Why Humans Shouldn't be Allowed in Equestria

by Mad Hatter

First published

Coming from a world where magic doesn't exist doesn't mix well, and all hell could break loose at any moment.

Coming from a world where magic doesn't exist to one where it's everything doesn't mix well, and all hell could break loose at any moment. Mostly first person, with "Intermission" chapters by another character's eyes. Rating is more-or-less for safety, since I'm pushing it in a couple chapters - do not expect hardcore material.

Now with sequel: http://www.fimfiction.net/story/303918/home-sweet-hive

What the hell are these things?

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Another day, another... Oh, about 83 cents. What with the rest going to booze and all. Gotta keep my priorities straight. Where was I? Oh yeah. I'm... You know, it doesn't matter. Just call me Nohbodi. I'd say Anonymous, but that's overused. You'd interpose yourself in the story anyway. Not that it's a bad thing, I suppose. As an avid reader, I know the value of that disassociative fantasy effect. Life is tedious. Or, at least, it was. Well, it's back to tedious, but in a different way. Repetition does that no matter what. Right, introductions aside, here's how it all went down.

It was one hell of a thunderstorm. We're talking a proper Midwest storm. If you lived around here, you'd know what I mean. Flashes of daylight-grade lightning over the black sky, and thunder that scares everyone's pets. Massive, driving rain soaking everything. I was there with an old oil lamp (Seriously, there's an antique oil lamp in this house), reading some Mark Twain. The power's been out for about a half hour – nothing surprising for this small-town grid.

Reminds me of the ice storm a few years back. 30-plus-year-old trees snapping under the weight of the ice build-up, the power's gone, and I'm in a local bar. The door's open, the beer's chilled by nature, and someone brought a battery radio. That's how we roll in the sticks. It's actually pretty awesome if you've got the constitution for it. They've improved it since then, so those outages aren't nearly as common or as long as they used to be. If there's ever a nuclear apocalypse, the only survivors will be military, the half-nuts bunker guys, and a good chunk of the Midwest. But I digress.

I'm here, hitting the cheap gin, and reading. Was going to go out, but didn't feel like fighting the storm. Still had my coat on, but was just too lazy to take it off at the moment. Another flash of lightning. This storm was epic, even for this location. The lightning is getting even more impressive. There's sure to be property damage, and the associated insurance claims. I could give half a shit if I were sober. Guess how many I gave then. Then, it hit. The biggest damn lightning strike I'd ever seen – and that's saying something. The windows went white and everything inside the house was indistinguishable. Then an odd sensation of falling. Followed by an even stranger (And less pleasant) feeling of landing on my ass.

“And that is how you open a portal.” said an magically-impressive Twilight Sparkle, standing in front of the class of Canterlot School for Gifted Unicorn's auditorium. She froze in place, a cross between horror and interest that only the perpetually curious can pull off as I was ejected from the mirror-like portal in front of her.

“Urrgh, the hell just happened?” as I regained my equilibrium and stood up. I looked around to see a small horde of tiny, quadrupedal creatures. Turning around, I saw a slightly larger, lavender example. “No way am I drunk enough to see things. Hate being shitfaced.”

“Uh. Oh my. Erm... Princess Celestia!” she called behind her to a relatively bigger example of the denizens of the room. I say “relatively” because when I turned around, I was still taller, if only by a small margin.

“Calm yourself, my little pony. This is certainly unusual, but nothing that can't be remedied. Simply put it back through the portal before it can respond. It is rare, but not unheard of.”

“Y-yes Princess.” she stammered as some sort of aura enveloped me. I reflexively waved a hand in front of it in some unconscious attempt to block it. Where my hand passed it dissipated, followed by the purple one jerking it's head back.


“Twilight!” The larger, white one answered. She aimed her... Horn? Why the hell did these horse-looking creatures have horns? At any rate, a beam of white light shot towards me. I held out a hand again, and it stopped, building an orb of that energy in front of me. I considered the amorphous light for a moment, being almost insatiably curious. The white one seemingly increased the width of the beam, causing the ball to grow in my hand.

At this point the entire auditorium was in a state of shock, which I only casually noticed. This was, apparently, something they'd never seen before. Was this ball of light supposed to do something?

A grunt refocused my attention as the light got even larger against my hand. It continued to grow, until it was twice the size of my head. Then I noticed the sensation. Heat. A slight sting. I looked down to realize the sleeve of my coat was being burned by this thing. I thrust my hand forward to distance it, unintentionally sending the sphere through the beam to its source. The white thing barely had time to refocus on the thing before it struck. It went reeling back to the end of the room, splayed out and seemingly unconscious. I patted my hand against the sleeve. It was still warm, but no longer being physically damaged.

Everything there looked on with huge, wide eyes and jaws practically to the floor. I looked at the sleeve of my coat. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find one of these cheap?” Now I went from confusion to pissed.

“I-I-I-I... You speak Equestrian?” the lavender one stammered, glancing between me and the knocked-out figure against the wall.

“You speak English?” I exclaimed in tandem with it. Following with “What the fuck is going on here!?"

“Uh....I-I-I...” It stopped, putting an appendage below it's head in a back-and-forth motion, audibly breathing. Eventually it stopped, and continued. “I... Erm... Opened a portal, and you came out.”

“Not answering enough.” I stood up to my full height (Finally, I spend too much time slouching). Slightly below average for a modern human, but it towered over it by somewhere between one and two feet. My right hand was balled into a fist, having long ago bordered fight-or-flight levels of agitation. Meanwhile, the smaller collection behind me smiled and snickered at the sounds of obscenity, having semi-forgotten the shock of my arrival.

“N-Now, relax. I'll just send you home, OK? Please stay still, this won't hurt...”

Another light shot towards me, going around this time. After being covered in the light, that sensation returned. I looked around to find the coat slowly dissolving, for lack of a better word. I clawed my hands around, leaving empty streaks where the purple light was. Soon enough the thing recoiled again, knocked down and making some sort of panting noise. Shortly after it's fall, the enveloping light-field dissipated. The crowd went back to wide-eyed shock and awe.

My coat was mostly gone now, mere tatters hanging over my arms and shoulders. The steel-toe of my boots was shining through a gap in the toe. Someone was gonna answer for this. Treading forward with heavy, thudding steps, I grabbed the thing by it's horn and lifted its head. As soon as its eyes faced mine (At least, I assumed it was the eyes at the time) I stared it down. “You're gonna stop that, and explain everything... NOW!” I unceremoniously let go, letting the wide eyes blink as it's head hit the ground.

“W-What are you?”

“Not an answer. Start talking!”

“I am talking!”

“I mean start answering! What is all this and what are you?”

“I-It-It should've sent you back! I don't know what's happening!”

“What should've sent me back?”

“M-My magic! This hasn't happened before!”

“... … … Magic?”

I was stunned. Magic? This place, these things think they have magic? This is pushing for the most fucked-up dream I'd ever had, and that's saying something. In a few seconds the seemingly solid state of the scenery implied that it wasn't a dream. In considerable confusion, I flatly stated “Magic? No such thing.”

“What do you mean? Magic is everywhere, it's why we're here, it's why YOU'RE here!”

“Magic doesn't exist.”

“You're not making any sense!”

“You're one to talk. Now back to the point. Where am I and what the hell's going on? Start explaining , and no bullshit!”

That's when it hit me. Literally. Something cracked me in the back of the skull, and everything went black.

What happens in prison...

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“Hrrrnng. The hell?” I woke up and began to refocus my eyes. The blur slowly cleared and I found myself staring at bars. Looking around showed me a blank stone-laden floor, a high, thin window, and what appears to be a pile of grass or hay. Bringing my hands into fists again gave a sensation of odd pressure. I looked down and saw some sort of ring on each hand. Oddly enough, they were huge – having two fingers crammed into each. The dull throb in the back of my head reminded me of the preceding experience. Putting a hand back there returned the feel of rough cloth and the sight of bloody fingers. Shit. This isn't a dream.

I walked towards the bars, momentarily hopping on one foot for a step after catching a loose stone on the floor. The sound made a horse-head appear from the right side of the bars. “It's woken up. Inform the princesses.”

“Yes ma'am.” retorted a still-unseen one with a higher voice, followed by the sound of walking away. An odd, heavy sound of walking, like heavy metal boots on the stone floor.

The other walked completely into sight. “No trouble out of you now. Those rings prevent the use of any magic.” She (Presumably, from what the other said) gave what I figured was a smirk.

“Again with the magic. You're all fucking delusional.” Stepping back and sitting on the pile of dry vegetation, I began to pick at and twist the rings on my hands while the guard went back to her place. Whatever they were for, they weren't designed to stay stuck to anything flexible – like flesh. With some time I squeezed one off from the pair of digits and pocketed it. The other was off a couple minutes later. This one I kept in my hand. Maybe they would answer what all this was, at the very least.

I kept my hands in my pockets and paced back and forth for some time. Of course, it seemed like halfway to forever. Didn't really matter how long it was, but you have to focus on something. I don't need to be any crazier than I already am. It was probably an hour before I realized that my coat was completely gone now. Damn it, it takes a lot of hunting to find a trenchcoat at a Goodwill in my size – no other way for me to afford one, and they're comfortable. Also makes Black Friday shopping easier when people gave a second look – that half-second makes all the difference for getting the last something off a shelf. Sure I look like the guy on the neighborhood watch sign, but it works.

As I mentally meandered over such trivial things, the heavy steps returned. Well, the heavy set and two-no, three sets with it. I think. It gets mixed up easily when you're not used to things with four legs being what you're counting. “Face this way, whatever you are. Answer to the princesses.” shortly followed the slowing and stopping of most of the floor noises.

Between the bars I saw next to the guard the purple and white ones, and a third dark blue one. “You got wings too?” Amazing what you don't notice when it's not being used as a weapon at the time. “Who-what the hell are you all?”

“Silence, knave!” shouted the dark blue one, the echo ringing across the halls. Who knew Brian Blessed had a pet horse?

Celestia turned to the guard. “If you would open the cell for us?”

“Of course, your majesty. Not one, but two anti-magic rings have been applied. Whatever trick it used, it can't do it again.”

The door creaked open, needing a bit of force. Looks like it hasn't been used in a hell of a long time. The white one looked at me with eyes that... seemed different. Motherly? No, that's not it. More like when you looked at some scared little animal. Pitying, maybe. “Are you calm?” Oh, now it wants to talk like it's civilized.

“Calm as I'm gonna get until all this insanity is explained.” Feathers ruffled slightly, but quickly regained apparent composure.

Celestia stepped forward. “Of course this would be unusual to you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am princess Celestia, of Equestria. And you are?”

“... … … Princess?”

“Yes. Are you royalty from your world?”

“... … … Princess Celestia, the...” I shuffled through memories for some frame of reference for this nonsense. Lewis Carroll would have a hard time coming up with it. Wait. Back at the mall, one of those kitschy holiday displays had a little blown glass trinket of a winged, horned horse. 'Mystic pegacorn' it said on the tiny plaque in front of it. “Pegacorn?'

“Alicorn, actually. Perhaps there is a small difference in language between our worlds.”

“Worlds. Still not buying it.”

“It is true. You were brought here from an error of some kind during the creation of a portal.” At the word 'error' the lavender one visibly paled, a slight twitch in one eye.

I scanned the area again. Obviously everything was being taken too seriously. Looked like I didn't have any choice but to play along if I wanted to get out any time soon. “Who-what knocked me out back there?”

“One of the students.” replied the purple one. “She had an awakening, like I did before, and threw a desk at you. We don't know why it worked and our magic didn't. She's very glad to get her cutie mark though.”

“Cutie mark? Awakening?”

“You don't know what those are?”

“No. I...” The wheels turned. There may be a way out of this without acting like I'm falling for it completely. “Can I talk to her?”

Twilight was taken aback by that. “Um. Well, I guess so. If you promise to behave.”

I did not see that coming. The kid was still in on it too? Confused, I simply blurted out “Yeah.”

Twilight left with a guard as I turned to stare at Celestia again. “You never did tell me who you were.” she quipped.

“Oh. Nohbodi.”

“Well, Nohbodi. Welcome to Equestria. Hopefully the remainder of your stay will be far more pleasant.”

“Do not be careless sister! It is still dangerous. Best if we seal it away, like Discord millenia ago!” Luna announced.

“Does that one have to yell everything? I've already got a headache y'know.”

“That one!? Thou urchin, respect my station!” she roared, pointing her horn inches from my face. Now, what do you do when someone points a weapon at you? You fucking grab it if you can. That's just what I did. I had an iron grip on it at the base. Of course, that reflex meant letting go of the ring in that hand. The * tink * it made as it hit the floor was all it took. The guard took one look, panicked and slammed the gate shut. Remaining was Celestia, the blue one held by the horn, and myself.

“Looks like it's back to demanding explanation.” I turned back to Celestia. “You're the reasonable one I guess. Really, cut the crap and tell me where I am before I'm late for work tomorrow.”

Celestia was stunned into silence for a second, as several rapid-fire flashes of blue light pulsed between the fingers of my horn-holding hand. It stopped soon enough as it looked at me with the enraged eyes of a caged animal. It thrashed about, trying to dislodge itself as I held on. Occasionally my hand would slip up a bit, but I'd force it back down. Soon I felt a sort of heat again. Was it trying to burn me like they did before? No, that isn't it. This isn't fire-heat. This is body heat? The struggling continued until it froze in place for a moment, then slumped down on it's knees. “I am defeated. Please, release me.” it pleaded, in a weaker, more aurally manageable voice.

“Do you promise to behave?” I said, perhaps more derisively than I should have.

“Yes. I am vanquished.” it replied.

“Good. Now who are you?”

“I am princess Luna.”

I looked back to Celestia, who had the most shocked expression you could imagine. “Do you have any idea what you just did?”

Gazing at Luna and back to her. “Won?”

“You don't know what a horn feels?”

“No, I... You're not telling me...” I facepalmed. A decision I immediately regretted as I pulled my hand away to inspect. Nothing on it. “I just did that to her?” She nodded.

Now, my usual sense of humor is demented at best, but I'm actually a prude when it comes to certain subjects. “Oh. Oh, shit! I'm so sorry!” I backed off and dropped my fighting stance. Oh man, what I wouldn't have given for something to break this moment u-

“-es. Sky Sprinkle, this is the one from class... Celestia what happened!?”

Twilight stared at Luna's prone form, the closed cell door, and Celestia. Celestia looked at Twilight and nearly answered, until she looked at the foal. No, this wasn't the time for it. “A... misunderstanding of sorts.”

“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. Now, little... What was your name?”

The small teal-coated unicorn looked up with all the innocence and ignorance of youth. With a smile she stated. “Sky Sprinkle. Thanks for helping me get my cutie mark!”

“Cutie mark?”

Sky turned to her side to show an image of a horn like her own next to a glowing ball. “When everypony was scared of you, I saw a lot of light, and sent my desk with my magic! Um, sorry it hit you though.” she ended sheepishly.

Straight from the mouth of babes. Guess it took hearing it from a kid to make me finally realize it. This not only wasn't a dream, it wasn't a joke. I was somewhere else, and here magic was real. I staggered backwards and slumped into the pile of hay. “It's real. It's all real.”

I stared into space for who knows how long. I was in another world. One filled with talking horses. Magic existed. I'd just essentially battle-raped an intelligent being. A princess, in fact. Wait, WHAT!?

It didn't take a blow to the head to make everything go blank this time.

And the Hospital...

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Well, 'blank' was as good a way as any to say it. After maybe a couple of hours my brain finished rebooting, and I was in what was hopefully a medical ward.

“-ns't responded since.” The three pegac-er, alicorns from earlier were there, along with one that only had the wings.


“You're back with us, I see. I'm Dr. Brain Pan. How are you feeling now?” it said.

“Brain Pan?”


“Brain Pan.”


“Brain Pan?”


“Brain Pan.”

“I think he needs more time to recover from whatever damage he incurred from absorbing all that magical energy.”

“No. Your name's Brain Pan?”

After a moment it clicked for the doctor. “You find that name unusual?”

“Yeah. Who names their kid Brain Pan? Or did you change it?”

“No, I've had this name all my life.”

“Must've sucked growing up.”

“Well, my parents have regaled their friends with stories of how vigorously I'd inhale my food as a foal.”

“No, I mean... Ah, fuck it. Where am I?”

“Canterlot hospital.”

“At least I've gotten one answer today.”

“What do you need answered?”

“Everything.” I rattled off a laundry list of questions about where I was and what's been going on. Stuff that, apparently, even the most brain-damaged kid knew here.

Brain Pan turned to the princesses. “I believe he may need a different type of specialist.”

“I'll get the gang together. Looks like Pinkie's going to set a new record for information in a welcome party.” chimed Twilight.

The doctor resumed “You seem to be, at least with our limited experience with your kind, healing well. I understand that some find the procedure produces that effect. Not unheard of though. As soon as you sheath yourself, we can file the paperwork to release you.”

“Sheath what now?” I asked.

“We simply cannot have you walking out in that state.”

“What state?”

He pointed at my crotch. I was naked.

It took approximately zero seconds to cover my junk with my hands. “Why the hell am I naked!?”

“A full medical examination was required. Now as soon as you're sheathed we can get on with the next step.”

“What sheath?”

“Your sheath.”

That's when I noticed that he didn't have anything showing, despite being naked himself. Man, I gotta figure out what to pay attention to here. Thinking for a second, I realized that I'd have to explain something to him. “Uh, I don't have a sheath. I need pants.”

“Was there an accident at some point in the past?”

“No, humans don't have sheaths!”

“Humans? So you're a humans. I've never seen a humans before.”

“Just... Guess we both have questions here.” It took me a couple minutes to explain to him that people need pants to cover themselves. It took longer to find a pair for me, even a pair that didn't fit. It was stitched at a weird angle, like... oh yeah. Everything here is a horse, they all go from ass to legs at ninety degrees like that. Well, it sucked, but it'll do for now. The white one – Celestia, that was it. She had a blush until I was covered. The rest were too dark to tell. I faced Twilight, figuring more answers were gonna come from there. “Give me as much information about this place as you can, and get me out of here and I'll see what I can do.” Never do anything for free.

Public Decorum

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“So, can we get a burger on the way? I haven't eaten in... Damn, how long have I been here?”

Twilight piped up “The portal event (She refuses to say 'error' and something tells me not to push it) was four days ago.”

“Well shit. Four days... Why am I not freaked out? For sure I'll catch hell at my job, if I still have one. Guess all this is getting to me.”

“What about the food in the dungeon?”

“There was food there?”

“Yes. Hay and grass, but sufficient for the convicted.”

“...I was sleeping on it.”


“Humans don't eat grass.”

“So you've been eating?”

“Nothing. And I'm hungry as hell.”


Within a couple of minutes, we were at some joint on the edge of Canterlot. We took a table on the outside. Or rather, Twilight took us to a little table on the outside, under a lamp of some kind. That got some looks on it's own, as if a hairless ape that towered over them wasn't enough. Some guy in a waistcoat and slicked-back hair (Dude looked like a used car salesman from an 80s movie) came up, and then froze. “Guess it isn't rude to stare here.” I flatly stated to Twilight.

“O-Oh! Terribly sorry. I was... distracted by... My apologies.” he stammered out, and placed menus in front of us both, with that obligatory glass of water I never drink. I smirked behind the menu, but it faded quickly as I realized that the whole thing was vegetarian. Not only that, most of it was flowers, grass, and other stuff that can't be considered 'food'. No beer either – now * that * sucked. Haven't spent this many days sober since Lent. At least they had bread, so I settled on that and hoped it wasn't a word that meant something else. Meanwhile, Twilight was studying my movements as much as she could from the other side of the menu. Not like she tried to hide it, really.

“You're a scientist of some kind?” I've been starting most of the conversations since I got here it seems. At least this won't end with a fight. Probably.

“I do research on various subjects and magical theorem. How did you know?”

“Your curiosity is showing. Still don't know about all this magic stuff. There's gonna be a long, long talk for us get what the other's about.”

Lunch went smoothly enough, with neither side saying much. Got quite a few looks from passers-by during it, but that wasn't a surprise. After I pulled out my wallet. Then I realized that it was useless here. “Well crap. My money isn't any good here, is it?” Twilight looked over a 20 dollar bill I'd gotten from the ATM well before the storm hit.

“That's money on your world? Unfortunately it's not legal tender here in Equestria.” She produced a small bag of gold coins from a saddlebag with stitching matching the picture on her rear, and put them on the table.

“You still use gold here?” I could've been more surprised, but compared to what's gone on so far this was nothing.

“Still? Your kind did in the past?”

“Yeah. Still traded, but it's not cash anymore. Not enough gold for the money going around. Kinda funny when you think about it, that this paper is worthless but we all take it anyway.”

“Is there overpopulation on your world?”

“Depends on where you go.” More staring folk. A bigger crowd than before. “Speaking of going, think it's time to get to where you were talking about? Won't be able to get through this crowd soon.”

“Oh, that won't be a problem. I know Ponyville very well, after all. We'll just teleport there.” A flash of light later she was gone. About five seconds after that she was back with another light-show. With my pants. With a burning embarrassment that no one here will know, I put them back on, being careful to not let anything under the table show.

“Guess that not working is gonna take some getting used to.” I still couldn't see anything under the fur, but I could reasonably guess that she was embarrassed too. The crowd murmured to itself over it as we got up and trekked down the road. The crowd split, and several bowed. “So the 'princess' thing is legit, eh?”

“Ponies, please. Don't grovel such on my account.” she announced with a calm smile. So they're ponies, and I'd been calling everything a horse. Guess she's the people's princess. That's a good sign.

Everyone stayed out of our way, excepting the occasional kid. One went right up to me. “Hi! You're big. Did Twilight make you?”

I leaned down on a knee to look the kid in the face. “Hi kiddo. Guess I'm big here, heh. And no, Twilight didn't make me. She brought me here from somewhere else.” As I was finishing his (I think, it's hard to tell yet.) mother came up and pulled him away, repeating apologies. “Hey, kids'll be kids, right? Not like I'm dangerous or anything.” Never had kids myself, but I almost always got along with them. Maybe not having kids is why I like them. No diapers, colds, or other assorted crap to deal with. Just the little walking truth-factories, saying what adults wish they still could. The crowd muttered their approval at the sight, and a lot of the stares softened to simple curiosity.

One notable exception stepped up, right in our way. A white pony with just a horn, a bit bigger than the rest. Yellow hair, and an expression that – even on a non-human face – screams douchebag. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, how dare you flaunt such depravities among the populace! As if deigning to let lesser ponies act like equals in your presence wasn't enough!” Yep, grade-A douchebag.

“Blueblood.” she countered with an only partially-hidden sneer. “What are you talking about?”

“Ponies, even high-class ponies saw you sitting at the couple's tables with this abomination.” That explained some of the weirder stares pretty well.

“We didn't have a reservation, and there was business to attend to.”

“Business? Pfah! As if you could hide your depradations under such a title.”

I stepped up. “Met more than enough of this kind to know he ain't changing. You. Fuck off. Now.”

A number of the crowd dropped their jaws, some came up with the biggest grins I'd ever seen.

“Why, I never! You require a lesson about respecting your betters.” Another light from his horn, and a shape similar to a glove, except without the fingers flew towards me. It dissipated on contact, him jerking his head back. Still don't get why that happens. Guess using magic on me is like punching a brick wall.

“Halt!” boomed a voice above our heads. Luna flew down and interposed herself between us. This couldn't possibly end well. “What has occurred here?”

Twilight quickly explained the situation. Luna's expression displayed approximately zero surprise. She gave a withering glare to Blueblood. “Do not molest him. He is currently a guest of the Equestrian empire. Likewise...” a flash of shame “He has quickly defeated us in combat. You would stand no chance against him in a duel.” Luna turned and bowed to me. “According to the ancient laws, I owe you a boon. State it, and it will be given, as is the right of the conquerer.”

Every jaw in the place went back to the floor. I think a paving-stone or two cracked from the impact. This was an opportunity I couldn't waste. “Allow me to learn about this world first. I will return my request when it is in the best interest of all parties involved. Agreed?” I don't always talk like that, but it seemed best to keep going with her style.

“Due to the circumstances of your arrival, this delay is acceptable. I will await your reply in due time.” She turned to Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, we request you teach him of Equestrian life. These events much be shocking, and due care is required.” Turning to me “As you learn of our culture, please be mindful of differences. Understand that surveillance will be required until all is understood.”

“Figured I'd be watched. I don't wish to cause any trouble. So long as...” I turned to Blueblood “I am allowed to defend myself, when necessary.”

“That is acceptable, though I do not believe that it will be necessary often.”

“Hopefully not. I dislike violence.”

“That is good to hear. I will return to our castle. Twilight, please keep us informed as to his progression.” She gave a bow of respect to Twilight, and few back off towards the castle.

We continued on to a train station. Everything here was so gaudy. Bright colors everywhere. It was giving me a headache. Not having my glasses would've been worse. Thankfully I got most of my stuff back after the exam. They ran it through some kind of detector. Of course, nothing would show magic, and only what I think was combat magic hurt stuff. My old clothes were too wrecked to keep.

The ride was about what I expected. Lots of ponies stealing glances and trying to look like they're not. Twilight gave a lecture on Equestrian life that filled in a lot of gaps. I had a few questions, but ones referring to anatomy or the like were obviously going to wait until we weren't in public. Anything involving my reaction (Or lack thereof) to magic was going to wait too. No use freaking out the population. This might not be so bad after all.

But damn did I want a drink.

Shifting Introductions

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We pulled into the Ponyville station while I was pondering my borderline alcoholism. Most of the original group had left off, and the train was at about half capacity by then. A few more got on, but it looked like we were the only ones getting off at Ponyville. It was something of a surprise, what with the giant tree-castle and all. Guess when the world is full of magic and talking ponies the tourism industry doesn't work the same.

The ponies were out and about among their business. I got a few looks, but nothing compared to before. “Not as many staring as the other place.” I remarked.

“Canterlot, yes. We've had some interesting adventures here, and ponies are used to seeing someone new.”

“Did I hear 'someone new'?” came from behind us, followed by a bright pink pony with hair that would make the 80s proud jumped in front of us, seemingly from out of the ground.

“Woah!” I stumbled back a step.

“So who're you? I'm Pinkie Pie! Welcome to Ponyville! Oh, we need a welcome party! I'll get right on it!” as she bounded away, entering a house that looked like it was made of gingerbread.

“...Well. That happened.”

Twilight smiled “That's Pinkie Pie. Hope you like parties.”

“Haven't been to a party in years. I'm not high-energy like that. Could be interesting though. So how are we going to find out about the magic issue, and how to get me back home? And who's that?” Off in the distance was a pony. Or something like it. It was jet black, with insect-like wings and a horn. “Another princess? They all seem to have wings and horns.”

Twilight followed my finger at the being. “No, that's a changeling. It stays near the Everfree. Showed up at the wedding, but ponies still avoid it. We keep an eye on it, but it hasn't caused any trouble.”

“Guess ponies are like humans in that regard. We generalize too much too.” I waved the changeling over to us before Twilight could protest. It nervously came forward from the distance, almost shaking.

“H-Hello.” it said in a tone similar to a droning. Kind of like me before having coffee in the morning. Twilight eyed it cautiously. “Am I in trouble? I try to stay away.”

“No trouble, just saying hi. I'm Nohbodi, and new here. What's your name?” I held out a hand, having seen hoofshakes by now, and hoping it worked out the same. It worked, for the most part. A hand-hoof shake is kind of awkward.

“I... Do not have one... A name.” it buzzed.

Twilight jumped in “Changelings don't have names like we do, it's a hive.”

The changeling looked about as sad as something with chitin instead of skin for a face can. “Not anymore. A lot of us got severed from the connection after...” it looked at Twilight and winced. Twilight was unmoved.

“Well then. I don't know all the details, but have you thought about taking a name?”

“You can do that?”

“Don't see why not.”

The changeling thought long and hard. “I would like to be called Aranea. It is after a species from home. I think a ponys' spiders are close to it. I was like a big sister to many of them.”

“Nice to meet you Aranea.” I said with a genuine smile. Someone else with curious interests and needing to fit in. We were gonna get along just fine. Plus I had a hell of a time figuring out her gender, what with no cues to pick up on. Wonder if not 'getting' pheromones will be a problem. “How was your welcome party? That Pinkie one seems to have more energy than possible.”

“I... Did not have one.”

“Sorry, thought I heard she gave everyone one.”

“She does. But I do not live in Ponyville. I live in the Everfree Forest.”

“Well, guess we both need one then. Doing anything today?”


“Good. No schedule problems.” As soon as I said it I noticed that it was probably a crappy way to say it. “Uh, sorry. No offense.”

“None taken. You are nervous. You are new to changelings.”

“True. So Twilight, what's left to do before the party?” Guess it's been so long since a party of any kind that I'd forgotten about getting home, at least for a few minutes.

Twilight thought for a moment, stealing a sidelong glance at Aranea. “Let's get you some clothes that fit. If humans need to wear clothes all the time you'll need something. At least until we find out how to get you home.” There's that reminder.

“I'm gonna need to get a job here after all this. Hate owing people. See you at the party Aranea.” As we walked towards wherever Twilight was taking me.

“Wait.” Aranea was still behind us. “I... do not have clothing to wear. Can I travel with you? Ponies... do not trust changelings.”

Twilight leaned into my ear. “Changelings feed on emotion. Look.” She raised a hoof to Aranea's legs, which had small holes in them. They were slightly smaller than before, like something was healing.

I turned to Twilight. “Everything feeds on emotion.”

“Not like this!” She sighed and relented, seeing full well that I didn't see the problem. “Just be careful around them. Also, I'm not paying for her clothes.”

Aranea overheard easily enough and chimed in. “I have bits. Some, at least. Not many will hire me.”

We walked down the cobbled path together, Twilight constantly 'checking on' Aranea. That was starting to piss me off. Before anyone could cause a scene we were at the... giant carousel or circus tent. This whole town was a theme park, or an acid trip.

Twilight knocked on the door. A white unicorn answered it. “Why hello darling. What do you need today, princess?”

“Rarity!” she retorted while suppressing a giggle. “You know nopony needs to call me that.”

“Oh, but I simply must! Why, how else would one address a princess?” This one had a taste for drama a mile wide. I'd bet there was a stack of cheesy romance novels somewhere in there. “Ah, but who have we he...” Yep, she saw Aranea.

I quickly stepped up. “Rarity she said? Uh, nice to meet you. Twilight took us here to get some clothes for this 'welcome party' the pink one ran off for.”

“Of course darling! Yes, come right in ah...all of you.” As Twilight stepped by she whispered “You do realize...” Twilight nodded and the four of us were in a spacious room, the walls and literal clothes horses covered with fabric. Most of it bright enough to annoy a dog's eyes.

Rarity looked me over with interest. “This will be a challenge worthy of my skills. Please stand there and put your forelegs out dear, I must take measurements.” I took the position, not bothering to correct her for the moment, as a magical aura floated a tape measure to me. Whenever it touched me the aura shifted away, but not enough to throw off the measurements. Twilight watched the phenomenon with interest. Rarity pulled the tape off and studied it for a moment.

“That happens. Magic goes funny around me like that.”

“Twilight, do you know why?” she shook her head.

“I haven't found anything referencing it yet, but right after the party we're going to the lab.” I didn't like the sound of that. But I'm paranoid.

Rarity wrote down the measurements. At least, I assume she did. I don't know much beyond the sizes at the store. She asked me a few questions and I described the clothes I usually wore. It was a little awkward figuring out how to say something when the parts didn't match up, so it took a little while. She didn't particularly agree with my penchant for darker colors, but acquiesced. She did manage to sneak gold trim into the new coat. Not quite the same. This one was more of a waistcoat with a duster-trail. Kind of anime, really. Still, I did like it, and the quality was everything Twilight said it was. At least, again, from what I could tell. The shoes needed work. Horseshoes and boots do not mix well. There was little use in explaining. Guess I'd have to learn how to cobble if I end up stuck here. Regardless, the overall result was impressive. “Wow, that was fast.” Looking at the clock, it had only been a couple of hours. Turning to Twilight and Aranea “What do you think?” They both nodded their assent. “Aranea, looks like you're up.” I stepped aside off of the small pedestal.

“I... do not know, Nohbodi. Do you think they would accept a changeling there? I would rather be a human now.”

“Think everyone wants to be someone else sometimes. Not really a choi... Woah.”

That's when I learned that changelings were shapeshifters. Standing in front of me, was a humanoid form, still with the jet-black skin. The form was interesting, but blankly androgynous. “Did I do it correctly?”

“Mostly.” Through a few alterations I explained how male and female humans had distinct differences to form. The end result was a short human female. It seems that changelings can only 'stretch' themselves so far relative to regular body size. She was about a foot shorter than me, with a lean, angular face and body, though obviously feminine now. She took my explanation of skin color literally, and was still jet. Except for certain anatomical features, namely reproductive organs. Not that it mattered. Clothes are there to cover those kinds of features, so it doesn't really apply to have them under there. She stepped on the pedestal and Rarity did her duty. This one didn't take as long. Whether it was because a dress' design didn't have to change much beyond the top and waist, or that she just wanted to get it over with I don't know. Probably more of the latter with ponies' attitude about changelings. Rarity's bill was... excessive to me. Twilight covered mine. Aranea just barely had enough, even for a basic one. I wonder if she was overcharged.

Despite the difference in body type she didn't have a problem walking. Must have some kind of internal stabilizer to deal with changing shape like that. “Is this acceptable for a human?”

“You look great.” I smiled. She returned it.

Twilight and Rarity looked at each other with a mix of curiosity and concern.

A 'bang' outside drew our attention. There was now confetti outside of the window. Rarity walked outside and came back with an envelope, streamers still stuck to it. It was the invitation to the party at Sugarcube corner. I didn't need to be told what house that was.

“Looks like the party's on.”

“Do you really wish to accompany a changeling to this party?” Poor gal had no self-esteem.

Normally I'm far too shy when it comes to this kind of thing. But something told me I'd never see anyone else like her around here. It was a chance I couldn't lose. I hooked my arm around hers. “It's a date.”

Hobnobbing with Knobs

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Soon enough we were all at the party's location. Not that it took a lot. I swear this entire town is about a mile wide. When you grow up in a village in the sticks, that means something. Well, it used to be a village, now it's a small town. Fucking yuppies building houses the rest of us couldn't possibly afford. Most of them couldn't either. There's a lot of foreclosures there now. Digressing again. Where was I? Oh yeah. So we come up to the door of the gingerbread house from 'Hansel and Gretel', and Twilight knocks on the door. Before you could blink we were inside, and the pink one was staring us down with the ear-to-ear grin of a serial killer. That might be the most unnerving thing I'd ever seen.

“Welcome to Ponyville!” she exclaimed, with a small explosion of confetti and streamers seemingly ejecting from the ends of her hooves. She jumped back to the middle of the room in one bound, revealing the place packed with ponies of every type and color. Man, she can get a lot of bodies on-the-fly. Some looked confused for a moment. “There's two of them?” “Heard there was only one humans.” and so on. I looked at Aranea. Sure it would take practice to really get it right, but she kept whatever the human equivalent of her features would be for her face – probably from not having any frame of reference – and that was a plus. Kind of Asian actually, the native island kind before Europe showed up. At any rate, none of them seemed to see anything off, and bought it. Except Twilight and Rarity, but they kept their mouths shut. At least for the time being.

Jobs and money, home and family. Small talk is universal like that. I managed to bullshit my way through the staring throng, and Aranea did the same. Better than me, but from the looks she was behind on the news. Guess a lot of it was a hive thing and she had to find out the last couple of years on her own. It wasn't anything consequential. She was at some wedding that Celestia herself officiated, but didn't get to the reception. They all cleared too much space for her and she must've backed out, knowing she wasn't all that welcome. Overall it went well enough. We were both kind of nervous, and neither paid too much attention to what was really being said. Pinkie handed us each a cupcake, and we dug in. Who the hell thought hot sauce was a good idea? I like hot stuff, but it really didn't work. We ate them anyway. Pinkie was apparently part of Twilight's circle of friends, and she specifically introduced us to the others.

Applejack, an orange plain pony that had on a southern hat. Similar to some folks around home. Said I had “A hoofshake like an Earth Pony.” I didn't. Found out that Earth Pony magic is internal that way. I wasn't strong in the arms, but that whole magic-killing thing made me seem stronger. I could tell one could still easily kick my ass, and made a mental note not to piss any off.

Rainbow Dash, a blue pegasus. Obviously the cocky kind. Seemed cool enough. Wondered what would happen if I grabbed a wing. Reality would probably take over and it'd snap under the oversized body it was holding up. I didn't try.

Fluttershy, another pegasus. Painfully shy. Kind of like Aranea, but this one had friends, and a home, and a stable job at the same time. Probably had issues.

So the party wore on. There wasn't much to relate, though I tried to pick up on social cues for a while. Then I remember I was crap at it. I worked my way to Twilight and reminded her about the Q&A we had to finish. She explained to Pinkie, who probably made excuses to pass along to the others. It was pretty late by that time anyway, and a few ponies had already left. I collected Aranea, who obviously didn't want her backup gone, and we were out of there.

I still had no idea what Twilight wanted to do with her lab. It didn't worry me too much, not anymore. Apparently being immune to magic makes you stronger than the equivalent of a physical god here. Keep the Earth ponies happy and I should be fine.

'Fine'... I could be a king here. The rose-tinting of Earth was starting to fade.

Questions and Answers

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So Twilight, Aranea & I walked up to that gigantic castle. Where they got the material I don't know. Looking at my new coat, and the gemstone buttons that'd make it a fortune on Earth told me that trying to apply Earth economics to this was a waste of time. The inside was equally impressive. Everything looked priceless. Yeah, seeing this kind of thing stayed the equivalent of mind-blowing-but-mentally-manageable for quite a while. Maybe if the shock to being in another world didn't take so long to fade it wouldn't be as awesome. It faded quickly this time. Not so much because the rooms we passed through weren't getting any less grand, but because the destination was just too weird. There was a basement that went underground from our wing of the castle. The result was a mix of crystal and dirt on the walls, with machines that a sci-fi flick wouldn't have used since the 70s. A lot of boxy designs and small lights. Most of it was turned off, from what I could tell. Twilight turned to Aranea. “This requires a clean environment. You have to stay out for this.”

Aranea froze, obviously worried about what could happen to her. “B-But...”

I stepped in. “It's ok Aranea. Twilight, can I bum some cash?”

Twilight looked at me quizzically “bum some cash?”

“Borrow some money. I'll pay you back when I get a job.”

“Oh. What do you need money for now?”

“Not for me. This' gonna take a while. For Aranea to go see a show or something.”

“There's a library in another wing of the castle.” she noted with agitation.

“That'll do. Don't worry Aranea, if anyone shows up and gives you trouble there'll be hell to pay.”

Aranea's turn to look confused (Emotions still looked kind of flat, but it was there). “Hell to pay? I do not have more bits.”

I smirked “It's a saying from home. Not about money, so don't worry about it.” It worked well enough. She didn't want to leave, but gave up and went back upstairs. Turning back to Twilight “Let's make it simple, I can give an answer for every one you give.” putting a fingertip to her horn, then remembering and pulling it away before contact. “Starting with why Luna didn't have me killed on the spot, I guess.”

Twilight perked up, presumably at the idea of the knowledge exchange. “That's simple enough. When Luna pointed her horn at you and that... fight happened, it became what amounts to a battle of honor. Doing... that... drains energy. If she couldn't so much as hurt you at full power, she surrendered after it. It's an old law that hasn't been used for hundreds of years. In fact, doing it the way, erm, the way you did is considered a humiliating way to lose a duel. By the ancient laws princess Luna is indebted to you – within reason.” She was quick to add that part. Wonder what I could have claimed? Considering I don't want a pony concubine, I didn't press for those details. Better to not usurp the natural order anyway. Alicorn or not, trying to take advantage of it too much would bring everything down on me – including everything that could really hurt. Maybe I'm thinking too highly of myself. I nodded. It reminded of old civilizations. Didn't think anyone here was that far behind. “And this is normal?”

“No.” she flatly stated. That was actually kind of a relief. Didn't want to be in a world where everything was dark ages ass-backward, even if I could be high on it. Something always happens, even to the top. “My turn. What's life like on Earth?”

I thought for a moment. “That's way more than I can say, really. There's a lot of countries, lot of cultures. I can tell you what I know of where I grew up, in America.”

Twilight's turn to nod. “There are a lot of countries here too. I understand. So, tell me what it was like in this 'America'”

“Well, officially it's “The United States of America”, there's a bunch of countries in North and South America. There's two hundred or something overall – the entire world I mean. Some of them others don't recognize as a country. Lot of politics on Earth...”

That's another mark against home. I might see a similar level of bullshit here. Or maybe not. Snapping out of it, I continued. I explained life in the Midwest as well as I could, and a little bit about the rest of it. The right and left, and how they're both nuts. Now that I really think about it, this place is looking better and better. Now to find out if Equestria was just as full of it. No better question to think of. “So what's it like here?”

I could've asked it better, but being the local brain, she seemed to figure out what I meant. She told me about Equestria and a baseline of some other kingdoms. It was kind of like Earth, but if monarchies or most kinds of government weren't tremendous fuckups.

We started on a line of comparison. Bits were money, elections were pretty much the same (Sans attack ads), the princesses have pretty much always been around (That took a moment to process), and life in general here was a similar – if low-tech – take on what I knew (She asked if the Amish were ponies there). Then came the heavy stuff.

“What are ponies on your world? Do you have them?”

“We have them, yeah. But it's not like here. Only humans are really smart. Others can be trained, but everything else is some kind of animal, so to speak. Ponies there aren't intelligent. Humans ride them.”

“Ride them?”

“Yeah, sit on them. Ponies, horses, camels, they carry stuff and people to other places.”

“That's horrible!”

“There's nothing here that isn't sentient?”

“Well, yes, a few.”

“It's like that, I guess. Remember, it's not like here. Speaking of which, where can I get some meat? Humans need meat.” I just fucked up. Big time.

“You eat pony!?”

“Er, no. Not in America anyway.” Not any better.

“Some do? That's... that's...”

“Not like here.” I interrupted. “Like I said, only humans are intelligent on my world. Is there anything here that eats meat?”

“Well, griffins eat fish.”

“Fish is good. Fish aren't sentient here, are they?”

“Well, no...”

“Then it's like that. Probably.” Twilight calmed down. Still somewhat uneasy, but no longer horrified at the concept. Think I just avoided a genocide of one.

“Why doesn't magic work on me?”

Twilight got more energy than I'd seen her before. It was bordering Pinkie-levels. That was scary. “Let me recalibrate one of my testing devices and we can find out!” The one with a lot of lights, and something resembling a colander with wires lit up something fierce. It matched her horn.

“These things run on magic too?”

“Everything 'runs on magic' here. It's the power-source of the world, after all. Explains more than it should. Well, if magic can't hurt me, I don't have anything to worry about here. I allowed myself to be led to a chair, and the colander-looking headpiece was put on my head. The machine started to buzz with the application of horn-light, and needles started moving back and forth. “I've recalibrated it to detect natural magic, similar to the internal magic of earth ponies and pegasi Now let's see what it reads... That shouldn't happen...”

The needles stuck to the left, and a dial on the top spun counter-clockwise. It looked like it was overheating. I ripped the headgear off of my dome before it could fry me. With nothing to read off of, it settled to its neutral place.

She looked over a paper sheet stretching from the machine to the floor. “Negative value? That's impossible... Everything has a magical value of zero or greater.” She stopped to think, and I did the same. We hit on the answer at the same time.

“There's negative magic in your world?”
“I'm the opposite of magic!”

“Wait, what?” she asked.

“There's no magic on Earth. At all. We must have the opposite.”

“So... being magically the opposite, you repel magical energy?”

“Seems like it. Like pushing the same ends of two magnets together.”

“So that's why even Luna couldn't affect you. But why that foal in school?”

“Think she said she threw her desk at me.”

“And that... doesn't count?”

“The desk hit me, not magic.”

“Oh. Makes sense.”

That's how we figured out why I looked like I was invincible.

“Oh yeah. I kind of blanked when I realized that I wasn't on Earth. Might want to send a 'sorry' letter to that kid. Must've freaked her out.”

“Yes, you were following us to the hospital without saying anything. It was like you weren't there, so to speak. Celestia took her as her new personal student after that.”

“That's rare?”

“Yes. Last pony to become her personal student was me, and I turned my test-judges into cacti.”

“O...K...” Magic or not, some things will blindside you. “So what's your next question?”

“Human anatomy, since there are books on the subject of pony anatomy in the library. Are all humans... um, that small?”


Intermission: Changeling Considerations

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I stood in the wing of the castle containing the library – Presumably Twilight's corner. I had never been here before. Never in the castle at all actually. All things considered, not many had. I walked along the rows, looking for material to fill in the gaps before the invasion and after the failure thereof. The filing system seemed nonexistent, or perhaps followed some set of rules far removed from any regular library.

Modern Spellcasting? No, it would most likely be incompatible with my form of magic.

Official Goof-Off Rulebook? No, the risk of damaging potential integration is far too high.

Slumber 101: All You've Ever Wanted to Know About Slumber Parties But Were Afraid to Ask? Perhaps in the future, if all goes well.

Thornhoof's Brief History of Canterlot"? It will do no good now, but I should remember should I not find a suitable book for local lore.

She passed by a sealed dias. Predictions & Prophesies. I wonder why this one is set apart...

Treatise on Ponies? It appears to be extremely dated, but perhaps it can be used for basic information. I retrieved the book from it's place and sat on the floor, leaning against the shelf. It was what a pony would call a 'dry' read, full of historical accounts. The phrasing used was removed from what I had current knowledge of. It must be too old to be of any use currently. Even with translation to modern Equestrian the social norms contained inside were likely to be outdated to the point of offensive in the modern world. There was a section on laws. Likewise they were outdated past usefulness. I highly doubt that any pony alive today would follow such archaic rules.

"There it is!" came a voice from the entrance call. Rarity was there, pointing a hoof at me. Two other ponies from the party - Applejack and Rainbow Dash, were with her. They ran up to me and grabbed my arms.

"What is the meaning of this?" as I struggled against their holds.

"Pfah! Like you don't know!" Said Rainbow Dash with a sneer.

"Y'all's a changeling, an' that'll do. We're takin' ya to Twilight, so she can tell the human what ya are."

"He knows I am a changeling already!"

The both held their grip, but paused for a moment. The two accosting me looked at each other, then back at me.

"Liar." was all they had said, before taking me back downstairs.

Questions and Answers 2

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“Small? Of course it looked small, it wasn't up!” That was a definite downside to the 'States. Everyone worried about their dick size, and porn was a freak-show. No legitimate frame of reference.

“Up?” she inquired.

“Up, out, hard, whatever you want to call it. Listen, Dr. Brain Pot-”

“Brain Pan.”

“Whatever it was. Names are weird here to me. He said something about a 'sheath'. Humans don't have one, for the most part. It doesn't disappear, it just shrinks. Probably the same as guys here, just not completely.”

“Oh, I see. Would it be possible – purely for scientific and anthropological reasons – to see-”


“But, it's for science! Why not?”

“No physical attraction mostly. Also, I'm not playing with myself to force it in some... mad scientist's lab.”

“Mad? I'm not angry, I just want to see.”

Sigh. “Earth phrase. Pop culture thing.”

“Pop culture?”

“OK, you have to have the same thing here, just with a different name. You have TV here?”

“TV?” No big loss, it's been 99% crap for years.

“That's a 'no'. Movies?”

“Yes, but what does this have to do with 'pop culture'?”

“OK, if it exists here, I'm sure there's some popular ones, ones everyone's seen?”

“Well, not everypony of course, but many have.”

“Yeah, figure of speech. Anyway, they have a recurring character, or a running gag, or something like that?”

“Yes, many do.”

“And you mention that in another show, or a joke, and the audience gets it, right? They know where it's from and it makes sense to them?”


“That's pop culture. Mostly entertainment, but slang words and other stuff fits too.”

Twilight's eyes lit up. “Oh. Ooh! A whole new field of study!” I think I opened a can of worms there. Most of the social studies on Earth ended with jackoffs trying to censor people for having different opinions. I straightened up in my chair, leaning back to pop my spine. With most of the ultimately meaningless stuff out of the way, I could get to business.

“My turn. How do I get home?”

Twilight froze. “We-um, well, I don't know.”


“A portal needs magic on both sides to work. It should've never opened on your world. It shouldn't be able to!”

“So this was a freak of nature.” Calling magical anything 'nature'. Didn't know what to think of that. “All I know is there was a huge thunderstorm on my end when it happened. Biggest lightning I ever... saw...”

“You know something about what happened?”

“That must be it! Lightning isn't magic-”

“It's magic here.”

“Still, it's not magic there, but it is a kind of energy. Energy's the closest thing we've got. There must've been enough of it to fake out whatever skips the non-magic worlds when you did that.”

Twilight jumped from her seat across from me (And some table that looked way too close to dissection-ready). “Of course, so all we have to do is recreate the level of energy, and-”

“Yeah, about that...”


“You told me earlier that weather is magic here?” She had explained about pegasi and the weather earlier, it was just under 'unimportant shit'.


“It's not there. Nothing is. Weather does what it wants.”

“So you can't change it?”


“But for it to work we'd need an exact replication of the circumstances.”

“Not gonna happen. How good is 'close enough'?”

Twilight thought deeply. “Well, for every variable not accounted for, the odds of success decrease exponentially...” She held a pencil in her aura and scribbled down some notes, sliding the result to me. I couldn't read a damn bit of it. I tried to come up with a reasonable answer. Nothing. Fortunately for me, two others decided to bust up our little get-together.

“It's a changeling!” yelled a blue pegasus. Rainbow Dash, that was it.

“Eee-yup. Rarity told us about all'a this one.” said Applejack. I'd remember that one for reminding me that there are species I couldn't take on so easily.

“What has it done!?” Twilight cried, and jumped out of her seat into a battle-stance.

“Oh, ferfucksake.” I lamented. I got up and held a palm towards Twilight. “That's enough. You know she's with me, and I know she's a changeling.”

“They're under it's spell!” the pegasus warned, while Applejack pulled out a lasso from her saddlebags.

“I am...” Rainbow flew towards me. Time to test my theory. I juked to the side and grabbed a wing. Looks like I was right. She started veering hard to the left. I held on and let go when she'd done about a 180, flying straight into little miss Earth pony. “Sick of this shit!”

“I-I do not want to pay this 'hell'!” cried Aranea.

“Not for you. It's for the ones that mess with you!” That calmed her down. At least, as much as she could calm down in the situation. I turned to Twilight. “You're a princess. Call them off!”

“N-Now hold on everypony!” Both of them stopped in their tracks, save to untangle themselves. “Nohbodi, what do you know about this?”

“I know she's a changeling, and I don't give a rat's ass. What's all your problem?” I'm a bad liar on a good day, so I might as well finish all this now.

“The changelings attacked-”

“Already know that story. What's Aranea done?”


“What I thought. Fuck off, both of you!” I've had my bigoted moments, but seriously. This is insane.

Twilight stepped forward. “She's with him now. I don't understand it anymore than you do, but nothing's happened.” Real fuckin' subtle Twilight. Oh well, gift horse, mouth. I wasn't going to push it too much. I thought for a bit, and responed to them.

“She's under my protection, and watch, if it matters that much.” That seemed to calm the two down, if only on a relative level. Turning back to Twilight “So what's my odds of getting home.”

“According to this, approximately 1%. If you round up.”

“And if it doesn't work?”

“Probably separation of body parts invovled.”

“So, death.”

“If human anatomy is similar enough to pony, yes.”

“Make a portal. A local one. I wanna try something.” She obliged me. A small, silver-sheen floated slightly off of the ground in front of her. “Keep it open for a bit.” I thrust an arm though it. Or tried, anyway. The portal bent around my arm, creating a hole in the middle. “Shit. Of course it would do that here.” It's a one-way deal. If I repelled magic, I couldn't use it. Twilight scrabbled down calculations a half-dozen times more, and each time was the same result. I sighed.

“I'm sorry, Nohbodi. I don't know what to do now...” she whined.

I looked around and thought. I'll miss parts of home, yeah. But... a whole world. I couldn't rule it – not in the conquerer sense anyway, but still... There was a lot I could introduce to them. There was a girl here that would probably do anything for me. I could strong-arm the leaders, if I had to. I looked to Aranea “You are a legal citizen here, right?”

“Um, no. I am not a citizen of Equestria, according to the current law.”

Of course. Hopefully that wouldn't complicate things. I turned from her back to Twilight. “I need a piece of paper and a pen. Tell her I have my demands.” she proffered the items and I wrote down to visit us immediately.

“Spike!” she called out. A tiny purple thing came running a couple of minutes later. “I need this sent to princess Luna right away.” He breathed green fire at it, and it immediately disintegrated. I was pissed.

“What was that!?”

“Sending a letter.” Oh yeah. Crazy-ass magic here.

“How long does it take?”

“Not long at all.” She was right. The door rang, some sort of church bell-sounding echo rang across the whole place, even down here. Shortly after, The ponies (Save Twilight) bowed to Luna's entrance.

“Greetings, Nohbodi the human. You have stated your demands?”

“I have.”

Over the course of our mutual questions, I found out a lot. Terms for ponies that replace what I use, the countries they know. Most importantly, other species. Minotaurs, griffins, monsters like hydra. I couldn't get this place by force if I wanted to. So I was going to play it fair – or fair enough. I could make a fortune telling the ponies about some earth inventions. Especially the Earth ponies. They'd love me for leveling the playing field.

“Your terms are indeed agreeable. They are granted to you, and the debt of our duel is considered paid.”

“As it should be. Farewell, princess.”

The message was a simple one, written on ordinary parchment, though I wondered what 'parchment' was made of here, since it couldn't be skin like the old stuff historians found. No matter. Now I had a plan. I would stake my claim here, and make a name for myself like they'd never seen. Well, outside of alicorn. Like I gave a damn about that. The letter was simple. Three words would change the world.

“Citizenship for two.”

Citizen of Equestria

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Luna produced a pair of scrolls. On each was a declaration of citizenship for the holders (Non-transferrable once used, of course). I accepted them with what I hope was reverence. No use screwing this up so soon.

Really I'd prefer it this way anyway. I'm not a fighter. Even before I found out there were plenty of things that could kill me the old-fasioned way I was never really going to try to take over by force. I'm not going to go around wearing a skull on my head, telling would-be defenders they suck or something.

“Hey! He attacked me! What about that?” Rainbow Dash took a defensive stance.

“You attacked first, it was obvious self-defense.”

Luna hardened her gaze at me. “Is this true?”

“Twilight can answer that, she saw it all.” I angled my head towards the local alicorn of the two. Twilight calmly explained the situation, though she still didn't seem to see a problem with attacking a changeling.

Luna considered her story, and came up with a decision. “In light of the evidence, I believe that Nohbodi involved himself for the purposes of defense. As no notable injuries occurred in this altercation, I will rule that it was done with good intentions. However, as no changeling is a legitimate citizen of Equestria, you are to cease further examples of such physical advocacy.” The other ponies nodded in assent, apparently happy enough with the result. Rainbow Dash was annoyed until the last part.

I try to hide the massive shit-eating grin directed at Applejack and Rainbow as I hand the second scroll to Aranea. I unrolled mine and nodded at her to do the same. Turning to Luna “Your majesty, according to these scrolls and your royal mandate, Aranea is now an official citizen of Equestria.”

Every jaw hit the floor, including Aranea and Luna. There was a reason I got two of them. Seeing this was just a massive bonus. Luna recovered first, and positively glowed with that stern, stoic rage that only a monarch can pull off. “Nohbodi, do you have any idea what you have just done?”

“Yes, I do. I know the history. Aranea was cut off from the hive. She's her own person. For what it's worth, call me her guardian. I'll watch her – and as a citizen, protect her.”

The lunar diarch looked like she was charging her horn, but relented at the end. “As citizens of Equestria, you now have that right. However, you will be watched. If anything untoward leads to this 'Aranea' or yourself, you will be held accountable. Understood?”

“Understood, princess.” I said with a bow. Maybe I pushed my luck here. But Aranea was two things no one else here was. One, she could look human. Two, she needed me. “Watch all you want, except at certain times.” As the thought dawned on the others, blushes, downcast heads, or variations of disgust took over. Aranea seemed unaware of the implications of it.

Of course, part of it was because I was a lot like Aranea in the past. Too trusting the point of foolish. Been conned – a lot. Don't know if it was out of wanting to protect an innocent, or out of some desire to take what's mine after putting up with all the shit I have. Either way, she was mine now. She was learning about Equestrian culture. We agreed I would teach her about human culture. And anatomy.

Luna left with her bearing intact, as was expected. Applejack and Rainbow left, a bit dejected. Twilight tossed some bits me way, with a bit too much force I think. She was pissed. “Get a room for the night. You'll need to get a job soon.”

“Of course. Too boring not doing anything anyway.” Maybe I shouldn't have said that, and made some obeisance instead for it. Who knows how hard it'll be to get a job, with the princess everyone knows being mad at me. Not like I haven't been homeless before. Sure, it sucks. But I can do it. Apparently, Aranea has been for some time.

We went to a small hotel, hoping 'smaller' meant cheaper. We had enough for a pair of days and a bit of grocery shopping between us. Well, for me. Aranea didn't need regular food, though it's still enjoyable she said. The price was the same for less than a week, so we took it one day at a time. Hopefully we'd have a plan before the next, to save us the cost. It was basic fare, a bed, a small room, little bathroom off the side. Beats the hell out of a dungeon hay-pile for sure. She hadn't had a proper bed in even longer. Though a bit hungry, it wasn't enough for us to drop off to sleep.

We didn't wake until it was late in the morning. It was agreed that we'd go to her place in the Everfree for our studies. We stopped by the library and picked up some basic books on Equestrian history, culture, and a couple on local affairs. The forest itself – even the edge of it – looked like it bordered some horror flick. Gnarled trees, damp air, that kind of thing. “You sure this is safe?”

“Yes.” she happily noted. “The hydra and other creatures dangerous to us only reside farther into the swamp.”

“Works for me.” I leaned in and kissed her. Changelings apparently usually only know the direct rout, being mostly female. They can draw minor sustenance from this sort of thing, but only bothered on high-profile jobs. Her eyes widened at the sensation, and then closed. It was a sweet moment. I cared for her – I really did. Changelings can tell, you know. Fake love is like diet drink. It kind of has the flavor, but doesn't really do it. I may be taking advantage of the situation. I may be an asshole in a world where he can do almost anything he wants. But I was still human, and humans need some things sometimes. Unlike my world, this couldn't be a con – not for one that magic doesn't work on anyway. I was going to stake my claim here, and here was the first example.

“Do you want to learn about human anatomy now?” I asked.

“Yes, I do.”

“Then take off the dress.” She did and hung it over a tree branch nearby. Still physically blank in spots.

“I'm going to teach you all about it. Starting with a few parts you don't have yet, and what they do.”

Intermission: Changeling Coitus

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I took off the dress, and placed it over a nearby branch. No one ever ventured into the Everfree from this side. It did not matter too much, as ponies rarely wore clothing. I found it unusual that Nohbodi placed such importance on remaining dressed. Of course, I was not hatched or raised on this 'Earth' he came from. This form was a curiosity to me. Other species of a similar shape, such as diamond dogs or minotaurs retained far more similarities between genders. His insistence that human females had these features and proportions so far removed from his own was a cause for curiosity.

Nontheless, he was my primary option for a steady source of love. The local ponies – Indeed, all ponies I know of – treated me with disgust. There were magical fields to detect my species over every large city, and a large number of unicorns now knew a variant if suspicion was roused. The novelty of a human must have been the only reason that nopony used it at the party. The wedding was open to all by decree, making it the only time I could be seen in public. The denizens of Ponyville likely hated me, as all the others. However, they tolerated my existence – to a degree. There was no chance to reliably hide in disguise. The only option to keep myself alive was to act the part of an unrequited love to another. Whatever they told me to be. It was rare, but it was sufficient to be… a fantasy. An object of fetish. I wanted to escape from this existence.

Did he think the same of me? Or was he similar? Did he need me like how I needed him? I had no answer to that. Regardless, he cared for me, and I would do what I could to keep him.

“You there?” Nohbodi said, waving a hand in front of my face to break my reverie.

“Yes. I was thinking on some subjects. Are we to begin?”

“If you're ready.” he said with a smile. No one had asked that before, unless it was part of a scene.

“Yes. Let us begin.” I smiled back.

“Now, I'm gonna explain the parts . You have the general shape down good, so we're going top-down.” He looked over my human form. “First, the breasts. Can you make them a little bigger?” They were considered large for the species here as they were.

“Are they really so large to humans?”

“It varies. Remember, you're short for a human. See, when a short human is flat like that, it makes her look too young, like a kid. But yeah, some humans' parts are big compared to ponies.”

I concentrated and shifted form, slowly expanding.

“That's good. B I think, but never could guess size at a look. More would be off, or just unbalancing. Uh, you can keep this body without trouble, right?” Another show of concern. Just like before, no pony had asked that. Only demands.

“Yes. I can maintain a form indefinitely if need be. It is the changing of it that requires energy.”

“Good. Don't worry about energy, there'll be plenty of that.”

“Thank you Nohbodi. No being has ever given me assurances of that sort.” He responded by hugging me. A small amount of emotion was received.

“Now, this part's kind of tricky. Can you make parts more sensitive?”

“Sensitive in what manner?”

“The good kind. Excitement.” He seemed slightly nervous. This subject must be a degree of taboo on Earth. “Don't know much about ponies. Are the parts sensitive here?”

“Yes. A slight sensitivity in the breasts. Nipples are more sensitive in a state of physical excitement.”

“Perfect, it's like that. Same place in the middle too. Can you do that now?”

A small amount of additional concentration formed several nipples on each breast.

“Uh, not quite. Forgot most um, non-humans had more. It's one on each, in the middle.”

I made the adjustment. He nodded his approval.

“Humans also have a bigger areola than most. Usually a darker shade than the rest.”

“A darker shade of color than my current form is not possible. I am sorry.” I must get this correct.

“That's my bad. Human skin has a range of colors, but 'black' isn't literal. It's between pink and really dark brown. Or red, or yellow. There's a lot.”


“My fault for not explaining it better before.”

“Is skin color important to humans?”

“Only the assholes.”

“What does the anus have to do with color?”

“Earth phrase. I mean the only ones that really care about skin color that much are not good people. Listen, you made your own human face with no reference or anything like that. Is there a 'default' skin?”

“Yes, I suppose so. I was attempting to emulate your description directly, and avoided changing others. I thought that it was accurate.”

“Well, don't worry about accuracy. Humans have a lot of looks. More than ponies. For faces and sizes anyway. We don't have neon skin, but there's still a lot of options here. Try it, OK?”

I did. The 'default', as he had put it, skin was a combination of red and darker brown.

“You look great.” There were several emotions to this response. There was still care, but it was combined an amount of happiness at the result, and lust for the result.

“Shit, I should've asked this earlier. You do enjoy stuff besides emotion too, right? I mean, um... not sure how to say it.”

“Yes, I derive enjoyment from the physical acts as well. Though there must be an emotional attachment involved.” He was visibly relieved.

“Good. We're not that different really. Now, I'm going to test them. You tell me if it feels good, like it should.” He held me with one arm, and with the other hand manipulated a breast, running his splayed fingers over a nipple. The feeling was positive, and the nipple stiffened slightly under the ministrations.

“Yes, it is physically enjoyable. It incites excitement and desire.”

“Glad you enjoy it.” He kissed me as he moved his hand to the other breast and repeated the motions. The reaction mirrored the former, and excitement increased.

“No pony ever cared during encounters. So this is what they feel.” He lowered his hand and his smile. “Have I said something wrong?”

“No, no. Sorry to hear that. I kind of know how you feel there.”

“So humans feed on emotion as well?”

“Not quite. Well, not for food, but we need it. Can't spend all the time alone – makes people go crazy. But enough of that. One thing left for anatomy.”

“I am familiar with it. How does it differ from equine anatomy.” He lowered his hand an placed it over the front of the lower abdomen, between the legs. “Here.”

I formed the requested portion.

“Huh, so that's what it looks like for a pony. A human one is smaller, and thinner on the lips. The clitoris is a little bigger, or more out – one or the other. Really sensitive, of course. There's hair above it, another part of showing you're old enough.”

The changes were made. I waited for him to test it in a similar manner to the breasts. A hand slid down and brushed against my clitoris. The feeling was, as many ponies have described it, 'electric'. The hand went lower, covering the length of the vagina, and moved upward, a finger sliding in between the lips during the movement. I shuddered. “N-Nohbodi... Is this what it feels like to experience love as it should be?”

“Yes. It gets better too. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” Agreeing without asking for details, or significan consideration of outcomes, was highly unusual for me. This must be the phenomenon of 'emotions taking over' that is often displayed by couples. He guided me to lean against a tree with smooth bark. Removing his clothing, and setting them aside next to mine, he guided my hand to the male human anatomy. It was in a state of readiness. I looked down at it. “So even at length, human anatomy is small. Odd considering the differences in female anatomy.”


“It is true, is it not?”

“No! Well... hold on. That's why it's in the front, it doesn't need to be really long like a horse. You'll see.”

It was a display of love I had not known before. As part of a hive, love energy past a certain, minimal point was shared with the hive. This was all to myself. The holes ponies seemed to think were a natural feature are actually marks of hunger. The hive was too large, and no one ever got enough. Being separated gave it all to me. I had accomplished something no changeling had before in my life. I had achieved true stability of existence.

I was whole.

He was mine.

I was his.

Second Chances

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“Amazing...” I panted out. We were exhausted. Two hours, and I lost count how many sessions. Wasn't gonna be able to do that again for a while. Well, about a half-hour of it was teaching the form, but still. So we were wiped out, and both of us absolutely reeked of sex. Aranea didn't seem to be tired from the exertion. I figured she was in the equivalent of a Thanksgiving-grade food coma. We simply leaned against the tree next to each other, and rested, each lost in our thoughts.

Again, I wondered if I was using her. She honestly had nothing and no one else. I should feel guilty. She was hanging on to every word. Every word, every request was complied with like it was a demand from a king. So desperate to please. I started to rationalize it to myself. I was helping her. I was giving her everything she needed. Hell, she's better off right now than I am. Being one of those self-righteous white knight pricks must feel pretty damn good. I broke off the reverie at that high point and went to the next step. I needed a job.

After a nap.

A couple of hours later – or so, judging by the sun. I didn't know how to tell the exact time and didn't really care. We were up and back to fully aware. We gathered our clothes while I was reminding myself that I really need to explain the concept of underwear to someone that can sew. Keeping them at arms' length for the moment, Aranea led us to a brook on the edge of town. Washing off as well as possible and sun-drying ourselves, I got dressed again.

“Does this form always require clothing?” she asked me.

“'Fraid so. Humans don't put everything 'away' like ponies, so we always need cover. Plus it gets cold with no fur. Well, guess you know that too.” She put the dress back on, only slightly reluctant at the unfamiliar sensation. We were definitely overdressed, since the stuff was made for a party, but it's all we had. “Now, how do we get a job here?”

“Few places are hiring. Fewer still are willing to hire a changeling. I do not know what they will offer a human.” She was right. Not just the lack of regular employment, but employment for two that currently have two-thirds of the ruling class pissed at them – with the third, at best, a probable neutral. Plus, even if Rarity didn't narc on Aranea to everyone, if word got around via Twilight being human wasn't much better. We sojourned into town, hoping to run into blind luck. At least with a safe enough place to sleep and her eating habits, it was enough for a week or so of food for me. It'd probably be more, but I'm not a vegetarian. Beans would do for protein for a while, but I should probably find a way to hunt if things started looking bad. If griffins could get fish, suppose I could do that. Cuts down on cost too, though I'd probably have to make fishhooks myself. Been a long time since I was in the scouts, but something that basic couldn't be too hard, right?

There wasn't a damn thing in front of the stores. Asking around at places that looked welcoming enough showed the same. Don't know if it was because there really wasn't anything (Which was likely), or if it's because we were who we were (Statistically less likely, but very possible). After several hours we retreated to her little nook of the woods. We were dejected, but not defeated. There were enough bits for a little while, so a minor setback wasn't an issue. So we waited until everything opened again tomorrow to try again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

We were getting less than nowhere. Twilight must've influenced the ponies here. That bitch. So we decided to go inward instead of outward from the forest. There were no jobs here, sure, but it couldn't be any worse. Maybe we'd find something to junk, or a place where unintelligent species were – better known to me as 'food'. Aranea tried to talk to just about everything. Through that, we figured out what wasn't intelligent. Worked out well enough. I really like frog legs. We would've tried bigger things, but there was a big gap between 'frogs and fish' and 'fucking hydra'. I don't like not having my steel-toe boots, I could shatter any bone with a good shot from them. Being unarmed wasn't a good idea here. So we kept to the dirt paths someone carved out until we found a weird hut. There were carved masks on the outside of it, like what I'd seen on old documentaries, or close to it. We considered turning back, but curiosity was just too strong. What was anyone, pony or otherwise, doing out here? The sound of the door stopped any immediate retreat. A striped pony – wait, zebra. Anyway, she (Animosity towards Twilight aside, I did learn a lot about basic cues back there) came out and gave an inquisitive look at us.

“Who are these I've not seen before, these two strangers at my door?”

“This species talks. What does that motion mean?” as I put a finger to my lip. I really should've taught her what a 'shush' is earlier.

“I recognize that digit's push, similar enough to a pony's shush.” Well, I just made an ass out of myself. Sometimes I forget that there isn't that much of a difference between fingers and a stub when it's not about manual dexterity. Still don't know how they do some things without fingers. Aranea probably would've known it if she was really socialized.

“Uh, sorry, miss...”

“Zecora of the Everfree, you are here for potions I see?” We weren't, but anyone that wasn't looking at us with suspicion was welcome.

“Actually, we're looking for work.”

“Ah yes, the human I see. Twilight had told of you to me.” Shit. Thought it wouldn't have gone this far yet. “Luna was left quite irate, you seek this perception to abate.”

Aranea perked up, as much as can be noticed. She was still socially stiff. Not the good kind, damn she could... Not the time for thinking of that. Wonder how long she can go on that energy. Gotta get back to the point. “You are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt?”

“I was in a similar scene, ponie's fears should be weaned.” Finally a lead.

“So...” Had to be tactful here. Screw this up and we'd be sleeping on logs forever. “Thanks for understanding. What can we do for you?”

“I need but few bits myself, I can spare to fill my shelf.” She held up a hoof momentarily (Must be the 'be right back' sign without fingers) and returned inside, coming back with a small list and empty bag. Hoofing it to us, I read over it. The names were completely alien to me, but small descriptions told me it was for plants.

Nodding at the list “All of these are from around here?” Zecora nodded back. My preferred method of gardening was to stick it in the dirt and let nature take care of it. This was probably one of those things that was harder than it looked. I thought of a way to make it easier. “Any warnings for any of them?”

“Be mindful of the poison joke, it's strange effects on pony folk.” It wasn't on the list. Guess it's like poison ivy or something.

“It's magic?”

“From nature's magic it's derived, caution is most advised.”

“Good. I'll pick the ones around poison joke then.” Zecora displayed mild confusion at my lack of fear.

“The joke is more than just it's name, to fall to it would be a shame.”

“Oh, magic doesn't work on me.”

“While I was informed of your state of being, I did not think this resistance so extreme.”

“If alicorns can't touch me, a plant should be fine.”

“Be careful all the same, this is not some sort of game.”

“I will. Thanks again for the chance.” I wasn't going to be careful. Maybe I was getting too cocky. I took Aranea's hand and we left with a nod and a smile.

Entry-Level Quest Gone Wrong

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We started wandering through the Everfree with our 'shopping list' of herbs. Aranea led for the most part, since she's spent so much more time here. We still kept to the outskirts, or kept some path of retreat. Haven't seen any monsters yet, but just knowing they're out there kind of stays with you like that. Kind of like the forests in Midwest... I think... I got nothing. Whether I can't remember or there's no comparison I don't know right now. Maybe this place is starting to be my home world. No getting back now anyway. We were scanning at our feet, with me constantly checking the descriptions on the list.

The first couple were easy enough. Still don't know all about them – never really bothered to memorize the specifics. Think one was close to dill. Took a while to find another couple. One was a sort of grass simply called 'magic grass'. Heh, weed. Never was into it myself (That night did not end well), but whatever gets you going I guess. Another had a good amount mixed in with that poison joke. Ponies must've avoided trying for it. I walked right through the stuff and grabbed about three times what it said. Hey, herbs dry. It'll be fine. Funnily enough, the stuff looked like poison ivy. I was more hesitant to pick it than the joke at first, before I remembered I was somewhere else.

The last was marked 'optional'. It only grew in the swamplands further in. Not too far, mind you. Just enough to start really being paranoid about it. I decided it was worth it, and she agreed. If it was out of hope or me being the only source that wasn't treating her like a warm realdoll I don't know. As we wandered on, I got curious, and started asking questions.

“Hey, Aranea.”

“Yes, Nohbodi?”

“How long does that much love last for you? Or how much it was?”

“I do not know. No single changeling has accumulated this much in my life. For the second question, it was a large amount. Nearing what Shining Armor had supplied Q... former queen Chrysalis with. Not quite the same level, but reasonably close.”

“Oh yeah. Saw a drawing about that with the history. Why'd she still have the holes?”

“She represented the hive as a whole at that point. Even though she was filled with energy, it looked as if she was as hungry as the rest of us.”


“Is it difficult to comprehend?”

“A little yeah. Back on Earth-” I stopped for a moment. 'Back on Earth'. Not 'back home' or anything like that. Didn't know what to make of it. “-leaders are figureheads most of the time. Nowhere near that kind of power.”

“Might we talk about your world, and the differences, later today?”

“Sure.” Aranea wasn't there for most of my talk with Twilight, and it'd be nice to have an honest talk instead of the kind that's just for history books.

For a moment I wondered if changelings can get fat from too much love. I didn't say anything – I'm shallow at times, but I'm not stupid.

We saw the plant we needed a bit off, having started staring farther off during the conversation. It was just above the water – 'water' being relative in a swamp that's probably a quarter shit and algae. Lacking an easy way to make fire (I know the boy scout way, but it's a pain in the ass) I looked for sushi-grade seaweed just as much as the plant. Midwest boy is redneck like that – guess I still remember that stuff after all.

Wading through the questionable 'water' we took what the list said we needed. It was still dripping wet. I looked towards Aranea – not the time for that. Hey, if you had a girl like her you'd have it stuck in your head too. So we left the swamp back on to dry, well, semi-dry, land. There was a gurgling sound behind us. We looked back to see a scaly head cresting the water.

And another.

And another.

Oh shit, that's what a hydra looks like in person.

Five heads total on snake-necks came up, with a half a huge body. The rest of it was still underwater, though it towered over us. A simultaneous roar echoed over the place. They could probably hear it in Ponyville proper. I turned around. Thankfully the bag fitted over my shoulder.


She didn't.

I glanced behind me after a few steps to see her standing there. Back in her original changeling body, the dress hanging loosely off her torso. Why wasn't she running?

“Dammit, run!”

“It would catch us. You run.”

I was stuck in place. Was she really going to try to slow down five-headed godzilla there?

She lowered her head a bit, the angled horn glowing with green light.

“I would fall before returning to being a whore.”

A piercing scream broke the air as a beam split the shrouded mist of the place. It streaked across the sky, arcing through the scaly bastard's necks as it went. It took a moment to realize the scream wasn't from the hydra. Five heads hit the ground, shaking the earth beneath us. As soon as I realized it was good an dead, and not a lernaean one, I rushed back to Aranea. She'd burned most of her power in that, and the holes were back. They were even up to the thighs. She collapsed where she stood just as I'd arrived.

“Holy shit! That was... are you OK?”

“I will survive. I will require more love soon, although this care, and what remains from before, will sustain me for a small amount of time. Perhaps four to eight hours.” She really ran herself dry for that. Taking her at her word, we slowly worked our way back to Zecora's hut. I feared I would lose her if I so much as let go.

Getting back, we turned the bag over to the zebra.

“You even retrieved the optional herbs. This level of dedication is almost absurd.” She looked at Aranea. “Especially considering the damage incurred.” Aranea was conscious, but if she was able to speak it wasn't worth the effort.

“She needs help. No offense, but can we finish this so I can get to it?” I was still holding tight. Practically holding her up at this point.

“You know I have many potions and wares, there is something her to cure such a scare.”

“Trust me, this is something for me to do.” She seemed perplexed. I gave her a look that I hoped meant 'trust me'. She either relented or understood, and we left with the bits. We made our way back to the usual home – collection of detritus that it is. I removed and tossed both our clothes off to the side and kissed her. She saved my life – this was nothing to repay it.

So tired, wet, and still sore from before, we started. I'd never been so glad to fuck something that looked like a bug-pony.

Confusion, Rage, Commerce, and Regret

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Despite reloading her energy reserves, it still took two days of constant rest for her to recover back to moving freely. There goes having a dick-powered superweapon. No, I can't think like that. In the back of my head I knew we were different, even without looking at her current body. But... I did love her. We were both as lonely as the other, when it all came down to it. We had enough basic supplies for that long, so I stayed by her side when possible. I learned a lot about changelings that no one ever knew before.

They all had a 'default' form like she did, it's just hard to tell unless they turn into something with more determinate features. Energy gained from emotions – they could take all kinds, but love was the best, both for energy and 'taste' – was spread across the hive. This means that, with not having to share, one really good night could give her an almost godlike level of power. Using it was a different matter. Using it all at once was kind of like me lifting a car. It's technically possible, but it tears up the body pretty bad, as well as needing an extreme moment to use it. She still wasn't back to completely healthy, but she was back on her feet. Well, hooves at the moment. I wasn't going to ask about her going back to human until she was all better.

“Feeling better?”

“I require more time to recover fully, but I am healthy enough to be alone.”

“Do you mind if I go hunting? That hydra should still be good, and who knows what we could use out of it.”

“Do not concern-” She paused. I know that space, even without a human face. She was trying to find the words for something. “Do not worry about me too much.” There was a hitch in her voice, even with the drone covering some of it. That wasn't what she was trying to say.

“Not an option.” I said with a slight smile. I headed towards the marshes. I only got a few steps.



“Do you find me attractive?”

“Of course I do.” I was staring towards the swamp.

“P-please Nohbodi. Look at me.” I turned around with a bit of surprise. Her first request of any kind. “Do you find me attractive at this moment?” That was what she was trying to say. There was something like fear in the air. Don't know which of us it was from more. I walked back towards her, but didn't get within arms' reach.

“Of... course I love you.”

“That is not what I had asked. Do you find this body attractive?” I rushed over and held her. You can't lie to a changeling – they know. The emotions never lie. I was nervous at the question. Worried. The fear was still there. More defeated than I'd ever been here, I answered.


“I... Understand. Go, go to your hunting. You need to get supplies for yourself.” I stayed by her for a while, but she didn't say anything else. It was probably a terrible decision, but I kissed her, put on my clothes, grabbed a bag, and left.

There was little in the way to the swamp. Some branches of fallen trees were all that was new. They were close enough to be in the way of that beam that killed the hydra. Back when we were talking I found that Chrysalis probably could've killed Celestia during the invasion, but she got cocky and wanted to make her see the victory. It cost her the war. The line of thought followed to Aranea & I.

Did she really love me, or was I food? Did I really love her, or was it the body and knowledge of being the only human here? Would it really work? Did she hate me now? Would she really risk leaving me for her old life, as much as she hated it? I didn't think she would leave, but the idea that things could be going very wrong like that stuck with me. Depression set in quickly as I mulled over the thoughts. I rationalized it to myself. No, I was doing everything for her. Dammit, I loved her. Why can't she see that humans can't be attracted to ponies? Depression turned to resentment. Before I could screw with my own head any more, I saw the pile of flesh and bones.

The hydra skulls were still... skulls? They couldn't have rotted away that fast. One had an eye left, only slightly dessicated. Yeah, not nearly long enough. Something had been here. I'm no nature expert, but I've spent enough time in the scouts and seen enough documentaries. This wasn't right. There seemed to be eyes glowing just off the edge of my vision. That wasn't new. Out here, it always seems like something's out there.


Shit. Something really is there this time. I'm not fast enough to outrun something huge, and Aranea's too weak to repeat that attack if I could get away. I grabbed a branch and held a foot to it to snap off a more manageable piece. Some huge, relatively dog-shaped pile of branches jumped out and growled at me. It wasted no time at lunging at me. I held the branch in front of me and it bit into it. The wood shattered completely, and I'd swear that the thing got a little bigger. Two more skulked in, a few feet off the entry point of the first. The first snapped towards me again. I held out my hands in desperation and had an upper and lower jaw in each. It's snout scrunched back and it pulled away with a yelp. I had a handful of sticks in my hands, and it had a shorter muzzle.

They were like wooden golems.

They were magical.

They were fucked.

Every bit of stress, worry, and anger turned into a rage against what had presumably cost me whatever the hydra was worth. I ran to the first and punched it in what remained of it's face. Sticks scattered and a headless body slumped to the ground. Another tried to attack. It got it's fangs around my arm, but could only make minor wounds before it's teeth broke. The third one was caught by the neck with a hand while the second was attempting to hang onto me with what amounted to gums. I squeezed and the magic holding head and body separated. Just as the second one let go I let loose with a flurry of punches at the body. I followed up with demolishing the bodies of numbers one and three.

I was left standing and panting over a pile of firewood, my knuckles bloodied from punching logs. The previous thoughts were thrust out of my head by the melee. Staring up at the sky, I yelled “You still watchin'!?” I looked at the only intact head. It wasn't moving, but the eyes still glowed. I put the bag over it, making sure not to touch it directly as I tied it up. Grabbing the hydra head that still had an eye, I went to Zecora's. dragging the sizeable skull behind me. Lucky for me bone doesn't weigh nearly as much as the whole, meat-covered head.

“What do you seek from me to know, we shall find if it is for weal or woe.”

I dumped the pseudo-living timberwolf head out of the bad, and pointed to the skull behind me, and it's drag-trail through the dirt. “What's the going rate on these?” Another despression in the ground from Zecora's jaw.

Turns out, Zecora had a small fortune saved up from selling potions and helping Twilight with research, while not needing much herself. Sure, she'd make half again as much by selling it to the finest academies Equestria had, but I didn't care. Not like I could go up there personally anyway. Probably. I'd settled on 'they're all scared of me now' and lived my life with Aranea. Maybe I should change that soon. Even with someone – if I still had her... Back to depression. For all the sack of bits got me, I was still worried. I headed home. I was pretty sure I messed up bad.

I got in sight of the place to find Aranea still there.

She was human again.

She was out cold.

I ran to Aranea and held on tightly. I thought she was dead from the stress of changing back to soon. Holding on for as long as I could, I thought about what had happened. Not just from before I left – from the beginning. Meeting, naming herself, our first time. How we honestly loved... It was true. I loved her. It wasn't just that she was the only one that could take a form I wanted. She was everything now. I could fight half the world and come out on top, but really... What's the use of ruling the place alone? I was never one for that 'it's better to be feared than loved' bullshit. Everybody needed somebody.

I needed somebody.

I needed her.

We were in our usual place in the wild, just inside of the Everfree. I tried to rouse her. It didn't work. I considered giving her energy in the usual way. No, this wasn't right. Human nature doesn't like copulating with things that you think are dead. I was tired from dragging that massive hydra skull who knows how long. I thought of any possible way to get her back.

I had nothing.

Eventually, I gave up.

Everything I had here, whether I'd like to admit it or not, was in her. That night, I fell asleep holding a corpse.


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Sometimes it's amazing how I can sleep at all, or in circumstances like this. Maybe the shock of it all hasn't gotten to me yet. As soon as my eyes were open I looked towards Aranea. She wasn't there. I must've rolled over and let go during the night. I got up and scanned the area. She at least deserved a proper burial. Still nothing. Hunting over an ever-expanding area until I was a quarter mile away, I found nothing. I don't sleepwalk. Scavengers must have gotten a hold of the body in the night after I let go. Something out there had her in it's jaws.

Something was going to die painfully.

I looked for any signs of movement, wandering through the paths. It didn't take long to realize I don't know how to follow tracks. Everything was the same to me on the ground. I started to wander aimlessly, hoping to run across something I could tell as new. I started thinking on everything that had happened these past few weeks. Weeks?

Yeah, it really has been weeks. Guess I popped in around the end of summer. Showing up here, spending a few days in jail, a couple in Ponyville, meeting Aranea, almost a week looking for work with Aranea, living here in the wild with Aranea, meeting Zecora, working for Zecora with Aranea, fu... making love with Aranea. Yeah. It wasn't just fucking. I really, truly loved her. But now it was too late. To late to make up for everything.

The shock caught up to me.

I broke down.

All this time, we had what we needed. For all the want of creature comforts I remember, everything we needed was in our hands – far more important things. I wasted it. Behind electronics, booze, mindless entertainment, all of it. I lost the only thing that really mattered in the long run.

I don't know how much time passed by between then and returning to being cognizant of the world. Probably hours. It started to rain, the tears of the clouds overcoming my own. Tracking was even more useless now. All I know is that I'll kill whoever took her. It started getting colder. Fall was setting in. I may know a few things about being out here, but one thing's for certain. I'm not a survivalist. Some time in scouts and a few documentaries don't give you the skills to actually do any of it. She took care of a lot more of it than I realized. No use starting a fire now. Winter would be here soon enough. To top it off, my busted-up hands were starting to swell, and some rash had appeared on my arm where the timberwolf tried to hold on. I think the rage-induced wounds were getting infected. Be it a week or two months, I was going to die out here too.

I may just now have realized how self-centered I am, but she still loved me with all her heart. Even at my worst. Even at my worst, she wouldn't want me dead. I can't just lay down and join her like that. With no pride left to swallow, the answer was clear.

I headed for Zecora's. The bag of bits from the hydra and timberwolf were going to get us a house. Yeah, those things were worth a fortune. No use for that now. After this I would see about getting back home. Whether I made it to my world, another, or the attempt killed me didn't matter at the moment.

The path was the most trod-upon thing in the forest, so at least that part was easy. I went up and rapped my knuckles on the door. That hurt. Zecora answered the door.

“Who seeks the knowledge of the Everfree? Oh, it's you-” The expected rhyme was cut off by a hoof to the face. I hit the ground, probably with a broken nose. That shook me out of a lot.

“What the hell!?”

“After all you have done, you think yourself welcome?”

“What did I do?”

“Aranea would have given her life, why did you force that promise to light?”

“I-I didn't kill her!”

“Actions of yours had brought it to be, true fault it is easy for any to see.” Another hoof to the head. I was blinded by blood and swelling. Zecora was going to kill me before anything else could. A pummeling commenced.

“B-but...” How did she know what happened?

There was a voice off in the distance, sounding like it came from the hut. I started to get colder, even with the blood warming spots of me. It was like Aranea. She was cool to the touch last night. Not cold, just cool, like I had only just arrived too late. I wanted to blame Zecora for this. I wanted to yell and curse at her for kicking my ass and leaving me out here in the rain and cold. A blurry form walked back inside the hut. I heard voices. Everything was muddled beyond recognition. No voice or sight was clear enough to figure out. Two figures left the hut. I felt myself being heaped onto the back of one. It was cool in the rain. It was cool on the body carrying me.

Again, head trauma and shock cost me any mental function. I was out before I was in the hut. I figured I wasn't waking up this time.

Waking Up

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I woke up to find myself at home, dragging my head off of a book. I slipped in a bookmark and closed it. There was a notable crease in the spine, presumably on where I'd fallen asleep during the storm. Hope the line of drool dried properly. I hate it when a page gets a stain and stays warped, even if you can read it fine afterwards.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Aurthur's Court and The Colour Out of Space by Lewis Carroll. Good stuff, but it was time to get to bed.

I glanced out the window. The rain had gone down to that minor mist that can barely be called rain, or even precipitation. Huge puddles littered they slightest depressions in the ground. The pseudo-ditch between the back yard and the lot was not only full, but flowing. I could only imagine what the real ditches looked like, let alone the ponds on the edge of town. I should go fishing tomorrow. Wait, I need to get a new fishing license for this year. I tell myself I will, but deep down I know I'll get lazy and end up in front of the computer again.

Not like it mattered much anyway, I had work tomorrow. At least I wouldn't have to tromp through all this rain at work, though the puddles will require some finagling. I looked at the clock. Just after 11:30 pm. Well, I should've gotten to bed hours ago, but I was sleeping, so it kind of evens out. Just hope I'm not too tired in the morning. Blindly groping along the walls of the small hallway connecting every room in the tiny house, I reach the blank space that I knew to be the open door of my bedroom. Dumping the book on the first flat surface I can feel, I strip off the coat, boots, and nearly everything else. Left to my skivvies, I drop off to bed, to hear that familiar 'meow'. The cat always did know when I was going to bed. I held out an hand and forearm from underneath the blanket, knowing ol' Bart would practically headbutt it for attention. He didn't dissapoint. I love that cat. I petted him, the purr almost echoing through the room. After a short while sleep took over again.

Had to get up early for work tomorrow, after all. Who was I working with tomorrow? Oh yeah, it was... was...

Snores filled the air.

A New Nightmare

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“Billie.” It wasn't her real name, but everyone uses that nickname. Forgot if it was a middle name or not.

“Who is this Billie?” A step back clicked on the floor. “No, I cannot be replaced like this! The change is complete! This semblance of a proper life... I could not survive doing it again...”

“Terra.” That was the real name. Don't know why she didn't use that. No one really minded. It wasn't the kind of thing that needed investigation anyway.

“There are more? Does he keep a harem? Have I made a terrible mistake?...”

“Calm, Aranea, you are in my care. Time will heal the burden you bear.”

“Aranea?...” I muttered, barely returning to consciousness by degrees. My eyes fluttered open and I the first thing I saw was


I jumped from my place, which was apparently the floor, and hugged her tightly, pressing my head to her shoulder.

“Oww, the hell?” Then I looked down and noticed it. The blood.

“Aranea, you're bleeding! What happened?”

“Actually Nohbodi, that is your blood.”

“Better than the alternative. I thought you were dead! What happened, where did you go?”

That's when I noticed it. The holes were back. Not only back, but going from the extremities almost to her torso. She was starving to a degree I'd never seen. I was surprised she could stand. How did she lose all that so quickly?

“What happened? You're barely holding on!”

“I do not know. I fell asleep while you were hunting. Strange, lurid dreams inundated my mind. I awoke here, starving.” I ignored the pains and odd, fuzzy feeling on my arms and held on to her again, raining kisses on her face. Some holes near her upper arms and thighs shrunk, but it wasn't enough.

“From your place in the forest you were retrieved, I do not know the answer to be believed.”

“You need love now, lots of it!” I wasn't in the mood for this, it seemed like it wasn't a proper time. Of course, this was different. 'Proper time for it' was considerably different when they literally ate the effects of intimacy.

“You would trust this one with names, is he collecting females for fame?”

“Names? What are you talking about?” This wasn't the time for... whatever she was going on about.

“You called on a Billie and a Terra in your sleep, what insurance of your love do we keep?”

“In my sleep? I don't know!”

Zecora planted her plot firmly on the floor. “If you must for her act on your intention, but I will not leave until you justify your mentions.” Damn. I'm not an exhibitionist, I can't perform when there's a crowd, at all.

“Save it. You're costing her way more than me. You know it.” Zecora paused in thought.

“Very well, I will do as you ask, but if you cause further harm you will be taken to task.” she left the hut after that. Weak as she was, we wasted no time. It took an hour at least to restore her. When it appeared she was fine again, I opened the door and Zecora returned.

“Sorry for kind of kicking you out of your own house. I, uh, can't do that with an audience.”

The zebra wasted no time. “You have done what you must, now give answers for trust.”

“If I was sleeping I can't remember it. What does muttering mean when I'm out cold?” No response. Knowing that she wasn't going to stop, I asked for the names again and wracked my brain. “Oh, yeah! That's what those two were.” Good thing it wasn't two separate names, or I probably wouldn't be able to answer. I explained to her that it was one person from work that I was going to be working with tomorrow. Well, tomorrow a month ago, before I was here. There wasn't anything more to it than that. Thankfully, she took me at my word. Having a fight wouldn't be any use to any of us.

Snapping back to the immediate, I looked down and finally realized that my arms were stiff from being covered in some kind of wrapping. “You got a mirror? What's all this from?”

Zecora retrieved a polished bit of metal from the wall filled with miscellaneous items and held it in her mouth at me. Both hands were bandaged pretty tightly, one up to the elbow. I remembered that was the one the timberwolf got it's jaws around. My nose was the cause of the blood, obviously broken. I still had two black eyes, but the swelling had gone down enough to see. There was something green under the bandages.

“Oh shit, I can't have gangrene from that. Does it even show up that fast?”

“It is not.” Aranea chimed in. “It is a poultice of herbs Zecora concocted for healing wounds.”

“Huh, didn't think anything here worked on me. It's all magic here, right?”

“Your summation is incorrect, not all is magic as you suspect.” Further explanation indicated that it was a simple rash from one of the plants. Ponies don't get it, but they get others. It didn't look dangerous, only annoying, so it was packed with the rest so it wouldn't spread.

“So there is nature as I know it here. Kind of comforting really, even if I found out this way.” I remember camping back as a kid. Good times. “Too bad I can't show you the forests of home Aranea... Aranea?” She was out again. Back in a changeling's body. I put a hand to her forehead. It was cool. She must be something like cold-blooded. If feeling heat was something from a human form, that must've been why I thought she was gone. The three of us stayed in silence for a while, Zecora meditating, and me looking at Aranea. There was something on the edge of her now-hoof.

A pinprick-sized hole.

I stared at it, thinking she was so starved that our time didn't completely fill everything. One little spot couldn't be harmful. She was much worse when I met her.

It was growing.

I'd never seen anything like it before. She went for until the hydra on one time before. But here she was, literally wasting away in front of me. It was slow, but I saw it. Another appeared slightly above the other. I got Zecora's attention and we looked over Aranea with worry.

“Aranea, wake up. Wake up!” She didn't move. I put myself next to her and held on. A flash of green covered that curved horn, and attempted to cover me. Aranea knew better, it must be a subconscious reaction. I ignored it and held on. Her eyes screwed shut harder, and spines of some kind appeared at the joints. She began to buck wildly until I was thrown off. Then her form and movement reset to changeling and none. More holes. It had been about four hours since I saw the first. Approaching again, I put a hand where a spine was. It reappeared and shot forward, taking my hand with it. I'm lucky it didn't punch through. Hours I saw there, at something like a safe distance, watching the growing problem and worrying about what it meant.

Eight hours. They were up to the knees.

Twelve. They were back to the torso, almost as bad as I found her when I woke up.

She woke up. She got up and immediately stumbled. I jumped forward to catch her.

“Aranea, what happened?”

“I do not know. I had another dream, and woke up as I did before.” She was, again, almost too weak to stand. Zecora examined the gaps.

“There is no known difference to mind. The loss' only difference is time.” I held on to Aranea again, though with a little trepidation at first.

“Why do you falter Nohbodi?”

“I tried when you were sleeping, when I saw the holes come back so fast. You tried magic, then grew spikes and kicked me off. We've been watching it get worse 'till you woke up.” Nothing happened this time, except for her feebly returning the embrace. Again, it slowly worked. I looked to Zecora with a pleading look. She nodded and left.

Again, she was whole. I opened the door and we all wondered what had happened. None of us could make any sense of it. Then a knock at the door. Zecora opened it as Aranea and I held on to each other. She looked tired again.

“Twilight and Luna, welcome! What for you of my skills can be done?”

Luna stepped forward and stared us down. “We have received word from your watchers.” Oh yeah, forgot I was being spied on. “Between the two of you, three timberwolves and a hydra have met their end. This display is troubling.” It was sheer dumb luck that 'monsters' like them weren't protected, being a danger across the board.

I held up my hands to Luna. “It was self-defense. I wouldn't have been as lucky if they weren't magic. The practically fell apart on contact.”

“And the hydra?”

“That's harder to explain. Didn't know she had it in... Aranea?” She was out again. No amount of talking or jostling would rouse her. “Oh no, not again!”

Luna and Twilight looked on with curiosity and concern as I stared at her prone form. I put a fingertip to a joint, ready to pull it away. Just as before, a spine jutted out, then retracted when I was at a distance. I stared on with horror as, again a few hours later, the small holes appeared at the hooves.

I turned to Luna and Twilight. “You know about this kind of thing, how to I fix her?”

They looked at each other, then Twilight answered for them. “Nohbodi, you know more about this than anypony, er, anyone else – even us.” Of course she was right.

“Can't you give her more magic or something? Something to keep this from happening?”

Luna stepped forward “She has quite enough magical power as it is, Nohbodi. That cannot be the cause.” Even that voice wouldn't wake her.

We kept watch again. Luna and Twilight like the study of a dissection, though as the hours wore on they showed far more concern. Zecora with that stoic, meditative stance, but aware of it. I was freaking out.

Twelve hours again. Aranea woke. I jumped up and held her both tightly and upright, easing her into a sitting position. I looked at Zecora.

“Princesses, this action must be. Please excuse yourselves with me.”

I opened the door, Aranea complete, and myself increasingly haggard. They returned, and noticed the smell.

“You didn't...”

“Of course I did! It's the only way to make her better, at least for a while. Nobody knows what's going on.”

We collectively attempted to find theories as to the cause. Nothing. Aranea passed out again. This time, I joined her in sleep, having been up for two days doing that.

Twelve hours. Aranea woke me, needing that much love just to stay alive. I obliged. As she lay sleeping again, I went outside to find Twilight and Luna waiting.

“We heard it was every twelve hours she'd wake up. Do you have time to talk?”

“Thought you hated me.” Looking back at the hut's entrance. “But if it helps her it doesn't matter.”

“I don't hate you!” Twilight exclaimed. She looked sheepish for a moment. “It's just that... Well, you're dangerous.”

Luna interrupted, being far more well-versed in international (Interdimensional?) relations. “If you care about the changeling that-”


“-Of course. If you harbor that much concern for Aranea, we should help as we can.”

Us three walked for a short distance, trying to make sense of it all. Nothing could be ascertained at all. Except one thing. I only noticed it when we were discussing physiology. She'd been getting bigger.

“Yeah, maybe an inch each time or so.” I hadn't thought about it directly until then, being far more worried about keeping her alive.

“Do you think it's some disease or condition?” I froze.

Was that it? For that matter, was it some War of the Worlds thing?

Was I the one that brought it on her?

Did fate demand I find her alive only to watch her slowly die, unable to keep away this issue I caused?

A New Lease on Life

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We returned about an hour early. Twelve hours since falling asleep, just the same. The rest left as we completed each other, in a very literal sense. We asked Aranea about it, but she couldn't decipher anything aside from a strange dream. She was in that coma-like state before we got anywhere. I got some herbs from Zecora to keep me awake and active as we left again. I left a mark next to where she slept this time, to be certain of that at least.

Twelve hours. A mark next to where she slept.

Twelve hours. Another mark.

Twelve hours. Another mark.

I was right about that much, she was growing at an alarming rate. Each time she was awake, she had nothing but vague notions of dreams, but seemed strangely calm. It was like she was reassured of the outcome, regardless of our inability to do anything but keep her alive. I wondered if she was mentally preparing herself for death, having escaped her old life to this one, short as it may have been.

I felt like I was watching a cancer patient slowly lose the battle. Like she made her own final arrangements. The trips outside involved a lot of numbness and crying. We still had nothing. Luna and Twilight held a lot of concern for the whole affair. They could see it in me, if not in Aranea, peaceful as she looked at those unconscious times. It was too deep to call 'sleep'. It was like a coma every time. It was like death.

The holes never got into her torso. But she had more body. Didn't that mean it was getting worse? More body, more empty space, right? She was slightly larger than Twilight now, between her and Luna. Before her changeling body was only the size of a regular pony girl. Pony girl... It had nothing to do at all with the case at hand. Maybe my brain was changing the subject before I lost my mind with worry.

“How's Sky?”

“Sky?” Twilight asked.

“Sky... Sprinkle I think it was. You're Sparkle, don't think you're related.”

“We're not. Why do you want to know?”

“Dunno why it popped into my head. Just wondered how she was doing. Nice kid.”

Twilight seemed both confused and relieved at the prospect of a pause in our hopeless quest. First time in days I'd seen anything smile. “She's doing well. Celestia is still teaching her. We're still working on why her magic worked when no other pony's would.”

I thought about it for a bit, when it hit me. “That's easy.”

“Really?” Both Twilight and Luna said in tandem.

“Yeah. It doesn't.”

Confusion ruled the scene.

“The magic didn't hit me. The desk did. That's why Zecora could kick my ass.” I said while looking at my bandaged hands, even though she didn't do that. I felt my nose. It was healing, but it was going to be crooked forever now, if only slightly. Could have been far worse really. I've seen people that were really screwed up. Should probably feel worse about it, but there were far more important things to think about. My brain was still hiding from the issue at hand. "Speaking of which, why did you kick my ass?"

Zecora gave a slightly sheepish look, relative to her perpetual calm. "I... had thought her condition the result of your intentions. This from one who's been mistreated, though how I'd rather not mention." She thought I hurt her? I should be furious about it. If conditions were even approaching normal, I would be. Right now I ignored the surprised looks of Luna and Twilight and tried to continue the previous conversation. Anything to keep my mind off the situation for a little while.

“Hope I didn't scare here, blanking out back there. I should visit sometime after all this...” There's reality. “This... ends...” The scene went dour again. We plodded along, unwilling to stray too far from where I had to return in a few hours. I didn't know how much longer it would take for either some sort of cure, or when I couldn't give enough to keep her going.

Twilight studied some insects hanging onto a tree. “Changelings do have a lot of similarities to insects. Do you think there's something we're missing?”

I perked up. “Yeah, maybe we're thinking all pony when something's here.” It didn't have any proof behind it, but it was the first lead we had. We stared at any bugs we could find. A trail of ants, a couple of beetles fighting.

I had to run back and take some of Zecora's herbs to keep myself from collapsing, and keep Aranea going.

As soon as she was in that living-death state again, I somberly joined the others. That bag of bits was about half what it was. Zecora wasn't charging for rent or anything, but it kept us all going while we worked on saving Aranea. More things to study. Ants, beetles, several varieties of spider – A personal favorite, but that wasn't enough to lift spirits. I studied as many as I could, trying to find some relation to Aranea. She took her name from a kind out of her home, after all. Nothing.

Another trip to the hut. I was running on empty. No telling how much longer this could be kept up. Aranea was almost the size of Luna now.

We couldn't understand it. She was growing like a child grows into an adult, only far faster. Or like a fetus grows into a child, only slightly faster. I thought on that and mentioned it to the others. We didn't know what to make of it.

We came across more bugs of varying sorts. There was nothing to tie to Aranea. Until I saw an example that all of us ignored earlier. A cocoon.

“Wonder what it would take if it wasn't in there?”

“Nobody knows. They can't do it without the cocoon.” Twilight answered.

I leaned against a tree and though of it anyway. A line of ants crossed by. Wait a minute...

“Hey, don't know if it's the same here, but what happens when a colony needs something, and there's no larvae to be born into that class?”

“it's rare, but a drone can mutate into any necessary subclass of that species.”

“How much does that take? Like energy?”

“A huge amount supposedly, relative to the body size.”

“Body size... You said the old queen was gone, right?”

“Yes. It's been about two years now. Wait, you're telling me-”

Of course! With no hive to siphon energy from, she couldn't just sit in a cocoon, or anything like it. I got the biggest smile I think I ever did. The kind where your face hurts, but you couldn't care less.

“Heh heh. Heh heh hahaha!” I started laughing like a maniac at the realization. I left Twilight and Luna in the dust as I ran faster than I ever had and readied myself for the next treatment. I'd never been so happy to run back to an unconscious body to wait for an awakening.

Aranea wasn't dying at all – she was mutating! I had no idea what the outcome would be, but one thing was certain.

It meant life.

Intermission: Metamorphosis

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I slept, and yet I did not. I found myself in a room with rounded walls. Everything around me pulsed with life. There was something like a voice that echoed from the walls, yet originated from no point.

“You call yourself Aranea.” I had not idea which direction to turn. I was addressing nothing and no one. I answered regardless.

“I do.”

The echo returned. “Do you know why you are here?''

A simple answer. “I am dreaming.”

“You are. Yet you are not.” A considerable surprise.

“Then where am I?”

“You are where your body lies.”

Where my body lies? Was I dead? “What do you mean?”

“You deny your heritage.”

“How? I am a changeling, and I know this. Am I to prey on others by deception?”

“No.” A simple enough, and far more pleasant response than the possibilities, though it answered little.

“You must learn your place.” My place?

I awoke to find Nohbodi staring at me with considerable worry, as well as the zebra Zecora behind him. He asked me if I was alright, and exuded worry in a large amount. He embraced me. I was starving, near the end. We coupled, and I was whole again. I wished to spend more time with him, but something intervened. My mental state was compromised. I entered the egg-like room again.

I recognized it as the night before.

“You have returned to complete the transition.”

“I still do not understand.”

“There has been an absence.”

“You are to take her place.”

“What place?”

“You lack knowledge.”

“Then inform me.” Despite the situation, I was calm. Something here regulated my mental state. There was a sense of familiarity.

I awoke, several times. Each time, Nohbodi would give me energy, and return me to my optimal state. We would converse until I fell into the dream-state once more. Princesses Luna and Twilight Sparkle were with him after several nights. All were attempting to divine the cause of this intermittent torpor, with increasing consternation.

“You require the knowledge to complete the transformation.”

“I do.” I did not know what this knowledge was. A sensation overtook me. It was similar to... to being in the hive. When Chrysalis was our queen. At first, I feared the feelings. I feared a lack of control, a return to the state of an automaton.

“You lack the knowledge. We will transfer the knowledge. It is required.”

It was not control. It was a connection. Information flooded my mind.


The present.

Chemical reactions to pheromones.

The knowledge of every species that ever had contact with changeling-kind. Knowledge accumulated over an unknown and unutterable span of time.

I was growing. I was gaining size, and abilities. Primordial knowledge of what I was, what I am was absorbed. I could not feed from the hive. It was required to ascend in stages.


Nature abhors a vacuum. No matter how small the hive, even a hive of one...

Changelings needed a queen.


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I returned to Zecora's hut with new purpose. Aranea could tell. There was so much hope replacing the worry in our time together. She still fell asleep, but I knew. She grew more. All our time was spent inside the hut. When she woke it was inside Aranea. I was getting tired, even with the herbs to keep me up. Humans can't dedicate themselves to this twenty-four seven. Willpower was most of it.

Eighteen hours this time. This was the new standard. She woke. She started having mild recollections of what was happening in this lucid dream existence her days consisted of. Her limbs lengthened in tune with her body proportions.

“I was in a room. Rounded off, similar to the inside of an egg.”

Eighteen hours. Her growth increased commensurate with the time. Some protrusion began on the top of her head.

“There was... is... a voice. It speaks of station and responsibility.”

Eighteen hours. We were running out of materials to keep me up and capable of repeating our physical therapy portion of the meetings. A couple of days at best. I was already sleeping most of the time she was.

“Knowledge. What was for my people.”

Eighteen hours. She was between Luna and Celestia in stature.

“What is for my people. What is for others.”

Eighteen hours. The supplies ran out. Even with sleep there was no keeping up with it. If she didn't come out of it soon, it didn't matter the cause. Like a failed molt, it would kill her.

I pulled through. The object on her head branched out into tines.

Eight hours. I was caught off guard. With no supplies, no bits for outside materials, and even hope wearing thin as my energy, I couldn't keep up with the requirements. 'Sore' wasn't the word for it.

Four hours. She was nearly as big as Celestia now. I had nothing left, in any sense of the word. There was no energy. There was no strength. There was no getting it up. She saw my condition with sadness. We were so close. We couldn't get so close to the end and fail now, right? Celestia and Twilight tried to alter their magic to give energy via some theorem of their abilities. It didn't work on me or Aranea. Zecora was out of herbs, or any natural remedy.

They all saw the work put into this. They all knew how much care, love, and hope was involved. They could help. It wasn't physical, but that emotion was there. They directed it at Aranea just as I did. There was some healing, but only about half, if that. It wasn't enough.

“I'm sorry...” I leaned in and kissed her.

One last time.

For the first time, I fell out of consciousness first, right on top of her. My last sight was the others lowering their heads. They were preparing to mourn. Unlike the other times, Aranea followed me in sleep, despite not having as much as usual. It seems that one final, desperate push was made.

Twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours later I woke up. Barely physically capable, even after all that rest. Groggy and stiff, I shambled into a standing position and looked around. Zecora, Twilight, and Luna were gone. It seems they were to let me have my moment of silence alone before preparations were made. No, not quite. There was one figure standing at the door. She was humanoid, with dark skin, a bit taller than me, with absolutely amazonian features. Despite being nude, one feature stood out among the rest. Even over her angular, vaguely native facial features that I recognized at once.

She had a crown on her head.

She was human.

She was whole.

She was Aranea.


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I finished removing the detritus from the corners of my eyes. Think it was lack of proper food more than grogginess that kept me weak. It had been days of what amounted to solid-state energy drinks and water. Lost a lot of weight there. I almost fell over. It was Aranea's turn to catch me. I had no idea what to say. Of course I asked what was on my mind, despite it probably being the worst thing.

“B-But... I failed... How?...”

Aranea simply smiled at me. “You did not fail. Much of the energy was being stored for the last phase of the metamorphosis. The physical growth was similar to my shapeshifting, so it required only a fraction of what I received. Though without the last few hours' hope and love I would have been left very weak when it was completed. You have done far, far more for me than any other being. At the beginning I had thought that no other would love a changeling, or that a changeling could truly love another.” She turned her head to the side, a small amount of sadness from old memories resurfacing. She shook them off and returned her gaze. “I know the truth of the matter now. I will explain all to you when you are healthy. For now, allow me to take care of you.”

I held on to her for a moment to lean up and kiss her, feebly as it was. I took the time to really look at her. Of course I'd love her anyway, but I was struck by the change. It wasn't as much as I'd thought, in way of height. She was about three inches taller than me instead of 'amazonian' now that I had a clear view. She had an older body. Her bust had increased perhaps a size to C, nothing major. Her hips were widened. There was more muscle on her arms and legs. Her face was slightly more rounded, the features complementing each other more than simply being side-by-side. She looked fully-grown, for lack of a better way to put it. At first she looked so young, a high-school girlfriend struggling to survive in an uncaring world she was thrust into. Now she looked like a queen in her prime, a mother, a wife.

A wife...

She carefully placed me on a mat and went to the door, opening it. Zecora, Luna, and Twilight reentered the hut. They all looked tired themselves. Must've been waiting it out all this time. Except Zecora, she always looks stoic and sensible Must be in some kind of semi-meditation all the time. Twilight had a basket in her field. Putting it down and uncovering it, she revealed more herbs, cloth strips, and sandwiches.

“While I still do not know what to make of this situation as a whole, it has been proven that you care for each other. This abates much of our concerns.” Luna announced as her judgment. “You will consent to visits of royal personage on occasion?” Of course I knew it was to keep watch, if only a small one. We did show her spies that as long as Aranea and I were together we were pushing for the most dangerous thing on the planet. Keep as much tabs on us as possible while looking like it was a sign of good will. Luna knew what she was doing. Or I was paranoid. Probably both. Aranea looked at me. Even as a queen, and probably the most powerful being in the country right now, she was looking to me for answers. We both nodded to each other. Not reading minds or anything similar, merely understanding our intent.

“We accept.”

I had to add “Call ahead, when possible.” with a smirk. We all giggled a bit at that. Twilight did too, but it rang false. She still didn't like the image. Reminds when she told me her brother married the babysitter, way back at first. It means a lot more to know that now, heh.

“Well then.” Twilight almost blurted out. “Lunchtime?” She didn't wait for an official answer as the sandwiches and such floated over and took their places in front of each of us. I ate with as much gusto as possible, though the flower-filling of the things wasn't going to do anything for me in the way of nutrition. Or taste. Aranea noticed.

“Do you require meat to recuperate?” Twilight knew from before, and Zecora was aware of it, but Luna didn't see that coming. They looked concerned.

“Relax, I'm careful about it. Nothing sentient. Twilight told me griffins did the same. Think of it like that. Hell, half the things here in the Everfree probably do.” They didn't like it, but accepted it. They must've been to other places that did more than enough times to simply understand, or at least tolerate. Turning to Aranea “Maybe later-woah!”

Aranea had already changed back to changeling, probably thinking I needed it then and there. She wasn't just bigger than before she started, and it wasn't just the crown fusing to her head. She was... armored. The chitin wasn't like before. It was overlapping, slightly angled. Her wings had a sort of shell to their back, like beetles move to reveal theirs. Her horn was still jagged, but shorter and thicker. She was back to between Luna and Celestia in size. A little closer to Luna actually.

I didn't know what to expect, the rest did. The rest were wrong.

Zecora looked on with interest. She was probably ready for anything. I never could tell with her.

Luna took a step back, and braced herself for a potential threat.

Twilight shat herself. I'm serious. Never saw anyone actually do that out of fear before. I'm not cleaning that up.

To me it was Aranea's other body. To them it was Doomsday.


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I pushed myself up from sitting against the mat and adjoining wall and stepped in front of Aranea. I may be weak, but Twilight and Luna were at their weakest against me. Zecora proved she was far more likely to actually figure things out first (Except for that one time), so I wasn't concerned with her actions.

Aranea sighed. “You will notice that I am not attacking you.” She maintained a neutral stance, waiting for a response.

It took a minute or so, but Luna returned to her previous state. Twilight took a few more to stop shaking. A blush so hard it showed through her brightly-colored fur remained for a good hour after she cleaned up after herself. I wondered if she could feel that through her magic. In the meantime, Aranea returned to human and we both sat down, an arm over her shoulder. It was a bit high for me now, but not uncomfortable.

“I will explain all that is requested of me, within reason, shortly. For now, allow Nohbodi to rest and regain his strength. Is that acceptable?”

Luna bowed her head slightly, or nodded. “Agreed. Send word to Twilight when he is hale and hearty, that this current mist of ignorance may be dispersed.” She exited the hut, more nobly than I thought possible from just earlier. I did hear something about her being thousands of years old. Must be used to almost any situation by now. Or jaded as all hell. Twilight nodded quickly and hurried behind her.

Aranea went out to hunt then. She returned a couple of hours later with a considerable assortment of the few creatures here that aren't too smart to eat. With proper food and a couple of days I was back to my old self. Still a little sore, but it was down to the 'walk it off' level. We did another outing for Zecora's herbs as thanks, as well as for all the bits past the bag it probably cost to have us there that long. I happily noticed that, though she was active, no holes had appeared since the transformation. Looks like it's back to lasting a while.

We traveled back to Ponyville for the first time since leaving for the Everfree. My clothes were ruined, from a fashion point of view. They covered at least. Aranea had converted her dress into a strapless. It only just covered enough now. Sure ponies went around in the nude the vast majority of the time, but they didn't have parts on display twenty-four-seven. We arrived at Twilight's castle an announced ourselves by knocking, for lack of any better way. A small dragon answered. Oh yeah, her assistant.

“Twilight! The humans are here!”

Twilight appeared a little while later. “Only one's a human, the other's a changeling.” Spike froze in place.

“I am not dangerous. I am not Chrysalis.” He was still shaken, but seemed capable of movement again. I'm no longer surprised at everything being taken at face value. Good for them it was true. Mostly.

“So you're feeling better, Nohbodi?”

“Yeah, much as I can for the time. I guess you're supposed to tell Luna to come here again? She said something like that I think.”

“Yes, I'm to contact princess Luna. Spike, take a letter.” She seemed slightly annoyed at that. Maybe she took it as a command. She looked at us. “Rarity's going to have a conniption-no Spike, don't put that part in!”

I watched as she dictated a request for an audience to Luna, and the mini-dragon breathed his fire, sending a plume of technicolor smoke out of a window. It didn't take long. Not for a reply, but for Luna to personally show up. She must've been waiting for this. Alighting on the floor, she greeted us in her standard, up-to-eleven voice.

“Greetings, Nohbodi and Aranea. Are you prepared to exchange knowledge?” We nodded in tandem.

Aranea, Luna, Twilight (Still a bit embarrassed being around the ones who saw that), Spike tagging along, and I retired to a study of some sort. We each took a seat and waited for the other to speak. Aranea started it off with the information that set the tone, and put our options for answers at their best point.

“When I was undergoing metamorphosis, it was in stages, as I was not able to form a cocoon. When a changeling queen is born, they receive energy from the hive. Since the fall of Chrysalis, the hive was broken, so there was none to be had. That is why I was in such a state during the changes, and why it required so much energy. Likewise in this state, I was given knowledge. The hive itself is a form of genetic knowledge, carried by the queen and, to an extent, drones. Experience gained while connected to a hive-mind is transferred to the hive to give to other changelings as needed. Queens require a vast majority of this knowledge, and thus it was given to me. I was not forbidden from sharing this knowledge, but be aware that anything perceived as a direct threat cannot be answered so summarily.”

Luna looked on with a serious expression. “This caveat is understood. You cannot endanger yourself any more than I could Equestria. With that in mind, let us begin.”

Interview 2

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I decided to start with something, though it was probably a bad idea. I do that a lot. “What were those spikes when you started changing?”


“Yeah. I tried to sleep next to you during the change, but you grew spikes and kicked me away.” Yeah, this wasn't a good idea. But what's said is said.

“I... am sorry Nohbodi. It was not within my control...” I got up and rushed to her, trying to stop the impending tears. Dammit.

“I know, I know. Was only wondering why.” Yeah, start this by fucking up. Go me.

Aranea collected herself. “I did not percieve the actions of my body during the transformation. However, there was a shifting pulse inside the place I found myself. At times near the beginning, it became erratic. There was a perception of threat. I surmise that without the protection of a cocoon it was reflex to keep other beings away during that time. I did not hurt you, did I?”

“Um, no...” I still have a small scar from a spine going through my hand. It didn't punch through, but it did enough to leave a mark.

Aranea looked at the floor. “You are lying.”

Sighing, “Yes - But it's not your fault! We both know that.” I held on to her as she stared at the floor, stroking the hand in question through her hair. She eventually looked up again, right into my eyes. I kissed her softly. We nodded to each other that everything was OK, and I returned to my seat next to her. We kept holding hands between the seats.

The other three kept silent though this. After the situation was diffused, Spike piped up with a question of his own. “How can a human fall in love with a changeling?”

“The same way a dragon is chasing after a pony twice his age.” Twilight retorted. Owned. Spike blushed under his paler scales, then got excited. Not that kind of 'excited'.

“So I really do have a chance with Rarity!” The implications of what she just said sank in for Twilight.


“Give it time.” I interjected. Everyone had a youthful crush or two in their day. I assumed it'll fade. “You're really young yet. Life'll tell you the rest, when you need to know.” I went from Spike to Twilight. She had a slight smile, or even a smirk on. Someone's said that to the dragonling before.

Spike absentmindedly scuffed a claw over the floor in a kicking motion. “Aw ponyfeathers. How long do I have to wait?”

“Don't know, but some growing up is left in that. Just remember to live the rest of your life while you're waiting.” I turned my head to Aranea. “Because you never know who'll fall into your lap.”

“She fell on you?”

“Not literally.”


After a few moments it became obvious that this line was done with, at least for now. Twilight probably had a clock set to his thinking.

With the mood for most of us suitably lightened, Luna got down to business. “Your body is significantly different than that of Chrysalis. It appears similar to a variant of war-armor ponies wore in battles a millenia ago. You understand that this is troubling to me. As co-regent of Equestria, I must ensure the safety of my ponies.” I could have mentioned us being citizens now, and therefore under the same guarantee, but I'd said enough for now.

“A simple enough answer. I do not look precisely as Chrysalis did because no other changeling would. The form given to a new queen reflects perceived challenges, both in the past and possible future. It is to ensure that the hive is equipped to survive in the environment it occupies. As a drone stranded after the expulsion of the previous queen, I was hunted. I was often hurt, sometimes badly, by the few willing to give me sustenance. To a pony this is a world of plenty. To a changeling it was nearly barren, as well as hostile.” I left my seat again and stood behind her, wrapping my arms around her. Luna showed genuine sympathy for her case. “This armored chitin is not for offense, but defense. In turn my metabolism is slowed, requiring less than what would have been required. Previous queens, in times long since passed, have had a similar build. They held the hive through deserts and wildlands. A queen has not had a form like this in Equestria since populations grew, and cities were built across it.”

Luna stared at the floor, a single tear staining the crystal pavement. “I have an idea of such an occurrence. After my release from Nightmare Moon, many ponies feared me. If not for Celestia's protection, and Twilight's intervention on my behalf... I am sorry. Please understand that I must understand all I can to ensure safety of my ponies.” Twilight put a hoof on Luna's shoulder, and we all just stayed where we were for a while, both comforted by shared experience and troubled by what the world is capable of. Well, they took it harder. Coming from a place that's constantly at war somewhere doesn't make it better, but you get used to the idea of things being messed up, even if you don't have a personal reference for it.

Eyes dried and composure was restored. As everyone calmed down, things began again. I hoped the rest of the questions weren't going to be bringing up these kinds of memories.

Twilight picked a suitably scientific question. “I noticed that you don't have the gaps that Chrysalis had. Why is that?”

“The spaces show hunger. On a drone it denotes the condition of that single entity. On a queen it reflects the health of the hive as a whole. Though she was at the height of her power during the struggle, her hive was far too large. She left it starving to keep herself strong, and it was reflected in her appearance.”

“And the other drones of her hive, what happened to them?”

“I do not know. The power that defeated Chrysalis severed the connection to the hive, thus knowledge of the lost is not in me. Most are likely dead, hunted or starved.”

Guess there was no avoiding this kind of thing. We summarily agreed that any time needed for mental recovery between questions would be given, though the worst was probably over. Twilight ordered Spike to get some tea for us all. With a bit of refreshment we returned to our treatise on changelings.

“I noticed that you don't speak exactly like a pony, and that – no offense – the changelings I saw all looked the same to me.”

“Chrysalis created a brood for her attack. Changelings were not meant to be mass-hatched in such a way. They – myself included – were given very little knowledge outside of the basic norms for pony society. They were given additional knowledge if they acquired a... target. I was intended to be part of the force sent to Canterlot, not a spy. Some knowledge was lost with the separation. Thus the changelings you saw were near-identical in form and function, having been created for one cause.”

Tea break.

“So individual changelings do, or they're supposed to, have individual personalities and looks?”

“Yes. After the separation I became self-aware, or more fully aware than before. No doubt the other survivors have done the same. It is apparently difficult for a pony to tell in a changeling body, as much communication is done via pheromones. In another form that is not intended to mimic a specific creature, such as my human form, it becomes pronounced.”

“And you are comfortable in this human body?”

“As much as my changeling form. There is no true distinction between forms, when done of free will.”

“And this 'hive' allowed it? What Chrysalis did?”

“The hive is a neutral force. It is memory, but not body. It has no will of its own outside of survival as a species. Once a queen is created, it collects memory and records circumstances, but does no more.”

Tea break.

“Why did the hive choose you to be a queen?”

“Since the fall of Chrysalis, I was the first changeling to have a sustainable source of energy. I was the first to be whole, and therefore the first capable of undergoing the metamorphosis.”

“But it's been two years!” Twilight announced in shock.

“It has.”

A moment of silence took over. Two years, and it took someone from another planet, who had no idea at first what a changeling was, to do it. The knowledge of what must've been happening to changelings everywhere brought more shame to Luna and Twilight than they could cover.

The tea was gone.

The Search Begins

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So in taking out a legitimate threat to – if not the world – their nation, they created a population of refugee illegal immigrants. I thought this world wasn't going to have this kind of insanity. Guess everywhere's fucked up at heart. It made me feel a little better about Earth, but I'm not sure it was supposed to. So it was time to speak up again, and hope for the best.

“Could you find the ones that're left, like if they were close enough?”

“One changeling can notice and identify another by their pheromone trail, if necessary.”

“Think they'd recognize you as their queen?”

“They would notice me as a changeling of power. Whether they would instinctively follow nor not, no. It would be their choice without me subjecting them to my will.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes. Though, having been under it myself, there is no desire to.”

“Perfect. I say we find the ones that're scattered around here.”

“Are you certain?” Luna looked on with that combination of hope and concern that only comes with an idea that's got equal parts 'good idea' and 'trouble coming'. I am so glad that ponies here have expressions way beyond earth ponies. Uh, ponies from Earth.

“Two options here. One, they want peace, like us. Two, they're no match for me or Aranea, let alone both. What's to lose? Besides, they've had enough shit to deal with, why would they fight if they know someone's actually going to help? It's not like there's more than a handful to find anyway...” There I go, saying something like that again. Luna visibly drooped in countenance. Badly worded or not, it got the point across.

“I agree with queen Aranea and Nohbodi. If the remaining changelings can be found, and are as peaceful as Aranea, amnesty and potential relocation are not out of the question.”

So with a grant from the Equestrian regent and a basket of bread and salted fish (The odds of a meat shop were slim-to-none), we took the train to Canterlot. It was as a good a place to start as any, plus the changeling wards were absolutely everywhere. With only a handful of places to check, we could start here and work our way back to Ponyville. After setting up a temporary home, we could run a circle around the surrounding cities. This was assuming that anyone we found wouldn't attack us on sight, of course. Any changelings we missed would hear about it eventually, hopefully before nothing bad happened, and travel to us. Aranea was, as Pinkie Pie would put it – nervoucited.

We arrived in Canterlot without issue. Once we were actually there, the issues started. Naturally the anti-changeling wards were still operational. Alarms were going off before the train stopped. This is why we specifically asked Luna to accompany us here. She had to decline, due to royal duties she was getting behind on. Fortunately, she left us a scroll with the royal stamp, explaining that the alarms were from the only (Currently) legitimate citizen changeling, with the purpose of finding others. No use in having a human form now. Aranea became the armored queen again. No changeling trying to escape would willingly make it obvious, right?

The guards didn't buy it.

Naturally, it was little for us to stand up to a pair of guards that haven't had any actual field experience beyond standing in place and looking intimidating. Wanting to avoid as much trouble as possible we only defended ourselves. I stood in front of the unicorn, and Aranea set up a shield that the earth pony's halberd-like weapon couldn't touch – if it could get past her tank-like shell to begin with. That set off another alarm. We were soon surrounded by a considerable number. I would've joined Aranea in her shield, but any attempt would just be making a hole in it. Good thing for me they had every intention of taking us alive. That alarm sent spies to scout the invading force. Those spies reported to the captain of the guard. The captain of the guard – obviously enough – reported to Luna and Celestia. It took several minutes of being surrounded by guards giving empty threats to surrender before Luna intervened personally. 'National security emergency' does tend to override court hearings.

“Granite Wall, what is the meaning of this?” She bellowed loudly enough to ensure all the guards involved, as well as the adjoining street, heard her.

The mottled red-brown unicorn in armor saluted her. “Princess Luna, we have captured a changeling and what appears to be an accomplice. They have papers claiming to be legitimate citizens of Equestria – obviously forged. We... don't know how they managed to replicate the royal seal so well.”

“'Cause it is real, dumbass!” A polearm's blade found it's way a half-inch from my throat. Aranea closed ranks with me, despite it destroying her shield. I heard a small grunt. Shredding an active magical effect seems to be as painful for changelings as it is for ponies. A green light enveloped the halberd's blade, and it crumpled like aluminum foil. A burst of force pushed the guard back as she erected a free-standing shield with just enough space to hold us both, as long as I didn't touch her horn. Or the shield, or sneeze. I saw a tiny hole appear on one hoof in my peripheral.

“The royal seal on that decree is legitimate. Granite Wall, release them at once.”

“But your majesty! Changel-”

“Release them! IMMEDIATELY!” I could see the last word ringing in their helmets. I think a window broke. I might be deaf. Every guard dropped their weapons or horn-charges and stepped back. I'm pretty sure the skies darkened above her, and some old-sounding pony freaked out and ran away, shrieking about 'Nightmare Moon's return'.

“Y-Yes, your majesty. Guards! Release the prisoners!” At least that's what I think he said. There's a lot of ringing.

Luna calmed from her royal rage and lowered her head to Granite. “The proclamation contained in that scroll is true. Inform all the guards of Canterlot to ignore any alarms regarding this situation. Tell them the system is being tested, if you must. The curiosity of this situation is the only reason you maintain your job after defying a royal order. The replacement of the halberd will be taken to your account. You are dismissed.” Granite was shaken, but saluted and called off the horde. Presumably the late arrivals returned to their stations, including the one carrying a gnarled ex-blade now. The original pair returned to a post at the station and eyed us. Aranea returned to human, but now we needed another dress. Shifting trashed it well beyond any semblance of use. I tied the tatters around her waist, but it was extremely difficult to not stare at what was still exposed.

Well, that could've gone better. At least we were in a place where ponies wore a lot of clothes, relative to the country. We ducked – literally, it was a short door – into a shop that looked like it had clothes. We didn't know who was behind the counter, but she seemed nice enough. A young wom-mare – I still use human terms too often - with a pale pink mane greeted us. This one was a pegasus.

“Welcome! What can I do for you to-...” What we had was torn and generally in sad shape, to put it lightly. We must've looked homeless. Well, technically we were, having been hanging with Zecora and, to a lesser extent, Twilight. Nowhere to go here. “Goodness! You must be that humans from that portal last month or so ago. Didn't know there were two of you. Did another come through later?” Not a huge surprise that ponies would still remember an alien from another world suddenly appearing when it was in their backyard.

“No, I am...” Aranea thought for a moment. “Do you recall princess Luna's decree of citizenship?”

“Yes. That was big news too. Heard he gave it to a... changeling...” Her eyes got bigger than even the most audacious buttons in the store. Citizenship papers did include species, and both of us had to make a free space, as the checklist style didn't include either of us.

I stepped forward, holding a hand up. “Relax. It's, ah... Well, I'll explain it all to you while you're measuring. Aranea, you probably don't want to hear all this again. Can you wait here for a little while?” She nodded. She still had to remember to cover herself. It was getting difficult not to just stare. Damn she was beautiful. “At least this is going better than with Rarity.”

“Rarity? Oh, she taught my teacher!” She got excited at this link. “Coco Pommel. Back in Manehatten she got her away from some awful mare that was using her. They did a few projects together after that, and then Coco found me. She's still in Manehatten. Is Rarity back in Ponyville?”

“Yeah, she is. Can we finish the talk while everything's being taken care of? We really can't waste a lot of time. I'll explain why during.”

“Alright. Follow me to the back room for measurements here.” She held open a curtain and I entered, stealing one last look at Aranea. I know that one little hole isn't dangerous. It's like when a gas tank gets that first bit under 'F' after not moving at first. She explained to me on the train that 'full' was normally very rare, and not to worry until it got to about the joints. That was about meal time, but not starving. She knew she could technically go weeks without feeding now, if she didn't need her magic. Combat could hold for a few days. It was about twice as long as before.

So I got on a pedestal like before and held my arms out. She took a moment to figure out how to do this, being such a relatively unusual shape. It's not like a minotaur walked in for a suit. I remember Rarity going over the plans a couple of times too, though she was faster. “Think of it like a pony standing on two legs, just mind I need way more flexibility.” That seemed to help.

“Ah, thanks Mr... Nohbodi was it?” It's strange being known when you don't know anyone else.


“If you can, um... if you could sheath yourself I can get to work.”

“Human's don't have sheaths like a pony. It's always a little visible. That's why we need clothes all the time.” I looked down. Nope, I'd stared at Aranea one too many times. Not all the way, but it'd need a minute to settle.

“Oh, ok. That's why it looks so small. Let's get to work then. It won't get in the way.” She set to work measuring, though with a blush at seeing it. She didn't even notice I wasn't all the way down. It sucks being the only human when everything else is literally hung like a horse.

While she was measuring I explained as much of the history I thought she needed to know. It was enough to shock her, that changelings had personalities and we were finding the survivors. I asked if she knew the places where there weren't changeling wards. She said there was really only one spot in the city where they never bothered to put one up. The poorest part of Canterlot. Way more crime than the rest of the city, but the guards weren't seen too often. Well, 'more crime' being relative to a world where there isn't much to begin with. I asked for the direction of it, and she waved a free hoof towards about northeast while holding the tape measure in between wing-feathers.

She'd gone down to my waist with the measuring. “Huh, it's gotten smaller. Wait, were you...?”

I sighed, knowing it would be faster to get it over with. “Partially. Let's just finish this...” She just got back to work measuring. I was going to be a running gag.

“I'm... flattered, Mr. Nohbodi, but I have a coltfriend.”

“Good. That wasn't for you.” Talk about a dick move. A moment later “Nothing personal. Humans just aren't attracted to ponies.” It took her a moment to really comprehend that, living in a world where everything pony-shaped is intelligent and compatible. She must be considered pretty around here. Imagine a world where there were sentient, compatible non-human humanoids on Earth, and you'd get the idea why it's hard to understand having a single focus.

Finishing up, she called in Aranea. “Wow, female humans are... bigger in places than ponies. I-I know you're a... changeling... but you're being human now. Um, you know what I... sorry...” She was still nervous about it. Think she was kind of flaky in general. The measurements took slightly longer for her. She had to measure the bust three times to figure out how to put the space in a top, and had to force herself to look away from the display between her legs when measuring the hips. I probably shouldn't have stared so much myself.

“Alright, the measurements are done, I can have a basic set done in an... um, Mr. Nohbodi, sir...” Yep, I stared too much. You would too, at least when you're not in danger. I covered myself with my hands. On the plus side, changelings don't need physical contact, though it's the most efficient way by far. I had enough directed at her to fill her up again.

In a few minutes I'd looked at the walls enough to settle. In an hour and a quarter we were in a set of comfortable enough clothes. It wasn't Rarity's work, but the kid had talent. We paid out of part of the royal grant, reasoning that going around on display is generally illegal, and breaking a law when guards knew who we were was a bad idea. The pegasus was still blushing a bit.

“Thanks, miss...”


“Thanks Aurora. Say hi to your coltfriend for us.” with a sly smirk. The blush returned. Aranea could tell for over an hour. Even I could tell a slight smell now. That dude was getting laid today.

“Do you know which way we should travel.”

“Yeah. She told me there was one place that didn't have a shield, so if there's any changelings here, they'll be there.”

“Most excellent! Where are we going?” This was going to kill the mood.

“The ghetto.”

The Worst Little Whorehouse in Canterlot

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“This is supposedly the only place in Canterlot that is not warded?”

“Sort of. I think there's gaps between in places, but they're too small to hide in. If there's any left hiding here, it'll be somewhere they can move if they can.”

We worked our way through the main thoroughfare, with plenty of street ponies taking a moment to see the humans. A couple of times a light flashed that elicited confusion among the populace for a moment, and a guard struggling with themselves to not start rushing us. Luna's influence kept the guards from bothering us, now that they know the paper is for real at least.

About a mile from where we came in, the magic lights started to become less common. Another half mile and they were just sparse, as well as looking older, or not kept in repair. The street ponies thinned out as well. The ones we did see went nude far more often, and looked like they actually worked for a living. It was easy enough to tell when we got there. The magic gas-light looking poles only went down the main street. The cobblestone path was only in minimal repair, and the whole place was tightly packed with buildings and just looked older and shabbier than the shining tourist trap that is Canterlot's royal district. This place looked like the ass-end of London in the nineteenth century, according to various books.

“Picking anything up yet?”

“I cannot locate a precise location, though there is a faint signature. It may be a false alarm, residue from the... invasion, but I doubt it. It has been too long. There is likely one, perhaps two. Farther away, hidden, or... recently deceased.” Not something either of us wanted to hear.

“Let's head further in then. Maybe you can pinpoint it when we're closer, whatever the answer is.”

“Indeed. The distance will vary according to the surroundings and interference, but I will notice them when we are close enough.” I didn't have any precise numbers as to where or how close, but she was the one the hive told everything. No reason to doubt her powers, other than she probably still needed practice. 'Knowing how' and 'actually doing it' are two different things, and the same reason I almost died in the forest. But I don't have genetic memory like ants or bees or changelings, so it's probably better for her.

If it wasn't daytime we wouldn't be able to see where we were going. Well, I wouldn't. Never actually thought about if Aranea can see in the dark. One of those things that never comes to mind.

“Hey Aranea.”

“Yes Nohbodi?”

“Can you see in the dark?”

“If I use magic, otherwise no.”

“Just wondering. One of those things that just came to mind.” That went nowhere. Then I had a better idea. “Is prostitution legal here?”

“According to my knowledge, yes, if the laws have not been changed recently. It is frowned upon though, due to influence from older, more conservative ponies.” She stopped. “Do you... require one? Is my new form a problem?” Her self-esteem is probably the only reason I managed to get a girl like her in the first place, but sometimes it got a bit much.

“Of course not! I mean, where would a changeling go if they had to hide and needed love? If there's a place around here, that's probably where we'd find them.”

“Of course. Similarly to how I used to... survive.”

“Don't worry. You'll never have to do that again.”

A sniffle. She was getting used to certain human reflexes. “T-Thank you Nohbodi.” We held hands the rest of the way. We didn't need protection (In any sense of the word) out here, but it was still nice to be next to the other.

One building in the inner-city had a tough-looking pony standing near the door, looking bored. He had a scar over his muzzle and a short-cut mane. Well, whorehouse or drug den, either way it was a chance. We were hoping for the former. Never thought I'd be thinking this was a good idea. We walked up to him.

“Whaddaya want?” All business. A good sign, if this is the only circumstance where it would be.

“Whatcha got?” I responded with a combination of a smirk and a sneer. Think Billy Idol album covers.

He gave us both a hard looking-over, focusing more on Aranea than me. “Bringin' this one for work? Could find somepony that'll go for it.” Yeah, we had our place.

“Nah, she's with me. Y'see, there's a... mutual friend of ours that ain't into the idea. So we come here to play it out, yeah?”

He nodded. “Yeah, we got somethin' fer that. Get in quick.” He held open the door just long enough for us to get in, ducking to clear our heads. It closed behind us unceremoniously.

The place was dimly lit. A short hallway led to an open room. It was fitted out with old furniture that was probably supposed to look fancy at one time. A rickety staircase was on one side, leading to a path that ran on both sides above us. Equally rickety banisters, when not outright missing, covered the sides over the drop. The top was lined with doors. We could hear the sounds of business. One sounded like smacking or spanking. The parlor was littered with ponies, mostly younger ones, in various types of saddles, lace, and other things that I guess were supposed to be sexy. One was shaking near the corner. I didn't know if Equestria had drugs or what kind, but that one was cranked out on something.

Aranea leaned in and whispered to me. “Yes, there is one here. They must have a unicorn paid to dampen the effects, there is interference with it. It is likely designed to stop detection magics in general.”

A older unicorn in an only slightly faded lacy saddle came up to us. Must be the mistress of the house.

“What'll it be, darlin'?”

I told her the same thing that I did at the door, crappy grammar and all.

“Why, yes, we can do that for ya.” She turned and called to the cranked-out pony. She timidly came forward, having noticeable trouble walking straight.

“Y-Yes, mistress?” She wasn't on drugs. She'd had the everliving shit beaten out of her. Something was broken for sure. Just as likely things had been broken and badly healed before.

I looked at Aranea. She nodded. This was the one.

“You got a job darlin'. Don't disappoint.” she said with a look that can easily be described as sadistic.

“B-But I just finished! I-I-I can't take anymore! Please, if-” A loud * whack * echoed through the room. It drew the attention of a few of the wandering ponies, but no one dared to say anything or intervene.

“Don't ya dare talk back to the mistress! You defy anythin' and it's right to tossing you into a ward!”

The poor thing was scared to death. She probably thought she was going to end up dead. The mistress floated a key to Aranea and myself. “4F darlin's. Have fun you three.” finishing in a sing-song voice. “Oh yes. Money up front.” Kind of expected that. We handed over the requested bits. I didn't know if it was cheap or not. Judging from this seedy place it was cheap. We wound our way up the stairs to the door, followed by the other one, shaking as much as ever. The key needed a bit of rattling and working about in the old door, every sound and second making it worse for her. I'd rather tell her now, but if we blew our cover they might hold her hostage or something. As long as she didn't have a heart attack before we were in private.

We locked the door behind us, and Aranea took off her new dress. No use shredding this one. We should really start carrying spare clothes. I smiled at the shaking pony. “You can change to your real body you know. We know.”

“Y-You do? Oh p-please please don't let anypony know! I'll be good, I'll do anything you want!” She shifted to changeling and took off the saddle. “D-Do what you want with me. Please don't hurt me too much...” She looked almost like Aranea during the change. Must be running on just enough for survival, and looks like a lot of the energy went to healing. I wondered why she didn't say anything about Aranea yet. The pheromones must need the body. I sat down on the dingy bed next to her and put an arm over her shoulders. She shuddered at the contact, expecting violence.

“Watch her.” I said with a smile that could only help if she knew what I knew. “You're gonna love this.” She wouldn't dare disobey an order, and looked at Aranea.

Aranea set her dress on a hook in the wall and shifted. The other stared with wide eyes as the signals were received. She literally threw herself on the floor to bow as quickly as possible. The sound echoed out the door. Something tells me no one would be surprised to hear it.

“M-Mighty and terrible queen. I-I-I have been trapped here! Please don't be to harsh...”

Aranea looked on with pity. “Calm yourself. I am not Chrysalis. We are here to rescue you.”

The little changeling pulled her head from the floor. It looked like there was a bit of blood on it now from the impact. “W-What? Really?”

We explained to her about how Aranea was the new changeling queen, and that we were finding the survivors – with royal support, no less – to help. Provided they were peaceful, of course.

“O-of course, your majesty!” She returned to bowing, but scuttled forward and began kissing her hooves. “I'll gladly be part of this new hive!”

Just like that, it was done. The first addition to the hive. Also just like that, Aranea had significant holes in her legs. Not nearly as bad as the little one, but you could tell that the collective hive wasn't doing that well.

“First, we must supply you with enough energy for health. Nohbodi, can you please help her?”

“Of course.” I scooped the changeling up from the floor and held onto her. She was so light I was surprised. I held her kind of one one holds a puppy. Very gently. The care started to heal the worst of it, but it would take a while.

“Nohbodi, why do you not give her energy as you have given me?”

“He has another way?”

“Yes. It is wonderful. Thanks to him, I was the first changeling since... before, to be whole.”

“Oh, please do so! I need it!” I stopped moving and stared at Aranea. It meant more to a human. I know she loved me, but still...

She didn't get it.

“Aranea... You didn't know?” It took a few days to get used to this place, after figuring it out. This just stopped me in my tracks.

The smaller one got her fear back. “You'd defy the queen? W-What's going on?” This one must've been a spy working far enough away from the battle to survive the blast.

“Nohbodi, I... do not understand.” That honestly hurt.

“Aranea... You really don't get it?”

“Get what, Nohbodi? I know you gave me so much energy because you care for me. Can you not do the same for her? Can humans only do so for one being?”

“No, it's... Aranea... Humans don't do that just for care. It's for love. It wasn't just feeding you to me. The first time we did that together – every time we did – it was for love. It's different than just feeding someone. It's more than care, it's love. I love you...” A tear hit the little changeling, and quickly slid down, disappearing into one of the many spaces in her legs. She was slowly healing just from the emotion, but even emotions this intense are slower than some kinds of physical contact. Especially when they're in a state this weak.

Aranea knew I loved her. She knew what love was. But, for all her life, and for what she has to do to feed, she couldn't really comprehend love as humans know it. Her eyes slowly widened. The very idea of it. She knows emotion, she knows devotion, she knows slavery. But it wasn't until then that the very idea of such devotion being willing, that it was done for the sake of another, was – while not anathema – still alien to her. The realization of what it meant to a human slowly dawned on her. She ran over and wrapped her arms around me, nearly jumping into it. The tears flowed freely.

“N-Nohbodi... I did not know, did not understand... W-What it meant to you. I am so sorry, please forgive me!”

“Shh, it's okay, it's okay...” I said softly, while stroking her hair. “Things are different here. We'll talk about it later, and I'll explain everything.”

We held each other for a long time. The little one took in a lot of it, through instinctive reflex more than choice, hurt as she was. It didn't get her back to full health, but it did a lot. Even the minor physical wounds were healing. She'd probably have to see a doctor later for some of what she's been through. A knock on the door broke up the moment.

“Time's up sweeties! Gonna need ya to be on your way now!”

I took an amount of bits equal to what we paid at first and opened the door. “Gonna need more time.” I grabbed her hoof with more force than necessary, shoved the bits in, and closed the door again. The sound of steps faded outside of it. The mistress probably wasn't happy with being handled roughly herself, but money was money. Besides, I had a plan.

I looked at the changeling on the bed. “Feeling better?”

“Yes sir. I haven't had this much care in a very long time.” She said it through tears. I wasn't sure if it was seeing a queen that wasn't a complete bitch, or the idea that someone could really care to any degree.

I looked at a clock mounted on the wall. It had been about an hour. Not a surprise things were measured in hours here. “Alright, we're getting out of here, and you're coming with us.”

“But the wards!”

“Aren't a problem. Told you we had royalty behind us. I mean besides having a queen here. Luna's got our backs on this, and things are gonna change.” She absolutely lit up at that. She ran towards me and jumped, hugging me at the waist and holding on for dear life. “Now like I said, we're getting out of here. Were there any other changelings here?”

“No... Well, there was one more. She died last month... Mistress beat her too hard, and she never woke up...” We all took a moment for the fallen.

We were too late. I was going to be sure that that bitch was going to pay dearly.

“Well, we're getting you somewhere safe. What's your name?”

“Um, I don't have one.” Spy or not, she was just another drone to Chrysalis.

“We'll get you a name soon then. Let's go.”

Aranea grabbed her dress and we stashed it with us. We exited the door and worked our way back downstairs, little one in tow. The mistress was waiting.

“Did she do well? Wouldn't want to have to punish her again y'know.”

I stepped up past the other two. “Oh, don't worry about that. In fact, we had such a good time, we're going to take her home with us.” I made a reasonable attempt to replicate the sadistic smile she gave earlier.

“Can't let ya do that darlin'. See, she's my property, and she stays here. If'n ya want her, you gotta come again.” She saw Aranea, but kept it up. Times when doubling down is a really bad idea, right?

“You don't get it. We're. Taking. Her.”

She didn't like the sound of that. “We got trouble! Scar, get in here!” She had more balls than was good for her. The door-pony rushed in and stood by her. “This fella says he's taking her home. He needs some sense put inta him.”

“Well that just ain't gonna do. You folks gotta leave now, without tha girl.”

I'm not normally a violent person. Really. But some just had it coming like you wouldn't believe. I wasn't going to enjoy it, not really. But believe you me that it needed to be done.

Aranea stepped forward, full changeling queen body active. This Scar guy got the first real scare in years. One shot from the horn and a wall of force slammed him against the wall. I thought I heard a couple of cracking sounds too. He was out cold, and probably in traction for a while after.

I called out to the rest of the room. “What would you guys do if you were free?” They weren't saying anything yet, but there was a palpable excitement in the room.

“You think I'm gonna letcha get away with this? I'll kill ya myself! This here's my property, and I'm gonna keep it!” She lowered her horn at me. I grabbed it and light flashed between my fingers, like when I fought Luna. But there's no happy ending for this one. I slammed her head to the floor and put a foot over the base of the horn.



The bloody horn-stump emitted sparks, but they only went an inch or two before fizzling out. The rest stood on in stunned silence. A cheer rose up throughout the room. I think I heard a previous abuser getting his ass handed to him in one of the locked rooms. The workers descended on the two twitching bodies that were their oppressors as we left with the first new member of the hive. We'd get back to Luna and get more citizenship papers. I grabbed the bag with the bits I'd spent on the way out. Aranea went back to human and put the dress back on.

OK, so maybe I did enjoy it.

Making It Official

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We traveled back to central Canterlot with the sounds of a riot fading in the distance. Wonder what conditions the bodies were going to be in. If what little I'd heard and seen was true, they'd probably be hung from the ceiling by their own whips. The guards didn't accost us on the way back, but the addition to our group got some unusual looks. Didn't know exactly what Granite Wall had told them. Maybe they thought we were capturing the changelings with a turncoat since they were spread out on watch after so many monsters and emergencies and... Man, a lot of crazy stuff happened here over the past few years. Anyway, we made it to the royal castle. The guards waved us in after seeing the papers, and we found ourselves in a massive antechamber.

We had a small questionnaire about why we were here. Probably to give the regents a sense of what to pull up for precedence or such. Also probably not often that 'national security' gets checked with legitimate intent. It got us into the short line. Other ponies gave us curious looks, and the new hive-member nasty looks. There's rules about discussing cases in line, especially when it deals with potential security. We moved up two places just from ponies ranting at the little changeling. I felt sorry for the kid. Well, technically a kid by human rules. Then I remembered that Aranea was about the same age. That means... that isn't right...


That snapped me out of it. We weren't up next, there being another in front, but anything to break that line of thought. I looked at the paperwork we had. Citizenship forms, just like Aranea and myself would have had to fill if we hadn't gotten around the system . It was all filled out already, right down to putting 'changeling' in the free space under 'species'. Most forms like these can be approved at Canterlot's other civil offices, but nonstandard changes require more. Even that wouldn't be enough to need an audience, but changelings are still technically labeled as an enemy. There wasn't really anyone else labeled as any enemy, so this was unprecedented. We knew that Luna would have to question her before everything was approved. Plus she still needed a name.


Now we were getting somewhere. The massive doors to the royal sisters' audience hall opened before us. We three entered together, paperwork in hand, to the twin dais where the solar and lunar diarchs sat. Celestia started with the standard-issue proclamation.

“Welcome, good ponies, to... Pardon me. Welcome to the royal courts. What business do you bring?”

Luna snickered a bit. “It has become good to see you, queen Aranea and Nohbodi. What news do you bring?”

We stepped up and gave the obligatory bow. The little one needed to be pulled from the floor, visibly shaking in anticipation of some vile outcome. I put a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me, slightly – though far from completely – calmed by the gesture.

Aranea started while I held on to the little one. “Greetings, princesses Luna and Celestia. As per our agreement, we have discovered a changeling surviving in Canterlot. There was one other, but... we were too late to save them...”

Luna was downcast. “That is unfortunate to hear. Where did you locate this one?”

“In the poor district. She was surviving in a bordello. One with a cruel madame who beat both her and her other employees.”

“Such actions are deplorable! Justice will be administered at once!”

I looked up from the little one. “That won't be necessary.”

Luna was surprised at that. “Will not be necessary? Why would you not wish retribution for these actions?”

“Because they've already been dealt justice. Mostly at the hands of her former workers. Don't recall the official name of it, but there's a defense based on reacting to extreme situations with needed violence. Trust me that it applies here.”

“Hmm. Of course, I must investigate further regardless, to ensure justice is done, and unnecessary cruelty avoided.”

“Of course. They should answer everything easily enough. In fact, I think a couple followed us. They must've been in another line. You really should get some security in that quarter. I'm used to some nasty stuff happening, but here it seems different. Don't see as much of it.”

“We will take your suggestion into consideration, in light of this recent development regarding it's condition. Now, come forward, miss...”

She crept forward with all the grace of the Cowardly Lion in the hall of Oz. “G-Greetings your m-majesty...”

“There is no need for fear here. Now what is your name?”

“I-I don't have one, your majesty...”

“Well, a name will be required for citizenship. First we must question you. Do you understand?”

She was petrified. “Y-Yes your majesty...”

“Queen Aranea, Nohbodi, please retire to the royal parlor.” She pointed a hoof to a side door. “We must have privacy for this interrogation.” Like she wasn't scared enough without hearing 'interrogation'.

We both bowed. “Please, your majesty, do not be too severe with her. She is still quite scared and unsure of what is to come. We both understand the implications of this.” A very shrewd move overall.

Luna mulled over the idea. She saw through the emotional plea, but Aranea was right, so it ended with the same answer. “That will likewise be taken into consideration. We will summon you when the process is complete.”

We exited to the room. It was a spacious, well-appointed place, fitting for the palace. We sat down in chairs facing each other, a small table with ladyfingers and tea waiting for the patrons. We each took a teacup and filled the other's. Sitting there, we thought on things that had happened. Of course, the age issue came back. She was basically three, and that's if I rounded up. At least, if she was hatched for the invasion she'd be somewhere around there. I hung my head, intensely bothered by the idea.

“Are you alright Nohbodi? Do you worry of how the regents will treat the changeling?”

“No. Like you told her, Luna knows what it's like. She'll be good to her with the questions.”

“Then what is the issue? Do you require aid?”

No use putting it off, this'll take a while anyway. “Aranea, I know this is rude, at least on Earth but... how old are you?”

“Why? Is age a problem for humans? What do you surmise my age is?”

“Well, if you were hatched for the invasion, that would make you two or three. In humans, two or three is a baby. The idea came earlier and it... kind of bothers me. I mean, I'm in my early thirties. A slight difference is one thing, but I don't know what to think about that. I know that changelings age differently from humans, it's just the idea is stuck in my head.”

Aranea got nervous. “According to the Equestrian calendar, that is correct. I am sorry if this is a problem. Will it be a large problem? Will it affect our... love? I know that this is a strange concept, but I am learning! Please do not leave me!” She was freaking out at the possibility of losing me. Did she love me back, or was I food to her? No, she wouldn't. She finally understood the idea of love – real love, not what changelings were used to getting for mere sustenance. She could feel how the idea was tearing at me from my emotional reaction to the idea. She practically jumped from the chair and into my lap, holding on for dear life and raining kisses on me. Not like her to take the 'offensive' like this. I couldn't make myself return them at the moment. I knew that things were different, I just had to find a way to rationalize it, to get my head to accept it.

“J-Just tell me how changelings age. Sorry, but I have to know.”

The little one currently being grilled by the monarchs would have a hard time matching the terrified look of Aranea. She feared her answer would have terrible consequences. “We... we do not age as ponies do. I do not know the scale of which humans age. Changelings are hatched fully-formed. We do not have a 'baby' stage of life. Will that suffice? Is it alright?”

I grabbed her by the shoulders. She froze. I pulled her in and gave her a long, passionate kiss. “It's hard to understand, like how what I said about love earlier was hard for you to understand. But I'll find a way to deal with it.” Part of me was still creeped out as all hell. But I knew this was different. I'll accept it eventually, but something that's hard-coded into my mind takes a while to change. We returned to our seats, somewhat uncomfortably, to wait the rest of the questioning in the other room.

“Queen Aranea and Nohbodi, you are required in the royal audience chamber” Some pony announced. Probably the majordomo or such. We quickly entered and awaited the verdict.

Luna noticed our concerned expressions. “Do not worry. All went according to our collective beliefs on the subject.” Part of it was that, while part of it was our earlier talk. I'm still weirded out by the idea. “Under cross-examination, this individual has proven themselves fit for citizenship in Equestria.” We finally remembered to breathe. “The paperwork is filled out to satisfaction, and effective immediately this changeling is an official citizen of our nation, with all rights and responsibilities contained therein. Due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this situation, we still require a name to officiate the declaration.”

The little one looked at us, then the princesses. I now know that she's an adult, but until there's a name I just can't think of anything else to call her. We waited for her decision.

“I-I don't know...”

“Perhaps I can assist.” I didn't see Aranea actually do anything, except stand still and look at her. Her eyes widened for a moment, and she smiled for the first time. She faced the princesses.


Change of Plans

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We bowed and exited to the hall, collecting ourselves to head back to Ponyville. Once we got a house for all of us and future rescues we'd head out again. We didn't have time to lose. Being too late for one was too many already. “Nice name.” I looked down at little Butterfly. “Why'd you pick it?”

“This is a new life for me.” She had one of the biggest smiles I'd seen.

“Good reason.” Looks like we were all pretty happy right now. “What did you do with her Aranea? Couldn't see anything, so must be a changeling thing.”

“It was a 'changeling thing', so to speak. I altered the 'rules' for imparting information. Now changelings connected to the hive will have much more knowledge. A decision made of free will requires knowledge. To offer a decision with free will while withholding information denies true free will. Perhaps I should have shifted the path of knowledge earlier.”

“We're just starting here. Changing the rules blind could've caused some kind of problem later. Probably the earliest you could've done that. Heh, wish I could learn stuff like that.”

“Queen Aranea and Nohbodi, return at once!” echoed through the hall. Oh shit.

“Wait here Butterfly, and keep the papers with you.”

We reentered the audience chamber to find Luna and Celestia looking over scrolls. “Out of the royal grant we supplied there is a considerable cost that has been allocated to clothing. Explain this discrepancy at once!” I actually calmed down a bit at hearing that.

“That one's easy to explain. You remember the first encounter with the guards?”

“Yes. They have been dealt with according to my announced decision on that day.”

“Well, the clothes we had were beyond repair after that, especially Aranea's.”

“And what is your point ? Clothing is not required in Equestria.”

“Tell me princess, is it legal for a pony to be unsheathed or display parts in public?”

“Certainly not! There may be foals about.”

“Exactly. Remember that humans don't sheath like a pony. We needed clothes that'd cover. Otherwise we'd be a walking display through Canterlot. You wouldn't want that, now would you?”

“Your rebuttal is understood and accepted as a reasonable explanation. However, did you have to spend so much on these trappings?”

“It, ah, was the first place we saw that looked like it sold clothes.”

“Oh. Well, in light of this testimony, we will not levy the cost to you. However, to prevent such future expenditures, you are to procure the necessary replacements when a more fiscally reasonable option presents itself. Are we clear?”

“Yes princess.”

“Very good. You are once again dismissed.”

The thought of Aranea's age flashed through my head again, only temporarily stopped by the courts.

“Um, princesses? Can I ask one more thing while I'm here?”

“No. If it is not a matter of national importance, it will require the standard permissions to see the court at another time.”

“Uh, it involves a federal offense?”

Luna didn't like the sound of that. “Speak quickly.”

“You see – man this is uncomfortable – changelings don't grow up like ponies or humans. So they're all really young. Like a few years old. That means that they can't do anything that adults can do, even though they're grown up.”

“This does not involve law to the degree you gave the impression of. Leave us and send such a request at another time, through the proper channels.”

Aranea came to my defense. “Your majesties, this is extremely troubling to Nohbodi. Will you hear us out, at the request of a queen?”

Luna thought on this. “...I did not expect such a plea. You are the queen of the changelings, and are held to be a representative of a nation we are technically at war with. That brings issues of it's own, that the leader of such is a citizen. This is an unprecedented combination”

We looked at each other. I really hadn't thought about that. Of course with no treaty ponies and changelings would be in a cease-fire, at best.

Aranea took a step forward. “Then as queen and representative of the changelings, I wish to discuss terms of peace with Equestria. It is known by both changeling and pony that the previous queen, Chrysalis, was a despot, who did not act in accordance with the current administration.”

Well, this took a different direction fast enough to give me whiplash. That hive-memory thing is awesome. A princess and probably a couple of lawyers and she's got hundreds, if not thousands, of years of politics to play with. It's not the magical power making her the most dangerous thing here. Changelings being natural actors only makes it better. Wonder how much she shared with Butterfly?

Celestia and Luna looked at each other.

“We will commence discussion on your offers of peace. Remain while we deliberate.” Followed by them both retreating out of a door behind the thrones.

We waited with baited breath. This could be bigger than just finding the few survivors. We were either going to be heralded as emissaries of peace, or harbingers of an epic international faux pas. There never seemed a lot of middle ground when Luna was involved. I looked at Aranea. I tend to forget she's a literal queen. Good thing it's not me. I'd start another war or something after ten minutes of saying the wrong thing. The royal pair came back and sat back down in the twin thrones. Celestia made the announcement this time.

“In light of the cessation of violence by the changeling empire, and the actions of their new queen, we will gladly accept the prospects of peace talks, for the betterment of both of our nations.” Aranea was ecstatic. “We will set a date for the first talks for two weeks from this day.”

Too much time. “What about the changelings in hiding? We can't find another dead body!”

Celestia was taken aback by that. Luna just got angry. “You are not a member of the royalty or designated representative thereof!” Well, she was right. Much as I spent time with Aranea, and we were - for all intents and purposes - a couple, nothing was official. I shut my mouth, thinking I'd be lucky if this didn't fuck up the biggest thing we'd – well, her – had ever been a part of. Celestia intervened.

“Due to the current crisis involving refugee changelings, I will – effective immediately – author a decree that all discovered or willing changelings be given a safe place until we've completed the negotiations. The citizens of any nation shouldn't have to live in fear, when possible.”

Well, she just did our job for us. Good thing too. I really don't think us two could find them all, and that would mean more that were found too late.

Aranea bowed deeply. “Thank you princesses. I cannot say how much this means to me, and for future changelings.” More satisfied than we thought possible, we finally exited the chamber for good. Butterfly was waiting for us, kind of nervous at how long it took.

“What happened that took so long?”

Aranea smiled down at her subject. “Something wonderful.” Butterfly's eyes lit up. Of course she'd take the direct route of communication to another changeling. I already knew everything from having just heard it, but it would've been nice to hear good news being passed on.

The train ride back to Ponyville was oddly quiet. I guess we were all absorbed in thought over what this mean, and what could possibly happen. We quickly made our way back to Twilight's castle and knocked. Spike answered again.

“Coming!” It's interesting how easily those doors must swing to let that tiny guy open them. The brain focuses on the smallest things sometimes, when bigger things should be occupying it. Then hey saw Butterfly. “A changeling!?” Oh yeah, Aranea was human whenever Spike was here. He knew she was a changeling, but actually seeing one was probably a bad trip.

“She's with us. You'll get used to it.”

“Uh, okay.” He let us in. Folks here are going to have to get used to seeing changelings a lot more often, and probably quick. “Twilight, it's Nohbodi and Aranea! And another changeling.”

“You two, great news!” Twilight came rushing towards us. “Er, you three.” She was more used to the concept. “I collated and finalized the interview into a study on changeling customs while you were in Canterlot. Every university with an inter-species study department wanted copies!”

“Uh, cool. We've got great news too-holy shit that's a big bag.” Every college wanted them alright. I have no idea how many bits that was, but it was a fortune.

Twilight huffed. “Watch your language around the young ones!” Meaning Spike, of course.

“Yeah, sorry. How much is that?”

“Your shares of the profits. So what was your news?” She said it like it was just regular good news. Man, she must be tenured by Celestia or something. This looks like at least ten years' worth of pay to me, before taxes. I think. It's hard to count a mountain. And coins that are actual gold. Aranea answered Twilight while I was drooling at the glittering stash.

“We have begun peace talks with Equestria, for the restoration of changeling-pony relations. In addition, they will find the changelings hiding and keep them safe until the end of the talks, at least. Oh, the hive can re-join itself, and we can live in peace with the ponies here!”

Twilight was stunned. “Wow! I never thought it'd be possible. Congratulations! After the visits to Saddle Arabia, the changes in the Griffin Kingdom, and the improving relations with Yakyakistan, too! We're looking forward to a great age for Equestria.” Well, she is the princess of friendship. Being a one-pony ambassador to their own country gives a unique view on international relations I guess. Not that I disagreed with her. Even if I had no idea what any of those nations were like.

I looked at the stash again and thought on what's been going on. I already knew I loved her, but it wasn't official... “Hey, Twilight.”

“Yes Nohbodi?”

“Wouldn't happen to have a tape measure and some scratch paper, would you?”

Twilight was a bit confused at the request. “Alright... Rarity left one here some time ago, she's got dozens of spares. Writing materials are everywhere here, that's the easy part.” In a minute she came back with a sheet of paper, a quill, and a tape measure.

“Perfect. Aranea, can you hold out that finger?” Pointing to her ring finger on the left hand.

“Why do you require this?” She was still doing it, even while asking why. I put the measure around it at the base and jotted down the numbers on every scale of measurement it had.

“You'll see soon enough. You're gonna love it!” Turning back to Twilight. “Wow, with all this, we can finally get our own place too.” I hated sponging off of others for basic stuff. Not like we were asking a few bucks to pay back, it was a roof over our heads. There's a difference. “Everything's gonna be fine, right Aranea?”

Aranea smiled. “It does seem so. Let us hope for the best.” I hugged her and gave a quick kiss.

“I'll be back soon to see about what kind of house that can get. Just need a bit of my part. I grabbed a few fistfuls and a small bag and ran out, to the confusion of the rest in the room.

Naturally I ran to the jeweler. I showed him the numbers I had down. He was confused.

“Goodness, you must really love your pets.” Pets? You dumb son-of-a... Yeah, yeah. I held up my pointer finger for him to see.

“No. Human fingers are thin like that. I already know this'll be special-order.”

He figured it out pretty quickly. Mostly. “Ah, sorry! So it's for you. What style would you like?”

“Actually it's two. Well, two for those sizes and one for me. Gonna need this one-” holding up my ring finger. “measured too. How fast do you think you can get them done?”

“Hmmm... Well, this isn't the season for orders yet. Maybe a week to a week and a half? At least, depending on what comes up for such an unusual size.” I looked over what he had for materials. Lacking any proper ideas, I stuck to the standard gold and diamond stuff.

“Listen, this one is the important one, for now anyway. Only one I need right away. Can you do that?”

“And the others?”

“Plenty of time for those. Gotta make plans after the first you know.”

He smiled at the impending joy. “Of course. That'll be...” Man, gems and gold are cheap here. Well, relatively anyway.

“Thanks. Sorry if I gotta run. You get the idea.”

“Of course. Can't keep that special somepony waiting.” I ran back to the castle.

As soon as I was let in I hugged Aranea again. “What did you require so quickly?”

“Important stuff. You'll see.”

International and Interpersonal Proposals

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With the princesses taking care of finding the remaining changelings – and actually being someone we could trust with them – we took the time to actually rest a bit. Aranea and I spent plenty of time together, but I couldn't do anything. Every time the idea of our couplings came up, the idea of her age came up too. She had well enough emotion directed at her to keep her full, so it didn't cause any serious problems.

Despite her understanding the concept of love, and that it bothered her too that I wasn't willing, we accepted it as a temporary trouble. She was waiting for me to understand it like she understood feeling love. I was waiting for some way to rationalize it. The original idea was to petition the princesses to make a change in the law for changelings. An exception since they were 'born' adults meant that what kept eating at me wasn't really a part of it. There was a lot of personal mind games involved to keep things going.

The time passed slowly, but only a couple of things really happened overall. The only notable exception was that Butterfly became whole over that time. She was so happy. Much like Aranea, the idea had never really occurred to her. The idea of having a stable life, of having a family.

A family...

The other was that construction began on the house. It wasn't a palace, but we didn't need anything like that. Two stories, with an attic and a cellar. Well, the cellar was going to be something like a man-cave, though Equestria was missing some key elements. Like booze, games, TV... There was a place or two that had pinup-style posters, but it just didn't work when they were all ponies. I never cared who the Wonderbolts were, but apparently they were considered really hot. If I saw more ladies' track events I might have had an idea. I defaulted to the Williams sisters, which still gave a good idea. Maybe it'll be just a good storage space. Everything else was classic Equestrian, which was actually pretty close to oldschool americana. Fireplace, furniture, you get the idea. It was going to take a while, but with things really getting underway that would do.

With three days to go, I got a notice from the jeweler. By request it was sealed, to be opened only by me. He was finished with the first ring. I excused myself and ran over again. It looked brilliant, surpassing anything I'd seen. I don't know what they use to extract gems and ores, besides magic of course, but apparently purity isn't a challenge. I looked it over. I couldn't tell at a glance, but it seemed like it was the right size. It had better be. I thanked him profusely and pocketed the small flip-box. I had to get back fast. Doubt that Aranea knew what I was doing yet. No one had ever tried to marry a changeling before.

Would she agree? She knows the concept of marriage just like love, but getting used to understanding an idea that defies proper explanation must be hard. It was, I know. Good thing she didn't do the same variety of head-blanking that I did. Me and Zecora might have both thought she was dead, and it would've happened. Any amount of time is worth it to let her figure it out instead of that.

She would say yes anyway, even if she didn't quite get it by the time it's asked. She never says no to me. I suddenly felt kind of bad about it, that being the only one to show her so many things, I have more control than I should. It wasn't intentional. I don't play mind games or try to exert this control. She just hangs on to everything I say. I shook this other unpleasant line of thinking off before it could argue with the one I've been fighting with already. Making it back, I had the same answer as before. Just a smile and “You'll see.”

The two weeks passed. To be more accurate, it was one week and six days. We were taking the train the day before. The alarms went off again. The guards came out again. At least the papers worked this time.

In Canterlot's royal castle we were welcomed by the princesses. The talks were to take place in the royal palace, in a dignitary's – That is, fancier – parlor. So it was built on what we already knew, in multiple senses of the word. We were ushered in and seated, while the princesses came in from opposite doors. All seated, and with various refreshments on a long table between us, we began.

Much like in court, I was only there to be there. Changelings did everything by some gestalt knowledge of who did what, and official stations were unheard of. This meant that I couldn't be dubbed a vizier or prime minister or any other title that would give me a voice. Trying to do that now would be dealing in bad faith, and therefore 'cheating'. It would probably invalidate any agreement, and the risk was far too great. Aranea knew way more than me about history, politics, and pretty much everything else involved, so I just kept my mouth shut and held onto her. It was all up to Aranea now.

Celestia began. It looked like Luna would've started it, but there was a shift in royal decorum during her absence. This hasn't been done in a couple hundred years, but was still far more genteel than giving conditions to a surrendered army. Unfortunately, changelings have been in just such a state due to Chrysalis fucking everything up.

A royal scribe was in attendance, transcribing all that was said to finalize into the international contract between us.

“In accordance with the laws of international relations relevant to Equestria, we gather here to discuss terms of peace with the Changeling Empire. By reaching an agreement via these strictures, all involved in these talks:

Celestia, solar princess and co-regent of Equestria

Luna, lunar princess and co-regent of Equestrian

Aranea, queen of the Changeling Empire

Will hold to said agreement hereafter, in the interest of all parties involved.”

That scribe was good. At the speed of speech she copied it all down, managing several pens to keep the ink at the optimum tone. It was rather mesmerizing really. All three of them nodded in tandem, and the real work began.

Most of the rest was the same, sans the humiliation of fielding a defeated army. Luna was apparently briefed on this, and continued with the next point.

“Our two nations have had dark times betwixt them, and the time for healing has come. We will now set forth conditions of peace to be agreed upon by all involved. As the declared victors, Equestria will set forth the first condition.” Alright, almost all mentions of defeated armies. Luna probably enjoyed that a bit too much, but it was still apparently in there, even after all this time. Not like we could argue. The changelings were technically in a position of surrender, antiquated or modern. “The first condition of peace from Equestria is the surrender of the leader of those responsible for the actions suffered – queen Chrysalis of the Changeling Empire.”

Aranea remained calm. “As current queen of the Changeling Empire, we agree to your condition. The previous queen, Chrysalis, has reneged any right to rule, and will be held accountable for her role in the conflicts involving both our parties. Her current whereabouts are unknown, but you have my assurances that if she is found to be alive, she will be extradited to the proper courts to face trial for her crimes against Equestria.” Everyone there assumed she was dead, so this wasn't a surprise.

Celestia replied, finishing Luna's query. “Understanding the given situation, all parties involved accept this term. The current queen of the Changeling Empire is not to be held personally accountable, provided she aids the location and capture of the previous regent if former queen Chrysalis is discovered to be alive, or in any other state fit to receive judgement.”

A triad of nods gave assent to the issue.

Aranea started her turn. She knew what she was doing. Scattered changelings must've been all over the world before the invasion, or at least involved in a nation that held similar talks. “As current queen of the Changeling Empire, it is set as a condition that changelings residing within Equestrian borders are recognized to have not been acting of their own free will, being forced as extensions of the previous queen, and therefore leniency is required regarding their actions during the invasion of Canterlot. Exceptions are to be made for any crime committed afterwards while in a state of free will, as well as previous queen Chrysalis being exempted from this leniency due to her actions, the only one made in free will and of a directive well-considered an affront to peace, as accorded by former agreements.”

Luna frowned at the idea. Her and Celestia whispered to each other for a short time. Acquiescing to her elder sister, Luna answered.

“As the members of the Changeling Empire, with the specific exception of former queen Chrysalis, have not acted within their own accord and free will, this condition, including all noted exceptions, is agreed upon.”

A trio of nods, with the scribe denoting the action at it's place.

Luna continued, perhaps being given a turn at her idea for letting Celestia have the previous.

“In restitution the Changeling Empire, according to their ability, will pay restitution in accordance with the loss of life and property caused by the invasion of Canterlot, as per the current rate of exchange and property values of all involved. A temporary lien will be structured to each citizen, likewise as according to their ability, until said debt is paid.” There actually wasn't much in the way of either, since the invasion was stopped almost immediately after the attack began.

“We, as representatives of the Changeling Empire, request at this time an accounting of said losses.” A piece of paper with the numerical equivalents – how the hell does anyone put a number on lives, no matter how few? - was given to Aranea. She showed it to me. It was a big number, but far less than military action on Earth would've racked up. Good thing it was stopped short when Chrysalis was in charge. We looked at each other and I nodded. She apparently agreed with me.

“The Changeling Empire agrees with the requirement of restitution, as per our ability. Said ability will increase in the future, fortune and industry permitting, for the payment thereof to complete the task set before us in a reasonable time-frame.” With the pile of bits already allocated to the house, it was going to take a while. Either way, we were both used to being broke. Given enough to live on would be fine for a temporary scenario.

Nods all around.

Her turn came up again. “With all requirements and exceptions laid out by previous agreements, changelings currently located and/or living in Equestria at the time of this agreement shall be afforded citizenship, provided information given by truthful testimony as to previous actions within their knowledge, and required restitution for any outstanding debts incurred are paid. This dual citizenship will require adherence to laws of their nation of residence.”

More nods, and more work for the scribe. I'd have thought that would've been more difficult, but taxes are a powerful thing.

“The nation of Equestria has no further requirements or demands for peace, save that which has been laid out for said purpose.”

“The Changeling Empire has no further requirements or demands for peace, save that which has been laid out for said purpose.”

The scribe finished the forms, and rapidly put them into triplicate. One for the royal sisters, one for Aranea, and one for the archives. Signatures were repeated across the multiples. I looked at Aranea. She figured it out and stated “Now that peace agreements are completed, my advisor Nohbodi would like to address the court.” They all turned to me, and I bowed in turn.

“As changeling physiology differs from both pony and human-” I'm not stupid, I just don't have a reason to use long words often. “They are, by the Equestrian calendar, far younger than their bodies and minds would suggest. I request of the court a dispensation of the law regarding them and Equestrian law about age and various jobs and activities requiring a minimum age.”

Celestia and Luna looked at Aranea for a moment. “Are there legal issues involving age in which changelings would differ from pony?”

“Yes princesses. Among others, our couplings are technically illegal, as my physical age according to the Equestrian calendar falls well below the age of consent.”

And that's how I was outed as a technical pedophile.

“What, precisely, is your numerical age according to the Equestrian calendar?”

“Approximately three, princesses.”

They looked at her, then me, then back to her in some degree of stoic surprise. The diarchs looked at each other for a moment, and then announced the verdict.

“We agree that an exemption, due to physical and mental maturity of the involved, is afforded to changelings with said mental and physical capabilities for the purpose of reasonable and willing activities.” That was all I needed to hear.

I wondered about if I should do this constantly. I know that it hasn't been that long, especially for a human. There should be more time. I've been conned too many times to jump at the chance. But this... this was different. Everything, everyone was honest here. This was, in all honesty, the biggest chance for the best outcome I could ever have. I kept a hand in my pocket, stroking the box with a finger.

“With that said, and all previous agreements recorded for posterity, is there any remaining business among the parties involved?”

I stood up from my chair. “There's one more piece of business, your majesties. I need witnesses for this.” They looked on with interest as I faced Aranea.

I pulled the flip-box from my pocket and got down on one knee before her. Opening it to reveal the ring, I announced my request.

“Queen Aranea, will you marry me?” The princesses stood silently.

Aranea froze in place, and began to tear up. This was it. It's been a short time, I know. But everything that's happened has been for both of us, twist of fate or not. I waited for the answer. The word that would change our lives forever. She must've been held up by feeling intense emotions being so new to her. Her voice sounded hollow, much closer to the flat droning way she spoke when we first met.


Intermission: Wedding Train of Thought

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I said it with a voice that was my own, and yet not. I said it with clarity, with finality. I heard myself say it more than I had actually said it. I had said 'no'.

I had said the exact opposite of what we both wished to hear.

He did not move at first. A tear fell onto the box as his hand began to shake. The box fell to the floor, the ring rolling out of it from the impact. Wordlessly, he returned to his feet. Without raising his head or making objections he walked to the door. He was broken. I had never seen an enemy so defeated as my lover.

He left, and I was powerless to stop him.

The princesses were dumbstruck. “Do you need time to talk to him?” I wanted to, by all that any being could hold sacred I wanted to. I could not.

“We must finish this. A new standardization of citizenship forms, prices of restitution, amendments to immigration and emigration between our nations. There is much left to do.” I could not see clearly for the veil of tears. Through this blurred vision, I saw myself. I swiftly removed the clothing and shifted to my natural form. I could not see the body that brought Nohbodi and myself together. Not now. “Quickly, if possible.”

They stared for a moment, and called for the paperwork and files to be sent as fast as possible. Both of them had mist in their eyes as well. They understood. They had been forced to choose their responsibilities over themselves in the past. They knew this pain.

I would not have wished this pain on Chrysalis herself.

The amendments and finalization thereof took hours. Despite knowing better, it seemed as years. They were sympathetic to this plight. They showed impressive kindness in what they offered. My changelings would be integrated into society. They would have every right a pony has. They will hold jobs, they will own property, they will pay taxes, they will freely find love. They will have love.

Immediately after everything was agreed upon, I left them as well. The dress remained on the floor, and I remained in my changeling body. I must find Nohbodi. I must explain my answer.

Why could he have not waited? A matter of weeks, perhaps even days, perhaps even hours, would have changed my answer. I could not agree to such a proposal now. Not yet.

When I had said that fateful word, I spoke with not my own voice. I spoke with the voice of the hive. Within not only my station, but my very being, there is a directive. As queen, I must ensure the safety and prosperity of the hive. I know that he would not abuse his influence. Yet, he is only one. I do not know all of him. I do not know if he alone can supply all my children with life. I do not even know his life-span. Until the survival of all is a certainty, I cannot agree to imbue him with such a share of leadership. For all the realizations of sentience after the fall of Chrysalis, for all that was given me by the hive, for all I attempted to deny the truth...

As long as I speak for the hive, I will never have complete free will. I must watch over all changelings.

No matter the cost to myself.

I must find him quickly. If I do not, I will be forced to return to Ponyville, to inform Butterfly and record the progress of the search efforts. I spread my wings and took to the skies. All below me were scrutinized. I landed at the Canterlot gates. I inquired to the guards if they had seen Nohbodi returning.

“We did see Nohbodi, queen Aranea. He was at the train depot a couple of hours ago.” This was a troubling development. There was still hope, hope to explain the situation, hope to retain him until my answer could change. The bits were left at the castle owned by Twilight Sparkle, and with no currency he would not have taken it. My time was running out before I was impelled to return. I took to the air once again and arrived, taking a place at the window of the ticket-seller. Several ponies were incensed at the 'line-cutting'. I would be forced to move back, had not recent diplomatic immunity been granted. Still, I must take this quickly, before damage is done to non-royal pony-changeling relations.

“Please, sir. Has the human Nohbodi been here recently?”

The stallion looked up at me with surprise, and checked his recordings of transactions. “Uh, yes ma'am … He purchased a ticket-” Oh no. The bits he had taken for the ring. There must have been an amount left in his possession. “On the number twelve. It left an hour forty-seven ago for it's destination. Long gone now, I'm afraid.”

“Did he reveal any information?” I must return soon, though once circumstances and fate are assured I may return to find him.

“Said something about 'Seen it before. They don't need me anymore.' or something like that before getting on the train.”

“What was the destination?”

The stallion shuffled through some papers. “The Crystal Empire.”

Time was up. I flew back to Ponyville, that scene of my answer playing repeatedly within my memory. I had a hole forming. It was a space within my heart. I was required to return immediately. The hive had given me no more time to search. Even if it had, I would not have been able to locate him in that distance within that time. He believed that I had used him. How many had taken advantage of him during his time on Earth to provoke such a reaction? I returned to the castle of Twilight and the former elements of harmony. Butterfly greeted me warmly. I relayed the information of our victory within the courts for peace. She requested information on the whereabouts of Nohbodi. I would not answer. It was not necessary for her to know, a small mercy from the hive.

I settled in the study with Twilight, to discuss the search efforts for the remaining changelings. Spike had a tea set prepared for us both. Only Twilight took any. She explained the scope and range of the efforts, with a marked map of Equestria denoting the current and few previous places covered. Spike let out a green mist while apparently eructing.

“Twilight! It's from the princesses!” he handed the materialized scroll to Twilight Sparkle. She read over with with interest, followed by concern.

“Aranea – sorry, queen Aranea.”

“The title holds no key importance here, princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“Thanks. The princesses were told that Nohbodi was on a train to the Crystal Empire by the station after you asked about it.” I listened intently. “It says on the outskirts of the border the train hit a cluster of shadow crystals shifted by a storm earlier. It was badly derailed. There's a rescue team on the way, but...”

“But what Twilight?”

“From the severity, they aren't expecting survivors.” It had happened. In the course of protecting the interests of the hive, I had lost everything else.

I had lost him.

Shards of Life, Shards of Crystal

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I was in shock. After everything that's happened, she said 'no'. Not only that, she said it absolutely. She said it like she used to talk, that cold, logical voice that won't be changed. My mind went blank. I got up and left, I think. She was done with me. Nearly everyone I helped, everyone I loved, ended up just using me. This couldn't be any different – it never was.

I wandered aimlessly through the streets of Canterlot. That was it. There's nothing left for me now. I've been used and put away. No matter how many times it's happened, I keep believing it'll be different. I'm a fool. Always been a fool. I meandered along the main road until I found myself back at the train station. There wasn't any bar to drown my sorrows in, so I got right onto the next step. Starting over again. Just like every other time. The rest of the bits were earmarked for the house, and I had nothing to sell. Guess I'm going homeless again. I'd prefer to just end it all, right here and now, but I can't. If I had the ability to do that I'd never have made it through high school. I know, I've tried. It failed.

“And where would you like to go, sir?” said a pony at a window.

“Doesn't matter.”

“Afraid I'll need more information than that sir.”

“I've seen it before. They don't need me anymore. Time to go. Next one leaving.”

“Ah, that would be the number twelve.”

“How much?” He looked at a sheet, presumably with prices, and gave me the number. I handed the bits over. Well, dropped them in that recess under the window, you know how those places are. He gave me the ticket, and I left without another word.

The train wasn't crowded, but it was over half full. I must be headed for a touristy place. Shit. Nothing mattered though. I was busy replaying the scene in my head. Over and over it went, drowning out anything else. I missed where it was going somewhere in there.

It was a long one. It's been a couple hours, I think. Couldn't tell, couldn't care. It was time to start again. Just... give me some time to think on everything I just lost. It was a lot. She was something else. Jaded as I was, and as many times as I'd learned my lesson, I really thought she was the one. It was another world, another life. Still it turned out the same.

We hit some kind of bump, temporarily shaking me out of it, and back into reality. Then another, harder shock hit the train. Ponies were getting worried. The whistle screeched as we were all jolted from our seats. Everything went sideways, literally. A pony landed on top of me, or rather, on my side. Good thing it was a young unicorn, or I'd have broken something. Instead all I got was a big bruise. Everything tumbled around before we all stopped. The doors slammed themselves open on either side, even though it was up-and-down instead of at the sides. Most of them seemed to be okay.

“Oh no...” some pony said.

“What?” I asked after it. Everyone looked out what space they had available.

“Shadow crystals!” one yelled. The room went silent. What was going on? That must be what had the train off the rails. I didn't need to see the track to know being sideways wasn't right.

I turned to the unicorn pseudo-sitting on top of me. “What's so bad about these crystal things?”

She looked at me like I had three heads. Even being a different species couldn't match that look. “Shadow crystals are dangerous! It's, it's... it's deadly to be around them for long! Oh my Celestia we're gonna die here!”

I pushed the pony over and climbed on the seats until I was hanging on to the door that was now the ceiling. There were big, black crystal formations on the tracks and around them. I stepped off the edge of the car, rolling on the ground. I was gonna be bruised up pretty bad after this, if I survived. Fuck it. I had this weird idea for years that if I was gonna die, I'd rather go some kind of hero. Hey, we're all gonna die someday anyway, and most of us don't get the while-you-sleep kind. I grabbed the one on the tracks, expecting it to burn or frostbite or something, but it felt normal. It was smooth on the flat edge and angled, just like a big version of quartz on Earth. I log-rolled the thing off the tracks. “Hey, can you fix this train?” I yelled at the car.

“We can't gear near the crystals! At best you bought us time. We need 'em farther away!” Well shit. If only to break the line of thought on how everything's gone to hell again, I started rolling the big crystal spikes away. It's therapeutic to do work like this sometimes. It took the better part of an hour, pushing these things a few yards away. I stood there for a moment. I didn't feel any different. This must've been a magic thing, like poison joke was. Looks like I'm living to put up with shit for another day. Fine. I've done this before. I'm sick of it like you wouldn't believe, but life's a bitch like that.

“Now get out here and fix this shit, I got places to be!” I yelled back at the car. I didn't expect what I heard. Cheering. What looked like every unicorn in the thing jumped out and lit up their horns. It only took a couple of minutes, but a lot of sweating and magic, before it was back on the tracks. Everyone, including myself, got back and as the coals were piled and the engine screamed. “Aaaall aboard! We're back on our way to the Crystal Empire!” Huh, so that's where I was headed. At least I'll have my fifteen minutes of fame before everything goes to shit again.

We arrived late, of course. A few ponies were waiting on us. Looks like most of them gave up and went home. The crowd flooded out, jumping into the hooves of what I presumed were their friends and loved ones. Three of them waited and exited just after me. Then they jumped on and hugged me. Needless to say, I was confused. “Ain't you got someone? No one hugs me.” They held on anyway, as one apparently spoke for the group.

“We don't have anyone, but thanks for saving everypony!”

Another chimed in “Yeah, thanks sir! We owe you everything!”

The third came in with “Indeed. We owe you our very lives.” That third one told me more than it knew.

“So you're all changelings.” They froze, with wide eyes fixed at me.

“How'd you know?"

A New Empire

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“I know. Let's get out of here.”

The three followed me like puppies. “What's around here?” I asked them.

“You don't know?” asked one of the first two.

“No. Took the first train out. Didn't learn where I was going until a little while ago.”

“Then what are you doing, venturing this far out?” said the third one, in the tip-off voice.

“Starting again.”

“What happened?”

“The usual.”

“What do you mean?” That one earned a nasty look. It backed down. “S-Sorry.”

“Damn I want a drink.”

“What type of drink would you prefer? We will aid you however we can.”


“I am unfamiliar with this 'booze' you speak of.”

“Saw that coming. Happy juice, the good stuff. Guess it really doesn't exist around here.”

“It would appear not. The nearest thing I can remember is a type of cider brewed locally. The recipe was adapted from Sweet Apple Acre's annual cider in Ponyville.”

Had nothing to lose. I didn't think it was what I wanted, but I was thirsty. “Sure, let's try it. I'm broke though.”

“Don't worry about it. We have a little, we owe you that much at least.”

So we headed to some place that looked like a weird farm. Everything was crystalline, angular. They each chipped in a couple of bits and came back with mugs of cider for all of us. “Thanks guys. Good to know someone'll be thankful.” I took a gulp of the stuff. It was interesting. Pretty good even. It was almost like apples, but not quite – must have something to do with the crystal-berry things they were growing there. It had a slight bite to it. Bite to it... I knew that bite. Holy shit...

They did have alcohol here.

It wasn't extremely strong, but it was enough of a kick to notice. Maybe five to seven percent. Regardless, it was a revelation. I knew I didn't have the cash to get drunk, or play on these guys to do it, even once, but I had a plan. It's amazing how quickly you can recover from something when a good idea comes up. Or I'm just a drunk.

“Do you know where I can get a job?”

“You are Nohbodi, the human who traveled into this world from the Canterlot experiment?” A pink-furred alicorn stepped up.

“Yeah.” I said before draining the mug. Then I blinked. Another alicorn? How many were there? Wait, Twilight said something about this one. “Cadence was it?”

“So you do know of me.”

“I know Twilight's brother is plowing you. Or was, one or the other.” She stopped in her tracks, or would have, if she was moving.”

“*Ahem* yes. If you wish to put it so crudely. Shining Armor is my husband, and we rule the Crystal Empire together. As leaders and representatives of the Crystal Empire, we wish to give you our heartfelt thanks at your actions. Many ponies' lives were saved due to your actions. If there is anything we can do for you, just ask.”

I looked at the empty mug in my hand, and attempted to drink that last drop. It never works, but it's always worth trying. “More of this.” I answered, holding the mug forward. “Lots more. And a job.”

“That is easily arranged. But tell me, how did you manage the crystals' aura?”


“Yes. After Sombra's defeat, the remaining crystals decayed. Their residual magic is extremely dangerous to ponies. In all honesty, it's a surprise that you are alive after touching one.”

“So they're radioactive magic.”

“I... don't understand the specifics of your answer.”

“Can you fire an attack out of your horn?”

Cadence was confused. “Yes?”

“Shoot one at me.” I held out a hand. “Trust me.”

“... Very well. You understand the risks involved?”

“More than you know.” She fired a small beam, a really small one. It pulsed harmlessly off of my hand. Must've had her horn set on 'stun', thinking it would hurt. She was even more surprised.

“That's why.” I smirked. “Magic doesn't work on me. Even the strong stuff.”

“Then we may have an extremely important job for you, if you will accept it. It is quite dangerous. There are still clusters of shadow crystal within the Crystal Empire. Most are outside of our borders, but there are pockets of them within. If you are able to clear them from our realm, we will owe you greatly.”

“So long as it pays. Gonna need more of this first. I've got... things to forget...”

And so I spent the rest of the day blind, stinking drunk. I never did like getting faced, but it was better than the alternative.


Population Density

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“Urrrgh... Dammit...” I woke up mid-morning the next day with a record hangover. At least in my top five. I told myself I wasn't doing that again. I also knew that what I just told myself was a lie. De-crusting my eyes and looking around, I was in a room with crystal walls. That didn't tell me much – everything here was crystal. Let's see here... Crystal, crystal, chart, bed...

I was in a hospital. Again.

“Good morning, Mr...” a crystal pony – they looked different from Equestrian ones, another breed I guess – looked at the chart. “Nohbodi. You're very lucky to be alive right now. We found you unconscious last night. The effects of the shadow crystal exposure must have had a delayed reaction due to your unique physiology.”

He thought it was those crystals. They must really be dangerous to ponies, or at least the crystal ones. Didn't know if it made a difference to the others. “Heh, nah. I'm just hungover as hell right now. Another drink would fix that. Good cider though, probably the best I ever had.”

“Hung... over?” Wow, he didn't know. How can there be alcohol and nobody know what a hangover is?

“Seriously? Drink too much booze, get a hangover. It'll fade, but hair of the dog'll do faster.”

“Dog's fur?” Okay, that one I saw coming.

“Earth phrase.” The number of times I've had to say that's been going down a lot lately.

“What does this phrase translate to?”

“More alcohol to fix a problem caused by alcohol.”

“That doesn't make sense, Mr. Nohbodi.”

I mulled over the idea. Being in a completely different world makes you look at some things twice. “Can't argue with that. It doesn't make sense, but it works.”

“If you require additional cider to recover, I'm afraid that may be difficult. They are nearly out.”

“Damn, looks like I gotta wait this one out the old-fasioned way. When are they going to get more?”

“Approximately seven months.”


The doctor explained the basics of the process to me. That cider was a choice reserve thing, culled from the best over the year here, from a specific stock of apples from the Apple farm trees they transplanted. They stored it away and brought it out as a seasonal drink. One of those things that all the locals know it seems. It's not as popular as in Ponyville, so it didn't run out day one. It was all tested before storage, so they knew it was good. Tested before storage... It's been fermenting in the barrel! That's why nobody gets drunk or a hangover, nobody drinks it for that purpose because it's too hard to get. Doubt anyone here had even though of 'let's drink a bunch and see what happens'. Now that I heard myself think it, it's less of a surprise.

Alcoholic cider is an accident. No one knew how to make it specifically to have it. Except me.

He mentioned Applejack being one of the ponies saving this place a couple of years ago. I heard some mention of Twilight and the gang being here and saving everything before. There's a recent history book with all of these adventures. That must be why Ponyville had the castle there. Probably also why the Crystal Empire is on close-ally terms with Equestria. One of those deals where the borders are for the map more than the country.

I asked about news from Equestria, but he didn't have anything. They must not have gotten the news about the laws yet. When everything goes by old style post it'll probably take a week to get to another country, even one on top of the list.

A knock on the door was followed by a nurse. “Doctor, is the patient able to receive visitors? We have three ponies who requested to speak with him.”

“Well, it would seem so. This is an unusual case.”

Anything to take my line of thought away from Equestria. Much longer and I'd be thinking about her. “I'm good. Send the guys in.” The nurse seemed surprised at my 'recovery'. The door opened further to allow the three in. It was the same changelings. “How's it going?”

“Pretty well. Thanks again for saving everypony. Sorry we couldn't do more for you.”

“You did more than you know. I got ideas from that, stuff that'll change the world, heh. When I get the money to start anyway. Soon as I'm out of here Cadence said there was a job cleaning up the rest of those crystals. Don't know what it pays, but I've had worse starts.”

“Shadow crystal disposal is an incredibly dangerous occupation. There are protocols and safeguards that fill a book, and that is merely to survive.”

I smirked. “Whatever it is, it's magic. I'm not here because I got sick from that, I'm here because I drunk myself stupid last night. I'll be fine in a few more hours.” It'd probably be half the day with what I did to myself. They looked on with awe.

“There is one more concern, you understand Mr. Nohbodi...” Here it comes.

“Hey, can I talk to them alone?” I directed at the doctor.

He thought for a moment. “Very well. If you feel your condition is changing be sure to contact us immediately.” Him and the nurse left, leaving me with the three.

“Let's get this over with. Feel free to change back if you want, just tell me what I want to know too.”

All three shifted back to the chitinous, black-and-green forms they were hatched in.

“You wanna know how I knew, right? It's the way that one spoke after the first two.” Pointing at the third, previously a crystal pegasus.

“My vocalizations were what informed you of our heritage?”

“That, and you were the only ones that didn't run home, or have someone waiting. You're a fighter, and you two were either spies or been here longer.” They were absolutely shocked.

“How could you tell?”

“Experience. How many of you are here? Three is a lot for one place.”

“Oh, there's a couple dozen of us.”

My turn for surprise. “Say what?” I thought for a while. I was missing something here. I didn't want to go on with it, I knew where it was gonna go. But something about me got their attention, and – like it or not – changelings were my people now. We're all varying degrees of outcast with weird powers. “Listen, let's finish this somewhere else. Someone's gonna listen in sooner or later.”

They assumed their usual bodies. The crystal pegasus, an Equestrian earth pony, and a crystal earth pony. I signed a significant pile of paperwork to get out. They must've needed protection in case I dropped dead from radiation poisoning or something. We all set out, and I followed their suggestion to a cafe. “Still public. What's here?”

“Most of us.” said the crystal earth pony. That answered a lot. There were enough to keep a subculture going here. We entered and she talked to the barista. The barista nodded and opened a door in the back of the place, behind the table. The three and myself went in, followed by a half-dozen others that picked up on some kind of signal. We found ourselves in a surprisingly well-lit basement, with tables and chairs enough for more than we had.

A dozen changelings shifted. One went wide-eyed, and rushed back out. A minute later all the tables were full. I didn't like the looks of this. I wasn't afraid of any magic, but even without it this many physical bodies could leave me in a bad state. I had burned out on my death-wish yesterday, at least for the slow painful kind. With a room full of changelings staring me down, I began. “That's a lot of changelings alright. Why are so many of you all here?”

The professorial one answered for the group. “After Chrysalis was thrown out of range of control, the majority of us were stranded. Those who had survived, at any rate.” A moment of silence pervaded the room. She continued. “When the Crystal Empire was rediscovered, many located within Equestrian borders fled here. The population had little memory of their own, due to Sombra's magic, and the outside nations none. Here, we could begin new, free lives.”

That's when I noticed it. They were, every one of them, nearly whole. “You're... in one piece. I mean you have almost no holes.”

“Yes. With no knowledge of us, we integrated into Crystal society easily. Many have found stable partners. We share the energy that is to spare with our less-fortunate brothers and sisters.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes.” It made a lot of sense really. The ones I saw before were starving and scattered. Can't share what you don't have. Keeping it spread out was probably the only reason that this place didn't make a queen first. “Now, we have a question for you.”

“How I knew? I'm only gonna say it once more, then you guys pass it along. I-”

“Not that.” I stopped.

“Then what?”

“How did you acquire the mark of a queen?”

Rebuilding From Spare Parts

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“Fucking dammit all to hell! I can't even forget it in another country!?” My outburst froze the room. Whatever they were expecting, it sure as hell wasn't that. Several minutes passed as damnable memories forced themselves to the front. I slumped in my chair, staring at the floor. One of them got it first.

“You were used.”


“Chrysalis did the same to all of us. You have friends here.”

“Chrysalis? She's dead, I think.” the room stopped again.

One had to ask the obvious. “Then how do you have the mark?”

“There's a new queen.”

A collective worry took over, so strong that even I could tell, even when the rest of the faces didn't show much emotion. “But, where did she come from?”

“I made her...” They weren't going to leave me alone about this. I told them of our meeting, the state of those left in Equestria. The love, the life. The 'death', the rebirth. Of being part of the biggest thing they'd know, and being denied. They hung on to every word. Some simply stared. I think they were measuring the emotions, thinking this must be some horrible lie. They stopped halfway through and focused on the words like the rest.

The next week passed quickly. I spent my days working with the crystals. Without any need for protection or magical fields – not that I could use one anyway – they cleared more than they would in three months. Things were moving so fast that they were talking about increasing the range of the crystal disposal. Farther outside of the Crystal Empire's limits, farther along the tracks. Especially the tracks. The ever-decaying crystals were more easily moved by weather now, and they needed to keep them farther away to prevent another wreck like what happened on the way here.

The pay was apparently based on results. I'd made myself rich again. Or enough for phase two. I bought a small plant and had the kettles moved in. We started experimenting with combinations, and our first batch would be ready soon. It would take a lot of trial and error, but I had the time. Fortunately, just like that fateful desk, things affected by magic still work, even if magic itself doesn't. Unicorns experimented on the hops and barley, and various crystal fruit-stuffs for varieties ponies would like to buy. With so much growing and fermenting time saved, we had a cask of working prototype at the end of that week.

Between my work and sleeping, I taught the changelings what I knew from Aranea. It wasn't easy. Not because they were stupid. They learned as quickly as she did. It's that I had to draw on our time. Thinking about that kind of past is hard no matter what, but especially when it was fresh. I would often take pauses to collect myself. But ultimately, it was worth it. They learned about natural, non-changeling forms, so they could be themselves without being targeted. They learned what I knew of history, that filled in the gaps by Chrysalis not giving them anything. Over this time, most of them took names for themselves, instead of copying others or going nameless. Several got coltfriends or marefriends they could be themselves with, or as much as they could be themselves. I was as much of a hero to them as I was to that train. Or most of the Empire for that matter, thanks to those rotting black crystals everyone feared. With that influence I could get the same laws passed here faster than they would by just taking after Equestria. I decided that I'd go to Cadence and Shining and explain as much as I could without outing the changelings. As much as they looked up to me, I'd only been here a couple of weeks. I couldn't force them, and they were revered as excellent leaders.

During my lessons I'd gotten especially close to the crystal pegasus of the original three. She took the name Sangria. Many had learned how to make a human form, but she chose to keep hers as the default. It was quite striking really. A crystal human. She almost reflected light like that, and appeared fragile. I was afraid to touch her at first. She reassured me and grabbed my hand, placing it in hers. She was as flesh as I was. We spent a lot of time talking after that.

When the prototype cask was here, I took a good amount of it to Sangria to celebrate. She was downtrodden. I handed her a full glass, and poured one for myself. Not bad, if a bit sweet for me. They like everything sweet here. “What's wrong?”

“You can perceive this?”

“As much as the next human.”

“It is nothing.” A bit of silence, followed by another full glass for both.

“That means it's something.” I wasn't going to push her. I didn't need to.

She barely had time to put down her glass before bursting into tears. She explained that a very good friend, a boyfriend actually, had left her. He knew she was a changeling, and kept it quiet. She wanted to keep the crystal human form. He told her if she wouldn't stay the pony he wanted, he was gone. She did so much for him. She was taken advantage of.

It reminded of my time with Aranea. We shared more glasses as we talked about our experiences. There was a lot of crying on each other's shoulder. It's been so long for me, and so new to her, that it went straight to our heads. She lunged forward before I thought to react.

She kissed me.

I returned it before I knew what I was doing. We were both recovering from being broken. We were both alone. We were both drunk. We didn't know what would happen the next day, but we knew this. That for one night, at least...

We were both whole.

Intermission: Integration Revelation

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While waiting for the revelation of foundling changelings, I waited. During this wait I used what power I could to heal Butterfly's grievous wounds. There were many badly-set bones. I would have done so much more, more quickly, but my power was limited. I could not use it all on one changeling. Without Nohbodi to supply me so readily, caution was required. Slowly but surely, she healed to completion.

Earlier I had explained the process the princesses proposed To Butterfly. We had both watched the efforts of the princesses through the newspapers and direct communication. Once Butterfly was completely healed, we instituted forays of our own.

The laws agreed upon during the peace talks were released to the populace. It would ensure that my changelings would be as safe as possible before integration.

The princesses searched Appleoosa.

We searched Manehatten.

The princesses searched Baltimare.

We searched Las Pegasus.

At each destination, we were largely disappointed.

Eventually, we had covered the whole of primary Equestria. Each city I visited a pulse of energy was sent outward. Each time, any changelings that were in that principality would arrive at my location with alacrity. I would explain the circumstances. Occasionally they would know of the decree, often they would not. It was highly taxing on my reserves to send such a pulse – to reach across an entire city. Regardless, all changelings must be made aware. They must be included into the hive once more.

I retired to my new home. It has been largely finished, needing merely minor additions and ascetic effects in non-necessity rooms. There was collected five changelings to the hive, with an additional three having chosen to stay in their home-towns, now that the laws protected them. I would not, as ponies would put it, 'grudge them'. I imparted the knowledge they would require, and let them as they will, on the condition that they would not hurt the hive as a whole through their actions. It was an empty threat, as I had every confidence in my new citizens.

Though I will never have complete free will myself, I will not deny it to my subjects.

The dragonling Spike arrived at my domicile. “Queen Aranea, Twilight has news from the Crystal Empire. She said you'd want to know it.” He handed me a scroll. Unrolling it, I read that the surmising of a one hundred percent fatality rate was proven fallacious, countermeasures therein due to the most unusual circumstances. A being immune to it's effects had moved them, and was haled as a hero in the Crystal Empire.

Nohbodi was alive.

I had my opportunity to explain the situation to him. The hive was completed within parameters. I could agree to his proposal. Not only due to the hive having a great boon from his emotion.

Because I loved him.

I had arranged for travel effective immediately. Diplomatic protocol demanded a span of time to procure, as they termed it, 'appropriate accommodations'. I consumed the remainder of this time healing my hive as they required. Many were suffering from similar injuries to Butterfly. A lack of medical attention and a harsh life had brought them low, as it had myself. I used perhaps more of my energy than I should have. The belief in Nohbodi's return allowed me to use more than I would allow earlier.

The locomotive arrived at it's assigned station at it's appointed time. I bid my brood farewell, and to remain healthy, as circumstances allowed. The ride was long, and filled with thoughts of the past.

I was met at the station by a royal entourage, including princess Cadence and prince Shining Armor themselves. We greeted each other, and wished well upon the same. With such diplomatic requirements dispensed with, I could begin my mission proper.

“I was informed that the train derailment was corrected due to the actions of Nohbodi.”

Shining Armor stepped forward of the pair. “That's right. In fact, he's done nothing but good since arriving. The crystals left are being cleared faster than we thought possible, and he's starting a local industry to give our ponies something from Earth.”

Cadence took a half-step forward, remaining slightly behind Shining Armor. “He was very depressed when he came though. He... had an attitude too.”

Shining snickered, followed by a brief, useless attempt to hide it. “Well, technically, he wasn't wrong you know.”

“It was rude!” Cadence huffed.

“You know you like it.” Shining smirked, followed by a kiss on her cheek. Cadence developed a slight blush.

“Well, it was still rude.” she said while beginning to nuzzle Shining.

The aspect of the first royal visit by a changeling drew a vast amount of attention. Many ponies crowded the streets, though thankfully keeping a respectful distance. I could sense the residual pheromones.

There were changelings here as well.

Many of them, in fact. More numerous than I had discovered within Equestrian borders, to be certain. “You have a relatively significant changeling population here. You have been made aware of Equestria's shift in laws regarding them?”

The crowd grew uneasy, what few memories they had being darkly tinted by the failed invasion of Chrysalis. “What?”

“How could they sneak in?”

“You have to find them!” cried varying members of the civilian crowd.

“I know.” flatly stated Shining Armor. The crowd returned their shouts.

“You hid them from us?”

“Why would you let them in?”

“We're in for an invasion, like Canterlot!”

“Enough!” Cadence shouted, bordering the strength of the royal voice of Luna. It appeared directed at the last pony to shout, or in their direction. Silence filled the air until she continued. “We've known since the first arrived. Isn't that right Shining?”

“Yes Caddy. After all, I invented the changeling wards. You think I wouldn't have them here? It's been modified. Every time a changeling uses their magic, we know.” The crowd was stunned, muffled utterances of general disapproval being faintly audible. “Most of them know already. A few came directly to us at their own risk, we won't say who, looking for safety. We agreed to let them stay, so long as they don't cause any trouble. But we are watching.”

Cadence announced her reasoning before the crowd. “Everypon- everybody deserves safety and love. We have been watching them, yes, but they've proven safe. Many are respected members of our kingdom. In fact, some of them are here, in this very crowd.” The crowd began to shift glances from the royalty to random ponies standing next to them, in some attempt to divine who was a changeling in disguise.

One of them, a crystal pegasus, stepped out from the crowd and stood between the monarchs and myself. Shining had his wards active, so he was already aware of her nature. “A brave example. And you are?”


“A brave example. Hold still a moment whiel I show the crowd. Shining fired a bolt of energy from his horn. This Sangria made no attempt to dodge the magical attack. On striking the pegasus, she shifted to the form of...

A human?

That is not quite accurate. She was a crystal human, according to the ascetic appearance of the local ponies. Shining Armor displayed confusion.

“What? That should've turned you back to your real form!”

She calmly looked back. “It did.”

“But you're a human now.”

“This is now my default, and as you would term it, 'real' form.” She retrieved a loose-fitting, pale dress from the saddlebag that had fallen next to her and donned it. “Nohbodi has granted us knowledge of these new, alternate natural forms.”

“He has given you much, just as he had given them to myself while in Equestria. As his queen, I am here to both collect Nohbodi, and return the changelings in this location to the hive.” Thanks to Nohbodi, my hive would grow greatly, and I would be able to explain my reasoning to him at last. The features of Sangria visibly hardened. I did not expect this outcome. “Why do you display this? All changelings should re-join the hive.” All changelings must re-join the hive. It is in our nature. Her answer was a single word:


Possibilities Beyond Possibility

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Sangria and I awoke the next morning.

“Ohh, what is this pain in my cranium?”

“It's called a 'hangover'. It happens when someone drinks too much.” It was a minor inconvenience one to me, hardly worth the time.

“I... do not like it.”

“You're not supposed to. Maybe I should've brought less. Or enough to have one to fix it. C'mon, let's go have breakfast. I'll explain the details.” We went to a small cafe nearby. I got us a pair of coffees and our respective breakfasts. It was kind of unusual to me, how unused she is to physical pain. Most of me wanted to feel sorry for her. A little was too jaded to the feeling to comprehend being bothered by it. Sometimes I need to remember that no one else here has ever had a hangover.

We finished our coffee and food in due time. Wish I'd known that eggs were readily available earlier. Living in the forest like a hermit keeps some things unknown like that. The full stomach and caffeine seemed to do for Sangria what it did for humans.

“That is a sufficient remedy. Does that occur every time one imbibes this 'beer'?”

“Only if you drink too much at once. It's a very 'sell a little to a lot' industry. A couple or a few after work or the like.” She bought the reasoning. Not that it was wrong. I just didn't know how to add 'It's hard not to have more'. I better put a warning label somewhere. Don't know too much about the Equestrian legal system right now, but I was about to complicate it.

That's when the thought crossed my mind. Aranea (Damn, I had to go right there, didn't I?) changed because of the excess. I know there were equal parts 'lonely' and 'care' in last night, and that may not add up to as much, but I had to be safe. “You said that spare energy was spread around?”

“Yes, and I currently have an abundance of said energy, thanks to you.” She blushed a bit. It was extremely noticeable under that pale, crystal-tone face. “You are correct, I must add this to the others. With such an amount, it may restore the changeling population.” That's not as impressive as it sounds, since they were mostly whole when I met them. Still, two dozen getting a share and being full was pretty impressive.

We went to the usual place. The changelings recognized me on sight at this point. We all went downstairs at the safe sign, where Sangria changed to her old body. A pulse of green light went from her horn, seeming to cling to every changeling there. The holes that remained were completely filled in. They were used to this. Several left immediately with token thanks. Slightly more noticed that they were completely whole, and stopped to thank us for doing so. Sangria looked at me with gratitude and pride at what just happened. Then, without sadness or drink to guide her, she hugged me. I returned it gladly. “Thank you Nohbodi. We will never forget your actions for us.” I didn't have a real answer for that, so I held on.

We went our way after that, to our respective jobs. All the changelings had a job by now. The ones that didn't already have one got a basic, assembly-line gig at the brewery. We'd have enough to put in stores pretty soon. There weren't a ton of stores here, being mostly a 'general store in town' kind of thing for most areas, but it was enough. We'd keep a combination gift shop and wholesale at the brewery, and soon I'd be talking with folks about a proper bar. Just wait until I 'invent' hard liquor, heh.

Back at the crystal-disposal base I went through the card-flashing security check. That shit's dangerous to everyone else, after all. Fortunately for me, they had a barracks-style sleeping room with bathroom attached. Saved me a lot for the brewery. Not like I had a reason for anything else, what with there not being any home consoles or internet. I'd bring those over too, but I didn't know a thing about how. Some things had to be sacrificed I guess. It didn't matter as much as I thought it would. I was a celebrity here, and I could live with that.

Work went on it's usual way. Rolling those black crystals of varying sizes to a giant, radioactive-to-everyone-but-me dump. Pretty soon we'd have to get another landfill for them, to cut on travel. At the end of the day, one of the guys I work with got my attention. “Hey, you're from Equestria, right?”

They knew I wasn't 'from' Equestria, but we all knew what they meant. “Close enough. What's up?”

She tossed me a newspaper. “Something from home. You'll want to read that.”


Oh hell no.

After work Sangria found me around the cafe. I was thinking of giving them the first bar batch. They already knew about it, and the vast majority wanted to try it. Plus it's a good show for the changelings. They're the ones that really gave me a chance, even more than the ponies. Probably because I was the first to give them a chance, to take them at face value. “Nohbodi!” We hugged each other in greeting. “Have you received the news?”

A sigh. “Yeah. Don't know what'll happen when she gets here.”

“You do not plan on attending?”

“No. I've seen enough. There'll be enough there without me.”

“I plan on joining in the viewing and impending discussion.”

“Have fun.” It was a bit cold, I know.

“I understand. I will inform you of the outcome.” She was a bit put off, but she understood why. That news was everywhere. It was a huge thing, even to the ponies. Lucky for me I had a little of the prototype squirreled away.

It didn't last long.

With nothing better to do, and that sickening desire to see what would happen, despite not wanting to see the one who broke my heart worse than even the others, I worked my way to the main thoroughfare. It was her alright. She was talking with Shining Armor and Cadence. There was a lot of noise around me. It was hard to tell what they were saying, way in the back where I was. I was a little late, and the crowd was already worked up.

“-Hid them from us?”

“-Y would you let-”

“Invasion, like Can-”

I only caught pieces in between shouting from every pony there.

“Enough!” Cadence yelled. Despire the distance, it carried. She could really get loud when she wanted. She calmed down again, and things got tough to hear again.

“Known since … first arrived...” Shining answered the crowd in turn.

“Invented the wards. You think...” Of course he invented them. He's the one that dealt with it back during the invasion. Why the hell didn't I think of that earlier? The changelings weren't successfully hiding.

They were being spied on twenty-four seven.

I recognized Sangria in her crystal pegasus form when she started moving. She was walking right into them. This was gonna be trouble. I started to push past ponies when I saw Shining fire magic at her.

Oh no, they were gonna start getting rid of them!

...No. I'm wrong. It was some trick he had from before. She changed to her crystal human body. Just like before. Damn she was pretty. It was a different kind from Aranea. She was lithe and lean. She was short for a human, like I expected, but slightly taller than pre-queen Aranea was. Maybe four foot ten. She had a small bust, probably an A cup, and hips just past that. She was like a gymnast. She pulled a simple, loose dress from a bag she has and put it on. I'd seen her like that before, but in front of a crowd gives a different perspective. She and Aranea were talking. It got clearer the closer I got.

-”While in Equestria. As his queen, I am here to both collect Nohbodi, and return the changelings in this location to the hive” Sangria was getting pissed. “Why do you display this? All changelings should re-join the hive.” I thought that all drones bowed to a queen. I thought that they didn't have a choice. This was gonna be bad, real fast.


International Incident

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She said 'no'. I didn't think it was possible. I finished pushing my way past the other ponies and took a place next to Sangria, staring down Aranea.

“Nohbodi!” She exclaimed.

“Aranea.” I stated. Flatly. Coldly.

She ran up to embrace me. I reflexively put an arm around Sangria's slender shoulder. She screeched to a halt in her tracks before contact. Tears welled in her eyes. “Y-You would replace me to easily?”

“Easily? Like you haven't done the same. You got what you wanted out of me, what else do you want?” Various changelings in pony guise moved forward out of the crowd, surrounding us.

“You... have a new marefriend already?” You can't lie to a changeling, even one that you know. Especially one that knows you.

I stalled, lowering my head slightly, and loosened my grip on Sangria. “No...” I looked up and restored my hold. “But given the choice...” Sangria looked up at me. She blurred the line between happy and sad with that look. We stared into each other's eyes for a moment, and I redirected my glare at Aranea. “Why don't you tell everyone what the you already know? Why don't you tell them how you-”

“Wait!” Sangria stopped my tirade. I looked at her while she gently took my hand, and moved it from her shoulder, holding it in hers as she looked into my eyes. “Listen to her words. There is more than you may know to the story.”

“You're under her control, aren't you? How can I sa-”

“No.” She tightened her grip. “She has not stripped any changeling of their will, inclusive of myself. I am free. What she has 'done to me' is given knowledge. Listen to her.”

She was right. Aranea must've given her her side of the story with those pheromones. There was something here I didn't know. I didn't want to admit it. In fact, I refused to admit it to myself. Sangria gave me a pleading look. Even with hating to deal with it, I relented. We would have to have some kind of talk. I'd let her talk, but it wouldn't be some blind devotion. I pulled my hand from Sangria's and began walking away. “If it's that important, go to the usual place. If it's for real, you know what I mean.”

I showed up at the cafe where the changelings had been meeting, not that it was hidden after all. I walked right up to the keeper. “This is important. Don't let anyone else in the back but me, Sangria, and Aranea. I'll explain everything later.”

“Sorry, but that's against the rules. We don't turn folks away here.” Damn.

Sangria was close on my heels. She barged in little more than a minute after me. She saw me standing there next to the future barkeep. Potential future barkeep, if he didn't keep pissing me off. She walked up to him and stared. There weren't any words exchanged, she did it the changeling way. His eyes widened at the realization of what this would mean. “Alright, alright. Just because it's this important.” He opened the basement door, useless as it was to have a hidden place now.

“You didn't know about Shining watching everyone?”

“I know. In fact I was, ah, one of the ones who outed myself. The royal couple paid for the building.”

“The other changelings know about that?”

“Ehhh... No, they don't. Most of them anyway. Please, it provides for my family!” If it was anything other than this, he'd be in deep shit.

“Get us a pot of coffee. This' gonna take a while.” He jumped to the order, less for the money as for the idea that Sangria and I could turn most of the changelings against him. This was getting to be too much. It didn't take a changeling to figure out that the guy that magic can't touch was stressed out beyond measure.

He dropped off the pot and three cups. As soon as he was paid he went back up in a hurry, locking the door behind him. “She's got an hour to show, if that much.” I told Sangria.

It had been about fifteen minutes. It was spent in silence. I liked Sangria, I really did. But we both knew that that one night was a product of circumstance. I liked the idea of being with her, and I'm pretty sure she did the same. Still, things were about to change, and neither of us knew how much they would.

* Click *

The door opened again, and Aranea clipped down the stairs to join us. The door locked again behind her, with a glimpse of other ponies looking inward. Every one of the other changelings, and probably a few ponies, were waiting for the outcome. She reached the bottom and faced us both. That's when I noticed it. The changelings must've seen it immediately, but their expressions were the same as the rest of the crowd, if only for a different reason. The holes were back, and they were bad.

She was starving.

Oath of Office

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Yeah, I didn't want to admit it, but I did still care about her. I still cared about all of them, even the con-artists. That's what happens when you wear your heart on your sleeve, when you fall too fast and too hard. Maybe I'm too used to that pain too. Maybe I'm just stupid.

Sangria knew something I didn't. She had Aranea's side of the story. I don't know what it was. Hell, I don't know if changelings can lie to each other, or if a queen can make them believe it. For sure they'd take her word for it, even without literal control. I had to be careful. There was more evidence of what happened, but that doesn't mean it'll change the verdict. The memories were still in my mind, and the care – even love – was still there. I'd listen to her. I had to be analytical about this. I can't let my emotions run things a second time.

I'm not going to be hurt again.

“You're hungry. Is that why you're here, there's not enough left in Ponyville?” Having to be this cold hurt almost as much, it really did. This feeling would fade faster. Probably.

“I have arrived at this location for you, Nohbodi. I am not merely here to feed. Please, allow me to explain the circumstances of my earlier decision.” She shifted to her familiar human form and walked towards me, taking a seat across from us at the table. She reached over and took my hand, gently holding it on the flat plane between us. I didn't stop her. Looks like all their natural forms show that. Guess they hide it when they change, or it'd be a dead giveaway. Seeing a human with those spaces worried me. Having a frame of reference to something I knew better wasn't helping.

“Put on some clothes. Trying to seduce me isn't talking.”

“I... neglected to bring any. This scenario was not accounted for within my plans.”

“Of course it was. That's the best answer to it. I can't lie to you, but you can lie to me.” A pair of tears fell to the table. Her grip on my hand tightened. I wanted to end it here, but I couldn't force myself to. I know the world can be cruel, but she came here for me, whatever the reason behind finding me was. No matter the outcome, I didn't want us to be enemies. I'm not heartless. I took a deep breath. “Listen. Just tell me what you're trying to say, and we can all figure it out from there.”

She looked up with streaks running down her face already. “I sought to find you as soon as I was able. I wish for you to understand why I was forced to say 'no'.”

“Forced? No one was holding a gun to your head.”

“Gun to my head?”

I sighed with annoyance. Now wasn't the time for these kinds of questions. “Earth phrase. No one was threatening you with something serious.”

“In which case, a 'gun to my head' was precisely what I had.”

That was hard to believe. “What do you mean?”

“The hive demanded that I fulfilled my duties first.”

“You said the hive lets changelings do what they want. If Chrysalis could cause all that trouble, it wouldn't have stopped you.”

“If I had not focused on the safety of the hive, we...” She choked a little, and regained composure. “...I would have lost more. There are very few in Equestria. They were all in some degree of danger. You know the condition of Butterfly when she was located. She was not the worst. The imperative for survival is absolute. Chrysalis warped that imperative by creating a hive too significant to feed on it's surroundings. In essence, she 'tricked' the hive into allowing such a dangerous maneuver. The hive has since modified the, definitions, if you will, to prevent a recurrence.” Once I wrapped my head around it, it made sense. “There are a mere ten within Equestrian borders, including myself. Most of my power was expended during the location and healing efforts. They are now safe. With the hive in a stable state, I could seek you out again.”

“So the hive is a divinity to you?

“According to your implied definition, that is correct.”

I had an idea. This would clear the air a lot. “Swear to me. Swear by the hive that you will only speak the truth to me about all this. That if you even try to lie to me it will disown you.” I held up a hand.

She slowly put up the mirroring hand. The very idea of losing the hive was horrifying to her. She shook like a leaf at the very concept. “I... I...” This was big to her. It must have meant more to her than I could've realized. She slowly put her hand down on the table, apart from mine, and hung her head down. “I... cannot. The risk is too great, no matter the reward.”

Sangria looked at me with shock at my demand. She touched my arm. “Please Nohbodi. You do not fully understand what you ask. To lose the connection to the hive is incomprehensible!” Sangria had tears in her eyes from only hearing of it. Aranea was softly sobbing on the table, unable to continue. I sat there, staring into space, thinking about it. This meant more to them than I can conceive of. Changelings were actors, I know. But something like this isn't acting, no matter how good you are.

I had gone too far.

I held Aranea's chin up with a hand, and locked our eyes. “I'm sorry. I didn't know it was that much to you.” I felt like shit, with good reason. Sometimes I forget that we're not only from different worlds. We have different minds. She had to learn to receive honest love. I had to learn about connections like this. “Just... tell me you'll be honest, and I'll believe you.”

The tears ran down my hand as it held her up. “I will tell you only truth.” Tears were welling in my eyes now too.

“Thank you.” We all took a few minutes to recover. When it looked like we were ready to start again “So the Equestria hive is doing well?”

“Yes. There are still some ponies that disagree with the proclamation of the princesses, but the changelings are safe and fed. Most of them are gainfully employed or have significant others.”

“That took a long time.”

“I had to work slowly. Without you, it was difficult to gain the energy required. I could not simply locate and heal my changelings with all my power. If I were to starve myself, it would cause chaos within the hive, and possibly null the efforts of the legislation.”

“So you did need me that much...”

“I did. If I had known your reaction, I would have been able to declare 'yes' at that point. I wanted to, even with the risk, but I could not. Please understand that I could not place the future of my species on one being. I do not know enough to rely solely on you in that degree.” She looked at Sangria. “The Crystal Empire hive is very healthy.”

“Much as I'd like to, I can't claim credit for that. They took care of each other here – there were enough to do that, I mean.”

“You have still done much.” Sangria pointed out. “Numerous changelings are employed by you, as well as supplying enough energy to be shared throughout the hive.” Most of the unicorns working on recipes were actually changelings in disguise.

“It must have taken a considerable amount of time without coupling, Nohbodi. I commend you on your efforts.”

Wait, she didn't know? I thought just touching the hive-mind spread everything around? That means changelings can hide from the queen, maybe even defy her. No, that's pulling too much out of the idea, probably. It means she didn't try to get anything out of them. She really did leave them all free will.

Even if she didn't have it completely herself.

That was worth more than an oath to me. Everything she was saying just had to be true now. Even if I wasn't completely right in my surmisings, it meant that she was playing fair. She was sacrificing to play fair. Looks like I had to do the same. “Um, that's not entirely accurate...”

Aranea let go of my hand. “So... you have found another love? Is it possible for humans to love multiple beings as such?”

Sangria and I turned to each other at the same time. “Is it so difficult for humans to couple? Did our night together constitute more than I had anticipated?”

“No. Yes. Let me explain... If you were waiting for permission to share that kind of thing, do it. It'll make this easier.” Aranea and Sangria locked eyes for a moment. Both displayed surprise at what they learned. After that I went about explaining that, despite many humans being far more prudish than ponies at this subject, we were sometimes impulsive.

“So our coupling was a mistake?”

“I wouldn't call it that. I care about you Sangria, I really do. I acted faster than I should have, but with time...”

“We can both sense the concern and worry, Nohbodi. This is extremely difficult for you to vocalize.”

“You're right. I can't really explain it. You two're understanding more than another human would as it is.” I took one of their hands in each of mine. “I care about both of you, I really do. Aranea, I was wrong about you, and I'm sorry. There isn't really a way to make up for something this big. Sangria, I hope I said it well enough that it wasn't insulting. I didn't try to lead you on. If I were wired to love you both, I would. But it's not the way I am. Don't know what to do now...”

They looked at each other, silently talking. “We understand your position, as much as we are able. You do not need to do anything currently. You have done much for the hive, and we hope you will retain such excellent relations in the future. There is much to be codified yet here, both within the hive and and Crystal Empire.” Aranea rose from the table. There was so much emotion she was nearly whole again. Maybe the other changelings gave her some of their energy while we were talking. Maybe it was all from my disordered mental state. I thought, I knew.

I still loved her.

“Sangria.” I shifted focus as Aranea addressed her. “You have the greatest knowledge of the hive here, as well as the strongest ties to others involved. Will you accept the responsibility of watching over the Crystal Hive in my absence?”

Sangria thought on this for what seemed like a long time. Finally, she responded. “Have the other changelings here been made aware of this intention? We have lived peacefully with free will since our separation. I could not endanger them in this regard any more than you could the hive.”

“We have exchanged willing information with the changelings while I traveled to this location. They have given their assent to the idea of an 'official' liaison.”

“Then I accept.”

They both shifted to changeling, after Sangria put her dress on a chair, and a field of green spanned the horns. Sangria began to grow. After a minute, it ended. The growth wasn't a huge difference, like with Aranea's change. She was slightly taller. Her limbs were longer, and her horn seemed smoother. When it was complete, Aranea took a moment to catch her breath. It must be very intensive to permanently change one like that, even a small change. Some gaps returned, but she was still 'safely full'.

They shifted back to human. Sangria's new body was slightly taller, and simply exuded grace. She was perhaps five foot even now, while her figure filled out more. She was even more striking now. They were both beautiful, in their own way.

More importantly, Aranea had given another that kind of power. Even a minor amount is a big thing when you're from a species that is used to an absolute hierarchy. This was going to be a tremendous change for changelings everywhere, no matter how small it may seem to one used to Earth governments. I didn't get all of it, but I could at least grasp the concept that this meant a lot to them. I ran up to Aranea and hugged her tightly. She really did act like a mother to her people.

Even when it came to letting go.

I loved her all over again.

Fine, I'm still a fool. Aranea looked down at me with a gentle smile. She knew. She gingerly broke off the hug, partially restored already, and returned to changeling, while Sangria put on the now-shorter dress. “I must return to Shining Armor and Cadence shortly. May I visit you again?”

“Gladly.” I still didn't know entirely what to make of what just happened. I know I was wrong about her. But, somehow, I didn't know what to do from here.

Should I try for her all over again?

Business Acumen

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With streaks of dried tears on all our faces, we left for the main room. A crowd waited for us. She quickly told the changelings that things were alright – or at least I think she did, no one was pissed at me. The changelings in turn started explaining things to the ponies in attendance as Aranea left for the palace. We went out separate ways as I turned towards work.

The first official batch was ready to go out. Before finalizing anything, I got in touch with Sangria. She explained to me that the keep at that place was essentially pardoned, since no one really knew about the watching, and it effectively gave them a place to be together and share energy anyway. With that taken care of, his place became one of the first bars in the world.

I'd stopped giving lessons to the changelings, since they all got it by now. Sometimes I would get a visit asking my opinion on human forms. Another two chose them as a permanent base. They got the proportions right in general, mostly. Anatomy was cross-compared with pony, so frames were often slightly androgynous. Females would have smaller breasts, while males would have anatomy that put natural humans to shame. I had to explain that human anatomy was weird like that, that proportions were far different than ponies. I wasn't going around telling them to have double Ds or something, or trying to get into a competition with the guys. They picked up on it quickly enough, though neither gender was happy with the male size. Until they 'tried' it and found out it worked for the body it came with. I also had to remind them that humans can't go naked in public. They liked that even less, but law was law, and that law was okay.

Speaking of laws, the Equestrian standard was adopted during her first visit. Aranea would make sure to visit me whenever she was here on business. We spent a lot of time talking. Everything was rekindling, but I was afraid to try again. I threw myself into my work like before.

The crystal project was retired a month later. Every one they knew about was contained. All the ponies on the team and myself were set for a long time. Most of them retired to home. I felt sorry for them. Working with those things almost gave them 'untouchable' status. Well after the fact ponies were wary of dealing with them, like they were dangerous themselves. We all got together one day to petition Cadence and Shining. They issued a decree to be published that all safety measures were taken, and that all ponies involved were in good health and of no danger to the populace. Slowly but surely, others were willing to get close to them again. Two of them wrote books on the crystals for universities. The theories they got from the study led to a lot of work. Word was these “theoretical radiology” ideas were going to end up being a completely new field. Just like the changeling and human studies, massive numbers were sold. Those two were set for life. The rest got more standard jobs, found someone, and settled down.

A second edition of the changeling book was released, with a collection of errata to be applied to the first edition. That didn't sell as many copies, and the errata package was far cheaper. Schools were updated, and Aranea had a sizeable fund for the maintenance of the home where about half of the Equestrian changelings lived.

I set up focus groups for a few new products. It didn't pan out as well as beer. Earth ponies mostly appreciated the idea of modified Earth tools that could fit on a hoof, but a few were insulted. They could do just as well holding a manual tool in their mouth, and I didn't know enough to 'invent' more complex stuff. Some things I never will figure out. To think that twisting a cherry stem was awesome on Earth, heh. I wondered if the mares could use that kind of skill for anything else, but decided against it. Still only attracted to human forms, and I'd prefer to keep it that way. Good thing it was me ending up here instead of some fetishist. So the tool idea folded pretty quickly.

I never was a fan of beer salt, but figured it was worth a shot here. That one almost got me arrested. Shelved indefinitely. Seems salt is classified as a drug here, if taken pure.

The R & D department came up with a few more styles to try. Most were successful, at least in certain markets. Through the Crystal Empire's diplomatic ties I was able to talk to higher-ups in nearby nations.

The Griffin Kingdom was always looking for new business ideas. From what I'd heard they've improved socially, but it's still cutthroat business compared to Equestria and the Empire. They liked their brew with more bitterness than ponies. The stuff ended up something like an ipa. It's not very popular with ponies, but it went over great there. Most of the supply of that blend in the Empire is in my personal stock now. A high-ranking griffin made a diplomatic visit here, and had a tour of the brewery while she was here. I still have a copy of the newspaper photo of us having a beer in the palace framed in my office.

Yakyakistan had a problem with alcohol. It didn't take long for me to decide to back out. It could only hurt relations at this point.

I tried to find something for dragons, but we couldn't figure it out. One, there was one dragon, and he was underage. After a couple of kids got stupid they were quick to pass laws about it. That wasn't a surprise at all, and I agreed to it right away. It looked better than trying to fight it. Two, the country was too far away to really be viable. Three, and the primary reason we couldn't come up with anything, breathing fire doesn't react well to alcohol. With it burning up on entry, alcohol doesn't work on dragons. Idea shelved.

The buffalo took to it pretty easily. Making some of that needed authorization from the chief. There was a local cactus they had that could cause trouble in large amounts. We set up a system of importation and processing. The result tasted kind of like agave. A combination of that and the Equestrian brand worked out for a solid income.

Everything was set. I was loaded – in the money sense. I still drink, but not as much as I used to. Working with something constantly does that. Plus I saw a few get themselves in trouble with the drinking. Those warning labels saved my ass there. I never hid the fact that you have to have control.


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About once a month during this time, I'd get a visit from Aranea and Sangria. We'd all talk about how the changelings were doing. I wasn't officially part of it, at least not anymore, but I had the strongest ties to them of anyone else.

While Aranea was here, Butterfly was in charge in Equestria. They showed me a picture of her, which is also now in my office. She'd had the same boost that Sangria had. It wasn't quite as noticeable to me without seeing her in person, but it was there. She elected to keep a changeling form as her default. Poor gal still had the scars, even though she healed and grew. She looked tough, but she was just as caring as could be. Just as Aranea's magic had refocused on defenses, Butterfly tended towards healing. I think she chose to keep the scars. She was a living example of forgiveness and life. She'd just gotten engaged too. I was cordially invited to the wedding. Of course I would attend. It was going to take place a few months from now, plenty of time to plan.

The next month, there was news of another wedding, a more immediate one. Aurora had, long ago, lost her husband to crystal radiation. Back when the changelings were in hiding, a changeling had willingly outed himself with the offer of reliving her time with her husband. It wasn't the same – she would've known soon enough, even if he tried to hide it. All the same, they grew to really love each other, just as strongly. After he didn't have to hide anymore, he took a form similar to her husband. He kept it different enough that he wasn't attempting to hide it anymore. He proposed the same day the law was passed. Taking the name Borealis, they were wed in front of the crystal palace. Sangria officiated it, while Aranea and I were welcome guests. It was the first open changeling-pony marriage in the Empire. Another picture for the office.

Next month there wasn't much changeling news. We talked mostly finances that time. All the new brews had been approved and travel routes for delivery were set. There wasn't much left for me to do but mind a house that was being built. I would've had one sooner, but I had a little place in the brewery that was good enough, after the barracks-style station from crystal disposal was retrofitted into apartments. Aranea's house had been complete for a couple of months now, and everything was going well. I told her I would visit at the wedding.

Next month I was alone with Aranea. Sangria was asked to officiate another wedding. This one was pony-pony. It was a nice show for relations. Relations were good in general, but there were always a few that wouldn't let go of the past. Aranea and I hugged.

“I missed these times with you, Nohbodi.”

“Me too. Listen, I'm still sorry about messing it up and not trusting you.” I didn't mean to say that last part. From time to time I remember it still. We'd grown closer again over the past few months, but it was still professional. I was too scared to try anything besides trying to make it right. “Is there anything I can do to make it up?”

“For now, let us just enjoy our time together. Collect some of your beverages, and we will talk.”

I grabbed a sampler pack and a bottle of special. I wasn't selling that. It was a type of crystal-berry wine I had been making for myself, only for special occasions. I only tried enough to get it right, and it's never been used for its purpose until now. We retired to a patio out back that would host tastings during the day. I put out the glasses and poured the wine before I even considered the beer.

“What is this new substance?”

“A kind of wine I've been working on.”

“Oh. When will it be available for public purchase?”

“It won't. Personal thing, only for special occasions.” I handed her a glass. “Like this.”

It was a little strong, but not harsh. We both enjoyed it and talked about the past. Then the present. Then the future.

“Do you and Sangria enjoy the company of each other?”

“She's a good friend.” We would hug when we met each other, but I haven't laid with her since that one time.

“You care about her deeply.”

“I do.” Was this going where I think it was?

“You have not coupled with her again?” Yep, that direction.


“Why do you not, as you might say, 'go for it'?”

I looked up at her, then back to the glass. I cared for Sangria, but I loved Aranea. I didn't want to hurt her again, now that I knew I was so wrong, now that some days I can't seem to forget. I was in a holding pattern, focusing on work and changelings in general to keep myself from it. I couldn't do a thing about either. And I couldn't lie to her. “You know why.”

“Nohbodi. Look up.” I obeyed her command. The very moment my eyes met hers, she lunged forward.

And kissed me.

We held onto that kiss for as long as we could hold our breath. On release she came over and wrapped her arms around me from behind, as I'd done long ago. “I know that you still love me. You know that I still love you. Let us forget the details for now.” She knew my worry, and she knew that I wouldn't – couldn't – do anything about it. She was taking the initiative. That night...

We were together again.

It wasn't feeding, it was an expression. She'd forgiven me. For everything that's happened, for all the times I let my perception cause trouble, she would still forgive me.

But I couldn't forgive myself.

We laid there after that, staring up at the stars, in the open air. It was good that no one could've seen us back there at this hour. In the silence I thought on what had just happened. There was no question that I loved her. But to not give her the same benefit of the doubt she gave me. There was no forgiving that. The worry was noticed again.

“You need not think on such things Nohbodi. Time has repaired such small wounds, and you need no renumeration.”

“Maybe. But I still can't forgive myself for being so stupid.” I turned on my side, facing her. “If there's anything I can do, just tell me. Anything.”

Aranea thought about it. There was no just forgiving me, she knew that. I'd been beating myself up over it since it happened, whenever I had the time from work to think. “Very well. I will ensure you obey a very important command to me, so as to fulfill that promise.” I was kind of scared at that. We both knew that it would have to be something big. Something life-changing. Something I wouldn't dare do on my own. “Do not be so afraid Nohbodi, you will know in due time.”

“You will see.”

Tying the Knot

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Everything was set up for me to leave. In fact, it was set for me to retire. Bitters, the earth pony-shaped changeling of the original train-ride three, had been my foreman since I began business. He was to officially take over next month. In turn I was going to officially announce my retirement, and settle into the finally-completed house. The wedding of Butterfly was in Ponyville, and I was on my way there soon.

It was going to be impressive, a royal wedding of sorts. In truth, it kind of was. With her increase in power, Butterfly was basically a sub-queen or duchess, like Sangria was. All the local royalty were coming along as guests. Shining Armor, Cadence, and Sangria. I was going too, along with Bitters and Rising Dough. Rising Dough was the third of the original. She did her own thing as, obviously enough, a baker. We haven't kept in contact like the rest, but the odd letter comes through. She'd been working on beer bread recipes, and was doing well for herself. In fact, she told me she was going to propose to her marefriend next week. So many weddings lately, not that it's a bad thing.

The train was filled with excited chatter about the impending wedding of Butterfly and Limestone. Lime was an owner of another rock farm, and a distant relative of the Pies by his grandparents' marriage. Looks like changelings were going to be tied to ponies even more closely now, with intermarriage between changeling royalty and an effective relation of Pinkie. From what I'd heard on the train, Pinkie went all-out because of that. Well, she'd go all-out for anything, but you get the idea.

The entire car we were in was filled with guests, both invited specifically and by a general open invitation. Nearly all the changelings were here actually. No doubt all of them in Ponyville and probably Equestria were going to be there too.

Half of Ponyville's space was dedicated to rooming this many folks. Every hotel was full, and a goodly number with extra beds were offering space. I've been here for... I don't really know. A year at least, maybe a little more, and it still surprised me how kind everyone could be. Most of them anyway. We've had a few villains. I should know.

I'm one of them.

I followed the others in silence after that thought, to the invited seating arrangements.

“Nohbodi?” Sangria picked up on it.

“It's nothing.”

“That means it is something.”

I looked at her with a feeble smile. “I'll be fine.”

I took my place next to Aranea in the assigned seating. Sangria was next to me from there. They looked at each other for a while, followed by sharing a smile between them. Aranea put her arm around my shoulder. I couldn't help but join them in smiling. We came here for a wedding, not for me moping around.

This one was headed by princess Luna. She had volunteered with ease to officiate this one. Plus she was standing royalty here, even with the odd proliferation of royalty that was here in general. Guess you had to outrank the ones you were marrying together or something. Or I'm overthinking it.

“Beloved guests, both ponies and changelings, we are gathered her for a most joyous occasion!” Of course she was using the royal Canterlot voice. This time it really needed to carry that far. “We are here to bind together in matrimony Butterfly, scion of the Changeling Empire, and her betrothed, Limestone.”

A pause was granted for the cheers of the crowd. Man, I'd never seen anything like it.

“Butterfly, do you take this pony through all your times, in sickness and health, in need and plenty, in love and life, as long as you both shall live?”

She stood proudly, misty-eyed at the knowledge of what she was about to experience. “I do.”

“Limestone, do you take this changeling through all your times, in sickness and health, in need and plenty, in love and life, as long as you both shall live?”

Limestone looked up at his taller bride-to-be with a smile that defied calculation. “I do.”

“Is there any being in attendance that can procure a reason that these two should not be wed? Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

Nobody every interrupts here. Makes me wonder why they still have it in there.

“Then by my powers as lunar princess and co-regent of Equestria, I now pronounce you wife and husband!”

Cheers erupted throughout the entire city as the moved in for the nuptial kiss. Both lasted longer than breath should have allowed. Blushes replaced the cheers as those in attendance had to give up the noise. You couldn't tell the difference between being out of air, and knowing what that kiss meant when it came to their faces.

A moment of appreciation for the scene before us allowed breath to be regained. Once everyone was back to guaranteed consciousness, Pinkie jumped from her seat to a vertical distance that only she could do. “Now let's get this wedding party started!”

Cheers came again as ponies impatiently waited for the couple to walk back down the isle to the absolutely massive cake. No amount was enough in a single cake for this crowd. Several bakers had tables full of themed cakes for everyone else. I, of course, had a loaded, magically-refrigerated train behind ours with the libations. My special wine wasn't on sale, but I did have several bottles. One of which was gifted to the couple, along with the regular present.

Everyone came up in turns to offer their congratulations to the new pair, and filtered off to talk with friends or family. I had the time to catch up with Sky Sprinkle. She'd been growing up, and was a burgeoning master of kinetic magic. We filled each other in on (Most) of what had happened. Nice kid. I should start keeping in touch more. Cake after cake was demolished, beer after beer was consumed, and a great time was had by all. Even though the relations to the Pies were distant at best, everyone gladly accepted it as an intermarriage between the 'new' Changeling Empire and Equestria. It was a sign of a better world to come.

Aranea and Sangria were talking with the princesses, plus Shining Armor. They nodded in unison at something. Then she turned around and face me from their distance. The shout rang out through the air, stopping several in earshot.

“Nohbodi!” I turned towards her as she started moving.

“The time has come to pay your debt for your actions, both for myself and for all changelings!”

Here? Oh no... Everything was about to go to hell real fast. I'd feel sorry for the new couple if I wasn't scared shitless at the moment. A swath of ponies quickly moved to give the queen a clear line to me.

This was it. This was going to be devastating. I didn't know what she would demand of me. It was more than I'd anticipated, to be in this huge crowd when it happened. She reached me from across the expanse. “You had declared you would assent to anything I wished of you.”

I was shaking. “I-I did.” The crowd stared in rapt attention at the scene. She stared me down from her taller perspective. She was human, clad in a royal dress.

She was intimidating.

She was terrifying.

She was beautiful.

“What c-can I do for you?” I froze in place. Here it comes...

She pulled a small box from within her dress and held it forward. With a flick of a finger, it opened in front of me.

It was the engagement ring from that fateful day.

“You can say 'yes'.”