Gallus gulped as he walked up the steps to the School of Friendship. Normally, even the outside of the cheery building was bustling with other students, staff, and visitors. Ponies would lay on blankets out in the nearby field, enjoying the sun, picnics, perhaps toss a frisbee about. Batponies would hang upside down from the eves of the roof, snoozing before night classes began. Some of the non-pony students from the other nations would be interspersed amongst the rest--another griffon such as himself placing a whoopee cushion for an unsuspecting pony to sit upon, a small swarm of changelings trying to outperform one another in a game of charades.
Today, the field and the exterior of the school was empty, though the sun still shone bright overhead. Gallus assumed most of the other students had gone home for the long weekend, or at the very least, were sleeping in at the dorms.
Not him, though.
Gallus sighed, at last pushing open the front doors and entering the grand hall. The place was eerily bigger when it was so empty, and he could almost swear he could hear the echo of his heartbeat ringing in his ears.
The nearer Gallus drew to the doors at the end of the hall, the more his mind raced to catch up with his heart. His friends would be waiting on the other side of those doors, and for once, he was dreading seeing them.
Despite himself, though, Gallus couldn’t help but crack a small grin. The reason behind all of this may have landed them all here over the long weekend, but by the great griffon gods’ gizzards, had it been hilarious. Gallus only hoped his friends would agree.
After a short walk through the grand hall, Gallus pushed opened the doors to the library. The door slammed shut behind him, propelled by a purplish-magenta aura.
“You’re late, Mr. Gallus,” tutted the all-too-familiar voice of the head mare.
“Sorry, Miss Twilight,” Gallus said with a wince, the tip of his leonine tail having just barely avoided being caught in the door.
He turned his attention from Twilight, who looked more annoyed than angry, to the rest of the library. A few study tables had been arranged in the front lobby area, but today they were free of students cramming for exams or pretending to read books while they lazily flipped through comics.
Today, four other non-pony students and one earth pony stallion sat at different tables. They looked to have been avoiding eye contact, or perhaps even staring off into space, before he entered. Now, all eyes were silently on Gallus, with mixed emotions.
“Hey, guys,” he ventured.
Smolder merely rolled her eyes, tapping a claw against the table. Yona looked even more disgruntled, and Ocellus... Gallus felt worst looking at her somber avoidance. The poor little changeling must be taking this hard; Gallus highly doubted she’d ever been in any kind of trouble before this ‘incident.’
Sandbar, Gallus’ own roommate at the student dorms, looked... Well, he honestly looked doped out of his mind. He must have taken more than a puff of his secret stash last night after Gallus’ crashed to ‘cope with the stress.’
At least Silverstream seemed to have thought the whole ordeal funny, as she had clamped both claws around her beak, mirthful tears in her eyes as she struggled to stop herself from bursting out laughing. She was shaking as it was.
“Is there a problem, Miss Silverstream?” Twilight asked.
“Ha!” Silverstream finally burst. “I mean, no, sorry, Miss Twilight.”
Silverstream still looked like she was trying to choke down giggles, but had for now turned away.
“You all know why you’re here,” Twilight said at last, motioning for Gallus to take a seat at the one empty table. “The School of Friendship encourages creativity, but not such a flagrant disregard for professionalism, and what’s worse, your little stunt could have hurt several students.”
“But it didn’t,” Gallus muttered under his breath.
“What was that, Mr. Gallus?” Twilight intoned.
“Nothing, ma’am,” Gallus quickly amended. “Although... If I may have permission to speak?”
Twilight looked like she might deny his request, but finally sighed and nodded.
“None of the rest of my friends had anything to do with this,” Gallus said. “Please, they shouldn’t be punished for my... Mistake.”
“That’s just the problem, Mr. Gallus,” Twilight said. “You don’t seem to think it was a mistake at all. If you hadn’t involved your friends, it would have also only been your mistake, whether you view it as such or not. But as it is, they each knew of your plan and none of them informed a professor, much less tried to stop you, apparently.”
“Ocellus tried to talk me out of it,” Gallus corrected.
“And yet she still provided a distraction,” Twilight said with a glare. “By impersonating me, I might add.”
The room was silent for a moment, save a low whimper that Gallus was certain had come from Ocellus.
“You’re all here to think on the consequences of your actions,” Twilight finished. “You all are free to leave at six this evening, with a brief break for lunch. I’ll expect you all back bright and early tomorrow morning, and the day after as well.”
“But that’s all weekend!” Gallus gasped. “I thought it was just supposed to be for today.”
“It was,” Twilight said as she exited. “But that was before you were tardy. Spike will be back to supervise momentarily.”
Earning another heated round of glares, save from a still-giggling Silverstream, Gallus slumped in his chair. He could hear the ticking of the clock mounted on the far wall, like a metronome pounding into his skull.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as the holes he felt boring into his feathers from his friends' glares.
After what felt like an eternity but was most likely only a few seconds, Gallus shouted, “It was just a prank!”
His outburst was immediately followed up by a fist slamming down on the adjacent table, nearly buckling the wood. Gallus risked a glance over to see smoke pouring from Smolder’s nostrils, literal fire in her eyes.
“This was all your idea!” she raged. “You dragged us into it!”
“You could have said no!” Gallus rebutted, but merely shrunk back again when Smolder stood up, flame licking about her lips.
"Griffon yap, yap, yap forever!" Yona growled.
“Yona's right,” Smolder shouted. “Maybe we would have said no if you hadn’t kept bothering us for weeks! We’re all going to be laughing stocks as it is, Ocellus is bound to have nightmares, and--”
“Whoa, whoa, don’t harsh the mellow of the world-vibe, yo,” spoke a subdued voice.
They each turned in their seats to look at Sandbar, his reddened eyes staring straight ahead, unseeing, or perhaps, seeing everything all at once.
“Stay out of this, Sandy,” Smolder huffed. “You were on Gallus’ side the whole time!”
“No, I mean, like, crank down the volume, for real, you feel me?” Sandbar replied, still unblinking, not meeting anyone’s gaze.
"DO NOT WANT QUIET!" Yona shouted. "WANT TO BE ANGRY!"
The arguing was quickly silenced by a fit of laughter, sounding as if it had been constrained for far too long. For once, it wasn’t coming from Silverstream, either.
“You guys are more than Pinkie sometimes,” chortled an adolescent draconic voice.
Each student winced and turned to see Spike sitting on the librarian’s front desk, presumably having slipped in during the heated discussion. He kicked his knees idly, smiling a wide, toothy-grin.
“Please don’t tell me you’re going to give us more detention for talking,” Gallus implored.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, dragon’s honor,” Spike replied, to a chorus of relieved sighs. “Of course, I will have to tell Twilight, and I can’t say what she’ll do.”
The sighs quickly devolved into muted grumbling.
Gallus, Smolder, and the rest resumed slumping in their chairs. Ocellus looked as if she was on the verge of crying, Yona not too far off herself.
Spike, meanwhile, hopped down from the desk and circled around to the back. Climbing atop the librarian’s swivel chair, he pulled out a gemstone and a comic he must have stashed in the desk earlier, chomping as he read.
The clock ticked away, slowly driving its sonic piledriver ever further into Gallus’ skull.
After a few moments more, Gallus felt his eyelids growing heavy. The metronomic tick of the clock faded to a gentle lull, and he settled his head onto the table.
If today was going to be nothing but sitting here, being bored, he may as well sleep it away.
He’d hardly closed his eyes when Spike called over, “Sorry, no sleeping.”
Grumbling, Gallus picked his head back up.
“Mr. Spike, is there--” Gallus began.
“Just Spike, please,” Spike chuckled. “‘Mr. Spike’ sounds too weird.”
“Spike,” Gallus continued, trying his best not to shout. “Is there anything we can do? Can we...”
Gallus swept the library with his gaze. Unfortunately, although he didn’t know what else he should have expected, all he could see were the endless rows and rows of books.
“...Read?” Gallus finished at last. “I mean, you’re reading.”
Spike looked to be considering things for a moment.
“Twilight probably wouldn’t mind if you all were doing something educational,” he mused, though not unkindly. “Sure, I’ll give you all a few minutes to grab a nonfiction book.”
At this point, thankful to have anything at all, Gallus smiled and rose from his chair. The others quickly did the same. Gallus grinned sheepishly at them, hoping his small victory would have made them them at least somewhat forgiving, but based on the glares, he doubted it.
Gallus nearly apologized, but hesitated. In the next instant, his friends had disappeared into the bookshelves. With a sigh, he followed suit.
Reaching a bookshelf at random, Gallus extended a talon to the spine of the nearest book, titled The Proud History of the Griffons.
Gallus cursed himself. Of course.
You’re better than that, he thought. You can be strong and proud AND still be sorry you got your friends into this mess.
Gallus inhaled, prepared to find the nearest of his friends and do just that, only to feel the breath leave his lungs in a defeated sigh yet again.
Maybe they’ll come around on their own, he thought, not convincing himself. They know I didn’t mean any harm... Right?
Screwing up his beak into a contorted frown, Gallus headed deeper into the bookshelves. There were so many books, how was he supposed to just pick one at random? He certainly was no reader, but if he had only books to turn to in this war against boredom, Gallus admitted that he could do far worse than griffon history. The rise and fall of the kingdoms across the ages were littered with battles against fearsome beasts, magical mysteries, and more often not, other griffons. He’d never actually want to be in a life-or-death brawl, but history was one of the few subjects on which Gallus didn’t need to borrow notes.
“One minute warning,” Spike called over the library.
Gallus plucked a book at random after all and hurried back to the tables. The other students had already seated themselves with their own choices. Smolder was idly flipping through a book on gemstones, probably contemplating lunch. Sandbar and Yona had scooted their tables together to share a large book regarding geography. Ocellus, unsurprisingly, had chosen a thick, old treatise on advanced magical theory. Silverstream, also unsurprisingly, looked to be reading a book about spoons, upside down and backwards.
“You all good?” Spike asked, to a chorus of muted nods. “Excellent. I’ll be right back--no talking, please.”
Spike hopped down from his chair and exited the library. The moment the door closed behind him, Smolder leaned over to Gallus and whispered, “Didn’t take you for an egghead, Gally.”
“Don’t call me that,” Gallus snapped, only to quickly furrow his brow at the first insult. “And what do you mean, egghead?”
She snickered and gestured to the book he had chosen.
“Metamorphamagica?” he read, not quite sure he was even saying the title correctly, imprinted as it was in a curlicued script in a tiny gold plate inset into the cover. The book itself looked even older than the tome Ocellus had chosen, nearly falling apart and coated in dust.
“Looks like a magic book,” Smolder commented. “You can’t even do magic.”
“I grabbed this from the ‘griffon history’ section,” Gallus said. “What was this doing over there?”
“Mr. Spike said no talking, please,” Ocellus whispered. “He could come back at any moment.”
With anyone else, Gallus would have argued, but he relented for Ocellus. He’d already done enough harm to her, perhaps her most of all.
Turning back to the book, Gallus almost pushed the decrepit tome away rather than risk further teasing from Smolder. Still...
Tick. Tick. Tick, went the clock.
There would be no escaping boredom without at least trying to read the book, whatever it was. Besides, who knew? It could still be about something interesting. Some magic was intriguing, in its own way. Maybe this book was where it had been because it somehow related to griffons after all... Did griffons use magic in their many wars, at some point?
Regardless, Gallus flipped open to the first page.
The thaumaturge has no higher duty than the rigorous study of the most arcane of arts and the recitation of the proper incantation at the proper time with the proper purpose, Gallus read, his heart sinking and his eyes threatening to glaze over already.
Still, he pressed on.
The most ancient of magics is that of the transmutation. The alchemist is a catalyst for the metamorphosis of geologic entities into their own antithesis, such as the fabled philosopher’s stone and its ability to change lead into gold.
Gallus flipped a few pages more.
Spiritual transmogrification is an advanced form of higher thaumaturgy best reserved for the practiced shaman or priest of the elder deities. Although the demonologist has often found success in such fields as well, theirs is a dark magic that is forbidden in all civilized lands, and of it no more shall be discussed amongst these reputable pages.
Gallus flipped quite a lot further into the book still, nearly splitting it at the middle.
Bio-thaumaturgic-meta-reformation is by far the most complex and difficult to master of all the arcane magics of transformative mysticism. It should never, under any circumstances, be undertaken by anything less than a wizened sage. That being said, should a studious apprentice wish to learn--though not recite--the spells needed to master such an art, it is important to know that...
And then, the ink faded, blotched, and spattered across the page. It seemed that whoever had been writing this, most likely with an ink quill more centuries ago than Gallus was willing to count, had lost control of his writing utensil. The page itself was a bit more weathered than the rest of the book as well, and parts of it even looked torn.
Most curious of all, though, was the single raised circular something-or-other in the center of the page. A deep purple, its casing looked vaguely like Ocellus’ chitinous shell, despite possessing the faintest of glows.
“What in the world?” Gallus murmured as he tapped the thing with a talon.
The tiny thing juttered with a chittering screech, nearly causing Gallus to jump backwards as it tore itself from the page. Tiny mandibles and far too many eyes regarded him with insect revulsion. Its mandibles swallowed the last tatters of parchment that had still been half-stuck down its miniature throat, its many legs skittering away.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Gallus said, catching the tiny creature in his claws like a small cage.
“What is that?” asked Smolder, having looked up to watch the tiny altercation.
“I think it’s one of those bugs Head Mare Twilight warned us about,” Gallus said. “A book worm? Those things that eat paper? I should probably get rid of it for her. Maybe she’ll even lessen our sentence.”
Gallus cringed at his bad attempt at a joke, tightening his grip on the bug.
“No, Gallus, don’t!” Ocellus cried, but it was too late.
With a sickening crunch, the creature’s shell casing crashed in on itself, iridescent goo seeping through Gallus’ claws.
“Oh, sorry, Ocellus,” Gallus said, imagining it must have been rather unpleasant to a changeling to watch a bug squashed, even an unintelligent one. “I probably should have waited till Spike got back and let it outside...”
“No, that’s not it,” Ocellus whimpered. “That wasn’t a book worm. That was a witch-weevil.”
“A what?” Gallus asked, his talons feeling oddly tingly.
Whatever was in that bug’s inner fluids must have been some nasty gunk indeed. Without thinking, Gallus' flicked his talons, flinging some goop onto the table and wiping the rest of the residue off on his coat.
“No!” Ocellus yelled, perhaps the loudest he’d ever heard her speak.
“What?” Gallus asked, genuinely worried now. “They’re not poisonous or anything, are they?”
“Witch-weevils eat the pages of spell books, feeding off of the magical residue left by the unicorns who used them,” Ocellus explained in a rush, having gotten up from her chair, rather unexpectedly. “They attune to the spells used the most, and they store them inside themselves. Killing it just let all that magic seep out!”
Gallus never thought he’d ever see the day with Ocellus willingly disobeyed a direct order from the school staff, but now he understood why. What had the book said about bio-meta-whatever-it-was? That it was only for the most advanced wizards?
“Gah!” Gallus gasped, looking for a tissue, a paper towel, anything to rub off the rest of the goo from his claw and coat. “Get it off!”
“A-are we fine?” Smolder asked. “I mean, only Gallus touched it, and--”
“I don’t know!” Ocellus said. “But we need to get as far away from the magical field as possible. It could be in the air right now!”
The rest of the students’ eyes widened, and for once, even Silverstream looked deadly serious.
Gallus nearly tripped over the table in his rush to reach the librarian’s front desk, looking for anything he could use to wipe away the witch-weevil’s crushed innards, but by then the tingling had grown tenfold. What had started as the pins-and-needles sensation of a limb fallen asleep had become something far more intense, and far more bizarre. Gallus could see tiny ripples burbling beneath the scales of his avian forelegs like goosebumps, something that should have been impossible on the hardened flesh.
“Gallus, what did you do?!” Smolder snapped, although her voice sounded odd, somehow, like it was cracking, and then... Deepening? And had she always been that tall?
“I didn’t know!” Gallus said, his last word squeaking up an octave, sounding almost melodic, like a songbird’s chirp. “Wait, is that my voice?!”
The last word of his second exclamation had sounded even higher-pitched than the first. It sounded almost... Like the voice of a...
Gallus nearly doubled over as a further bizarre sensation wracked through him, this time focusing deeply internally, as if the ripples beneath his flesh had burrowed inwards to play havoc with his insides. It felt as if his stomach was trying to sneak into a new position, and the rest of his innards weren’t being too still, either.
No, it wasn’t his stomach, Gallus realized. He could still very much feel his stomach being pushed into a new position, but at the same time, he could sense the strangest feeling of something new forming, adding itself to his inner workings, and it wasn’t alone.
So unsettling was the feeling of his very body reshaping itself from the inside that Gallus’ limbs felt unsteady, causing him to fall back on his rump and realize that his insides weren’t the only things changing. For one, the impact didn’t feel as hard as he would have thought, as if his rear were sitting on a slight cushion... A cushion that was still slowly fluffing up.
Gasping, another octave higher still, Gallus looked down to see his leonine hind legs pushing further apart as his hips expanded, his rear end filling out to a rounder, softer, and ultimately more noticeable shape.
A shape he had recognized on a few of the griffon girls he’d occasionally eyed in the school...
Gallus’ eyes widened as he looked up, lids feeling a bit heavier for some reason, although he was suspecting why. There was now something else feeling decidedly different down by his hind legs.
“I think I’m going to puke,” Gallus uttered, his voice now unmistakably of a far more feminine cantor.
All around him, the others didn’t seem to be faring much better.
Smolder was definitely getting taller, her body stretching upward even as parts of it pushed outwards as well. Her once-scrawny limbs gained more of a muscular definition, the sudden new weight sending her careening off-balance and crashing to the floor. She let out an aggravated “Ouch!” several octaves lower than what Gallus was used to hearing. Even Smolder’s snout was growing larger, adopting a squarish, more boxy shape.
Ocellus looked to be outright panicking, zipping between her many favorite forms in quick bursts of changeling magic. Each time, however, just like the insectoid equine between the bursts, the forms looked increasingly masculine. A mare became a stallion, a peahen became a peacock, a lioness, a lion.
Sandbar’s face pushed back in on itself, acquiring a far more rounded, small-snouted look as his eyes grew larger. His eyelashes grew decidedly longer and thicker as well, his mane cascading out and down around his narrowing neck and shoulders.
Yona, if possible, was growing bigger and more shaggy, then bigger still, then bigger, and bigger…
“Yak… Not like… Creepy bug magic!” Yona struggled to bark, her voice lowering deeper than Smolder’s by far.
Finally, Silverstream was… Just regular old Silverstream? She was watching the goings-on with a mixture of her own panic and a sort of morbid fascination. At the same time, though, she had for some reason transformed into her seapony guise, and looked none the worse for wear.
Before he could ask Silverstream why she was being spared, much less formulate a proper question for any of this, Gallus felt the changes sweeping up to his forefront section. His breastbone felt like it was enlarging, pushing forth new musculature and other tissues with it. Gallus nearly fell forward in response, catching himself on his talons as his chest pushed out to accommodate the further changes, outfitting him with a more pronounced, curved shape. This shape was only accentuated when his feathers bristled and fluffed up as well, growing softer and larger.
Just as Gallus was dreading whatever change might be assaulting him next, the sensations of stretching flesh and rearranging organs abruptly faded.
“Is… It over?” Gallus squeaked.
The voice coming out his beak was not his own. It responded to his thoughts, came out when and how he wished it, but was the voice of a griffon female, and not anyone he recognized.
He blushed fiercely, as much from embarrassment as from the awkwardness of hearing his new voice and physiologically feeling himself to have a new sex.
Shakily, but at least finally able to move again without falling over, Gallus crawled into a standing position and surveyed the other students. There was no question that they had all--save Silverstream, somehow--been transformed into new sexes. Smolder and Yona in particular were hardly recognizable anymore due to their increased mass and bulk. Sandbar and Ocellus were still somewhat recognizable as the same persons, albeit with altered features.
Once again, Silverstream was just Silverstream.
Gallus furrowed his brow and took a tentative step, legs still feeling uncomfortably fluid as he headed towards Silverstream, whose fishy tail was flopping awkwardly about in a chair meant for land-dwellers. Each step made Gallus feel like he was fighting his own body. His usual confident gait insisted on a more languid stride, hips demanding to be swung rather than move stiffly. Gallus burned red when he realized his rear must be bobbing in time for all to see.
“Silverstream,” Gallus said when he at last arrived at the back table after what felt like an awkward eternity but really must have only been a few seconds.
“Hiya, Gally!” Silverstream chirped happily, before erupting into a fit of giggles. “Golly, I guess Smolder’s nickname for you really fits, now!”
“Why didn’t you change?” Gallus asked, electing to ignore that comment for the moment.
“Oh, uh… Look, a convenient purple distraction!” Silverstream shouted, pointing at the front of the library.
His feathers fluffing up more than they already had, Gallus slowly turned alongside the rest of his friends to see a very shocked Spike standing in the doorway, his mouth agape.
“I left for five minutes!” Spike exclaimed.