• Published 5th Apr 2013
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A Voice Among the Strangers - Tystarr


An unsuspecting girl finds herself in Equestria, thrust into a world she has no concept of. Unable to communicate with the inhabitants, how will she cope?

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Chapter eleven: Reunion

"Jessica!"

At the mention of her name Jessica blinked and looked down to spy Espa as the owner of the voice, who at the present moment was resting her front hooves on the edge of the window to gaze out. A smile easily came to Jessica's lips as she noticed the delighted expression on the young filly, her front hoof tapping the glass in a clear indication for where to look.

Tilting her head to see what had caused such excitement, she blinked yet again at the distant sight of a town. Although it was barely visible upon the horizon Espa was now bouncing upon her hind hooves, her mother moving a wing to steady her lest she fall. Gently reminding her daughter she could be injured if she kept that up, Bubbles smiled and leaned over Jessica's lap to nuzzle at its contents.

Curled against her belly were the two foalings Mayari and Tala, who each had their heads buried under her sweater to sleep. With their cold muzzles resting on her skin, not that Jessica minded, Bubbles moved to bump her muzzle to one affectionately then the other. A muffled chirp emitted from under her clothing, one of the foals pulling her head out to peek around in a drowsy fashion, seeking the source that had woken her.

Gazing upwards she questioned with a soft chirp, Jessica giggling behind a hand before shaking her head.

"It wasn't me." When one tattered ear flicked Jessica repeated herself within the equine tongue, "~Not Jessica.~"

Bubbles apologized softly, the foaling looking at the pegasus before offering a happier chirp, moving to lean over Jessica's lap to return back the affectionate gesture. Smiling down at the scene playing out before her, Jessica reached down to gently stroke over the little bug-foal's head and back, simply enjoying the moment as it happened.

So far they had been travelling on the train for three hours give or take, although without a working time piece it was infuriatingly difficult to keep track of minutes, let alone hours. There had been some clocks around the castle that she had noticed, but they seemed sparse and few between. Then again, having the sun and moon moved on the whims of two hybrid equines, it kind of made time keeping something of a difficult proposition in the first place.

Upon entering the train the group had claimed two cabins, with their current numbers it wasn't feasible for them all to comfortably fit within a single room. Jessica had sat herself down at a bench with the two foalings upon choosing a room, Ebony quickly claiming the spot beside her in her natural guise which in turn left a smaller amount of room than normal for others. Bubbles and Espa had taken the spot to the other side of Jessica, almost seeming like old times with the four of them, not that she minded in the slightest.

Is it too soon for this to be nostalgic?

Across the room Flitter, Harpy and Jewel had occupied the other bench; the three seated while situated much further down was Rainbow. The pegasus had decided to follow the foalings example and nap soon after getting herself comfortable, although the resulting snoring was thankfully muted due to the strategically placed cushion or three that were piled around Rainbow's head.

I still think Harpy took too much pleasure in that...

As always Jessica's three guards had quickly stationed themselves at the two doors, Scar and Stoic on one side with Dusk at the other. That only left one more occupant within this cabin, and that was the other ~changeling~.

Minder had sat herself down in a corner remaining in her unicorn-guise as she kept silent vigil upon Mayari and Tala; although, now much to Jessica's surprise she also had come to fall under the mare's protection somehow. An attempt to query this was met with a simple explanation, Sparkle having helped to translate.

What was it again...? As a mother figure for the two foalings, any protection they receive shall also be included upon me? Why do I think Ebony is behind this?

A gaze down at the one most likely responsible was met with a smug little grin, the now much taller bug-like mare almost seeming to read her thoughts. Given that Jessica was very well aware of Ebony's ability to sense her emotions, not to mention able to feed off them she realized the assumption may not be too far off the mark.

Returning inwardly to her thoughts, she looked down at the two little foalings upon her lap both having returned to their peaceful slumber. Jessica still felt conflicted about them calling her mother, but wasn't about to let it weigh on her good mood. Deciding to distract herself, she looked around the cabin spotting Jewel, Harpy, and Flitter now gazing in her direction, all three smiling as they watched Espa and the two foalings.

Jewel seemed to give a questioning look, Jessica easily surmising it was in reference to the cloth wrapped item currently stored in her luggage. Giving a small shrug towards the unicorn she received a sigh and patient smile in return, Jewel thankfully seeming to understand her reservations.

I'm just not sure yet...

Turning her attention out the window yet again she watched the landscape slide by, always so picturesque and yet un-natural. Despite this, it was still undeniably beautiful as she rested one hand to support her chin, the other stroking Ebony's mane to give her friend a small snack at the same time. Gazing wistfully towards their destination, she noted far to the side an area near some hills having been cleared. Squinting she could almost make out signs of construction, but given the distance it was impossible to tell if she was seeing things or not.

Instead of straining her eyes any further in a futile gesture, Jessica instead turned her attention skywards wondering how Luna and Sunny were doing. A small smile came to her lips as she found herself already missing the two princesses, Luna having become something of a comfort to her and Sunny was always so... welcoming and lovely to be around.

I'll be back in three days... got to feed the ~changelings~ after all.

Despite it all Jessica found a sense of excitement bustling within as she thought of their destination. She would get to see Apple again shortly, not to mention Red. Yet the best part of it all was she would actually finally get to thank them both for what they had done for her. Unable to restrain herself a mischievous smile crept along her lips, a slight hint of her past self before Starswirl had ripped her from Earth into this chaotic, sometimes cruel and yet wondrous world. Neither of them knew she could speak their language, albeit in a reduced capability of course, a little part of her amused at how they would react.

Let home be where your heart lies...

Looking down she watched the rise and fall of Mayari and Tala's bodies as they had both slumbered, feeling emotions surge within before she slowly trailed fingers over their backs. Mindful not to wake them she leant backwards into the bench, remembering the promise to her mother and how in a way it was coming true, just not quite in any way she could have possibly imagined.

Slowly Jessica's eyes closed, enjoying the serenity of the moment while listening to the train roll along the tracks, now only partially paying attention to the conversation circling amongst the others. A cabin door sliding open disrupted the peace enough to cause one eye to half open spying Sparkle walking in with an exasperated look, Spike trailing close behind.

Why is she-

The unasked question drifted away as the answer was made abundantly clear. Through the door could be seen Posh gritting her teeth and looking fit to explode while Shades and Flute cautiously backed away from the mare. Bemused, Jessica also noted Mino slowly moving from the volatile looking normal pony as Posh's left eye twitched sporadically. The mare's ire was for once not directed at Shades, not that the unicorn seemed relieved by this fact by any stretch of the imagination. Everyone in the second cabin was moving away from the target, who, obliviously continued to slowly chew upon a certain embroidered pillow.

...Even I can see this won’t end well.

Mino tried talking to the goat with the other bleating a warning at its brethren who either didn't hear or was too engrossed in his meal to care. Finally raising his head with pillow in mid chew he blinked once before Posh was upon him, a cry of distress filling the cabin while Sparkle quickly slid the door shut resulting in a few raised brows. What horrors the door now hid from mortal eyes would never be known to Jessica, yet the sounds piercing through from the other cabin were enough to make several wince.

Spike however had glimpsed the scenario and by his reaction it had amused him in some way, laughing behind his claws. Yet the sound of Pinky calling out while the goat was possibly being horribly mangled an-

Okay that's enough with the mental images brain.

With a drawn out exhale, Sparkle smiled as she chose to situate herself with the other four, entering in their conversation as Jessica turned her attention back out the pane of glass.

"Jessica!"

Blinking down she watched as Espa tapped the window with a front hoof to try and direct Jessica's gaze again. Trying to see the exact location she found herself looking skyward at a mind boggling large cloud formation sitting stationary in the sky. Appreciative of the amount of effort the pegasi must have gone through to shape such a structure, she was somewhat unsure of its purpose other than for some grand scale artistic design. Regardless, it was breath taking to look upon and she found herself spotting intricate details even from so far below.

"~Cloudsdale.~" Bubbles offered helpfully, however the word's meaning was lost to Jessica. Considering it could be the name of the city-sized cloud structure she nodded and once more went to observing, watching the birds fly by along with pegasi. Soon her attention moved to ground level to see there were also ponies working on farms, sowing seeds and doing other labor to ensure good crops. Jessica however was startled when one of the farmers jerked his head up reacting almost as if stung while the train went past. It may have only been for the briefest of seconds, a passing glimpse but she was sure the equine's eyes glowed blue.

Ebony however seemed to notice this as well, a slight eye twitch occurring before she gave a theatrical sigh. Espa must have seen it too as she then innocently voiced a question, everyone becoming silent as the cabin's occupants turned their attention towards the tall insectile-equine. Looking down Jessica noticed Ebony seemed to have a somewhat irritated expression upon her face while Minder offered a timid smile in contrast. Sparkle on catching the reaction questioned the tall bug-mare, the answer given ending up rather confusing to Jessica.

Did she say she heard them?

She picked up enough to understand that ~changelings~ were talking to Ebony, but lost the rest in the back and forth nature of the discussion. Flitter's demeanor shifted towards apprehensive as the conversation continued until Minder spoke up, Ebony waving a fore hoof dismissively over the edge of the bench at the words. Whatever it was that had the timid pegasus concerned didn't seem to bother the two ~changelings~ to a significant degree.

"Other... shape... shape change?" Sparkle's attempt to communicate their thoughts caught Jessica's notice, turning to look as the unicorn was struggling over a concept. Pausing she removed a notebook from her saddlebag, intently studying as she flicked through the pages. The others watched on in interest as Spike foraged around in the other saddlebag, retrieving another well-worn book which Jessica knew from experience was only one of several from their sessions.

"~Changelings~ ... shape... change?" Sparkle looked for confirmation, Jessica mulling over that for a while before tapping her chin. Using it that way did make a certain amount of sense, and at least gave her some comparable idea on what the equine term meant now, it was strangely appropriate with their ability to change shape. Pulled from her inner musing, Jessica tilted her head after offering a new term instead that Sparkle adopted before continuing, "S-Shape shifter... will follow Ebony."

The other equines watched on while Spike flicked through the notes, settling on a page as Sparkle smiled in gratitude levitating several of them before her as she tried to translate.

"They... want... be with... queen? Will notice Ebony... will come ~Ponyville~." Jessica nodded dumbly at the words, more of the ~changelings~ or shape shifters will follow Ebony, and will meet her a-

Wait a minute...

"Ebony is a queen?!" Jessica's outburst woke the two foalings upon her lap as they stirred, meanwhile Ebony upon hearing her name in a raised voice blinked in confusion, a reaction supported by all in the room; well all except Rainbow who somehow managed to sleep through it, the cushion insulation helping with that endeavor. Sparkle however looked taken back by Jessica's volume before the mare gave an apologetic smile.

"Jessica not know?" To her credit, the unicorn seemed genuinely confused that Jessica wasn't privy to this knowledge. Shaking her head quickly Jessica looked down at Ebony who in turn looked rather baffled, slit pupils gazing up in attempted comprehension. The fact her friend was a queen had blindsided her, until her brain pointed out several small things she had dismissed recently. All those little tid-bits she had filed away from before now all of a sudden held a decidedly different purpose.

How the others would defer to her, how she acted when I was captured by the other ~changelings~, why Sunny and Luna would have talks with her, why Luna was so interested in her, why that... protrusion looked vaguely like a crown. Okay, I still admit that looks silly.

Jessica's eyes went wide as facts started to fall into her lap, the influx of information suddenly having connections to others, pulling her one way and the next. Answers, the concept that was so elusive until recently had suddenly rushed in on her with one simple title. The odd behavior surrounding the other ~changelings~ all of a sudden made perfect sense, but it also opened up more questions, ones she didn't have answers to.

The extra guards, were they to protect her to watch her... if she is part of the invasion force was she the one behind it? Why was she in a cage with the brothers, and is that why everyone was initially hostile with her?

Resting a palm to her forehead she realized voices had been trying to obtain her attention, peeking between fingers she saw Sparkle looking concerned while two soft chirps filtered through the maelstrom of thoughts within her head. Ebony also had raised herself up into an awkward seated position listening to Sparkle speak quickly in the equine tongue trying to explain what she had said to get such a reaction, yet Jessica was more focused on one detail.

Ebony is a queen, and I have told her off and pet her and... I... I kicked her back at the hospital!

"~'Jessica', 'Ebony' is 'Ebony'.~" The voice caught her off guard causing her head to turn to regard the queen, her wide eyes slowly focusing. With a long sigh Ebony rubbed her cold muzzle gently to Jessica's shoulder, clearly in an attempt to reassure her. With a slight grimace the mare then spoke towards Sparkle, obviously wishing the unicorn to translate despite reluctance to make such a request. With a nod Sparkle flicked through multiple pages of notes before clearing her throat, speaking with an earnest voice.

"Ebony want you not to treat different. Jessica is dear friend, want Jessica think Ebony as friend not queen." Eventually after many stops and starts the message was communicated, Jessica blinking before looking down at the two foalings chirping upwards at her previous distress. Slowly she let her hand drop down stroking over each as they cuddled in closer.

My... friend. Jess you're an idiot... over-reacting like that...

A soft laugh trickled past her lips as she raised her head to gaze at Sparkle, who along with the other equines and Spike were looking with a sense of worry in her direction.

"~Thank you.~" Her smile grew as she tilted her head, reaching with one hand to gently stroke over Ebony's mane. "~'Jessica' stupid... know 'Ebony' friend.~"

Several utterances that she wasn't stupid were offered her way although Ebony gave a small grin followed with a nod to agree with her words. Leaning forward she gently nosed Jessica's shoulder again, the cold touch of her chitin welcome to the flushed skin burning from embarrassment for how the girl had reacted.

I need to stop over-reacting...

Slowly the queen spoke once more, her blue eyes half closed as her words were laced with mirth and not a minor amount of teasing also mixed within. Dusk sniggered behind a hoof while Jewel looked aghast at the initial few words before smiling once Ebony had finished saying what she felt needed to be said.

Jessica smiled and took the words as they were, proof that Ebony was her friend first, and a queen distant second. She hadn't grasped the entirety of the message, but complete understanding wasn't really required. Her friend had indeed agreed she was stupid, that by itself wasn't exactly the best to reinforce her self-esteem but what words had followed more than made up for it. Tears of happiness built within Jessica's eyes as she surprised the mare, throwing arms around Ebony's neck as she twitched only to relax a few seconds later.

Two soft delighted chirps escaped from her lap as she nosed into Ebony's mane, a laugh escaping from her mouth. She felt a little silly for crying over such a minor matter even with the valid excuse of her emotions still being in flux, but nothing could deny how relieving it was to hear what had been said. A small teasing tone from Dusk's direction caused Ebony to stiffen slightly, a soft strangled croak escaping her muzzle before she shot a glare at the pegasus. A firm denial was issued before the cabin erupted into amusement and teasing banter, even Jewel offering a few morsels here and there showing she had relaxed around Ebony.

Flitter and Minder kept mainly to themselves through it all, sharing a gaze before both started giggling at the commotion. Once the noise died down Jessica leaned back into her seat and gently stroked over both Mayari and Tala, the foalings now looking out the window with her help to gaze outside with Espa. Excited chirps escaping whenever the unicorn filly pointed something out to them, luminescent eyes wide with childlike wonder.

At some point the cabin door was opened, the contents of each room constantly in flux as occupants came and went between. Eventually Pinky was looking out the window with the three foals and Bubbles, a game being played that Jessica could barely fathom of 'guess what that object is'. Through it all as the train made its way to its destination, Jessica found herself thinking back to Ebony's words.

You're right Ebony, I am an idiot... I let my emotions get the best of me and for a second I thought of you as a Queen instead of my friend.

A warm smile flowed over her lips as she moved her arms, helping Mayari and Tala look out the window as they gazed about in excitement as the town got closer.

But...

Looking at those around her Jessica gave a small giggle as the memory flowed through her mind. How she had met Ebony, how they had spent time together, at the hospital where she had kicked her out of the curtains, how she had been taken on the wrong train. The adventures, the journey and even the initial meeting with the princesses where she had moved to defend her all flashed across her mindscape.

But... no matter what happens, even when I get back home... as you said... you are, and always will be my dearest, closest friend.

~~~~~~~

With a piercing whistle and hiss of steam the train came to a lurching stop. A sense of anticipation had begun to build within the cabin, although Jessica had to admit she felt equally nervous even if she desired to see her friends again. Given last time she was in this locale she had found herself restrained to the ground, stabbed with needles and then woke up in a hospital, it was understandable to say she had mixed emotions. Although, on that note she also realized without those events, she never would have met all those currently around her either.

Who knows what might have happened to me...

Knowing she could not delay the inevitable any longer she stood up when Scar and Stoic gave the nod as they moved in front to escort the group out. Mino left the train first with his goat assistants, giving a large stretch once outside before peeking back in one of the windows towards Jessica. The large bull-man turned red along his cheeks before coughing into a fist, quickly looking around before spying two equines wandering along. Making his way quickly over he started flexing, making strange motions before speaking loudly in a confident manner.

Unable to make out his words from inside the train she blinked as the two ponies looked at one another before nodding in agreement. Gesturing down the road Mino led them away, looking for the entire world like a salesman with the world’s greatest pitch from Jessica's perspective. Of course she then had to bite her lower lip to refrain from laughing as his two goat assistants followed, one still unable to walk straight and for some odd reason it was now lacking a tie.

A flash of sympathy went across Scar's face as he briefly moved his hind legs closer together before continuing towards the exit, confusing Jessica with his actions but she shrugged it off. More surprisingly Ebony had chosen to remain in her natural form, the tall insectile-mare staying close beside Jessica while she in turn held the foalings to her chest. It had been a brief discussion on the train to determine what form her friend entered the town in. After much back and forth bantering and a quiet suggestion from Flitter, it had been decided she not hide who she truly was.

From what Sparkle was saying, it's to show she has nothing to hide I guess...

Her attention was brought down to the two intrigued foalings within her arms when a questioning chirp was emitted. Both were looking about in wonder at all the new sights with front legs dangling over her forearms, both clearly content and safe in her embrace. As Jessica made her way outside she heard Ebony reassure her that she would soon follow, her friend remaining behind for some unknown reason.

Confused but urged onwards she moved to stand near the two guards who had taken station at the exit of the train, only for Pinky to bounce past with a cheerful cry. It was when Jessica peeked outside that she found herself surprised by the lack of a crowd. Other than several equines near the front which had obviously been expecting the train's arrival and hidden from her perspective earlier, there were a distinct lack of horrified faces she had been dreading.

I can't decide if this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

Eventually everyone else exited the train aside from Jessica, Ebony, Dusk and Minder. The four of them having been asked to wait inside while Sparkle tried to explain the situation, although from what Jessica understood the town had been made aware of the visit well in advance. There was of course also Rainbow remaining but she was still asleep under the cushions somewhere, that is if the sounds of muffled snoring were any indication.

Okay... I guess there's no point in procrastinating further.

Taking a deep breath Jessica made her way outside once Scar had looked back in, giving a nod as the go-ahead for her to proceed. A few surprised looks were thrown her way from the assembled equines, but compared to the last time she was here the reaction was remarkably tame. More focus was on the two foalings she held than upon her, a fact Tala was not coping well with as she tried to nuzzle back into Jessica's arm to hide.

"It's okay Tala." Her voice made several of those assembled flick their ears at the use of her own language. Yet the soothing tone Jessica had accompany her words seemed to be easily picked up by those around as the foaling settled, looking upwards with a little whimper. Offering a kind smile downwards she was surprised as Jewel and Flitter approached her, both speaking upwards to reassure the two foals within her arms.

While the two mares talked to the young ones in her arms, Jessica looked around to take stock of where the others were. Sparkle was currently talking to a tan furred mare with grey hair, the glasses and collar giving her away as the '~Mayor~' as the unicorn had explained on the way here, or in ways Jessica could understand, the one in charge of the town. The ~earth pony~ seemed nervous, primarily of the two foalings in her arms but upon seeing how Tala had reacted most of the fear had vanished now instead replaced with a concerned expression.

There was also a dark brown furred unicorn beside ~Mayor~, levitating a collection of papers as Sparkle and she went through them, seeming to compare notes. Spike for his part held up a scroll with Sunny's seal upon it, the glasses wearing pony looking stunned before having it unraveled to read.

"Jess-e-ka!"

Blinking at the sound of her voice she found her attention directed to the side, a smile quickly coming to her face at the sight of someone very familiar.

"Apple!" Jessica's tone was happy as the Stetson wearing equine gave a wide grin, trotting up before blinking at the sight of the two foalings. A questioning tone issued from the mare's lips led to Flitter and Jewel explaining, yet despite it all there was no fear or judgment within Apple's voice. Green eyes gazed up under the brim of the hat before she clicked her tongue, an amused tone of voice sounding out once the two others had filled her in.

The comment of Jessica becoming a mother to the foalings was something that seemed to surprise Apple, which is until Pinky suddenly decided to join them and bounce haphazardly. Without pause for breath a stream of one sided exposition erupted from the eternally energetic equine's mouth, and for her part Apple did seem to try and follow what was being said. One word caught her attention though as she pushed a hoof into Pinky's mouth, the mare pausing in mid hop to look cross eyed at the forelimb while the orange mare put forth her own question.

I can't understand much, they're talking too fast...

After a slight pause and innocent blue eyes blinking twice, Pinky nodded quickly after Apple clarified for her to either nod or shake her head. Pulling her hoof from her friend's muzzle, the blonde equine blinked twice and looked at Jewel and Flitter for clarification.

Something to do with Ebony and... oh... oh I know what she is confused about... same thing I was, the queen thing... I think.

Flitter scuffed at the ground with a hoof, quietly offering an affirmative while Jewel gave a soft tsk, but followed with a smile to take the sting out of her replied comment. With Apple's question confirmed, Pinky then bouncing towards the train led to her blinking again and giving a soft chuckle, repeating Ebony's name with the word that Jessica had come to assume was queen in the equine language.

It was then Harpy made her way over, having added her luggage to the pile that Shades and Flute were loading into a wagon. Posh, lacking the unicorn's finesse was instead talking to Bubbles and Espa, a head gesture occasionally given over in Jessica's direction making her look baffled. Before she could muse further on what they were discussing she found Harpy now standing before her, a nervous looking mare having followed behind.

Hmm?

Her cream fur coat, mane and tail consisting of dark purple curls and the pink streak within each were definitely eye-catching. Two aqua eyes were looking nervously up at Jessica along with the two foalings who had settled, now instead watching curiously from within her embrace back down at the mare. Doing something she hadn't done in a while, Jessica found her eyes straying to the mare's rump to spy its ~cutie mark~ seeing three rolled up sweets. Before she could come up with a nickname or enquire as to the equine's real name the equine was introduced by Harpy, as ~Bon-Bon.~

Or Candy... but I really should start using their real names. They have done the same for me after all.

~Bon-Bon~ hesitantly offered a greeting afterwards, Jessica finding herself slightly amused that for once she wasn't the most nervous one present. Despite her emotional stability being... less than perfect, she was starting to feel a little more at ease now among the equines, especially with those around her such as Sparkle, Bubbles and her guards. Pulling her attention back to the mare before her, Jessica gave a small bow and smiled warmly, then did something neither Apple, nor ~Bon-Bon~ was expecting.

"~Hello, my name is 'Jessica'. Is... good... very to meet you?~" She was sure she had bungled the last bit from what Sparkle had taught her on the night before, but from how the tan mare reacted with a shy smile it must have been at least partially correct. Apple however was having a different reaction to Jessica's massacring of the equine language.

I hope I didn't butcher that sentence too much...

A pair of sniggering female voices made her peek over her shoulder to see Dusk and Rainbow had exited the train, Rainbow at that moment biting her lower lip trying hard not to laugh. Jewel and Flitter seemed to catch on quickly, looking at Apple then Jessica before realization dawned on both their faces.

I don't think I spoke it that badly did I?

Harpy and Jewel both saw the look of dismay passing over Jessica's features, each assuring her it wasn't what she said that had seemed to break Apple; it was the language she had used that now had the mare's lower jaw hanging disturbingly low. Behind them Jessica heard Rainbow finally lose the battle to withhold her laughter, which thankfully snapped Apple out of her daze.

The following question of how Jessica could speak their language was answered as best she could.

"~Twilight Sparkle help learn, Octavia, Fleur, Perfect-Folio help too. Still... bad talk...?~" Smiling softly she was a little surprised when Apple gave a loud snort and gazed up with her stern green eyes.

Apple's words complimented the focused look given, but remained caring in tone even though Jessica couldn't grasp the entirety of the context put towards her. Yet... she did understand enough to know that the mare thought she was doing rather well at learning their language and was proud of her. A grin was offered up after adjusting her hat, Jessica smiling back down shyly at the praise which was also repeated by the others, although ~Bon-Bon~ was saying something slightly different until Harpy nudged her in the side whilst grinning forcefully.

Thanks Harpy, but I know I am mangling your language... it's still sweet though.

The foalings by this stage were growing inquisitive within her arms, knowing they were safe as one reached down to try and paw at Apple's hat. The mare blinked and gave a soft chuckle, nosing one of them gently which got a fanged smile in reply. It was noticing the blonde equine interacting with them that Jessica realized how much she had missed the mare's presence.

She was there for me, along with Rainbow during the whole thing. She never judged me and was there to help when I needed it most.

Green eyes looked up at her, a curious smile on the mare's face before she blinked as a loud gasp sounded from the direction Sparkle and ~Mayor~ were. Spike looked about frantically before glancing back at the train, jerking his thumb in the direction with a questioning tone to his voice. ~Bon-Bon~ tensed, as did two unicorn guards, however the other two golden clad equines just blinked and looked confused as if expecting someone else.

What's going on?

Jessica then noticed why they looked so familiar, the female pegasus and the male ~earth pony~ were the two guards who had briefly guarded Minder and the two foalings. Resisting the urge to wave to them, she instead followed the gaze of where everyone was looking to see what the commotion was.

It's just Ebony and Minder...

Her eyes went wide as she recalled what Luna had shown her with the ~changelings~, and while Minder was in her disguise still Ebony was filling the doorway with her natural form. With light reflecting off her black carapace the bug-like mare rolled her eyes at the reactions she was getting, moving forward while bending down to step out of the train mindful of her long crooked horn. A word, presumably a name was thrown out by one of the two other unicorn guards which strangely caused Ebony to pause, her mood darkening instantly.

~Chrysalis?~

Jessica had never heard it before, but seeing Minder flinch and Ebony growl softly it was seemingly on par with the nickname that she herself had been called several times. As one of the unicorn guards started to stammer and get into a defensive position Scar barked out an order which made the unicorn instead stand down instantly, if not remaining nervous. Ebony looked mildly surprised at this turn of events, her anger lost as the armor clad pegasus reaffirmed that her name was Ebony, not whatever this ~Chrysalis~ was.

Surprisingly her friend offered a little nod of thanks to Scar who just shrugged with a small grin in reply. A soft sigh of relief came from Sparkle before she nudged the still shocked mare, ~Mayor Mare~ who blinked her shock away before clearly forcing a smile upon her muzzle. Her assistant wasn't coping quite as well through all this, his legs shaking which prompted Sparkle to talk towards Scar and Dusk, each gazing at each other before nodding formally. A brief look was given Jessica's way before they gave a head bow and moved to escort Ebony, the tall insectile-mare looking confused before exhaling in annoyance at the current situation.

I... guess they're there to show she's no threat, or that she won’t be any threat?

Suddenly feeling keenly aware of the absence of two of her guards as they left her side to go with Ebony, she watched as Sparkle trotted closer. Rainbow's voice from near the train showed she couldn't resist calling out one last remark which resulted in Ebony glaring over her shoulder at the pegasus. Realizing she must have stepped on a raw nerve Rainbow instead gave a grin and waved a hoof, mentioning something about catching up with them later instead.

Wait... where is Ebony and the others going?

Confusion warred within Jessica, she wanted to follow them but Ebony gave a small shake of her head when she made a step to do so. With ~Mayor-Mare~ following behind the bug-mares and guards, they walked towards a large tiered building near what Jessica assumed was the town centre, six guards in total going with while several equines peeked out of their windows and doors at the strange procession.

"Ebony go talk with ~Mayor Mare~... sort... will sort living and home?" Sparkle's voice grasped Jessica's attention, pulling it back down to the unicorn who was smiling. Curiously she noticed an absense of Spike until observing he was instead following the others, conversing with Dusk while proudly puffing up his chest.

"So why-..." Jessica's question was cut off by Pinky bouncing around her once more, her excited tone of voice making Sparkle and Apple exhale softly. From what little tidbits she could actually decipher from the stream of language flowing past the pony's lips, she got that she was to go meet up with Red while they talked and then meet up with Ebony later. It was either that or she was going to go and eat meat while riding on Ebony and Red.

Thankfully Sparkle took the time to clarify what could of been an embarrassing mix-up before the other musicians called out, Harpy giving a sound of realization before smiling up at Jessica. A wave was given before she nudged ~Bon-Bon~ who was still watching where Ebony went with clear nervousness on her face. Startled, the cream pony quickly offered a friendly good bye as they moved off to catch up with the others, waves shared and a promise to meet up later also given.

I guess everyone is getting back to their own life now, that's good... I guess... I still feel like a burden.

Shaking the depressing thoughts from her head she found herself gazing at the bouncing Pinky, or more accurately would be to say she was almost nose to nose with the mare. Blue eyes were looking into her own before a smile split along the pony's face, Mayari and Tala chirping inquisitively only to get a friendly nuzzle each. Thoroughly confused at this point, Jewel gently moved Pinky away before excusing herself and Flitter, all three heading off in the opposite direction for some 'preparations'. Any attempt to have it clarified by Sparkle was met with a sheepish smile and polite refusal which only compounded the mystery.

Regardless, the prospect of meeting Red again was a happy one, Bubbles and Espa also coming to join them as they walked with Stoic. A question on their luggage had Sparkle informing them that the guards would take care of it once they returned, Jessica now curious where her own belongings would be going. A chirp made her look down into her arms as Apple was speaking tenderly to the two foalings, their fear diminished as once more curiosity took over. Gently lowering them onto the ground Jessica giggled as Tala pushed back to her legs while Mayari leaned up to sniff at the blonde pony.

"~Applejack friend, no scare 'Mayari', 'Tala'.~" Her words made Apple offer a small grin, looking bashful at the poorly worded praise although it had the desired effect on the two foals. Mayari leaned up, chirping softly before Apple grinned and lowered her head, nosing gently over one, then the other causing both to realize she meant no harm. Less timid now they moved up, curious about her hat as she blinked only for Sparkle to give an amused warning, Jessica very much aware of what that warning was.

Apple quickly got the gist as well, her ears flattening under her hat as a cute pout was given by Mayari.

Apple learns quick...

With an amused chuckle Rainbow flew over, stretching in the air to work the kinks out from the train-ride nap. Apple upon noticing this gave a teasing comment upwards implying the pegasus was getting lazy. Taking the obvious bait Rainbow placed fore hooves to her hips and soon the two were bantering just as Jessica remembered, a fond smile coming to her lips. Bubbles and Sparkle exchanged a look before both sighed gently, yet neither could hide the amusement creeping over their faces.

With a tsk from Rainbow alerting them the teasing had ceased, the pegasus landed before Espa prior to speaking in a commanding fashion. Gazing about frantically the young unicorn gasped and puffed out her chest, standing at attention as Stoic gave the faintest of grins at her posture. All watched on as Espa moved with purpose down the road, her actions trying to mimic that of the guards while Stoic followed close behind.

With the little filly and guard leading them, Jessica and the four other adult equines were taken through the town slowly but with purpose. Mayari and Tala hung closely around her feet given that the townsfolk, now with Ebony gone were starting to exit their houses. Looks of trepidation were given in their direction, primarily focused upon Jessica and the two bug-like foals. After several minutes of this Jessica could see that this reaction was starting to irritate Apple and Rainbow, both gritting their teeth and body language clearly displaying their displeasure at how some of their group was being regarded.

I guess no matter where I go, I will be looked upon like a-

Before her brain could even begin its usual cycle of self-loathing she was snapped out of it by a loud cry from Apple. The mare had stomped her hooves on the ground startling the others, Mayari and Tala leaning closer to Jessica's legs before the blonde equine snorted. Her voice was full of irritation, Sparkle blinking and offering a small smile at her friend's words even as Rainbow added her input, if a little less eloquently given the language used.

I... think I heard some of the things Jewel said to ~Blueblood~... oh... and that one isn't too nice...

Wincing she found Sparkle admonishing Rainbow who snorted prior to having the grace to look slightly sheepish. Despite it she still seemed unrepentant for her choice of words while Bubbles frowned slightly, tending to agree with the two other mares... if not the language used. Outnumbered Sparkle conceded to the point and offered an apologetic smile up towards Jessica.

"Sorry... equine treat you bad, they scared... not mean." The unicorn seemed very apologetic for how the townsfolk were acting, Apple however was having none of it by this point. The foalings chirped in surprise as she stomped a front hoof again and regarded several town-ponies with an expression that brooked no argument.

She seems really annoyed by how they're treating us...

Slowly one of the equines standing near the houses rubbed the back of his head with a bashful grin, only to walk over and introduce himself shortly after. Espa and Bubbles smiled as he did so, a relieved word of gratitude given from the pegasus to the brown stallion. Jessica couldn't help but noticed the hour glass tattoo upon his backside as he met the stern gaze of Apple and Rainbow directly.

Eventually the mares relented and apologized for their actions, even if Rainbow snorted and added under her breath she didn't which everyone tactfully ignored. ~Time Turner~ as he introduced himself rubbed the back of his head after this and admitted he deserved at least some of their animosity. Thoroughly confused by this point, Jessica blinked as several other equines slowly made their way over, each of the equines acting somewhat repentant for their actions.

What?

Soon Jessica found herself amidst several equines, each introducing themselves to which she tried to reply to each in turn yet found herself becoming quickly overwhelmed. Small masses pushing to her legs made her aware of the foalings discomfort of so many strange ponies nearby, bending down to pick them up and comfort them gently. Sparkle noticing this called everyone's attention, thanking them for acting more open but insisting they just act natural and not fearful.

Thankfully this strategy worked and Jessica could breathe a sigh of relief, ~Time Turner~ the last to leave as he trotted off left the group alone now.

At least most of the equines are acting normal now.

Looking about the town it was once more alive with ponies moving to their destinations or just talking amongst themselves. The tension in the air she had noticed since arriving had diminished somewhat, Apple snorting before giving a little laugh as Rainbow smirked.

"~Thank you.~" Knowing what the two had done she smiled, Rainbow waving it off while Apple mentioning that it was nothing. Strangely with more understanding of the language Jessica had noticed that Apple's use of the equine tongue was slightly different, some words sounded very similar but were ever so slightly off; not wishing for her brain to rebel further, she dropped the matter; she could almost sense her brain playing with the figurative match in the corner. With a clearing of the throat from Rainbow, Espa gave a small jump and continued escorting with Stoic, the guard giving an ever so slight chuckle at the filly's mannerisms.

With the foalings relaxed within her arms she found there was one more thing she was thankful for. A small grin came to her lips as she realized she had defeated one of her mortal enemies, every step was a triumph, a harsh blow against the tyranny of an old foe.

Hah! Take that inanimate object!

The others looked a little puzzled at the mirth on her face as she felt the stones underfoot, their attempts to get at her tender soles were thwarted by the new footwear. Getting far more satisfaction out of the event than she really should have, she noticed the perplexed looks given her way and offered a sheepish smile. Upon trying to explain she was met with an amused sigh from Apple, Rainbow sniggering and Espa asking her mother why the stones were evil, peeking down under her own hooves.

At that point Rainbow burst into laughter while Bubbles tried to explain right up until they reached the hospital. Yet along the walk Jessica couldn't help but get the impression they were being followed much like when Starswirl was appearing nearby. Looking behind her she thought she caught a glimpse of three small fillies but thought nothing of it, once more listening to Rainbow snerk as Bubbles struggled to explain to her daughter how stones on a path could be considered a nemesis.

~~~~~~

With a pink glow the hospital doors slid open and their group walked inside, the light spilling in over the tiles before the doors slid shut once they were in. The first thing Jessica noticed was that the waiting room went silent, aside from the occasional cough or sneeze there was a complete lack of talking or ambient sound.

Mayari and Tala chirped softly, a few equines inhaling deeply at the sight of the two before a deep voice broke the developing stalemate. Jessica blinked at the sight of a male unicorn who admonished the other staff causing them to go back to what they were doing, now somewhat chastised.

I... I remember him...

The white coat wearing doctor regarded Jessica not with fear, not even with horror but with a critical gaze. The two foalings squirmed a little before he even seemed to notice them, blinking before Sparkle spoke up to get his attention. The two talked for a second before he once more regarded the two bug-foals who at this point were now gazing at the other side of the room. Confused as to what had captured their attention so tightly she looked only to give a small giggle.

Ah...

Where they were looking were a line of foals, all shifting nervously upon their hooves in front of a kind looking nurse holding a syringe within her magical grip. A little confused as to why they were both so intrigued by what she presumed were inoculation shots, she then saw the most recent victim of a needle jab be given a plush which made a smile come to her lips. As the sniffling filly was handed the toy by her mother, the filly hugged it in forelegs before trotting out past Jessica and the others. Surprisingly the mother gave a polite nod before leaving, Jessica vaguely recounting her briefly being a patient on the same floor as her.

I guess she must remember me from before... that's right, this was my sanctuary...

Suppressing a wistful sigh she watched a young colt receive a plush next and looked down to see Mayari and Tala's luminescent eyes go wide. Bubbles also seemed to notice this, a smile teasing her lips as she noticed Espa had a similar look upon her face. Asking if she wanted one was met with a rapid shake of the filly's head, clearly she knew the requirements and didn't wish to have any part of it.

A wing was gently spread to tug the young unicorn close to the grey pegasus, nuzzling her affectionately before the doctor cleared his throat. Gesturing for the group to follow, he mentioned Jessica requiring another checkup to see how her shoulder was healing, a shy smile coming to Jessica's lips at his concern. Despite everything, despite how others reacted, it was nice... reassuring that the hospital treated her as a patient first and foremost, an alien creature next.

Stoic and Sparkle talked quietly with the doctor while they made their way up the stairs, Rainbow, Bubbles and Espa at the same time were filling Apple in on everything that had happened since she left the castle. Reaching a level Jessica was well acquainted with, she felt the reassuring sensation of familiarity tug into her. Stoic shot a look back, offering a small grin as she realized she had come full circle. Without prompting she walked to her old room, the Doctor offering a small nod as she saw a white mare changing bed sheets through the doorway.

"Red!"

Two ears flicked before the pink haired nurse turned her head, blue eyes going wide before a warm smile crept along her muzzle. Placing Mayari and Tala gently beside Bubbles who reassuringly nuzzled them, Jessica barely had time to spread her arms before Red reared back on hind legs and wrapped forelegs around her neck.

Gently hugging the equine back she smiled warmly as the pony returned to all fours, shifting on her hooves that reflected the excitement in her voice. She was asking where Jessica had been and had she been taking good care of her shoulder only until the nurse winced before exhaling softly, offering a sheepish smile upwards realizing her ex-patient couldn't understand her.

Well... that was true at one stage, and although she couldn't understand everything spoken she had grasped enough.

"~'Jessica' is fine! No hurt... miss 'Red' much!~" Jessica couldn't contain her excitement, part of her wished to be mischievous and pretend she couldn't understand them at all anymore. She wanted to, but she was so excited on seeing the nurse again the idea just didn't hold any merit.

Of course the reaction from the doctor and Red was enough to make Rainbow burst into laughter again with a comment of 'That will never get old' thrown into the mix. Once the medical staff had closed their jaws Red perked up immediately, her blue eyes shining in delight as she spoke reassuringly.

Sparkle noting that Jessica was looking bashful took over the conversation, translating when needed. The doctor was looking intrigued as he asked several questions, most relating to Jessica's previous injuries as Sparkle switched between Jessica's language and equine when required. Rainbow, growing quickly bored by this started looking around the hospital room, poking things much to Red's displeasure.

Before she could presumably ask Rainbow to stop rifling through the bookcase for whatever she was hunting for she was distracted by the two small chirps near Jessica's ankles. A look of surprise passed over the nurse's face before she lowered herself and spoke gently to the two foalings. Sparkle quickly explained their presence for fear of the nurse acting fearful, or reacting in a detrimental fashion; it became readily apparent she need not of worried.

Red...

The nurse was smiling as she spoke calmly and soothingly to the young ~changelings~. Mayari, always the more brave of the two leaned forward to sniff before nuzzling gently, Tala hesitantly stepping forward to do the same. The others watched with a smile as the nurse calmed both young ones before standing upright, tilting her head as she asked if Jessica was adopting them both.

Rainbow answered for her while reading a book, only then noticing everyone looking at her. In an impossibly fast gesture, the book was hidden under a bed as the pegasus loudly proclaimed she was merely looking for the comics, nothing more. Apple merely rolled her eyes not even bothering to argue at the, even Jessica had to admit, weak reasoning put forth by the pegasus.

"Jess-a-ka?" The use of her name made her look at Red just in time to have a muzzle pushed against her belly forcing her backwards. Yet again amazed at the mare's strength she was forced to sit on the bed as Red explained she needed to check up on the shoulder and if it had healed correctly. Burning crimson at the prospect of having to get disrobed she had her fears put to rest as Red tugged the curtains closed around the bed with her mouth.

Just like old times...

Ignoring the sarcastic tone of her inner voice she found herself receiving an expectant look from the mare. With a long sigh she gently started to remove her sweater only for two soft chirps to emit from the other side of the curtain, growing in distress while she could hear Apple, Bubbles and Espa trying to calm the two foalings.

"~They love you...~" Red's voice matched the smile on her voice as she turned her head to the curtains starting to ripple. Slowly two small heads poked from underneath, urgent chirps sounding out as they galloped over to Jessica's legs, resting their forelegs to her skin. Red just gave a long exhale, the look of amusement never leaving her face.

They love me... I know, they really do.

Bending down she gently stroked over their heads as Sparkle and Apple spoke an apology only for Jessica to cut them off.

"It's okay ~Twilight Sparkle~, I should have known they wouldn't want to be separated from me even just behind a curtain." A few seconds passed as Sparkle must have been dwelling over the words before she gave a small affirmative and talk of conversation continued, recounting where they left off from the events at the castle for Apple's benefit. Looking down she saw Red regarding the two with a warm gaze, her words a little confusing but Jessica could make out the basic idea behind what was said.

"~Jessica never knew be mother when leave here.~" Gently removing her sweater Jessica placed it on the bed, helping the two ~changelings~ up as they curled on the clothing to curiously. "~Jessica no leave you, ever.~"

Her words seemed to settle them as they relaxed, Red giving a small giggle at what she had witnessed before rearing up to gently nuzzle at Jessica's shoulder. Slowly she instructed her to rotate that arm, and where language failed she at least pantomimed with her own limbs enough for the meaning to be conveyed. Eventually after a few movements and inspections the mare was satisfied, right around the time that the doctor's voice sounded out in disbelief along with Apple's.

Oh... ~Blueblood~...

Realizing to what point the conversation had reached she tugged her sweater back on only to notice Red looking closely at Tala and Mayari, her ear flicking showing she had also heard. A little part of her was touched how the nurse was inspecting for any damage before a soft chirp was offered up at her to be gently soothed with a smile.

Satisfied that Tala was not injured she was about to open the curtain when Tala crawled along the bed to nuzzle against Jessica's side, murmuring softly the equine word for mother. The nurse paused and flicked an ear, turning to smile as Jessica shyly blushed.

"~Wait here.~" Red opened the curtain before trotting out of the room, the others curiously watching her go before the Doctor and Apple regarded Jessica with mixed looks. The doctor was looking guilty, possibly remembering his own hand... or hoof in scaring her back when she first arrived in the hospital while Apple was positively seething. A stream of promised threats towards a certain noble stallion were flowing from her mouth until Rainbow piped up, offering her own ideas... which seemed to involve certain things on an anatomy that just... well it was just wrong.

It was around the time that Bubbles was moving her wings to block Espa's ears that Apple apologized, exhaling as she reigned in her anger. The mare spoke gently towards Jessica and the two foalings, offering her own vow that they will never be exposed to such things again under her watch. Touched by the gesture Jessica could only smile.

"~Applejack no need... Jessica... changelings okay... thank you... make Jessica happy you care.~" Apple smiled as a small blush came across her cheeks, tilting her hat up as a grin was offered while saying it really was no problem despite her embarrassment. It was around that time that Red returned, the foalings eyes going wide as they saw what she brought with her.

Wait... is she?

Held within her mouth dangled two plush ponies, a tan pegasus and chocolate unicorn as she approached the bed. Moving carefully she placed the precious bundles onto the sheets, Mayari and Tala watching her every movement like a cat watching its prey. Their heads looked between the soft toys, to Red then to Jessica.

"~No Red-...~" Her words were cut off as the mare shook her head and smiled, blue eyes twinkling with mirth. She gently reached forward with a fore hoof and nudged the toys closer towards the foalings. There was clearly no argument to be had with Red being as stubborn as ever, the other mares smiling warmly, even Rainbow who coughed behind a hoof and pretended to be looking out the window to hide the warm expression gracing her muzzle.

"Jessica... ~Nurse Redheart~ say they are for Mayari, Tala. Take..." Sparkle's words made Jessica relent, the look on the two foalings was hard to argue with as well. They were restraining themselves, unsure what was going on as it occurred to Jessica they had never received a gift before.

That's right... according to Ebony they would be raised so differently in a normal ~changeling~ culture.

"Tala, Mayari..." At the mention of their names the two bug-like foals looked up, each reluctantly tearing their eyes from the plush ponies before them. Gently reaching forward she picked up both, offering one to Tala and one to Mayari. Their reactions made her heart sing as the happiest chirp she had yet to hear from them escaped their mouths, hole covered forelegs wrapped tightly about each toy, nuzzling into their head before playfully gnawing on an ear. After a few seconds they paused to look up at Jessica, their smiles making everything all worth it.

"~Thank you to Nu-urse R-Redheart.~" She hopefully instructed to the two bug-fillies, using the nurse's name she had picked up from Sparkle just previous, hoping she got the pronunciation right. The giggle from Red at least made her imagine she hadn't butchered it too badly, the two foalings chirping up towards the white mare before Mayari wrinkled her nose, straining to work the word out of her young mouth.

"~T-Thaaaaank... y-yoooou.~" Smacking her lips a few times afterwards Mayari was met with a soft nuzzle from Red, Tala getting one too as the nurse smiled saying they were most welcome. Looking over at Espa, Jessica noticed that the filly was looking at the plush toys a little enviously but didn't want the foalings to feel bad that she had not received one. That was why it was such a surprise to the filly when the doctor coughed behind a front hoof, a bronze aura surrounding a grey pegasus soft toy that was offered to the young unicorn.

"~Thank you!~" Espa cried out and hugged it gently to herself, Bubbles speaking in gratitude towards the stallion who dismissed it with a wave of his hoof. With the foals all showing off their new toys and playing with them across the floor, Jessica and the others conversed and enjoyed being able to understand each other, even with Sparkle acting as mediator sometimes. Eventually however Rainbow and Apple left the hospital, an argument having escalated to critical levels.

It seems it has something to do with the lazy comment from earlier...

The following commotion coming from outside caused those upstairs to look out the window, a deep exasperated sigh escaping Sparkle's lips at what the two were about to partake in. A small crowd had gathered, Rainbow and Apple stretching while Pinky stood holding a large flag in her mouth. With a wave the two took off running around the streets of ~Ponyville~, a small dust cloud kicked up where they passed over the dirt road.

Resting her chin upon hands Jessica observed the two competing against each other, at that point taking a wide circuit around the town. A giggle flowed easily, she had missed their shenanigans. Much like, if it could have been called an eating contest, this too brought a smile to her face. Pinky was jumping around, somehow having obtained pom-poms to cheer on the racers.

With the foals playing with their soft toys and the race being displayed below, Jessica felt... it felt almost relaxing, happy.

Almost like home.

~~~~~~

After some time had passed, not to mention Rainbow and Apple having returned from their impromptu run, Sparkle made mention they should meet up with Ebony again. After saying goodbye to the doctor, which to Jessica's shame she forgot to ask the name of, they left the front doors of the hospital. Red had also tagged along, apparently curious as to Ebony being a queen, having only known her as a somewhat withdrawn and cynical pegasus.

Pinky had strangely enough, vanished after gushing over the three plushies the foals now held, but from the expressions on the others after this fact, it can't have been an unusual affair.

I don't think I could ever understand her, it's like she plans twenty steps ahead. In fact, how did she know Rainbow and Apple were going to race?

Mulling on that thought while following Espa, Rainbow and Stoic who were currently leading the way, Jessica did manage to notice a change in the townsfolk. They were less hesitant now, they weren't all running up like previously but at the same time they were at least acting friendly and offering shy waves.

Well, all except for one particular mare that had taken off screaming again.

Didn't... she do that last time I was here? At least I think they looked similar...

Rainbow had done a circular gesture beside her head with a hoof, Apple and Sparkle tsking softly but neither really reprimanding the pegasus. Bubbles meanwhile was walking before Jessica, Mayari and Tala feeling confident enough in the pegasus's presence to walk with her along with Espa, their soft toys being dragged within their mouths.

Well, Espa at least had given hers to Bubbles for safe keeping, so the pegasus looked like she had a diminutive rider upon her back, but it was certainly adorable to look upon. Jessica even offered to carry the two foalings, or at least carry their new toys but was met with little whimpers each time. Eventually dropping the issue she let them do as they wished, although she couldn't help being relieved they were getting back to their old selves again. Neither ventured very far from her, and despite it all Jessica was feeling keenly protective towards them.

I can mull over the issue all I want whether I deserve to be their mother or not...

When Tala lagged back a little to rub against her shin, Jessica felt her smile grow noticing several soft noises of adoration at the scene.

It won’t make any difference, I just need to be honest with myself.

Even with the reduced pace of the foals, they made their way to the large building in good time. Sparkle led the way towards the main entrance, Stoic nodding to the other guards stationed around the perimeter as they approached. Taking position by the door he opened it with a wing allowing the group to slowly make their way inside. Jessica did pretend however to ignore the hesitant looks given towards the foalings by some of the guards, even if it did make her slightly annoyed internally.

Once inside they were greeted with a feeling of tension suffocating the air. Minder was in her natural form, seated near Ebony with Scar and Dusk nearby, along with the two other guards Jessica knew. The mare in charge with her assistant and several other guards were situated behind a desk which by this point was more paper than wood per square inch. Everyone was looking remarkably frazzled, yet upon noticing Jessica and the foalings Ebony's mood improved considerably.

The same could also be said for ~Mayor Mare~ when Sparkle walked in. Spike mirrored this reaction, running from where he had been behind the desk to empathetically gesture towards both parties, his tone one of exasperation. Ebony showing remarkable maturity stuck her tongue out at the small dragon, in turn making his teeth grit together.

They're not getting on?

Tala, appeared eager to show Ebony her new toy started to canter along the floor only for the ~Mayor's~ assistant to get startled by the movement. The reaction was immediate, and sickeningly familiar.

Shouting out something in warning he clopped his hooves while backing up, knocking half the paper off the desk in the process. This caused the guards to react, armor clanking as they took ready positions to look for the threat, the ~Mayor~ now getting worked up by all the commotion only added to the problem. Tala however gave a loud wail of fright and dropped her toy half way to Ebony, running back towards Jessica to hide against her legs. Tears rolled down her chitin covered cheeks as she whimpered, now without her plush and frightened senseless.

Oh sweety...

Minder immediately moved only to stop as Apple trotted forward, picking the toy up in her mouth before frowning at the assistant. In fact, as Jessica looked around while hugging Tala against her, she noticed most eyes were glaring in his direction, the ~Mayor~ looking rather uncomfortable as the wailing grew muffled against the sweater.

"It's okay Tala, it's okay." Keeping her tone soothing she noticed Apple standing before her, the now dusty toy hanging from her mouth as she offered it upwards. Tala peeked out, sniffling before chirping at the blonde equine... moving her forelegs needfully towards the stuffed pegasus. Once more secure in the foaling's forelimbs the situation defused, the assistant however guiltily looked around seeing he had been frightened by the equivalent of a toddler.

Espa and Bubbles both reassured Mayari and Tala while Ebony's expression lost the anger that had fallen over it seconds ago, exhaling in relief the situation hadn't been a repeat of the balcony, or so Jessica thought. It was then Red who trotted forward, an eyebrow perked as she regarded the tall bug-like mare, Ebony for her part looking perplexed as a name was spoken.

Oh... she wants to know if it really is Ebony.

Ebony clicked her tongue before rolling her eyes, green fire erupting around her form until she was once more a chocolate furred pegasus. The disguise was then removed, returning to normal as she gestured with a hoof, recounting several things from the hospital stay as if to prove the point. Satisfied, Red just smiled and spoke to Sparkle at a volume too quiet for Jessica to overhear, the mares giggling gently although the unicorn looked a little guilty afterwards.

Whatever was said Ebony must have heard because she snorted from her nostrils and looked aside, yet strangely didn't seem to dispute what the two had brought up. The ~Mayor~ however blinked and tilted her head, regarding what had been said with a curious expression. Voicing the statement again made Ebony snort and roll her eyes, Rainbow and Dusk sharing a look with matching grins clued Jessica in on what the comment might have been.

Are they making fun of Ebony again? Even the one in charge? And what do they mean Ebony is mine?

With a long sigh ~Mayor~ gazed at Sparkle, calling the unicorn over to look at several documents. When Ebony approached the assistant jerked slightly before she shot him a dead pan expression and sat before the desk to be a part of the discussion. Jessica could make out a little, discussions being had of a home, trade and conditions but none of it made sense.

Shaking her head as she vowed to ask Sparkle about it later, Ebony levitated a quill to sign a document followed by Sparkle, ~Mayor~ and finally the assistant. Another look over led to three relieved sighs and Spike impatiently gesturing with a claw, the paper being rolled in Sparkle's magic and then deposited in the dragon's grasp. With a puff of fire the scroll was gone, Jessica still bemused over this occurrence.

With the flagrant disregard for indoor fire safety complete, Ebony made her way over to the foalings, nuzzling them gently before giving Jessica's shoulder similar treatment. Minder looked curiously at the plushies, a small smile on her face while Ebony chuckled and spoke to the others, indicating towards Jessica and the two bug-foals.

The point being made caused a few nods, Jessica struggling to keep up with the conversation once more until Red put forth a question about feeding, Ebony exhaling as if she had answered it several times already. Almost as if rehearsed she blurted out the answer in a tired voice, Minder giving a small smile at her queen's behavior.

I feel odd thinking of Ebony as a queen and the others as her subjects... it just... doesn't feel the right term to me.

The conversation went around the room, questions posed and answered before nods of understanding were given by several equines. Red herself seemed satisfied with the answer, a smile given towards Ebony as she mentioned if that was the case, then it was fine.

And... I got like, five percent of that entire conversation.

Noticing that Jessica was looking lost, or at the very least distracted, Sparkle cleared her throat and translated as best she could. After several attempts and Spike and her checking through her books, not to mention back and forth mixing of ideas and terms across languages, she eventually got the message across in an understandable fashion. In essence Jessica discovered that the ~changelings~ fed through three ways.

Firstly an adult ~changeling~ could gain some sustenance from food products when disguised, but it was minor and not a preferable solution. This at least explained why Mayari had reacted poorly to eating food in her natural form and the lack of Ebony consuming anything.

The second was termed 'passive feeding' or, that was the term Sparkle had found most agreeable when translating. This was apparently how the ~changelings~ Jessica had gotten to know fed, and it was upon positive emotions given willingly. The downside to this was it fatigued whoever was contributing when it was a 'minor' emotion such as concern, happiness or the like. How one defined emotions as less or more was something beyond Jessica, but then again she didn't feed off them so it was out of her realm of expertise.

Love, compassion or anything felt particularly strongly was the preferably food source and able to sustain a ~changeling~ for long periods of time yet with minimal fatigue occurring. However if this was shared over multiple equines, the effects were negligible although one to one ratio could work as long as it was stronger emotions, love being the most filling.

I wonder why I can feed so many then, I don't ever feel tired at all... well except when I feed them all at once... is that why?

The last possible way to feed was one the equines and Jessica herself reacted the most negatively towards. Sparkle had termed it 'active feeding' and from what the unicorn had said it was how the ~changelings~ who had attacked the castle were seeking to get food. The idea sent a shiver down her spine thinking about it, they were purposely taking emotions to get sustenance. This was achieved either by disguising themselves as a loved one or friend, or worse...

She had winced, Sparkle not finding it much better herself as she had continue to translate what Ebony had explained previously. 'Active feeding' was far less nourishing than 'passive', but it was easier on the ~changeling~, it didn't require fostering relationships or taking the time to build friendships. Yet, what struck Jessica most about it was how parasitic it all seemed.

It drained the hosts, not just fatigued them but actually pulled their emotions out of them like some kind of eldritch vampire. Ebony herself seemed a little disgusted by this, a sneer coming across her muzzle when she had mentioned that part yet she refused to elaborate further. Sparkle seemed to frown slightly as if she understood regardless, yet Jessica had tactfully decided not to press the issue.

Able to feed off fear, anger... then why did mine hurt them in the cave then?

It was the easier way to feed for the insectile-equines, and while not as efficient per se, it did have the added benefit of stronger emotions giving a temporary boost to the ~changeling~ who partook of it. The more they feasted, the stronger they got as long as it was something like love. The worst part about it all was this 'boost' was addictive, once they had felt the rush it was difficult to give it up. Add into the fact it required less effort to obtain, it was no wonder in Jessica's mind why the ~changelings~ were so feared.

Yet...

Ebony herself looked almost saddened by the end. Sparkle having finished translating gazed at the bug-like mare who admitted she herself had felt the rush at least once. Jessica felt her guts tighten upon hearing this fact until her friend had continued. Ebony didn't know there was someone like Jessica that existed, someone that could feed a hive by herself, that could provide the most vital resource to change the mindset, to change the rules.

Time.

Jessica had provided the most precious commodity, the ability for them to try and find another solution, one that did away with their addiction, with their hunger and instead work on building a network to have genuine emotions given their way willingly, not stolen. After conversing with the princesses they too had seemed to see the benefit of such a circumstance, or so Sparkle told Jessica. Ebony however seemed to be mainly doing it for an indiscernible reason, yet she was not so forthcoming with the why she was doing this, just what she was going to do.

Her friend confused Jessica, her motives were... alien. It was clear she cared about Jessica as only a dear friend could, but at the same time some of her actions baffled her. How she would be blunt with the equines yet at other times acting almost fearful of them, such as with the princesses, at least initially. Then she could be seen to be acting in a friendly manner with the others, and in the same token display anger, annoyance, happiness and compassion.

She's not so different then, is she?

Smiling as her mind pointed out the blindingly obvious, she was given one last bit of information garnered from the conversation; pockets of ~changelings~ were scattered, stranded much like the ones now at the castle were, slowly starving, and slowly growing desperate enough to continue feeding actively.

"They... shape shifters... will come to Ebony, come to food like you." The notion of this was not an entirely pleasant one going by Sparkle's expression, although she seemed to be trusting of Ebony's motives. Of course, given how irritated her friend had seemed on the train upon admitting this, it was clear it was more of a burden on her and a passing annoyance than an overall threat.

After the explanations were done things went well while Jessica was dwelling over the information dump Sparkle had given her. Granted, it had taken the better part of an hour or two to get it across accurately, but ultimately Jessica finally had some answers, although it now raised a few more questions. The primary one amongst them was the simple question of why was she so special, how come she could feed so many when it would take a normal equine feeling genuine love or compassion for one ~changeling~ to feed it sufficiently without growing fatigued. There was also the earlier question about why her negative emotions caused them pain, especially anger.

Is it because I'm human, or is it something else?

Realizing she wasn't about to come to any conclusions at the moment she shelved the thought away, ultimately it didn’t matter. She could do what she could do, and that was of benefit not just to herself, but to Ebony and the others who she had come to depend on. It did however make one of her decisions easier, one that had been plaguing her for a few days. Before she could mull on that she found herself drawn back to the winding down conversation from those in the room, even the guards having grown relaxed seeing the ~changelings~ were no threat.

Well that wasn't entirely true, Mayari upon realizing she wasn't in any danger had grown inquisitive once more and Dusk had been chosen as the target for the foal's play. Currently the bat-winged guard was lying down, Espa flopped upon her back with Tala and Mayari trying to get at the mare's ears, the only victim of the day so far.

As far as guards go, I think I got the best...

Soon the atmosphere was remarkably calm, a distinct but not unwelcome difference from how they had entered. As the sun began to set, Sparkle made the decision they should get going, Apple adding her voice of consent while Rainbow was fidgeting with the urge to do something, anything having stood still for too long.

With farewells given they made their way to the door only for Jessica to be stopped by ~Mayor Mare.~ Confused she looked back only for the mare to bow her head, giving a long exhale before smiling upwards. With Sparkle having explained why Jessica was in their world ~Mayor~ wished her a nice stay in the town, and that she would find this place like a home to her.

The last part confused her, but she took the words as they were intended, smiling and giving a small curtsey of her own. The action once more amusing the equines before they left walking out under the twilight sky.

It wasn't long before Rainbow began to complain that they would be late, possibly missing out on all the food much to Sparkle and Apple rolling their eyes, each pointing out they couldn't be late when the guests of honor had yet to arrive. Rainbow snorted as they continued on while her stomach grumbled, several townsfolk looking nervously towards Ebony and Minder, the former of which didn't seem to care or if she was upset by the treatment she didn't show it. Instead her glossy wing pushed to Jessica's side earning a smile back, the foalings content with their new soft toys as they were carried.

I wonder where we're going, and who is the guest of honor? Ebony?

Spike grew a little excited as they approached a large tree, interestingly enough it looked to have been converted into a place for someone to live. Even more curious to Jessica was that they were heading towards it even as Sparkle looked slightly unimpressed. Questioning why they chosen her home was brought up, although Rainbow's counter that she was the only one without others living with her and Spike seemed to win the argument, much to the pegasus's self-satisfaction.

This is Sparkle's home?

Before she could get an answer to her question Spike wandered over to the door opening it revealing pitch black within and bowed, holding one claw out in an invitation to enter. Despite Sparkle's earlier annoyance she now had a warm smile on her face, gesturing for Jessica to enter first. Her eyes could barely make anything out in the gloom, her foot impacting something on the ground before resting one hand against a wall for balance. Ebony however did not seem to have this problem, a large exasperated sigh escaping her lips before a comment of 'really?' issued from the insectile-equine.

Oddly enough the foalings were acting excited, their glowing eyes peering around the room with curious chirps.

What can they see that I ca-

"~Surprise!~"

Accompanying the shout two things happened. One the lights came on giving Jessica the ability to take in her surroundings and that those she knew were scattered around the decorated internals of the tree. Secondly she gave a strangled squawk like sound and would have fallen onto her backside were it not for Apple and Ebony moving to steady her.

Before she could even get her bearings there was a blur of pink before her eyes, Pinky bouncing about excitedly as she flailed her limbs. Unable to decipher a single word she was saying, a problem not just inherent to the language difficulties if the look on Rainbow's face were any indication, she instead smiled sheepishly.

Helped back to her feet after setting Mayari and Tala down, she could take stock of her situation fully now. The insides of the tree were full of books with a kitchen to the side and a stairwell leading upwards. Of course there were also streamers, banners and balloons which she guessed were not a regular design choice by Sparkle and probably having much more to do with the fact of the gathering looking at her.

From Jewel to Flute, all the mares and stallions she knew were there. While ever so slightly crowded once the others made their way inside, it was by no means claustrophobic. Bemused by all this Jessica suddenly had a cup offered to her upon a pink hoof, held within was a liquid with the strong scent of apples sloshing about. Taking the offered drink, she found Pinky smiling at her before talking excitedly to the three foals, gushing over their soft toys before she began amusing them.

Watching the foalings and Espa chase after the mass of energy contained within a pink equine frame, Jessica sipped her drink finding it was cider. While not something she had overly often, it was at least something different and not unpleasant. Ebony for her part was looking not at all amused before she got nudged in the side by Rainbow and told under no uncertain terms to loosen up.

A roll of the bug mare's eyes was met with a flying cushion impacting her, a dead pan expression revealed as the manchester fell off her face. Spying the culprit to be none other than Pinky, conveniently using her current role as babysitter for the children as a shield, Ebony gave a soft tsk before finding the funny side and chuckling. Apologizing for her attitude, she sat down next to Jessica as Red and Apple stayed close by while Bubbles went to go and help Pinky with the children; well, only after almost knocking a punch bowl over which was thankfully saved by Posh and Harpy's quick thinking.

Mino was decidedly absent and despite or more accurately because of his infatuation with her, she did find his lack of presence a little odd. Flitter explained he was doing a show of some sort, although she reserved judgment on exactly what kind of show it was. Jewel's comment it was an absolute waste of time was not much of a help either.

Dropping the issue she instead let herself relax, Scar and Stoic stood near the doors while Dusk helped herself to some of the cider, also taking a cup over to each of the other guards balanced upon each wing. Jessica smiled at the three, each giving her a small nod back before Dusk caught Scar looking a little too intently at one of the other female equines.

With a mischievous grin slowly spreading along the dark guard's muzzle, she leaned close towards Scar, using the term for brother and nudging him in the side only for a spluttering response to be had. Stoic just snorted gently but a hint of a smile was creeping along his muzzle, Dusk continually teasing Scar trying to find out who he may or may not have a crush on.

"They act like siblings." Jessica had the words pass her lips before she even realized it, Sparkle blinking before a soft laugh escaped her mouth.

"That is because ~Swift Dawn~ and ~Aurora Blossom~ are." Sparkle's words made Jessica blink, her eyes going slightly wider as she regarded the two curiously. There was little to no similarities between them, other than the obvious fact they were of course both guards. Not even trying to consider how such a genetic difference could be possible, she did however find it amusing when Dusk put Scar into a headlock with one foreleg, the other rubbing at his blonde mane almost like the equine equivalent of a noogie.

Never having siblings of her own she always found them fascinating to watch, even when Scar seemed to relent and whispered something to Dusk's ear, the mare's eyes going wide before a feral grin spread along her muzzle. A hoof prod to her chest plate was given to which she held up a fore hoof, swearing not to tell a soul.

From the expression on both Stoic and Scar's face, that apparently was not a very binding oath.

This is... nice...

Jessica found herself simply enjoying the activities of the night, according to Rainbow and Apple this was on the lower scale of a typical ~Pinkie Pie~ Party, but she preferred it this way. It was when Spike wandered over to Scar, the guard taking the distraction graciously that Flute suddenly looked rather nervous. Harpy gave him a firm nudge followed with a mischievous smile as Scar looked to be considering before he looked at Sparkle, a nod given from the mare.

Lowering himself he allowed Spike to clamber upon his back, a broom held within his claws as Flute gave a soft squeak. For some reason now the target with the absence of Ledger, the unicorn bolted for the door, brushing past both guards before Scar could react. With a rearing up on his hind legs he took off outside, chasing down the designated 'prey' while Spike urged him on.

This left most of the others in the room blinking at what just happened, Pinky however gave a loud cry as she dashed past, Espa upon her back as they too made their way out into the fading light. Bubbles sighed before smiling, moving to sit beside Jessica as the sounds of laughter and Flute's pleading circled the tree repeatedly, Stoic just rolling his eyes while Ebony tried to hide her laughter.

Suddenly with a mischievous glint in the bug-mare's eyes she lowered herself down, Mayari and Tala blinking before bouncing happily and crawling up upon her back. With a large fanged grin she excused herself and made her way outside followed several seconds later by a strangled scream.

Oh dear...

The next time Flute ran past a window, the others could clearly see him being pursued by three 'warhorses' and their 'knights', although it could have been considered slightly cheating that Ebony kept prodding him with her horn when she got close enough. Rainbow, Shades and Harpy didn't seem to think so if their laughter was any indication.

While everyone inside relaxed despite the poor stallion outside being pursued relentlessly, Jessica found herself being asked questions by Red and a hesitant ~Bon-Bon.~ Questions about her world being put forth, and soon she was the center of attention. Realizing she had talked little about it previously given the language barrier in place, she smiled and with help from Sparkle she recounted several things about her life and the planet she came from and wished to return to.

The others listened in rapt attention, comments of how the weather worked only seemed to confuse the pegasi greatly, mentions of an ~Everfree Forest~ coming up as a way of relating. Given the term was unknown to Jessica she just smiled and tried to explain the best she could.

It was when she was recounting the story of her twenty first birthday, much to the bemusement of several equines that Flute finally stumbled in, collapsing on the floor in an undignified heap with tongue lolling out comically.

Despite his ragged and exhausted state, there were a few giggles shared when he was prodded several times, not just by those who had pursued him to such a state, but also by Harpy who was still seemingly disappointed in his capacity as a warhorse.

Thus the night passed pleasantly away, Jessica feeling the most sense of belonging since she had arrived. Despite everything that had happened, she wouldn't have traded this moment for anything.

Even including when three fillies came running in and pounced upon Flute with a large net screaming something about being catchers, much to the amusement of Apple and Jewel in particular.

~~~~~~

Jessica found herself seated on the bed a few hours later, amused at its size now that she was accustomed to the one in the castle. Given that the bed there seemed to be made to accommodate far larger creatures than a pony, it was no surprise a 'normal' sized one like that of in the hospital was more common place, including here.

With her luggage in a corner of the guest room, she found herself once more thankful towards Bubbles and Espa. After some discussion, and once Flute had been untangled from the net, the problem of where Jessica would be staying was brought up. Despite the pretense of an actual discussion, the fact her luggage was already waiting in this room made her more than suspect it was a forgone conclusion before it even started.

Not that I mind, they are both wonderful people... uh, ponies.

Ebony was in her pegasus guise for no other reason than to become smaller, the bed not looking overly spacious for her natural form plus two others. Jessica for her part however had something else on her mind as she watched Mayari and Tala be fawned over by Minder.

Taken aside near the end of the party she had been reminded that Minder was their protector, their babysitter, designated such and took her role very seriously. She had also learnt that they were effectively orphans, meant to be raised by the hive itself. Ebony had made it very clear that they considered Jessica their mother, but it was only her who got to decide whether she wished to take the role or not.

Thinking back to how Sparkle had translated for Ebony and herself, she once more was envious of the unicorn's ability to learn. She would suspect even now, after the others had finished cleaning up she would be studying further, trying to become more familiar with Jessica's language.

I don't think I will even need to wait as long as I thought for a fluent conversation... but I can't get lazy.

There was one more thing on Jessica's mind, something important as she sat on the bed, already dressed in her nightshirt and panties. That flittering thought that preyed upon her attention was herself, or more precisely her needed role.

With her in this world she gave the ~changelings~ a chance, not just the foalings but from what she understood Ebony and the others too. She, for whatever reason could feed them until they worked on forming relationships, friends to gain the sustenance they required. Were she to go back home, she didn't want to think what would happen.

It explains why they were reluctant to tell me how progress to get me back home was going...

Despite this she didn't think for a second they were not attempting to, even with her mind trying to conjure up such dark traitorous thoughts. She knew Luna and Sunny were doing their best, but she also knew they were counting on her as well. A sad smile came to her lips as she found that she was being relied upon, not just as a food source but as a friend, and more importantly as something more to two certain foalings.

Watching them chirp up at Minder, Jessica found Ebony looking towards her, a smile on the mare's face. It was clear the two problems in her mind were related, entwining together to reach one outcome.

You already know the answer Jess, admit it to yourself.

Her inner thoughts could not be fooled, she smiled and stood up earning the attention of all in the room as she made her way to the luggage in the corner.

You don't have to give up wanting to get home, you may just have to postpone it a bit. Besides, by the time they find a way, it may already be sorted.

The logical side of her brain put forth a compelling statement as she unzipped a side pocket, reaching in to brush fingers over silk. Removing the precious parcel she stood upright while Mayari and Tala looked upwards with curious glances, Ebony and Minder however shared a knowing glance as they smiled.

It's true... I need to listen to my heart.

Bending down she scooped up the two foalings and walked to the bed, setting them down on her lap as they chirped upwards, Tala nuzzling her belly while calling her mother. With her mind clear the word no longer caused conflicting emotions as she gave an earnest smile, unfolding the silk slowly with one hand as the other stroked over each of their heads.

"~Yes, Jessica mother. Mayari and Tala Jessica's daughters.~" The words passed her lips without hesitation, their eyes going wide before they smiled brightly and cuddled to her stomach. Giggling she held them close, tears building in her eyes as she realized how she truly felt about them.

When Tala had been kicked, when they were sad, when they were happy... they all made her feel such strong emotions. Somewhere down the line, even before the fateful day they had already won her love, her affections. Somewhere down the line... she had already begun to think of them as her daughters.

Now knowing she would have to wait to go home just made it easier to make the decision, but that wasn't the only reason. Slowly her fingers fell over molded silver, lifting it up to slip the altered bracelet around Mayari's neck. Jewel had refashioned them beautifully, making them adjustable and intricately designed but the most important feature was the name etched upon the front, written in Jessica's native tongue was 'Mayari', and inside of each, re-done with painstaking care were also Jessica and her mother's names engraved within.

Tala was next, the second reforged amulet put around her neck. In time when the foals grew up they would be worn on a leg, but for now while they were still tiny they would have to suffice where they were fastened. Both chirped in surprise, pawing at the jewelry before bouncing excitedly. Minder and Ebony leaned forward to inspect, both foalings sitting upright to proudly show off their new accessories.

Giggling behind her hand she knew they were not just foalings anymore, they were her daughters. Not by blood, not by species, but by their feelings for one another. They loved her, she could see that, everyone could see it apparently, Luna having pointed it out in a dream one night while Jessica was still in denial.

And I am their mother.

She knew it wouldn't be an easy relationship, she wasn't native to this world, she didn't understand their customs any more than they did hers. Yet, she knew she would have the support she needed in the friends she had acquired, in those she had come to trust, to enjoy the company of.

With Ebony nuzzling her shoulder she smiled and hugged the mare back, her friend speaking gently to her ear reassuringly.

"~Jessica will make a great mother.~" Tears rolled down her cheeks at the equine's words, at the emotions filling her. Mayari and Tala were now under her protection, their safety, their upbringing was all dependent on her. It was the door creaking that made her aware she had been observed, the cross-eyed mare smiling apologetically even with tears beading in her own eyes.

Trotting over Bubbles leaned up to nuzzle Jessica gently, seconding what Ebony had spoken of. Espa having worn herself out was still asleep, able to see the small filly through the open door and into her room, knowing that praise relating to parenting from Bubbles was high indeed with how her daughter appeared to be raised. Smiling she saw the foalings chirp up in concern at the tears rolling down her cheeks, not understanding why she was crying.

"~Mother is okay, just happy.~" She hugged them both to her, nuzzling each of their heads adoringly before Bubbles wished them goodnight and closed the door behind her. Eventually Jessica slipped under the sheets, Minder and Ebony situating themselves on the blanket. With Mayari nuzzling against her shoulder and Tala lying upon her chest she stared at the ceiling, resting upon her back.

Thinking back to how she arrived, then back to Starswirl's words she held back a small laugh at how what he had said seemed to come true to a degree.

'I see you accomplishing great things, keep your heart open and let those close to you help mend it after what I have done.'

She mulled over his words while gazing out the window, watching the moonlight spill into the room and illuminate where the foalings slept against her. Feeling content she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before simply enjoying the sensation of their small bodies rising and falling against her.

It doesn't matter anymore if I admit that they're my adopted daughters or not. I will never leave them, even when I return home... call me selfish, call me tempting fate... but I will find a way to stay their mother and see my world again.

Slowly sleep began to claim her, the comfort provided easing her into a content slumber. Yet the last thought that crossed her mind was wishing her mother could meet the grandchildren she never would, and knew... in her heart she would have loved them with every inch of her being as much as Jessica did. Just before unconsciousness claimed her she managed to partially open one eye and see the moonlight slide along the floor, illuminating the two dusty plush ponies resting against her luggage.

It seemed not only her mother would have been proud of her if the moonlight was any indication. A happy smile coming to Jessica's lips as she drifted off to sleep, knowing that another equine who had become special to her approved.

And in the end, that was all that mattered.