Fireflower isn't a normal pony. She writes letters to a mysterious "mother" that nopony has ever met, and seems even shyer than Fluttershy! Who is she really?
Fireflower has been helping out on Sweet Apple Acres for three weeks, and nopony really knows much about her. One time, Big Macintosh caught her writing a letter to somepony she claimed was her mother. She then threw a horseshoe at him because he was in her house. In truth, this mysterious earth mare is a changling, and she has been sending reports of Ponyville to Queen Chrysalis. But why? Is that really what she wants to do?
"Did you hear? Princess Celestia is upping our defense against changlings!" a marshmallow colored unicorn told her friends. "They're becoming bolder by the day! Is there any way we can defend ourselves? Most unicorns can't do detection spells and it is hard to tell the difference between them and a normal pony without them."
"Well, we've got to try. It's not like we can just open up diplomatic trade with them after what they did." A lavender alicorn stated. "Now they're trying to sneak back into Equestria! We can't just let that happen!"
"Twilight's right!" A blue pegasus with a rainbow mane exclaimed. "The changlings tried to take over our home, remember? We would be fools not to defend ourselves!"
An orange pony wearing a cowboy hat sighed. "I can't even trust the pony I hired to help with the harvest this year! Fireflower's a good pony, but I just can't calm down around her!"
"She's a lot of fun at parties! I think you're just being paranoid, AJ. She's a great pony! It's pretty much impossible she's a changling! They have bad attitudes, remember?"
"Well, almost isn't really good enough, is it?" A yellow pegasus pony stated. "I mean, too be absolutely positive, we need Twilight to do a detection spell."
"No." Applejack said. "I don't want to hurt the feelings of anypony, you hear? if she isn't a changling, she'll be disraught at the thought that her own employer doesn't trust her. Besides, she isn't hurting anypony. We can deal with this with force if somepony gets hurt, but it'll just hurt her if she doesn't feel trusted. Now I want no more talk of this."
* * *
Fireflower knew Applejack didn't trust her. She had even put it in one of her letters. She had to write them every week, or else the guards would come for her. Queen Chrysalis thought it was a good idea to send changlings like her out to gather information. Changelings with feelings blended in better with ponies, apparently. She supposed it was true enough. After all, she made a more convincing pony than some of the ponyvillians. They had been dragged out into the street, screaming for spouses and parents and friends to help them as the were loaded into the van that took them to wherever they went. They never came back. Some said they were taken to worker camps to make things that equestrians needed. Others said they were taken to volcanoes and destroyed by the magma within them. Wherever they went, Fireflower was sorry for them. Fireflower. What a silly name. It blended in with the general populace, but it didn't really make sense. Changling names, however, were perfect. Like her own; Falling Ash. Or her nickname, Ashley. They were marvelous. Fireflower was a good name by Equestrian standards, though. It had a pretty good ring to it, and Ashley enjoyed it, as well as her identity with it. The one thing she didn't like was that there weren't many ponies who would trust her. Whenever somepony actively displayed that mistrust, however, she was able to go to Sugarcube Corner, where the pony Pinkie Pie always seemed to have one too many cupcakes or pies or something to cheer anypony up.
"Delivery!" Came a voice from the door. "Package for a 'Fireflower'!" The voice didn't sound like a delivery pony, but Fireflower went to the door anyway. The pony standing there was, in fact, in the uniform of the local mail office, however, and was levitating a package. "Sign here, please." He said, making it clear that it was a command, not a question.
"Alright, alright." Grasping the proffered pen, she signed the piece of paper before taking the package. She didn't expect what was coming next.
"May I come inside? It won't be for too long." The stallion asked. His next words caught her off guard; "The world is here today."
"Get the shovel, we'll bury our debts." it had been so long since she had needed to use the code. The last time had been when she first arrived in Ponyville. She allowed the delivery changling inside. "Now what's this about? I'll get all sorts of trouble from the neighbors for this, you know. Despite being mostly hospitable, nopony really invites the mailponies inside while they're on duty."
"Well this is important. Queen Chrysalis is going to be coming to visit you, and um.." He looked around nervously. "She wants to know if you've hinted at any outer relationships. She's hoping to take on a form by one of them."
"When my employers got suspicious about the letters, I told them I was just writing to my mom." Ashley stated. "Do I know you?" The last was purely quizzical, as she didn't recognize anything about her visitor.
"No, but if any of the Equestrians ask, I'm your cousin, and it is quite cold outside." It sounded like he was trying to appeal to her emotions to let him stay a bit longer.
"You should go now." She wasn't going to let him get the better of her just because of her emotions. "Tell my 'mom' I send my regards, and await her arrival. And giver her this." She handed her guest the letter she had just completed, after putting it in an envelope with her picture as Fireflower. "The past is behind us now."
"The future lies ahead." He sighed, and headed out the door to the mail vehicle that was either highjacked or fake. As it drove off, Fireflower turned her attention to the package.
"I wonder what's in here." She said quietly as she investigated it. It was a medium sized package with holes poked in the top. As she observed, a tiny yap emitted from it. Quickly realizing what was within, she opened the box and peered inside to make sure. There, along with a food bowl and some dog food, sat a small doberman puppy. Its ears and tail were not docked, making it infinitely more adorable. She withdrew the puppy and set him on the floor, before drawing out the bowl and food. She then poured the suggested amount into the bowl and set it on the floor for the puppy, who happily polished off all the food before running to the door. She picked him up before walking to the back door, which had had a dog flap installed by the previous owners. With some difficulty, the dog pushed his way outside. She would name him in the morning. Tomorrow was her off day, anyway.
Fireflower trotted into Sweet Apple Acres. Her day off had been a successful one, and she had gotten some supplies for her new puppy. He also had a name now; Pyrn. He certainly had a firey spirit, which had been confirmed when she tried to attach a leash to him. She had almost changed into a unicorn just to get him into the harness, and attaching the leash wasn't mush easier. She had managed, however, and was taking him with her to work. It was a a long leash, and she would be able to buck the apples without too much interference.
"Howdy, partner!" AJ called to her as she approached. "See you found yourself a new little friend there! What's his name?" The orange pony was indeed interested in the little puppy.
"His name is Pyrn." Fireflower said. "Isn't he adorable? Pretty fast, too. It took a bit to get him leashed up." She looked up and around at the surrounding orchard. "Where's Mac? He's normally bucking apples by the time I get here." Looking around in concern, the red earth pony look for the stallion with a similar hue.
"Oh, uh, he injured his, um, leg. Yeah, his leg! Busted it up really good! He's inside, um, resting." The orange pony said to her compatriot. "He should be fine by tomorrow, though. We'd best get started. These apples ain't gonna buck themselves." Applejack was speaking fast.
Fireflower turned to her. "AJ, is something up? You know you're horrible at lying." Glaring daggers at her employer, the green maned, yellow eyed pony stepped forward. "Where is Mac really? And no lies this time, you got that?"
AJ was shocked. Fireflower didn't normally act like this. "Fireflower, have you been replaced by a changling or something? You're attitude is a bit out of sync with normal you." She was leaning away from-- whoever this was. Fireflower or not, she was starting to scare Applejack.
"AJ, not with the subject changing, if you please. Do you even know where he is? At all?" Fireflower was starting to sound worried. If something really was wrong with him...
Just them another voice broke the conversation. "AJ? Fireflower? What's going on here?" Twilight Sparkle crested the hill, followed shortly by Big Macintosh and Rainbow Dash.
"What the hay is going on yourself? Where have you even been, Mac?" Exclaimed the earth pony mares. Argument forgotten, they rounded on the ponies who had arrived.
Twilight and Rainbow looked at each other. "Mac," said Rainbow. "I thought you said Applejack sent you. Why is she acting like she didn't even know where you were?" Twilight, too, was suddenly suspicious of the red stallion.
"That's because I didn't." Applejack said. "What did he say I sent for you for, anyway?" Glaring along side Fireflower, the orange mare gave her brother a look.
"Well..." Said Rainbow Dash. "He kind of said you wanted Twilight to preform a detection spell on Fireflower. We were a bit confused, considering the other night, but he convinced us you'd changed your mind." she looked over at Fireflower herself. "Sorry." she said sheepishly.
"The reason Rainbow is here in the first place is so... Well anyway, We'll be going now. Come on, Rainbow." Using her magic to pull the cyan pegasus by her tail, the purple alicorn dashed off.
"Come on, y'all. Let's go buck them apples." Said Applejack. Every trace of anger had been drained out of her. Instead, she was filled with sadness and hurt. "They won't buck themselves." She continued.
Fireflower, too, was feeling dejected. Even though Mac was right, it still hurt to feel untrusted. I wish I didn't have feelings. She thought as she trotted past Mac to the south orchard, hanging her head. Even Pyrn seemed dampened by the sadness in the air, as he left a butterfly alone to walk beside her himself. "They won't buck themselves." she told herself as she went to do her job. I'm deceiving them all. Using their trust. So why do I feel like the one who's been betrayed?
* * *
By the end of the day, Ashley felt no better. She had worked late, hoping it would take her mind off things. But it hadn't. By the time she called it quits, she actually felt worse. She supposed it was the farm, and had gone home, letting Pyrn do whatever struck his fancy. Despite his bounciness, he wasn't a destructive puppy. She let herself indulge this line of thought until her puppy began to bark at the door. Checking her clock, she realized how late it was. "Who could it be at this hour?" She muttered to herself before answering the door. It was Twilight Sparkle.
"Hey." She said. "Sorry about earlier." She truly was sorry. The emotion pulsed around Fireflower, who snapped it up before replying.
"It's no big deal. I understand you were deceived. It's not your fault." Her words seemed to comfort the pony, as a big ball of thanks floated right into her. Many ponies thought love was the only emotion changelings could feed on. But in reality, any positive emotion could satiate their hunger. A bubble of Ashleys own surprise floated over to Twilight, but burst into little pieces upon contact.
"I'm glad you understand. None of us expected what happened today. AJ told me what an effect it had on you, and I felt really bad." She looked at the ground as she spoke. "I'm glad you're okay, though."
"Twilight, you're a great pony, and I'd love to chat more, but it's really late and I have work in the morning. Talk to you some other time?" Fireflower said, her exhaustion showing on her face.
"Of course." Twilight said, yawning. "I'm pretty tired, too. We can talk again some other time." The alicorn turned and trotted off, presumably towards the library.
Fireflower closed the door and trotted back to bed. This time, she fell asleep, quickly, quietly, and happy.
Fireflower trotted into the library. It was a nice place, as long as she could ignore Twilight carefully pretending to act normal around her. Meandering over to the 'E' section was no problem, since the librarian was working in 'Q' at the moment, and her assistant was helping Rarity with something or another. Fireflower had played model from time to time on her off days.
"Can I... Help you?" Asked Spike. He was putting a book up on one of the higher shelves. Something about it caught her attention. "Can I see that book?" She asked. "It looks interesting." The gold plating just made it seem so important.
"Well... Twilight doesn't want you to-- Mph!" The dragonlings mouth transformed into a zipper and zipped shut. He started making incomprehensible noises, glaring at the purple alicorn who had preformed the spell. Fireflower, too, turned her attention to Twilight Sparkle.
"What Spike is trying to say is, um, that book is very old and it needs to be treated with great care. It's nothing personal, but I don't want to lend this book out to anyone." She looked around frantically, searching for an escape.
"Does this mean you mysteriously stopped sorting the 'Q' section as soon as my back was turned?" the earth pony said flatly. "And that you just happened to come to the 'E' section to randomly zip the mouth of your assistant while carrying a book about changeling lore?" She continued, before looking at the librarian skeptically.
"What-- Oh, this book! I was just curious, and I decided to look at it. Even I haven't read all the books here." Twilight looked nervously around for another second before saying "You don't believe a word I'm saying, do you?" in a resigned tone.
"I believe you haven't read every book in the library, but that's about it. You aren't exactly making it sound truthful." Fireflower said. "You think I'm a changeling, don' t you." It wasn't a question. Spike unzipped his mouth while she was formulating an answer.
"Yeah. She does." He said, ignoring the look he received from his alicorn friend. "She thinks you're sending reports to Chrysalis or somethi--mph!" Once again his mouth zipped. But he had already said enough. Fireflowers eyes welled up with tears, and she turned around and ran out of the library.
* * *
"La luna y las estrellas son preciosas esta noche, pero no quitan mi dolor. Me gustaría ver cómo los demás están tan contentos."
She sang a song in an ancient language; a song her mother had sung to her many times when she was sad. Her mother had no emotions, simply an instinct to keep her little one from blowing out the eardrums of the entire hive with her squalling. It still comforted her somewhat. She picked up her quill and began to write.
They know. Or at least, the alicorn does. She will have a hard time convincing the earth ponies known as Applejack and Pinkie Pie. The other civilians will believe anything that gives their paranoia justice. I just wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish... that we didn't have to deceive them anymore. If we could live along side them, we wouldn't have to worry about wherever they take these ponies. No one would need to fear anyone, because there wouldn't be anything about anyone to fear. As if that could happen anytime soon, especially after Cante
There was a knock. There were too many knocks anymore. Ashley wished that the ponies would just leave her alone for one night. Checking to make sure she was still Fireflower, she went downstairs.
Of course it was the queen. Who else would knock on her door in the middle of the night besides purple alicorns and messenger changelings disguised a delivery ponies? "Hello." She said. "Come on in. I've cleaned out the guest room for you."
"Thank you." The queens voice was the same, but without its underlying buzz. She walked into the room, gazing around at what she could see so far of her workers home. In spite of herself, Ashley awaited her queens decision. "Nicer than a cocoon, but not as fancy as when I took the form of the pink princess." She said as she followed her subject to the room that had been prepared for her.
"Well, it could never be that good." Ashley said, trying not to be disappointed with herself. "The name I've taken is Fireflower, as you remember, and she's just a regular earth pony. She's not a princess." It felt weird; referring to herself in third person. They entered the guest room, Fireflower lugging her 'mothers' suitcase behind her. Chrysalis nodded in approval at the room before motioning for her subject to exit. The earth pony/changeling left immediately.
* * *
rlot. They will never trust us now. Not ever. Fireflower set down her quill and sighed. She may pretend not to, but she knew the reason for her queens visit. There were lots of other hidden changelings in Ponyville. One had taken the form of Bon Bon and the name Sweetie Drops, for example. Queen Chrysalis wanted to make sure there were no other queens. She had worked painstakingly to remove all the others, and she wouldn't have any others sprouting up now. Snuggling down into bed with Pyrn, she closed her eyes.
Only to open them again almost immediately when she heard a sound from the bathroom. Getting up, she went to the door, peering through the keyhole to see none other than Twilight Sparkle in a stealth suit. Bracing herself, Fireflower opened the door and turned on the lantern, making Twilight freeze in place. "Oh." she said. "Hi."
"Please please please please please stop coming to my house in the middle of the night." The red mare said to the purple one in her bathroom. "This is the second time this week. At least last time you came through the door." She sighed for the umpteenth time that night. "My mother is visiting, and she gets cranky when she doesn't get enough rest. Just, please, get out of my house." Twilight just beamed.
"Your mother, huh? Introduce me immediately." Fireflower looked at her. Here was Twilight, having just broken into her house, been caught in the act immediately, and acting like she was still in charge and awesome just because she was a magical flying overpowered princess wonderhouse of who knows what. "Twilight, this is my house. My mother is very tired. You can't just demand to see her right now, under our current circumstances, and expect me to say 'Oh sure, let me take you to her and get yelled at because you have wings now! I'm totally alright with this!'. Sorry Twilight Sparkle. I don't just do that for someone who broke into my house and can't wait. Just close the window, and leave through the door."
Twilight lowered her head. "Um, about that window..." Trailing off, she stepped aside to reveal the broken glass. Fireflower shook her head.
"Listen, I won't report this if you promise to pay for the window, and leave through the door." She said to her unwanted guest. Pyrn bounced in to run up to the glass and smell it. Twilight picked him up with her magic and proffered her to her unwilling host. But when the blue eyed mare tried to reach for her friend, she pulled the puppy away.
"Nope." the alicorn said. "Magic only." a smug expression was on her face. She would get the evidence she needed yet. She was only slightly surprised when the pony across from her gained one of-- resignation? Fireflower turned around before saying "You wanted to meet my mother? Come on."