• Published 28th Apr 2012
  • 26,493 Views, 1,883 Comments

Smoke and Mirrors - TeaPartyCannon

A changeling needs the help of Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy to avoid imprisonment.

  • ...

Chapter 6: Your Not-So-Surprise Party

Mirror peeked around the corner into a small chamber secluded deep within the hive. The walls glowed with an eerie green light, and in the center of the room, suspended from the ceiling, was a large glowing chrysalis. A cream-colored pony with an orange mane was floating within the cocoon’s liquid. Seeing that her eyes were open and that the pony was awake at last, Mirror smiled.

The changeling trotted across the rough, rocky ground to the cocoon, grinning at the pony within. The earth pony stared at her, wide-eyed and confused.

“Hi, I’m Mirror!” The changeling said. “What’s your name?”

The pony looked at her a moment longer, before suddenly slamming her hooves against the skin of the cocoon. She seemed to be shouting at her, a look of anger on her face, but the green goo absorbed any sound she had made. Mirror was unfazed by the outburst.

“If you didn’t want this to happen, you shouldn’t have come to the hive.” Mirror told her. “We only do this to ponies that discover our hive; we lose a lot of potential love doing this, after all.”

The smile returned to Mirror’s face as she continued speaking, though. “But don’t worry; this isn’t a bad thing! You’re in a conversion chrysalis made by Queen Chrysalis herself, not a regular holding one; you’re going to become a changeling! You’ll be able to fly, use magic; come on, you’re an earth pony, so surely you’d be happy about that! But most importantly, you’ll be a part of the swarm; our family! Even Queen Chrysalis will love you!”

The earth pony wasn’t at all convinced. She continued slamming her hooves against the chrysalis, yelling soundless words that didn’t look pleasant based on her mouth movements. Mirror frowned in confusion.

“Why are you so angry? This is wonderful! Not many ponies get the honor of joining the swarm, but here you are now! Do you not want to be part of the swarm?” Mirror asked.

The earth pony shook her head frantically. Mirror could see a hint of fear in her anger-filled eyes. “Why? If you’re worried about what your pony family will think, there’s no need to. Once you’re a changeling, you’ll have our natural shape-shifting powers; you can just change into your pony form and head straight back to them. Provided you return every so often to share your love with the swarm, of course.”

Still, the trapped pony shook her head and glared. The changeling sighed and looked straight into her eyes. “Maybe you don’t like it now, but you’ll see; once the transformation is complete, you’ll understand why it’s a blessing to be part of the swarm. You’ll be thanking us for this.”

A buzzing noise sounded through Mirror’s head, and the distant hum of thousands of changeling thoughts were tuned out to make way for a single, powerful voice. “All battle-fit drones report to the main chamber. The invasion will commence in one hour.”

Mirror smiled at the news. She turned back to the earth pony. “Well, you won’t have to worry for much longer. We’re staging our invasion of Canterlot today; we’re going to take over Equestria, and the swarm will never have to worry about starvation or rejection ever again!”

“Um, Mirror?” A soft voice called from the chamber’s mouth. Turning around, Mirror saw a wingless changeling with purple eyes standing outside it. “Are you coming? I kind of need your help getting to the main chamber.”

“I’ll be right there, Ditto!” Mirror said, looking back at the earth pony.

“You’ll thank us for this once the transformation is complete. You’ll see, being part of the swarm will be the best thing to ever happen to you. I promise.” Mirror said, giving one final smile before turning away and flying to the entrance. Wrapping her hooves around Ditto’s body, she lifted her up and flew down one of the hive’s many tunnels towards the main chamber.

Mirror sighed, staring wistfully at the small green chrysalis that Fluttershy’s caterpillar, Wormy, had encased itself in the day before. Her thoughts moved to that earth pony she had spoken with just before the invasion. Enough time should have passed by now for her to have transformed. I wonder if she’s okay.

Mirror shook her head and frowned. Chrysalis’s crown, Mirror, why do you even care? It’s not like you cared the first time you spoke to her! Still, I wonder if she’s happy now…

A cool breeze blew through the backyard, and Mirror turned to look at the setting sun. It would be seven soon enough; almost time for her Not-So-Surprise Party at Sugarcube Corner. Sighing, she trotted across the backyard, the animals keeping their distance from her as she walked past. The pegasus-changeling ignored them as she walked back inside the cottage.

Inside the house, Mirror walked past Fluttershy, who was giving a bowl of salad to Angel for dinner. She was just about to climb the stairs to their bedroom when the pegasus called out to her. “Oh, Mirror! Are you ready to go to the party yet? It’ll be starting soon, and the guest of honor has to be there before it can.”

Mirror groaned and turned to face her. “Please don’t make me go, Fluttershy. Every pony in town will be there, and it’ll be crowded, and I’ll panic and be discovered for sure!”

“You don’t know that for certain.” Fluttershy reasoned.

“Yes, I do! I’ll lose my nerve and somepony will figure it out!” Mirror yelled.

“But you held yourself together well enough the first day!” Fluttershy pointed out.

“That’s because you and Pinkie were there with me! You should have seen me yesterday; I completely fell apart!” Mirror said.

“And we’ll be there for you this time, too.” Fluttershy said. “Pinkie Pie is hosting the party, so she’ll be there to help you. And if it gets to be too much for you, you and I can leave on the pretense of social anxiety. How’s that?”

Mirror thought about it for a moment. “Well, I suppose that’ll be okay. But you have to promise to stay close to me! I don’t want to be left alone!”

“I promise I’ll stay close to you to the best of my ability.” Fluttershy said. “Now, are you ready to go?”

“Um, hold on a second.” Mirror quickly flew upstairs and came back down wearing the gold necklace that Sparkler had given her. “I figured that if I’m going to be the guest of honor, I should look nice.”

“I’m sure Sparkler will be happy to see you with that.” Fluttershy said. “Come on, it’s almost seven. We’ll have to fly if we want to make it in time.”

“Right, let’s go.” Mirror said. The two pegasi flew out of the cottage towards Ponyville, idly chatting most of the way. Within ten minutes, they flew down and landed in front of Sugarcube Corner.

Mirror stopped and stared at the bakery’s door for several seconds, looking increasingly uncomfortable. “…You know, I think I’m just going to leave, actually. My changeling senses are telling me that something very bad is going to happen, so I’m going to leave before-”

Mirror turned to leave, but nearly fell over when she felt a sudden pull on her tail. Looking behind her, the changeling saw Fluttershy, her grayscale tail in the pegasus’s mouth, and a pleading look in her eyes.

“You can’t go!” Fluttershy said through the mouthful of hair. “We told Pinkie we’d be here!”

“We did no such thing!” Mirror protested, trying to pull her tail free, but Fluttershy held a surprisingly strong grip on it. “I can’t stay here! Something bad is going to happen to me and it won’t be funny!”

“What makes you think that it would be funny?” Fluttershy asked.

“I don’t know, but it won’t!” Mirror cried. The two pegasi continued their impromptu game of tug-of-war when the door to the bakery flew wide open. Pinkie Pie poked her head out and smiled brightly at them.

“Hi girls! I knew you would come! Come on, the party’s about to start and we wouldn’t want you to miss it!” Pinkie said, rushing out and grabbing Mirror. Fluttershy let go of the transformed changeling’s tail, letting Pinkie pull the protesting pony inside the bakery.

“Wait, Pinkie! I don’t-!” Mirror tried saying, but promptly froze up as soon as she found herself facing a crowd of ponies all staring expectantly at her and Pinkie Pie. The changeling’s heart quickened and she struggled to remain calm. “Uh…”

“Alright everypony, let’s PARTY!” Pinkie Pie shouted, a bunch of streamers somehow shooting into the air at her declaration. Every pony in the room cheered, and the bakery was soon alive with chatting, eating, and dancing.

“Well, Matchie? What are you waiting for? We’ve got a party going on here!” Pinkie Pie cheered, bouncing off towards the large table piled high with various pastries and desserts. Mirror stood there in silence, uncertain of what to do. This isn’t anything like changeling parties…

“Are you okay, Mirror?” Fluttershy’s soft voice sounded from behind Mirror. The changeling turned to see the pegasus approaching her. “I told you I’d be here for you.”

“Yeah… thanks, Fluttershy.” Mirror said, giving a shy smile. It fell away as she walked forward into the party, uncertainly looking around at all the other ponies. “What should we do?”

“Maybe we should try and find Rarity? Or Twilight? Everypony in Ponyville is here; who do you want to talk to?” Fluttershy asked.

“I don’t know, I…” Mirror trailed off as her keen hearing picked up the word “changeling” from a group of earth ponies nearby. “Hold on a second. I’ll be right back.”

Leaving a confused Fluttershy behind, Mirror weaved through the crowd until she was right in front of the three earth ponies. She put on her most natural-looking smile as she broke into their conversation. “Hey, sorry to interrupt, but I’m new in Ponyville, and I’d like to get to know everypony while I’m here. I’m Mirror Match, by the way.”

“Mirror Match? Oh, right, you’re the Daring Do look-alike! The one this party’s being held for?” One of the ponies, a pink mare with a green mane, asked.

“Yeah, the Daring Do look-alike…” Mirror growled, a hint of annoyance showing before she put her smile back on. “So, what are your names?”

“I’m Daisy,” The green-maned pony said, “This is Rose…” She pointed to the white mare with the red and pink mane, then to the pink pony with a blonde mane. “…and this is Lily!”

“Pleased to meet you!” Mirror said cheerfully. “So, what were you three talking about just now?”

“Oh, it’s just awful!” Rose cried. “You know that changeling the guards caught a few days ago?”

“The one Pinkie pointed out?” Mirror asked, trying not to look too nervous or curious.
“Yes, that one!” Lily said. “It escaped last night!”

“What? Really?” Mirror struggled to keep from looking too pleased at the news and to limit her reaction to genuine surprise. He escaped? Thank Chrysalis, that’s such a relief!

“Really! The guards say it just slipped out of its cage and ran when they were taking it to be transported to Canterlot.” Daisy said.

“What do you think happened to him- I mean, it?” Mirror asked, quickly covering up her slip-up. Luckily, the three ponies didn’t seem to notice.

“I don’t know, but I hope it stays away!” Lily said. “A creature like that in Ponyville? Oh, the horror! And what if there are more of them?”

Mirror kept a straight face as she pushed down her growing indignation. Creature? It? Just because we’re not ponies doesn’t mean we’re monsters!

“Yes, well, you three should be careful.” Mirror said, a small smirk on her face. “Changelings are shapeshifters, after all. There could be dozens in Ponyville, and we wouldn’t even know it! They could be anypony; even one of you!”

She pointed her hoof at each of the three earth ponies, who looked more and more horrified as she went on. While a part of her got a sort of sadistic pleasure out of scaring the gossipy mares, her conscience brought back all her feelings of guilt and fear, quickly sucking all the enjoyment out of it. Did I ever feel these sorts of things towards ponies before I ended up here? I’m not sure…

Mirror now took notice of how the three ponies were looking at each other with fear and slight suspicion. Embarrassment flooded the changeling as she realized what she had done. “Of course, that’s just theory and superstition! I’m sure none of you are changelings, really!”

Daisy, Rose, and Lily were all giving her confused looks now. Mirror began instinctively backing away. “Alright, well, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, but I have to go bake some… streamers… okay, I’m going now. Bye!”

With that, Mirror turned and fled into the crowd. Desperate to get as far away as possible from the three mares, she didn’t pay attention to her path until she bowled straight into another pony, sending them both crashing to the ground.

Shaking her head to clear out her dizziness, Mirror found herself staring into the face of a familiar purple unicorn. Both she and Twilight grinned uncomfortably at each other.

“Woo! Go Matchie!” Pinkie Pie cheered, bouncing up to them. “I didn’t know you swung that way! I think I have another party to plan for the future!”

Once the pink party pony had bounced off again, Mirror realized that she was lying on top of Twilight in an awkward position. Letting out a small shriek of surprise, she hopped off Twilight and hovered nervously in the air. Twilight picked herself up, and the two looked away, both embarrassed by what had just happened.

“I…I promise it’s not like that!” Mirror said quickly. “I just, it was just, Pinkie just-”

Twilight cut off her unintelligible stuttering. “Don’t worry, I understand. I know what you mean. Pinkie is…”

“…Pinkie.” Mirror finished for her.

“Right, Pinkie.” Twilight nodded, chuckling softly. “We really should try and keep our meetings less physical, though.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Mirror said, suppressing her own little giggle.

“By the way, are you okay now?” Twilight asked. “You were acting really strangely yesterday.”

“I’m fine, Twilight. I was just a little stressed, that’s all." Mirror said. Memories of threatening the book store pony with unending pain and torture flashed in her mind. “Okay, really stressed, but I’m fine now.”

“That’s good to hear. You know, your behavior yesterday reminded me a lot of that new Cutie Mark Failure Insanity Syndrome concept being researched now.” Twilight said.

“Cutie Mark Failure Insanity Syndrome?” Mirror asked.

“It’s a new idea some psychologist came up with to explain the psychosis that’s so common in ponies. There’s research being done on it right now in Canterlot to test its credibility and to see if it can be made a legitimate medical term.” Twilight explained. “In short, it’s a mental illness that afflicts ponies when their special talent comes into question. It usually causes them to go insane trying to carry out their talent, but some cases are more… extreme than others.”

“Really? How bad was mine, then?” Mirror asked.

“Well, going by my own experiences, you were around the middle.” Twilight said. “Irritable and unstable, but I’ve seen better and worse.”

“I see.” Mirror said, looking at her own cutie mark. “I don’t see how that relates to me, though. My problem had nothing to do with how much I had to travel to appease everyone… okay, maybe that did have a little to do with it, but I still don’t think it fits.”

“Well, what else did you do?” Twilight asked.

“Uh…I threatened a shopkeeper…” Mirror admitted. She frowned sheepishly at Twilight’s thoughtful expression.

“Hmm, sounds like anger issues.” Twilight said. “Do you mind if I run some tests on you about that? Does your family have a history of mental illness? Any at all?”

“I don’t feel comfortable answering this question!” Mirror said loudly. What am I supposed to say about a family of thousands of emotion-drainers? Does megalomania count? Because Queen Chrysalis might have that…

“Right, sorry. I forgot that most ponies don’t like those sorts of questions.” Twilight said, chuckling softly. “Just look at me; all this time in Ponyville and I still don’t have basic conversation completely down!”

“Heh, I’m not all that good at it either.” Mirror said, remembering all the times her conversations ended in panicking and retreating.

Both of them stood there in silence, trying to come up with something to say. Finally, Twilight broke the awkward silence. “Well, it’s getting a little crowded in here. I didn’t realize so many ponies lived in Ponyville; it feels like there are more here than usual.”

“Maybe, but I doubt anypony would miss a Pinkie Pie party.” Mirror said. “Everypony in town is supposed to be here, after all.”

“That’s right, but regardless, it’s really crowded in here. I’m going to go outside to get some fresh air. Want to come with?” Twilight asked.

“No thanks, I’m going to go see if I can find Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie. I kind of lost them.” Mirror said.

“I see. Well, good luck, then. I hope you find them. Have fun, Mirror; this is your party, after all.” Twilight said, walking away towards the bakery’s exit.

“I’ll try. Thanks, Twilight!” Mirror called after her, but the unicorn was already gone. Turning to go off herself, Mirror was suddenly pulled forward into an open space by a pair of pink hooves.

“Hi Matchie! Enjoying the party?” Pinkie Pie asked. “Come on, dance! A party just isn’t complete without dancing!”

“Dancing? But I don’t know how to dance!” Mirror protested.

“Really? Then I’ll just have to teach you!” Pinkie Pie said, gasping in delight. “Don’t worry, I totally promise it’ll be totally fun!”

Pinkie let go of Mirror and began showing off a few moves. “It’s really easy! You just bounce a little on your hooves like this, then you kick one of your front legs and one of your back legs out like this, then you pose, and then switch, and you’re dancing! Here, watch!”

Hopping between two dancing ponies, Pinkie bobbed on her hooves, eyes closed and shaking her head with the music. Smiling widely, she stuck out her right foreleg and left back leg and started shaking them, still bouncing on her grounded legs. The party pony suddenly spun around, kicking out her other legs and smashing them into the two ponies beside her, sending them crashing into the walls. Mirror winced as Pinkie Pie held her pose, oblivious to her own actions.

“There, see?” Pinkie asked, opening her eyes and grinning. “Now you try!”

“Um, okay…” Mirror said, slowly bouncing lightly on her hooves.

“Faster! Don’t be shy!” Pinkie shouted.

Startled, Mirror began bouncing at a faster pace, then stuck two of her legs out, remembering Pinkie’s instructions. Shaking them lightly, the changeling tried spinning around like Pinkie had, only to lose her balance and fall to the ground with a pained “Oof!”

“Uh, it’s like I have four left legs!” Mirror growled, getting back to her hooves. “Changeling dances are so much easier.”

“Really? What are they like?” Pinkie Pie asked, thrusting her face into Mirror’s, their muzzles touching. Mirror pushed her away, an annoyed expression on her face, and started flapping her wings.

“It doesn’t involve a lot of leg movement. Most of it takes place in the air, where our wings allow us to perform dance moves that require a lot of control and precision. It’s not possible with pegasus wings; they’re not maneuverable enough.” Mirror said, her voice low so that only Pinkie Pie could hear her.

“Wow, you should totally show me sometime!” Pinkie whispered excitedly.

“Maybe, you know, when we’re far away from all these ponies!” Mirror whispered back.

“Right, gotcha! I’m really looking forward to it!” Pinkie squealed, wrapping Mirror in a hug. The changeling looked surprised, but didn’t struggle.

Mirror blushed lightly and smiled. “Right, I’d be happy to show you later. By the way, have you seen Fluttershy? I kind of lost her.”

“Hmm, I think I saw her near the dessert table a little while ago. You should go check there!” Pinkie said.

“Alright. Thanks, Pinkie!” Mirror said.

“No problem! Bye, Matchie, have fun!” Pinkie Pie waved, jumping right back into the crowd to start dancing again, although most ponies were keeping their distance from her now.

Choosing to fly above the large groups of ponies instead of pushing through them, Mirror flew over to the dessert table and landed beside the punch bowl. She looked around, but didn’t see Fluttershy anywhere. Must have missed her. Just great.

Sighing, Mirror poured herself a glass of punch and downed it in one gulp. Huh, berry. Well, at least it’s not orange. I hate orange punch.

Feeling a presence behind her, Mirror turned around to face a cream-colored earth pony with an orange mane and a bunch of carrots for a cutie mark. Mirror thought she looked familiar, but the cold stare the pony was giving her set her nerves on end and kept her from placing exactly where. “Um…hi. Have we…met before?”

The mare kept up that cold, harsh stare as she spoke. “Yes, I believe we have.” She suddenly cringed, holding a hoof to her head. “Are you Mirror Match?”

“Y-Yeah, that’s me.” Mirror stuttered, her heart pounding for some reason. She tried to put on a more natural-looking smile. “But you can call me Mirror. Everypony does. Well, except Pinkie Pie, but, well, she’s a special case. Who are you?”

“…My name is Golden Harvest.” The mare introduced herself. “But my friends call me Carrot Top.”

“Oh. So what should I call you?” Mirror asked.

“Are you my friend?” The earth pony asked.

“Uh, well…we just met, so I guess not…” Mirror said uncertainly, taken aback by the question.

“Then you’ll call me Golden Harvest. Remember it, Mirror.” Golden Harvest growled, venom lacing her words as she turned and strutted off into the crowd of ponies.

Mirror stood still, utterly shocked into silence by the pony’s harsh treatment. Was it something I said? Or did? Did I do something wrong? She looked so familiar, and she said we met before…who was that?

Sighing, Mirror tried to take her mind off of Golden Harvest by taking a bite out of an apple cupcake. The pleasant taste calmed her down enough for her to focus on the conversations going on around her. Pricking her ears, she tried listening to find one she cared about, and stopped once she heard a familiar voice.

“…and then she just kicked Twilight right in the face!” The mare’s voice, which she recognized as Rainbow Dash’s, rang out clearly.

“Really? She just bucked her fer no reason?” Applejack’s voice came next.

Mirror looked and saw Rainbow Dash and Applejack talking at the far end of the dessert table. Her ears, still retaining their changeling keenness, picked up every word, but they were still almost drowned out by the talking going on around her. Ducking under the table, Mirror crept forward to listen in more, relying on the tablecloth to keep her hidden. This is a bad idea, but then again, I’ve had plenty bad ideas since I came here. What’s one more?

“Well, I don’t think so. I wasn’t actually there for it; Pinkie Pie told me what happened.” Rainbow Dash said. “She said Twilight was getting a little too up-close-and-personal about the whole Daring Do thing.”

“Ya mean like how you were around her?” Applejack asked, a hint of smugness in her voice.

“Hey, she looked exactly like her! You can’t blame me for getting excited! But still, I wish I could have been there to see that! Twilight’s an egghead, sure, but she doesn’t need to be bucked in the face for it!” Rainbow Dash laughed.

Whether it was from force of habit or a simple slip in judgment, Mirror jumped up to defend herself against the claim. Unfortunately, she forgot she was under a table, and ended up slamming her head into it. “Ow!”

Both Rainbow Dash and Applejack stopped talking and looked for the source of the sound. Applejack soon realized where it had come from, and lifted up the tablecloth to see Mirror lying on the ground, rubbing her aching head.

“Mirror? What are ya doin’ down there?” Applejack asked. Rainbow Dash looked under as well to see what Applejack was talking about.

“I…uh…” Mirror said, crawling out from under the table and standing nervously in front of the two ponies.

“Were ya eavesdroppin’ on us?” Applejack asked, frowning at her. Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow in wordless confusion.

“I-I just overheard you, and I wanted to find out what you were…” Mirror trailed off as she noticed that some of the ponies nearby were beginning to stare at her.

“Well? What did ya want?” Applejack asked again.

“I…” Mirror couldn’t get more than that out. The pressure from Applejack’s glare and Rainbow Dash’s curiosity, along with that of the other ponies, was starting to crush her. “I…have to go water…the…sun…well, look at the time! I gotta go! Bye!”

Without warning, Mirror turned and rushed out the bakery door, flying so fast that the resulting wind knocked several ponies over. Rainbow Dash and Applejack stood there in silence.

“…One day, I’m going to challenge that pony to a race! I wonder if a thundercloud going off next to her will be enough to get her going…” Rainbow Dash said. Applejack gave her a deadpan stare in response. “…What?”

Mirror beat her head repeatedly against a tree on the outskirts of Ponyville, scolding herself and punctuating each word with another bash. “What. Is. Wrong. With. Me? It’s like I’m magnetically attracted to bad ideas and trouble!”

She slammed her head against the tree one more time, then collapsed onto the branch she was standing on. Her head was aching almost as badly as it had when she had first woken up in Fluttershy’s backyard. “Okay, that was a bad idea, too. No surprise there. Oww…”

Mirror moved around so that she was staring up at the night sky, the moon reflected in her eyes. Distracted by the stars, she almost missed a green twinkle of light in the sky from out of the corner of her eye. Confused, she turned to see that the light was quickly growing bigger, and with a jolt, she realized that it was growing closer as well. Eyes widening, Mirror leaped off the branch just before a green blast of energy blew it to pieces.

Mirror landed on the ground, charred pieces of wood raining down around her, and scanned the sky for her attacker. Another large bolt of magic shot down from above her, which she nimbly avoided. “Who are you? Come down here and show yourself!”

Her attacker seemed to acknowledge her challenge, as a dark shape shot down from the sky towards Mirror. Flaring her wings, she took off just as the shape shot through where she had first been standing. Both Mirror and her attacker landed and turned to face each other.

Mirror’s eyes widened in shock as she got a good at her opponent. The creature was a changeling, nearly identical to herself except for the intact horn and its slightly larger size. The changeling’s solid blue eyes were glowing green with hate and malice. Another changeling! There really are more here! But why attack me? Doesn’t she recognize me?

Mirror gulped and took a step back. She didn’t recognize the changeling at all. “Who are you?”

“Who am I? Who am I?! You know who I am!” The changeling screamed at her, her body shaking with rage. Her voice carried the same buzz-like undertone that all changelings had, but despite it sounding familiar, Mirror couldn’t trace it.

“N-No, I don’t think I do…” Mirror said, taking another step back as the changeling took a step towards her.

The changeling’s glowing eyes intensified further. Green flames wrapped around her, forming a cocoon that disappeared in a flash. Standing in her place was the orange-maned mare from the party.

“Golden Harvest?” Mirror recognized her at last. “What are you-”

“Be quiet!” Golden Harvest yelled. Mirror cringed and fell silent. “Shed that stupid disguise, Mirror! Show me what you really are!”

Shocked, Mirror said nothing as she reverted to her changeling form in a flash of green light. She felt her broken horn and looked at the furious pony. “You…you can recognize me?”

“Your aura is fuzzy and broken, but it’s unmistakably changeling!” The mare growled. “Not to mention you used your own name as part of your new identity! It’s not that hard to make the connection!”

She is right about that. A part of Mirror told her, but she immediately shut that part down. Now was not the time. “Why did you attack me? We’re both changelings, aren’t we?”

To Mirror’s surprise, Golden Harvest started laughing. The laughter escalated to the point where she couldn’t concentrate on holding her form, reverting back to a changeling. Mirror felt cold fear welling up inside her at the sound of that hysterical, insane laughter.

“You really don’t know!” The changeling managed to get out. “You...you really don’t remember me!”

“Sh-Should I?” Mirror asked cautiously.

“Of course you should!” Golden Harvest shouted, startling Mirror back into silence. “It was only a week ago! How can you not remember me, when you came to me right before your Celestia-forsaken invasion began?!”

Mirror’s eyes widened in realization. “Wait, you’re that pony that was in the conversion chrysalis. You’re a synthetic changeling!”

“Changeling? Ha! I’m a pony, through and through!” Golden Harvest yelled. “I’m just a little different now; changed. But I’ll find a way to change back, and I’ll make you pay!”

“Pay? What did I do?” Mirror asked. “How did you even find me? I’m cut off from the rest of the swarm!”

“It doesn’t matter how I found you!” Golden Harvest snapped. “All that matters is that you pay for what you did!”

“But I don’t understand! What did I do?” Mirror asked again.

“What did you do?!” The pony-turned-changeling screeched, her left eye twitching violently. “What did you do?! How about trapping me in that cocoon and turning me into this!”

“What? But I didn’t do that!” Mirror protested. “I told you, you were put in that chrysalis because you discovered our hive at a critical moment. Something had to be done about you. But I wasn’t the one who put you there!”

“Liar!” Golden Harvest screamed, firing another bolt of green magic from her horn at Mirror. The changeling simply leaped to the side to avoid it. “That was your chrysalis, and you turned me into a monster! Admit it!”

“But I didn’t! I can’t generate conversion chrysalises! No changeling can!” Mirror yelled. “Normal changelings are only capable of creating holding chrysalises, used for imprisoning and preserving our enemies. Only Queen Chrysalis herself has the power to make one capable of transforming a pony! I didn’t do anything! You have to believe me!”

“…Even if you didn’t do it, you still could have stopped it!” Golden Harvest said, her horn glowing as she charged up another attack. “You were there! You spoke to me! You could have gotten me out before anything happened!”

“Why would I?” Mirror asked. “Why would I have released you? I was happy for you! I was happy that you were going to be a part of the swarm; of our family!”

“HAPPY?!” Golden Harvest screamed. “Being part of the swarm was the worst thing to ever happen to me! You ruined my life!”

The furious changeling shot out a large blast of magic towards Mirror. Flapping her wings, Mirror took off into the air, out of the blast’s range, only to be tackled to the ground as Golden Harvest slammed into her moments later. Rolling a small distance, the synthetic changeling pinned Mirror to the ground.

“I don’t understand. What could possibly be so bad about it?” Mirror asked.

“Just think about it, you monster.” Golden Harvest growled. “Thousands of thoughts in your head during every waking moment of every waking day, with no way to turn them off. Your own thoughts being broadcasted to these thousands in turn, not able to keep anything hidden. Absolutely no privacy at all; your soul laid bare to every changeling in the swarm! How do you live with it?!”

“I was born with it!” Mirror answered. With a surge of strength, she kicked her hind legs into her attacker’s stomach, bucking the synthetic changeling off and onto the ground. Both changelings quickly got back up and faced each other.

“Being a part of the swarm, being able to hear their thoughts and having my thoughts heard in turn; I was born that way! I don’t know anything different!” Mirror explained. She touched a hoof to the stump that used to be her horn. “My horn broke when I crashed after the invasion failed. I’m cut off from the swarm now. The only thoughts in my head now are my own, and I can’t recognize a changeling even if she’s right in front of me. I’ve got privacy, but I’m all alone now.”

“…So the horn is the connection?” Golden Harvest said, placing a hoof to her own horn. “That’s perfect! I just have to break it then, and I’ll be free!”

Seeing that the former earth pony was smiling and looked fairly happy, Mirror allowed herself to relax the slightest bit. “So, are we okay now?”

“No, we’re not!” Golden Harvest growled, eyes glowing green again. “Those who witness evil and do nothing to stop it are just as guilty themselves. Do you understand? I’m going to kill you. I’m going to make you suffer for ruining my life by allowing this to happen!”

“I still don’t understand!” Mirror said, taking to the air to put distance between herself and the insane changeling. “What’s wrong? You can fly, you can use magic, you can shape-shift to assume your original form, you still have your personality so nopony will notice anything’s wrong, and you now know how to cut off your connection with the swarm since you seem to hate it so much! What’s different now?”

“Everything’s different now!” Golden Harvest yelled. She began firing off bolt after bolt of green energy at Mirror, who swerved through the sky to avoid them. Mirror noted that the blasts were getting smaller and taking longer to fire after each one.

She’s using up way more energy than she should to cast spells. Well, she was an earth pony, after all. I’m not surprised she has no idea how to use magic properly. Mirror thought.

“My friends, my family,” Golden Harvest went on, “Everything’s different with them now! I can feel their love, I can feed on it, but I can’t feel love for them! They’re like strangers to me now!”

“What are you talking about?” Mirror asked, stopping. “I can feel love for my friends just fine! Where do you get the idea that- AH!” Distracted by the synthetic changeling’s words, she failed to see and dodge a coming blast before it was too late. Mirror screamed in pain as destructive magic surged through her body. When the attack ended, she fell out of the sky and crashed to the ground with a dull thud.

As Mirror hit the ground, something inside her clicked into place. She opened her eyes, now cold and focused with no fear or confusion, and picked herself up. Standing tall and firm, she faced her opponent. “So that’s how it’s going to be, then? Fine. I’ll teach you to spurn my hospitality.”

With a roar of fury, Golden Harvest flapped her wings and shot towards her. Holding her ground, Mirror jumped into the air at the last moment as the changeling flew under her. Spinning around, she slammed both back legs onto Golden Harvest’s shell, knocking her to the ground, and planted both forelegs onto her head, pushing it into the grass. “All I did was try to help; to help you feel welcome! I didn’t have to, but I was too excited for you to not help! Why couldn’t you have accepted that?!”

Golden Harvest struggled in Mirror’s grip, making it difficult for her to maintain her hold. If there was one advantage synthetic changelings had over natural-born ones, it was that they were oftentimes bigger and physically stronger than their counterparts. Golden Harvest quickly regained the upper hoof, knocking Mirror off and forcing her to take to the sky. She shot after her, but Mirror simply swerved around to avoid her attack. Mirror took note of how unrefined and clumsy her attacker’s flying was. She can’t have been a changeling for very long. She hasn’t got flying or magic fully down yet. In terms of power, she’s stronger than me, but in terms of skill, she might as well be a hatchling.

Moving to avoid another ram, Mirror bucked her opponent as she flew by, sending her crashing to the ground. Mirror landed and stared her down as she got back up. She’s determined, I’ll give her that.

“Look, I’m sorry! I’m sorry that becoming part of the swarm didn’t make you happy; I’m sorry that you can’t learn to live with being a part of it like I’ve learned to live without it!” Mirror yelled. “But how can you expect me to sympathize with you, to feel regret for my actions, when I can’t even understand what’s wrong?!”

Golden Harvest was silent for a long moment before a cruel smirk crossed her face. “…Ha. See, this is why you’ll never be able to live life as a pony.”

This stopped Mirror cold. Fear crept its way back into her. “What do you mean?”

Realizing she had touched a nerve, Golden Harvest’s smirk widened into a sadistic grin. “You’re completely alien. You can’t understand why ponies value their own private thoughts, you can’t understand why we’d want to be able to love somepony outside the swarm, and you can’t understand why ponies wouldn’t want to be turned into one of your kind against their will! And it’s your inability to understand that’ll do you in. One day, you’ll slip up, and they’ll figure it out, and then where will you be? Feared, hated, alone! Death will be a mercy for you; one I’ll happily give you!”

Golden Harvest lunged towards Mirror, who didn’t even try to get out of the way. Crashing to the ground, the insane changeling pinned her down, but Mirror barely took notice, lost in her own thoughts. But I can love. I do have friends. I’m a changeling, but I thought I was learning…

Golden Harvest smiled maliciously and began charging up another spell. Mirror closed her eyes and waited for the end to come. After several seconds of silence, though, she opened her eyes the slightest bit to see what had happened.

She opened them fully when she saw Golden Harvest standing above her, a hoof held to her head and her spell interrupted by something. The synthetic changeling only had the time to give a small, confused “What…?” before she suddenly started screaming in pain. She stumbled off of Mirror and landed on the ground, screeching and holding her hooves to her ears as though she were trying to block out some sound only she could hear.

Mirror flipped over onto her hooves and scrambled away from the shrieking changeling. Confusion and terror filled her, and she was starting to worry that the noise would attract the Canterlot guards out here and get them both captured. I have to help her! I’ll never earn her forgiveness if I don’t, and she’ll get us both into trouble if she keeps this up!

Mirror ran up to Golden Harvest and tried to hold her down as she struggled and continued to scream. Though the high-pitched noise hurt Mirror’s ears and disorientated her, she raised her voice to try and get through to her. “Golden Harvest! Listen to me; I’m trying to help! Golden Harvest!”

Seeing that her words weren’t getting through to the former pony, Mirror desperately racked her brain for another idea. One soon came to her, though she immediately worried that it would do more harm than good. Just one bad idea amongst many, I suppose…

“Carrot Top, listen to me!” Mirror shouted as loudly as she could. She was rewarded with a hoof slamming into her face. Stumbling back, Mirror opened her eyes to see Golden Harvest standing, her ears folded back and her unfocused eyes glittering with pure hatred.

“Only my friends are allowed to call me that! Only my friends! And you will never be my friend!” Golden Harvest shouted. She lunged for Mirror once more as Mirror steeled herself for the attack.

Once again, though, it never came, as a purple blast of magic shot out of nowhere and blasted Golden Harvest across the field. Bewildered, Mirror stood there for several seconds until she heard the buzzing of wings. Looking up, she saw another changeling fly down and land.

The changeling was male and stood slightly taller than Mirror. What separated him from every other changeling, however, was the dark blue chest plate and helmet he wore over his body and head. Unlike the other two she had seen, Mirror recognized him right away. “General Carbon?!”

Sparing a glance at her, the changeling general faced down Golden Harvest as she once again picked herself back up to continue the battle. How is she still standing? Mirror wondered.

Narrowing his eyes, Carbon immediately charged up a powerful blast of green magic and shot it at her. Golden Harvest was too hurt to dodge and let out a scream of pain as the magic coursed through her. As the light faded, she fell to the ground and laid still.

“Is…is she…?” Mirror asked, not wanting to finish the question.

“No, just unconscious.” Carbon answered. He looked down at Mirror and smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Mirror. I was worried for you.”

“You were?” Mirror asked, smiling despite her fear. “I’m so glad you can recognize me!”

“Yes, well, it was difficult to tell exactly who you were thanks to that,” Carbon said, gesturing to her broken horn. “But I was able to make the connection easily enough. My apologies, though; when I figured it out, I spread the information to every changeling in Ponyville’s range. Golden Harvest must have picked up on it.”

“Wait, the rest of the swarm knows I’m here?” Mirror asked. “Why hasn’t anyone said anything to me?”

“We knew your horn was broken. You wouldn’t have recognized anyone, and could have jeopardized our cover if we had tried anything.” Carbon said. He gave her a somewhat accusatory look. “Well, you would have jeopardized more changelings’ covers, anyway.”

“Th-That was an accident! We didn’t know!” Mirror stuttered. “What happened to him, anyway? I heard he escaped.”

“Reflect? Yes, he escaped. We helped him.” Carbon said. “I organized several changelings together, and we attacked the guards and rescued him while they were getting ready for transport.”

“What happened to the guards?” Mirror asked.

“…It’s better that you don’t know.” Carbon said simply. Mirror felt a flutter of fear in her stomach.

“…What happened to her?” Mirror asked, looking towards Golden Harvest’s unconscious body.

“The swarm doesn’t take kindly to rebellion. Any changeling that tries to rebel or desert the hive is severely punished through mental assault.” Carbon answered. “As for what led to this, well, some ponies just can’t handle being part of the swarm. This is a common result of conversion.”

“What? That’s horrible!” Mirror gasped. “Being part of the swarm is supposed to be a good thing! The best thing that could possibly happen! Why would conversion end up like…this?!”

“You’re too young, too idealistic; you wouldn’t understand.” Carbon said. He then smiled down at Mirror. “Would you like to meet the changelings here in Ponyville? I’m sure they’d all be happy to see you again.”

“Really?!” Mirror asked, her eyes lighting up at the thought of finally being with other changelings.

“Of course. You’ll be able to finally stop hiding from that Element of Harmony wielder you’re living with and stay with us!” Carbon said. “You’ll finally be amongst family again!”

Mirror’s smile fell at the thought of leaving Fluttershy. “What? Why? There’s no harm; she knows who I am!”

Carbon frowned, his eyes narrowing in disbelief and anger. “What?”

“Fluttershy! She knows I’m a changeling! Pinkie Pie, too!” Mirror explained. “They know, and they’re okay with it! They’re my friends, sir!”

“Friends?” Carbon repeated, his voice full of distain. “Changelings can’t be friends with ponies! It’s impossible!”

“What do you mean?” Mirror asked. “They like and accept me despite what I am, and I care about them! I like being with them, and they like being with me. The three of us are friends. How is that impossible?”

Carbon kept his steady glare on her for several moments before they widened in realization. “You have the empathy sickness.”

“The…what?” Mirror asked.

“The empathy sickness!” Carbon repeated. “Every so often a changeling returns to the hive with the ability to feel emotions towards non-changeling species. It’s called the empathy sickness.”

“How is that a sickness?” Mirror asked. Well, this does explain those weird feelings of love and guilt I’ve been having lately, but I didn’t think they were bad! How could they be?

“It hurts our ability to survive! How would we be able to feed if we felt compassion for our food sources and guilt every time we took love from them?” Carbon asked back.

“That doesn’t mean anything! I can feed just fine! There’s nothing wrong!” Mirror said.

“…Would you choose them over the swarm?” Carbon asked suddenly.

Mirror was taken aback by the question. “What? No! I mean, I love the swarm, but with my horn broken, aren’t I just a liability? Aren’t I better off just staying with one of the Elements? And what of Queen Chrysalis’s orders? She said that we’re supposed to blend in and stay hidden in the event of her absence, so isn’t it better that I stay with ponies that know me and can help me?”

“…I suppose so. Though I have to wonder if the Queen’s orders still hold up in the event of her death.” Carbon said, still looking upset. Mirror looked horrified at the thought of Queen Chrysalis being dead, but he brushed it off. “Come on, we should get back to the party before any guards show up.”

“But…what about her?” Mirror asked, pointing to the unconscious Golden Harvest.

“She’ll wake up soon enough. Hopefully she’ll have the sense to go back to the hive.” Carbon said. A green cocoon surrounded him, leaving in his place a brown earth pony stallion with an hourglass cutie mark. He began walking back towards Ponyville. “Are you coming?”

“Um, yeah. Hold on, I’ll be there soon.” Mirror said. Fluttering her wings, she flew over and landed beside Golden Harvest. Placing a hoof to the unconscious changeling, she thought back to when they had last met back at the hive. One piece of their one-sided conversation stuck in her mind.

“You’ll see, being part of the swarm will be the best thing to ever happen to you. I promise.”

Mirror stared down at Golden Harvest, her eyes filled with dismay and sadness. “I’m sorry...”

Turning away from the unconscious changeling, Mirror slowly trotted back towards Ponyville, putting her disguise back up as she neared the village.

Unbeknownst to all who had been there, a lone changeling watched from high up in the sky. When Mirror had left, she landed on the ground and looked towards the village.

“High-General, the traitor has been located. Should we proceed with his incarceration?” She asked telepathically.

“…No, leave him be.” A smooth female voice responded.

“But, High-General, he-” She began.

“Trust me, Photo, this is for the best. This will all work out in our favor. You’ll see.” The High-General said.

“…Understood, High-General. What should be done about the synthetic changeling, then?” Photo asked.

“Bring her back to the hive. We’ll see if we can’t convince her to accept the swarm as her true family.” She answered.

“And if she won’t?” Photo asked.

“Then we rehabilitate her, of course! We won’t let this one slip through like so many others before her. We’ll keep her alive and willing, through any means necessary.” The High-General said.

“Understood, High-General Double.” Photo said, cutting off their communication.

Mirror opened the door to Sugarcube Corner and slowly walked in, feeling numb inside. The Not-So-Surprise Party was still in full swing. Pinkie Pie bounced up to the changeling, with Fluttershy following close behind.

“Hi Matchie! Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!” Pinkie Pie asked.

“Outside. Sorry to have worried you.” Mirror said, her voice flat.

Fluttershy gave her a concerned look. “Is something wrong, Mirror?”

Mirror looked up from the ground at the two ponies. She felt tears coming to her eyes. “Can I…talk with you two somewhere? Somewhere private?”

Both ponies look confused, but Pinkie Pie, quickly recovering, smiled and nodded. “Sure thing, Matchie! Let’s go up to my room! It’s plenty private up there!”

Bouncing along, Pinkie led the way up to her room, with both pegasi following behind her. Fluttershy kept close to Mirror, giving her silent support as they went. Eventually, they reached Pinkie Pie’s room and entered. The lights were off, leaving the room in darkness.

“Alright, here we are! What did you want to talk about, Matchie?” Pinkie Pie asked.

Mirror stared at the two of them, memories from before springing to her mind.

“You’ll see, being part of the swarm will be the best thing to ever happen to you. I promise.”

Her emotions reaching a breaking point, Mirror broke down sobbing and leaped at Pinkie Pie, wrapping her hooves around her and reverting back to changeling form, to both ponies’ complete surprise. Pinkie slowly returned the hug, comforting the changeling as she continued to cry, though her changeling form kept any tears from falling.

“P-Pinkie…Fl-Fluttershy…I..I..” Mirror sobbed, unable to articulate her words.

“There, there, Matchie. It’s okay.” Pinkie Pie said, patting the changeling’s back. “What happened? You can tell us; we’re your friends, remember?”

The pink pony’s words only served to make Mirror cry harder. Fluttershy gently wrapped her hooves around Mirror to offer support and comfort as well.

Finally, Mirror was able to get one sentence out. “I…I broke a promise…”

Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy continued to embrace Mirror in a comforting hug as she cried. Below them, the party went on, with almost all of its guests unaware of the events that had occurred that night.

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