrysalis took a step back before exhaling in a long drawn out manner. Plus, she was absolutely certain that ‘supertendulous’ wasn’t a word, well as far as she knew at least.

“Wonderful.” Moving to try and limp past the two, Chrysalis could see the hospital in sight as Pinkie Pie trotted beside her. Continuing to try and ignore the mare proved to be unsuccessful as whenever she glanced to the side, the changeling would see Pinkie smiling at her. “What?”

“You look like you have something important on your mind.” Chrysalis resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Pinkie’s words, instead just giving a small shrug. Undeterred, Pinkie smiled and bounced a little, moving to walk backwards before Chrysalis as they approached the path leading up to the hospital. “You can talk to me about it! I find when I have something really, super, big, and important on my mind talking to my friends helps.”

“Well, you’re not my friend.” The comment was blunt but Chrysalis had about enough of the mare by this stage, pausing to sit as the sun slowly began its descent.

Ugh, is it that time already? I need to find Legend and get out of here.

Pulled from her thoughts she raised a brow to see a pained expression flicker like a ghost over Pinkie’s face before the mare sighed and smiled warmly.

“No, you’re absolutely right, but I would like to be. Everypony needs a friend no matter who they are.” The earnest nature of the mare caused Chrysalis to exhale again before she closed her eyes.

A friend huh…

Her thoughts turned back to the biped, the one who had shown her kindness, and… remarkably had fed her in her natural form. Willingly feeding a changeling was a fairy tale, something that simply did not exist. Still, that was what Legend had done, and in the process saved Chrysalis’s life. Even now, contrary to her entire nature, she felt guilt at allowing the biped to be captured and taken into this town.

Ugh, okay… Focus. I just need her for the hive, that’s all. It’s… It’s not like I actually care about her or anything.

The idea of a ‘friend’ was somewhat of an anathema to a changeling. They got on well enough with each other, but it was never on a term one would call companionship. At best it was they all worked for the good of the hive, even if some did put themselves first. Chrysalis however was somewhat different. When young, hatchlings bonded with each other in a sisterly fashion, relying on each other as they learnt the way of the hive. Then, by the second or so year, they would drift apart while starting to help with small tasks until eventually going to obtain nectar themselves.

It wasn’t that they suddenly detested each other, but the bonds that had formed were simply no longer as important. Ultimately, it was deemed the survival of all outweighed being ‘friends’ with each other. Plus, changelings were brought up, and quickly learned, to distance themselves from those they fed upon. They were just a source of food after all, nothing more, and certainly not something to be friends with.

Chrysalis was unabashedly aware of the fact she was pragmatic, cynical, and somewhat jaded even among her own kind, yet she was also one of those who refused to relinquish her hatchling sister. Upon growing up and becoming a full-fledged worker, she had never severed the bond between herself and her hatch-mate.

In fact, when it came to light that her hatch-mate was a ‘Feedless’ it only seemed to strengthen what they already had as Chrysalis became relied upon. In turn, Chrysalis enjoyed the company of the quiet and somewhat shy changeling, entertaining her hatch-mate’s dreams even if she did poke folly at them.

And yet, here I am trying to rescue a creature that comes from legend itself. Freely giving emotions and never seems to suffer no negative effects of it either. Heh, she was right all along with those stupid tales… Makes me kind of glad I never took up gambling.

Suppressing the self-deprecating mirth that spawned from the thought, Chrysalis came to realise something. She never wished to admit it, but it was painfully obvious. Somewhere down the line she had begun to ‘feel’ something towards Legend. While she tried to brush it off merely as gratitude for saving her, the fact she risked life and limb – not to mention blatantly throwing herself in the opposite direction of common sense – would show she might have come to consider the creature…

Okay, that is absolutely ridiculous! So I went back to save her, and got her food. That was purely to keep her alive so she could provide food for me and for the hive when I get her there. So I lured off a chimera so she could save a stupid foal that was stupid enough to be stupidly on the path and…

Chrysalis mentally winced as she realised her arguments, against herself no less, were sounding rather paper thin. Also juvenile, but she ignored that part.

So what if I watched her sleep, and enjoyed watching her laugh… and felt warm when she refused to abandon me… and…

Much to Pinkie Pie’s apparent surprise, Chrysalis slapped her forehead with a hoof before groaning loudly.

Chitin-rust. I do care about the crying, helpless, idiotic creature don’t I? Congratulations Chrysalis, you’re developing feelings for your food. What other part of being a changeling can I completely shatter by the end of the day? Make friends with a turn-coat pony and live a life of harmony and sunshine?

Chrysalis gazed at the pony beside her before giving a derisive snort.

Uh… No. I’ll live under the same roof as their precious princesses before that happens.

“Are you okay? You were all-“ Pinkie interrupted herself to stare straight ahead blankly before standing on hind hooves to flail her front legs. “So I was all trying to get your attention, and then you were-“

“I’m fine.” Not willing to hear a full account of the last few minutes, Chrysalis nodded her head towards the hospital just up the path. Realising that being abrupt was not working with the pony and only seeming to make things worse for herself, Chrysalis instead forced a smile upon her muzzle. “Thank you… Pinkie Pie was it? I’ll be fine from here, really.”

Please… Please… Please…

“Oh… Well that’s great! I’ll come and visit you every day and when you’re better I’ll make sure to...”

Beginning to wonder why the Bearers were perceived as such a threat – or at the very least, this pony in particular – Chrysalis kept the forced smile on her face, nodding at everything spoken. Eventually Pinkie Pie seemed satisfied and waved a foreleg, trotting off while humming happily to herself. Wondering just what she had agreed to, Chrysalis immediately dismissed her concerns. Once she found Legend she should, in theory, be easily able to fight her way out of the village and escape after a quick feed and as such nothing else mattered.

Thankful to once again be left alone, the disguised-changeling moved around the building to hide within the bushes. Once certain she was concealed, she waited for the sun to sink over the horizon before shedding her disguise, mentally subduing the magic to its lowest level to avoid detection. Knowing that waiting a bit longer would be in her best interests, Chrysalis took the time to look over her body and see just what had changed.

Like all changelings she was very aware of minute physical details, especially those of her own body. Not all changelings would bother creating a new disguise out of nothing, most content to copy the features of another. It was not a very common skill, as what was the point in disguising oneself as someone who no-one else felt emotions for? It was more an ability of the vain, a way to escape detection, or in Chrysalis’s case, something of a necessity. Still, it meant she had an eye for the little details.

After all, she had been a lifer and that required her altering the disguise to keep it consistent with aging. There were hiccups of course, unexplained growth spurts being the most common, but ultimately she had mastered the skill. Then the invasion happened and she betrayed Ivy Touch and…

Wait… Wait, how could I be the one to betray when I was never their daughter to begin with? I must be hungrier than I thought.

Shaking the memories of what happened from her mind, Chrysalis continued looking herself over. Rubbing a hoof up the back of her neck found, much to her alarm, that her frill had moved to the top of her head and was longer, separated, almost like a mane of sorts. Thankfully that proved to be the most noticeable of the changes, that is aside from the fact she was taller and her horn seemed to have grown ever so slightly.

Well, this is just terrific.

Thankfully her pragmatic side coped well with the discovery. Ultimately there was little she could do about it, so panicking would be a waste of time. Besides, she had a task to do. Once she had retrieved Legend from whatever horrors the ponies were subjugating her to and the two of them had escaped, she could then spare the time for a freak out.

Okay…

Taking a deep breath, Chrysalis focused magic into her horn, aware to get Legend out she would have to sacrifice nectar initially. Casting the detect spell she then closed her eyes, becoming acutely aware of not only emotions, but the life force around her. Unsurprisingly the town was alive with that of anxiousness, so much so that Chrysalis stuck out her tongue in disgust. She never had acquired a taste for those sorts of emotions and never understood the changelings that had. Fear, anger, sorrow, they all were not high on her list of preferences. Fear in particular always tasted too ‘earthy’ for her, and after her impromptu landing in the forest she had tasted enough of the real thing to last her a lifetime.

Now where are you?

Turning her attention to the building beside her, Chrysalis was more than a little surprised on just how little the spell was taxing her. Not really having the time to dwell on it, she instead filed that fact away for later as she gazed upwards. Ponies, not to mention a few donkeys, were prevalent throughout the hospital. Yet one point caught her attention on the second floor, one so drastically different to the others it could only belong to one creature.

Legend, there you are.

Despite herself Chrysalis felt a smile slip over her muzzle. Taking a deep breath she dipped into her nectar reserves again, casting a spell that removed attention from herself causing her to be easily overlooked. Next, for good measure, she also cast a spell to muffle any and all sounds she created. Satisfied at her work, the changeling flew upwards counting on the night sky to shroud her and the spells to hold.

Hovering before the window she focused, having to rely on a skill that she was admittedly rather poor at. The latch holding the window shut proved to be remarkably stubborn, her magical grasp fumbling several times before granting her success with a soft click. Then, slowly, she lifted the window up and slipped through the curtains like a thief in the night. Which… amusingly to the changeling, was actually pretty accurate all things considered.

Settling down soundlessly to her hooves, Chrysalis looked about the room only to spy the one she sought within one of the beds. What was most surprising to the changeling though was that Legend appeared to be resting peacefully, her wounds tended to and most remarkably, considering how she was captured, she seemed to be free and unattended.

To say Chrysalis was confused at that point would have been an understatement. It went contrary to everything she had assumed would have happened. Granted, her time as Rosebloom had shown her not all ponies were as she had grown up in the hive learning. Every hatchling had heard how ponies had turned on their own kind, bringing the windigos down upon the valley, now known as The Frosted Glades, and dooming everything to a slow, cold, death. Now, while Chrysalis didn’t much care about history of that regard, she did always take the underlying lesson to heart.

Changelings on the other hoof were raised from an early age that everything aside, they needed to work together as a hive to survive and serve the queen. To betray another would impact the entirety of the hive itself; it was for that reason alone that the Feedless, while disliked, were tolerated by a majority of the other changelings.

Of course, look where that got us.

Pushing the bitterness aside, Chrysalis still found herself confused as she trotted closer to the bed. She had thought she would be coming in to find Legend being held captive. Sure, she had thought the ponies would treat the wounds but past that it was anyone’s guess. Chrysalis of course knew that Legend was harmless, that is unless you were an apple, but the ponies thanks to those idiotic brothers and their lies thought her an eater of foals, a monster.

“-afraid she is sleeping right now Twilight.”

Having dismissed the detection spell to conserve nectar, Chrysalis jumped at the sound of voices alerting her to others approaching the room. Cursing her stupidity, while also being thankful of continuing the other spells, Chrysalis moved to scamper under one of the other two beds. As the door opened, she also quickly masked the glow of her eyes now not caring if she used more nectar than she wished. If she were caught it would be all for naught anyhow.

“I see…” Twilight Sparkle entered but remained near the entrance, a look of disappointment falling over her features before smiling at the sight she saw. “She really does look so peaceful.”

Just what are they doing?

Chrysalis watched on knowing she was safe from detection. Well, that wasn’t entirely true; if the Bearer actively searched under the bed with her magic she would be found. However, the chances of that were slim to none.

“She does doesn’t she?” A white mare followed the unicorn in and by her hat and the cutie mark, Chrysalis easily deduced she was one of the nurses working in the hospital. Both ponies speaking in hushed tones so as not to wake Legend. “Dinky was right all along, in more ways than one.”

Dinky?

The nurse approached the bed while Chrysalis tensed. Then, much to her added confusion, the mare gently raised a forehoof to stroke Legend’s hair gently. The biped squirmed a little before mumbling something and smiling while the two mares watched on, their smiles growing. Chrysalis could only blink as she watched the nurse show affection towards Legend, the magic she was about to tap into instead loosening from her grasp.

“It’s hard to imagine, but she is no different to a lost and confused filly. She’s scared of us, more than I think we’re scared of her.” The nurse gazed towards Twilight before giving a sad smile. “It seems unicorns instil more fear in her than anything else, that or magic… but Doctor Carehoof’s mere presence caused her no small amount of terror.”

That part caused Chrysalis’s eyes to narrow while her teeth grit against each other, anger building within.

Yeah, I wonder why she is so scared of magic and unicorns? I knew I let that idiot off too easy in the forest, if I ever meet them again…

“I wonder why…” Twilight said, unknowingly partially mirroring Chrysalis’s thoughts. The unicorn trotted close, somewhat cautiously now upon hearing of the fear Legend held for her kind. “I was hoping to try communicating with her tonight, but that will just have to wait until tomorrow.”

Communicate?

Chrysalis felt her ears perk, her body betraying her interest as she watched on. Again, this was definitely not what she expected to find. Unaware they were being watched, the nurse nodded before offering a warm smile, still slowly stroking Legend’s hair in a soothing fashion.

“Well, how about tomorrow when we get her breakfast?” The nurse hummed thoughtfully before smiling down at Legend, moving to settle upon all fours again. “When we see what she actually does eat.”

“Oh, that sounds like a fantastic idea.” Realising she may have spoken too loudly, Twilight lowered her voice before blushing. “I could make a chart, and use some pictures to see if that helps.”

Listening as the two ponies continued their discussion, Chrysalis found she was now suddenly indecisive. She knew she had to get Legend back to the hive as soon as possible, if it even still existed that is. Yet, she found her earlier plan to bust Legend out and run suddenly becoming less appealing. Granted, she still wished to but at the same time part of her could see how Legend was being cared for. Most amazingly, she could see that the nurse genuinely had Legend’s best interests in heart as she had given a small glare when Twilight had forgotten the volume of her voice.

“Still, she has a long way to go for that shoulder to heal.” The nurse’s voice got Chrysalis’s attention as she listened in, the mare moving to tug the sheet back gently to observe the bandaged injury. “But, if she continues to rest it the healing magic should continue to mend the injury within a week. Of course, that is just what we think, as we discussed earlier it all depends on how her body reacts to the treatment.”

A week?

Chrysalis narrowed her eyes already weighing up the information she had just overheard. Indecision ate at her though. She could, conceivably, bust Legend out once the two mares had left but then her shoulder would continue to be injured and…

Focus! What of the hive, what of the eggs and the others? Yeah, I didn’t want the responsibility, and yeah I blew it. But they need her; they need Legend to survive, for the eggs to survive.

Still, Legend looked so peaceful and happy, a far cry from the tortured and miserable creature that had initially been captured and thrown into the cage. Closing her eyes Chrysalis could almost see the small unsure smile on Legend’s face as she reached through the bars, the compassion given freely, her own life saved.

Chitin-rust…

“-was heart-breaking seeing her cry as she did. The poor thing, all this time and all she seemed to need, or want was a friend.” Chrysalis realised she had been so lost in thought she only caught the tail end of what the nurse had said. Strangely enough, her thoughts turned back to a brief second to something the other Bearer, Pinkie Pie had mentioned about everypony needing a friend. Shaking the comment off, she looked over to notice Twilight biting upon her lower lip while the nurse gazed sadly down at Legend again, the hoof once more stroking the biped’s hair. “It took Dinky to remind me of this fact, that sweet little filly knew all along what was needed and we didn’t listen.”

There’s that name again… who is that?

“She’s smart for her age, even when I was asking her questions she steadfastly refused to believe anything bad about the one who saved her.” Twilight smiled and gazed at Legend, nodding as if coming to a decision of sorts. “Will Dinky be visiting her tomorrow?”

“I believe there is no way we could stop her from doing so, she seems to have become quite attached to her saviour.” A small giggle accompanied the nurse’s words as she gazed once more at the sleeping figure before sighing softly. “But for now I guess we should leave her to sleep in peace.”

Her Saviour? That means it’s probably the filly that got Legend into this mess.

Chrysalis frowned thoughtfully before sighing, content in the knowledge her spell was holding. No matter how much common sense and reason tried to beat their way into her mind she found she had already come to a decision. It wasn’t the smartest, and it went against everything she desired to do, and yet…

“Hmm, I don’t remember leaving the window open.”

Oh… right. Things were going far too smoothly weren’t they?

Chrysalis winced as she watched the nurse trot over to the curtains before pulling one aside to close the window. The unicorn however was now looking about with a raised brow and, much to Chrysalis’s chagrin, had a pink glow surrounding her horn.

“Is, something the matter Twilight?” The nurse’s tone was becoming somewhat concerned as the mare in question continued looking around the room, a frown now falling over her features.

“There’s… traces of magic in here, recently cast spells and something else… almost like there’s somepony in here. Did anyone come in before us?”

Chrysalis froze at that last part. Her spells were still in effect, she knew that for a fact, but somehow the unicorn could detect her, or at least sense the spells currently active.

Is that what a Bearer can do? Clumsy idiot, anything concerning Legend and you act like a fresh pupa.

Berating herself Chrysalis instead tensed, ready to run if need be. If it came down to it she was certain with her remaining nectar she could at least snatch Legend and break out the window. After that was another matter entirely, but if she could make it to the forest they might have a chance.

“No, no-one has come in. I’m the only nurse assigned to her now.” The white pony looked uneasy as she too gazed around the room. Twilight meanwhile lowered her head to peer under the beds. Despite her gaze passing briefly over Chrysalis the spell indeed held, the changeling thankful that the unicorn didn’t probe deeper with her magic. Somewhat satisfied, if not still paranoid, Twilight exhaled as her horn ceased its glow.

“It could be just the healing magic reacting to her body, and I may have forgotten to close the window earlier.” The nurse smiled slightly as she gazed at the curtains before looking back to the other mare. “It was a rather hectic day after all.”

“I guess so.” Not sounding overly convinced, Twilight instead offered a small nod before giving another gaze around the room. Nonetheless, eventually the two mares made their way to the exit, another fond smile given towards the sleeping body of Legend before the door quietly closed.

That… That was far, far, too close.

Releasing the breath she never knew she was holding, Chrysalis waited several minutes until the hoofsteps retreated along with the muffled voices. On the bright side, her decision was now one that even her common sense had to reluctantly agree with. It was simply too risky to try breaking Legend out now. She could tell the unicorn was now paranoid, and rightfully so. Plus, with so many Bearers active – not to mention the other ponies – there was no way she could get away as she first intended, even with a full stomach.

Chrysalis, you’re a mess.

Pulling herself from under the bed she buzzed her wings to stretch the flight muscles. Content the cramps had been worked out from how they were pinned to her back through the whole ordeal, she made her way over towards the sleeping figure. Against everything she knew she had to do, Chrysalis had already decided to let Legend stay, to heal, and hopefully find some comfort. The reason why was an enigma to her, yet she felt it was the right decision. Once Legend was healed, then she would take her to the hive, but to do so before that point…

It… It felt wrong. Legend had been nothing but kind to Chrysalis, had trusted her, and above all else had saved her life. Most importantly, Legend had done so to her, not a disguise, but herself as a changeling. Even taking into account Chrysalis had repaid the debt in full – at least three times over now – she still felt something towards the strange biped. Legend cried, a lot, she made silly decisions such as saving the filly, she was somewhat clumsy, and her language was incomprehensible to understand. Yet, Chrysalis found herself smiling as she leaned over the edge of the bed, her muzzle gently rubbing to Legend’s cheek.

There was no denying it, when she had felt the compassion flowing into her, when Legend had looked relieved upon seeing Chrysalis meant her no threat, when she smiled, when she cried, when she offered the apple back, and even when she refused to leave even at the risk of death. It was becoming a fact she had to admit, one she begrudgingly conceded despite how much she wished to deny it.

She had really come to care for the biped.

Oh sure, she had always scoffed at the stories of a changeling choosing to live in disguise willingly with another, be it so called friendship, or even worse, a relationship. Truthfully she had always put it down merely to a changeling breaking from the hive for selfish reasons and the stories then made up to validate it… but now…

Now she could see why.

Legend had felt and done those things for Chrysalis. Not for any disguise she wore, not for Rosebloom, but for her, as a changeling; as herself.

“You’re a pain in the butt, you know that?” Chrysalis spoke softly, her tone warm as Legend squirmed on the bed, her eyelids fluttering. “You make me do the most inane things, but…”

Her muzzle once again rubbed gently along Legend’s cheek as she sighed, a fanged smile rolling over her face as she let the spells fade.

“But you’re my pain in the butt. Now, don’t go thinking it’s because I like you or anything.” The eyelids of the sleeping girl fluttered again as Chrysalis watched on, her own wings buzzing as she sighed. “Fine… I do, now heal up. Knowing my track record, I’ll undoubtedly do something stupid again in my efforts to get you to the hive to save the others.”

She felt light in the chest after the confession, to voice her thoughts, even if they were a little self-deprecating. Granted, no-one but her could hear them but they still felt liberating to say. She had not felt this way since… Well, since she was living as Rosebloom with her ‘parents’, the memory pulling up painful reasons why she personally considered ponies turn-coats. Not willing to dwell on it, she was about to recast her spells and depart out the window when she was stopped by soft murmuring.

Blinking, Chrysalis looked back to see Legend slowly parting her eyelids, the biped’s vision appearing blurry and only partially awake. The voice murmured again, the same word as before and one Chrysalis had a day ago heard in the forest for the first time.

“~Ebony?~”

The tone was questioning, the word unknown, but Chrysalis found herself smiling warmly as she nuzzled gently to the hand that moved to the edge of the bed. With a small smile gracing Legend’s lips, Chrysalis felt the hand slide over her muzzle only for the warm sensation of compassion to start flowing in again. Chrysalis savoured the taste, amazed at how much Legend actually cared for her while buzzing her wings softly.

“I’m here and not going anywhere I assure you. You’re under my protection and not even their entire village will stop me keeping you safe.” Her resolute words carried with them her feelings as she gently bumped the hand from her muzzle, already full despite the brief contact. Legend just smiled softly and closed her eyes, her expression now far more content than it was a moment ago. Again the word was softly spoken before Legend’s breathing slowed and she fell back into peaceful slumber.

~Ebony~… Is… That the word she uses to describe me? Well that or it’s hello or something.

Chrysalis frowned thoughtfully, the prospect that Legend had given her a name was intriguing, if not a little funny considering she had done the same for the biped. It would make sense though, and even though she could not tell the meaning, she felt it held weight.

“~Eb-o-ny.~” Trying the word for herself she smiled, trotting towards the window before reapplying her spells to once again mask her presence and sound. Now, overflowing with nectar she felt the ease at which she could cast the more complicated magic, another indicator of her continued changes. Shrugging it off, at least for now, she instead frowned as the latch again proved to be problematic.

Finally flicking it open, her hooves were used to push the window up before gazing back at the slumbering form behind her.

“~Ebony~, you know, that has a nice ring to it.” Chrysalis allowed herself a small grin as she slipped out past the curtains, turning to shut the window behind her. Again, she fiddled with the latch before finally securing it with her magic after several more attempts. Turning she gazed through the window only to notice – much to her surprise – Legend having rolled over to face her. Even though there was no way the biped should have been able to detect Chrysalis, let alone see her, her eyes partially opened and a warm smile found its way across the female’s face.

Sparing one last glance back as Legend closed her eyes again, Chrysalis slipped back down into the bush below. Taking a moment to detect that Twilight Sparkle had left, she then reapplied her disguise once again. Stretching her limbs she resisted her body’s attempt to heal her wound even though healing it now, with the surplus of nectar, would be something a pupa could do with little effort. Having dropped the spells at the same time she returned to being a pegasus, Chrysalis made her way slowly inside the hospital, wincing slightly with each step.

Ugh, I wish I could heal this… but now, when I have the nectar to do so, I actually need to keep the damn thing.

Limping past the doors she was met with a gasp by the mare at the desk upon spying her hind leg. Chrysalis knew her plan was risky, but she could think of no better way to remain close to Legend and also have free access to her. Plus, she knew better than anyone that her disguise would hold up even under the most thorough of scans. At the moment she was no different from any other pegasus, biologically that is, except for a few key differences she would mask with her spells when the time came.

Well that… and I doubt anyone is going to blast me full in the face with magic… again.

“Oh my! What happened to you?” The mare looked worried as she made her way from around the counter, fussing over Chrysalis’s hind leg as the changeling resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but just barely. Instead she worked on her story in her head before voicing it, well aware it was one of the riskier parts of her plan.

“Oh…” Pretending to look back at her hind leg as if it deeply pained her, Chrysalis exhaled loudly as her head drooped. “I-I was in the Everfree Forest looking for my companion w-when all of a sudden there was this commotion and a hydra and I barely got away!”

Knowing the story alone wouldn’t be enough, Chrysalis used a little of her magic to sweeten the deal. Granted the magic available to her was limited while disguised, she could still always count on the ever faithful forgetfulness spell. With a little tweaking she used it just a touch, just enough to partially hypnotise the mare into believing what she said was truth. The green glow flashed over the receptionist’s eyes before the mare gasped, a fore hoof held over her mouth.

“Oh you poor thing!” Moving behind the counter she started scribbling onto some documents, Chrysalis quickly losing interest until the mare’s voice got her attention again. “Now, I’ll go get a doctor, but first I’ll need a name.”

Chrysalis thought for a second. She clearly couldn’t use Rosebloom as that would surely only raise further suspicions from Twilight Sparkle, and worse, probably bring the Royal Guard down upon her immediately. ‘Chrysalis’ was out, firstly because it would be like waving a giant flag proclaiming just what she was, and secondly because she loathed the very existence of the name.

Slowly though, a third option presented itself, one that she found herself liking the more she dwelled on it.

“Dear?” The mare questioned again, the quill held at the ready within the azure aura.

“~Ebony~” Chrysalis took a breath before nodding, a smile coming to her face. It was perfect, exotic, and better still, it was one that given to her, presumably, by Legend herself. “My name is ~Ebony.~”

Seconds passed before the receptionist, Ink Sketch if the name on the desk was any indication, looked thoughtful before humming quietly.

“Uh… how… How do you spell that?”

Grimacing at the obvious flaw in her plan, Chrysalis applied the spell again so that the mare would write down how she thought it sounded; the changeling immensely thankful that the waiting room was empty at the current late hour. With that she was eventually led upstairs by one of the doctors, and, amusingly, also informed about the unique occupant also sharing the floor with the other patients. Granted, Chrysalis herself had no obvious problem with Legend, but she couldn’t let the others know that… Not yet anyhow.

Still, all in all it had gone perfectly with no obvious hitches aside from one.

“~Ebony~ huh, that’s an intriguing name, so where does that originate from?”

Make that two.

Sighing Chrysalis tapped into her magic for a third time, all the while her expression turning deadpan as she realised the spell was going to get a lot of mileage before this stunt was through. Still, the hard part was over and now, now she could simply wait for Legend to heal before making their escape.