• 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 2: A Change of Scenery

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 2: A Change of Scenery

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The bright, cheerful sun shined its warming light upon Ponyville. A peaceful breeze flowed through the air caressing the blades of grass, the leaves on the trees and the multi-colored mane of a certain cyan pegasus.

She had just finished clearing the sky of clouds, making sure to leave behind just one for her to recline upon like a large, fluffy pillow. It was a reward to herself for a job well done. She felt sorry for the earth ponies and unicorns, who didn’t have the privilege to experience such comfort. Laying on her back with her forelegs resting behind her head, she inhaled deeply through her nose, feeling the crisp, clean air fill her lungs before exhaling in a contented sigh.

The pegasus’ ears perked up at the familiar sound of somepony humming. It was a familiar tune, one she’d heard on many occasions; an instrumental version of one of the many musical numbers her friend was known for singing.

Her eyes opened slowly, allowing them to pinpoint the sun’s exact location so she could avoid staring straight at it. She rolled over onto her stomach and peeked over the edge of her cushy, sky-bed. Making her way down one of Ponyville’s streets was a familiar pink earth pony, bounding about as she headed towards her destination, humming happily.

“Hey, Pinkie Pie!” the pegasus called from above.

The pink pony stopped mid-bounce and craned her neck skyward to verify the source of the voice. “Oh, hiya, Rainbow Dash,” she called back with a smile before her hooves landed on the ground once again. “What’s up? I mean, besides you, hee hee!”

“Heh, nothing much, just chillin’ after a 'hard day’s work,'” Rainbow Dash replied smugly, the air quotes around those last few words practically visible. “Where're you headed?”

“I was just on my way to Twilight’s place. She said she found a neat cookbook in the library that has recipes for all sorts of exotic pastries!”

“Whoa whoa whoa, you’re gonna try some new recipes?” Rainbow asked with equal parts curiosity and excitement. The pink pony nodded in response, her curly mane bouncing with her rapidly bobbing head. “Sweet! Hey, mind if I join in as a taste tester?” Rainbow eagerly offered.

“Well, duh! You know I’d never test any new recipes without making you my official taste tester, Dashie.”

“Awesome! So what kind of stuff are you gonna bake? Cupcakes? Pies? Donuts? Cake? Cinnamon rolls?” Rainbow was beginning to drool, not so much asking anymore as she was fantasizing about all the delectable treats Pinkie Pie was known for making.

“I dunno yet; she didn’t tell me what exactly was in the book, just that it was a cookbook full of pastry recipes. So, of course, as a pastry chef I-”

The earth pony went silent and her expression turned to a steely gaze, but was staring at nothing in particular. Rainbow cocked an eyebrow. “Uh, you okay there, Pinks?”

“My Pinkie sense is tingling,” she stated in a low voice as she narrowed her eyes.

“‘P-Pinkie sense’?” Rainbow stammered, clearly concerned. She bolted off of her cloud in a flash, hovering in the air just in front of Pinkie Pie. “What’s gonna happen? Is somethin’ gonna fall?” Rainbow looked cautiously upward. “Should I watch for opening doors? Closing doors?!” She glanced around quickly to ensure that they were safe. “What, Pinkie?! What’s gonna happen?! I gotta know!” Rainbow yelled hysterically, shaking the pink earth pony by the shoulders.

Pinkie Pie shook her head to stop her eyes from bouncing around before responding, “Oh, not that Pinkie sense, silly. This is different.”

Rainbow reverted to being confused. “‘Different’?” Different how?”

“Gimmie a sec.” Pinkie narrowed her eyes again. Rainbow Dash stared at her as she looked to be deep in thought. She waved a hoof back and forth in front of the concentrating pony’s face, eliciting no reaction. Rainbow landed on the ground as she waited for Pinkie Pie to finish...whatever it was she was doing.

“New pony...” she whispered after a few moments of silence, her gaze remaining completely serious.

“Huh?” The pegasus could barely hear her.

New pony!” Pinkie Pie yelled at the top of her lungs as she sprang into the air. Once her hooves touched the ground again she took off past her friend in a streak of pink. Rainbow Dash spun wildly before ending up face down in the road. She shook her head and looked around frantically, trying to regain her bearings.

“Pinkie? Hey, where’d ya go?! Wait for me!”

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

A calming wind flowed through Shade’s fabricated, cobalt mane. The breeze filled him with a feeling of comfort and welcoming. Standing atop a short, stone bridge that arched over a small stream, the changeling-in-disguise gazed at the quaint, little town before him, wondering what exactly the future held for him living here.

Shade stepped off of the bridge and entered the town proper. Looking around he was astounded at how well the ponies here must have lived. Canterlot was a very posh, high-society city, but that was expected from a place inhabited by royalty. He hadn’t, however, expected the common citizens of Equestria to live nearly as comfortably. The homes that made up the small community were, admittedly, lacking originality. Many of the houses all looked the same: stone and wood constructs with sloping, thatched roofs. There was probably more to them than he was seeing from their exteriors alone, but figured that wasn’t really important right now. In any case, they were certainly leagues above what he was used to.

Aside from the standard housings, the newcomer noticed some buildings that stood out more than others. One, which appeared to be positioned in the very center of town, was a round, towering building with a very simplistic color scheme of off-white walls and a brown cone-shaped roof that ended in a pointed spire. A circular walkway surrounded the base of the structure and another on the second level. It was obvious that this building had some importance, but Shade couldn’t see anything indicating its purpose.

One structure in particular stuck out in his mind more than others though, but by all rights it really shouldn’t have. From a distance, one would believe it was simply a large oak tree, but upon closer inspection the plant form could be seen with many windows and balconies built into its thick trunk. Shade was legitimately impressed at the resourcefulness of these ponies. Instead of cutting the tree down and using its lumber as building materials, they had it hollowed out and transformed into a building itself.

Taking his mind off the homes of the town, the changeling instead focused his attention to its populace. Myriad ponies of all shapes, colors and sizes meandered about the community. Unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies seemed to share the town almost equally, although he noticed there appeared to be more earth ponies based on the numbers that were visible to him. The one thing that each and every one of them had in common were the smiles spread across each of their faces. Clearly this was a satisfying place to live. The smiles of the ponies were infectious and Shade found himself unable to resist joining in.

As he made his way further into town, he found comfort in the smiles and waves he received from passing ponies. They were showing him kindness and hospitality even though nopony knew him. At least, he hoped nopony knew him. Considering the disguise he was wearing was that of a unicorn he met in the Everfree Forest, which was so close to Ponyville, there was a distinct possibility that they did know him. That could complicate things. He tried not to let the worry show on his face, keeping his smile in place as best as he could.

Shade felt a strong gust of wind blow past him. Suddenly his vision had changed. Where he once saw houses and ponies there was now a solid wall of...pink?

What happened? What’s going on?

Shade blinked his eyes. Now his sight was obscured by two large, round, white discs with smaller blue discs in their centers. Then they blinked at him.

“Hi!” came an excited, high-pitched voice from directly in front of him.

“Gah!” Shade yelped and fell backwards onto his rear as the voice caught him by surprise.

“Oopsie. Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” the voice giggled.

Shade looked up to see a pink earth pony standing before him with a big, unimposing smile, batting her eyes innocently.

“Here, let me help you,” the apparent owner of the voice offered, extending a hoof to help pick him up off of the dirt. Shade tentatively accepted, still a little dazed from the mare’s sudden appearance.

She looked him up and down as one would if they were scrutinizing a work of art. The disguised changeling’s nervousness began to make its way back into his conscience. Why is she looking at me like that? Does my disguise have some sort of flaw? Is my cover blown already? The pink pony circled him once before stopping in front of him where she had been standing before, her cheery smile returning.

“Ah HA!” she excitedly bellowed in his face, forcing Shade to wince and take a step backwards. “I knew it! You are a new pony!”

“Wha-” Shade started but was promptly interrupted as the mare continued speaking.

“When my Pinkie sense started tingling, I figured that meant a new pony just arrived in town and here you are, new pony!”

“Your what?” There were so many questions he could have asked, but decided, for no particular reason, to concentrate on this ‘sense’ she mentioned.

“Pinkie sense,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Although this one is different from my other Pinkie sense.”

Shade just blinked to relay his befuddlement.

“See, my other Pinkie sense,” she continued, “Is when I get these little niggling feelings that help me predict the fuuuuuuuture...sorta. They’re kinda vague really. Like when my tail twitches, it means something’s gonna fall. I don’t know what or where, I just know that it’s gonna happen. Oh, and when my spine gets all tingly...”

Shade’s focus started to wane. She was talking so fast now he could barely make out a word she was saying. Who was this pony? What was this pony? It was as if she were some foal on an extreme sugar high after downing a dozen cups of espresso. He had heard that the average ponies of Equestria were friendly and welcoming but what if they were all like this pony? He may be in a little over his head.

“...then we found out that the hydra wasn’t ‘the doozy’ and ‘the doozy’ was actually Twilight believing in my Pinkie sense! Crazy, huh?”

Hearing silence for even a fraction of a second told him that she was finally finished talking. Wait, did she just tell a long-winded story in a matter of seconds or had he blanked out for longer than he thought? She was staring at him expectantly as if she were waiting for him to respond. Had she asked him a question?

“Uhhh...” That was all he could manage before she cut him off once again.

“Uh oh!” she gasped. “I was so caught up in my explanation that I totally forgot to ask for your name even after I told you mine! Wait a minute, I actually didn’t tell you my name. Wow, that’s even worse. If Rarity were here she’d probably scold me about bad manners in front of new ponies. She’d be all like, Pinkie, darling, you simply mustn’t forget proper etiquette when performing introductions with a stranger.” Her voice had shifted from its usual speed and pitch and she began to speak with an air of sophistication and class as she imitated this ‘Rarity’ pony. Was she even the same pony anymore? That was a complete contrast to her usual demeanor. Perhaps he’d have to look into meeting this ‘Rarity’. “Whoops,” she continued once more, “I’m starting to ramble again. I do that sometimes. Okay, a lot. Applejack says I could talk the ear off a--oh, darn it! Lemme do this before I get distracted again. Hi, I’m Pinkie Pie! What’s your name?”

Okay, she was definitely asking him a question this time. “Sh-Shade,” he shakily answered having briefly forgotten that he had a voice.

“Sh-Shade? That’s a funny name. Sounds foreign. Where ya from?”

“N-no, it’s just Shade,” he corrected.

“Oh, well, I guess that makes more sense.” There seemed to be a hint of disappointment in her voice. “But you can still answer my question, right? Where ya from?”

...Crap. This was bad. Shade’s stomach began knotting up and he felt like the lunch Zecora had shared with him was going to come back to say hi. He was hoping to make a new start here, yet he hadn’t put any thought into fabricating a believable backstory up until now. His mind started firing off possible ideas like an overactive assembly line, many of them ending up crumpled up and tossed into a mental trash can which was quickly beginning to spill over. He tried to reach out for anything he could use, any name that he may have heard of over the years.

“Las...Pegasus?” Was that right? He certainly hoped so. He was grasping at straws here.

“Ooooo, Las Pegasus. The city that never sleeps. The windy city. The city of lights. Or maybe none of those things, but it's still a cool place!”

Shade breathed a sigh of relief. Good, it was a gamble, but his bluff payed off.

“I’ve never been there before. What’s it like?”

And the assembly line kicks into overdrive.

‘What’s it like?’ What was it like? He only knew the name; he hadn’t a clue how the city actually functioned or how the ponies there behaved. Did only pegasi live there? No, she certainly would have pointed out such a contradiction. Maybe something she said could help him. What did she say? ‘The city that never sleeps’? Okay, that’s something. That probably means it’s an active place. Lots of stuff going on around the clock. Time for another shot in the dark.

“It’s...pretty...busy?” He stopped to see how the pink pony would react. She just stared at him, unblinking. “And loud,” he added, “And...crowded?” He didn’t dare go any further in fear of saying something that she might perceive as odd, although his clearly visible anxiety might do a good job of that.

“That sounds kinda negative,” she said with a frown. “I’d have thought it was super fun and exciting! I heard it's like party central or something!”

That response did nothing to ease Shade’s worry. But an idea struck him. He could just do the same thing he did when he spoke with Zecora.

“Well,” he started, trying his best to force his confidence back up, “When you’ve lived there your whole life it starts getting a little mundane and sometimes you just want to get a little peace and quiet, you know?” Truer words were never spoken. Even though Zecora was nice enough to let him get an hour or two of shuteye, he was still pretty exhausted. “That’s the whole reason I left. I was getting sick and tired of doing the same thing day in and day out but getting nothing out of it.” He had to stop himself before he really started getting too personal. He didn’t want to accidentally let slip something about Chrysalis or the changelings. That could spell trouble.

“I understand,” she said in the calmest voice he had heard her use yet. “My friends told me that I can go overboard with my parties sometimes and if I have one everyday they’ll start getting boring. And I don’t want my parties to be boring.” Her level tone was almost unnerving. “Wait, does that mean you were planning to move here?” she said with what seemed to be a growing anticipation. Shade almost didn’t want to answer that question. He feared the implications of his response.

“Pinkie Pie! There you are!”

The eyes of both ponies turned skyward to identify the new, beckoning voice: A cyan pegasus with a rainbow-streaked mane and tail. She flew closer to the two earthbound ponies, her wings sparking a gust of wind that ruffled Shade’s mane.

“Man, Pinkie, when you took off I started looking everywhere for you. You bolted so fast I couldn’t tell what way you went. What’s the rush and what was all that about a new-” The pegasus trailed off as her eyes finally picked up the presence of a unicorn stallion standing nearby.

“Oh, yeah,” Pinkie Pie started. “Rainbow Dash, this is Shade. He’s a new pony in town. New pony Shade, this is my very awesome friend, Rainbow Dash!”

“New pony, huh?” the rainbow-maned pegasus said with curiosity as she looked him up and down. “Cool, nice to meet ya.” She held out her hoof to him. Shade lifted his own to accept her offer, their hooves clacking as they met. That must’ve been a ‘hoofbump.’ He thought he heard about that somewhere before. Changelings weren’t exactly known to exchange pleasantries like that.

“Likewise,” Shade said in return. He remained silent for a moment, narrowing his eyes as he sized up the pegasus. A sudden realization dawned on him. Wait a minute. A pegasus with a rainbow striped mane? His eyes went wide as he now recognized who he was talking to. Crap! She’s one of them! One of those six! The ones who helped stop Chrysalis! What did she call them? The bearers of the Elements of Harmony!? He vividly remembered the day of invasion. While Chrysalis had Princess Celestia subdued in the castle’s throne room, he and the rest of the Changelings were busy fighting off a group of only six ponies and somehow being beaten by them! Now that he thought about it, this pink pony was there too. She was one them as well! Great. Of all the towns in all of Equestria he could have wound up in, he had to come here, where two of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony lived.

“Uh, you okay there, new guy?”

The pegasus’s voice snapped him out of his stupor and he returned to the present day. He hadn’t realized he had been completely silent for about a minute now.

Okay, gotta play it cool. I can’t let them pick up on anything that might make me seem suspicious.

“Y-yeah, fine, heh,” Shade’s voice cracked as he forced a smile. I should leave. I should just leave. Find another town to live in. Anywhere but here!

“Alright then. So, what’s your story, Shade?” Rainbow Dash asked as she landed on the ground next to her pink friend. Somehow it seemed neither of them had picked up on his nervousness. Were all the ponies around here really this trusting?

Shade decided that he needed to keep up appearances. He really couldn’t risk searching out a new town. Who knows how long it would take? And he was definitely not going back home.

He was about to respond to her question with the same explanation he had given to Pinkie Pie, but was, once again, interrupted before he could start.

“He’s from Lllllllllas Pegasus,” the hyperactive earth pony answered for him.

“Wow, Las Pegasus, really?” the pegasus said as if somehow where he was from was something to be impressed by. “That place is awesome! I mean, I’ve only been there once a few years ago when I went to see one of The Wonderbolts shows, but I had the time of my life!” She looked like she was starting to lose herself in her reminiscing, staring into space with an eager smile. She came back to reality wearing a quizzical look. “Why would you wanna leave a place like that to visit boring ol’ Ponyville?”

Pinkie Pie started recounting Shade’s earlier story to her winged friend. The pegasus looked like she was struggling to keep up though as the earth pony explained, somehow making the story longer than the original.

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I get it, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said attempting to stop Pinkie Pie’s incessant rambling. “He wants some peace and quiet. I gotcha.” She turned her attention over to the unicorn. “So, what, are you planning to move here or something?”

“Oh yeah!” Pinkie Pie gasped. “That’s what I was asking before Dashie showed up! So, are you?”

The two ponies’ stares were starting to make him uncomfortable. One set of magenta eyes looking at him with slight curiosity and another set of blue accompanied by a grin as wide as her muzzle would allow.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.” For some reason he didn’t want to match Pinkie’s level of excitement with his answer. And he was about to find out why.

The pink earth pony began to visibly shake with anticipation. Both Shade and Rainbow Dash took a step back for fear that she may spontaneously combust. Without any warning Pinkie Pie suddenly rocketed into the air, leaving an explosion of confetti in her wake. Shade fell backwards landing on his back, due both to the surprise and force of the display.

“Oh boy,” Rainbow Dash groaned, planting a hoof on her face.

“What? W-what did I say?” Shade stammered, unable to grasp what was happening.

“You’ll see.”

The excited earth pony finally landed back on terra firma.

"Super-Splediforous-Pinkie-Pie-New-Pony-Party!"

Everypony within earshot--which was most likely everypony in town given the volume of her voice--shared worried glances and began to disperse from the area. Shade didn’t blame them.

“Oh, I should get my Welcome Wagon! No, wait, it’s out for repairs from when Roseluck’s parents came to visit. Maybe I could-”

“Pinkie, don’t you think you should give him a chance to settle in before throwing a huge party? You don’t want to scare him off, right?” Rainbow Dash suggested jokingly, nudging her with an elbow.

“Hmm,” Pinkie hummed in contemplation. “Yeah, I guess.” She was visibly disheartened.

“Speaking of which,” the pegasus continued, “Where are you planning to live? I don’t remember there being any houses on the market lately and I don’t see any of your luggage or anything.”

Uh oh. Shade seemed to have painted himself into a corner now. This whole encounter with these ponies was just a complete roller coaster of distress; just when he thought he was in the clear, they would address another loophole in his plan.

A bead of sweat ran down his face. How was he supposed to get out of this mess?

“I, uh...” His mind raced for a reason--any reason--he could come up with that could be considered even remotely plausible. “I...made my decision to leave so abruptly that I forgot about that stuff?” Nice save, genius. ‘I forgot’? What’s wrong with you? They’re gonna figure you out for su-

“Well, that makes sense,” Pinkie Pie said with complete sincerity.

What?

“I mean, anypony would be soooo excited about moving to such an marve-licious place as Ponyville that they’re bound to forget a few details.”

He should thank her; drop to his knees and cry tears of gratitude.

“Seems pretty careless if you ask me,” Rainbow Dash interjected. “But even somepony as awesome as me has been know to forget stuff every now and then. In any case, I guess that means you’re gonna be looking for a place to crash since I assume you probably don’t have family here either.”

Shade nodded in acknowledgement.

“Well, I’d love to help, but we’ve got plans, right, Pinkie?” she addressed her pink friend.

“Hmm? Oh yeah, the cookbook! I totally spaced!” the overactive pony yelled in sudden realization. “I gotta get going! Dash, can you wait for me at Sugarcube Corner? I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“Sure thing, Pinks. Later, new guy.” The pegasus took to the air and streaked across town at an impressive speed, leaving a vibrant, rainbow trail in her wake.

Pinkie Pie also bid him farewell as she continued on her merry way, bouncing happily down the street. She suddenly stopped in mid-air.

“Wait a minute.” She dropped to the ground and scuttled backwards toward Shade again. “Maybe Twilight can help you.”

“Who’s Twilight?” He asked with a cocked eyebrow.

“She’s another friend of mine who’s totally super smart and stuff, so maybe she can help you find somewhere to stay.”

“Yeah, sounds good,” he said with a grateful smile. “Any help would be great.”

“Good! Then let’s get going! To Twilight’s library!” She took off ahead of him forcing Shade to quickly register what was happening and chase after her.

“H-hey! Hold up!”

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

Well, this was probably the last place he expected the party pony to lead him.

Standing tall before them was the large, hollowed-out oak tree Shade had observed when he had first arrived in town. Admittedly, he had been curious about this place since he first laid eyes on it and would have checked it out eventually anyway. Now’s as good a time as ever.

“Here we are!” Pinkie immediately opened the door and walked straight inside without so much as knocking.

I guess she left her manners back at the town square.

Shade followed her inside and finally had a chance to get a good look at the interior of the plant-form-turned-building. His jaw slacked in awe as he gazed at his surroundings. The entire first floor was a large circular room closely matching the circumference of the whole tree trunk. In the center of the room stood a round reading table decorated with some sort of wooden ornament shaped like a pony’s head. Various writing desks could be seen near some of the windows allowing those using them to have a good source of natural light. A few of them were already covered in parchments, many of which lay crumpled up in and around a nearby wastebasket. The ceiling above them was emblazoned with a beautiful sun-shaped mural. He wouldn’t have been surprised if it illuminated the place at night, though something about it made him feel uneasy...

But by far the most outstanding feature was the walls--or lack thereof as the case seemed to be. Lining the full perimeter of the room--with the exception of an area occupied by a staircase leading to the second floor--were dozens of bookshelves housing what must have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of books. And more, still, lay haphazardly about the room. It was more than a little intimidating, especially considering that Shade--or most changelings for that matter--didn’t know how to read.

Twilight!

Shade jumped at the sound and volume of Pinkie’s voice as she called out. His ear caught the full force of a point-blank Pinkie Pie blare.

The pair heard a series of thumps coming from a closed room near the top of the staircase followed by a muffled "Ow." The door opened to reveal a lavender, unicorn mare wearing an annoyed scowl and a bump on her head.

“Geez, Pinkie, you don’t have to yell so loud, the library’s not that big,” she said as she nursed the swollen bump with a hoof.

Oh no. No, no, no, no, NO! Not her! Anypony but her!

Shade had to muster every ounce of willpower he had to prevent himself from having a panic attack. He recognized this pony immediately. She was the one who had seen through Chrysalis’s disguise. She was the one who had freed Princess Mi Amore Cadenza from her prison underneath Canterlot. She was the one who lead those other five mares in their battle against the changelings and almost won! She was the reason the invasion was a complete, resounding failure!

“Oops, sorry, Twilight. Guess you were probably doin’ some research, huh?” Pinkie Pie apologized.

This is bad. Very, very, bad!

“Yeah, but I suppose it’s my own fault,” Twilight said as she descended the staircase. “I knew you were coming over today so I should have been prepared.”

If she could expose THE QUEEN OF THE CHANGELINGS, then there’s no way I’m gonna fool her!

Shade suddenly felt himself overcome with an unusual sense of acceptance. Well, that’s it. I didn’t even make it one day. Congrats, Guise, you were right.

Shade was already beginning to plan his trip home--provided he wasn’t arrested and thrown in prison before he could escape.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

That’s an odd thing to say when arresting somepony.

He glanced up to see the purple scheme-destroyer smiling at him. Pinkie Pie had apparently done all the introductions while he was in his state of near-mental meltdown and, by some freak miracle, she was fooled by his disguise.

“I’m Sh-Shade,” he said shakily, still not entirely convinced that he was safe.

“Don’t fall for that, Twi, that’s a fake name. I already said his real name is Shade,” Pinkie Pie corrected.

“Oh, alright,” Twilight chuckled and rolled her eyes, humoring her naïve, pink friend.

“Now, I’d love to stay and watch you two become friends and everything, but I already made plans with Dashie and I can’t keep her waiting. You know how impatient she is.”

“Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black,” Twilight laughed.

Pinkie Pie looked around in confusion. “Uh, Twilight? We’re not in the kitchen. There’re no pots or kettles in here. And, as neat as that would be, I don’t think they can talk either.”

“Right you are,” Twilight said, hoping to get away from the bad comedy routine and back on track. “Your recipe book is there on the table.”

“Okie dokie lokie!” She sprang over to the table. “Oh, be sure to stop by Sugarcube Corner when you get settled, Shade. We’ll have a big Welcome-to-Ponyville-Party for you!” She picked up the book in her mouth. “Fanks! Bah, Tilah! Bah, Sade!” she muffled before hopping out the door.

Shade breathed a sigh of relief. Although he wasn’t really worried about that one in particular exposing him, she was still completely exasperating and it was nice to get a little respite.

“So!”

Well, so much for that.

“You’ll have to forgive Pinkie Pie. She’s a bit eccentric, but she’s kind of like Ponyville’s unofficial goodwill ambassador. She means well.”

Shade nervously nodded to show his understanding. Perfect. Now he was alone in a room with the pony who practically single-handedly foiled Chrysalis’s entire plot; the same plot she had been preparing for her whole life. Years of contemplation and dedication down the drain because of one. Little. Unicorn. She might be fooled now, but how long will it take for her to see through him? He’d just have to hold out for as long as possible. On the bright side, though, if he could fool Twilight Sparkle, he could probably fool anypony.

“Anyway, she said you’re moving to Ponyville and needed some help?”

“Y-yeah,” he answered tentatively.

“Okay, what exactly did you need help with?”

“Well, uh...” He tried to recount his previous conversation with Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. “I need a place to live. I guess that would be the most imperative thing.”

Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by another voice coming from the top of the staircase.

“Hey, Twilight, is Pinkie Pie gone yet?” the voice called out.

“Yes, Spike, she just left,” Twilight called back. “Honestly though, I thought you’d jump at the chance to ask her if you could help sample her latest confections.”

The source of the new voice made himself known as he walked down the stairs; a small baby dragon with purple scales and green spikes. Shade could vaguely remember catching a glimpse of what looked like a small dragon when he was in Canterlot. It must’ve been this same one.

“Normally, yeah, but she said Rainbow Dash was gonna be there and I don’t wanna risk having one of my claws bitten off.”

Shade couldn’t tell if that was an exaggeration or not.

“Who’s this guy?” the dragon asked with a cocked eyebrow and gesturing to Shade with his thumb.

“Spike! Manners,” Twilight sternly scolded him.

“Sorry, your highness,” Spike said mockingly.

Twilight ignored the dragon’s attitude. “This is Shade. He’s a new pony in town. Shade, this is my number one assistant-”

“Spike,” he interrupted. “Get used to hearing that name. I’m a pretty big deal around here,” he said, examining his claws and smiling smugly.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Aaaanyway, you said you were looking for a place to live. Well, I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any houses for sale that I know of and Ponyville doesn’t have any hotels.”

“Oh,” Shade said dejectedly, “Well, what can I do then?”

Twilight thought for a moment, weighing what few options there were now.

“Weeell, I suppoooose you coooould...” Whatever she was thinking about, she didn’t seem very confident or she was just stalling until she could actually think of something. “Oh, well, uh, we have a spare bed here in the library. I guess you could stay here temporarily.”

“What, so now we have to split the food three ways?” Spike said in veiled protest. “Well, he’s not getting any of my gems, that’s for sure.”

“Now, Spike, be nice. He’s new here so we have to be hospitable,” Twilight defended. “Besides, it’ll just be until he can get a stable job and pay for his own place.”

“A...job?” Shade gulped.

“Yeah, a job. But I guess we can figure out the best fit for you by looking at your cutie mark. Should be pretty simple.”

His...cutie mark?

Crap...again.

“Now, let’s see here...” Twilight had already moved to examine his flank before Shade could stop her.

He was in trouble now. He didn’t even know what it was! How was he supposed explain a special talent he probably didn’t even have!?

“Hmmm,” Twilight hummed. “It appears to be some sort of archaic symbol. A hieroglyph maybe? Are you an archaeologist?”

I don’t even know what that is!? Beads of sweat began to form around his face and neck.

“Or maybe,” she continued before Shade could respond, “Since you’re a unicorn, it could be something related to magic or the occult, like a sign used in summoning circles or runic markings.”

“It looks like the control pad on a video game controller,” Spike deadpanned.

“Hm?” Twilight looked closely at the mark once more. “Oh! Uh, I knew that!” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at the seemingly obvious oversight. “I was going to suggest that next!”

Spike stared at her, unamused.

Twilight cleared her throat. “So, I guess that means you have a special talent involving video games, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess.” He reeeeally should have tried to sound more confident about that. Kind of hard to do though when you don’t know what those are either.

“Oh, come on,” Spike said nudging him in his side. “If there’s one thing a pony doesn’t need to be modest about, it’s their special talent.”

“There may be a bit of bad news on that front, however,” Twilight interrupted. “Ponyville isn’t exactly the most technologically inclined town in Equestria. Heck, most ponies here don’t even have a TV, let alone video games.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Shade said, frowning. He may have looked dejected on the outside, but he was smiling wide on the inside. None of these "video games" meant he didn’t have to rely on his "special talent."

“It’s okay, Shade,” Twilight said trying to cheer him up, not knowing that it wasn’t at all necessary. “You can look around town tomorrow and see if there are any job openings you think you would be suited for. But right now it’s getting kind of late.”

The changeling glanced out of one of the windows. Just as Twilight said, the light had already begun to fade from the sky. The soft, orange horizon had shifted to a sultry purple and stars were beginning to come out of hiding and dotted the celestial expanse.

“Follow me,” Twilight said. “I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.”

The three made their way up the stairs to the second floor. They stopped just in front of the doorway that Twilight--and eventually Spike--had emerged from earlier. Opening the wooden, blue door with her magic, Twilight entered the room, closely followed by her male companions.

“This is it,” she said as she swept her hoof in front of her as if to display the room to a potential buyer.

The room was significantly smaller than the one they had just come from, but no less packed with books; it was blatantly obvious that this building had been intended to be a library, not a residence.

There was another writing desk nearby that was stacked with paper and had a quill and inkwell on it also. The quill was still wet and its ink had begun to run down one of the many sheets of parchment. Judging by that and the several open books that were on and around the desk, Shade assumed that this was where Twilight had been before Pinkie Pie had so rudely and abruptly interrupted her research. It was probably her personal desk whereas the ones on the first floor were intended for visitors who came by to read or study.

On the far side of the room--which wasn’t really very far--was a much shorter bookshelf; about half the size of the others. A ladder allowed those who couldn’t fly to easily climb to a half-circle shaped platform on top. The soft light of the moon shone through a window on the wall. From below, Shade could barely make out the rectangular shapes of a couple of pieces of furniture.

Twilight had already climbed the ladder while Shade was surveying his surroundings and was motioning for him to do the same. He approached the ladder and climbed up to join her.

“This one’s my bed,” she said, motioning to the bed on their right. It was covered by a deep blue blanket decorated with bright stars to give it the appearance of a calm night sky. A side table was located between the bed and the far wall; on top of it, a plain looking lamp and alarm clock.

“And this one’s yours for now,” she added, pointing to the bed opposite hers. The two were basically the same. The only differences with this one were the bland-looking, pink sheets and the lack of a side table.

“It doesn’t exactly give either of us much privacy,” she admitted, blushing slightly, “But it’s gonna have to do for now. I’ll probably get around to moving your bed into another room sometime. So anyway, that’s it. When you’re ready to turn in, you know where to go.”

Shade was still pretty tired after the day’s events. Perhaps not actually exhausted but more drained. And the idea of sleeping in a real bed was too good to pass up. With a mattress, pillow, sheets and everything. And these weren’t even considered luxuries to the average pony.

“I think I’ll just turn in now then,” he said with more enthusiasm than one would normally show when getting ready to sleep.

“Oh, alright then,” Twilight said with an acknowledging smile. “I’m going to be up a little longer to continue my research so I’ll grab my stuff and head downstairs.” Shade felt guilty that he was essentially forcing her out of her own bedroom but she seemed happy to oblige. “Spike, grab those books there for me, would you?”

“Me?” the dragon responded from the lower level. “You’re the unicorn here. Why can’t you carry them?”

“Because that’s what I have an assistant for,” Twilight said jokingly as she descended the ladder. “Oh, but I guess a wittle baby dwagon isn’t stwong enough to cawwy all those books, is he?”

“The hay I’m not!” Spike said, puffing out his chest defensively. He ran over to the pile of books and started to stack them in his arms. Shade found it amusing how easily the dragon was duped by a little reverse psychology.

His two hosts made their way out of the room. Twilight only stopped to say goodnight to Shade before she closed the door behind her. He was alone now for the first time since he arrived in Ponyville. It was odd really. He hasn’t even been here for a whole day yet and has already found that it was surprisingly easy to earn somepony’s trust here. A changeling could have a field day in a town like this.

He shook the thought from his head. That’s not why he was here. He looked upon the bed that Twilight had assigned for him. Using his magic to pull back the sheets, he climbed on the mattress and settled in.

Heaven.

Never had he been so comfortable in his entire life. The mattress conformed perfectly to his false body shape, the pillow cradled his head like a newborn in its mother’s embrace, and the blankets warmed and eased his nervous muscles. Pure. Bliss.

He would be so happy to put this day behind him. To forget about the Changeling Kingdom. Forget about Chrysalis. Forget the deceased unicorn that he was passing himself off as. And focus entirely on what lie ahead.

Tomorrow would mark the beginning of his new life.

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