• Published 21st Oct 2012
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A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - Dee Pad



Can a changeling truly renounce his identity and find happiness amongst those he was taught to hate?

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Chapter 12: The Nature of Change

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 12: The Nature of Change

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After everything he had been through, after everything he had gained, and after almost losing it all, Shade could finally put his worries to rest.

His secret was out, but the residents of Ponyville still viewed him as a neighbor, a friend. He received welcoming smiles and friendly waves as he walked through town. Of course there were those who still looked at him with some degree of skepticism, but he took the fact that they chose not to confront him about it as a sign that they were at least trying to tolerate his presence and maybe someday they would learn to completely trust him. He made that his goal: to earn the trust of every pony he possibly could.

The past few days had been surprisingly quiet. Shade expected everypony to be all over him with questions. It was both relieving and worrying at the same time. On the one hoof, it was much less of a hassle for him to not have to answer the same questions over and over to everypony who was curious. But on the other hoof, why wouldn’t they ask him? Were they still afraid of him? No, that couldn’t be it, they were still so friendly despite knowing about his true identity. Maybe they were just being courteous. Perhaps they knew he wouldn’t be comfortable being bombarded with questions he didn’t want to answer. Not likely, but it was a more appealing thought.

Shade felt a hoof wrap around his torso, pulling him closer to its owner. Winter sighed happily into the back of his neck, nuzzling his soft, fabricated, white coat with her cheek.

This was the most amazing part of all this; that she would still love him after all that had happened. She was the only one he was truly hurting with his lie. The others would have been angry to be certain, but Winter had actually cried when she found out. He had seen her cry before, but the heartbreak she instilled in him when she discovered the truth was unbearable. He never wanted to see her cry again. Even if it was all behind them now, he couldn’t forget that he had made her cry. That knowledge would haunt him forever. But the blissful smile she wore as she slept cozily cuddling into him reminded Shade that they had cleared the largest obstacle in their relationship. She knew he was a changeling and she accepted it.

Winter’s eyes slowly opened, smiling all the while as her first memory of this bright, new day was the vibrant green of her lover’s eyes.

“Morning,” she said groggily as she rubbed her still tired eyes.

“Sleep well?” Shade asked with a grin, knowing full well what her answer was.

She replied by burying her face in the fur of his chest and moaning contentedly. It reminded him a lot of the first night they had spent together, bringing a wistful smile to his face.

Winter lay her cheek against his chest, eyeing Shade lovingly through amber irises. He still couldn’t figure it out. He needed to ask her outright.

“Winter, why do you still love me?”

Her expression shifted instantly. Clearly that was the last question she expected from him. “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?”

“After everything you’ve been through--finding out I’m a changeling, almost getting eaten by changelings, being fooled by another changeling pretending to be me--I’d think you wouldn’t want to see another changeling again.”

Winter frowned and turned her eyes away from him. “I know. And, admittedly, I do kind of feel that way.”

Shade felt his heart sink slightly.

“Guise had actually fooled me into thinking he was you. He saved me from that swarm of hatchlings and told me that he loved me. He managed to manipulate me so easily because he did such a good job of impersonating you. You can only imagine how I felt when I found out.”

“I’m surprised that you still trust me after all of that,” Shade admitted, “You aren’t worried that I might not be who you think I am now?”

Winter’s smile returned and she shook her head. “Mm-mm. Guise might’ve did a good job of mimicking you, but his disguise wasn’t perfect. I started getting a little suspicious once we got back to Ponyville and he started acting like...well, a jerk. Bossing the customers at the café around and overall being a pretty unfriendly guy.”

Shade chuckled softly. “Guess he couldn’t handle the everyday stresses of a pony very well. He didn’t have enough time to adapt to the lifestyle as I did.”

”I think the only one he managed to act nice to was me, but I suppose he had no choice there. Without me he was powerless, right?”

“He might not have been as nice as you think he was. The hypnosis spell can mess with your memory a little. He may have implanted some more pleasant images of himself into your head to prevent you from getting suspicious. It’s probably good that you were able to take notice of his behavior by observing how he acted around other ponies.”

Winter rolled over to lie on her stomach, crossing her hooves over Shade’s chest and glaring at him with mock scrutiny. “And how do I know you’re not brainwashing me, hmm?”

Shade grinned confidently. “Have you had any headaches recently?”

“No.”

“That’s how. The spell has a tendency to cause headaches in the victims. The fact that you’ve had none since things have gotten back to normal is proof.”

Winter widened her eyes as she made the connection. “Oh! So that’s why I was having those headaches? I thought I bumped my head or something.”

Shade’s expression became serious. “You know, you still haven’t answered my question. Why do you still love me?”

Winter smiled warmly. “Like I said, Guise’s disguise wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t notice the flaws until after you fought him. When you told me you loved me, it felt different than when he said it. It was like my body felt invigorated and full of life when you spoke those words to me. When Guise said it...I don’t know. I felt something, but it was strange. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Shade smiled knowingly. Of course what she had felt must have been Guise casting the hypnosis spell. But the other thing she said, that she felt invigorated and full of life. Was it possible that a changeling’s love had the same effect on ponies that a pony’s love did for changelings?

“And you’re okay with dating a changeling?” Shade asked. He needed to know exactly how she felt about it.

“Of course I am. You’re still the same person I met and fell in love with, right? So why should I feel any different.”

Shade though he couldn’t love her anymore than he already did, but apparently he was wrong.

Winter tilted her head, curiously looking his false body up and down. “Speaking of which, why are you still wearing your disguise?”

“Huh?”

“Everypony knows now, there’s no need to hide it anymore. Why don’t you just, you know, act naturally?”

He put on a stern expression. “Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying? I don’t want to be a changeling anymore, Winter. I left the Changeling Kingdom to get away from that.”

Winter gazed into his eyes with concern. “Shade, I know you don’t want to hear this, but you are a changeling.”

Shade felt a stabbing pain in his chest. How could she just say that to him? “I don’t want what I am to define who I am. When anypony sees a changeling, all they see is a parasitic monster.”

“It doesn’t have to define who you are, but, like it or not, it’s a part of who you are. It’s something you can’t change and you have to live with. Even if I didn’t like being a pegasus, I’d still have to live with these wings. The only one you’re deceiving is yourself. You may look like the pony I fell in love with, but I know what the real you looks like now and it doesn’t bother me. Why should it bother you?”

Shade simply stared at her. He didn’t know how to respond. All this time he had been trying to run away from what he was when the only one who thought he was a monster was himself. He was being forced to rethink everything he had been telling himself since he arrived here.

“It doesn’t matter to me what you are or what you look like,” Winter continued, snuggling into him, “All that matters is that you love me.”

Shade watched in stunned silence as Winter made herself comfortable against him. She seemed to be drifting back to sleep again. He turned his gaze to the ceiling, wrapping his hooves gently around the pegasus that lay atop him.

She had a point. If she was willing to accept him for what he was, and the other ponies in this town as well, then why shouldn’t he be able to accept it? After all, it was only what he was, not who. It was his actions and attitude that defined him, but his identity would always be that of a changeling no matter what mask he wore. Why continue to run from something from which you can never escape?

The smile returned to his lips and he closed his eyes. Winter was a lot wiser than she seemed sometimes.

***** ***** *****

The café was rather busy today. Actually, it had been pretty busy ever since the incident with Guise. And Shade especially was being worked like a dog. It seemed like every customer was specifically requesting that he take their order. The other waiters were both relieved and annoyed at the attention he was getting. They were definitely enjoying the smaller workload, but it meant that Shade was getting a lot of tips too. They didn’t seem too happy about that.

Shade exhaustively approached the pickup counter to deliver the next order. Horte Cuisine was busy tallying up the day’s current earnings, a rare smile playing across his lips. It wasn’t often the café made this much money in one day.

“Sir,” Shade said between breaths, “can’t you do something about this? I mean, the extra tips are great and all, but I don’t know how much longer I can last.”

Horte snorted haughtily. “‘Ave you forgotten, Shade? Zee customer iz always right. Zey seem very enthusiastic about ‘aving zere food delivered by un changeling. Eef we give zem what zey want, zen zey are ‘appy, and ‘appy customers are well-paying customers.”

Shade groaned in protest. “How happy are they going to be when their server passes out from exhaustion?”

Horte let out an annoyed sigh. “Eef it iz any consolation, your friend’s shift begins soon. She can ‘elp you.”

“It’s her first day, I don’t think she’s ready for this kind of work, sir.”

“We’ll just ‘ave to see, won’t we?”

The door to the employee lounge clicked open and ever so slowly swung outward. The blushing face of a purple-maned changeling peeked out, but nothing more. She spoke in a hushed, embarrassed tone.

“D-Do I have to wear this?” Chamella peeped quietly.

“Eet is zee uniform for female servers. Eet iz une nécessité,” Horte stated without sympathy.

“Chamella, I really need some help out here,” Shade pleaded. “Come on, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Begrudgingly, the undisguised changeling stepped out of the employee lounge, revealing her appointed attire. Her torso was adorned with a frilly blouse and a short--very short--skirt covering her flank. It was colored the same as the male uniforms: A simple black and white color scheme. A matching headband on her forehead kept her long mane out of her pink eyes making her feel somehow more vulnerable. Finally, just as Shade had when he first began work at the café, she wore a yellow bowtie around her neck. Shade grimaced at her appearance, both due to pity for her humiliating situation, and that he actually thought she looked cute in that outfit.

“I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. Everypony’s going to stare at me,” she said, quivering.

“Look, just stick by me,” Shade insisted. “I’ll help you learn the ropes and hopefully keep any gawkers away from you, okay?”

Chamella nodded meekly in response. Although comforting, his words didn’t entirely alleviate her worry. She watched as Shade hoisted a nearby tray of food with his magic and went to deliver it. Chamella stuck as close to him as possible.

Shade swung the front door of the café open, allowing Chamella to see just how many ponies had gathered in the outdoor dining area. There were some familiar faces among the crowd--Rarity and Fluttershy were enjoying a nice afternoon lunch--but most of the ponies there she hadn’t learned the names of quite yet.

One of the seated customers glanced over to the open door, taking notice of the two servers standing there, particularly the undisguised female.

“Hey, look! It’s the other changeling! And she’s not wearing a disguise!”

Several ponies rose from their seats and scampered over to the pair, staring curiously at Chamella. The frightened changeling shrunk back, attempting to hide behind Shade for protection. Shade struggled to keep his tray from toppling as the crowd of pushy ponies squeezed in to get a closer look at Chamella. It was apparent now that they had reached the threshold at which they could contain their curiosity and now all of their questions were coming out at once.

“Hey, hey! Take it easy! I’ve got food here!” Shade’s words of caution fell on deaf ears. He might as well have not existed for any purpose other than being a wall standing between his friend and the mob of equines.

From her nearby table, Rarity glanced toward the sudden commotion. She could see the two helpless changelings struggling to simply get out the door with the swarm of obnoxious ponies surrounding them.

She sighed exasperatedly. “Fluttershy, dear, I think we should help them.”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “They do seem to be having some trouble.”

The two mares stood up and casually sauntered up to the mob.

“Excuse me,” the yellow pegasus peeped.

No reaction. The crowd continued to bombard the changelings with incoherent questions.

“Excuse me,” Fluttershy repeated, raising her voice by a barely noticeable amount.

Rarity placed her hoof against the bridge of her nose. “Allow me, dear.”

The ivory unicorn proceeded to clear her throat at an obscenely loud and imposing volume. It certainly did the trick. The crowd quieted instantly and turned to the source of the interrupting noise. Now that she had their attention, she could get her word in.

“My apologies, everypony,” she began, “but aren’t you being just a tad rude? These fine, upstanding citizens may be new in town and somewhat unfamiliar--strange even--but that is no excuse to be so discourteous. They are simply trying to do their job and here you are sticking your curious little noses into their business. Show some respect. I mean, look what you’re doing.” She gestured to the quivering changeling hiding behind Shade. “She’s absolutely mortified! You all should be ashamed of yourselves! We here in Ponyville are supposed to be hospitable to visitors and newcomers alike, not obnoxiously interrogating them. Now, if you would all kindly return to your tables, I‘m sure these two would be happy to deliver your meals and perhaps even oblige you with answers to your questions, provided you ask one at a time.”

Every pony within the crowd looked at one another ashamedly. Rarity’s words helped them realize how foalish they were behaving. They were adults, there was no excuse for acting like a bunch of ignorant foals. They quietly heeded the fashionista’s words and returned to their tables, some offering an apology to the two changelings they may have offended.

Shade sighed with relief. “Thanks, Rarity. You got us out of a jam there.”

“Think nothing of it, darling. It’s what friends are for.” Rarity looked over Shade’s shoulder to the still quivering mass that was Chamella. “And how are you, dear? Are you alright?”

Chamella apprehensively stepped out from behind her shield, worried that being out in the open would prompt another assault. She received a few curious glances, but calmed down slightly when nopony approached. “I don’t know if I like this. I’m not very good with crowds. I even get nervous around groups of changelings.”

“The only reason I suggested you for this job was because I had gotten used to it so quickly,” Shade said, feeling guilty for having put his friend in this situation. “I thought you would get a handle on it too. Guess it’s different when everypony knows you’re a changeling.”

“That outfit is cute though,” Fluttershy smiled.

Chamella looked herself over and blushed deeply.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I guess it is kind of...um...”

Risqué,” Rarity finished. “Even though we don’t normally wear clothing, the proper attire can do much to accentuate one’s features. Although I must admit, this one is just...degrading.

Chamella slunk back to hide herself once more, her cheeks reddening even more.

Rarity eyed her thoughtfully. “You know, I just had a thought. Even if that uniform is demeaning, Fluttershy was right when she said you look cute. Chamella, dear, if you aren’t comfortable displaying yourself like this to the general public, how would you feel about working for me?

Chamella widened her pink eyes. “For you? Doing what?”

“Why, modelling clothes of course! Your figure, although somewhat different aesthetically, is about the same as that of the average pony mare. Perhaps you would like to help me design and model dresses, hm? And you needn’t worry about the public eye gawking at you. You would work under the strictest privacy, I assure you.”

The changeling looked to Shade for advice, unsure of what to do. He simply smiled and shrugged.

“Hey, it’s worth a shot, right? Who knows, you might like it.”

Chamella smiled with the smallest amount of confidence she could muster. “Okay, I’ll give it a try. Oh, it’s not...hard, is it?”

Rarity waved her hoof dismissively. “I should hardly think so. You would simply stand there and look pretty like one of my mannequins. Easy.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Actually, this could be a magnificent opportunity! Now that I have the model for it, I could begin designing a line of changeling attire! Oh, the creative juices are flowing already!” she squealed giddily.

“But, Rarity,” Fluttershy interjected, “we only know two changelings. Wouldn’t that limit your market?”

“Perhaps, but I meant something more along the lines of changeling inspired clothing, not clothes designed for changelings. Although if you two ever wanted something I’d be happy to oblige.”

“Thanks, but I don’t really have an interest in fashion,” Shade chuckled nervously.

“Oh well, no skin off my nose,” Rarity dismissed. She turned to Chamella again. “Now then, dear, why don’t you go and get yourself out of that horribly embarrassing uniform and come join me at my boutique in, oh, let’s say, one hour? Sound good?”

Chamella nodded her head excitedly. Shade couldn’t help but smile. It seemed the longer she spoke to Rarity, the more confident she became. This job was going to do more for her than just pay bills.

***** ***** *****

“Thanks for getting me out of that, Shade.”

Chamella smiled gratefully at her friend, relieved that she no longer had to work a job that forced her to wear something so eye-catching and would have to socialize with so many ponies. She was still getting the hang of this new life stuff, she would rather test the waters slowly than jump right in. But some things needed to be taken care of as soon as possible, such as learning to read, which is why the two of them were headed for the library.

“You should be thanking Rarity,” Shade corrected. “She’s the one who got rid of that crowd and even offered you a more comfortable job.”

Chamella nodded. “Yeah, I really should thank her. I’ll do that when I go there later.”

“You know, Rarity offered me that job when I first came here too.”

His friend looked at him puzzledly. “Really? Wouldn’t it be awkward for you to wear girl’s clothes?”

“W-What?!” Shade flustered, his false, white cheeks burning red at the thought, “No, no! She wanted me to help her with male clothing!” He took a breath to calm himself. “I turned it down though. I figured it would be too humiliating.”

Chamella lowered her head. “Humiliating? But I thought I would have privacy.” A shadow of doubt began to loom overhead.

Shade saw what his words had done to her confidence. “Oh, y-you will, don’t worry. I’m just saying that it’s embarrassing for a guy, that’s all. It’s different since you’re a girl.”

She raised an eyebrow. “How’s it different? Nopony would see you.”

Shade sighed. “It just...is. It’s hard to explain. It’s like, just knowing that you did something like that is humiliating for a guy, even if nopony else knows.”

Chamella rolled her eyes. “Ponies are weird.”

“Don’t I know it,” Shade chuckled. “Alright, we’re here.”

The pair stopped right outside the enormous, hollowed out oak tree that was Twilight’s library. Up until now, Chamella had only seen it in passing, but seeing it up close was a whole other experience. She was awed at how a natural structure like a tree could be converted into a home without affecting it as a part of nature. Birds still nested in its boughs and a hive of buzzing bees busily manufactured their honey.

“Come on,” Shade urged Chamella, holding the door open for her.

The two changelings stepped inside. The library appeared to be empty at the moment. At the very least, there was nopony in the foyer. A few basic level books were laid out on the reading table though, indicating that Twilight was anticipating their arrival.

Chamella stared in silent amazement as she aimlessly wandered around the lobby. Shade couldn’t fight back his smile. He remembered acting similarly when he first saw this place. He was surprised at how willing Chamella was to learn how to read. He made it blatantly clear that it wasn’t going to be easy, but she seemed pretty dead set on doing it. Maybe she just wanted to be on level ground with him.

“Oh, you’re early,” came Twilight’s voice from the entrance to the kitchen. “I wasn’t expecting you for another...” She glanced at the wall clock. “...fifteen minutes.”

Shade shrugged. “There was an...incident at the café. It’s complicated, sorta, I guess.”

Twilight giggled cheerily. “It doesn’t matter. As long as you’re eager to learn, I’m happy to teach.” The unicorn walked over to the table where Chamella was still surveying her new surroundings. “These are the books we’ll eventually be getting into, Chamella.”

The changeling looked over the covers carefully. They were bright and colorful and relayed to her a sense of fun and happiness, although the words were complete gibberish to her.

“It’s actually kind of a good thing you guys showed up early. There’s somepony here I want to introduce you to.”

“Oh, are these the two you told me about, Twilight?”

Shade and Chamella froze when the new voice spoke up behind them. They knew that voice. That soft, soothing, motherly voice. It sent chills down their spines. They both slowly turned around to confirm the owner, which they desperately wanted to be wrong about.

But they weren’t.

Standing in the doorway of the kitchen was a tall, slender mare with a flawless, alabaster coat. Her normally grand, white wings were casually folded against her sides and her long, multi-colored, ethereal mane flowed gently despite the lack of wind. Her elongated horn glowed golden like the sun as it leisurely held a small cup of tea near her softly smiling lips. Her flank bore the same image that the ceilings of several rooms of the library had: the sun. She was adorned in fancy and no doubt expensive gold, metal shoes, complemented by a similar chestpiece decorated with a gleaming, violet gemstone. The same kind of stone was also affixed to the golden tiara sitting upon her head just behind her horn and acted as her crown, symbolizing her status as governing monarch of the entirety of Equestria.

Princess Celestia.

Chamella let out a fearful whimper and scampered to hide herself behind Shade, which she found difficult to do as Shade’s instincts also told him to back away from the mighty alicorn as well.

The tender smile faded from the princess’s face. “Oh my. Did I say something wrong?”

“Guys, calm down. It’s just Princess Celestia,” Twilight tried to reassure them. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

“W-What’s she doing here?! Why did you bring her here?! Have you lost your mind?!” Shade stammered through his fear.

“Oh dear.” Celestia raised a worried hoof to her lips, fearing she had done something to offend her company.

“Shade! What is wrong with you?! Just calm down!”

Shade stared into the soft, violet eyes of the Princess, his legs shaking and sweat pouring down his neck. “W-We haven’t done anything wrong, I swear! Don’t make us go back, we just want to live here in peace!”

Celestia nodded knowingly, having figured out what the problem was. “Please, there’s no need to worry. I’m not here to punish anypony.”

Her words managed to quell the quivering of the two frightened changelings, but they remained apprehensive and still kept their distance.

“I was simply interested in meeting the two changelings that had found happiness amongst my subjects,” she clarified, smiled comfortingly.

Shade swallowed, but found the courage to straighten up. Chamella came out of hiding, but stayed close to her friend.

“Twilight mentioned the two of you in one of her recent letters. I must say, I was surprised to hear about all of this. A changeling living secretly in Ponyville but doing nothing to endanger anypony, and suddenly a battle involving treachery in the changeling colony? It certainly made for an interesting read. I wish I could have been there,” she chuckled.

Celestia sat down at the reading table, taking a dainty sip of her tea before placing it gently on it’s surface. She stretched her wings slightly and folded them back in, sighing in relaxation as she did so. Her informal movements gave the two changelings a sense of both comfort and unease. She seemed to be acting...like a normal pony.

“See?” Twilight said, taking a seat beside her mentor, “She’s not going to bite.”

“I’m sorry if I startled you both. It wasn’t my intention, I assure you,” Celestia apologized.

“You...You’re not mad?” Shade asked cautiously.

The princess raised an eyebrow. “Mad? Why would I be mad?”

“Because of the wedding, what we did.”

Celestia giggled. “Oh, that old thing? Please, don’t worry yourselves over it, it’s fine.”

The two changelings exchanged puzzled glances.

“Princess Celestia isn’t the type to hold grudges,” Twilight clarified with a smile.

Celestia looked at Shade curiously. He found himself taking a careful step backwards. “Shade, was it? Where’s your friend, the pegasus Twilight told me about? Is she not with you?”

Shade shook his head. “N-No, she’s at home. Why?”

The alicorn sighed in disappointment. “Oh, I was just hoping to meet her. I’ve never heard of a pony being in a real relationship with a changeling before. I was hoping to ask her about it. Oh well, maybe some other time.”

This was weird. Shade’s brain was fighting over what he should do right now. Should he run and get away from the princess as quickly as he could or trust her and try and get some answers to the questions that plagued his mind? When was he ever going to get another chance like this?

“So...” Shade swallowed nervously. “...you just want to talk?”

“That’s right.” Celestia smiled. She turned to Twilight with a concerned expression. “I’m not quite sure I’m making a good first impression here.”

Twilight sighed. “It’s complicated. From what I’ve heard, the changelings, all of them, don’t really like you very much.”

Shade and Chamella backed away in fear of what Twilight’s hastily revealed information would invoke.

“That’s...understandable I suppose,” she sighed remorsefully. “The changelings and ponies don’t exactly have a very friendly history. It’s why we live separately from one another.”

“But why do we have to live in exile like that?” Shade surprised even himself that he had garnered enough courage to ask the question.

"‘Exile'? No, that’s not entirely true. The changelings were never exiled,” Celestia clarified.

“They weren’t?” Even Twilight showed confusion at the princess’s response. “But I thought you banished them to the Golden Glade centuries ago?”

Celestia shook her head slowly. “No, I didn’t. The changelings invaded those lands. The Golden Glade once went by a different name when it was inhabited by ponies, but changelings drove them out. Where they came from and why they were so hostile, I have no idea. My theory was that they were actually once ponies themselves, but isolation in a distant land had forced them to adapt and evolve in order to survive. Perhaps their numbers simply grew too large and they were forced to seek out more land. In any case, they were never exiled, but we needed to keep them there for the sake of my subjects’ safety. They were violent beasts. We had no choice. It was that or go to war, and I didn’t want to be responsible for their genocide.”

Shade furrowed his brow. “So that’s it? You kept us there because we were violent?”

She looked at Shade regretfully. “If there were another option that didn’t involve violence, we would have used it.”

“But Chrysalis said that they tried diplomacy!” Shade spat. “Did you just not listen to them?”

Celestia seemed confused. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about. There was never any attempts to form a treaty or anything of that nature on the changeling's part. All encounters with them resulted in fighting and death.”

Shade felt his heart sink. “But...she told us...”

“Whatever you were told by Queen Chrysalis was a lie,” the alicorn stately frankly. “What did she tell you exactly?”

Shade had no trouble recalling the words told to him for years as he was growing up. It wasn’t uncommon for those words to appear in his dreams which may be why, even now, he didn’t completely trust the princess.

“She told us that you were a tyrant. A racist ruler who showed love only to the ponies and deemed all other species inferior.”

Twilight looked to her mentor with concern. Certainly not everypony has completely adored the princess, she’s had to make some tough decisions as Equestria’s ruler. But she was certainly not racist. She showed kindness and respect to all species.

Celestia turned her gaze to her cooling cup of tea, watching as the steam began to become thinner and harder to see. “I see. And is that what you believe?”

The question caught Shade off guard. “I-I...To be honest...I’m not sure what to believe. Chrysalis’s words seemed truthful. She believed deeply in the things she was taught, but not even she is sure if they were true or not. I’m sorry to say, but having seen and experienced what the changelings have to suffer through, I can see some truth in it.”

Twilight stood up defiantly. “Shade, Princess Celestia is the most benevolent ruler in all of Equestria. She would never stoop so low as to banish an entire race just because she thought they were inferior. She would never think they were inferior.”

“You have to understand, Shade,” Celestia pleaded, “I only did what I did because of what I feared would happen to my subjects. I have to think of my kingdom as a whole. The changelings were a threat not only to ponies, but to all of Equestria as well.”

“Then...” Chamella’s quiet voice joined in. “...Then this whole thing is pointless, isn’t it? Chrysalis doesn’t even know if those rumors are true. Why are we fighting if there’s nothing to fight about? If you met with Chrysalis now, couldn’t you work something out?”

The revelation dawned on Shade and Twilight as well. Perhaps there was hope. But another realization hit and Shade spoke up.

“Maybe, but Chrysalis said she wanted to take over Equestria, not out of spite, but because she’s power hungry, just like the rest of them.” Shade hung his head in defeat. He was now beginning to realize that there was no hope for the changelings.

“They say time heals all wounds, but, as an immortal alicorn, I can say with confidence that that’s not entirely true. Even I have some wounds that time has been unable to mend in my millennia of existence. Time has not been kind to the changelings either. We’ve spent far too many centuries feuding. By now, even though they don’t know why they hate us anymore, they will continue to do so. It’s in their nature to hate now.”

“But Shade and Chamella have changed,” Twilight interjected. “Doesn’t that mean there’s still hope?”

Celestia looked up at the image of her cutie mark displayed on the library’s ceiling thoughtfully. “Perhaps, but those wounds will still probably require more time to heal. And I’m afraid that by that time the damage will have already been done.” She finally managed to smile at the two changelings again. “But you two have been given this rare chance: to experience life outside of being a changeling and what it may be like if things between our races do someday sweeten. You should relish this wonderful opportunity. Learn from it. And maybe one day, preach what you’ve learned to your brethren. Maybe they will be willing to listen. But even if they aren’t, you can still say you tried. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?”

Her words put hopeful grins on their faces. Maybe she was right. Maybe there was hope for the changelings after all.

“I, too, hope that someday ponies and changelings can live in harmony the way you and your special somepony do, Shade. But as long as there is change, there are those who fear it. That’s just the nature of change.”

There was a long, but peaceful, pause as everypony quietly contemplated the princess’s wise words. Celestia cast a sidelong glance to the clock on the wall.

“Oh, is that the time? I’m afraid I must get going, the sun isn’t going to set itself,” she said as she reluctantly rose from her seat. “Twilight, as always, it was lovely seeing you again.”

The unicorn beamed happily. “You’re welcome anytime, Princess. Don’t be a stranger.”

Celestia chuckled. “Of course.” She turned to the pair of changelings. “And it was a pleasure meeting both of you. I hope we can chat about happier things the next time we meet.” The front door swung open and the alicorn stepped out into the fresh, evening air, spreading her regal wings as she prepared to take flight. Before taking off, she turned her head around. “And good luck with your studies.”

With that, she took off. Passersby watched in awe as her magnificent wings carried her back towards Canterlot. Even with how frequently she visited Ponyville, her presence still humbled and amazed them.

This whole encounter gave Shade a lot to think about. Everything he was taught growing up in the Changeling Kingdom was a lie. Their hatred for Celestia and the ponies was not a result of being exiled and forbidden to live freely, but of jealousy and a lust for power. Changelings were monsters and always have been. The hope for equality and peace seemed a distant dream now, but, considering Chamella and his own circumstances right now, still in the realm of possibility.

Twilight waved one last time to her mentor before shutting the door. She turned to her own two students. “Well, you heard her. Let’s hit the books!”

Chamella’s optimistic smile returned and she sat herself at the reading table, sizing up the books she would eventually be reading.

A small grin played across Shade’s lips as he observed his friend's enthusiasm.

Maybe not in our lifetime, but someday.

***** ***** *****

Princess Celestia’s star had started its descent into the distant horizon. The rolling, green hills of Equestria were set aglow by its vibrant, orange light and the clouds seemed to be making themselves scarce as if to make a path for the grand, cosmic sphere. It was a picturesque evening. Nopony would even think that a plot to take over the kingdom had been transpired and thwarted just a few days ago. The ponies just went about their lives in blissful ignorance as if nothing had even happened.

Anypony else would have basked in the embrace of the coming moon on such a majestic evening, but one pony--or rather, one changeling--was too busy being plagued with thoughts of regret and guilt.

Shade stood solemnly atop a tall hill on the outskirts of Ponyville. There was a clear, beautiful view of the town from this point, the radiant sunbeams setting the houses alight with a soft, amber glow. But he wasn’t there to admire the scenery. His eyes instead focused unwaveringly at a small mound of dirt that looked to have been upturned recently. A pile of round stones lay over the soil, holding upright a pair of wooden planks joined by a nail, shaping a cross.

Shade stared silently at what he believed should have been his unmarked grave. In a way, it was, at least for the unicorn whose form he had been wearing for over a month now. How would things have turned out if Shade had never met that stallion? He would have arrived in Ponyville as a changeling and what would have happened? Twilight herself admitted that they probably would not have trusted him and he’d be driven out, forced to return, defeated, to the Changeling Kingdom. His quest for a peaceful existence would have been over on the first day.

In the end, his decision to impersonate this pony was what allowed him to succeed. He earned the trust of his friends, neighbors and even his girlfriend by deceiving them, just as a changeling would. It aggravated him to no end, but ultimately it was the best choice to make; he had done it, he had found a new and better life where he could be accepted for who and what he was, all thanks to that unicorn. He owed everything he had achieved up until this point to that unicorn, and he didn’t even know his name.

A set of hoofsteps rustled the blades of grass as somepony ascended the hill. Shade didn’t turn to look. He didn’t need to, he knew who it was.

“So, this is that unicorn you told me about?” Winter asked in a hushed voice.

Shade simply nodded. He couldn’t keep this a secret too, his mind would be endlessly wracked with guilt. Winter was a little shocked when she found out, but managed to overcome it after hearing the whole story. He was relieved to know that she believed him.

She saw the intense, guilty stare Shade cast upon the grave. “You didn’t kill him, Shade.”

He didn’t take his eyes off of the grave. “I might as well have. After what I did, I should be considered his killer.”

“But he was attacked by something, that’s what you said, right?”

He turned to Winter, his face seeming to be on the verge of tears. “I mean that, had everypony known about him from the beginning, they would have assumed I killed him.”

Winter lowered her gaze. She couldn’t disagree with him, the evidence would have seemed pretty incriminating.

The changeling returned his eyes back to the grave. “I wanted to help him, but what did I do in the end? I stole his identity.” His voice began to drip with self-loathing. “Instead of respecting the recently departed, I took what wasn’t mine like a common grave robber.”

The pegasus silently sidled up next to Shade, softly nuzzling into him in an attempt to provide comfort. “If you hadn’t did what you did, then we would have never met. Don’t you think he’d be happy that he could be of some help to you?”

“He hated me with his dying breath, literally. And for good reason.”

“No, there was no good reason,” Winter argued. “He judged you based on your appearance. That’s no reason to hate somepony. Giving you a body to use could be considered his way of apologizing for the way he acted toward you.”

Shade shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “I guess we’ll never know.” He turned away from the grave and sat down on the grass, looking out over his new home. “Do you know how it feels to have the first pony you meet on your journey to find peace and happiness hate you with such prejudice and then have to watch them die right in front of your eyes? I’ve had to live with that for a month now and it’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Winter stared at Shade sadly, her ears drooping. She walked over to sit down beside him. “You can’t change the past, Shade. Why dwell on it?”

He looked at her with slight shock that she would so casually say such a thing.

“You need to lay these things to rest, otherwise you’ll be miserable. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of what you were trying to achieve?”

Shade allowed a moment for her words to sink in. He turned his sights back on Ponyville, though he wasn’t actually looking at it. “I’ve thought about what you said, Winter, about why I’m still wearing this disguise, and you’re right. You can’t change the past. In a world that’s ever changing, there are some things that remain constant. I’ve been using this body, a gift that I don’t deserve, to get what I wanted. That proves, without a doubt, that I haven’t changed.”

Winter stared at him with deep concern.

“Guise may have been misguided and corrupt, but he was right about one thing: I’m not a pony, and I‘ll never be a pony. I’m a changeling. Always have been, always will be.”

“But does that have to be a bad thing?” Winter asked with a small smile. Shade gave her a confused and incredulous look. “You’re a changeling, so what? That doesn’t seem to be bothering anypony here. You’ve said it yourself too ya know: It’s who you are that defines you, not what. I was never in love with a pony this last month.” She gazed deeply into his emerald eyes. “I’ve been in love with a changeling, and I’m fine with that. Maybe you wanted to be a pony, but I just want you to be yourself. And you’re a changeling, so I want you to be a changeling.”

Winter’s wide smile was contagious. He couldn’t help but join her with his own grin. How could he refuse the desires of the mare he loved? His horn was set alight with neon green magic and a wave of jade flames washed over his body. Shade took a moment to let the evening breeze blow through his natural navy blue mane, he flittered his wings that normally remained hidden, and he sighed.

This was who, and what, he was. And if Winter could accept it, so could he.

“See? I’m still here, right?” Winter smiled. “There’s no reason to hide anymore. As far as we’re concerned, you’re one of us now.”

She always did have a knack for making him smile. Her heavenly voice alone had the power to lift any black clouds that would follow him.

He could never truly say he was sorry to that unicorn for taking what wasn’t his, but the least he could do was give it back and hopefully that was enough. Maybe if he had accepted Shade’s help this whole experience would have been made easier. Perhaps in another universe he could have saved his life and been Shade’s first friend. Would that have changed anything? Would he still have met Twilight and Rarity and Applejack and the others? Would he have ended up in Ponyville at all?

Would he have met Winter?

Which outcome would he have preferred? Being with Winter but having to endure these recent trials or living without the guilt of seeing a pony die and possibly never even meeting Winter? Either way, he didn’t really have a choice now. And seeing the beautiful mare sitting next to him was as good a sign as any that this outcome was preferable, though not without its consequences. He only wished he could thank that unicorn for all he was able to, albeit without permission, do.

The ivory pegasus leaned into him, snuggling up against his smooth, hairless, black skin. She looked up into his natural, green eyes. He said that some things always remained constant and if Shade had one feature that held true to that, it was his eyes. Winter could always see the love he felt for her and how truthful his words were by looking into his eyes, even if she didn’t always believe it. Maybe things would have been more...normal if she had never found out he was a changeling, but that’s a question that would remained unanswered. It didn’t matter anyway; she was happy and Shade was happy. She couldn’t ask for anything more.

Shade watched contentedly as Winter quietly watched the moon rise over Ponyville, her head resting gently against his shoulder and her expression happy and comfortable.

His gaze followed hers and joined them in an audience to Princess Luna’s celestial pearl. An endless blanket of stars covered Equestria for another night. Tomorrow wouldn’t be just another day, it would be his first day here as a changeling.

And he couldn’t wait.

The End

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