• Published 29th Jun 2015
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A Sparkle-ling Perfection - Cast-Iron Caryatid

Changeling Twilight Sparkle and her number-one assistant, Sunset Shimmer, try to study magic without learning any wholesome lessons of friendship. They fail.

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Chapter One 【Twilight】

My name is Twilight Sparkle. This is unusual for a changeling, but I am not just any changeling. I am the most magically powerful changeling that has ever been designed—though unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.

Unlike other changelings, however, I have one mission and one mission only. Unlike other changelings, I act alone. Unlike other changelings, I say ‘I’—not just to ponies but in my own head and in spite of my connection to the hive mind.

My mission, such as it is, is to become a better changeling. To collect and collate magical knowledge and improve on it. To be redesigned and reborn again and again by my own hooves so that someday my genetic material can be used as a template for a new breed. It is the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon one such as me, save the lofty goal of becoming queen, and if I do my job well enough, even that is not beyond my reach. The day when I am chosen to birth my breed, if it ever comes, is a long day off, however.

I am currently ten years old and about to take the first step on the road to perfection. Also, the first step on the road into Canterlot. My chosen form is that of a purple-coated unicorn filly my own age. I have dark blue hair with shocks of violet and pink running through it. I give myself no cutie-mark; though, my head is full of ideas for one. This form is special to me. It is burned into my genetics to be all but permanent. I can take others, but this is the one I sleep in. This, even more than my black chitin, crooked horn and diaphanous wings, is who I am.

And right now, who I am is a filly invisible in the crowd.

Somewhere in this city lives another significantly older filly named Sunset Shimmer. She is the personal student of the god queen of ponies—the alicorn with the misnomer of ‘Princess’ Celestia—and the reason I am in Canterlot.

I mean to replace her.

The average harvesting drone would find this task all but impossible. The co-operated efforts of a more refined infiltration breed might have a chance at organizing some grand charade, but not even the love of an alicorn would be worth such an expenditure of resources. This is not acceptable for me. I do not wish to wear her face for a week or two. My mission does not have the luxury of so small a scope.

No, for the mission parameters I have been set, it would not be feasible for me to become Sunset Shimmer. Instead, Sunset Shimmer must become me. Everything she is, everything she has, will have to be taken from her so that Twilight Sparkle may inherit it. Indeed, she is the reason I have chosen the name Twilight Sparkle to begin with. I find the symmetry amusing.

The hive mind does not laugh at my cleverness and wit in nomenclature. It never does. I believe I might be the only changeling alive with a functioning sense of humor. The hive mind says that, no, I am the one that is malfunctioning and requests that I stop self-narrating over the link. It also suggests that I might be having a midlife crisis, and I must remind it that my maturation rate and metabolism have been modified to that of a pony for the sake of my mission. I do not actually believe that it has forgotten this fact, as it is the accumulated knowledge and essence of our entire race.

Not for the first time, I wish for the ability to blow raspberries over the link. It does not come. I do not admit defeat, but I cease my narration regardless.

At least, I cease broadcasting it.

I walk down a street I have never set hoof on and enter a house I have never seen. “Mom! I’m home!” I yell, as would a child just home from school. I do this in spite of knowing that it is twice the volume necessary for the changeling posing as Twilight Velvet to hear me and that such an announcement is unnecessary. It stares at me in confusion as I make my way up to my room.

The house is nice. It feels warm and lived-in, which is an ideal characteristic for a changeling facade. As I am finding my way to the vacant bedroom, I come across one that is not vacant. I stare at it for a moment, make a decision and readjust my trajectory.

The door yields to my hoof and slams open. Without warning, I glom onto the white stallion I find inside. “Hey B.B.B.F.F.!” I say, beaming. The changeling looks down at me as if a bug had landed on him. Rude, if technically accurate. My greeting and familial hierarchy established, I leave the changeling to his studies. “You and I are gonna be the best of friends!” I inform him as I hop back out the room and shut the door.

The changelings posing as a family in this house are not like me, but they are similar. They, too, have a long-term mission involving deep infiltration into the upper echelons of the pony hierarchy and cannot have their work jeopardized by the usual harvesting methods. Specifically, the changeling calling itself Shining Armor is currently in the early stages of infiltrating the royal guard. This I find to be fortuitous for my own purposes—not only as a source of support should I need it but for my research. I shall have to rebirth him a few times to make sure that he is powerful enough to achieve the rank that is required of him. I have not yet gone through the process myself, so the experience should be valuable to me.

I reach what is to be my room and enter it. It is a fine room by Equestrian standards and perfect for a young unicorn filly such as myself, but therein lies the problem. As required by the Canterlot fire code and general Equestrian sense of aesthetics, the room includes a large glass security flaw—a type of aperture known to Equestrians as a ‘window.’ It will be an adequate personal space, but I will have to find someplace else for my real work—preferably, a location that is cool, dark and out of the way.

I find such a place beneath the house. Ponies call them ‘cellars’ and use them to store potatoes and alcohol—though, not, for some reason, the alcohol that northern ponies make out of potatoes.

Ponies are weird.

As it turns out, the cellar offers a perfect approximation of the deep tunnels in which we changelings place chrysalises for spawning and rebirthing. That’s ‘chrysalises’ with a lowercase ‘c.’ Though, our queen is typically present for such events as well. She is what you would call ‘involved’ in the process.

Unfortunately for me, the fact that such cellars as this marvelous specimen are so close to home is exactly why changelings living in pony society are not allowed to use them, else all the ponies would have to do to uncover us is check to see which ponies are living with the wine.

Also, inebriated changelings are lousy at holding a disguise, which seems like a rather large oversight, now that I think about it.

Why this is unfortunate is not that I believe the hive will object to my appropriating the space—I am allowed certain liberties above the average infiltrator, and this is one of them—but due to the rule in question, said space appears to be being used as something of a dumping ground for all the things a changeling household acquires that it does not need or understand.

There are, apparently, a large number of things that fit this description.

I force my small purple shape off, which elicits from me a sound halfway between a grunt and a sigh. I lift my black, chitinous self up and over the clutter in the room with my wings in hopes that maybe it isn’t as bad as it seems, but I have no such luck. The room is packed solid with junk.

There’s no helping it. This is my mission. The changelings upstairs are not mine to command, and I can’t very well call attention to the house by calling for a bunch of drones out of nowhere. I grumble to myself and make sure the hive mind doesn’t hear it as I begin to sort the detritus. Some of it I will be able to break down into the various resins, waxes and hiving that will be needed to make this a proper changeling chamber, but the rest would have to go.

Each item I drag across the room shifts my priorities a little, and a new plan begins to take shape.

“Pfffhahahaha!” I laugh along with the rest of the fillies in the park as we watch Comet Crash do a dive-bomb into the snow. Six months have passed since I started living in Canterlot, and I have managed to integrate myself into one of the local schools. It doesn’t have much of a magical curriculum to offer, but my sights are set a little higher than an elementary school library.

What it does offer is a real, honest-to-hive identity. I exist in Canterlot now; I can be asked after. The neighbors know me, and because they heard of me from their own little filly, they think nothing of it. With this identity also comes food. The companionship of the young is meager, spread thin as it is without care, but it and the motherly concern of the teachers manages to sustain me, for I am small.

In the middle of ducking away from a well-aimed snowball, I stop to crane my neck and look behind me, but it is no physical sound that catches my attention. “Sorry girls!” I yell quickly as I make off across the field. “I’ve gotta run. Mom’s calling!”

The third thing the small elementary school offers is a location that is, by small quirk of the Canterlot’s zoning ordinances, conspicuously close to the much more prestigious Celestia’s School For Gifted Unicorns. Today is the day that this last point finally matters.

I have watched Sunset Shimmer through the eyes of changelings around her. She is haughty, she is arrogant, and she has a burning desire for power. In short, she is a lot like me, and that makes her perfect for what I have planned.

Ever since my arrival in Canterlot, there has always been one truth about Sunset Shimmer that I have felt was self-evident—she was not going to last. She would always overreach her abilities, Princess Celestia would scold her, and she would act out in defiance, after which they would argue and nothing would be solved. Everypony knew about the princess’ little firebrand, but nopony seemed to think she would ever do anything about it, least of all the princess herself.

I know better. Like I said, she’s basically me if I had been born a pony, but angrier—more impatient—and she has a right to be. Sunset Shimmer does not have queenhood to strive for. She does not know in her heart that she has a place in the world. All she sees is a candle burning itself at both ends, and for what? For a pony who will outlive her by centuries.

I can fix that. I can give her what she wants, and in doing so, I can take the next step—the first real step—on the way to what I want. I’ve known this since that first long month I spent clearing out the cellar and regurgitating various consistencies of slop that would become the clean, sterile laboratory I have now. It wasn’t pretty, and such a thing was never meant to be built by a single changeling, but it has given me time enough to think.

The question has been when, where and how to approach Sunset Shimmer. The ‘when’ is now. She has finally had enough. According to the hive mind, she has just told Princess Celestia off with all the pent-up frustration she’s built up over the years and stormed off. Best of all, she’s done this without any prompting or manipulation from us—that is important.

‘Where’ has been much harder to decide. Where will Sunset Shimmer go? In this, I have employed a tiny little black lie, giving her the impression through one of her changeling classmates that the magical mirror in storeroom 5-B leads to a world where all her dreams will come true. In truth, the mirror is a trap that shows the viewer a dream and delivers to them a nightmare.

I do not intend to let her enter it. She shall be much more useful—and much happier—in this world so long as I can convince her of that. Therein lies the problem. The ‘how.’

I will deal with the ‘how’ just as soon as I can squeeze my tiny little black body through this even tinier hole. It is almost as if they do not want little fillies entering storage rooms through the ventilation aperture. I will never understand these ponies and their ‘windows.’

I wince as my carapace deforms just enough to let me scrape through. No sooner have I landed with a clatter and thump on the cold concrete floor than the door handle begins to rattle—almost as if there is somepony on the other side hastily trying each key on a stolen keychain to find the right one.

With equal haste, I retake my purple form with one small change and hide myself behind the mirror. The door opens, and Sunset Shimmer dashes in, slamming the door behind her. She stops briefly to cringe at the loud noise before she throws her back against the door, holding her breath and listening for pursuit. None comes. Finally, all but blue in the face, she sucks in a lungful of air and heaves it out as she slides down the door onto her rump.

She sits there for a while, just catching her breath, before lifting her gaze to the elephant in the room behind which I am hidden. The mirror is certainly, from what I understand, a marvel of magical design. A lot could be learned from it, but it is not worth the look of absolute wonder she is giving it. She believes that she has found her salvation.

I am going to take that from her.

It’s okay, though. I have a replacement.

I realize that Sunset Shimmer is no longer breathing heavily at the hoof of the door. Panicking, I quickly drop myself to the ground. A quiet sigh of relief hits me as I see her hooves in front of the mirror. Controlling my breathing, I ready my most self-assured voice. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I say, my voice echoing in the small space.

I am rewarded with the sound of hooves clopping backwards on the cement as Sunset Shimmer backs away from the mirror. “W-who’s there?” She gasps, probably fearing that a teacher has caught her.

With a grin on my face, I step out from behind the mirror. “Don’t worry, Sunset Shimmer. I’m not here to get you in trouble.”

Sunset Shimmer stares at me, for a moment, clearly reassured by my strong voice and calm demeanor. Then, for some reason, she falls over herself in a fit of giggles, unable to control herself.

“What—?” she says through gasps for breath as the burst of laughter dies out. “Did Blitz Rush put you up to this, little filly? Are you that wicked little sister he always brags about? Oh, mare, I am going to get him back for—uhh.” Suddenly, she seems to sober up. “No, I guess I’m not. Never mind.”

Frowning, I decide to ignore this aberrant behavior and take another step forward, putting myself between Sunset Shimmer and the mirror. After a moment’s pause for effect, I spread my wings.

Sunset Shimmer’s eyes go predictably wide. “You’re not Blitz Rush’s sister,” she deduces. “Who are you? Another useless alicorn of love and friendship that Princess Celestia thinks is better than me?”

“My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I hold no association with your ‘Princess’ Celestia,” I say with a grin. “I’ve come here to offer you a deal.”

Sunset Shimmer visibly wavers with uncertainty, but quickly falls back to the anger that no doubt brought her to this point. “How about you get out of the way before someone comes looking for me and I don’t do something we’ll both regret? Pint-sized alicorn or not, I can still wring your neck.”

Shrugging, I step aside. I let her take two steps before I mention an important fact. “Shaggy Daze lied to you,” I say, and she freezes.

“What did you say?” she asks, turning on me.

“The senior who told you about this mirror?” I clarify. “She lied about the world on the other side of it. If you enter, you will lose all your magic.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she says, rolling her eyes, but she doesn’t make another step towards the mirror. “It’s not like it’s a secret. All the seniors got the lecture.”

“Ah, but you aren’t a senior, and you didn’t ask anyone else, did you?” I point out.

Her presence here says no, and the look on her face confirms it, but she’s not about to admit it. “How would you even know what she told me?” she asks, not quite changing the subject, but refusing to admit her ignorance. “No, you know what? I don’t care, and I don’t believe you. Get out of my way.”

I sigh, but I have not failed yet. “Very well, go,” I tell her. “But do not tarry. The portal will close, soon, and you would not want to be caught on the other side. I shall be here when you return, and we can talk.”

Sunset Shimmer scoffs at me then shakes her head. I have offended her, but it will not last. “Whatever, brat,” she grunts as she shoves me aside and plows on through the portal.

It is only a few moments before she comes scrambling back through, throwing herself away from the mirror as if it is the mouth of a dragon. She collapses against the far wall of the storeroom, breathing heavily once more. “What… in Tartarus… was that?” she asks between breaths.

I step back in front of the mirror and sit down facing Sunset Shimmer. “What did you see?” I ask.

Sunset Shimmer stares blankly through me. “There were these horrible pink… things, like a cross between a minotaur and—I don’t even know what else,” she says, hugging herself with her hooves. “And I—I was one of them!”

That would explain the reaction, then. “Humans,” I say with exaggerated disgust. “Singularly worthless creatures. No magic whatsoever.”

“Why?” she asks, casting a haunted look at the mirror. “It showed me myself as an alicorn.”

“That is what it does,” I tell her. “It is an evil thing, designed to ensnare the good and pure. It leads to many worlds, each one worse than the last, tailored specifically to the pony who steps through. Some say that the worlds are not even real—and that the mirror is a prison more cruel than Tartarus. They bring it here to show the students how dangerous such magical artifacts can be, no matter what they promise.”

“That’s not what Shaggy Daze said.” Sunset Shimmer shakes her head in denial. “Why would she lie?”

The answer is pretty simple. “Because I told her to.”

“W-what?” Sunset Shimmer exclaims, springing back up to her hooves. “Why would—is this some kind of game to you?”

“No, I’m very serious, Sunset Shimmer. By coming here, you’ve proven your mettle,” I say, lying my tiny purple plot off. Tell somepony that their actions—their mistakes—mean something, and they’ll believe you. “You’ve proven that you’re willing to give up everything to get what you want. Stepping through that portal would have meant giving up your family, your identity, even your very body, if it meant getting the power you desire. It was a lie, but it doesn’t have to be.”

There it is. A single ray of hope lights up in her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I can give you what you want,” I say, ruffling my wings as a hint to my meaning. It is a hint that is utter horseapples, but the details aren’t important. She would come around, and my words were all completely, if only technically, true. “I can make you all but immortal, give you a body that will live for thousands and thousands of years—like a true princess. It will not be a copy, but unique to you, and yes, powerful.”

Sunset Shimmer makes a show of sizing me up, as if to decide whether or not to believe me, or whether or not my deal was ‘good enough,’ but we both know that she’s trapped. “How powerful?” she asks, and I grin.

“Your special talent is fire, is it not?” I ask, cocking my head to look at her cutie mark. “I can promise you, you will have a fire in you as you’ve never dreamed.”

She eyes the door in a subconscious desire for escape, but the world out there has already rejected her, and she, it. She truly has nowhere else to go. “What’s the catch?” she asks.

There’s always a catch. Ponies do not trust anything that is ‘too good’ unless it’s wearing a crown and has a sun on its butt. I came prepared—and with the truth, no less. “The catch? I suppose the catch is that it will take time for you to grow into that power, and I know you are not a patient mare, but what is a century or two when you are timeless?”

Sunset glances nervously at the door again, fidgeting with the stolen keyring around her fetlock. Whatever she said to Princess Celestia must have been really something, since it only takes her a moment and a final glance at my tiny wings before she gives in. “Fine. I accept,” she says through gritted teeth as if every word is a tooth being pulled. “What would you… have me do?”

“That was way too easy,” Sunset Shimmer says, looking behind herself with suspicion in her eye as I shut the door behind us.

I grin. “That’s what it means to be a part of the hive,” I say. “I don’t think I can even imagine my life without it. To begin with, it’d make my job much harder.”

Sunset Shimmer stops in her tracks. “The… hive?” she asks. I am about to explain when somepony else interjects.

“Twily,” comes the warning from Shining Armor as he enters the hall from the kitchen. “What are you doing?”

I silently curse ever having convinced him to vocalize everything he says to me. He’s actually starting to act like a big brother. “My mission,” I say, glaring daggers at him.

“You mission does not involve telling the template about the hive,” he says, and I wonder how much of the sourness in his voice is just acting. I have to remind myself that he’s as far removed from the average drone as I am, just in different ways. “If we have to release her, then the less she has to forget, the better.”

“They think she’s left this world. We are not going to have to release her,” I snap in return, and Sunset Shimmer takes a step backwards. I quickly glance at her and groan in frustration. “You are ruining everything,” I say through clenched teeth at my ‘big brother.’

He takes one long look at Sunset Shimmer and lets out a heavy breath. “Fine,” he finally relents and walks past Sunset Shimmer towards the door we just came through. She does her best to stay well away from him as he does so. “But I’m locking all the doors, and I’ll be on guard. I will not have you jeopardizing my mission.”

I slap my face with my hoof. It is a thing that I have seen ponies do when expressing exasperation. It hurts, and I wonder if I’m doing it right. “She can teleport, you moron!” I yell as I grab Sunset Shimmer by the hoof and drag her off in the direction of the basement. It’s kind of awkward, as she’s four years older and nearly twice as tall as me, but she doesn’t put up a struggle, and it works out, somehow.

As soon as we are out of earshot, it stops working, and her hoof slips out of mine. “Just what am I getting into, here?” she asks as if she had not already agreed to give up her body for the sake of power.

“I think it would be better if I show you,” I say and open the door to the basement. Addendum: I know ahead of time that it is not, in fact, better if I show her. I think we changelings might have some sort of instinctual shock/revelation fetish, which seems rather counterproductive, but there you have it.

Sunset Shimmer peers down the stairs. “It’s a basement,” she states, sounding rather disappointed.

I roll my eyes, get behind her and push her towards the door. “Of course it looks normal from up here; I’m not stupid. Look, I promise there is plenty for you to freak out about at the bottom of the steps.” It is an odd thing for me to promise, but it works. Ponies.

Sunset Shimmer puts a hoof on the doorjamb, preventing me from hurling her down the steps and shrugs my hoof off. “Alright, alright,” she grumbles and takes the first step. I step down after her, close and lock the door, which is different than Shining Armor locking the doors because… it just is. Shut up.

When Sunset Shimmer gets to the bottom, she finds a small clearing in the middle of… a literal sheer wall of junk precariously piled all the way to the ceiling. You can’t see it from this side, but it’s actually all embedded in some pretty solid hiving and not much thicker than a typical wall. Before Sunset Shimmer can say anything, I zip around her to where a standing wardrobe lies askance and open it for her.

The wardrobe opens into a warm, well-lit scene that looks like a little slice of home. Well, to a changeling, anyway. To Sunset Shimmer, the green resin and hiving yielding to strips of yellow bioluminescence that arc overhead probably looking like the inside of some fell beast. Without hesitation, I hop through the wardrobe to the other side, turn and gesture with my forehooves open wide. “Welcome to my lab.”

For some reason, Sunset Shimmer refuses to follow. In fact, she takes a step backwards. I sigh. “Sunset, you came here so I can turn you into a different species—is a little biological veneer really that bad?” I ask, my excitement deflated.

Sunset Shimmer hesitates, not retreating any further or getting any closer. She takes a breath and tries to feign self-assurance. “Answers first,” she insists. “You’re not an alicorn.”

Well, she’s got me there. A flash of green fire runs up my body, and the tiny purple wings are gone. I shrug. “Nope, I’m not.” She takes a step closer to get a better look at me. A good sign, but she takes half of it back when she’s done.

“Some kind of shapeshifter?” she asks rhetorically. At least, I hope it’s rhetorical, since she just literally saw me change shape. I was led to believe she was not a complete imbecile. “You’re not even a pony, are you? That’s not your real shape.”

“Well…” I hesitate but only because I know how much trouble I’ll be in if this goes badly. “If you wanted to be technical… no, I’m not exactly a pony. This is totally my base form, though—it’s in my genes and everything! I have to work real hard to look like something else.”

Sunset Shimmer eyes me closely. “I want to see it. Your real form. What your species actually looks like. You said hive, and considering this room… some kind of bug-pony?” she asks. Well, she’s not far off.

“Fine,” I whine. “I was gonna have to show you anyway, I guess. Just remember, I’m doing this because I need your trust, okay?”

She looks unconvinced. “What, you need a friend or something?” she asks, and I roll my eyes.

“Oh, hive no,” I sneer and make a face. What in the hive kind of question is that? “I need a sla—err—assistant. Studying magic is my mission, and unlike with Princess Celestia, there are no rules here. No limits, I mean. Obviously there are rules; lab safety is important.”

“Ri-i-ight,” she says warily. “We’ll see about that later. Let’s have it then. Your true form.”

I shuffle a bit as I prepare myself. Soon enough, though, I am engulfed in green flame once more, and Sunset Shimmer gets to see her first honest-to-hive changeling.

“Oh. My. Celestia,” she says, gawking. “You are…”

I prepare to chase after her if she runs.

“A giant breezie!” she exclaims.

“What,” I state absently. “I’m a changeling. The ponies upstairs are changelings. We are not breezies.”

Sunset Shimmer considers for a moment then turns right around. “Nope. Sorry. I don’t want to be a breezie—even a giant one.”

“Oh for hive’s sake,” I fume as I take to the air, zipping around to cut her off. “That is not even the plan!” I insist, but my desire to earn her trust prevents me from lying. Shameful, I know. “Not the eventual plan. A few weeks at most—maybe!”

To my relief, Sunset Shimmer stops when I block her off, meaning she’s not upset enough to teleport past me—which is good, because I honestly wouldn’t be able to stop her. Shining Armor might get the drop on her with some venom, but I’d be well and truly screwed if it came to that, so who even cares?

Oh. Right. Serve the hive and all. I mumble my praise through the link. Note to self: do not blaspheme when self-narrating to the hive mind. Also, stop self-narrating to the hive mind. This time, I’m not sure if it’s me or the hive mind saying it. Probably both. A pity, then, as I’d hate to have to disappoint the both of us.

“Though, seriously,” I add, gesturing to myself. “What part of this is not awesome? Magic and wings—it’s like, two-thirds of the way to being an alicorn already!”

“Uh huh. The part where you are literally an insect,” she says, acting out an exaggerated shudder. “And two-thirds? Really?”

Shoot, I think she’s catching on to my desire for accuracy. “Two-thirds… of a percent… of a percent, probably,” I admit with great reluctance. I may be the most magically-powerful changeling outside of Queen Chrysalis, but that wasn’t actually saying much. “I’ll fix that, but it doesn’t matter. Improving the changeling genome is the plan for me, but it’s not the plan for you.”

“Oh, Celestia, it’s like pulling teeth,” Sunset Shimmer curses. “Get to the point, already! You brought me here implying that you could make me like unto a god. Immortality—or near as—was specifically mentioned and it doesn’t sound like alicorn is what you have in mind. Unless you have some way of turning me into a freaking dragon, then I have had just about enough of this evasive nonsense!”

“Fine. Be that way,” I mumble. My horn glows, and I set the large, purple-spotted egg down in front of Sunset Shimmer and mutter, “Spoilsport.”

“Oh,” Sunset Shimmer says, staring down at the dragon’s egg. “Cool.”

Sunset Shimmer stares at her dinner with a weak look of distaste—though, I can’t quite puzzle out why. The changelings posing as the parents of Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor are a much simpler and more pliable breed, and so ‘mother’ had shown no hesitation in fixing a meal for our pony guest.

“Is something wrong?” I ask without interrupting my preparations. With any luck, I’ll be able to have her in the chrysalis by this time tomorrow.

Sunset stops poking at the plate with her fork to look at me. “What… is this stuff?” she asks.

I pause, trying to deduce the source of her confusion. “They are eggs,” I explain, believing this to be rather self-explanatory.

The plate clatters onto the resin floor, having slipped from Sunset Shimmer's magic as she physically recoils. “What?” she cries out in shock. “You’re feeding me your young? That’s sick.”

It takes me a moment to process this reaction. Silently, I open a cupboard, retrieve something with my magic, and take it over to Sunset Shimmer. “This,” I say, holding up an oblong, luminescent yellow-green object the size of my hoof and dripping with a gelatine substance, “is a changeling egg. Those are chicken eggs. They were purchased at the grocer down the road.”

The disgust on Sunset Shimmer’s face slowly turns into confusion and then interest. “Really?” she asks as if I were playing some sort of joke on her. She needn’t have worried; as the only changeling with a functioning sense of humor, I am very careful and considerate with how I use my wit. Eventually, she accepts my silence as confirmation and asks, “What did you do to them?”

“They have been fried,” I state rather matter-of-factly. “I am confused. Ponies eat eggs. Ponies fry foods. Why do you find this unusual?”

Sunset Shimmer resumes poking at her eggs, now showing a slight fascination as she tested their texture with her fork. “We use them in cooking—” she explains, “—like milk or baking soda. It’s an ingredient, not something we just eat… like this.”

“How peculiar,” I remark, considering the plate in front of Sunset Shimmer. “I am certain that griffons eat this dish, and they are partially avian themselves.”

“Ah,” Sunset Shimmer says, sounding like she has solved the matter of confusion. My fuzzy purple ears perk up in interest. She notices my inquisitive look and returns it with one of confusion. “Twilight, they’re griffons,” she finally says, as if this explained everything.

I only get more confused. “Elaborate,” I insist.

“Griffons… eat meat, so of course they don’t think anything of the eggs of another species,” she says, sounding a little frustrated for some reason. “Ponies would rather not think about some of the things that go into our baked goods.”

I consider this and find it logical. “I see,” I say, thoughtful. “Perhaps this will be a good experience for you, then.”

Sunset Shimmer pulls her head back from the eggs, which she had been sniffing. “Why?” she asks.

“Because,” I say with a hint of amusement. “Your diet is going to get a lot more interesting in the future. Dragons are obligate lithotrophs, but they can eat and enjoy almost anything.”

“Lithotrophs?” Sunset Shimmer asks, not sure how much she likes what she’s hearing. “You mean, like… rocks?”

“Well, eating just any rock off the ground would probably be about as palatable as a pony grazing by the side of the road,” I theorize. “Primarily, dragons enjoy consuming gemstones, but a lot of organic dishes in the world today came ultimately from dragons.”

“Oh yeah?” Sunset Shimmer asked, and from the sound of it, she had finally forked herself a mouthful of fried egg. “Like what?”

“I hear bacon is pretty popular.”

“That white stallion called me ‘the template’ when you two were arguing, didn’t he?”

Sunset Shimmer and I had relocated from the basement to my bedroom. The bedroom still possessed its window, but it was a better option than having her sleep in the lab. We would just have to be careful.

“It is an accurate designation describing your official function as far as my mission is concerned,” I say, summing up the situation in a perfectly clear and concise manner. Nonetheless, I choose to elaborate further, ere Sunset Shimmer prompts me to, as she usually seems to.

“As Shiny implied, arranging for your continued cooperation—your continued operation in general, in fact—was not required, nor by him desired. I arranged for it because I believe we are alike and that you will not only prove useful but perhaps find your peace.”

Sunset Shimmer sits quiet for a moment in the spot she has settled into next to the bed, while I lay on my back on top of it. I frown, suspecting she has inferred some additional emotion from my statement of fact. My suspicions are validated when she lets out a sigh, and asks, “Peace? Is that what you have?”

I consider this for a moment. “I know my place, I know my mission and I know my future. I have access to all the knowledge of the changeling race, and I will do as I was designed to until the day I either die or find myself successful. I believe that is peace, yes.”

Sunset Shimmer lets out a melancholy chuckle, at that. “And what part of that mission requires the presence of a bitter, angry, uncooperative teenager?”

“Hrm,” I say, pondering my phrasing. “I am not certain you will quite appreciate my appraisal.”

“It’s my body, isn’t it?” she guesses, quite accurately. “If I’m a template, that makes sense, but a template for what?”

“As I am the most powerful non-royal changeling alive, so are you the most powerful non-royal pony. I am afraid, however, that there is quite the disparity, should you compare the two. Once I have you out of it, we shall use your body as a schematic to go about righting the discrepancy. Shiny has accepted the role of prototype, as it should benefit his mission, and once I am satisfied with him, I shall rebirth myself.”

“And that’s it?” Sunset Shimmer asks. “Just, bam, suddenly there’s a race of ‘mes’ running around? I mean, that’s pretty freaky, I guess, but I’ll deal.”

“No, your body will be a great boon, but it will not be the end of the road, and its use is not the part I imagine will cause discontent,” I say, and predict that after such a statement, Sunset Shimmer is once again growing frustrated with my circuitousness. I cannot be a changeling I am not, however—not yet—so she shall have to adjust. “In fact, I believe that you should be feeling quite flattered.”

“Flattered. Right,” she says in a flat monotone which I believe is meant to communicate sarcasm. It is a valiant attempt, but she should really leave the humor to an expert such as me.

“Have you noticed anything odd about the laboratory and this room, Sunset Shimmer?” I ask, hoping that if I lead her to the answer, she will be less upset when she gets there.

“Unusual?” she parrots, posing the question to herself, as such. “Not really. There isn’t much to comment on, really. This could be any little filly’s room.”

“Any little filly who is not planning on unlocking the secrets of the cosmos, yes,” I agree, somewhat patronizingly. “The only books on magic I own are of a fifth-grade reading level, Sunset Shimmer. They were given to me at the school I have attended for the past few months as my cover.”

Sunset Shimmer lets out a yawn and stretches. “I thought you said you had access to all the knowledge of the—your race.”

“Changelings do not use books. With the hive mind, we do not need them. That has always been the belief, anyway. It only makes sense that knowledge should be shared between all, does it not? The hive mind seems to be the ideal tool for developing a truly enlightened race, yet unity is not the changeling way.

“Changelings… change. We grow, we evolve and we adapt. There are many specialized breeds of changelings, from drones to infiltrators, behemoths and even unique changelings like me. Diversity and specialization is strength, and the hive mind ties it all together in one cohesive whole. It is too cohesive, though. For many things, it is a wonder, but the knowledge is stagnant. Fledgeling concepts die in the shadows of the tried and true, and nothing changes.

“That is the true meaning of my mission, Sunset Shimmer. It is not enough just to change once, but to collect, to learn, to create, and to use that knowledge to change again, again and again. To do this, I will need not just the best body, but the best books, the best teachers, the best… mentor.”

“In other words,” Sunset Shimmer says, her voice quiet, hesitant and hoarse. “You need the life I threw away.”

“Yes,” is all I say.

She thinks about it for a while, and I can tell she’s trying to keep her breathing even. “I really screwed up, huh?” she finally asks. I suspect the statement is rhetorical, but I attempt to ease her burden anyway. I cannot have her regretting the day’s events too much.

“Tell me, Sunset Shimmer. How surprised do you think Princess Celestia was to see you leave? More surprised than your other tutors, the palace staff or even me? No, she knew that this was coming, and she did not stop it. She could not, because what you wanted—the environment you needed to excel—was the one thing that she would not or could not give.

“I cannot say whether or not she could have made you an alicorn or not. It’s possible that it was her plan all along, or it’s possible that even if you were the perfect student for your entire life, you might have gone on to grow old, gray and forgotten like all of her other students over the years. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because to her, it is a perk, or perhaps even a curse. At best, it might be a reward, but never a goal to be striven for.

“I think that even if you had gotten that reward from her in the end, it would have been hollow to you. Would you have forgiven her years down the line when you discovered that your wish had been hers to grant all along and she had withheld it? Maybe if you became the platonic ideal that she found worthy of such a reward, you would accept it wholeheartedly, but would you want to be that pony? Is your fire one that belongs in a hearth or the belly of a dragon?

“Do not think on it too much. What is lost is lost, but the future is not so bleak. Remain by my side, and we shall both see our dreams fulfilled—not the dreams we were given, but the dreams we hold in our hearts.” My horn glows, and I switch off the light. “Good night, Sunset Shimmer.”

A quiet sniffle is her only response, and I begin the biological process that will put me to sleep. As the darkness clouds in around my consciousness, I frown.

Wait, what… was that thing I just said about the both of us?

Author's Note: