• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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Time's A Changling

"How's it been with Fluttershy?" Athena asked, swinging her hind legs as she sat on her seat aboard the train. "It's a little different not at least chatting up with you as much. I was starting to miss you."

I laughed a little in response. "It's not like we don't see each other every day. We still live together after all. Besides, it's been great spending a little more time with Fluttershy. I finally got to meet her parents. It's just too bad that I don't exactly have a 'normal' family to introduce her to, but I guess that's the burden of being an 'irregular'."

"You and me both." She revised with a cheerful grin. "But, hey, if it makes you feel any better, you've got me. I am her sister-in-law, aren't I?" She nudged with her eyebrows.

"Yeah, yeah…" I rolled with her teasing. "You two been getting along?"

"Of course!" Athena enthusiastically answered. "She's just so nice! If she wasn't your girlfriend, I might've even considered her as some 'grandma' type of character. She's always offering things like tea and cookies for me. I feel like she can really spoil me, hehe. Plus, while you're out doing your own thing with Fluttershy or somepony else, I've been getting to know more of everypony, especially Twilight. I think I can start seeing what made you consider her as a suitable sister in the first place. She's just so quirky and dorky. Just like me! But smart."

"Well, it's nice to hear that you're branching out your relationships." I told her with a genuine smile. "There is so much more you can learn when it comes to hanging around with different friends. And in a way, the more friends you have, the less lonely you feel. Right?"

She nodded lightly. "Twilight can give me a boring lecture while I'm waiting for you to come back."

"I heard that!" Twilight had stated loud enough for us to hear. It didn't help that there was hardly any distance between where each of us had sat and that the train was practically empty and devoid of anypony else but our group.

"Just kidding!" Athena sheepishly returned. "You know I love learning about…um…the…kinesiology between the neurons in your brain…and…um…stuff…" I had a good feeling that she literally just made that up on the fly. She leaned in her head closer to me and began to whisper. "I actually zone out a lot of what she tells me…"

That sounds about right.

"Hey, it looks like we're just about to stop." Starlight Glimmer glanced out the window and noticed. "Strange. It doesn't look like anypony's at the station. Is there some kind of event going on or something?"

"Shouldn't be." Twilight, intrigued by Starlight's analysis, poked her head out the window as well. "Otherwise, I'm sure we would have been told beforehoof."

Finally, Athena and I reconvened with the other two and took a look outside for ourselves. There was no pony in sight whatsoever. The train soon squealed to a stop, and we were allowed to safely walk onto the boarding platform within the train station grounds. For once, we didn't have to push through anypony at all. We literally just moved a few steps and were comfortably out in the open.

"So…if there's no event going on, there where is everypony?" Athena asked.

"Guess there's only one way to find out." Starlight answered and turned over to Spike, who fumbled about with his odd attire. "This is just a suggestion, Spike, but I don't think you'll be needing a disguise after all. There's nopony here to 'mob' you."

"Huh. Weird." He pulled away the shades he had been wearing to take a good look around. "It's like a ghost town."

"You don't think anything bad happened here, do you?" Twilight questioned as we began our walk towards the Empire.

"Honestly, it looks a little too bright outside for anything 'bad' to have happened." Starlight responded. "It's like I said: It looks like something's going on here that we don't know about. Maybe there's a meeting at the castle?"

"If there is, it would have to be some kind of emergency or last-minute meeting." Twilight thought severely. "At either point, we should probably check it out as soon as possible."

Inside the empire, everything almost appeared to be a barren wasteland, except every building had been intact. In fact, the current state the town was in reminded me heavily of something from so long ago. There was at one point where Ponyville was utterly empty like this, and I believed it was when everypony was afraid of Zecora when she first came by. In that case, was everypony hiding from something?

"Yeah, this is really weird." Starlight mentioned inside.

Spike looked around as he slowly pulled the shades away from his eyes. "I guess you were right, Starlight. Looks like I don't need the disguise after all."

As soon as he pulled off his enormous wig, a mountain of crystal ponies surrounded him in an instant.

"It's Spike the Brave and Glorious!" One cheered.

"He's come to save us yet again!" Another stated happily.

Every one of them lifted Spike off the ground and began to repeatedly toss him upwards and catch him with their hooves as if he had just accomplished some great feat this very moment. "Spike! Spike! Spike! Spike!" They celebrated.

"Save you from what?" Spike asked in the midst of their festivity.

"Yeah, what's going on?" Starlight questioned.

"Why was everypony hiding?" Twilight clarified.

Two ponies from the frontmost area of the group turned back and eyed us especially.

"Oh, it sure looks like the ponies from Ponyville…" One whispered to the other.

"But how can we be sure?" The second pony questioned frightfully.

"We can't!" A stallion popped in. "Either one of them could be the... you know!"

"The 'what'?" Athena inquired behind us.

With a loud and sharp gasp, the first crystal mare grabbed her friend's face by the cheeks and spoke in panic. "What if this... isn't... the real Spike?!" A gasp escaped from her lips each time she paused.

"Everypony, run!" The second mare took heed of her friend's insinuation and screamed out towards the others that were too busy tossing Spike repeatedly in the air. All of them looked back at once and followed her warning without a second to spare, disappearing from sight. This left Spike with no pony to safely catch him, having me use my magic to get him back on his claws before his body could suffer the hard crystal surface below him.

"Okay. I think it's pretty clear that something strange is definitely going on." Twilight concluded after having witnessed the odd event.

"Ya think?" Spike commented a bit bitterly, which was understandable since he was nearly carelessly thrown to the ground.

"Guess we should hurry to the castle and make sure everything's alright." I advised.

We walked a little longer to surprisingly find two guards stationed at each side of the castle. I guess not every pony in the empire was hiding out of fear. However, before we could even get a better clue on what had been currently going on within the area, he stuck out a firm hoof towards us and stopped us from walking any further.

"Who goes there?"

"Um, you don't recognize the Prince and Princess from Ponyville?" Starlight pointed out with a small amount of snark. "They've been to the Crystal Empire only a million times."

"Of course we recognize them." The first royal guard responded.

"But that doesn't mean it's really them." The second tacked on.

I was beginning to feel a little of that potential sarcasm Starlight was holding onto for myself. Starlight did have a point, and the fact that no one was giving us any information as to why everypony was acting strangely was extremely annoying.

"What do you mean we're not really us?" I repeated the ludicrous-sounding statement. "Who else can we be?"

The two guards exchanged silent looks with each other before Spike stepped in to take matters into his own claws. "It's okay, guys. They're with me. And any friend of Spike the Brave and Glorious is a friend of the Crystal Empire, am I right?"

"Huh." The second guard studied Spike for a moment, actually taking the time to contemplate on whether to believe the Crystal Empire's idol or not. "It does look like him."

"Well, it would, wouldn't it?" The first guard mentioned skeptically to his partner before turning his attention to Spike. I'm sorry, but we'll need to see some proof of identification."

I was on the verge of blowing a fuse since we were not only disallowed entry, but we were also completely kept in the dark on the reason why. Just before these wild emotions could escape from me, a familiar voice caused a wave of relief to wash over me and cool me down.

"We'll take care of things from here." Behind the two guards, we found Cadence, Shining Armor, and Sunburst with Flurry Heart in his possession.

"Oh, Cadance, thank goodness!" Twilight expressed her genuine respite. "What's going on?"

"We can explain, Twily... if it really is you." Shining Armor, her own brother, returned with his own set of doubts.

"But it is her!" Athena nearly shouted behind us, appearing to have felt the same frustration that I had been feeling. "You of all ponies should know that! I mean, with how the way you all are speaking, how do we know you guys are really you?"

"Like I said: We can explain everything." Shining Armor calmly assured. "We just need to make sure of something first." He turned his head towards Cadence and gestured her over to Twilight.

Cadence quickly walked over to Twilight with worry in her eyes and proceeded to dance a familiar dance in front of her. "Sunshine, sunshine..."

"...ladybugs awake!" Twilight immediately joined her in her song, substantially turning the worried frown on Cadence's face upside down. "Clap your hooves and do a little shake!" The two hugged immediately after, but Cadence glanced towards the rest of us that were in her group with a small sense of uncertainty.

"You all came together, right?" She directly asked Twilight. "None of you 'found' each other around here?"

"Course not." Twilight answered. "We all came on the train from Ponyville together. Can you tell us what's going on now?"

"It's okay, everypony. It's her." Shining Armor reassured the guards.

"A changeling's been spotted nearby." Sunburst answered, bringing Flurry Heart closer to us.

"A changeling?!" Twilight and Athena exclaimed out in unison.

"That's not good." Spike added.

"No, it's not." Cadence gravely addressed. "After Queen Chrysalis took my place at our wedding and invaded Canterlot with her army of minions, we're not taking any chances."

"Man, that was a while back." I commented, crossing my forelegs together. "I guess we couldn't expect the changelings to just disappear after what happened at the wedding, huh?"

"Changelings feed off of love." Sunburst explained. "And ever since Flurry Heart's Crystalling, the Empire is filled with more love than anywhere in Equestria. It's possible they've come for the baby."

"That's why we posted the extra guards, and why we're—"

"Checking everypony's identity." Twilight finished for her brother.

"I'm sorry for all of this." Cadence apologized before directing our attention to her babbling and cooing child. "Flurry Heart's really been looking forward to seeing you all."

"Oh, she's gotten so big!" Twilight realized, allowing Flurry to grab a hold of her hoof innocently.

"Kind of looks the same to me." I truthfully shared as Athena poked her belly with the tip of her hoof.

"We'll do whatever we can to help protect her." Twilight promised.

"To be honest, having you all here is already a big relief." Cadence expressed with delight.

"So, have you guys already checked to make sure no changeling has made it past the castle? You know, posing as a guard or something?" I brought up.

"We did." Shining Armor answered. "We've made sure that every guard stationed in the castle was able to answer a few questions that only castle guards would know. Since then, we've kept guards stationed out here to keep an eye on whoever tries to approach the castle." One of the royal guards had leaned over to Shining Armor and whispered into his ear. "Speaking of which, the royal guards were wondering if Spike the Brave and Glorious would like to join in the search for the changeling."

"Really?!" Spike's eyes sparkled at the idea.

"Uh, I don't know if that's such a good idea, Spike." Twilight cautioned him. "It sounds dangerous."

"Come on, Twilight, this is Spike the Brave and Glorious you're talking to." Spike encouraged, "Have you ever known me to run from danger?"

"Um..." Twilight thought to herself before Shining Armor approached her with confidence.

"He'll be safe with our guards."

"Or will your guards be safe with me?" Spike pointed out, reiterating a shift in perception.

Twilight sighed and rolled her eyes in response to Spike's poise. "Alright, but make you guys stick close. I wouldn't want the changeling to take any of your places."

"Yes!" Spike cheered and then turned to Shining Armor. "When do we start moving?"

"We were just about to start patroling outside the city for the changeling." The guard who first brought the topic of including Spike in the search replied.

"Lead the way, my fellow guards!" Spike followed them out as they began to march forward in unison.

"Let's head back to the castle." Shining Armor invited as we watched the guards leave.

The rest of us turned in the direction of the front doors to the castle, following after Shining Armor. "So, does Celestia and Luna know about the changeling business going on right now?" I asked.

"We've informed them about the situation, but we told them that we'd handle it here." Cadence responded. "After all, we don't know what the changelings are planning. We told the other princesses to just keep an eye out in Canterlot for now. We don't know if there might be changelings in any other places besides in the Crystal Empire."

"I just hope we can eventually put this changeling business to rest." Shining Armor shared almost exhaustively. "There's just so many of them. It's almost nerve-wrecking."

"Well, they go to places that have the most love." Twilight informed, "If they're planning to attack any place, it'd be here. I don't mean to say that as if it's a good thing, but it narrows down what their plans are. We haven't seen them since the wedding, so I'm not even sure how much information they have on anypony."

"Like Shining Armor said, they can be anywhere and everywhere." Athena added, "I don't think it'd be hard to find out about stuff that happened after the wedding. Plus, that queen of theirs…she can be pretty brutal."

"Whatever the case is, we'll get to the bottom of it." Shining Armor assured confidently. "Right now, we just need to figure out what to do in the meantime while the guards are out looking for the changeling."

By the way things were going, it didn't seem like it was going to be a short-lived burden. Even if they found the changeling, it doesn't mean that there aren't any others nearby, and this definitely wasn't good for the Crystal Empire.

Shining Armor escorted us to the throne room, where several more of the castle guards stood watch. They eyed us a little oddly until Shining Armor gave them a certain signal. In response, they nodded their heads and returned to facing straight forward.

"So, what is it we can do to help?" Twilight asked.

"Hm." Shining Armor thought to himself for a moment. "As much as I wanted to protect the Crystal Empire, I also want to make sure that changeling, or any other ones, don't get anywhere near her." He turned his head over to Sunburst, who continued to hold his daughter close. "Sunburst is keeping a good watch over her, but who knows what kind of tricks those Changelings might have? Might any of you have some kind of spell you can cast on her? Maybe some kind of protection spell?"

"Mmm." Twilight thought for a moment before she answered. "I don't know if there's any kind of 'Changeling repellent' spell, but we could always try to make a new one, right?" She asked Starlight.

"Yeah, of course." Starlight confirmed. "It might take some time though."

"Anything helps." Shining Armor appreciated. "I've got guards patrolling all over the city, so I'm afraid I'll have to leave for a bit to get their reports."

"You go on ahead, Shining Armor. I'll take care of things here." Cadence assured.

Shining Armor nodded and proceeded to head out of the throne room, leaving us in a rather silent gathering.

"All in all…" Cadence continued speaking, "I think the most we can do is just wait and see if the guards are able to catch this Changeling. If they're able to find him and bring him in here, then…well…we'll have to see what we do next. Probably get some information out of him on what he was doing here in the first place and if there are any others waiting to attack."

"Having some creature being able to change into any kind of other creature must be really annoying." Athena shared. "It's not like you have only one thing you need to watch out for. You've also got to make sure that the pony you're talking to is really the pony they say they are. It's kind of scary actually."

"It is scary." Cadence rested herself upon her throne and drew out a heavy sigh. "I suppose if I knew that it was only one of them that we were dealing with, I'd feel a lot better. But all of you've seen them during the Royal Wedding. They move in packs, if not a whole army. To believe that only one changeling is scoping out the Crystal Empire, well, it's really hard to believe.

"Don't worry, Cadence." Twilight reassured. "I'm sure, with all of us here, we can figure something out. Maybe we can even come up with some kind of spell for a barrier that automatically detects Changelings? You know, kind of like that force field you had during the wedding."

"Oh, Twilight." Cadence appeared to have removed some of that worry residing in her face. "If you can manage to do that, that'd certainly help a lot. Although, I can't imagine adding some kind of Changeling detector to Shining Armor's spell will be easy."

"I've, uh, had some experience with making a few modifications to some pretty advanced spells." Starlight spoke up a little sheepishly, possibly referring back to the time traveling incident. "I think it's possible to work some kind of Changeling detector to Shining Armor's force field spell. It won't be easy, but I'd say it's doable as long as we manage to figure out how to write a spell for a Changeling detector in the first place."

"In that case, that makes me feel so much better." The corners of Cadence's lips stretched upwards. "If you need anything, please let me know. You're welcome to whatever you need here at the Crystal Empire."

"I suppose you could point us in the direction of the castle library?" Twilight asked for a little shyly. "It'd definitely be a good place to start."

"Guards?" Cadence leaned towards the ones stationed by her throne. "Could one of you escort them to the castle library?"

"Right away, princess." One immediately stepped forward and marched in our direction. "Right this way." He walked past us and began leading us out of the throne room.

I wasn't sure what kind of part I'd be playing in this, but I suppose it didn't help to see what my options were in the library. I didn't know anything about writing magic, but if Twilight or Starlight needed some kind of extra magic firepower, I could definitely help with that.

The two studious spell writers immediately began hitting the books as soon as they witnessed the massive library at their disposal. It left Athena and me silently watching and questioning our purpose in the library, to begin with.

"Anything we can do?" I asked.

"Hm?" Twilight, having been too focused on her book searching, barely turned her face towards us. "Oh, I think we're fine right now. Maybe go see if Cadence needs anything?"

And so, we took a quick trip back to ask her the same question.

"I don't have anything in particular for you two to do, but if you can help Twilight and Starlight make the spell, I think that'd really help a lot." She said.

This brought us back to the library, but we were left standing and staring at the other two work and write notes.

"Maybe it would have been better if we went with Spike…" Athena softly told me.

"Hm. Maybe…" I merely responded with, continuing to quietly await any possible responsibilities to be brought over to us.

"This is a little complicated…" Starlight commented, her eyes scanning over various amounts of books and loose-leaf papers. "Is there even some kind of spell that works specifically with changelings? Unless there is, I don't know if it's possible to even come up with a changeling-detection spell for Shining Armor's bubble spell."

"I see what you're saying." Twilight tapped a pencil against her chin. "Maybe we should start with something smaller? I don't exactly want to give up on the detection spell, but perhaps we should make some kind of protection spell for Flurry Heart first?"

"I guess that isn't such a bad idea." Starlight agreed. "I don't think a protection spell should take very long."

"Great! Then, it's settled." Twilight began to happily trot out of the room. "I'll be right back. I just want to know if Cadence is looking for anything specific in a protection spell for Flurry Heart."

After Twilight closed the door behind her, Starlight turned her head in our direction and seemed to have noticed us lazily watching from on top of a stack of books. As a reaction, she sheepishly waved our way. "How's it going over there?"

"Nothing new." Athena responded sluggishly.

"Cadence didn't need any of your help with something else?"

"Nope." I answered next. "Said she'd like it if we could help you two instead, but it seems you've got everything under control."

She chuckled a bit nervously before turning her attention to the work both of them had accumulated on the table. "Hey, maybe I've got something since Twilight's gone. Do you, um…" She picked up various pieces of papers and squinted her eyes at them. "…want to organize some of the notes and research we have here?"

Athena and I exchanged looks with each other before she eventually shrugged and joined me on the walk towards the worktable.

"I guess we can do that. I just hope Twilight doesn't get upset because organizing is one of favorite parts of any given day."

"Pshh." Starlight brushed off as she flicked a hoof carelessly. She then turned her attention to another book and began to silently read.

Athena began skimming through various papers, eyeing each one for a bit before aligning them with some other collection of notes. "How are things going with Trixie?" Athena asked.

"With Trixie?" Starlight pulled her head away from the book to turn to Athena. "Uh, pretty good actually. As a matter of fact, she's doing a little tour outside of Ponyville, so she won't be back for some time."

"I hope her magic shows are doing well." I added. "I'd hate to see her go back to the rock farm." I lightly laughed.

"After Ponyville? I'm sure they're doing great." Starlight confidently stated. "I can't thank you all enough for introducing to the magic of friendship. It feels so much better than having control over every other ponies' lives."

"Well, I think you know us well enough by now. Reforming is kind of our thing." I somewhat joked.

"What would Equestria do without you?" Starlight Glimmer responded in the same humorous manner as a smirk stretched across her lips.

The door to the library eventually opened rather quickly, and Twilight came trotting in with excitement brightening her face. "Hey, guys! Guess who I ran across in the hall?"

"Who?" Starlight Glimmer inquired.

"Spike! Apparently, he has a friend that lives here called Crystal Hoof. What's weird is that he never told me about him until now. I mean, I know they've only known each other since the Equestria Games, but still! If you're going to be writing to some pony and not tell me about it, how am I supposed to know to let you use my pen pal quill set?"

"Not that I don't appreciate your enthusiasm…" Starlight responded. "But I don't think it's really anything to get excited about. It's good that he made another friend, but I'm sure he's made a lot more others here. He is Spike the Brave and Glorious around these parts, after all."

"Yeah, yeah. You're right." Twilight settled down and returned to the table. "I'm just happy for him. That's all." She looked towards the surface of the table and leaned her head around and about. "Aww. Who organized all the work we had here? I was waiting to see how many notes we could pile up before we had to arrange everything."

I immediately glanced over to Starlight Glimmer, who began to quietly snicker at her place.

"Sorry, Twilight. Athena and I were just looking for something to do to help." I admitted.

"Well, I suppose it does help get this spell written sooner. No biggie. I can get some organizing done later."

"Anything else we can do…?" Athena seemed to hesitate in asking. I believed she was aware of what answer we would most likely receive.

"Um…" Twilight exchanged an apprehensive look with Starlight. "Can you cross-reference certain spells between all these books we have here?"

"I don't even know what 'cross-referencing' is…" Athena's shoulders slumped as she frowned shamefully.

"Do you two want to get us some lunch?" Starlight suggested with a friendly smile. "It's about that time anyway."

"Sounds pretty easy enough." I encouraged Athena. "What do you say?"

"I just want to do something. So yeah, let's get going." Athena appeared to perk up quite a bit.

"Heh heh. Sorry." Twilight apologized as she rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment.

"Well, what could we honestly do when it comes to spellwriting and stuff? Don't worry about it." I reassured. "What do you want for lunch?"

"Oh!" Twilight immediately pulled out a piece of paper and began scribbling on it. "I'll make a list of every detail!"

I heard Starlight laugh, catching her lightly shaking her head at me. Seeing her bright and adorable smile made it hard to believe that she once used to be a dangerous dictator.

Athena and I waved at the shopkeeper as we exited out with a couple bags of food. The streets were still mainly bare for the most part, so it seemed everypony was staying indoors as much as they could until word passed in regards to the changeling problem being handled. Although I didn't spend many days here, I hoped the issue would come to end soon.

"Hey, Athena." I turned towards her, Cadence coming to mind. "You know how you said you had told Coco about the life before?"

"Yeah?" She answered with a neutral expression.

"You've ever thought about telling Cadence?" I asked. "Apparently, she was a big part of your, well, our lives, after all."

"I've thought about it, of course." She returned, lowering her eyes towards the floor. "…but I feel differently when it comes to telling her compared to telling Coco. Take today for example. She's dealing with so much stress and worry because of a changeling that was spotted in the Crystal Empire. I don't think she needs the utter confusion about how things were almost majorly different in the past. I know for a fact that she's not going to be like 'Oh, that happened? Well, now I know!'. I'm more than sure it'll be on her mind for quite some time, and considering the work she has to do, I think it's just best to leave her out of it."

I had to agree that Athena had a point. Athena and I were always together for the most part, and after experiencing what I went through with the whole 'time travel' business, it's understandable that she'd feel the need to tell me. I did want answers to begin with. I guess I just wasn't expecting those answers having to do with the complicity of time travel. Athena could probably make friends with Cadence, but since they most likely won't be seeing each other very often, there won't really be any time for their relationship to blossom.

Then again… They are technically cousins.

"Who knows?" I meant in an encouraging way. "Maybe an opportunity to tell her might just come straight at you."

"Don't let the changeling escape!"

We stopped in the middle of our walk to face forward in the direction we were heading towards. From what I could see, a flying black blob appeared to have been coming straight from the castle and pursuing the route Athena and I had been on. In other words, it had been heading straight towards us.

"Hold this!" I tossed the lunch I had over to Athena and freed my magic in order to aid in the changeling's capture. I directly stepped into its line of path and charged in, ready to tackle. Once it noticed this, it tried to swerve around, but with the help of my magic, I hooked it like a fishing line and pulled it towards me. Lifting myself up with my wings, I caught ahold of it and prepared to dive back down to the ground. We rolled over a few times before I finally had it trapped beneath my hooves.

"No! Please! Let me go!" An unintimidating voice pleaded.

Changelings were pretty weak when they were by themselves, but this one hardly put up a fight. It was obvious that he wanted to escape my capture, but he surprisingly didn't bother trying to hurt me in any way to do so.

"Hold him right there!" Shining Armor began to approach us from his squad of guards. He marched with a face of violent disgust, almost as if he had some kind of grudge against this changeling in particular.

"No! Stop!" A different voice begged.

Spike emerged from the different crowd of ponies that gathered from the castle, including Twilight, Starlight, Cadence, and Sunburst. He ran as fast as he could towards me and planted himself like a wall between Shining Armor and the changeling.

"Spike! What are you doing?! Get away from that thing!" Shining Armor ordered.

At this time, many crystal ponies gathered around from many different parts of the city. Once they got an eyeful on what had been going on, they immediately began whispering amongst each other. At this point, one of them shouted out and cheered on Spike.

"It's Spike the Brave and Glorious! He's caught the changeling and now he's finally going to defeat it!"

"Do it, Spike! Show us your almighty power and free us from our fears!"

Spike looked around him and noticed the crowd of ponies cheering him on. Then, he turned towards Shining Armor, who was hitting him with a silent but deadly glare. Finally, he glanced back at the changeling held captive under my hooves. He closed his eyes and balled up his fist. A few tears escaped from his eyes before he straightened his back against Shining Armor.

"No. He's not a 'thing'! His name is Thorax, and he's my friend!"

Every pony in the vicinity immediately gasped in pure shock and horror as they both witnessed and listened to this. Alongside me, I particularly heard Athena gasp softly as she repeated the name under her breath. "…Thorax?"

Spike turned and faced Thorax with a somber frown. "Thorax, I can help you, but you have to promise not to run away. I want to show everyone here what kind of changeling you really are."

Thorax's ears flopped down, but he eventually nodded sadly.

Spike now lifted his head towards me and looked at me with pleading eyes. He obviously wanted me to remove my hooves off him, but I couldn't help but hesitate extremely. Every pony here wanted this changeling to be dealt with, so I would be going against nearly everypony's wishes if I just 'let him go'. Nevertheless, Spike slowly walked towards me and appeared as if he was on the verge of getting on his knees. "You trust me, right? I'm your friend, and I wouldn't want you to do anything that'd hurt anypony."

I sighed as I thought intensely about this for whatever short amount of time I had. Finally, I removed my hooves off Thorax, believing I could possibly catch him again if he tried to run off. Nevertheless, he remained in the same place I had him in. Spike extended his claw out to him, which he accepted and was helped up by.

"Spike, you better have a good explanation for this." Shining Armor sternly warned. "You do realize you're helping a changeling, right? They're evil!"

Spike exchanged a look with Thorax, who worriedly looked back at him. Despite the kind of pressure he had been in, Spike returned a confident nod and began approaching Shining Armor closely. He displayed himself in the center of the unsettling sight and began to sing.

"Would you say I'm a hero

Glorious and brave

If I told you something you wouldn't believe?"

Despite Spike's heartfelt words, Shining Armor, and practically everyone else, didn't look convinced at all. It almost seemed as if they saw all of this as one entire gimmick. However, Spike continued to press on.

"That sometimes I'm scared

And I can make mistakes

And I'm not so heroic, it seems"

Spike turned to us and appeared to face directly at me.

"But if day can turn to night

And the darkness turn to light

Then why can't we imagine a changeling can change?"

He proceeded to address the crowd watching.

"No two ponies are exactly the same

No two snowflakes ever match their design

And I thought I was strong

But I was nothing but wrong

When I forgot to be friendly and kind

But if day can turn to night

And the darkness turn to light

Then why can't we imagine a changeling can change?"

His eyes lifted upwards at a certain statue, and it seemed he had been particularly staring at the statue built in his honor for saving the Crystal Empire.

"Would you say I'm a hero

Glorious and brave

If I told you something you wouldn't believe?"

He extended a claw out to Thorax and formed a furrowed expression on his face.

"This changeling, it seems

Knows the real me

And would stay by my side 'til the end"

His voice gaining a recognizable confidence, he prepared to call for both a change of mind and heart from everypony else.

"So if day can turn to night

And the darkness turn to light

Then why can't we imagine

Just why can't we imagine

Then why can't we imagine a changeling can change?"

Once Spike concluded, he searched the eyes of every other pony. When it appeared that everypony was hardly convinced, his shoulders slumped down, and he faced the ground with a heart-wrenching frown.

I didn't know what to do at this point. I wanted to believe Spike, but at the same time, I was so out of the know when it came to this changeling. What if it was possible that this changeling might have tricked Spike into thinking he was a friend when he really wasn't? Everypony else didn't seem to take Spike's words too confidently, and I could only hope it was because of the very reason I was unsure and not because of the credibility surrounding Spike.

"Spike's right." I heard a voice announce clearly behind me, breaking the cold silence among us. Athena passed me and joined Spike at the center of attention. "Everyone's scared. I know that. And I also know that it's hard thinking that someone who's a part of a group that's been known to be completely evil is actually good. If anypony should be scared of a Changeling, it's me, but I'm not." She turned towards Thorax and proceeded to smile. "I can tell he's a good changeling because right now, he's feeling a whole sort of emotions. He's really scared, sad, and even a little happy. If it were any other changeling, I think all I'd see is anger." She turned back to the crowd. "You all are scared too. I can see it. So, I can understand that you wouldn't take my word for it. That's why…I'll show you he's good." She decided to approach Thorax and stand by him. "Personally, I think I have a lot of love to give. Maybe not as much as this recent Crystalling, but definitely a good amount no evil Changeling would just ignore feeding off of. If I can show everypony, will that be enough?"

"Don't do anything and get away from him! It's too dangerous!" Shining Armor warned, holding a hoof out in caring protest.

Nevertheless, Athena didn't take him seriously, and she proved this by teasingly sticking out her tongue at him and turning over to Thorax. "If its friends you want, Thorax, then look no further. I'll be your friend." She smiled brightly before wrapping her hooves around him.

Everypony gasped and immediately leaned forward in anticipation. Thorax's eyes shot open in surprise, and his mouth quivered. I could feel my own heart pound tremendously in anxiety, and I was sure everyone was just as uncertain and worried about what would happen.

Yet, Thorax didn't feed. Instead, he returned the hug with his own insect-like hooves as tears escaped from his eyes. "I can feel it." He said. "There's so much love in you, yet, I can feel you sharing it without me needing to take it at all!"

"That's the point of having friends." Athena shared. "There's only so much you can do on your own, and genuine love plays a big part in each of our lives."

"Thank you so much…" He expressed honestly.

From the other side where Shining Armor and his guards stood, another pony poked out and approached us. It was Twilight, and it seemed she had something to say next.

"You guys… I'm so proud of you. Especially you, Spike."

"You are?" Spike questioned.

"Of course!" Twilight exclaimed. "You're a celebrity here in the Crystal Empire, and you just risked all of it for a friend!" She turned over to Athena with Thorax. "Athena just risked losing her love to a changeling we hardly knew anything about, and the bond between you and Alex must be really strong if he trusts you to let go of a changeling we were all after. I can't imagine anything more brave than that. I've should've seen this sooner." She turned towards the crowd watching and began to make an official announcement. "As the Princess of Friendship, I try to set an example for all of Equestria. But today, the lesson comes from my good friends who taught me that a new friend can come from anywhere. I guess everypony still has things to learn about friendship. Even me! And if they say Thorax is their friend, then he's my friend too. After all, it wasn't too long ago that I made a friend of someone who was once my enemy."

Twilight lifted her hoof and held it out towards Thorax.

"…Thank you!" Thorax expressed gratefully, approaching her and accepting her hoof.

"On behalf of the Crystal Empire, I would like to extend my hoof in friendship, and I'm sure all of my subjects are eager to do the same." Cadence announced, now joining in the small circle we had around Thorax.

Just as Cadence had mentioned, every one of the residents of the Crystal Empire watching applauded and cheered from their princess's decision. As a sign of her sincere trust, she brought over Flurry Heart and revealed her to Thorax. Thorax appreciated both the sight and love that came from the baby that cooed right back at him.

"Welcome to the Crystal Empire, Thorax." Shining Armor stated a little gloomily as any trace of anger in his face was wiped off. "I'm sorry we didn't take the time to get to know you. Maybe we can change that now."

"That'd be so amazing!" Thorax excitedly accepted. "I want to know all about friendship, and maybe one day I can take that knowledge back to the Changeling Kingdom! If my kind learned how to create love for one another, maybe they wouldn't have to take it from others!"

"To Spike the Brave and Glorious!" One of the royal guards praised, initiating everypony to carry both Spike and Thorax up in cheer.

To my side, I spotted Athena smirking brightly. "I can see a mixture of yellow and blue in him. He's really happy."

Despite her ambiguous response, I smiled back at her. "I'm proud of you Athena. To risk your love for someone you didn't necessarily know? That was really brave of you."

"Oh, I think I knew him enough." Athena concluded as we continued to witness the sight before us.

In the midst of the celebration, I noticed Twilight approach Cadence.

"So, just out of curiosity, are you still looking to have those protective spells done?"

Cadence smiled softly, and all of the worry she once wore earlier today completely vanished and was out of sight. "If we can trust Thorax, then I don't think it's necessary at the moment."

Athena retrieved the bags of lunch I asked her to hold and helped me bring them towards the two princesses.

"Besides, I think it's time for a lunch break." I advised, holding up a bag.

Things were significantly a lot calmer after we concluded the issue regarding the search for the changeling. We busted out the lunch among all of us involved, which included Twilight, Starlight, Cadence, Sunburst, Athena, Spike, and even Thorax. I believed our collection of lunch was supposed to include Shining Armor, but he was too busy working out stuff with the rest of the guards. We didn't want Thorax to be imprisoned by guards who were unaware of what had just happened, after all. Because Shining Armor's absence, his food was given to Thorax. Of course, being a changeling, he seemed to stare at the food rather oddly.

"I don't think changelings have ever eaten this kind of stuff before." He shared, poking at its crystalized surface.

"You should try it." Athena encouraged. "It looks like it'd break your teeth, but it's actually pretty good!"

Thorax lowered his head and carefully took a bite. There was loud crunching occurring between his jaws before he finally swallowed and lightly licked his lips. "It's…different?" He grinned sheepishly. "Although, I think I still prefer love. Not that I want to take it from anyone though!" He made sure to clearly point out before any accusations could be made.

This, in turn, caused a small collection of laughter to come from everypony, garnering an embarrassed flush of cheeks to arise from Thorax.

"Hey, Twilight." Starlight called her mentor. "Looks like you were right after all."

"Right about what?" Twilight questioned with confusion.

"Friendship lessons can happen anywhere." She stated with a satisfactory smile. "What happened today was something absolutely worthwhile to see. I wouldn't be surprised if somepony or dragon got a cutie mark out of it." She turned specifically towards Athena and Spike.

Following Spike's chuckle, I faced Athena. "Hey, is that a cutie mark I see on your flank?"

I swear she almost turned her head, but she quickly stopped herself. "Oh, shut up." She giggled lightly.

"My bad. It was just some ketchup." I teased.

She looked this time out of embarrassment, but once she found that there was no such thing, she quickly breathed out a breath of relief. "Don't even joke about that."

"Considering all of you've done for us…" Cadence referred unexpectedly as she fed Flurry Heart a bottle of milk. "I have no doubt in my mind that you'll find your cutie mark soon. I get the feeling that you already have a strong idea of what your purpose is. You just need to make that final push."

I wasn't sure if Athena took Cadence's words seriously since she was pretty firm on her belief that it wasn't exactly possible to get a cutie mark in the first place due to her 'situation'. Nonetheless, she looked genuinely pleased with Cadence's advice and nodded happily, sparing a bright closed-eye grin.

"You've always been a pretty great teacher, Miss Cadence."

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