• Published 25th Nov 2012
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When They Found Us - Zephyrus Scary



Pinkie is Us, but We were found, and now Our only option is to run...

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When They Found Us

When They Found Us

Zephyrus Scary

It was my turn to play as “Pinkie” on that day when it happened, and even though none of Us blames me, i often wonder that there had to be a better way. Always, my musing starts at that one specific second in the late morning, as i was just pulling out the last morning batch of muffins and setting them to cool so they would be ready for lunch. I hummed as i worked, for that is part of the persona of Pinkie We designed; in the Mind, the rest of Us created a backdrop of music.

Then, the start of it all: a call to me from the Us watching the outside of Sugarcube Corner, and the singing stopped. Twilight Sparkle was approaching, of all things, the kitchen door—not the front! “-Why?-” We wondered, but there was no time for Us to ponder an answer. I zipped forward and opened the door just when the unicorn reached the doorstep. “Hey Twi!” i greeted with an energetic wave and toothy smile. Twilight only looked confused for barely half a second, and just as i felt her love begin to flow into Us—me—Pinkie—i could almost feel her dismissal of Us somehow knowing she was approaching the kitchen door. Of course, she didn’t know it was Us; she thought We were only i. Only Pinkie Pie.

For those precious few seconds as i turned back to finish my work and allowed Twilight to enter and close the door behind herself, We did not think We had any need to worry; there was no indication that We were in danger; none of Us could see that catastrophe was approaching. Looking back on it now, it seems such horrible irony that We, masters of disguise and surprise, could be snuck up upon by any danger hiding behind Twilight’s idle smile, but then, Twilight did not know—not yet—that the news she brought was a call to the gallows for Us.

“Sorry if I’m bothering you, keeping you from your-.” Twilight begins, always polite. Yes, polite… to those who she does not perceive as an enemy—We were not her enemy! No, but We knew she would think of Us that way if she knew the truth, especially after what had happened in Canterlot. Unfortunately, it had become easy for Us to forget those things that nearly ruined Pinkie—and Us; so many things had nearly revealed Us as Our Mother and Brothers and Sisters had their way with the city. Of course We knew, as all mortal things do, that Our luck would eventually run out, but at that moment We were blissfully unaware that it was so close.

“Silly filly, you’re one of my Bestest Best Best Friends Forever! Of course you’re not bothering me!” It was easy to grin that too-wide grin, then; if only i had known what i know now… i probably would have jumped out the window and ran for the relative safety of the Everfree Forest. And from there? Nothing would have changed, probably; maybe i wouldn’t have ran into-… but i’m getting ahead of Ourselves.

“Right. ‘Of course…’” Twilight sounded like she was trying hard not to roll her eyes. Of course We know that just being a best friend doesn’t mean one cannot bother each other, but do you think Pinkie would know or even entertain that thought? “Anyway,” Twilight shook her head, “don’t freak out about throwing a party or something, but Princess Celestia is coming to Ponyville-.” Just then, i knew she was trying hard to keep any of her fury from showing on her face, and that was when the first tinge of fear went through Us. “-and it’s not just a visit; it’s… Changelings.”

Our Mind went completely quiet with paralysis, even i, as Pinkie, went ice-still for a moment, and i’m still amazed that We were not found out right then and there, but i can only guess that Twilight harbored no suspicion towards any of the Bearers. Fair enough as even We did not understand why We had not been thrown out with Our Mother and Brothers and Sisters, but that was not the reason she did not suspect Us, as We found out when she took my silence as an invitation to continue.

“Apparently, some Changelings in Canterlot weren’t affected by my brother's shield—probably because of his hasty spellwork,” she added in an undertone. “It’s been bothering me for a while, but after Princess Celestia decided I was ready to start studying Blood Magic a couple weeks ago, the solution came to me! Anyway, since the spell has been perfected, we’re going to sweep Equestria city-by-city, starting with Ponyville. The Princess wants us, with the Elements of Harmony, to be there just in case of trouble, alongside a few guards my brother chose. I’m going to cast the spell during a town meeting that will be called at around one this afternoon, to which everypony is obliged to go, so… don’t tell anyone what’s really going to happen at town hall, okay?”

By the end of Twilight’s speech, i was dully astonished that i was still breathing and blinking; i thought that surely my very heart must have stopped beating from the venomous fear that it was now pumping though itself along with the rest of my body. A mental slap from one of Us through the Mind helped me say, “I Pinkie Promise not to tell anypony,” but i was capable of nothing more. It satisfied Twilight, though, and she left with a happy hum that clashed against the horrors building in Our Mind. “-escape!-” “-run!-” “-abandon!-” “-flee!-” We could see no other choice: if We wanted to survive, “Pinkie Pie” would have to “die.” We would have to leave Ponyville and bide Our time until it was safe for Us to construct a new identity with which to integrate with ponies and absorb their abundant love again—no doubt was within any one of Us that hard times were coming; that We would once again experience the Hunger which We had left the Hive to escape. The youngest of Us actually proposed going back to Queen Chrysalis, but sending over the Mind visions of what She would do to Us quieted him.

Even though i had been literally scared out of my wits, and only managed to actually start my escape with the support i received through the Mind, i began to realize how easy this would truly be. Who would question Pinkie Pie: Friend to All of Ponyville? Who would stop me and demand an explanation? To ask where i was going, and why? It should have been so simple. All i had to do was walk into the Everfree Forest; someone was sure to see me—i had no need to wait until i was sure i had a witness—and when Pinkie did not return, the ponies would (so easily) draw the conclusion that Pinkie Pie must have fallen to the many dangers there.

We felt a bit bad about it, for surely Our “death” would upset many for quite a while, and they would just as likely risk their lives searching the forest, first in hopes of saving Pinkie’s life, then in hopes of recovering her body and getting revenge on whatever might have killed her. Yes, revenge. Unfortunately, Changelings know a lot about revenge, and other sapient species’ propensity for it, even ponies, but that’s another story… a long string of stories. Anyway, at that moment, what other choice did We have? Would you expect Us to wait to be inevitably found out when Twilight cast her spell? “Pinkie” was going to die either way; We might as well save Ourselves, and if We remained in the Everfree Forest as We waited, perhaps We could keep too many ponies from dying themselves as they looked for Pinkie Pie, as unnecessary as-, and i are getting ahead out myselves again—We and Ourselves. Sometimes, in the Mind, it’s hard to tell from whom such random, off-point thoughts come from…

Just as We were thinking it wouldn’t happen, though, i ran—literally, ran—into a pony who did, indeed, ask, “Oh, Pinkam-kie Pie, where are you headed to in such a… distracted hurry?” Of course She struggled with Our disguise’s name, torn between being so used to addressing ponies by their full names and the familiarity She shares with few beyond Her Sister and the Bearers: Princess Celestia. Instantly, as my mind went blank with renewed fears, Our Mind went into overdrive as the others of Us tried to hastily pull together a plan to help me get away as quickly as possible. After all, when one of the Princesses asks one of Her ponies—or who She thinks is one of Her ponies—a question, that pony responds.

Getting back to Pinkie’s hooves from where i had fallen on the dusty road (thankfully, so i thought at the time, i hadn’t knocked Princess Celestia down), i gave what i’m sure was the most unconvincing smile that had ever and will ever be, if it hadn’t been on Pinkie’s face. I knew that i should answer soon, so i grab wildly at the thoughts flashing through the Mind. “Gummy!” i shout out like an overeager filly trying to answer the teacher’s question before anyone else can even raise their hoof. “-is…-n’t feeling well!” i go on after a moment, and i give thanks to Our ingenuity in Pinkie’s crazy design, for it’s only “her” that saves me from suspicion. “So i was…” i take way too long in trying to come up with some excuse to get Princess Celestia away from me. “-medicine-” “-herbs-” “-Zecora!-” We suggest to me. “Going to Zecora’s to see if she had a potion for… his… chickenpox!”

Princess Celestia may be called an expert in hiding Her emotions, but not in Her eyes and not from Changelings, and even though She’s not in the Mind, i could still hear the question She never voiced: “Alligators get chickenpox?” i-. We Ourselves don’t know, but it didn’t matter, because She didn’t ask, She only said, “Ah, if you want to get to Zecora’s, allow her time to find you a potion, and give Gummy his medicine before the afternoon, then I won’t hold you up any longer,” then She smiled serenely down at m- at Pinkie Pie. I waited for a moment, then, looking back into Her eyes, smiling, and committing Her face to memory; how We wished that She would look at Us like that, but i knew better: to ponies, the Mind made Us “the same.” They thought it impossible that We can both be individuals and have what they called a “hivemind;” it’s always one or the other with ponies, never “both.” Never a compromise, and if you have one hint of the “bad” attribute, everything that is “good” is wiped away. Ignored.

After that encounter, i almost, almost flew to the Everfree Forest, but i wasn’t going to risk that just then, not when i was so close, then i could fly. There were no more interruptions; We can only suppose i had a look on Pinkie Pie’s face that told everyone that i wasn’t to be bothered. Reaching the path that led into the forest, i finally slowed, then actually stopped at the point just before where the strangeness of the Everfree Forest turned the otherwise bright, sunny day into a shadowy, dusk-like darkness with little-to-no transition. I looked up into the branches and their thick cover of leaves, from where We were likely to see Ponyville from a distance for those times ahead that i was not out scrounging love from whatever sources We deemed safe for a minute or two. Then, i turned back to Ponyville, and saw the ponies milling about their peaceful lives that We had been a part of just a few minutes ago. Peace… if only We could be afforded such a luxury, but such was the lot for Our species: always suspected, never trusted, but it’s not like We could really blame anyone, especially ponies, considering what happened in Canterlot.

Yet, We yearned to stay, and not merely because We did not want to lose the great amount of food sources We had managed to gather with Pinkie Pie, but also because We honestly loved them back. Considering how dangerous Our way of life is, the ponies of Ponyville had brought smiles to Us as We worked to get them to love Pinkie Pie, and not simply because that love fed Us; in time, after We no longer had to work at getting ponies to love Pinkie, We came to see how, in getting another pony to smile, the smile was it’s own reward.

Now it was gone. Ponyville, and We, would never be the same.

I stepped under the canopy, still looking back at Ponyville to catch glimpses of the wonderful ponies that lived there (paying no mind to their hatred of Our kind, for they did not fully understand Us) until a bend in the path took me out of their line of sight. You may think it rather stupid to step into that forest without watching where i was going, but the Mind assured it was safe, so with a sigh, i then stepped off the path, dropped the Pinkie Pie disguise, and weaved between bushes and trees until i came upon a small clearing where i joined the circle where the rest of Us were waiting for me. All eight of Us stood still for a moment, the Mind in a rare state of quiet—sometimes, when i look back on that moment, i like to think We were giving “Pinkie Pie” a moment of silence for her death, but i know that We were only stunned by the irreversible consequences of what had just taken place. Yes, We had known what was going to happen as soon as Twilight had said the word “Changelings” back in Sugarcube Corner, but in the panic of Our escape, the facts had not sunk in until that moment. We had spent so long as Pinkie Pie, after all—over a decade, at that point—and now it was over, just like that. Not even a goodbye to a single pony; it couldn’t be risked. We hadn’t thought of leaving a note, but even if We had tried to explain why We had to leave in some kind of good bye letter, nopony would have believed it, and it was too late by then, anyway; We couldn’t risk going back.

At once, We all flew forward and hugged. You may think it strange, and think the Mind provides an intimacy that no other creature could experience without a very specialized mind-linking spell, but We had learned so much from ponies and their physical intimacy. You probably won’t be so surprised to hear that there was no such thing as physical intimacy back at the Hive. It was not as if We and Our Mother and Brothers and Sisters did not care for one another; comforting through the Mind is as common and easy as hugging is for ponies, and the gesture is filled with care and love, but once We experienced the physical intimacy of ponies, We found something about the Mind strangely lacking in some ethereal thing that hugs and other such pony gestures contained. We have wondered if perhaps it is this lacked “thing” which has resulted in Our Mother’s and the Hive’s general lack of empathy towards Our food, at least maybe partially, but without even understanding what hugs provided, how could We, or anyone, know?

Hours later, We separated from the hug, and a question floated through the Mind: “-what now?-” None of Us answered. We truly did not know. As i said, We had spent so long as Pinkie Pie, We had by then mostly forgotten the techniques We had used before, when We were with the Hive. We knew We had to stay out of sight from Zecora and anyone who came into the forest, but how? We had become so used to being able to spring out of Our hiding spot in Pinkie’s many random, physics-breaking ways, that Our skills had deteriorated. And what were We to do in the meantime? If ever one of Us got too bored, it was easy to arrange a switch through the Mind, and it had not been uncommon for all eight of Us to play Pinkie for at least a couple minutes each every day (though the the role of “main actress” was taken in turns, day-by-day).

In the end, it was not Us who decided what to do when We found out We had spent far too much time in that clearing so close to the edge of the Everfree Forest—too close. No, what decided Our fate then is exactly what We were fearing: Twilight and Princess Celestia’s voices came from the path.

“-can’t have, since I asked Zecora to come into town today to be tested with everyone else, but… as soon as she reached the hut, she should have seen Zecora wasn’t home and come right back into town… Ohhh, I feel like I’m missing something, and for once I really hope I did, because otherwise Pinkie is out here alone and probably hurt or trapped or-!” She sounded horribly worried about Pinkie Pie, which would have made Us feel even worse if We were not so worried about Ourselves, and though We tried to suppress it, it is true that Changelings subconsciously buzz their wings when anxious or angry.

“-or perhaps, my dear student,” Princess Celestia interrupted gracefully, “She simply thought that Zecora was out gathering ingredients, decided to wait until she returned, and lost track of the time.” If We had been in any state to, We would have taken this examination of Our constructed personality as criticism, for Pinkie would not have simply waited around—Something that Twilight, in Our place, spotted as a snag in the Princess’s supposition.

“Yes, waiting… in a hut filled with herbs and potions that do who-knows-what if mixed inappropriately… Some of those potions probably unfinished and could make a pony horribly sick in-!” Twilight was interrupted by something yet unknown to Ourselves, but it was revealed soon enough when Twilight had calmed enough to speak relatively normally. “What was that again, Fluttershy?”

The Mind was suddenly filled with thoughts again. “-Fluttershy?-” “-i thought it was just Twilight and the Princess!-” “-are the rest of the Bearers here, too?-” “-does it matter? We need to run!-” But We didn’t run, We flew, and as We took off, deeper into the forest, i chanced a look back, and saw that We had fled not a moment too soon, as Twilight, Fluttershy, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack jumped out of the foliage and into the clearing, not breaking stride as they ran after Us, Princess Celestia galloping gracefully behind them.

But there was only six of them. “-split up-” i suggested, and We divided, first into four groups of two, tricking them into thinking We would split no further, so that they thought it would be safe for they themselves to split up without losing Us—it worked, and i and another one of Us got Princess Celestia chasing Us by herself. Further along, We split again, and through the Mind We all heard Rainbow Dash and the Princess curse at the necessity of losing one to continue the chase—Princess Celestia, to my luck, continued chasing me, so i was left to wishing that, whatever may happen, the other whom i had helped escape by distracting the Princess would continue to survive.

That’s how i started out, anyway, when i saw that it was i the Princess decided to continue chasing, but as powerful as both Princesses are, neither of them had spent a decade absorbing power from the love of an entire town’s worth of ponies. Even as i weaved through branches that Princess Celestia thoughtlessly cut away with spell after spell, i found that my speed, agility, and endurance somehow held out to the point where i almost lost Her by diving into a chasm that was halfway to becoming a small canyon.

I realized my mistake as soon as Princess Celestia, in awe-inspiring power and grace, glided after me and the spells that once cut a path for Her were being aimed at me now that there were no trees and bushes to block Her line of sight! I weaved as much as i could, but that only helped Her begin to gain up on me again, and though i used the remains of rockslides to cover me as often as i ran across them, they were too little in number to, by themselves, save me. When i noticed a shadow of a cave, i thought i might, might find some way to lose the Princess in there, and in a way, i did, but not by going into the cave.

When one of the Princesses spells exploded against a rock just outside the cave, a great, annoyed roar followed, and just as i came upon the cave, intending to turn and dive into it, instead a manticore leapt out and with a powerful swipe, knocked me into the opposite wall, where i fell in a heap, one of my wings broken and twitching in pain.

I couldn’t afford to pay any attention to that, however; if i was not to survive, i was determined to at least buy as much time as possible, so jumped to my legs, ignoring the pain, and glanced between the two threats. The manticore looked mildly wary, possibly because i had so quickly gotten to my hooves and stood so resolutely after such a blow, and Princess Celestia skidded to a halt in a way that would have been comical had i been in another mindset, and jumped behind a boulder. I can only guess that She must have thought She could watch, preserve Her energy, and, if i managed to defeat the manticore, She would be able to take me down easily: a pretty much ironclad strategy, unfortunately for me, but as i said, i was still determined to buy the rest of Us time, if nothing else.

Turning back to the manticore, however, i fleetingly wondered whether fleeing would be the better option. Fight or flee. I could still run, even though my wing was broken, but what if the chasm ended with a cliff that would trap me, instead of a slope up which i could run? As the manticore and i squared and circled each other, i wavered between the two options until a third suddenly burst forth, not from the Mind, but memory: kindness.

We had been Pinkie Pie for more than a decade, long before the return of Nightmare Moon, and that fateful night We would be chosen; even the youngest of Us, who had joined Us barely a year before the day when the found Us, knew what had happened thanks to the Mind. Just show a little kindness, i tried to work myself up for the inevitable moment, but as i stood hoof to toe with a growling manticore, of course there was the thought in the back of my head, and in the Mind, “-are you sure will it work?-”

What i wasn’t sure of, though, was that i would be able to survive—that i would be able to defeat both a manticore and an alicorn, alone, one after the other. So, i did the only thing that provided the only glimmer of hope, no matter how faint: i relaxed, slumped, sat down, and thought to myself, I’m a Changeling! This is what i was born to do! If i can get ponies to like me, i should be able to do the same with a manticore! After all, it’s not angry with me because of what i am; i don’t need a disguise, just good intentions. As i gave myself this prep talk, i could feel the confusion build in both the manticore and Princess Celestia.

Yes, i am a Changeling. How many times had i seen Fluttershy’s kindness in action? All i needed to do was copy her techniques, so i thought. I pulled myself back into a standing position, and the manticore tensed, as i predicted, but not as much as it had been before. Encouraged, i walked slowly, nonchalant as possible, up to the manticore. “-be completely without chalant-” came a sudden thought over the Mind, and i inexplicably giggled (multiplying Princess Celestia’s confusion), even as the manticore raised a paw and extended its claws in warning. “-you got this-” came another thought, and indeed i did, as i raised one of my hooves to meet the paw, and began to pet it. Slowly, i worked my way up the leg to the beast’s neck, which i then hugged with one foreleg as i pet its rough mane with the other. Soon enough, it began to purr and stood, apparently intent on carrying me into its home, but remember what i said about entering the cave?

With the manticore’s back turned to Princess Celestia, and therefore i capable of seeing Her from my position on the neck, She stepped out from behind the boulder, horn ready, and fired a bolt of destructive energy. It did nothing more than singe the littlest bit of fur on the manticore’s mane just above my head, and though We will never know whether She missed on purpose—i doubt She will ever tell a single soul—the manticore did not care. What it did think, i can only guess: it may have thought that i had been acting as a diversion so Princess Celestia could attack. All i really know, based on the sudden pain, coupled with blurred vision followed by darkness, is that it saw me as an enemy again.

After what felt like an hour, though i know was only a second or two, the manticore stepped off of my head, and i turned to see the thing that i was sure had sealed my fate: no, not Princess Celestia: the manticore’s scorpion-like tail, its tip punched into my side. Of course i hadn’t felt it; manticore venom is the most powerful anesthetic and paralytic known, and the tip of the tail, where the sac is, was as large as my head. My brain seemed convinced, though, that it could feel the venom being pumped into me, even as i knew the truth, though even i must admit that it seemed impossible i could not feel it, for i saw cracks appear in my chitin as my body was literally inflated with the amount of venom pumped into me.

When the manticore finally jerked its tail out of me, i could “feel” the paralysis beginning to creep up my neck, though the monstrous venom left my lungs and heart working, so i turned, with the last of my strength, to look at Princess Celestia. The manticore had gotten a similar idea, swiveling on its agile feet to face its other opponent, but the Princess disappeared with a flash. The manticore turned around swiftly, looking around and even up at the top of the two cliffs that surrounded us, but by the fact i had seen no second flash that would have signaled Her reappearance, i knew She had left me to my fate. My fate… it felt so strange that just that morning—just hours ago—my only worry had been getting the muffins done in time for lunch…

Then the manticore turned back to me, and-… What happened next… i do not quite know how to describe it, and i never dared share it over the Mind, so i cannot and will not ask for help… How could i possibly convey with words how it feels to hear a manticore bite through my chitin completely painlessly, and tear one of my hindlegs off? To try to describe the sound of the crunch of my shell between its impossibly sharp teeth, and the horrific wet sounds as it bit into my hip and slurped at my insides… is unthinkable. The painlessness and helplessness of it all was more complete than any other situation i can imagine; i couldn’t twitch even one of my remaining hooves, and my entire neck was by then paralyzed, so even if my horn was not also rendered useless by the venom, i couldn’t aim. All i could do was listen to myself being eaten by the manticore—i had even cut myself off from the Mind so i could not, even inadvertently, transfer the sensations of my torture to the rest of Us.

That was the only time in my life i had not had others’ thoughts, and-… … … I know that some of you think hearing voices that are not your own in your mind makes one insane; it’s the opposite for Changelings. Without the Mind to ground me, i began having impossible thoughts and visions for the future, and the fact that i was going to die being eaten was lost behind plans for a future that no longer existed for me. Dimly, with what felt like the last of my sanity, i realized my insane visions were not going to allow me the final pleasure of watching my life flash before me—my last thoughts were going to be of living alone with a manticore sex slave, and not of one of the many moments with the ponies of Ponyville that i cherished most dearly, but even if i had had the reason to remember i could reconnect to the Mind, i wouldn’t have… Still, i would never wish such a thing on any creature. Living is hard enough; death should be as comfortable as it can be made to be…

If i had not been so foolish, i would have known that the rest of Us had already thrown off their pursuers and were planning a rescue. As the manticore swallowed another bit of me (how that muted gulping sounded so loud to my ears), i heard a buzzing that quickly grew in volume. I saw nothing but a few flashes of the green light of Changeling magic, then a spurt of the manticore’s red blood sprayed the ground, followed by a great tremor in the ground when it’s heavy body nearly fell on me. When the green light came again, moving the body away into the cave, a great force suddenly fell upon my thoughts. I resisted, but not for long—i was too weak—and the Mind was forced upon me, driving away the visions, but their remnants, like shadows in the corner of the eye, would have left me shivering if my body had been able.

You can probably reason for yourself that i was not rescued to save my life, only to recover my body and keep me comfortable as i bled to death. The other seven of Us stepped around into my frozen vision, hardly looking like they had just escaped being captured and executed and had killed a manticore—Our chitin is rather durable. Through the Mind, i received the Final Gift—a tradition of Changelings, in which the Mind is completely saturated with memories of happy times—as all of Us began to cry, and i could feel their want to hug me, but they were scared of hurting me further, so they settled with holding on to each other.

However, We had let down Our guard too soon; The rest of Us had spent too much energy on killing the manticore. Why had none of Us realized that Princess Celestia would check to make sure i had, indeed, been eaten? It’s easy to ask that question now, out of the heat of the moment… There was a flash of brilliant, momentarily blinding light, but We didn’t need to see to know that Princess Celestia had regathered the other Bearers and now had Us surrounded; Twilight and the Princess were on opposite sides—“-smart-” We thought, “-spreading out the two most magically capable ones-”. I would have added my voice to the cries of alarm and wails of despair that rose from the rest of Us, but though i was still yet breathing, i could not control it, so the only sign from me was an involuntary increase in my breathing rate.

The rest of Us didn’t care any more; it was over for Us anyway, after all, so they huddled up against me and pulled me into the hug, and i vaguely felt the loss of some pressure between my insides as a little bit of me fell out of the hole in my side. None of Us even tried to raise some kind of defense as i saw, thought the Mind with another one of Our’s eyes, Celestia step forward, always so gracefully, with Her head held high, but Her horn lowered guardedly. She needn’t have bothered.

The Mind then became so filled with memories of the life We had shared with the other Bearers—all the good and bad—it was almost dizzying; it felt like We were trying to squeeze a whole life’s worth of memories into one second. Of course, We also should have realized that We wouldn’t be killed right there—not until We had been interrogated. “What,” the Princess’s voice was filled with such a fury that was only ever directed towards those few things She hated. Yes, hated. “-have you done with Pinkie Pie?”

As soon as She spoke that first syllable, the question had been expected by Us, but We had no thought as to how to answer. What could We say? Were We to tell the truth and have it dismissed a lie? If We were to lie, then in what way? Could any of Us be able to bring Ourself to say, “Dead. We killed her”? We considered simply remaining silent, but i pressed that that would only be worse for the rest of Us in the long run, but that didn’t help Us come up with anything to say, so We said the only thing of which We could think, in a way.

“Dead,” the youngest of Us said, looking up. “You killed her.” For a moment—just a millisecond, but it felt like it lasted for the life of the universe—Princess Celestia looked like She had just been told Her Sister had turned again into Nightmare Moon; We could practically see Her frantically searching Her mind for any act She had taken that might have led to the death of one of Her ponies, no matter how farfetched the chain of events. We don’t know how the other Bearers reacted, because the youngest of Us was focused solely on the Princess, and the rest of Us, minus me, had turned to stare at the youngest. Yes, in a way it was the truth: We had been forced to abandon the persona that was “Pinkie Pie,” “killing” her, but it was no better—it would be no more believed—than the truth of who Pinkie had actually been.

“Princess-?”
“Did it just say-!”
“Oh my!”
“What-…?”
“Don’t. Use. Her. Voice.” Applejack spoke above her friends; her words not shouted, but her tone instantly made them quiet. The rest of Us looked between each other, “-how can We possibly answer without?-”

“Sorry,” the youngest went on, again without Us “but-what-voice-are-We-to-use?” the youngest continued quickly, when Applejack opened her mouth to admonish the use of Pinkie’s voice. At the Earth pony’s confused blink, We anticipated her next question, and cut her off. “We—Changelings—have no voice to call Our own, so… who’s voice are We to copy?” It was an honest question; if they were uncomfortable with Our use of Pinkie’s voice, as much as We thought of it as “Our voice,” We would use any other they designated.

Applejack took a moment to mull this over, and looked between each of the other Bearers before turning back to the youngest of Us and growling in frustration before simply shaking her head jerkily—We took it to mean it didn’t matter, and We were more or less right.

In the meantime, it seemed that Princess Celestia had regained Her wits, and asked, “What do you mean, ‘I killed her?’” Her voice was even, as smooth as steel.

“Obviously, they’re lyin’,” Applejack said, but her voice was notably weaker than before, and she was looking to the side, not at anyone, and We could tell that everyone knew she, Honesty, wasn’t completely sure about that.

“-could this-?-”

The youngest of Us stared passively at Applejack for a moment, expecting her to continue, but that she did not. “You were going to expose her, and hunt her. Kill her, so she had no choice but to disappear forever. Now, she’s going to die; very soon, We expect.” I frowned with the rest of Us at the youngest of Us saying such things with such obvious implications. Applejack didn’t move from looking off to the side, but Rainbow Dash finally landed from hovering over Us—obviously to catch Us if We had it in Us to even attempt to flee again—with her head tilted.

Princess Celestia glared at the youngest of Us for a moment, who didn’t waver even as the Princess’s eyes ever so slowly narrowed. In time, She began to step forward again, and the rest of Us huddled closer, pulling me in, and they whimpered, while my jaw slacked open so i drooled onto one of Us as my fang scraped against chitin. From this viewpoint, i saw Princess Celestia walking around the huddle to me, whereupon She lowered Her horn to my torn open side, and with another flash of sun-bright magic, i was healed completely. My leg was back, along with my missing insides, my wing was made flightworthy, and my chitin was whole again where it had been broken from my body being inflated by the injection of venom, and of the venom itself, its effects had been wiped away: i could move again, and the first thing i did, ignoring the fact i was still covered with my own green blood, was join the hug with the rest of Us.

The Princess then stepped back and, with Her voice as emotionless as before, ordered, “Make your case.”

We all blinked somewhat dumbly at this, until We realized what She truly must have planned: She was going to break down what She thought of as Our lies until We said what She wanted to hear. “-no- -We’re not going to fall into that trap- -She’s giving Us a chance- -We might as well try to use it to Our benefit than Her’s-” i encourage, but how could We do what i had said? I closed my eyes and tuned out—not blocked off—the Mind, and… eventually, i cried out with anxious enthusiasm, “Pinkie Sense!”

I paid no attention to anyone else, even as the Mind was filled with questions, i didn’t bother responding, as i was about the answer out loud. Swiveling around, i pointed to Twilight Sparkle with a hoof, who took what We imagine was an involuntary step back. “Remember when you were trying to study Our ‘Pinkie Sense,’ and what happened after you gave up trying to study Pinkie with the machines in the library basement?” She opened her mouth, but i quickly went on before she could ruin my proof. “As you and ‘Pinkie’ were walking up the stairs, Spike slammed the door open and squished you between the door and wall!” That made Twilight blush at the embarrassing memory, and pull her head back, showing she was surprised i knew that, because, “The only ones who would know that happened, is you, Spike, and Pinkie. I’m guessing, by that blush, you didn’t tell anyone, and maybe even asked Spike never to mention it, so We’re the only… three who should know that irrelevant-to-Pinkie detail.”

Twilight bit her lip, and Princess Celestia gave me a small frown—We had one point, but it wasn’t enough. “-there has to be more- -more events that no one witnessed, and none of the Bearers would talk about, and no Changeling would think of asking about-” “The surprise party,” i said, turning to Rainbow Dash next, and for her part, she only pulled her body back without moving her hooves, in a way as if she were trying to walk against a strong wind. “When you came to Pinkie to try to get her to come to the surprise party that the five of you put together for her, you came across a Pinkie throwing a party with a bag of flour, bucket of turnips, pile of rocks, and fluff of lint… and when you tried to push her out the door, she sat, hard, down on your head.”

When i finished, Twilight giggled at what “Pinkie” had done, but silenced herself quickly, and Rainbow Dash… didn’t look convinced. “Wait…” she eventually said. “If that was, uh, one of you, why did you get all mopey and… depressed?” As Rainbow asked this, the youngest of Us knew where she was headed, and slowly pulled out of the hug to drop on all fours, and promptly began to shuffle awkwardly.

“That was… bad luck? It was my first day, and when… everything that happened on that day… happened, i worried that i had somehow messed up, and cut myself off from the Mind…”

“Which is a very bad thing for a Changeling to do,” another one of Us jumped in to explain. “Being alone… left completely and only to One’s own thoughts, literally drives a Changeling crazy.” “-are you trying to make them more efficient Changeling-torturers!-” “-ponies never do anything that doesn’t benefit themselves in some way- -even if they could find a way to break the Mind, a sane prisoner is safer and a better source of intel-” “-if your so sure, why don’t you offer to help them figure out a spell to break the Mind?!-” “-quiet!-“

Trying to ignore the argument, i glanced at Princess Celestia to see what She thought, and with Her eyebrows raised, i imagined She thought the “separating from the Mind, which means going insane” seemed a little to convenient. Really, how could She take Us at Our word about Changeling mental health when She didn’t believe We were Pinkie Pie? “-more- -something else- -something that requires as little explanation as possible…-” “Mare Do Well!” i shouted; it seemed so obvious and simple, now: “No one knows it was the Bearers who were Mare Do Well, so no one but we know ‘Pinkie’ used Our ‘Pinkie Sense’ to save the construction workers! And… We are absolutely certain none you ever talked about that particular detail!” Of course, We were less than certain, far less than what i had said, but it was the only thing i could think of that was airtight—i’d considered things like Discord and the Poison Joke, but they had holes that would be quick and easy to be point out.

It seemed as though i was right, for Princess Celestia looked around for an explanation. “-even She doesn’t know-” We all watched, wings buzzing, as the other Bearers looked between themselves, and if We didn’t know better, We would have thought they had a Mind of their own. This time, it didn’t feel very long before all five turned to Princess Celestia and nodded, smiling. “-that… did it?-” “-it did-” “it did!-” “-is it over?-”

We turned to the Princess, but the answer came from behind, and We all jumped when Rainbow Dash crashed into Us, but it was only a tackle-hug. “So,” Twilight said from over Rainbow Dash’s shoulder when We turned around into the hug, “This is what the ‘Pinkie Sense’ really is, isn’t it? All of you together, and the hivemind-?” Twilight was starting to approach Us, and We were going to correct her about the hivemind, but Princess Celestia spoke first.

“Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash,” Her voice was as cold as before, and when We turned around, We saw that She had regained Her glare; She didn’t look away from Us as She continued to address Twilight. “This only proves that they had been Pinkie Pie since… this Mare Do Well incident, no more than that.” Twilight stopped midstep, and Rainbow Dash quickly pulled away, looking unsure, and you might think it was good that she hadn’t gone all the way back to angry, but it didn’t matter, truly. How were We to prove that We had always been Pinkie Pie? We had, perhaps, been a little bit too thorough in making sure Pinkie existed everywhere she was supposed to, even on paper—Our plans to make sure We weren’t suspected had instead turned on Us, and now trapped Us instead. We couldn’t think of a single way We might even begin to prove Pinkie hadn’t existed before We came along, but they were waiting, impatient. Neither could We think of any way to admit that We didn’t have proof, so We, as one, simply bowed Our heads and began to cry silently. We knew it wasn’t over. They weren’t going to just abandon their Pinkie Pie like that; We would be interrogated until We starved, were “accidentally” killed, or told them something they could believe. We couldn’t… do anything, and it was then the helplessness that i had felt before permeated though all of Us and the Mind went blank—We had already performed the Final Gift for each other just minutes ago, remember.

“I-…” It was Twilight that finally broke the silence, but with nothing more than that one syllable. Not one of Us bothered to look up at her. What would be the point? What did it matter what she said or did? Captured and before Princess Celestia, We realized that We should have never gotten Our hopes up; from the second She had teleported the other Bearers around Us in a barricade, Our fate had been written in something far stronger and more resilient than stone. The only thing We did was shiver and cry and occasionally shift, trying to keep as close together as possible, for there was no doubt in any of Us that We would be split up after what We had said about Changelings being alone—they didn’t trust Us, but that would keep them from trying anything to get to the truth of a Bearer’s fate.

“Ah-… I-…” Twilight sounded like she was really bracing herself for something, and We could only imagine it being anything but kind towards Us, so We only squeezed together even tighter, in turn bracing Ourselves. Twilight took a moment to breathe deeply a few times, and from their silence, We guessed that the others were content to give her that time—We did not mind this silent moment Ourselves; anything that got Us more time together, physically, was welcome. Finally: “I…” and for a second it seemed as if she wasn’t going to be able to finish yet again, but she did, “… believe them.”

We expected Princess Celestia to ask the obvious question, but it was Rarity who got there first. “I’m sorry, but what do you mean, you ‘believe’ them? These things can’t be trusted!” And still We didn’t bother looking up; We knew it was all just uninformed mortal-squabbling to Princess Celestia. Ignorable.

“I trust them, because Mare Do Well happened before my brother’s wedding. She stood by- They stood by us… and fought against their own kind! And I never noticed a break in Pinkie’s character, like I did with Cadance, not even the tiniest change… Then there’s the little things: small hints, like how Pinkie is desperate to be friends with everyone in town, but is kind of… awkward or outright clueless about certain social things. Then there’s all the stuff that Pinkie does that can’t be explained, but while Earth pony magic is well-studied, we know practically nothing, really, about Changeling magic.” As she speaks, she grows more confident and finishes by putting a hoof on one of Our shoulders, but We daren’t believe that such a feeble argument could sway Princess Celestia. It was just “belief” and “trust” and a couple bits of disconnected, circumstantial observations! We do not know what the other Bearers were thinking, for they did not move to support either Twilight or Princess Celestia.

No one said anything for a moment, and when Princess Celestia spoke, She sounded wary, more so wary than We imagined She could ever sound. “So… you trust these Changelings? You believe that there had never been a pony by the name of Pinkamena Diane Pie, and that she was, instead, invented by these Changelings?” Out of the corner of one of Our eyes, We saw Twilight nod even before the Princess finished Her questions. “I see… Then it appears that, after so long, I must once again take the direct approach to your lessons.”

“Huh?” Twilight exclaimed, with not a little fear, and you might think it comforting that she was scared on Our behalf, but how were We to feel, sure that Princess Celestia was going to kill Us, even after Twilight had decided to believe that We were Pinkie? After all, if she had still thought of Us as her enemy, at least Our death would bring her no grief, and when Pinkie was never seen again, she could blame Pinkie’s death on Us, comforting herself with the idea that We had been adequately punished for Our crime… but no, now the Princess was going to make a demonstration of Us—of what Changelings really were.

“Changelings,” Princess Celestia said as She walked up to Us, and when none of Us looked up, She forced Us to turn to Her with Her magic; Her eyes roved over Us before settling on me. “I have for you all a spell of Blood Magic.” Twilight gasped, fearful, yet incapable of completely hiding her excitement. “It can seal an agreement between two creatures. You will tell us what happened to Pinkie Pie, and I will let you go. If one of us breaks the Blood Promise, that one dies.” Her horn lit without waiting for a response, and a magic blade sliced against Her shoulder; then removing Her shoe, She brought one of Her forehooves up to the cut and a drop of what We tentatively call blood, for what ever it was was impossible to see as it shimmered like the Sun reflected in gently rippling water, dribbled onto the underside of Her hoof. Another spell, and the cut was healed; then She held out Her hoof as if for a hoofshake, and stared pointedly at my own hooves, which were still soaked, along with most of the rest of me, with my blood.

Do you think i had a choice? No, but i had a plan, so i stepped away from the rest of Us without too much fear, and lifted my hoof to meet Hers; still, i couldn’t suppress the shivers that ran through me at the thought of me, a Changeling, touching Princess Celestia, and without a disguise! Another spell, taking slightly longer to cast, and which caused the Princess’s horn to appear soaked with red blood, but only appear, and only for a moment, and i realized our hooves seemed glued together as my shivering caused Her leg to shake in perfect synchrony.

“Now, we state the conditions of our agreement,” Princess Celestia looked over at Twilight, sounding as if this was all happening in a classroom. “The caster goes first,” She further elaborated as She turned back to me. “I make this promise that shall be bound to my blood: I will allow you and your fellow Changelings here to go free, never to be hunted again until after you steal another’s identity, if you fulfill your end of this Blood Promise. So I swear, under penalty of death. Now, state your end of the promise, starting and finishing the same way I did.”

There was no visual indication of anything happening, but when She finished Her end of the Promise, i felt a pulse of something against the hoof connect to Her, and the only way We can think to describe it is that it felt as if the blood vessels of Her body were fighting to intertwine with mine. “I make this Promise… that shall be bound to my blood: i will reveal the true fate of the pony Pinkamena ‘Pinkie’ Diane Pie as soon as i finish this Blood Promise… So i swear, under penalty of death.” I gasp when i feel something in my hoof, as if… something had grown beyond the normal boundaries of my body and had become part of something not-me. Then… i wait. Wait for the Blood Promise to strike me down.

… but nothing happens; as the seconds tick on, everyone else slowly comes to realize that i was not dead, even though i clearly broke the Promise as i worded it. There was nothing left to do; i felt the spell release, and the “thing” retreat back into my own body, so i set my hoof down, and frowned, staring straight into Princess Celestia’s wide, bewildered eyes. “Very clever, thinking you could get me to say something without actually binding yourself to any promise ‘under penalty of death,’ Princess Celestia.”

The Princess didn’t lower Her hoof, but instead brought it up and stared at the now-smeared Sun-bright “blood” which had become mixed with green; noticing this, i glanced down at the bottom of my own hoof, and squinted at the streaks of shimmering stuff there and in the dirt where i had put my hoof, then i returned to the huddle of the rest of Us before turning back to the Princess, who was still staring at Her hoof. i hoped that She was beginning to see the implications, considering what ponies believed about Our Mind; that if one of Us had refused to say anything under penalty of death, so too would We all. Again, We expected the Princess to speak, but that was not what happened.

“Wait. What… does this mean?” Twilight sounded confused at first, but quickly her voice grew frantic. “I felt it. I felt the power behind the Blood Magic! You couldn’t have faked that! Changeling!” she turned to me, then. “The Princess wasn’t faking! She definitely cast some kind of Blood Magic spell! -but… what? -and why?” Of course… We should have suspected this, for indeed i felt some power connect my hoof to hers, but the question remained of what exactly that was. Everyone turned back to the Princess who, in the meantime, had turned away and stepped silently out of the circle; She had left the one shoe off, leaving hoofprints behind Her of mixed green and shining blood.

“I did not lie about the spell I cast; that was the Blood Promise, but…” Princess Celestia let out a shaky sigh and turned to Us with one eye, which was not narrowed with anything even vaguely hateful. “There is only one reason that spell would fail to kill upon being broken: at least one of the conditions in one or both Promises is impossible to fulfill.” Twilight tilted her head, but only for a moment; she looked like she had come to a realization as the Princess continued. “Going over the Promises we just made, I can think of only condition that would be impossible: ‘the-.’”

“‘-pony Pinkamena ‘Pinkie’ Diane Pie.’ ‘Pony.’” Twilight finished for her mentor, who turned her head to face away again. “That would be impossible… if there was no pony with that name… which means-.” She started shivering, but not with coldness or fear, and she was smiling at Us; she also seemed incapable of going on, but she didn’t really need to. “Wait. Again. My brother’s spell-. Why it failed on you and the other Changelings… wasn’t because of his spellwork, but because the spell wasn’t Blood Magic in the first place! -and! -it was powered with love! Which-!” Twilight finally noticed how everyone was staring in confusion, and she settled back sheepishly. “What I mean, is that the Changelings who hadn’t affected by the spell aren’t our enemies!”

Rainbow Dash didn’t crash into Us this time, but instead We, grinning Our best Pinkie grins, all transformed at the same time in a great green bonfire of magic before launching Our now-Pinkie-ified selves at the five friends We had lost and regained in the same day. Or rather, five of Us took one friend each while three of Us, including me, simply hugged each other in tearful gratefulness. Still, though, Rainbow Dash looked up from her hug after a little while, and seeing the seven other Pinkies around, said, “You know, guys… if we found out yesterday that Pinkie is actually eight Pinkies, without the whole Changeling thing, I wouldn’t have thought anything was out of the ordinary.” And given the laughing from everyone else, We think it’s safe to say that all the others agreed.

All except one, anyway.

I broke away from the hug, assuring though the Mind that i was fine, and moved towards where Princess Celestia was still turned away from the reunion. Her head was down, Her eyes were closed, and at the corners of those eyes, shimmering tears—literally shimmering, like Her blood—had collected. I paused just a foot or two away, wondering whether this was truly a good idea, but then, why would it not be? When was hugging someone who was crying ever a bad idea? So it was that easy to take those last few steps and make Princess Celestia gasp in shock when i wrapped my forehooves around the nonbloodied foreleg.

“Hey! You know what this calls for?” one of Us who did not have a Bearer to hug now had Changeling wings on Pinkie’s back, and was buzzing above everyone, pointing down at them. At the call, Princess Celestia had turned at last, me still attached to Her leg.

However, We didn’t get to answer Ourself, for just then Princess Celestia lifted the forehoof that i wasn’t clinging to, and pointed straight up; a movement that caught everyone’s attention.

“Peace!”

But yes, of course a party was still thrown. Many, actually.

- - - -

“-and that’s how you were made!”