• Published 12th May 2014
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Mente Materia - Arad



Twilight’s trip to Earth and friendship with the humans brings new friends and enemies to her peaceful world. With the specter of war hanging over them, Equestria will have to form an alliance like no other to fight the menace from the void.

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20 -- Uncertainty

“I trust my friends, but I want my enemies where I can see them.”
Cmdr. Typhoon, shortly before his assassination by an agent of Princess Platinum

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09:45, 11/24/2015, SUMMER GARDEN, CANTERLOT

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Twilight Sparkle asked again as she cast a worried look over at the table’s other occupant. “She’s a clever creature, and she isn’t above lying to get what she wants, Matt.”

It was a discussion that had come up many times over the last day, and Matt had to admit she had a point. Technically speaking, she has already lied to get what she wants. The finer point that her goal was theoretically less sinister than what Twilight is thinking doesn’t change the fact that she is right. “Conflict can lead to strange alliances, especially when the opposition isn’t picky about who they attack.”

“It’s just too convenient, I think,” Twilight muttered before rotating her coffee cup with her magic. “She just happens to show up at just the right time to save the city which also conveniently gives her the opportunity to--” the younger alicorn seemed to realise both the public nature of their meeting place as well as the volume she was reaching before she took a breath and continued, “--do what she did.”

“I will admit that the timing couldn’t have been better for a dramatic entrance,” Matt granted as he sipped his own mug of coffee. “Regardless, she’s been upholding her end of the bargain so far. Several of her ‘agents’ have registered themselves immediately with the Solar Guard. The security sweeps after the battle haven’t turned up any others of her kind. She’s also been behaving herself.”

The last comment warranted a suspicious look from Twilight. “Do you know that for sure? She’s fooled a lot of good ponies in the past.” She leaned forward and whispered. “She was able to fool my brother by taking the form of his fiance and then--” the young alicorn froze mid-sentence, and her face began to grow red. “D-did she… she doesn’t take my form during your talks, does she?”


The question came just as Matt had taken a sip, and he had to cough and look away at the insinuation. Twilight’s sputtering became increasingly incoherent before Matt could recover and interrupt her. “She did... once,” he finally managed, and he raised a hand to hold off her embarrassed outrage. “Just once, and I nearly walked out of the room when she did. She hasn’t done anything like that since.”

The reassurance seemed to calm Twilight a bit, and she chewed on her lip nervously before she asked, “And all she wants is to talk? That’s all you’ve done?”

“Yes, that’s all,” Matt nodded.

Twilight spent a long moment simply staring at the other occupant of the table before looking away. With that concern put to rest, she went back to worrying over her original subject. “Why, though? She must have something sinister planned…”

“I think you just gave part of the answer, Twilight,” Matt said with a nod. When she gave him a curious look, he explained, “She’s public enemy number one, but she doesn’t want to be, I think. The best way for her to shed that reputation is to make a positive impression with someone who isn’t part of the establishment. She came to offer her services and your first reaction was to be suspicious--”

“But that’s because--!” Twilight interrupted, only for Matt to raise his hand again.

“I’m not saying she hasn’t earned her reputation. She’s done what would amount to an act of war on Earth, not to mention what she tried to do to you and your family personally. You have every right to be suspicious.” Matt favored Twilight with a smile to show that he wasn’t holding the reaction against her before he continued, “Our newest ‘friend’ is also aware that we humans don’t have any negative experiences with her, which makes us an excellent avenue of approach. Through us, she believes she can be of service and hopefully remove herself off of the ‘enemy nations’ list.”

“You don’t sound very certain about that…”

Matt merely shrugged. “Anything can happen. So long as none of her agents do anything that negatively impacts XCOM or any of you, I imagine some sort of diplomatic relationship might be established with her nation once this is all settled. As to how Equestria treats her going forward, that’s something for the princesses to decide.” He nodded and then decided to throw Twilight a proverbial bone. “It’s also entirely possible that she screws this up on her own one way or another, and all this speculation is moot. We have contingency plans for that sort of thing.”

The young alicorn’s attitude seemed to level out a bit at that, though she did cast a suspicious glance towards the castle again. “I hope you know what you’re doing. And don’t let your guard down around her, okay?”

“Will do,” Matt nodded as he took another sip of his coffee. Rather than let the conversation drift back to criticizing their newest tentative ally, he chose to focus on something else. “They’ve been doing an excellent job so far in tracking down the alien infiltrators that have remained in the city after the attack failed. As terrible as it sounds, we should probably be thankful that only one of the council was killed.”

“I suppose so,” Twilight agreed as she looked down into her cup. “I feel sorry for Zecora. She survived something terrible so she could be reunited with her father, then he gets taken away by these… monsters. Mister Zhang is still in the hospital too...”

Matt kicked himself inwardly as Twilight’s mood took a nosedive, so he changed the subject. “I was talking with Major Fujikawa and she mentioned something about the minotaurs having a serious problem with our MECs.” When the statement drew a blank look from Twilight, he elaborated, “The robots? The giant walking machines? Do you know anything about why they’re reacting that way?”

A mix of emotions crossed her face, as though she desperately wanted to know more but was afraid of the truth. “I’m afraid I don’t know much…” Twilight started, and her tone became exasperated when Matt gave her a sarcastic ‘Really?’ look in response. “I don’t know much about this because there isn’t much there to know! A couple of years ago I was doing history research in my free time and I came across a mention of Celestia rendering aid to the Minon Island chain to avert some sort of disaster. A short time afterward, a binding agreement was reached with all known nations not to pursue the creation of golems.” The nervous look returned as her next question was left unasked.

“I suppose I can put that concern to rest. The MECs are all operated remotely by pilots that are here in Canterlot. From what I understand of the mechanisms, they’re rather similar to the prosthetics that Lana and I use. Without a mind to control them, they’re just dead weight. No will of their own,” Matt explained while he waved his left hand. “Do you know anything at all about the disaster that hit Minon?”

Twilight gave a frustrated huff. “I’m afraid not. The minotaurs have always been somewhat secretive when it comes to what goes on in their homeland, but it must have been really serious if Celestia had to intervene. There’s even a mention of the High Talon of Gryphos declaring an emergency and sending forces as well! The records then pick up where the diplomats are finalizing the golem agreements. Nothing is mentioned about what exactly happened.”

Well, that’s a little disconcerting. Zhang mentioned the High Talon only declares an emergency if the Empire itself is threatened. When I look at the little clues, I want to jump to evil robot uprising… but who names their robots ‘toys’? I can’t imagine the world being overthrown by an army of action figures... Matt concluded. “Thanks for looking into that for me, though. Even the fact that there’s so little information tells something.” Before Twilight could grumble anymore about people destroying books, he asked, “I hear you and Spike are meeting with the dragon matriarch later today, right? Shirogane?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Twilight nodded. “Spike agreed to meet with her, but he doesn’t like it. His last experiences with other dragons was less than ideal.”

“I suppose some culture shock might be expected if he’s lived with you and your family since he hatched. Do you have any idea why Shirogane wants to talk to him?”

“I’m afraid not. Spike asked me to come along for moral support, so I suppose I can let you know what I find out afterwards, alright?” Twilight asked as she rose from her seat before once again fixing Matt with a concerned look. “Are you sure you’re okay? If you blink for a second, she could have cast a spell on you with any kind of effect on your mind.”

The sudden shift in conversation caught Matt somewhat off-guard. “After my first conversation with her, I had a scan run by the same technology we use on Earth to detect mental tampering. Aside from some unusual brain chemistry and some other irregularities, I’m perfectly fine.” When Twilight’s concerned expression intensified, he continued, “It’s nothing to be concerned about, Twily. It’s likely due to some interaction with the Gift and my prosthetic. Lana showed similar symptoms while we were still on Earth around when she got her new arm.”

That seemed to settle the majority of Twilight’s concerns, and she nodded. “I’ve got to go help Spike now. Please be careful, okay?” She gave Matt one last look before vanishing in a teleportation flash.

Matt stretched his legs as best he could before getting to his feet. Twilight worries too much. I’d be able to tell if a mind-altering spell was cast on me, he reassured himself as he finished off his cup of coffee. He allowed himself a small smile as he set his mug down beside Twilight’s cup. Still, I suppose it feels nice for someone to worry about me.

------

10:00, 11/24/2015, TWILIGHT’S STUDY, CANTERLOT

“For the millionth time, I’m feeling fine,” Spike grumbled as Twilight worried over the dragonling. “This really doesn’t seem too complicated, Twilight. We teleport to the meeting place, we say hello, we come back. There’s nothing to be worried about.”

“You’re right, Spike,” Twilight said, and she paused long enough to take in a deep breath and release it. “I just don’t like the idea of leaving for very long especially with--” the lavender alicorn stopped mid-sentence before glancing to the side. “...with everything that’s happened in the capital. Who knows what kind of sneaky things might be waiting for the right moment to attack.”

Nopony tells me anything, but Alvar mentioned what attacked him and the human he was with at the time. I suppose Twilight isn’t being totally paranoid here. She just needs something to take her mind off of things. “So, Twilight, who is it that we’re meeting again? Shiro-watsit?” Spike asked as he turned to give his full attention. I already know the answer, but having Twilight explain will help her.

“Shirogane, also known as the White Wyrm, is the last of the great dragons and is the de facto leader of dragonkind in times of crisis,” Twilight answered, slipping easily into her lecture mode. “She is rumored to be thousands of years old, and nearly every dragon currently living can tie their bloodlines to her and her brood. By all accounts she is wise and pragmatic, though she hasn’t been seen outside of her lair in several hundred years. It is rumored that, unlike some dragons, she does not collect gold or gemstones, but things that are unique in nature. As to what that entails is anyone’s guess.”

“I don’t think I saw her during the migration. Is she bigger than Garble and his goons?” A small amount of anxiety entered Spike’s tone, “Or is she as big as that dragon you and the other girls met on the mountain?”

“The reports tend to vary, but the most reliable estimates are that she could not fit in Canterlot safely without magically reducing her size, and her weight would cause the castle to be torn from the mountainside!” Twilight explained in the same tone as the rest of her list of facts.

Spike did an admirable job of keeping his nervousness in check. “Oh, okay, so nothing to worry about.”

“Exactly! And I’ll be there if you need me for anything, okay?” Twilight said, and she brought one hoof up to pat him on the head. “We’ll be teleporting out to the plains north of Canterlot to meet her. Are you ready?”

“As ready as I can be, I guess,” Spike muttered, and he closed his eyes. A burst of magic enveloped the pair, and the urban setting of Canterlot had been replaced. Wide open plains stretched out in nearly every direction, and Canterlot could be seen in the distance as well as a ring of destroyed alien ships at its base. They were also the only creatures that could be seen for miles. “Hey Twi, where’s--”

A sound not unlike thunder boomed, and a massive dragon appeared in the sky. Pure white scales covered her entire body from nose to tail, and the sun was briefly eclipsed as she circled to land near the pair. Claws the size of houses extended and tore up the ground where they landed, and Spike wasn’t certain the shaking he felt was from the force of her landing or the nervousness he felt. That feeling only intensified as Shirogane’s blue eyes locked on to the pair, and her face twisted into an outraged snarl.

SPAWN OF SOLARIA!” the dragon matriarch roared as she moved to tower over the pair. “I should have known your kind could not honor a deal! One condition of this meeting was that it would be held without any of your kind present.”

By the time Shirogane had finished speaking, Twilight was nearly cowering on the ground. The force of her voice alone put even Princess Luna to shame, and the rage in her voice was visceral and raw. “I-I’m sorry, but--” Twilight started, and this time she did cower when Shirogane’s head shot down to hover just above her.

“I care not for your excuses, alicorn,” Shirogane yelled, and the rows of teeth bigger than Spike only added to the implied threat. “Remove yourself from my sight before I take your bones for my trophy case!”

Twilight tore her gaze from the elder wyrm just long enough to glance at Spike. Neither said a word, but the dragonling gave her a nod after a few moments. She nodded back and vanished in a flash of lavender light. With Twilight safely away, Spike turned around and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Shirogane asked in a much more subdued tone.

“The deal was to meet with you, Shirogane,” Spike said as he continued to walk. He kept his eyes locked on Canterlot in the distance, and he felt he did a good job of keeping his tone conversational. “The deal wasn’t to talk to you, or be friends with you, or anything other than meet you. I’m glad, because you’re not someone I want to know.”

The matriarch’s swift breath sounded like a gust of wind on a stormy day before she finally responded. “But I’m-- but, why?” Shirogane asked, and the ground shook slightly as she stepped to keep up with the dragonling.

“If you have to ask why, then you’re no better than any of the other dragons that I met during the migration,” Spike answered, and he didn’t spare a glance as the matriarch as she came alongside him. “Not one single scale better than them.”

Before Shirogane could ask what he meant, Spike snapped. “You’re bullies! All of you! You push around anything that’s smaller than you and you enjoy it!” The dragonling stopped and turned to face the white dragon, and she couldn’t meet his eyes as he continued to yell. “That mare you just yelled at was Twilight Sparkle, and she’s the smartest pony I’ve ever met, and one of the nicest! And you yelled at her and threatened her!”


“She wasn’t supposed to be here!” Shirogane objected.

“She was here because I asked for her to be here! Twilight Sparkle is the closest thing to family I have! She was there when I hatched, and she’s watched out for me ever since! She’s been like a sister, my friend, and sometimes even a mom for me!” Spike continued to scream at the elder dragon.

“But Solaria did far worse--”

“It doesn’t matter what Sola-whosit did, because she isn’t Twilight Sparkle! If somepony did something mean to you, then it’s them you should be angry at!” Spike shouted before clenching his claws and teeth. “I’m done talking to you, and all of the other dragons. If you are what all my kind wants to be, then I’m ashamed that I can’t choose not to be a dragon.” The dragonling turned and resumed his walk without another word.

“So much like your father,” Shirogane muttered. “Always willing to point out when I’ve done something horribly wrong.”

“What?” Spike asked as he looked over his shoulder, only to feel the tug of magic pull him to a distant place. The plains had vanished only to be replaced by the familiar setting of Twilight’s study in Canterlot.

“Spike!? How did you get back?” Twilight blurted out as she galloped over to wrap him in a fierce hug. “I was so worried! Are you alright? Did she do anything mean to you?”

“I’m fine, Twilight,” Spike answered honestly as he returned the hug. “I’m with my family now.”

------

16:55, 11/24/2015, BRIEFING ROOM, CANTERLOT

The changeling known publicly as Westwind kept his eyes locked on three tiny dots in the sky even as Mareon’s garrison scrambled to evacuate the innocent to safety. The tiny dots resolved themselves into two disc-shaped alien ships and a larger blockish craft in the center of the formation. Their descent was slow and deliberate, and when one of the pegasi sentries spotted the trio and called out their location and heading, the panic in the town only increased.

When the trio of alien ships descended just below the cloudbank moving into the region, the counterattack started.

Shirogane, flanked by two smaller orange-scaled dragons, burst out of the cloud cover in a flash of magic and dove towards their targets like hunting hawks. The two smaller dragons swooped down to strafe one of the escorts while the matriarch landed squarely on the back of the center ship. Razor sharp talons belonging to the millennia-old dragon plunged downward into the forward hull plating and tore it free. Shirogane’s jaws opened up and breathed a gout of blue flame into the gap, and the ship began an uncontrolled fall to the ground.

A pair of plasma blasts lanced out from the other escort at the elder dragon, which battered their way through a half dozen arcane barriers in their efforts to reach their targets. While not completely stopped, the blasts were weakened enough to do nothing more than scorch Shirogane’s once pristine scales. Retaliation came swiftly as Shirogane hurled the twisted hull plating that she still held in her claws. The escort ship dodged to the side but the twisted hulk of metal was fast enough to cut a wide hole in its side. Smoke began to billow from the ship’s drive as it sank to the ground.

The last escort ship labored under the weight of unintended passengers as the two smaller dragons latched on and began to wrench apart the armor plates and hatches to get inside. Their claws found purchase on an upper armor section and pulled it open, only for a torrent of small arms fire to pour out. The moment the volume of fire lulled, one of the dragons thrust a claw into the hole. The claw retracted just as quickly with a struggling Outsider alien clenched between the talons. The dragon let out a mocking laugh and tossed the alien over its shoulder to fall to its death before reaching in to grab another. The process repeated itself a half dozen more times before the pair of dragons launched into the air and the ship crashed into the ground.

A cheer went up amongst the ponies that witnessed the air battle, though more than one set of cautious eyes remained locked on the dragons as they orbited the crash sites roaring challenges at any survivors. “Not that I’m complaining…but why are they here?” somepony asked, and it took Westwind a moment to realize that the question had been directed at him.

“I don’t know, but I think they might have the answers,” the disguised changeling answered, and he leveled one hoof in the direction of a clearing on the outskirts of town. A flash of magic appeared, and several Equestrians, griffons and humans in heavy armor revealed themselves. The pegasi and griffons immediately took to the air and began to circle the crash sites, and a small group of the ground-bound soldiers moved forward to link up with the town’s garrison. In all the commotion, it was simple for Westwind to fade into the background and join the civilians as they fled the battle.

“Well now, I’d say that’s a rather successful outcome of our partnership, yes?” Chrysalis said with an expectant look to the assembled leaders in the room as she cut off the projected illusion.

Asterion sat with his thick arms crossed over his chest and a narrowed gaze, but said nothing. Alvar, with his ever-present Myrmidon shadow, was also silent but he clenched and unclenched his talons. The new Zebra representative, Ovan, was as still as a statue. Only Princess Luna moved in any significant fashion as she surveyed the room before casting a glance to the corner of the room where Firecracker lurked. The changeling gave a small nod, and the alicorn turned to the last remaining occupant in the room.

Major Fujikawa did not immediately respond. She nodded several times and kept a finger pressed against the small radio in her ear. “Understood. Strike Two confirms three enemy ships downed with dragons flying top cover. If there is nothing else, I should head to the command center to oversee the operation,” she said before giving the assembled rulers a short bow.

Despite the independent confirmation of the events they had just witnessed, the tone of the room was tense and filled with forced politeness as the assembled parties began to discuss the future of their alliance. Sensing that her services were no longer needed, Firecracker slipped silently out of the briefing room and into the hallway. Despite the less tense atmosphere of the corridors, the changeling was driven to distraction by the slow-burning anger that the last few days had brought upon her.

She made a quick turn and descended a series of staircases and security checkpoints before exiting the castle entirely to mingle in the streets of the capital. Fear and relief flooded the crowded pathways in equal amounts, and every other conversation was about Celestia’s appearance to save the day against the monstrous invaders. Firecracker’s pace increased to a trot as she spotted the bakery she always visited, and she paid nearly three times the asking price for the plate of cookies that had just been laid out in her hurry to get what she needed.

The trot became a near-gallop as she approached the small building that had a shifting perimeter of caring adults and foals of nearly every age. The herd of younglings and adults all turned in a hydra-like manner the moment that they spotted Firecracker, and then the flood began.

“It’s Firecracker! And he’s brought sweets!” “That’s not Firecracker, that’s a mare!” “They look the same, maybe they’re related?” “Thank you for the treats, Miss Firecracker!” “We hadn’t seen your brother in a little while, and we had started to fear the worst. How is he doing?” The foals converged on the offered sweets like a pack of parasprites while the adults came to talk to the disguised changeling directly, and the negative emotions of the last two days were slowly overpowered by the overwhelming concern and happiness of the crowd around her.

“I’m glad everypony’s okay,” Firecracker addressed the herd around her before latching onto something that she had heard. “My brother’s fine, but he’s up at the castle working, so he thought I should come down to say hello.” The disguised changeling favored the group with a winning smile, but it faltered for just a moment when a small spike of fear began to linger just on the outside of her perception. It wasn’t the fear that bothered her, though. It was the fear’s source that gave her pause. “I think I may need to step out a moment, I think I hear someone calling my name.”

Firecracker made a few more polite excuses before bowing out of the small herd and ducking down a side alley. Once she was certain she was alone, the small spike of fear began to approach. The fear itself wasn’t surprising anymore, or the fact that its owner was following her. What was surprising was that it was being overridden by a mothering need to fix. I wonder what that means, she thought before she cleared her throat. The only other time she gives off that feeling is when she’s around Captain Harris and Princess Twilight. “Is there something I can help you with, Miss Jenkins?”

“How did you do that?” she asked from somewhere behind Firecracker. “No one should be able to tell where I am when I’m using my Gift.”

“The spell you cast tricks the mind into making your physical presence seem unimportant enough to notice. The physical signs of your passing, sight and sound for instance, never really register with the viewer,” the disguised changeling explained as she turned around. “It does not, however, mask emotions. Everypony’s emotions feel different, if I’m around them long enough I can identify anypony by how they feel.” Firecracker gave the human a small smile, and the fear briefly spiked only to be beaten down by that other emotion. Several awkward moments of silence passed between the two before the changeling shrugged. “If there’s nothing specific that you need, I should go.”

“What happened?” Lana asked in a rush. “You looked about ready to murder someone after the battle, and that hasn’t changed a single bit since then. You put on a good show for those kids but whenever you’re in the castle, you’re always angry.” New flavors entered the emotional mix. Apprehension and regret intensified the fear, but were all overpowered by that meddling need to fix.

“If I answer your question, Lana, would you answer one of mine?”

Again, cold fear cut through the woman before it was brought under control. “Maybe,” was all she could manage before waiting for a response from the changeling.

“Family issues,” Firecracker explained. “Yes, that family. I did not part from mother dearest on the best of terms, and having her so close by isn’t something I enjoy. Are you aware of the circumstances for her last visit to Canterlot?” she asked the surprised human, and when she got a hesitant nod in response, she continued. “Mother dearest found something she wanted here, and I realized that her greed was going to get the hives killed. I warned the princesses about her impending visit, but she was already in place before the defenses were erected. The rest is, as you say, history.”

Suspicion and the smallest flicker of sympathy crossed Lana’s mind before apprehension overwhelmed them. “And your question?”

“That may take some explanation,” Firecracker said. “I’ve been in service to the princesses since mother dearest was ejected from the capital, and when Twilight returned from Earth to rouse volunteers to help, I was asked to attend as well. As trusting as the princesses are of Twilight’s new friends, they wanted to know everything about the humans. Do they share the values that we do, or are we incompatible on a cultural level? My mission was as much to judge you and your people as it was to fight the aliens.

“I was happy to report that, despite the differences in values between our two species, I have no doubts that we could become friends both personally and nationally once this alien business was resolved. After a lot of testing, I found that your kind and mine share a lot of similarities emotionally. We get angry, and sometimes we even hate. There’s also friendship, happiness, and love, too,” Firecracker explained, and she was careful to maintain the distance between herself and Lana as she moved to the side of the alley to hop up on the line of boxes there. “It might have been considered unethical for me to do my emotional espionage, but the princesses had to know if the humans might be harmful to our world culturally, and I was inclined to agree.”

“Is there a question somewhere in there?” Lana asked, her voice still tense with carefully controlled fear directed at the changeling.

“I just had to lay down the foundation for my explanation,” Firecracker said as she sat down on the boxes. “I was able to make my decision regarding humans through several conversations. Like ponies and all the races on this world, you associate certain emotions with certain topics. What makes somepony angry often makes humans angry, and talk about relationships often brings up tender feelings or even strong memories that I can just barely glance at. For example, when I flirted back on Earth, I got a good emotional impression on how humans react to this behavior, and in some cases, how they flirt back.

That meddling need to fix was slowly being overcome by the fear in Lana, so Firecracker lowered her voice. “Most of the humans had reproducible responses to my approach, except one. You, Lana, were the only one who had no response other than annoyance. All the others certainly showed that in varying degrees, but they also showed at least some nostalgia from happier times that they remembered. When you approached me about what I really am, there was determination. But when I changed into what you see before you, and when I showed up looking like a human, there was fear. I have to ask… is it because of what I am?”

The fear in Lana had begun to rise again, which prompted Firecracker to attempt a disarming smile and wave her hooves. “It wouldn’t be the first time somepony was afraid once they knew what I am. Almost everypony thinks that we’re all emotionally broken little monsters, and that we can’t legitimately feel anything, least of all love.” A brief spike of sympathy and compassion sprung up seemingly out of nowhere in Lana, which caused Firecracker to spare a glance at the human. I wonder what that’s about...

“It’s not because of what species you are,” Lana said after several long moments of internal struggle.

The admission made Firecracker cast more than a glance at the human. “Oh? Then why--”

“That’s more than one question,” Lana interrupted, and she turned to walk out of the alleyway.

“Miss Firecracker, there you are!” a foal said from the opposite side of the alleyway, and the disguised changeling looked back to wave at the new arrival. When she glanced back in Lana’s direction, the woman had vanished. You’re a fascinating puzzle, Lana. Simply fascinating, Firecracker thought as she hopped off the boxes to spend some quality time with the foals and their caretakers.

------

17:55, 11/24/2015, RECOVERY WINGS, CANTERLOT

Twilight had spent the rest of the day with Spike, and they both had needed a bit of relaxation from all of the stressful events of the previous week. It was a simple and short trot from Twilight’s rooms to the vast Canterlot library, and the librarian had practically insisted that the pair help straighten things up when the princess had pitched the idea. The pair had been something of a fixture in the library just a few years earlier, and the chance to reshelf and reorganize the thousands of books there was a welcome dose of nostalgia.

All good things come to an end, eventually, and the pair left the library in better shape than they found it. Their moods were significantly brighter as well, though Spike didn’t hesitate to share his reluctance in his duty as the de facto ‘responsible party’ for the Cutie Mark Crusaders. There was hope for the dragonling, though, as the young High Talon had done much to curb the trio’s more… destructive tendencies. They had split up after Spike suddenly succumbing to a brief bit of paranoia about the fillies in question. Twilight, with nothing better to do, decided to seek out the other Element Bearers.

It was proving harder than she expected. The Cutie Mark Crusaders hadn’t seen any of them in a few hours, and neither had most of the other ponies she had asked. After nearly an hour of searching, she finally came across a somewhat subdued Firecracker. Twilight had been made aware of the normally upbeat ‘unicorn’s’ true nature when she had been elevated to princess, and her discomfort at being around a changeling had quickly devolved into a different kind of unease when she had been peppered with an increasingly uncomfortable series of questions about the people she had met on Earth.

Despite this, Firecracker had pointed Twilight towards one of the recovery wings where the wounded were recuperating from the various attacks around Equestria, and to Fluttershy’s room specifically. That had elicited another spike of guilt from the young alicorn, as the gentle pegasus was still recovering from the wounds she had suffered earlier in the month. The guilt didn’t have much time to eat at Twilight as she caught sight of the doorway to her friend’s room. She dithered for just a moment before raising a hoof to--

“You did WHAT to Twilight!?” Rainbow Dash’s voice screamed from within the room, an alarming amount of outrage clear in her tone.

The outburst was immediately followed by Fluttershy’s iron tone. “Rainbow Dash, sit down this instant! You have no idea how guilty he feels about this.”

“If he feels guilty, then he knows it’s wrong!” the other pegasus shouted back.

“Hindsight is as clear as day, RD,” Applejack said in an attempt to calm the attitude in the room. “I imagine that he was acting on instinct when it happened, and it was in the middle of a fight, if you remember. I can tell he’s being honest, Dash.”

Twilight’s hoof slowly came back down as her ears twitched. Before she realised what she was doing, she had crept up and placed one ear near the door to hear what was going on.

“I have every confidence in your abilities, Applejack,” Rarity stated, trepidation clear in her voice. “I would like to know why you haven’t said anything until now, and why you are choosing to tell us, now.” An unfamiliar voice entered the conversation, and it was too quiet to make out more than its owner was probably male. Rarity’s reply was more sympathetic. “I suppose that makes sense. If you were having nightmares about what happened then Princess Luna would be the one to notice it first.”

“Why keep it secret until Princess Luna confronted you? I’m not sure I’m buying the ‘it was an accident’ excuse. There’s something else, isn’t there?” Rainbow Dash accused as much as asked.

Again, the unfamiliar voice spoke in tones too quiet to make out through the doorway. Nothing but silence stretched on for several moments after the mysterious guest finished talking.

“How could you think that about us? The princesses would never do anything like that, especially after you explained everything,” Fluttershy’s voice was barely audible through the thick wooden door, and Twilight strained to pick up as much of the conversation that she could.

“Wait, everypony!” Pinkie Pie declared. “Twitchy ear, prickly neck. SOMEPONY IS EAVESDROPPING!”

The somewhat guilty curiosity that had been occupying Twilight was immediately replaced with near panic as she stumbled away from the door. The closest available hiding spot was several body lengths away, so Twilight froze and cast the first spell that came to her.

The door opened, and a human that Twilight didn’t immediately place glanced out before closing the door again. “There’s nobody out there,” he explained before letting out a sigh. “No, there were no dropped eaves, either, Pinkie.”

The moment the door closed, Twilight let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and dispelled the Wallflower spell she had hastily cast. Should I just walk in like I wasn’t overhearing their conversation? she asked herself as she waffled near the door before raising her hoof to knock. Then again, they were talking about me with that human. Who was tha--

BANG!

The memory struck Twilight with as much force as a gunshot. Her hoof slowly fell back to the marble floor and she walked away. The walk turned into a trot, then a gallop as she tried to make sense of what she had just seen.

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