Changeling of the East

by Wingnut

First published

A mutualistic changeling crosses the great ocean to observe the lifestyle of ponies in Equestria.

Hello! My name is Arctic. When I was young I would always hear stories about this wondrous land filled with all sorts of love and achievements. Now I get to see for myself the life these strange ponies live and perhaps one day lead a collection of changelings over the sea to set up a sub-hive. After all, nothing goes better together than changelings and ponies.

Set Sail [Reworked]

View Online

Waves crash upon the defiant cliff side in a mighty roar, sending glimmering specks of water to cool the warm air. The salty smell of the sea carries on the ever-present gentle breeze which blows around my form as if I'm an inconvenience. I lay on the cliff's edge in silence. With closed eyes, I draw in the feel of the soft grass which surrounds me. I breath in the signs of the approaching spring weather as plant life springs forth, shaking off the long winter. I absorb and sink into the relaxing embrace of nature's sounds. The thundering waves, the crackling fire besides me, the groaning wood of my ship
bouncing in the waves, and... laughter?

I open my eyes and spy a group of grubs on the sandy beach of the natural forming harbor below. They get as close to the water as possible, only to turn and gallop back in laughter as the incoming waves chase them. Another group stand in a circle where the sand turns to grass. Two of them have shifted into pony forms and appear to be cheering on the third whose face is scrunched up in concentration. A flash of pink engulfs him for a split second. Where the small changeling once stood now stands a tall, hot pink stallion with lime green hooves, a short slick dark teal mane, a goofy light green tail, and both a horn and butterfly wings. His two friends break out in laughter as their pony forms break off due to the lack of focus. The unfortunate grub hangs his head in defeat, but soon starts to smile himself and join in his friend's merriment. I can't help but chuckle myself, we were all there once. A memory creeps up reminding me of my first attempted shift. It was horrifying, no changeling should ever have that much yellow.

I look over myself, inspecting my own pegasus form. I sport a much more sensible snow white coat. my flat laying, unkempt mane and long tail are both blue in color with a single white stripe running down the middle. I once thought about giving the web-like scar on my left wing the same color of my mane, but figured it would look too silly. My should be icy blue eyes hovers over the mark on my flank. Of all things on my pony form, I placed the most thought into the cutie mark. It is a simple design, two snow clouds with a lightning bolt slightly shrouded by the falling snow. Despite its simplicity, the mark reveals who I once was, the event that changed my life, and who I am now.

Arctic Thunder.

The sun begins to slip out of sight in the distant horizon. Hues of red, orange, and yellow dance across the sky in one final performance before the fading lights of twilight begins its brief reign. I add another log to the dying fire in preparation for the cool night. The grubs on the beach are picked up by their parents and head towards the main hive a fair trotting distance away. I reserve myself to camping near my ship as I use my final days in the homeland to prepare for my long journey. One such preparation, I decided, is to practice my introduction for when I arrive to the new lands.

"Hello fellow pony. My name is Arctic. Arctic Thunder that is to say... uh... salutations to thee." I swear, I'm better when I'm face to face with another pony.

"Hello, Arctic, it is a pleasure to meet you. You may greet me as Queen Shinuie, the guardian mother of a thousand changelings."

It's actually more around three thousand changelings at th- By the Queen! The Queen is right behind me!

I snap to my senses and quickly turn to face the Queen. I smack my hoof against a small mound of dirt, sent to ensure my demise, causing me to lose my balance and face plant before her in a complete kowtow. How insulting.

"Oh, you dare insult your Queen with a bow? My dear Arctic, I thought you knew and respected me?"

I'm doomed.

I scramble to my hooves, quick as lightning, as I attempt to recover this unfavorable situation. My mind races a million miles a second trying to come up with a solution. Then, just as fast as my brain searches for an excuse, my thoughts slow down. It's then I notice the sense of calm coming through the link bond that I, as well as all other changelings of the hive, share with the Queen. With my mind running with calm focus, I take in the image of the Queen herself. She stands at a height of three changelings, her pink, silk like membrane hair and tail flowing in the ocean breeze, she stares at me with patient, pink eyes, a playful smirk spreads across her muzzle.

"No insult was intended, my Queen. You see, an enemy of the hive has made itself known with attempted sabotage of relations between you and your changelings."

"A grave claim to be sure. And where is this culprit which seeks the breakdown of the hive?"

"Right there, Shinuie."

I point to the small mound of dirt. The Queen walks closer and examines the little hill with mock anger. She leans down and starts talking.

"What say you in your defense?" The crashing waves are the only answer we hear. "I see, for your crimes, I hereby banish you from these lands."

The Queen picks up the small mound in her magic, chucking over the cliff and into the watery grave below. It doesn't even get halfway down before the wind picks up and scatters the dirt across the land. Unable to hold on anymore, I burst out laughing at the bizarre turn of events. The Queen smiles and moves to lay next to the fire. I recover and join her on the other side of the flames. We sit there in silence as the moon takes its rightful place among the stars, the image of the Night Queen glaring greedily down upon the land below. She is a reminder to all creatures the consequences of abusing one's power for selfish gains. I wait for Queen Shinuie to start the conversation.

'Tell me Arctic, why is it you seek the lands across the ocean?' She asks through the link. I recall my presentation from earlier.

'My Queen, during your reign, the hive has known nothing but peace and prosperity. However, with this prosperity the swarm continues to grow in numbers. Eventually, a day will come when the small towns and settlements of ponies of this land may not be able to properly sustain us. Connecting with ponies across the ocean may bring in new opportunities to continue our prosperity without threat of famine.'

'I too, recall your spiel to my daughters and I, yet, I did not ask how sailing across the ocean can benefit the hive. I asked why you wish to explore the far away lands?'

Caught with red hooves. Fearing the Queen would invest in my journey for strictly personal reasons, I came up with the idea of how a trip could save the hive from a non-existent problem. I realized during my presentation how weak the argument actually was, however, The Queen still approved the materials I need to complete my crossing, resulting in a ship outfitted for six months at sea. I foolishly believed that The Queen believed my reasoning.

'In truth my Queen, It is a sense of wanderlust. Ever since I was a little grub I would hear stories from the merchants and elders of this paradise across the sea. A land filled with the most beautiful sights, drenched with serenity, and ruled over with harmony. I must see this land for myself, to experience their culture. If what is said is true, it could be a true paradise for changeling kind. Think of all the great things we could accomplish if we were to integrate into their society!'

I stood up at some point during my explanation, and I'm currently pacing back and forth. I stop in my tracks and observe the Queen. I'm sure that I accidentally sent waves of my passion across the link and to her. She doesn't show it though, instead her smile slowly fades into a more serious expression. I sit down back at the fire, waiting for the reprimand of hiding my true intentions from her.

'You do remember the last time you chased after a story, correct?"

My left wing twitches unconsciously. The sound of thunder rumbling in my memories, the smell of burnt fur, the cold of the snow.

'Never can I forget. But, to stop here in fear is to cease being me. My resolve is firm, I know this land exists. It has to.'

'Be wary of placing too much expectation on the unknown young one. Fate has a way to turn our lives sour in an instant and I wish for you not to become its victim once more.'

The conversation falls silent. The Queen makes no move to get up and return to the hive. Curiosity fills my mind as to why? And not just why she is still here.

"You have a question, Arctic?"

"Why did you approve my trip?"

To my surprise, she starts to laugh.

"You can thank Wave for that, she knows how much this trip means to you. Needless to say, she made me curious about the potential of your journey. Not just for how the hive can benefit, but also what this new land may be able to teach the ponies that live here. With that said, I ask that you send me reports when you arrive. Should I and my daughters find this place within the hive's interest, we will be sending a team to integrate and learn all we can from these ponies."

"A sub-hive?"

"Correct."

Well, this trip just got more interesting.

The Queen stands and trots up to me. I stand as well, wondering what she may want. She tilts her head for a brief moment.

"You may want to practice your shape-shifting some more. Your eyes are two different colors again."

My blue and orange eyes widen in realization. I blink, returning them to their proper icy blue.

"Green and red."

"Stupid, complicated pony eyes!"

"You'll get it down eventually," she chuckles. "Now, if you don't mind, I like to give my little changeling a proper send off."

Her horn lights up and she places a hoof on my withers. Flames of pink flare to life to reveal an average looking changeling in every sense of the word. Average height, blue eyes and wing covers, black chitin, and a grey fin and tail. The only truly unique feature of my natural form is the visible scar on my wing. The Queen embraces me.

"Farewell young one, and know that no matter the distance, I'll be with you. I'll leave you now to rest."

She releases her embrace and begins her journey back towards the hive. With little else to do, I return my gaze to the far off horizon and give into night's sweet symphony.

Arrival

View Online

"Thunder. Arctic Thunder. Arctic is my name, Thunder is my...other name? Salutations to you, the name of me is Arctic. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Gaahhh! Why are greetings so hard?"

I stand before the vanity mirror below the decks of my ship. The subtle leaning motions a constant reminder of the open sea. I must have been down here now for several hours planning out my first contact meeting. And yet, I still feel as if little progress has been made. I sigh as I rub the fin on my back in contemplation. Perhaps it is a good time to take a break and check my navigation.

*CRASH*

Now I'm finding myself being flung head over heels through the air, rather unfortunate really. "AAAHHHHHHHHH!" Luckily my fall was broken by a bale of hay purposely brought for that exact purpose and not accidently left over from a previous voyage. I stumble out shaking all the loose hay off my chitin and examine the damage. Large holes were ripped in the hull of the ship near the bow, however, the ship did not appear to be taking on water. I notice a rocky outcropping through the gaps and ascend the stairs. My first sight is the sight of nothing, or rather really thick fog which makes nearly everything a hoof length away invisible. There is one thing which shines through the fog however.

"Who in their right minds places a tower in the middle of the ocean?"

Said tower stands before me on the outcropping of rocks my ship has ran aground on. Standing at roughly 150 feet, nothing truly sticks out as any special about the solid white building until my gaze reaches the top and notice a beam of light with a full circle of movement. Full of curiosity I start climbing the rocks to get to the base of the tower. Upon arrival I spot an entrance and carefully open the battered wooden door.

*THUNK*

Perhaps a little too battered as the entire door fell off its hinges and slammed to the ground. Oops. I cautiously enter the building casting my senses out for any other unexpected surprises. There is nothing, absolutely nothing except the little light from outside casting eerie, angular shadows across the dark room with the wind whistling through the entrance. I try to take another step inside only to have my body refuse to move. I hear my heart thumping as it pumps adrenaline through my system. I try to move again and manage to lift a hoof, but an increasing sharp whistling wind causes me to loose my balance and hunker down to the ground. I don't know why I feel so much unease as it's only an abandon building in the middle of the ocean with a working light strong enough to shine through severe fog with dark enough shadows in every corner to hide just about anything my size and smaller. Nothing too unusual really.

It takes a few moment, yet I finally manage to gain control of my body again to stand. Once again I try to take a few steps towards the stairs and this time succeed. Take that fight or flight instincts and know that I am your better! I test the old staircase by placing a single hoof on the first step. My ears are greeted by the sound of creaking and groaning wood but otherwise the stair holds. There goes my heartbeat trying to break out of my chest again. I power through my growing unease and climb the stairs.

Upon reaching the top floor I am met with nothing more than a simple light bulb sitting in the middle of a room with a rotating mirror. I stare at the strange contraption only for the mirror to shift in my direction.

"Aaahhh! Too bright! Too bright! My eyes!"

I stumble backwards while trying to block the powerful beam with my forehooves. My hind legs bump into an object and sends me falling onto my back into a daze. After a few moments of watching chirping chicks chasing stars my head clears up enough to spot the object of my pain. A simple desk looms above me. I stand up, this time making sure the light stays on my back, and examine the contents on the desk. A tattered map is rolled out across the desk. I easily make out my position by way of a big red circle with words stating you are here. What puzzles me is that, according to the map, I am a whole lot closer to the mainland than I had expected, as well as right near a small town called Manehatten.

As if mother nature was waiting for a chance for an epic reveal, the fog started rapidly dissipating. My jaw hit the floor as slowly the aforementioned town is revealed in the distance. Tall structures and spires extend into the sky before my eyes. Boats and ships of all sizes take up nearly every spot in the harbor while others move about to and fro at paces I would never believe to be possible. As the fog lifts, more and more of the town kept stretching across the horizon. No, town wasn't the right word. I was witnessing a marvel of pony engineering. The city of Manehatten.


Turns out crashing your ship on many sharp rocks makes the damn thing not seaworthy. During my inspection I discovered that approximately the entire hull was riddled with holes from bow to stern. Honestly, I am impressed at this great feat as I didn't even know I posses a natural talent of completely totaling ships. That's not to say this peculiar accident was my fault in the least. I would have to talk to the proprietor of the lone tower about the damages his stray building has caused to my home.

I am now swimming to the mainland aided by my hooves which I have turned into fins. I aim for a spot a fair distance away from the city as to not cause a scene upon my arrival. One may wonder why I decided to swim instead of flying and to be honest, I'm probably the only ling in the world to love the water. I don't get why the others hate it so much, sure the water grounds us until our wings dry and our chitin makes it very hard to float and that's not to mention our tendency to sink like stones, but if you can get past that it's very relaxing I find.

After about a 15 minutes of peaceful swimming I happen upon an empty beach a fair walking distance from the nearby city. I decide that this would be the appropriate time to change into my main pony form. A burst of fire later and I'm once again the white pegasus with the blue and white mane from the day before I had set sail. I do a once over to make sure everything is in place and then begin to walk to the city. I have to admit that at this point my excitement was starting to get the best of me as I didn't so much as walk as I did canter along the way.

Before long I was among the unusual block like spires of Manehatten. I must have the biggest smile as I absorb my surroundings in a complete state of awe. At first I kept my gaze upwards at the monolithic architecture reaching heights taller than any spire I've ever seen. Then I reached the center of the city. By the queen! Ponies! Ponies everywhere! In numbers never before seen by changeling kind. Emotions of every type drifted across my senses. Joy, indifference, anger, sympathy, empathy, fear, admiration, love, you name it. It was all... all... completely overwhelming.

I could suddenly feel my hooves start sweating, my knees are weak, wings are heavy, there is vomit on my feathers already, mom's spaghetti. Huh, I should write this down somewhere, this is good stuff. Where was I? Right, heart beating out of my chest. Is it just me or do the buildings look like they're a whole lot closer? Okay, I'm okay. Deep breaths now.

"Hey buddy, are you okay?"

I snap my head around to stare down my accuser. A lone stallion of golden coat and white mane eyes me with his purple orbs.

"Yes! I am alright! Why wouldn't you think I'm not alright? Are you trying to make me not alright? Because it won't work"

The stallion wisely takes a couple steps back. He tries to hide his suspicion actions behind a worried face, but he can't fool me. I return my gaze back to the overcrowded street just in time to collide head first into a tree. I slowly slump to the ground in a daze. I try to stand back up only to fail to find my balance in my lightheaded state. So out of it am I that I am barely aware of being helped to my hooves. As the fog clears in my head I take note of the yellow hoof helping me keep steady. If there was one good thing to come out of this, it's that the blow to the head knocked the rising panic right out of me. I indicate to the friendly pony that I can bare my weight and he backs away.

"Sorry about that, I guess I just got a little overwhelmed," I say, emphasizing my apology with a nervous chuckle.

"No worries, you'd be surprise at the amount of ponies that have the same reactions." The Stallion smiles in return. His smile soon falters as he takes in a second look at me. "Whoa, what's up with your eyes?"

My red and green eyes twitch against my will. Sugar sticks! He's on to me! I must employ escape tactic number 23. I squint in the direction just past the bemused earth pony and point with my hoof. "That's an odd place to hang a piano." Aha! The fool takes the bait and turns in a stunning 180 degree pivot. A true master of being deceived he must be. Alas! With no time to waste I make my escape post haste to the right in full gallop. Straight into the same tree from before. I curse at the abomination before me. "Tuesday's... applesauce day." Thoroughly stunned, I stumble my way down the street leaving the puzzled stallion behind, still searching for a non-existent piano.


The rest of my day did not go any better and I felt my initial excitement slowly dwindle into nothing as the shadows grew longer. All my life I never knew of a place bigger than the main hive back in the homelands and even that couldn't hold a candle to this city, it simply was way too big. I was fortunate enough to find a haven within the madness before I once again became overwhelmed from all the emotions in the air.

It is hear now on a grassy hill within the city park where I make my refuge. Tired, confused, and very, very hungry. Emotions where plenty in the city sure, but they were so mixed and diluted that it was inedible for feeding in an indirect state. It wasn't an emergency at the moment. I had gone hungry before and I still had some stored love on my ship. I would have to ration it until I could find a more direct source though.

In all truth, I did not know what to do next. Here I was, finally living my dream. Standing on the land of paradise from the wonderful stories back home. A chance to explore the amazing marvels once thought impossible. The very city surrounding me a true testament of what one can achieve through harmony! And I was already homesick. I miss the flat open lands, the cool ocean breeze, the buzz of the hive, the sharing of stories by the fire side, and most of all I miss the gentle humming of the queen singing her swarm to sleep.

I sigh as the last rays of sunlight disappear beyond the distant horizon. What was I doing here? One day in and I already crashed a ship, panicked in streets, received a concussion, and messed up my disguise. Again! I came here with no goal, no plan, and little preparation expecting everything to be sunshine and rainbows. It was only a matter a time I ended up where I am now, hungry and alone with no way home.

Farewell young one and know that no matter the distance I am with you.

The words of the Queen buzzed around in my head. The link! It was still there! My connection with the queen was extremely faded but present all the same. The great distance of the link means it would take time to send information to and from one another, yet its presence filled me with great resolve. The Queen had faith in me, she would not had spent time and effort managing a team to build my ship otherwise. I can not and will not fail her.

I turn my gaze away from the horizon and back towards the sleepless city. I remember the reason I gave to the Queen and her advisers when I first proposed this trip. As I stare at the distant ponies I wonder. Could it be possible and worthwhile to set up a sub-hive here? A headquarters for changeling harvesters? Such a thing must be proven to be of benefit both for changelings and ponies as set by the mutualistic standards by the Queen. By my first impressions the answer is no, there is simply too much risk involved. Yet, my first impressions were made while I was both in awe and being overwhelmed with a focus on my dream only. As such, little was achieved in actual reconnaissance.

I watch the moon start its watch and make a promise. I had achieved my dream thanks to the Queen and now it is time to begin my responsibilities to the hive. Starting dawn of the next day I will go out into the city and find a way to create a sub-hive so that the homeland may prosper. Suddenly, my stomach decides to growl at me in anger for being left unattended. I amend my promise to say I will help the hive after I get my fill. Can't work on an empty stomach and all that.

With the Night Queen reaching her zenith I let out a yawn. Only now do I realize how stiff my hooves feel and how heavy my eyes are. I debate heading back towards my ship only to banish the thought when my wings protested my commands. This park is peaceful and comfortable enough for a good night's sleep. I circle around in an effort to pat down the grass to make a proper sleeping area and lay down. Perhaps this journey won't be such a disappointment after all.

Blind and Plump

View Online

"Hello! My name is Arctic and... you're just gonna walk right past me, excellent," I sigh. For a land with a reputation for being the most harmonious in the world these ponies were awfully rude. I have been trying all morning long to connect with at least one of these ponies only for the majority to look at me funny and continue walking without a word. As for the minority? Well it's a good thing I had a thick chitin when it comes to insults.

There's only so much rejection one can take before giving in and I have just reached mine. Now I'm just walking aimlessly down the street in defeat. A city full of thousands and I couldn't make a single friend and the left over emotions in the air were once again too mixed up to take in. Could anything else go wrong?

*Grumble*

Oh right, I'm also starving with the only source of food stored in my ship next to that strange tower. Not that that did me any good right now as I'm completely lost in this labyrinth of a city.

Thoughts of the homeland once again invades my mind. I once viewed life there as routine and downright boring. There was only so much one could down in a small town of maybe a couple hundred ponies. Even when I moved back into the main hive I couldn't find satisfaction. Always lost in a dream of sailing across the ocean. Oh how I wish I could go back and beat some sense into my younger self.

No! I am not going to think like that. This isn't me at all. Sure I may be down and striking out right now, but I have done so in the past and always bounced right back up. I've even been told my tenacity was somewhat of an annoyance at times. Well then let me be the most annoying creature out here. I have an opportunity unlike any other before me and I'm gonna make the best of it. And so, I perk myself up and intercept the mare walking past me.

"Hi! My name is-"

"Not interested!"

Ick! That has to be the most sour flavored indifference I've ever tasted. Indifference isn't even suppose to be sour! One thing is for sure, these ponies could sure use some positivity. Hmm, now there's a thought. I stop to sit down on a nearby bench as I start to ponder. So far I have deemed this city unsuitable for a sub-hive and have even debated moving deeper into the countryside. But, maybe... just maybe the reason this place seems to be so unwelcoming is because there are no changelings here. In fact, I'm starting to recall some stories from the elders about how even the ponies on the homeland where highly not trusting of strangers until we changelings were able to integrate and slowly change their way of thinking. I will have to send a message to the queen to inquire her wisdom of such thoughts. Despite this path of thought though, it did not solve the problem of food; especially if these ponies were reluctant to establish direct links. Technically we could force direct links and drain the ponies for substance, but such a thing was highly forbidden by Queen Mother.

As I sit and think, I watch the passing ponies and observe their behavior. There must be something wrong with the way I'm trying to introduce myself and perhaps if I just sit and pony watch I can discover the secret of proper interaction with the city kind. I suddenly start noticing an interesting pattern. Not so much of what was being said, but rather where the majority of the ponies where heading. Though there were a few traveling every which way and some even entering nearby buildings, a large number of ponies appear to be walking on the same path and heading the same direction. It may be coincidental, sure, yet it was enough to get my curiosity flowing. As such, I got up from the bench and start following the herd.

As I walk along with the crowd I notice more and more ponies heading the same direction from multiple directions. Any doubt I had of this being pure coincidence is now completely banished from my head. After several minutes building came into sight that appears to be the destination of all the ponies. Though calling it simply a building doesn't seem to give it justice. It is more of a complex, and it is ginormous! It wasn't nearly as tall as any of the other spires in the city, but it took up much more space than any other structure. The closest comparison I could think of is an enlarged version of the theater squares back home. From this distance I could see a many rows of seats stretching several stories high just on the other side of the complex and curving to keep the view towards the center. Several gates marked the entrance of the brick complex where the ponies heading to the building lined up. As I came closer, I take note that the ponies would hoof over a ticket to the ponies standing guard at the gates. Once again, I draw a comparison to the theaters back home.

Not being a proprietor of such a ticket myself I stand a fair distance away to take in the sights and sounds. In doing so I make a surprising discovery. The emotions in the air were no longer as mixed as they were in the city proper. Instead, A strong flow of excitement and joy lingered all around in great strength and only growing stronger the closer to the complex I got. I admit that I may have gotten a little giddy myself as I took in the unexpected meal, my hunger finally being sedated. So much of a change this one area is that I simply must find a way inside to see what could raise a ponies emotion to such power and unity.

I find a medium size stall set up near the entrance that appears to be handing out the appropriate tickets to gain entry. Perhaps I could bargain my way into receiving one myself. I am confident in my abilities to haggle with others. I was raised in a market town after all, bartering is pretty much the first skill every pony gains. The fact that I myself am a changeling gives me a pretty great advantage to read the pony in order to get the best deal possible. With my ego raise to appropriate levels I enter the queue with an eager smile. It doesn't take long until I stand before the unicorn stallion handing out the tickets.

"Welcome to Circle Change Park!" He smiles.

"I wish to procure a ticket for entry my fair friend," I respond in kind, sharing my own smile. Excellent, I can feel his resolve wavering with... huh, is that amusement I taste? Sure enough, though the green pony in front of me looks bemused, he is definitely radiating the sweet taste of amusement. Looks like I'm dealing with a strange one here. Another ego boost should help my position. "And might I say that yellow mane of yours matches very well with your coat." Ick! I can't believe I just said green and yellow is a good combo. It has to be the worst color combination on the face of the planet. I feel the amusement suddenly drain from the stallion and be replaced with confusion and uncertainty. An unexpected result, but still achieved my goal of unbalancing the unicorn. This is becoming a bit too easy.

"Uh, thanks. I think? We only have upper deck seats left which will be 30 bits."

I openly scoff at the listed price. "Surely 15 bits is the better price for one measly ticket." I make a point to raise my head above his, puff out my chest, and close my eyes, keeping just a sliver of my right eye open to judge his reaction. Now is the moment where he accepts the challenge and makes a counterclaim.

"The ticket is 30 bits, no less." He scowls.

That threw me for a loop. Perhaps he is unaware that the battle of wits had begun? Or maybe I haven't talked him up enough to change his position? Hmm, maybe another stroke of his pride as well as a subtle hint is a must. I lift a hoof on the table and rest my head upon it, making sure I stare intently into the colt's eyes.

"Hey handsome, what's it going to take to receive a deal on these here tickets? Something special perhaps?" I bat my eyes at him, a trick I learned from watching the mares haggle back home. He must not have gotten what I was hinting at for his frustration and anger exploded from him in such passion that it causes me to stumble back a bit.

"Okay, listen here buddy! First of all, I do not swing that way! Second, the ticket is 30 bits! If you don't like the price then stop wasting my time and go away capisce?" Even with my ears pinned to my head his shouting nearly made me deaf. I wonder if I should ask what swings had to do with the current conversation, but his glare stops the words in my throat. Either way it was clear that the stallion did not understand the concept of bartering. Despite my annoyance at the fact, I couldn't help but feel pity for him. Without the ability to properly barter he will be run out of business very quickly. I let out a defeated sigh.

"Alright. 30 bits it is."

The stallion's anger dissipates into triumph as he holds out his hoof. A moment passes. Then another moment passes. As the third moment passes between us I sense his frustration return as he eyes me questioningly. At this point I rub my mane in embarrassment as I realize a slight issue with this whole situation.

"What are bits exactly?"

The pony lets out an exasperated whinny. A deep frown emerges as his brows narrows dangerously. He is very, very angry. I gulp as sweat rains from my face.


I was able to escape the wrath of the unicorn during the middle of his rant about foreigners. I then proceeded to try to find other ways into the complex without a ticket. My last attempt was simply to try to fly over the gate and enter via air. I was tackled out of the air by a couple of fairly big security guards and taken to a their nearby station for questioning. They ask me simple things such as why I attempted to infiltrate the stadium, was I attempting to disrupt the game, was I part of a terrorist organization. The usual line of questioning. I'm actually on my way out of the station after having successfully snuck out in the middle of the guards rant about pegasuses. Pegasi? It's not important. Though I am starting to wonder if ranting is a common occurrence for ponies round here.

I am making my way back to the front of the stadium when I spot movement on the corner of my eye. I find another entrance flanked by two guards with a sigh which dictates authorized personnel only. A small group of 4 slightly overweight ponies stand just outside with each wearing a plain black shirt with a black ball cap. All except one that is. Though I can't quite make out what is being said, I do get a hint of embarrassment from the unclothed pony as well as annoyance from the other three. I watch in surprise as the three black-shirted ponies walk through the entrance without security even sparing a glance in their direction. The last remaining pony quickly trots away from the gate and passes me. I get a strong sense of urgency from him as well as some sort of mumbling about forgetfulness.

Sensing an opportunity, I start making quick notes on the stallions appearance. Earth pony, brown coat, white diamond on forehead, light brown mane and tail, cutie mark of a whistle, and extra furry hooves which are an even lighter brown in color. How very... average. I could nearly confuse him with an uninspired changeling coming up with their first form. I look around to check if the coast is clear before I dip into a nearby alleyway and shift forms. I try my best to mimic the low gaze of the stallion as I mutter incoherent words while trotting up to the gate. As expected, the guards let me pass through without even so much of a glance in my direction. In fact, the most reaction I got was the stallion guard muttering something about a river made of frosting while the mare guard mentioned something about frosted covered stallions.

With my infiltration very legal method of entrance a success I begin to navigate the long twisting (yet very homely) tunnels of the complex. I don't get far before I hear voices coming around a nearby corner. Wishing to avoid as much contact as possible, I urgently open a nearby door and rush in. In retrospect, I should have looked before doing so as to save the embarrassment of crashing into several cleaning apparatuses and being buried alive by several black shirts. Then again, this could have been a lucky break for me. I remember the group of ponies this form were also wearing these shirts. With the thought of bettering my already impressive disguise, I slip on one of the shirts. Now if only I could find a hat, then my disguise would be absolute perfection.

After hearing the voices past the door I exit the closet and check the hallway. With the coast clear, I once again walk down the dull hallway. I reach the end of the current hallway and come across another door with a sign marked "Officials Only". With the only other option being to backtrack I instead decide to peak inside. I find an empty room with multiple lockers. All of them are clear outside of one where a strange mask with numerous metal bars lays. I walk over and pick up the mask in curiosity. I'm not sure why, but some part of me is familiar with it's purpose though I have trouble placing it.

Suddenly, the door opens behind me. I turn around and my face pales. Standing right in front of me is the very same pony I am currently disguised as. I feel his confusion and panic wash over me which does nothing to help my own raising panic. Despite this, we just stand there, facing each other as if we're both hoping the other isn't real. Several moments stretch out without even a hint of movement before I decide to make the opening move.

"Hi?" I cautiously ask with a nervous smile.

The stallion, upon hearing his own voice coming from my form, wobbles a little in place before his eye rolls back into his head and falls face first on the floor. This is not good. In hindsight, once I had entered the building, I probably should have reverted forms. Too late to look upon that now. I spy a couch in the middle of the room and carefully pick up and lay the pony down on it. With any luck, when he wakes he'll just think he had a nightmare. I make to leave this place behind when I notice a mirror in one of the lockers. I blink. Orbs of pink and purple blink back at me. I move back to the couch and lift the eyelids of the out cold stallion. Both are brown.

"Ok, this is just getting ridiculous. I can't be that bad with eyes!" I despair.

I hear the door start to open again and in a rush of panic I instinctively grab the nearby mask and place it on my head in hope of hiding my mistake. Instead of, you know, simply fixing the color of my eyes. I make a mental note to bang my head repeatedly after I get out of here. The three black-shirted ponies enter the room. I sense relief upon spotting me.

"There you are Blue!"

I quickly try to piece together a masterfully put toge- wait... Blue? The brown stallion on the couch behind me name is Blue! I... what? Baffled, I didn't notice one of the ponies walk behind me until they started pushing me towards the door.

"Come on Blue! I get this is your first time and you're nervous and all, but the game is about to start and it can't without you."

As I'm dragged against my will towards the door, I can't help but think what kind of mess I got myself into. With my escape cut off, I finally find my motion control again and follow the lead of the other three ponies. We take multiple turns in the tunnel system heading deeper and deeper into the complex. And then I hear it. The cheers of thousands of ponies at once. The air sparking with the sense of anticipation. Turning the last corner I see the light of the outside filtering through a large opening. We emerge from the tunnel; what I sense can not be put into words. Before us is large field of grass. On the other end I spy a dirt track in a cone like shape with a mound of dirt in the middle and white lines extending on the far sides of the shape. Beyond that were the stands which were visible on the outside, filled to the brim with ponies of all types saturating the atmosphere with joy, and admiration. So much emotion is being poured out that I swear it could feed the entire hive for months if not years!

I turn my attention back to the field we are crossing. It takes me a minute of pondering the familiar terrain when a spark stirs my memories. Images of foals from the market towns back home playing on a similar field tossing a small white ball. Yes, I know this game. What was it called again? I remember the pure innocence and joy emitting from the foals as they rounded the bases in triumph. Ah, that's right. The game is called rounders. I have never seen a game being played on a scale such as this though.

As we reached what I will find out later is called the pitcher mound, the copper mare that dragged me out of the room from earlier huddled us up.

"Alright, here are the jobs for today's game. I'll be working first base today." She points at the red stallion on my right. "Sharp Sight will be on second base." She swivels her hoof to the violet mare to my left. "Violet will be on third base." She finally points her hoof on me. "Blue will be on home plate. Everypony good with this?" I gulp, but nod my head in acceptance.

"Hey, don't worry too much about it. Remember you were trained for this," Sharp Sight says.

Violet gives me an encouraging smile before heading towards third base. Sharp Sight turns and motions to the dugouts as he trots to second base. Leaving me with a glaring copper pegasus mare. I try to give my own reassuring smile, but the grin may have been a little too wide. She then pokes her hoof firmly on my chest.

"Don't screw this up for us you hear?"

I energetically nod my head. I let out my breath as she makes her way to first base. As both teams enter the field I hear the crowd behind let out a mighty roar of admiration. I slowly trot to home plate wondering what to do. There is absolutely no escape from this developing nightmare. I will have to survive the game before I can leave. I take my place behind home plate and the first batter walks into the batter's box. I take note of the grey and blue uniform of the batter with the words Canterlot Monarchs written across his barrel. The other team wears a white pinstripe uniform with red trimmings and the name Manehatten Loyalists. I take a deep breath. I have watched a pick-up game of rounders before and am familiar with the rules. It is my job to call if a pitch was a ball or strike. This will be easy.

A light blue, grey mane pegasus takes the picture mound and stretches his wings. With a nod to the catcher just in front of me the pitcher grasps the ball in his wings and readies the pitch. With exaggerated motion he throws the ball.

*Whomp*

...

What just happened? I could have sworn I saw the ball for a split second before it disappeared. I notice the catcher glove is raise over the home plate. Did he catch it? Can a pony truly throw a ball that fast? Silence dominates the stadium as the crowd eagerly awaits my call. The taste of confusion fill my senses as both batter and catcher tilt their heads as they stare at me. I spy the copper pony over at first wave a hoof erratically trying to get me to speed up. I myself am completely baffled. I slowly close my jaw as I try to decipher what to do next. I need to make a call, but will it be the right one. I hesitantly lift my right hoof and stretch it to the right.

"Strike?"

I jump slightly as the crowd lets out an euphoric applause at my call. I am flooded by the appreciation being directed at me. It is both overwhelming and empowering. Every single doubt and fear in me is getting replaced in full by overconfidence. The pitcher even adds in his own nod as the catcher tosses the ball back. I can do this after all.

The crowd quiets down as the pitcher takes his stance again. With another nod, he readies the pitch and throws a heater just above the zone.

*Whomp*

"STRIKE!" I turn to the crowd and lift a hoof high above my head. "TWO!" The crowd roars again and fills me up with another dose of positive emotion. I give a slight bow in appreciation and turn back to the pitcher mound. I feel a little foggy in the head, but I pay no heed to it. I am on my game. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know exactly how the next pitch is going to turn out. As the pitcher releases the ball I'm on the call.

"STTTRRRIIIIIIKKKEE!"

*Whomp*

"Three! Three! Three!"

This time I make sure to perform a full jig for the crowd as they erupt again. The struck out batter face red in anger as he glares me down. I do not care for him, those who strike out looking aren't worth my time. I do seek out the other umpires for additional positive reinforcement. Violet has a hoof on her muzzle with wilted ears. Sharp Sight is on the ground laughing. I didn't dare look at the copper one as I could feel her anger all the way over here. Some part of my brain suggest that I tone it down going forward and I take the advice from my survival instinct to heart. And so the ball game continues.

Nothing too eventful happens for the next 5 innings. Every called strike was greeted with more and more positive emotion which, I must admit, did perhaps just slightly completely impair my judgement skills. It was an imminent result as I am completely full and the excess emotion being directed at me has to go somewhere. I did discover that calling a pitch a ball had an extreme opposite reaction from the crowd. Not wanting to experience waves of negative emotion like that again I made it a point to call more strikes than balls. Yet, when it went to the bottom of the inning I found the ponies giving the opposite reactions. Preferring more balls being called over strikes. I kept this in mind as the game progressed. I also found that every ball thrown by the Monarchs tended to be very sticky. I sniffed at one of the balls and found the substance to be pine tar. I was puzzled as to why the pitcher wanted to put himself into a disadvantage by covering the ball in tar, but I suppose that's why I'm not a pitcher myself. I still think, however, that the Loyalist pitcher method of sanding the balls to be a more effective method.

Things became heated in the 6th inning. Before the current Loyalist batter could enter the box the opposing manager rushes onto the field. In the resulting conversation I have he claims that the home team is using something called corked bats. I do not understand how that can be a problem, but I do investigate the matter to satisfy him. I take one of the bats used by the Manehatten team and break open the bat. I am fascinated to discover that bats are apparently hollowed out. Although I do spy what appears to be styrofoam inside, I do not discover the cork that the manager is complaining about. Being annoyed at him for wasting everypony's time, I promptly eject him from the game. This is followed by another wave of praise from the crowd. Honestly, I am surprised I can still walk properly at this point.

A few more at bats later and we reach what I will learn later is called the 7th inning stretch, It is in this stretch when I become witness to one of the most amazing, most awe-inspiring moment in my young life. It starts with an announcement.

"Fillies and gentlecolts. Please put your hooves together and join us in singing "Take me out to the Ballgame".

Then the organ located near the top of the stadium begins playing. I sit on my rump, slack-jawed, as I hear the voice of thousands of ponies join together to sing in unison.

Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack
I don't care if I never get back

So it's root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win, it's a shame
It's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old ballgame

The crowd erupts in cheers as the singing fades away. I am left on the field, unable to hold back the tears of witnessing such a display of unity. It is the final wave of emotion my body can take. My head is swimming, unable to make sense of my surroundings as my stomach starts to ache. With neither team yet taking the field, I wobble my way to the entrance of the tunnels. As I reach the secluded hallway I drop the mask on the ground. Unable to hold on anymore my disguise fades away in a brilliant torrent of pink hued flames. I wander aimlessly through the tunnels and somehow end up outside the door of the umpires' locker room. I cautiously open the door and hobble my way to the couch to check on the pony. To my surprise I find the couch unoccupied. With my brain still out of order, I am unable to form a connection of what this could mean and instead plop myself on the soft surface of the coach and let out a moan of ill comfort. I find myself start to drift off to sleep. Right before I fell completely out cold I hear the crack of a bat as well as the vibrating cheers of thousands.

Guess the other pony found his way back to the game. That's good. Then I blackout.


I got lucky. So very, very lucky. I was lucky nopony noticed my mismatched eyes. Lucky that nopony was in the hallway when I dropped my disguise. Lucky that the true umpire went with the flow and didn't question how he woke up with the game nearing its end. And so very, very lucky that I managed to wake up and exit the stadium unnoticed before the end of the game. I will never, ever pull such a risk like that again. I will even go as far as to say I will never take another form other than my own from now on.

I am now back on my beached ship tending to my massive headache. Never before have I had to manage so much positive emotion in my life. Apparently there are consequences for taking in more than one can handle. I'll have to keep this in mind going forward. Those stadiums are great harvesting and feeding grounds though. They will have to be taken in moderation to avoid potential conflict. Who knows how these ponies could react to a new species being revealed in such a public location. I will have to find a way to acquire these so called bits in order to properly enter an event. I also need to judge the feeding potential when none of the emotions of the game are truly being directed at me as well.

Ugh. I'm thinking too much. It still feels like my brain is on fire. I am filled with hope, however, for the sporting events themselves could properly sustain not just a sub-hive, but the main hive itself. With this discovery it is possible that every changeling will never know the feeling of hunger ever in their lives. I must get a message to the queen, but first I must rest. It will be nigh impossible to send a message through the link with such a pounding feeling in my head.

"I will never, ever overfeed ever again," I mutter.


My Queen,

I send great news back to the hive. I have made landfall on the lands across the great ocean. I am currently residing in a city called Manehatten. The city is truly a mighty sight to behold with spires towering just as high, or even higher than our own. The city itself, I estimate, spans about the size of three or four pony market villages found on the homeland with 100 times the amount of ponies present.

I am unfortunate to announce that contact and communication with the ponies of this land have been met with absolute failure. It appears that the reports of these ponies being highly hospitable may be over exaggerated. However, I have not ruled out the possibility of establishing a sub-hive. In fact, I believe to have uncover a suitable harvesting ground ten times stronger than any current existing grounds. I will continue to observe this ground and the surrounding city, but my initial thoughts are that these grounds outweigh any risk associated with establishing a sub-hive in an unfriendly area.

I again offer my thanks for the funding of this journey of mine. In a show of absolute appreciation I will work harder than ever before in service of the hive. I eagerly await your wisdom on the matters presented.

I'm not sure if this will work over such a long distance link, but with this message I am sending images of the potential feeding grounds as well as a sample of the emotions gathered from the location.

If I may make a request please give my love to my immediate family and tell them I miss them.

Forever Faithful,

Arctic Thunder

Just Wing It

View Online

Bits. This whole new world appears to run completely on these bits. Want tickets to a sporting event? 30 bit. Want to enjoy a stout drink? 3 bits. Want to acquire that one strange cube computing thing in the market? 64 bits. Shave and a haircut? Two bits.

Watching several ponies make exchanges I discover that bits are simple small coins made of plated gold. I'll have to learn later how to acquire these bits for my own use.

In a way, I am lucky to have shipwrecked come ashore in a populated area where I can satisfy my basic needs without bits. Drinking wells are found all over this city within parks and plazas. Strangely enough, I manage to obtain some bits from the bottom of these shallow wells. Interestingly, when I drink from the well the surrounding ponies become very curious and amused. Still unable to make a friend though.

As for food, well that is where I made one of my most favorite discoveries yet. After the sporting debacle I spent the following day looking for other locations where emotions weren't as mixed in the air. This search led me to the local eateries called "Bars". They are similar to an inn from the pony villages in the homeland serving drinks and acting as a social gathering area. The best part? Since most ponies come here to have a good time the air is filled with positive emotions.

With the sun setting lazily beyond the horizon I trot through the city in search for a bar. I eventually find one called "Charlie Hops" and eagerly open the door. I immediately regret doing so.

Oh sweet merciful heavens! What is that ear screeching noise?

I'll discover later on that every Thursday night is open karaoke night. Tonight just so happens to be a Thursday night and some colt decided to try out his very own rendition of "Hoodoo" by some musical group called Goodsnack. I plead for the Queen to protect my ears as they take cover against my head.

I take a seat at the bar. I use the few bits I procured from the wells to acquire a couple of stout drinks. I find myself disappointed that what comes across as stout here is more or less a lite drink back home saturated with sugar. The colt on stage didn't make it far into the song before he was "calmly asked" to get off the stage. And by that I mean some old mare came out swinging an old broom at him. I let out a long sigh of relaxation and I lose myself in the sweet aroma of emotions which fills this place, blocked from the diluted air from outside. That sweet, sweet moment is then rudely interrupted with twitching eyes and ears as another pony starts singing "Tarzan Colt". If you can call gryphon talons scratching a chalkboard singing.


It ends. By the Queen the terrible singing ends. I will never coming back to this place on a Thursday ever again. And yet, the frustrations are not over. Sitting just behind me are a mare and stallion. If one were to listen to their conversation (something that I adamantly will deny doing) you'd think they are the best of friends in the world. I imagine they are, but I sense a deeper bond there that they appear to be unaware of. They both have fully fell in love with each other. It would be adorable, if it isn't the fact that it's grating on my nerves how oblivious they are to each other.

"So, any pretty mare catch your eyes yet?"

Oh, I see what your doing there.

"Eh, there have been a few lookers for sure. Just none that I'm feeling. None worth getting to know better, you know?

"Yeah, haha, I hear that."

"Take it that means no stallion in your life either?"

Come on mare! You got this! Tell him! Yes!...Wait, doubt? No, don't do that! Don't back down now.

"No. Same boat as you really. Just don't feel like looking for a relationship at the moment."

LIAR!!

I let out a sigh of frustration and let my head drop onto the bar table. The mare behind the bar raises a brow at my actions. Curious at the double shot of love, I risk a glance at the couple. They are not even looking at each other as both have found their hooves to be more interesting than each other. I hold up a hoof and order the strongest drink they have. We changelings have a habit in getting involved with ponies and their relationships. It's just an easy thing to want to do when you can sense the true emotions that the ponies always want to hide. Doesn't mean all of us know how to handle a situation like this. Normally, I would pass the details to a more skillful social changeling like my friend Wave. Now I find myself in a situation where that isn't possible I'm debating playing matchmaker to help the two behind me. I try talking myself out of it saying that my mission came first. What an awful excuse, I mean, I was trying to make friends just yesterday. I down my drink in one swig with a singular thought.

I'm in way over my head here.

Soon after the mare trots out of the bar leaving behind a pale yellow stallion staring longingly with his blue eyes. I can't stand it. I decide to help out the two lovebirds. Now for the hard part, introducing myself. Any earlier attempts ended in catastrophic failure. The ponies here are suspicious of anypony they don't know it seems. How any of them meet anyone new beyond me. So what happens if take a page from the ponies in the homeland and act like we already know each other? As I glance back at the light orange mane colt I decide it's worth a shot. I leave my seat and quickly, and rather smoothly if I may add, sit in the seat previously occupied by the departed mare.

"How are you doing buddy!?"

I watch as he flinches at the sound of my voice and turns his attention to me breathing heavily. After a couple of deep breaths he finds his voice.

"Fine I suppose. Uh... do I know you?"

I drop my ears, force my eyes to water, and place a hoof over my heart. "You mean, you don't remember me? Your greatest friend you've ever known?" He wears the most blank expression I've ever seen.

"I don't-"

"But to answer your question, no. This is the first time we've ever met. Hi! my name is Arctic." I extend my hoof for him. I can nearly pluck out his hesitation and spread it on some toast. Hmm, now I have a craving for toast. It has no taste like the rest of pony food, but I still like the texture. The stallion shakes my hoof.

"Pitch Out."

SUCCESS!!

...

Now what do I do?

"So, can I help you with anything?" Pitch asks

"Oh right, I wanted to ask you about your mare friend."

"Marefriend? No, Meadow and I are just. Wait, why?"

"You two are just what?"

"We're just friends. Now w-"

"Interesting. Are you sure?"

"Tell me why you wa-"

"Are you sure there's nothing more behind how you feel?"

"I. Huh?"

"I mean, just look at her. She is definitely easy on the eyes you have to admit. Cute mane, beautiful color scheme, amazing figure, and don't get me started on the curvy rump of hers. Hot dame!"

ANGER

That was all the warning I got before I am knocked out of my seat. I start to clench my chest and gasping for breath. I thought the conversation was going swimmingly. My new friend disagrees. I remember once upon a time Wave telling me my brazen approach to everything is going to get me killed. I'm starting to believe her.

"Listen here you... you stuck of pile of pig shit! If you ever! AND I MEAN EVER! Talk about Meadow like that again I'm gonna shove my hoof so far up you tail vent you're not going to ever know which way is up again!"

If the look in the stallion's eye was any indication then the day of reckoning has reached me at last. Every cough I make sends a little pain to my chest. Still, a point needs to be made to Pitch.

"Ah ha! So there is something more."

"This is none of your business!"

"Oh I completely agree, trust me. But I just can't stand by the side while you two are completely oblivious about how you two truly feel towards each other. To put it simply, It's way too painful to witness. Even more so than your right hook. Great form by the way."

I think I broke him. The stallion is completely flummoxed as he retakes his seat and tries to process what I told him. He tries to form words several time, each time with a different emotion behind him, yet fails every time. I return to my seat and wait patiently. I don't get what is too hard to process. I must have made my intention clear by now. Oh, I think he's finally coming out of his stupor.

"You're... I don't even know what." He shakes his thoughts away and begins again. "Are you saying you are trying to get Meadow and I together?"

"Of course, what else would I have been trying to do?"

Pitch narrows his eyes for a split second before slumping back in his seat and calling over a servant. It's at this point I notice something slightly odd with the bar we're in. The once nicely neat, organize, and clean bar is no more. In its place are smashed bottles, overturned tables, and broken chairs. I'm not sure when, but apparently a brawl had broken out even though I didn't sense, and still don't sense any lingering aggression in the air. In fact the whole bar seems to be hugging it out with one another. I glance at the bar table and see the bartender still cleaning glasses as if nothing happened and then I notice that at some point a pony had started playing some old time ragtime on the grand piano in the corner with the actual pianist laying unconscious on the top. I shake out my confusion and return my attention to the cautious pony across from me. I can tell he doesn't trust me. I don't blame him, but my direction is set. He's in need of a changeling.

"Why?" Pitch asks.

"Hmm?" I drag myself out of my thoughts as I ponder the question. "Why what?"

"Why do you want to help me? What do you get out of this?" He eyes me suspiciously as if trying to find a hidden motive behind my fake eyes. I, on the other hoof, am caught off guard at the last inquiry. I do not know what he means what I get out of this. What I get is the satisfaction of another job well done and a potential meal. It's at this point I have to remind myself that the ponies here do not know about us changelings. It is a new world after all. Perhaps the ponies here always have a hidden agenda about them. I'll have to explore this line of thought later. I can still answer his first question.

"Listen friend-"

"I'm not your frie-"

"I sensed the love and affection you two have. I also notice that the two of you tended to avoid any subject of deeper relationships."

"Where you spy-"

"I also know that if you two stay on this path that eventually that love is going to fade when one of the two of you get swept off your hooves by another. It's not about if, it's about when."

"But meadow and I are-"

"Best friends? I understand that but tell me, truly tell me, don't you want to go further than that? I know what I sensed. I know you love her." I motion my hooves for him to continue. He thinks for a bit, then lets out a deep sigh.

"Yeah you're right. I do love her but-"

"Unless the next words out of your mouth is some conviction of asking her out I don't want to hear it."

"Bu-"

"Not a single word."

"I-"

"Listen!" I slam the table in emphasis. "You are going to ask that mare out if it's the last thing you do. Understand?" He nods his head, rapidly, in understanding. He then takes a drink and raises a brow at me.

"Are you a matchmaker or something?"

Oh the irony. Is this irony?

"Or something," I chuckle. I may have done the smile a little menacingly as his eyes shrink at my response. I also notice that my teeth feel a little jagged than they should be. Did I forget to completely change them to pony teeth? Oops. I quickly clap my hooves in order to hide my mistake.

"Well, I've given it some thought and I think I got the perfect plan in place." I rub my hooves together in anticipation. "We're gonna give her the old number 34!" His eyes once again shrink to pinpricks as his face turns beat red. He almost loses his balance in the chair but regains it just in time to shout.

"THE WHAT!?"


Turns out the ponies here hear the number 34 and think of something sexual. I don't understand why, but I keep it in mind for the next time it comes up. I was able to calm Pitch down after that little cultural misunderstanding. Naturally, he wanted to know what plan 34 entailed. I told him that I needed to gain some information first. I didn't have the heart to tell him that plan 34, also known as the "Wing It" plan, was 80% improvisation. The other 20% is basically getting meadow to realize her love for Pitch and then getting them together for a date. The greatest plan? Not by a long-shot, yet it has a surprising great success rate. I think Wave would be proud.

I spend the next day getting to know Pitch. Turns out he's an up and coming baseball (not rounders) pitcher who's currently playing in the minor leagues. He met meadow during his college days where she helped maintain the baseball field and they've been best friends ever since. After several inquiries, it seems that their love grew rather slowly, yet I can sense it grew very, very strong. Anytime Meadow gets brought up the colt practically becomes a high production love machine. I learn that he is starting in a game tomorrow and that Meadow is attending. Sensing an opportunity, I ask if Pitch can procure me a ticket. He hesitates, but gives in only after 15 minutes of begging. My personal best time yet.

It is on this day, on my way back to my ship that I spot a seemingly abandoned complex on the edge of the harbor. It's an old wooden structure about the size of a large mansion. It's not in the greatest shape with rotten wood, growing vines, and broken boarded up windows, but it catches my eyes all the same. With the sun sinking in the horizon I don't stay for long. I make note of nearby landmarks so that i may locate this building again and continue to my ship.


Pitch owns me big time for this.

Ticket in hoof, I'm on my way to the baseball game. I figured last night that going to this game will give me an idea how much the powerful emotion of a sport game will affect me when I'm not the direct focus of attention. The second reason, Meadow is also attending this game and this will give me a chance to forward my plans to get the two lovebirds together. But my plan calls for a new disguise. For the first time in my short life I became something other than a stallion. Yup, a mare. A petite little mare with the reverse color scheme of my main disguise. A blue coat with a very stylish white mane and long flowing tail with a blue streak in both. Don't ask me about the eyes. At this point, I'm just hoping they at least match the rest of me in someway.

Forget big time. Pitch owns me a lifetime for this.

Needless to say I feel very, very uncomfortable. Not that there's anything wrong with mares. For the first time I feel very pretty and giddy, I even have a slight urge to skip everywhere I go. Which is weird for me. Maybe I'm over doing the femininity a little bit. Kind of hard to get into the female mindset when it makes absolutely no sense on any scale. I can feel the stallion in me cringe in embarrassment. I remind myself that this is only temporary and continue with my method acting.

At last I spot the diamond complex in question. Pitch told me how he is currently in a more minor, minor league and the field reflects as such. In hindsight, calling such a sight a "complex" does it a grand gesture. The place is nothing but a simple field with a few stands just on the other side of a simple turnstile. A single guard stands by to collect the tickets before anypony enters the park. I lose focus of my surroundings as I examine the field that I'm taken completely by surprise when I'm blindsided by a galloping pony. Next thing I know, I'm on the ground chasing the stars around my head. My attempt to stand nearly fails before a helping hoof helps steady me on my hooves.

"Sorry! I'm so sorry! I was in a rush, and I wasn't looking and I'm sorry!"

I turn towards the soft voice of my assaulter. A rush of familiarity comes over me as I take her in. She is light pink in color. Her long flowing tail and mane are a two-toned color of salmon and coral. Her mane is gracefully pulled back in a ponytail held by a simple red bow with a pink flower clip. Her light blue eyes stare at me with concern. She is word for word how Pitch described her to me.

Coincidence, thy name is Meadow. Alright Arctic, it's now or never. Time to mare-up.

"Like, OMQ! That like, hurt!" I say in much higher pitch than I meant to.

If Wave was here, I don't know if she would tease me to no end or kill me. Probably both.

I didn't know it was possible for Meadow's expression to get any more apologetic, but here she is, somehow pulling it off.

By the Queen! She is absolutely adorable. How can anyone even pretend to stay mad at her. Perhaps I should lay off a bit. The emotions in the air are starting too sour for my taste.

I do the most mareish thing I can think of and pull her into a hug.

"It's okay. I like, forgive you and stuff." I can feel her start to get uncomfortable. I'm not sure what is the main cause, though I do try to fix the problem. Perhaps an introduction will help. "My name is uh..."

Right, I probably shouldn't say my real name in case Pitch asks later.

*Ahem*

"Like, excuse me. My name is Hydro Thunder."

*sigh* Just shut up me.

"Like, I know how strange it sounds but, like, there's nothing I can like do about it and it's, like my name and I like, like my name and stuff."

Shut up me!

"My friends call me Hydie though and so can you because, like, I'd like to be your friend and stuff."

Shut up and let the mare go me!

If the feeling of Meadow being uncomfortable was subtle before it's a damn beacon now. After seeing her pleading eyes I sheepishly let go of my hug. Meadow starts to slowly back away from me.

"Yeah, well, as much as I like making new friends I do have somewhere to be."

"Oh, like the baseball game? I'm like, totally heading to the game myself. We can go together. *Gasp* We can even sit and like gossip and stuff!" I end that last sentence with a wild grin. Meadow, for her part, is trying to keep her composure, but I can sense the rising panic inside her. I wonder what I'm doing wrong? Still, something I said gave her pause.

"You're going to a baseball game?"

"Yeah! Is that, like, some problem or something?"

I'm really starting to hate that word.

Meadow stares me down through narrow eyes for a brief second before she shakes off the expression. She then tries her best to look anywhere but at myself.

"Oh, no! No problem! None whatsoever! Definitely no problem at all. I just didn't think somepony like you would be interested in sports." She quickly raises a hoof to her mouth in shock. "I'm sorry, that came out wrong."

I wave her off to let her know there was no harm done.

"Like, normally you'd be right. But then I found this, like, super hot stallion that plays on the team and I just, like, can't keep my mind off seeing him working out a sweat playing."

SHUT UP M- actually, this could work out.

"And who would that be exactly?" She keeps eyeing me suspiciously. If I can pull this off right, I can use her jealousy to my advantage.

"Oh, like, I don't know his name yet. But I will. Hey I got an idea!" I hook a hoof over her withers and start to drag her along to the entrance. "Instead of talking about him, I can show you instead."

"Oh, that's okay I wouldn't want to imp-"

I drown out whatever excuse she tries to escape with. She is in my clutches now and I am not letting her go without progress being made. She gives up and walks alongside me once we pass the entrance. Meadow and I take our seats on the top of the bleachers on the left side of the diamond. Meadow is shifting uncomfortably, though I can sense some curiosity rooting in place. She probably wants to make sure the stallion I mentioned earlier isn't hers. It is of course. Well, personally I'm not sure if I consider him to be "hot" so to speak. I mean, Pitch does have that athletic build going for him I suppose. I can definitely see a mare similar to me being interested in his looks. All I know is that I prefer mares. I wonder, does that mean I'm a straight stallion but a gay mare?

Not important right now mind of mine.

"So..." I tilt my ears to meadow as she takes a long pause. I can't quite gauge what she is feeling as her feelings constantly shift from one to another and back again.

Mares...

"Do you, uh, see this stallion of yours yet?" she chuckles nervously.

"Hmm, not ye- OMQ! There he is!" I bounce about in barely contained excitement as I point towards the yellow earth pony taking the mound. I have to act at my very limit as I sense the aghast mare beside me. My mind takes me back to the bar when the then hopeful mare asked if Pitch had an interest in any other mare. I told him afterwards that someone may take interest in either him or Meadow if he didn't act in a timely manner. If the shifting eyes and sense of dread told me anything, I believe that Meadow is starting to have her own revelation on the matter. It lasts only for a moment though as she becomes determined.

"That's Pitch Out, he's actually seeing someone else at the moment."

"Aww." I chuckle a little on the inside as I see the triumph in Meadow's eyes. Still I am not done yet. "Well, I can still, like, admire the eye candy." That sent Meadow back, just a little though.

"Well, I would be careful arou-"

"Besides, If I, like, know anything about HPRs, that's high profile relationships BTW, is that they, like, never last, like, at all. I'll get my chance yet."

"I wouldn't cou-"

"Like, who even is his marefriend anyways?"

"Well, it's uh... It's... It's me actually. Yup, I'm Pitch's marefriend. So, like, back off yeah?" Meadow stands and prods a hoof into my chest. I stare blankly at her for a moment, and then I start laughing like a mad mare. Her ears wilt for a brief second before she composes herself.

"What?"

"Hahaha! You!? Yeah, I, like, know that's a complete lie. First off, you completely waited until I asked to say anything, even then you hesitated. Second, I know mares like you. You all are the ones staring from the sidelines wanting to ask out a stallion but are way too afraid to until some other mare beats you to the punch."

"What? I-"

"Well guess what little filly, I'm that mare. You, like, had your chance."

At this moment I am half expecting Meadow to do a similar action to what Pitch did to me at the bar. She stands there, mouth moving up in down searching for a response. Rage bellows out of her in waves, I brace myself according. Then all of it dissipates in an instant. To my bafflement, she completely turns around and storms the field, interrupting the teams warm ups. I watch as Pitch is flabbergasted as Meadow trots straight up to him and shouts out loud enough for me to hear.

"Pitch, I like you. And I mean I really, really like you. I've actually had a crush on you since our university days, but I was too nervous to tell you how I felt in case I ruined what we had and so I waited. I waited to see if you felt the same way about me. But I can't just wait around anymore. If I do, I risk losing my chance with you. I risk the fear of what may happen if I ask becoming a regret of what could have happened if I ask. So, Pitch. Will you go out with me?"

Everyone's jaws join mine in hitting the floor while Meadow tosses a glare my way before looking meekly at Pitch. I don't hear the response, but if the embrace is any indication I'd say he said yes. He casts a curious glance my way and I return with a wink and a smile. I don't need sensing abilities to note how dumbfounded everypony is.

With my objective finished, I quietly make my exit as Hydro and return as my regular old self for the game. I spy Meadow relaxing back in the stands looking as if she just stepped out of a dream. I find a seat near her and harmlessly drink in the extra excess emotions she is giving off. I'll catch up with Pitch the next day feigning ignorance, though I think he'll know I must have had my hoof in this in some shape or form. It matters not. What does matter is that I'll be able to figure out where they're going on their first date.

Charlie Hops.

On a Thursday.

This is going to be a disaster, isn't it?


The last few days were uneventful. I mostly spent the time mapping out the city and noting key locations. Afterwards, Pitch and I would meet up at Charlie Hops for a couple of drinks. He still believes I have something to do with Meadow asking him out and I think this is his way to show appreciation. I find it great to finally have a friend in this new world.

"You're not from around here are you?" I let out a haughty chuckle.

"That obvious eh?"

"Absolutely, everything about you screams, 'hey everypony, I've never seen a city in my life'."

"Well to be fair, I indeed never have seen, or even been near, a city before. Just the odd small town here and there."

"Explains why you try to go up to everypony expecting you two to be instant best friends." I smile. Ever since I made friends with Pitch I tried to make more friends in a similar way with no success. I swirl the drink in my hoof as I think about the villages in the homeland. Everypony there treated each other as some form of extended family. All you have to do is simply start talking about anything and you'll end up befriending the entire town. I once remember talking to another changeling in a village only to have a complete stranger trot up to us, grab my friend's hoof to look at the time on the watch he was wearing, then simply trot away without a single word spoken. We caught up to him later and he greeted us as if we were old friends of his. Eveypony here, however, keeps a sort of formal distance from each other. It's kind of depressing to think about.

"Hey, it gets easier the longer you're here. Trust me on this one, I grew up in a small town as well. It was overwhelming for me when I first moved here as well, but you start to pick up the little ways city life works and it all gets easier."

"Yeah, that's what I tell myself every morning at least." Deafening silence dominates our table. I don't think either of us know how to continue the current subject forward.

"So, where are you from then?"

"Far away in yonder that direction." Pitch looks towards the direction I'm pointing to. He tilts his head and then turns back to me with a single brow raised.

"Uh, there is nothing that way except the ocean."

"Yup."

"You're telling me you're from Gryphonia or Zebrica or something?"

"Or something." I smile at his puzzlement and chug down the rest of my drink. The name Zebrica is new to me, but I am aware of Gryphonia. It is a land a bit south and a fair distance west from the homeland. It's also the place where I first heard about a land of paradise.

"Well, welcome to Equestria I suppose. Land of harmony united under sun and moon."

'Remembered forever, the Land of Equestria~'

I perk up, head on a swivel as I try to identify where the sudden lyrics came from. I find that the entire bar came to a complete stop in order to sing the one line and then continue as if nothing happened. I give Pitch a quizzical gaze. He simply shrugs in response.

"You'll get use to that as well."

Thinking I don't have nearly enough alcohol in my system I order a double shot of whiskey. Even if my visit here goes awry I can at least return to the hive with stories of the most bizarre land in all the world. I'm about to open up with a new subject when I spy a certain light pink unicorn enter. I alert Pitch with a nudge and wish him luck on his date. I move to the bar table just behind Pitch's table.

From my understanding, the date started off very well. They were both nervous, but relaxed as the night went on. It isn't until halfway through the meal did I notice a problem. The date is stalling out. Behind the passion I feel they have for each other is an awkwardness. As such, they both were treating this date as if they were still just best friends and nothing more. All their talking is a about their respective days and other mundane things and not about their feelings for one another or anything deeper than the surface. I had an ill feeling this may happen once Pitch told me he was taking Meadow to a bar for a first date. This just wasn't the right kind of atmosphere needed.

I try thinking of ways to get their date back on track that doesn't involve walking up to their table and demanding them to make out already. It is then when I notice the open mic on the stage. An idea clings to my mind and won't let go. I can set the atmosphere needed and perhaps even give Pitch the hint he needs to confess to that mare. I spy the electric blue spiky mane of the guest DJ resting her head on her hoof and make my way over to her. Her ears perk up as I motion towards her and tell her my plan. She grins and removes a guitar from behind her set and trots with me towards the stage.

As I make my way up to the microphone I see Pitch notice me with shrunken eyes. I give him a wink and he mouths to me 'don't you dare'. Meadow, for her part, is looking ahead with curiosity. Meanwhile, the other patrons appear to be bracing themselves for another terrible singing performance. It's clear to me they never heard a changeling, with full control over their vocals, sing before. They are in for a surprise.

I send a glance at the DJ who has taken a seat near the back of the stage. She gives me a nod and I return with one myself. She then starts to play a few cords in preparation. I clear my throat and address the crowd.

"I dedicate this next song to all you would be lovers out there."

The DJ begins the intro of the song. The barmare rolls her eyes, Meadow slips out a giggle, and Pitch slaps a hoof to his face and shakes his head slowly. I can even feel the DJ's own amusement radiate behind me. So be it. I know exactly what I'm doing. Sort of. Eh, too late to back down now anyways. I alter my voice to be slightly higher in pitch and much softer. With the intro over, I pour every ounce of passion I have as I sing the first line.

'It still feels like our first night together.'

The results are near instantaneous. I've caught the attention of the once cringing bar-goers. The barmare just about dropped the glass she was cleaning. Pitch perks up, but left his jaw still lying on the table while Meadow props her head on her hooves and leans in with rapt attention. The only pony unaffected is the DJ who is absorbed with her guitar.

I continue singing while trying to subtly motion towards Pitch with my hooves. It takes a moment, but he finally gets the hint and gives me a single nod. I see him rub his neck while staring at Meadow, possibly searching for the right words. As I reach the first chorus I watch as he closes his eyes and absorbs the lyrics of the song. He soon reopens them with a soft, longing expression and begins to speak to Meadow. At first, Meadow only turns an ear in his direction, but as he continues he captures her full attention. Pitch's mouth is in constant motion as I can only assume he is confessing everything to her. I can see Meadow's eyes start gleaming, a blush forming in her cheeks. Eventually, she motions Pitch to stop talking. She utters what looks to be three words and as the final notes of my song ends they lean in for their first kiss.

SUCCESS!!

I admire my handiwork for a moment before it's my turn to express some shock. Pitch and Meadow are not the only couple making out. In fact, the entire bar, and I do mean the ENTIRE bar is currently making out with one another. Even the barmare managed to snag a couple of stallions herself. I stare blankly for several seconds before I do the only thing I can do.

I laugh.

The DJ trots up next to me in her own silent laugh. She gives me a nudge and dramatically motions a hoof over the entire bar.

"I have no idea. It's a sight to behold though you have to admit," I say. The DJ nods in agreement and observes the crowd for a brief moment again before turning her attention back to me. She eyes me up in down for a split second and raises a brow. I also observe the crowd for a moment and give a shrug.

"Eh, why not."

With little warning I pounce onto the expectant mare knocking both of us to the ground. Once, when I was young (well, younger anyways) I tried to picture how my first kiss would happen. I mainly focused those thoughts on what sweet emotion my potential partner would be radiating. I imagined the love for one another free flowing back and forth between us. Never did I imagine that she would be emitting complete and utter amusement while trying her best to suppress laughter.

"Oh yeah, laugh it up fuzzball." The DJ actually makes a point to do exactly that; her diaphragm expanding and condensing in rapid cycles. I let loose a chuckle as well. I couldn't blame her, this whole situation is completely absurd. Still, for the brief second we were locked together I did notice a little something that I plan to use against her. I lean in and whisper softly in her ears. "But I know for a fact that you absolutely enjoyed that."

My words get the result I expected as her cheeks completely flush out. Score one for the changeling. With a chuckle, I offer her a hoof and help her up. The bar recovers from whatever strange magic overtook the place and is now demanding an encore performance. I cast a glance to Pitch and Meadow, yet they appear to be lost in their own little world. So instead I look to the DJ to see if she is up for some more songs. She gives me an eager nod of approval. I trot up back to the mic and address the crowd once again.

"Okay, how about this. I'll sing some more, but in return you all provide the drinks. Deal?"

I won't remember the rest of the night.


Pain, my old friend. Nice to feel you once again.

I groan as I lift myself up from the couch. I keep my eyes tight as I rub my temples with my hooves. I am happy to discover I'm still in my pony form, especially since I'm becoming increasingly aware that I'm in somepony's house. This peaks my curiosity as to who helped me and let me stay the night while I was incapacitated. I open my eyes and immediately close them again in extreme regret as the bright sunlight burns my retinas. My stomach decides to join in causing me anguish. It's not to the point to where I have the need to throw-up thank the Queen, but it's enough to make me feel ill enough to lay back down on the couch in moaning defeat.

I know not how long I lay here groaning in anguish. eventually I hear movement and a source of concern come into the room I'm in. though not the greatest option meal for a hangover, I do drink in the concern which succeeds in settling my stomach enough to be bearable. I open my eyes slightly to get use to the light. With that done I fully open them to see who my apparent savior is. Honestly, I was fully expecting it to be either Pitch or Meadow. What I was not expecting was the DJ from the bar. Yet here she is, wearing her signature purple sunglasses and offering me a cup of water. I accept the glass and down the drink in desperate gulps. though she doesn't show it, I can sense the rising amusement at my predicament.

Hydrated and with food in my system I become stable enough to fully regain my situational awareness. I currently rest within a small, yet comfy room. Posters of all types of music adorn the walls and I can see several instruments scatter about. I even spy a smaller version of the turntable from the bar last night. In the corner, next to the entrance, is a bookcase filled with nothing but various vinyl records. On the other side is a half-wall with a gap which leads to the kitchen. I see another door near the kitchen, yet with the door closed I can only assume that it may be the bedroom of this white mare. I start to sit up on the couch, but go no further as my hangover hasn't completely left me. The DJ eyes me patiently before taking a seat on a recliner across from me. She quizzically tilts her head with a mix of subtle concern and curiosity.

"I'm a little ill, but a whole lot better than before." The emitting relief lets me know that she is happy to hear. "Thanks for helping me despite... well whatever happened." She gives a salute in response. She then starts to silently giggle and makes a circular motion next to her head and then points to me. I laugh along with her.

"Yeah, a good friend of mine has often told me I tend to be a bit excitable when I'm drunk. Especially after nights similar to last night in which she typically is stuck helping me." The DJ continues laughing, but raises a brow at me while she does.

"Well, if you ask her then she would say yes, but I swear nights like the last are very few and far between. I like to say I'm in complete control of my actions." The DJ simply rolls her eyes.

"My name is Arctic by the way. Arctic Thunder." I offer a hoof for a hoofshake, though she simply gets up and bumps my hoof before moving to her bookcase (vinylcase?). She picks up a record, points to the record, then points to herself. It takes a moment, but I think I get an idea what she is doing.

"Vinyl? Is that your name?" She nods her head. She then makes a motion as if playing the record on a turntable. "Vinyl Player?" She shakes her head. She makes the same motion, acting as if she is moving the record back and forth. "Vinyl Repeat?" She shakes her head and stomps with frustration. She starts looking around for something to help her get the point across while she absentmindedly scratches the floor. Hmm, maybe...

"Vinyl Scratch?"

She looks back with surprise before giving me a nod of approval. She places the record back on the shelf before offering her own hoof. I take a page from her book and give it a bump with my own. Not knowing where to next take the conversation I settle on the obvious one.

"So... I take it that you're mute?" She gives me a single nod. She hides it, but I can sense a slight amount of sadness behind her action. Yet, the sadness is drowned out by determination and, surprisingly, a large reserve of passion. Glancing over the room once again I start to make a connection.

"You use music to express yourself in place of words?" I watch as her glasses nearly fall off in shock. She nods and tilts her head. In return I gesture to the musical themed room. She looks around herself and seems to accept the explanation as she returns to her earlier seat and gesture to me.

"Well, is there anything specific you like to know?" She ponders for a moment and then points toward my fake cutie mark. The snow filled clouds with a lightning bolt. "Ah, I got this after bearing witness to one of the most rare occurrences of weather in the wild. Thunder-snow.

Witnessing. Being struck down while flying through the storm. Eh, same difference.

The explanation is true enough in it's own right. Just about every element of my pony form is based off that one event in my life. The experience changed so much about myself that I even changed my name to mark the occasion of when I became the changeling I am now. My wings instinctively twitch at the memory. Though no physical scare was left, I still remember the pain and struggle that came after. I return to the present and notice the skepticism coming from Vinyl.

"Hey! It is true! I know the concept sounds absurd but thunder-snow is a real thing that can happen. Trust me. I had to find out the hard way." although she gives me a nod, I can still feel the skepticism leaking from her. I think nothing of it as she isn't the first to doubt me. Truly, only Wave and The Queen believe my words. Now there was something I am curious about this mare.

"Do you live here by yourself Vinyl? Despite your handicap and all that?" She nods firmly and strikes the floor with a hoof with pride and challenging aggression. I hold up my hooves in defense.

"Easy, easy. I'm sorry, I worded that wrong. I didn't mean anything behind that. If anything I find it admirable more than anything else." This causes Vinyl to relax and me to release my held breath.

The room falls silent and I take the time to analyze all that has happened. As the past few minutes float across my mind I laugh at a sudden realization I have. This, of course, cause Vinyl to stare me down questioningly.

"I was just thinking. You know, for a mute, you're one of the most talkative pony I've ever met." Surprisingly to me, this causes her to blush a little. I also start to sense a rising emotion within her. Combine that with her shuffling hooves and I fear what may be coming next.

I'm in shock at the suddenly developing feelings she is growing towards me. I think back about how such a thing can happen despite only knowing her for a few hours at most. I think back to last night. To how she eagerly agreed seeing my plans through despite the skepticism I felt she had for its success. To the spontaneous kiss we shared just to go with the flow of the bar. And although I do not remember much, I have a foggy recount of us giving a performance of a lifetime at karaoke. In fact, I can just recall us up on stage having a blast singing songs, making music, and just being ourselves. I think about the here and now and how, despite her being mute, I feel as if we can converse about anything we want. Finally, I think about how much I actually enjoy her company and how she clearly enjoys mine. If only I met her at any other time. I'd definitely be interested in pursuing a relationship. If only it were any other time...

I sigh.

"Vinyl."

She looks to me with anticipation.

"I know what you want to say. What you want to ask. I too enjoyed our short time together."

She is eager for me to continue. Until she senses a 'but' coming. Her ears drop.

"I simply can't. Not now at least. I have some major things going on right now and I'm nowhere near settled enough as it is, let alone prepared for a relationship."

She understands.

...

I can't leave like this.

"Listen, perhaps when things get more stable I'll look you up. And if then you're still intrested..."

Hope.

A stubborn yet extremely powerful emotion. A changeling fed directly with nothing but hope is said to be neigh invincible. Second in power only to the purest form of love. The DJ wishes for more than just words. She outstretch her hoof. I take it with a firm shake.

"I promise."


My Queen,

I have finally achieved success in reaching out to the locals. I was able to achieve a level of friendship with a few of the ponies. Two of which I also help realize their love for one another using our inherent skills. The situation has confirmed that, not only can changelings be able to successfully integrate with the local culture, but that also there are many targets of opportunities available to assist the ponies and harvest the excess emotions. The key challenge is getting a pony to open up enough to allow themselves to make new friends as the ponies here appear to be more naturally suspicious of the intent of strangers. With the help of my new friends I am determined to learn how to do just that and then pass down the knowledge to the hive.

On a more personal side of things I wish to ask for advice my Queen. For you see, I met this one mare...


*Three nights later*

Fish. Fish everywhere. schools of various types and color float around me as I swim closer to the coral reef. Here I am tranquil. Here I am at peace.

'A message, from Daughter Wave Runner.'

Huh, that's unusu-

'ARCTIC!!'

"GAAAAHHHH!!!"

*Crash*

"Ow!"

'You get your sorry ass back to that mare and ask her out this instant!'

"WAVE!"

Backstreet

View Online

The creaks of rotten wood fills the dark dusty room. A board is pried away from the shattered window. The soft evening light of the moon provides just enough light for my vision to be unaffected. I look back out the third story window for a view of the sleeping harbor. Inquiries about the large wooden complex at the harbor's edge have led to naught but dead ends. So, I decided to inspect the structure myself through the very legit means of forcing myself inside during the middle of the night.

I turn away from the open air and start examining the place in great detail. I make sure to mentally capture everything for a future report to The Queen. The state of the inside is just as bad, if not worse, than the outside. The stench of rodents saturates the stale air. Mold had made its home on the sides of the soaked walls wherever they still stand. I make my way to the door and attempt to open it. The hinges break off the rotten frame causing the door to slam to the ground, kicking up a smokescreen of dust. I gallop back to the open window for some fresh air; blinking my dry eyes in an effort to rid myself of age old particles.

Why do doors hate me so?

Continuing my exploration reveals a staircase next to the door. Examining the second floor starts to plant seeds of doubt in the stability of the structure. Yet, upon the examination of key support structures I make an amazing discovery. There's no rot, mold, or cracks and they are very well maintained. Somepony has been keeping the structure from collapsing in on itself for sure. Yet the locals have zero clue as to who even once owned this building, let alone who upkeeps it. Plus, why would they maintain the foundation and not the rest of it?

I have a bad feeling about this.

Where the third floor has only one very large room, the second floor can be described as rooms, rooms, and even more rooms; some small, others big, some have rooms within rooms, and all of them very roomy and room like. I return to the stairs and descend to the ground floor. I end up in a wide hallway with three doors. Simple design ones on the left and right with a grand double door straight ahead. Opening the doors on the right reveals a room half the length and width of the entire complex. The same goes for the left door.

I move to the grand entryway, enter, and I am left in awe. It is evident that the rooms on the third and second floors only take up half the building for the open area in which I stand now has a vaulted ceiling reaching up all three levels. multiple small wooden beams near the top run parallel across the length of the structure. Two rows of massively carved columns hold the ceiling in place. Yet, each column also holds a circular platform a good 10 feet away from the top.

I continue to admire this place until I hear hooves on wood. Hooves that were not mine. Before I can register this fact a pair of fetlocks wrap around my barrel, lifts me up in the air, and then slams me hard into the floorboards. In a daze, I try to shuffle back onto my hooves to defend myself. A sudden pressure on my chest keeps me pin while another grasps my throat. I flail my hooves in every direction in desperation to remove the slowly squeezing sensation on my throat. With little space left for air to pass to my lungs I soon stop moving my hooves all together as I focus on achieving one breath after another. The fight is over before it began, yet the pressure doesn't continue to cut off my supply of air fully.

"No sudden moves!"

The pressure on my neck loosens and I make a sudden move to rest my own hoof on my throat. This results in said hoof being grabbed and twisted into a position a hoof is not meant to bend. I grunt out in pain, but force my body not to make the situation worse with even more sudden movements.

"That was a dumb move."

"Agreed! Completely agree! 100% in total agreement with your words! Won't happen again!"

My attacker lets out a grunt of annoyance, but he does let go of my hoof. This time I stay completely still on the ground. This appeases the stranger, though he still keeps me pin to the floor with his other hoof.

"Now then, if you would kindly exp-"

"What are you exactly?"

The pony's yellow cat like irises widen for a split second at my interruption before they threaten to disappear entirely as they narrow even more so than before. His right tufted ear flickers a couple times before he responds.

"You're not in the position to ask questions right now."

"Apologies, do you mind if I get in the proper position then?"

"Yo- NO!"

He increases the force behind his hoof crushing me to the ground and leans in until his face is mere inches from my own. He bares his fangs with a blood chilling hiss and bores his gaze deep down into the depths of my soul.

"If the next words I hear come out of your mouth are not in relation to any question I ask then you're going to find it very difficult to ever speak again without vocal cords. Do you understand me?"

I gulp as my mind imagines the painful process of removing said vocal cords and eagerly give the stranger my nod of understanding.

"Now then, what was so important to you that you decided to break into my inn?"

This is an inn?

I don't dare to speak those words out loud. It's becoming increasingly obvious that I'm in a very precarious situation. Sure, one may think the whole getting ambushed and pinned to the floor would be the top indicator of such a situation. The topping on the cake, however, comes from the fact that this creature, though very pony like in appearance, is extremely unfamiliar to me. It is this fact that truly has me frightened.

"Uh, well... you see. I tried asking around about what was the purpose of this building and who owns it. But then, everypony I talked to had zero clue an-"

"So you decided your best course of action was to break in?"

"Uh... Yes?"

.

..

...

"You're not very bright are you, son?"

"On the contrary, I'm told that if you place me in a field of snow on a bright sunny day that I have the ability to blind everypony in a 10 mile radius."

Though I end on a smile, my joke falls on deaf ears. If the rising frustration is any indication, I probably made my situation a tiny bit worse for ware. I don't think I can be sly with this one. And with a sigh, I forgo my happy go lucky approach for a more sensible neutrally even approach.

"I'm not dumb, sir. I'm just..."

How did The Queen describe it?

"...Young, naive, and incredibly bold." It looks like the stranger wants to say something, but I don't give him a chance. "I'm also stranded in a place far away from home. I know not the local customs here though I try my best to learn as quick as I can. Upon discovering this abandoned building in such a high traffic area, my curiosity was captured. Yet, I was left with no leads on either the owner nor correct procedures. As such, I decided to be bold and go for a more direct approach. I come here tonight, not for nefarious gains, but to get an understanding on the layout and state of the complex. My intention is that of restoration, should the building be salvageable. I figure that since no one appears to care about the current state of the structure that they too would not care if somepony came along to claim and care for it."

With my long winded speech over, I look on, hoping that my honesty will appease the stranger. During my monologue, he removed his hoof from my chest allowing me to finally sit up. He is currently sitting on his hunches picking my story apart in his mind. It tastes as though something about my story doesn't agree with him though. His next words confirm what I sensed.

"Putting aside your claim of being new to Equestria for now, why would a single stranded stallion, such as yourself, want such a large place like this. Doesn't seem to me to be the most sensible thing for a lost pony to do in a foreign land."

"You mentioned this place was once an inn, correct?"

"A bit more behind it than that, but in essence, yes."

"Well, although me being stranded here may or may not have been an accident, the fact that I'm here in the first place isn't. I am the first of my kind from a distant land to reach Equestria and there is a reasonable assumption to be made that I'm not going to be the last one to do so. In fact, I have a good feeling that this land is going to become an attractive location to come to soon. Yet, my ponies do not know anything to do with this land and are going to have a difficult time fitting in. Thus, I wish to acquire a sizable building to start an inn myself. A place built by my kind, for my kind. A place to get them accustomed to city life while being comfortable in knowing a piece of home exists for them here."

The idea of deception through truth is always an idea that sends my brain spinning. How can something that is true be simultaneously so misleading that nopony is ever the wiser? It matters not. All that matters is that it is and it works beautifully.

The stranger sits in quiet contemplation. I'm starting to believe something I said sparked a distant memory of his as he simply sits and stares. Eventually, he comes back to his senses enough to take a long look at the run-downed inn. He then looks at me. And he keeps looking. I give a smile in return, yet he keeps staring. Being very uncomfortable at the moment, I try making light of the situation by way of innocent whistling. Yup, he's still staring.

"So..."

"I'm a thestral. To answer your question from earlier."

This revelation...

Does absolutely nothing for me in the search for clarity. Since he can't sense my own emotions (I assume anyways) I make sure I perfectly express my own with a far tilt of the head.

"What in the blue blazes is a thestral?"

"It's what I am."

"That does nothing to tell me what a thestral is."

"Well then, how about you take a good look at me and fill in the missing gaps in that spacious mind of yours."

He makes a point by standing up on all four hooves and spreading his previously unseen bat-like wings. I can't quite find my voice at this particular revealing, though Mr. Angry Eyes softens his expression when he makes a revelation. One that I nearly forgot myself.

"Right. Ponies can't see well in the dark."

"That is true."

"You got a light source then?"

"Uh..."

"You mean to tell me you didn't bring a light source? How were you going to 'examine' this place if you couldn't see?"

...

"Magical contacts?" I offer. He looks thoughtfully into my eyes.

"Is that why one eye is red while the other is more of a magenta?" I blink. I then pound my face with my hoof with every proceeding thought.

Every! Damn! Time!

"I'll take that as a yes."

The stranger turns around and gestures to follow him with his wing. He then takes off towards one of the platforms above. I follow closely behind and, upon landing, am surprised to find a single table. The stranger sits next to the table and grabs one of the few bottles. He takes a swish of the drink and presents the bottle to me. I accept and take a sip. I'm elated to discover the liquid inside is a true stout drink and not overloaded with sugar. I sense the stranger's amusement as I take a second, much longer sip.

"Nice to know some ponies out there still have some taste buds," he says. I smile and set the bottle back down on the table.

"You have no idea how much I missed the good stuff like this." The stranger chuckles. He picks the bottle back up, but doesn't move for a drink. Instead he stares behind me to a time long gone. A long pause settles over the table as we just take in each others company for a time.

"A place built by my kind for, my kind. That's how you worded that correct?" I confirm his accuracy. "That's exactly what this place used to be once upon a time. A place built by thestrals, for thestrals, in a city centered around you ponies." He takes another drink and hoofs me the bottle which I eagerly accept.

"And what makes a thestral different from any other pony? Besides the cosmetic differences I mean." I offer the bottle back to him.

"You really don't know a thing about us do you?" I shake my head. "Simply put, we're made more for the night than the day. But when the majority of businesses are owned by day dwelling ponies, well, I think you get the idea." I accept the bottle from him.

"I think I get the idea yes. So this inn of yours operated during the night rather than the day?" I pass the bottle.

"Aye, it did. It was a place where thestrals from all over the city could gather and socialize while the city slept. It also was a place where they could rest during the daytime. I'm sure you noticed the rooms on the second floor didn't have any windows?" I nod, but deny the pass of the bottle with a simple question.

"So what happened?" He takes a deep drink from the bottle.

"Nightmare Moon happened." He makes it sound that that should be enough explanation enough. I implore him to continue the story. "The tales of Nightmare Moon may have been dismissed as simple mare's tales nowadays, but we thestrals know the truth. She is as real as you or me."

Yeah, I have no idea who that is.

"What does that have to do with this place?"

"It may not look it, but this place is nearly 1,000 years old. Sort of. The original building collapsed on itself hundreds of years ago, but was rebuilt by my ancestors. Anyways, after the event of that fateful day, a divide started to form between us and the ponies. Slowly but surely, every thestral left or were driven out by every pony town and city, including this one. Until one day, the only thestrals left here was my family."

Our conversation fell silent, allowing me to digest the information. I feel a sort of pity for the stranger. Being ostracized from a community is one of the biggest fears of changeling kind; especially since we rely on ponies for food. It's this fear which powers a popular theory among changelings back home on why we have such a strong, natural instinct to remain hidden from the world at large; plus, we developed the ability to change forms. Personally, I find sense behind the theory, yet it still leaves some questions unanswered.

"With the exodus of our kind from pony society, as a whole, didn't take long, for the once bustling inn, to fall silent. Still, my family has passed the ownership of this inn down from generation to generation, in hopes that one day will come when we thestrals return." The stranger eyes the bottle in his hoof before sighing and placing it down on the table.

"I fear that that hope will die with me. For you see, I have no heir either fit, nor willing, to take up this place after I'm gone." He hides it well, but I can easily pick up on the salty sadness filling the air. At that moment, I sense the powerful connection he has to this rotting inn and I know I must find another place.

"I don't like the idea that this place will fade into obscurity after I'm gone. You wish to have a location built by your kind, for your kind? Well then, allow me, Smokey Records, to offer you what I'm sure will become the greatest deal ever given to ponykind."

Never mind.


"500,000 bits!?"

I nod in confirmation. Pitch and I are currently walking around the city of Manehatten. He wants to show me the location of where a very unbelievable story of his happened. I fill him in on last night's chance encounter along the way. Pitch's outburst is understandable as it is very similar to the one I had. How can something so expensive be called the greatest deal made in ponykind?

"That has to be the greatest deal in ponykind I've ever heard," Pitch says. I have to shake off the disbelief of his words.

"Seriously?"

"Yeah, seriously! The location itself has to be worth 10 times that amount at minimum. To get all of that for just the price of a small condo, it's the deal of the century!"

"You think you may be blowing this out of proportion a bit?" Pitch shakes his head as we begin to trot on the suspension bridge mentioned in his story.

"Absolutely not. Trust me, stick around here long enough and you'll realize you were basically given a handout."

"Just one problem, Pitch. How in the two worlds am I suppose to come up with 500,000 bits?"

"That...is an excellent question. Also, two worlds?"

"Yeah, yours and mine."

Pitch rolls his eyes. We continue to walk across the bridge. Eventually we reached a section where the bridge is suspended above an extremely busy outdoor market place. Pitch gestures toward the railing and I examine the distance from the bridge to the ground below. I don't know how this is to prove his story as it instead makes me even more skeptical.

"Sorry, but I just don't see how a fully armored guard can just jump down from here without injuring himself in some way, shape, or form."

"I'm telling you, I know what I saw. The guy completely jumped off the side and landed right on top of a jewelry thief."

"And I'm telling you, I just don't see how it's possible."

"Well, he was a unicorn. Maybe he knew some sort of feather fall spell or something."

"Right. Magic. How convenient."

"It's true." Pitch then grabs a passing stallion and points a hoof at me. "Tell him it's true."

"It's true!" The stallion breaks Pitch's hold and gallops away.

"See? I told you."

"He didn't even know what you were talking about." Pitch knickers in frustration and turns to the passing crowd.

"Hey! Anypony here remember the guard that jumped off this bridge!?"

"Oh, you mean that strange one from Canterlot?" Asks a passing mare. Pitch eagerly nods his head. "Yeah! Hard to forget such an event, especially since it was the talk of the town for days. What was his name again? Something Hooves?"

"Yeah, thank you very much now have a nice day." Pitch shoos the mare away while turning his smug grin back towards me. "How about now, Mr. Skeptic?"

"Still skeptical."

"Oh come on!"

"Sorry, but I think this is one of those 'see it to believe it' stories." I take another look over the edge. "I mean, I can see it if he was a chan-" I don't dare finish that sentence or think of the consequence of such an idea.

"If he were a what?"

"Nothing, it's not important. Let's move on yeah?"

Pitch eyes me down for a split second before shrugging and joins in trotting with me across the bridge. We wander around the city and even end up at the market place. A stall selling different types of paraphernalia in blue and yellow colors catches my attention. Asking Pitch about the items leads to a very long rant on how I don't know about something called the "Wonderbolts" which leads me to, once again, pointing out I'm from across the sea. According to Pitch, that is a poor excuse to not know about them. Eventually, the sun starts setting on our expedition through the city and we end up back at the increasing familiar establishment of "Charlie Hops". A couple of drinks later and Pitch comes out with some terrible, terrible news.

"As a heads up, I'm not going to be in town for the next few days."

The horror!

"What! Why not?"

"The next game series is away against the Los Pegasus Quakes. I'll be there for the next four days."

"But it's not like you pitch in every game. Why can't you just go for the one day they need you?"

"The game isn't just about me going on the field just to pitch. That's just selfish. It's all about the team and the comradery as well."

"But...what am I going to do?"

"Yeah, that whole 'hurt me so deeply' act ain't gonna work this time Arctic. We've only known each other for a few days and I'm sure you can survive for a few days more without me."

"Eh, fair enough."

I smile as Pitch correctly called me out on my BS. I'd say that's a good sign as any that I made a good impression on him. Still, I am fairly disappointed. I am starting to grow accustomed to hanging out with Pitch. Like it or not, I have to admit that I was starting to get fairly lonely in this new world. I was, and still am, completely cut off from the comfort of the hive and the thousand voices that fill the tunnels. We changelings are a very, very social species. Being cut off like I am comes with a very high risk of developing some type of social withdrawal. Befriending Pitch helped satisfy that social desire. And though a few days won't drive me mad anytime soon, it will render me friendless for the time being.

"What about Meadow?"

"She's joining me on the trip actually."

"Oh..."

Well there goes that idea.

"By Celestia, do I really mean that much to you? We just met bro."

"Yeah, but, you were my first, and so far, only friend here."

Oh, servant? Yes, you see, I didn't order the side of pity with my meal.

I try to block out the emotion, but it proves to be too strong to completely ignore. Still, it is nice to feel the touch of concern coming my way as well. I guess some part of Pitch views me as a good friend as well.

"Well, view this as a good time as any to make more friends."

I nicker at that.

"Sure, let me get right on that. After all, it worked out well enough so far."

I feel the exasperation from Pitch. Realizing how I just treated him, I quickly cut him off before he can say anything.

"Sorry, I know your only trying to help. I just...I don't know. I...I just don't know. I'll figure something out."

I give him a half smile. His brows narrow; He still looks as if he wants to say something. He doesn't, however, and lets the subject slide. Not enjoying the mood our conversation is taking I decide to ask him something I'd been having on my mind.

"Hey, Pitch?"

"Yeah?"

"Who's Celestia?"

Upon hearing breaking glass, I look around to find the entire bar staring my way with differentiating levels of shock.

"What?"


It's been two days since Pitch left me. Also known as Thursday. I have completely underestimated a changelings desire for community. I find my mood descending to that similar of when I got a face full of reality my first night here. I tried pushing forward by mapping out the city some more, but soon lost interest. I sent a message to The Queen through the link, but any response will take another day to reach me. I try making new friends, yet once again, found the ponies unwilling. I even tried searching for the DJ from that one night with zero success. My search ends up placing me back at "Charlie Hops".

On a Thursday.

At first I just sit here listening to the drunken ponies sing. It doesn't take long before I grow sick of hearing wannabe future pop stars and decide to take up the mic myself. If anything, just to keep it out of reach of the other ponies. This is when my mood starts to lift. More and more ponies start clapping in appreciation after every song I sing. A couple of them even sit and order drinks with me when I have to take a break. I amaze them with stories I have from the homeland and they talk about their lives in return.

Tonight I learn about the barmare, who's name is Silvia, and how she wants to be a stage performer. I learn about Novel Estate the unicorn and his search for true love and Seaworthy the pegasus who is stationed at a nearby naval yard. A few ponies even come up to me offering bits. Upon asking why, they mention how it is a tip for a great performance. It's not much, but it does give me an idea on how I may be able to make money for Smokey's inn. I ask Silvia about being able to sing on other days outside of Thursday.

"Honey, with the way you can sing, that microphone is open for you anytime you want it."

With enough time to rest my voice, I get back up on stage for a few more songs. It's after my latest song when the night becomes truly interesting. As the last few notes of the final song fades I move to the bar table for another round. It doesn't take long for the sound of clopping hooves coming towards me when a brown coated grey maned stallion takes a seat next to mine. Not a moment passes before he offers me a cigar, which I decline, to which he begins his spiel.

"Listen kid, I've been in the business for a long time and I've never heard a voice like yours before. You can go far with a talent like yours. You can fly so high that your name will never die. You can make it in the biz if you try and ponies from all over Equestria will love you. I have deep respect for you kid, deep respect. What's your name again?"

"Arctic Thun-"

"Deep respect for you Arctic, and I mean that most sincerely. Now, as it so happens, I'm the manager of an up and coming band. The band is great, really fantastic, but it's missing a piece. A piece I think you'd be perfect for. So what do you say? Are you in?"

"Who are you?"

"Ah yes, allow myself to introduce myself. My name is Gravy Train."


Meadow and Pitch are happily cantering down the Manehatten street. Meadow more so than Pitch, who is dragging his hooves behind his energetic marefriend. Marefriend, there's a word he never thought he would describe Meadow as. Just another piece in what has become an insane kind of month. Still, he has to admit that he has that damn gorgeous pegasus to thank. Despite Arctic's crazy antics, he's happy to have met the handsome stallion. Looking back at Meadow, he also has to admit that the view has increased tenfold since they started dating. Still, he's a bit embarrassed about looking at his once-just-best-friend that way and tries not to alert Meadow of his actions. Little does he know that she knows what he does and has been subtly encouraging him to do so. I know I have a lot to do with them getting together. Yet, I find it rather odd how they confide in me about their relationship; especially Meadow, since she didn't meet me until after their first date.

Meadow is currently dragging her coltfriend to a local club where rumors exist of a great, up and coming band. Coltfriend, there's a word she never-

Yeah, I think the point has been made already.

Meadow and Pitch enter upon the scene. The large club is nearly packed to capacity with mares easily outnumbering the very few stallions present. If Pitch didn't have doubts about the target audience of the band before, he does now. They manage to secure a seat in the back of the club, satisfied in watching the band from a distance while enjoying each others company. It doesn't take too long for the music to start much to the cheers of the crowd. There's still no sign of the band until a decrescendo in the music. The lights dim and a single spotlight lights the foggy stage revealing a deviously handsome white pegasus stallion with a stylish blue and white mane and sporting a fashionable white brim hat and jacket.

As I begin to sing, I immediately spy the awed looks of wonder from Pitch and Meadow. Clearly, they are at a loss for words at the sight of beauty defined standing on top of the stage. I send a wink their way as my intro ends. four more spotlights light the stage revealing four other less-handsome-than-me stallions also wearing white jackets. As one, we harmonize our voices as we sing.

'Backstreet's back alright!'

The five of us then break out in our perfectly rehearsed dance routine as we continue. I often find my eyes going back to the two lovebirds in the back of the club. It seems as though they still haven't recovered from my glorious entrance. A shame really, as my favorite part of the song is coming up. I trot to the edge of the stage and prop myself on my hind hooves. I give the crowd a side profile look at me while I slowly take my right hoof to my mane and ever so slowly trail it down my body as I sensually sing.

'Am I sexual? (yeah)'

A few mares swoon at my voice. Meadow reaches her breaking point as she erupts with laughter while Pitch is flummoxed at what he is witnessing. He only manages to say a single word.

"Arctic!?"

I give him my widest smile followed by another wink.

"How you doing baby?"

Pitch ducks in embarrassment as the crowd of mares turns their attention to him. This causes Meadow's laughter to die in her throat as she moves to protect her stallion from the incoming wave of estrogen. Outnumbered and alone, she gives off one final glare my way. I send her a kiss via airmail for good luck and meld back into the perfectly synchronized choreography.


"Four days!"

"Aye."

"I was gone for four days Arctic!"

"That you were."

"Before that, you complained that you had no other friend here."

"That I did."

"So how in the wide, wide world of Equestria did you go from that to...to this!"

He dramatically gestures to the outfit I'm still sporting after the club event. It's the morning after and Pitch, Meadow, and I are dining at some sort of waffle house. I take a sip from my water before I try to explain the craziness of the last few days.

"Well, I guess it all started Thursday night at 'Charlie Hops'-"

"You know what? Nevermind, I don't want to know. I'll just accept that it just did."

"You have to admit, Pitch," Meadow cuts in, "They were pretty good."

"Thank you, Meadow. See Pitch! Your marefriend knows good talent when she sees it. You should listen to her more often."

"Yes, he should. But I meant that you were good as part as a team, not so much as an individual."

I place a hoof over my heart as if I just got punched.

"Ouch, girl! Quit playing games with my heart."

"Oh ha ha."

"Hm, I suppose I should," Pitch says, "You know, as long as you love me."

"Oh not you too," Meadow groans.

Pitch takes a page from my book and also places a hoof over his heart in mock hurt.

"Baby don't go breaking my heart. It's the only one I got."

"Ahh!"

Meadow plops her head onto the table. I exchange a hoof bump with my partner in crime while she isn't looking.

"I got a question for you Arctic."

"Shoot."

"You say your from a land with no previous contact with Equestria."

"Aye."

"So how is it you're familiar with our songs?"

"Honestly, I had no idea the songs originated from here. You see, we always assumed they were from Gryphonia."

"Gryphonia?"

"Yup, we got all of your songs through trade with the gryphon nations. I was actually shocked to learn how familiar everypony here was with those songs."

"I take it you all like our music then?" asks Meadow, returning to the conversation.


*Meanwhile, back at the hive.*

The opening deep inside the hive is filling to the brim with Changelings in their natural form. Some on the ground, others hanging on the walls and ceilings, and more still hovering in the air. Despite the numbers, they wait in silence, Attention captured by the lone turntable. They wait for the moment to arrive and when it does the both male and female changelings change their vocals to match the one pouring from the speakers. And in a single voice they sing:

'I get knocked down, I get up again, 'cause you're never gonna keep me down!'


"Something like that." I smile. Imagining the chaos surely happening back home at the moment. And now I'm getting depressed. Time for a switch of topics! "So how was Los Pegasus?"

"Oh my gosh!" exclaims Meadow. Her head perks up in an instant. She places her hooves on Pitch and starts rocking him back and forth. "You got to tell him Pitch! You got to tell him! Tell him!"

"Yeah Pitch! You got to tell me!" I tease.

Pitch successfully gets a hoof on Meadow, preventing her continued attempts at whiplash.

"I managed to-"

"Pitch recorded his fourth complete game!" Meadow shouts with glee.

"Nice, way to go! And for those of us who don't quite understand?"

"It means that I started and completed all 9 innings in a baseball game."

"AND HE WON!"

"And I won."

"And you were worried. You did great because you are great. Tell him he's great Arctic!"

"You're larger than life."

Meadow simply sticks her tongue out at me while Pitch chuckles.

"So, does that mean getting removed after 4 innings isn't a typical baseball strategy? " I ask.

Pitch's ears welt as I get a dose of Meadow's patented death glare. This is followed shortly after with a confusion.

"No, it's not. Not one of my best games but it happens from time to time."

"Wait a second," Meadow says, "You were at that game?"

"Yup!"

"He was sitting right near you dear."

"What!? How didn't I notice?"

"Because you didn't know who I was at the time."

Technically speaking anyways.

"That, and I think you were distracted by your game stopping confession to Pitch," I continue.

"I thought you didn't know anything about that?"

"And I don't. I'm completely innocent." I emphasize the point with my completely innocent face.

"Right," Meadow says, "Well, I suppose it's fair enough to say I was a tad bit distracted. Between confessing to you, Pitch, and that bitch of a mare Hydro Thun...der..."

Hmm, the sky seems extra blue today. Wonder if it will be a good day for flying. It's been a while since I last stretched my wings.

"Arctic..."

Maybe that's what I'll do today. I'll explore the skies of Manehatten and the surrounding countryside. You know, for a few days at least.

"Arctic!"

Perhaps is a good of time if any to explore the rest of Equestria. Must be more to this land than just this city after all.

"ARCTIC!"

And with Pitch's hoof slamming down on the table it becomes time to employ escape tactic 33. Plan 33 never fails.

"Hey look! It's the Wheel Good blimp!"

"Oh no you don't! You're not going anywhere!"

Both Meadow and Pitch moves to block my ingenious escape. Pitch also asserts a hoof in the mix and forces me to sit back down into the chair. Curses, plan 33 has failed me yet again!

"Arctic, who is Hydro?" Meadow asks.

"Never heard of her before."

"Bullshit!" Pitch exclaims.

"Arctic, you started ignoring us when I said her name, AND, you just tried running away from us. That's not a very convincing way to say you don't know her." Meadow adds calmly.

"I bet you she is his sister or something, Meadow. Can't you see the resemblance?"

"Hm, I think your right Pitch."

"What resemblance?"

"Arctic, she literally had the same color scheme as yours, just reversed."

"Purely coincidental."

"Arctic, come on bro. There's no point to this charade. Just admit you know the mare already."

"Then why are you two so persistent about this?"

"ARCTIC!"

"Alright, alright. Hydro is a relative of mine, just not a sibling. I called in a favor for her to use Meadow's emotions against her in order to get her, that is to say you Meadow, to be more open about your feelings to Pitch. We didn't expect you to out right ask him out in front of everypony."

"Finally, why hide this from us Arctic?" Pitch asks.

"Maybe you misheard me when I admitted to having Hydro manipulate Meadow's emotions. Not quite something one would like to admit on doing."

"Yes, what you two planned was wrong," Meadow says, "And I really don't like the idea of having some stranger come up to me with the intention of manipulating me. But, for what it's worth, I forgive you Arctic."

Meadow comes up to me and gives me a hug. I, on the other hoof, am dumbfounded.

"Really? Just like that?"

"Just like that. What you did was very, very stupid. And If you ever try pulling something like that again I'm personally going to kick your flank back to wherever it is you came from. But, I can understand that you were only trying to help. And you know what, It's all in the past anyways. No point in holding grudges."

She removes herself from the hug with an accepting smile. I too smile at the resolution of this unforeseen conflict. I turn to Pitch to see if he has anything to say on the matter. He simply smiles and shrugs, gesturing to Meadow and I understand that he's in agreement with her. Suddenly, Meadow's face turns to a more sinister expression.

"That said, Hydro still has a punch to the throat coming her way if I ever see her again."

I gulp and resist the instinct to grasp my throat.


In the late evening of the day, I trot up to the large home on the outskirts of the city. I knock on the door and admire the fireflies in the garden as I wait. I don't have to wait for long as the door opens to reveal a middle aged, light purple unicorn. Wasn't who I was expecting but:

"Hello, is Smokey Record home?"

"He is. What do you need him for?"

"Business proposition."

A flash of understanding spreads along her features and she lets me inside. She leads me through a couple of doors until we enter a study of sorts, complete with recliners and a fireplace. In one of the seats sits one Smokey Record who blinks in surprise at my arrival. I stand a respectful distance away as the unicorn whispers something into Smokey's ears. I see him steal a kiss and feel the love flow between them as the unicorn leaves to give Smokey and I some privacy.

"Wife?"

"Aye. That's my Melody."

Smokey picks up a bottle from the nearby end table and pours two shots worth of liquor into the glasses present. He offers me one, which I accept, and then gestures for me to sit. I comply, but make sure to remove my saddlebag I've been carrying and set it down next to Smokey.

"What's this?"

"Down-payment."

He opens the bag to reveal the 100,000 bits contained within.

"Consider myself interested in your deal."

The Catch

View Online

Pitch stares at the sign hanging over the park entrance. He reads it once more while trying to calm his nerves. Circle-Change Park. Meadow trots up to him and places a hoof on his withers.

"Hey, I'm sure it's going to be okay."

"Yeah, you're probably right. But what if-"

"Even if the worst should happen. Just know, I'll be there with you every step of the way."

"Even if I would have to leave the city?"

"Even then."

I watch the two share a kiss and give them a little privacy. Those words by Meadow did a great deal in settling the anxious stallion. Those two are truly made for one another, I'm happy to have helped them find that out. But, as they separate, the anxiety peaks again within Pitch. I don't know what to say, since I don't know what kind of scenario he faces. Instead, I give a reassuring grin and smile as he trots past and enters the complex. I can't do much for Pitch, but I can help distract the equally anxious mare he left behind. I trot up to Meadow and tap her on her withers to get her attention, then gesture to the open gates.

"Want to play some catch?"

"I'm not sure we are allowed on the field, even when it's empty."

"Don't know if we don't try."

"I'm pretty sure that's not how that saying works."

"What's that? I can't hear you on the other side of these very secure gates."

"Arctic, you can't jus- Hey! Get back here! Wait up!"


Pitch stands outside the door and stares at the bold black letters.

RUMBLE PONIES MANAGER: DIAMOND DASHER

With one final deep breath he knocks on the door.

"Enter."

Pitch trots into the small office. The plain room only sports a filing cabinet, a desk, three chairs and a couple of pictures of past athletes on the walls. behind the desk sits an earth pony mare with a navy blue coat, red mane, and silver eyes. She is currently reading through a player profile. Pitch's player profile.

"Have a seat, Pitch."

Pitch complies and makes himself as comfortable as he can. Which, to say, is not all that comfortable. He waits patiently as his manager continues to read through his profile. Seconds tick by until finally, Diamond sets down his profile and regards Pitch with an unreadable expression.

"Pitch, I'm going to be straight with you. You're one helluva player, one of the greatest I've ever had the pleasure of mentoring. The amount of work you put in, not only in the game, but in getting to know the ins and outs of your teammates is sorely needed in this league. The effort you put in shines both on and off the field, and I'm not the only one to have taken notice." Diamond closes her eyes and lets out a deep sigh. "Which is why I'm sad to see you move on from our team."

Pitch's throat goes dry. It's difficult for him to form the words he wishes to say.

"D-Does that mean that I'm getting t-tr-traded?" Diamond gives him a reassuring smile.

"Nope, it means that you're being called up." An electric pulse shocks Pitch's body into a frozen state.

"The Bats are calling me up?"

"Not exactly."

Diamond reaches for an item hidden below her desks. What she reveals puts Pitch in a state far removed from reality. Laying on the desk in front of him is a white pinstriped uniform with red trimmings. A large number 33 is stitched into the back, and written just above, is the name Pitch Out.

"Welcome to the Manehatten Loyalists, Pitch."

Pitch sits there silently. His eyes never leaves his name stitched into the back of the uniform. Diamond quietly observes, allowing Pitch to soak in the moment. Eventually, Pitch reaches out and feels the soft polyester fabric. After some encouragement by Diamond, Pitch slips on the uniform and completes the ensemble with an authentic Loyalists baseball cap. A few words are exchanged between Diamond and Pitch. Then, with one final look around the office, Pitch leaves his old team behind.

Pitch trots down the long hallway however, he's not heading for the exit. Rather, Pitch heads straight to the tunnel entrance leading to the field. He's surprised to find me, and a very paranoid Meadow, casually tossing a baseball back and forth. Upon noticing the new uniform, Meadow shouts in joy and tackles Pitch to the ground. I help detach the over affectionate mare from him and assist in getting him back on his hooves. I sense the overwhelming joy radiating off both of them and I too, can't help but be happy for the big guy. Pitch gets a distant look in his eyes and asks for a moment. Upon spotting the baseball I hold, he alters the request and asks for Meadow to stand behind home plate and for me to take a batters pose at the plate.

Taking the ball in hoof, Pitch slowly walks up to the pitcher's mound. He takes a long look around the stadium as the stands begin to fill with ponies standing and cheering in excitement. The old scenario from years back takes hold. It's the battle for the pennant, series tied, 3-3. It's the top of the 9th inning and the Loyalist are up by one with two outs. But, the tying run is on second and one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball is up to bat. The crowd dissipates as Pitch stares down home plate. The manager wanted to take him out of the game, but Pitch is confident. He knows he can complete this game, and so, the manager gives him the green light. But the manager doesn't exist for Pitch, nor does the crowd, his teammates, or even Meadow or I. All that exist is this one moment, this one on one situation. Number 33 pitching to number 33. Brother against brother. Pitch Out vs. Fly Out.

The battle has been tough. Both brothers are putting out the best they got. Their eyes have been locked on each other since the start. Blue eyes baring down on Golden ones and vice versa. Ten pitches have been thrown and the count is 3-2. Pitch hides a small smile from his brother's gaze. Pitch has trained hard for this very moment. This times, he knows he can ring his brother up.

Pitch takes his two hooves pitching stance and winds up the throw. In one smooth motion he releases the fine tuned heater. It's the pitch Fly Out has been waiting for. A fastball down the center of the plate. He doesn't hesitate, he swings the bat with all the power he can muster. But something happens that Fly isn't expecting, the ball starts to break. The once promising 97 mph fastball down the center has revealed its true colors. A 67 mph change-up low in the zone. Fly's swing is high and too early. As the ball finds its home in the catcher's glove Pitch throws his into the air. He's done it, he won the sibling rivalry. And as his team surrounds him in praise, the fading image of Fly Out gives his brother a nod of respect.

Meadow and I trot up to Pitch as he slowly re-enters our reality. While Meadow goes up to hug Pitch with all her might, I can't help but notice the tears staining the ground below him. As well as the sense of loss.


The next day finds the three of us back at "Charlie Hops".

On a Thursday. Always a Thursday.

There are no songs from me tonight, much to the crowds disappointment, as I'm more interested in spending time with the two lovebirds. Luckily for us, the ponies doing karaoke today are actually pretty decent. I guess miracles do happen. I don't buy it for a second, something is bound to happen. Thus, I keep my head on a swivel.

"So, Pitch, did you find out why you were called up?" Meadow asks.

"I did, actually. Turns out, several weeks ago there was a very controversial game between us and the Monarchs. This lead to a complaint which lead to an investigation. The end of that investigation came out a couple of days ago and resulted in a couple of players being let go from both teams for cheating. Some umpire named Blue was also suspended for failing to call the game correctly." Pitch shakes his head in disgust. "Shame really, but I don't feel sorry for any of them. They reaped what they sowed. Anyways, there was a space for a pitcher after that and, as it turns out, I was the one they felt best prepared for the next level. Hey, Arctic. Are you all right?"

"Yeah."

*Cough*

"Just, down the wrong pipe is all."

I try to get my coughing under control after incorrectly inhaling water. An event caused by my sudden realization of which game Pitch is talking about. The same game I took over as home plate umpire.

Sugar plums and applesauce! Did I really botch the game that badly? I thought I did a great job.

"So, when is your first start?" Meadow asks.

"Tomorrow actually. I'm leaving tonight to catch up with the team on their final game of the series. But, uh... there's a catch."

"And that is?

"I'm not being called up as a starter, not yet anyways. I'm filling in a relief role until they feel like I've caught up to the speed of the major leagues."

"Well that's not fair! You were signed on as a starter, so you should be starting!"

"Easy, Meadow. For what it's worth, I agree with them. I am skipping an entire level of baseball after all."

Meadow plops back into her chair with a humph and folded hooves, muttering under her breath about still not being happy about it. Her eyes suddenly widen as she seems to make a connection of some sort.

"Wait, that means you're not going to be around for the Summer Sun Celebration?"

"Summer Sun Celebration?"

"Now is not the time for your ignorance Arctic. Well, Pitch?"

"I'm afraid not, Meadow. I'm sorry. I know you wanted to spend the day together. I'll make it up to you, I promise."

And with the mood properly soured, I try to turn things around for the better.

"Can't you just go with him like before, Meadow?"

"I wish I could, but I can't. I have to work tomorrow."

"Could I take your place instead?"

"Not if I want to get paid. How would you even attempt that anyways?"

"Uh..."

I would simply take your form and act like you for a day. It couldn't be that hard.

"...I got nothing."

"Thanks for trying, Arctic. It's very sweet of you."

"That's what I'm here for."

"Really?" Pitch cuts in. "You sailed all the way over here to help us? Two ponies in the middle of the biggest city in Equestria?"

"100%"

"Right, and the real reason?"

"LOOK! A distraction!"

"What? Oh, very funny Arctic. huh? Hey, where did he go?"

Pitch and Meadow search the bar for their mysterious disappearing friend. I am still there, of course. I changed forms while they, and the rest of the bar, were distracted by my clever distraction. I call this one Fire Flight. An orange coated unicorn with a bright red mane and golden eyes. I smile at the confused couple before I take my leave. I need to complete the final payment for Smokey's inn and the small prank provided a good as time as any to let the two enjoy each other before Pitch leaves. I'm sure they won't mind.


"Here you are, one beat up radio, tuned into tonight's game."

"Thanks, Silvia! You're the best!"

"Anything for my favorite customer."

Silvia gives me a wink before returning to tend the bar. I pick up the radio and take it to the table occupied by Meadow and myself. As I take my seat I see a glimmer in Meadow's eyes as well as a knowing grin.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing," she giggles.

I roll my eyes at her antics and turn on the radio. Sure enough, the radio begins to broadcast the game between the Loyalists and the Detrot Tigers. As the game gets underway, Meadow and I order our first round of drinks, as well as some bread sticks. The game starts out slow, with both teams unable to solve the pitching of the other. Upon hearing a comment on how both teams are starting their aces, I look up and notice several other ponies gathering around the radio. As the game goes on, more and more ponies pile in to hear the game. I finish my fourth round of drinks and ask Silvia about using the microphone. With her go ahead, I take the radio and place it on a bar stool near the mic. This allows the entire bar to follow the game.

A few hits are made by both teams, but by the 7th inning stretch, the game is still tied at zero. Then the aces start coming out of the game. Suddenly, it's bats out as the score starts to go on the up and up. The Tigers get the first two runs at the bottom of the 7th. Only to have the Loyalists respond with two of their own at the top of the 8th. Disaster strikes the Loyalist at the bottom of the 8th when the Tigers manage to score 4 runs. Their terrible bull-pen can't hold the lead, however, and the Loyalists score 5 on the top of the 9th. By this point, I'm near to becoming completely drunk as I finish my 8th round of drinks. Meadow stopped drinking at her 4th, not willing to wake up with a hangover. I'm unable to stop myself as I order a 9th and 10th round, too excited to hear what happens next. Then they announce the closer for the Loyalists.

"The Loyalists look to close out the game, and look at this Mic, they're putting in the recently called up rookie from the Rumble Ponies."

Meadow crushes my hoof, exclaiming oh my gosh over and over again. Her love for her stallion starts bleeding out and thrashing my head. I worry that 12 rounds of drinks wasn't a good idea after all. Some time along the way, I must have dulled my senses enough to the point I started unintentionally drawing in all the emotions in the air. I feel slightly ill, but it isn't too bad at the moment, so I press on.

You can hear the crowd at the stadium through the radio cheering loudly. The same can be said for the bar as everypony is standing, waiting for the final inning to start.

3 outs remaining.

"Pitch Out is ready at the mound and we're set to begin the bottom 9th at Tiger's Stadium. With the Tigers at the bottom of their line up, looks like we are starting out with a pinch-hit situation as Sunbeam takes the batter's box."

Meadow and the bar hold their breaths as Pitch throws his first major league pitch.

"The wind up, and the throw. In there, for strike one."

The bar stomp their hooves in applause as Meadow finally releases her breath. I catch myself drawing in the relief of the bar and stop myself. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow.

"Second pitch on the way."

*Crack*

"Grounder toward 3rd base and its...through for a single."

The bar goes silent as Meadow tenses up again. I hear her mutter encouragements under her breath. I reach for her hoof and give her a reassuring smile.

"He's got this."

She smiles, but it soon fades away.

"And with that Sunbeam's job is done as Forest comes in as the pinch-runner. No outs, runner at first as Bluegrass takes the plate."

"Look at Pitch Out eye the runner at first, look for him to live up to his namesake here."

"I believe your right Mic, let's see what happens here. The wind up, runner goes on the pitchout! The throw to second is...on time for the first out of the inning!"

The bar breaks out in cheers and Meadow slumps down into her chair.

2 outs to go.

"The 1-0 pitch."

*Crack*

"Hit well to left field. Bluegrass in there for a stand-up double."

"At this point, Comet, if I were the manager, I think I would take Pitch out of the game. He's let up two hits already just 4 pitches in."

"Oh no, please no, don't do this to Pitch," Meadow says.

"Looks like that may just happen, Mic, as the manager trots out to the mound."

"Oh, no."

I try to comfort Meadow as best I can, but it seems like she gave in already. My stomach starts to ache as I notice that I'm drawing in emotions once again. I have to leave soon.

"The manager returns to the bench and it looks like Pitch will still be pitching."

I can't leave while Pitch is still in the game though. For Meadow's sake. The next batter he faces goes better as Pitch is able draw a 1-2 count.

"The 1-2."

*Whomp*

"Swing and a miss for out number two!"

The mood of the bar picks up again as the situation makes itself known. Pitch has just achieved his first strikeout.

One out to go.

"Tigers at the top of their line up now as Speedy takes the plate. First pitch on its way."

*Crack*

"Grounder to the shortstop- AND HE MUFFS THE PICK UP! That will put runners on the corners!"

The bar isn't happy and they let it known with a chorus of boos. The final out was there, and an error keeps the game alive. I begin to feel dizzy.

Pitch struggles with the next batter. He works up to a 3-2 count, but can't get the batter to miss as he fouls off pitch after pitch.

"The 9th pitch of the at-bat."

*Whomp*

The stadium crowd cheers.

"Slider just misses the plate for ball four. That will load the bases."

"You can't do that. You can't just let that happen, Comet. Look who he has to face next."

"Arguably the best home run hitter in baseball, Ziggy, is up to bat."

"Now my question is, Comet, do you walk him and tie up the game? Or do you let your young gun pitch to him?"

Both the stadium crowd and the bar are going wild. Everypony is shouting encouragements, to let Pitch finish the job he started. The climax of the game has been reached. This at-bat will be the tell all of this game. Meadow looks sick to her stomach.

"Looks like they're going to let him pitch as the first one goes for a ball."

"I wouldn't be too sure, Comet. They could just be having him pitch around him, see if they can't get him to swing at something."

"1-0 Pitch just outside for ball two. I think you may be right here, Mic."

"Come on! Just let him pitch!" Meadow shouts, making me nearly jump out of my fur. Almost literally in this case.

"2-0 pitch in the dirt, that will be ball three."

Now Meadow is on her hooves screaming expletives at the radio along with the rest of the bar.

"The 3-0 goes right down the center of the plate for strike one."

The emotions in the air is becoming extremely overwhelming for me. I place my head on the table, hooves over my head, trying to block it all out.

"The 3-1."

*CRACK*

All at once, the mood in the bar comes crashing down from it's positive high.

"Hit well, to deep center field!"

Among the chaos of the night, I feel something shift on my form.

"That ball is going, going, and its..."

I attempt to stand on my hooves.

"CAUGHT AT THE WALL!"

I lose my balance as the sour mood turns positive at the drop of a hat. The windows shake at the power of the cheering ponies. I try to stand again.

"Golden Glove, has just made, the catch, OF A LIFETIME!"

I push through the crowd of celebrating ponies. Trying to reach the nearest door I can find.

"And just like that..."

I'm able to make it to a door in the back of the bar.

"...the game..."

I push open the door, making my escape into the back alleyway.

"...is over!"

I try to trot away, as far away as I can from the bar. It's all too much. The alcohol has dimmed my senses way too much than I expected. It caused me to unintentionally suck in, not just the positive emotions, but the negative as well. All this led to a perfect storm of trouble. My body is unable to process the amount of positive and negative I drew in. My power is failing. I collapse onto the ground. The last sight I see, is that of Meadow's horrified look through a pink flame-like haze.

Come Home

View Online

Aware.

For the first time in a millennium she is aware. Her powers have returned, but she is still trapped in this prison. No matter, now that she is awake she can easily break from her chains. It will take time, yet she needs not to pass it in stillness. With her power returned, she can now access the dream realm once again. The ponies of Equestria will know of her wrath.

What is this?

Her night sky clearly dominates over the Equestria, however, very few ponies populate the dream realm. Ah, she sees now. It appears that Celestia's pride has only grown during her absence. She has formed a tradition of staying up the night on the eve of the longest day of the year. No doubt to increase her subjects' admiration for the lone princess. Her downfall will be most enjoyable when the time comes. In the meantime, she will focus her rage on the few that sleep.

How curious.

Lost and alone with none of his "family" around. Yet, not driven to madness. Just what is the story of this changeling? Perhaps she will satisfy her curiosity.

The stars begin to shift.


There's something else here in the darkness with me. I can't see it, but I can sense it. It's moving around, silent as fog, hovering just beyond my reach. It's searching for something, maybe me.

Who am I?

Parasite.

That's what the thing whispers to me. It tells me that's what all changelings are, nothing but parasites.

Changeling. Yes, I'm a changeling. But that's not right. Changelings are not of the parasitic nature. We are of a mutualistic nature. That is how our Queen taught us to be.

But, who am I?

'It's time to come home.'

The thing, I feel it crawl in my mind. Its will forces the darkness to take shape, the dreamscape bends to its wishes. It calls up a memory.

Flying.

The winds batter against my wings, snow pelts my eyes as I try, in vain, to keep them open. I'm desperate. Searching for a city in the clouds I know must exist. It has to exist.

'Lightning, it's time to come home.'

'I can't.'

Lightning. That's who I am.

No.

Lightning was who I was. I'm something different now, I have a better name.

But, who am I?

The thing. It questions my search. Why am I desperate to find a city of pegasi? It thinks my hive is starving, that it's looking for another place to feed off ponies like the parasites we are.

I'm not a parasite.

There's a rumble in the clouds, then another. I'm too busy fighting against the winds and snow to notice.

'It's time to come home.'

My fur starts standing straight. My mane defies gravity as it starts floating upwards. It's my final warning. A flash of white, the smell of burnt fur. All my limbs start to spasm out of my control. The pain, it hurts. It hurts so much. I fall into a snowbank on the ground. My power fails and my pegasus form dissipates. A scar forms on my left wing. The spasms stop, and I curl up, waiting for death to come.

But, I'm not dead.

'It's time to come home.'

'I can't.'

The thing, it laughs at my fate. It says that is how every changeling should parish. Alone, in a frozen wasteland. It's curious, it wants to know what happens next. This memory fades as another takes its place.

I'm awake, still alive, but I'm very drained. I know I don't have much time left. I cannot fly. My wings took most of the damage from the lightning strike. What little magic I have left is able to start a fire. The Princess, she's frantic. She doesn't want to lose me, but she doesn't know what to do. She calls upon The Queen for help. She comforts me now, The Queen does. It feels like she's here with me, hugging me close to her body. She thinks I'm going to die, I can tell, and I think she's right.

But, I don't give up.

Time passes, I don't know the amount. I'm standing along the coast, watching the ice flow in and out. I found a piece of driftwood, just big enough to stand on. I have an idea, it's a long shot, but it beats waiting around for death. My wings may be too damaged to fly, but they can still catch wind. I transform my right wing into a wing of a pegasus. I place the driftwood into the water and step on. I raise my wing into the air at an angle to catch the wind. I feel the wind push against my wing and I cling to the wood as best I can. It starts to move.

The thing, it calls me clever as it observes me sailing parallel to the shore line. Home is still far away, but I have a chance. My wing grows stiff and the pain saps my energy. I fall off a few times, but I always recover. I struggle, I want it to end.

But, I'm a survivor.

The Queen notices my journey. She tells me to keep going, to not give up. Her elder daughters, the two Princesses, join in as well. The journey is long and rough. I find my resolve wavering, but I push through it. Hours pass, maybe even a whole day, then I spy the sights I so longed for. I see the towers of home. I fall again, before I can recover, I'm plucked out of the sea. It's the Queen. I'm finally able to rest, and the memory fades.

Darkness wraps me in its shadow. Its confused, it doesn't recognize the land in my memories. It creeps through my mind, searching for answers. It commands memory after memory to form in the dreamscape, I don't have the strength to resist. Its disgusted to learn of our deep infiltration in the local pony towns.

Integration. We changelings integrate.

It ignores me, but stops at a memory of a campfire. A small band of traveling ponies have stopped in the wild lands for the night. My father and I found them and decided to partake in the sharing of tales. The eldest of the ponies is spinning a tale about a civilization that can be found across the sea. What he says captivates me. He tells of architectural marvels; a city built in the mountains. He tells of sights to behold; a river of rainbow and rainbow falls. I wish to hear more. My father warns that these places are nothing more than fantasy; but, the way this pony moves, the way he talks, it can't be simple fantasy. I'll prove it. I may not be able to sail across the sea, but this city in the clouds sounds promising. From that day forward, I train myself to become the strongest flying changeling ever. A dream left dead in the land of snow and ice.

But, I continue forward.

The entity seethes in anger. How dare those ponies foolishly give any information about Equestria to a hive of parasites.

We're not parasites.

More and more flashes of the past go by. I'm watching waves strike the rocks. A noise comes from behind. It's the Queen's youngest, she's been following me for a while now. Tonight she doesn't approach.

Flash.

Back at the beach. The tide is coming in on time. I've been here nearly everyday since my return, I can pretty much predict everything these waters can throw at me. The Queen's youngest has followed me again, this time she moves to sit next to me. We don't speak.

Flash.

"I don't know what to do," I say.

"Start again," she says.

Flash.

It's finished, time to test it out.

Flash.

The mast breaks apart in the wind, another failure.

Flash.

The hull is damaged beyond repair, another boat scuttled. I'm getting closer.

I'm determined.

Flash.

"You've come far," she says.

"I have you to thank," I say.

We sail down the long winding river to places unknown.

I'm a seeker.

Flash.

"Honestly, I think about that day every night. I lost a piece of myself back there, I know I did. But, I refuse to let it control me. Any other changeling may give up the kind of life I live, and I wouldn't blame them. I'm not them though, I want to live my life the way I want that's right for me. I'm going to find my way to this new world. I'm going to find out if the tales are true.

"I've been thinking, about what you've told me. I think your right, in more ways than one. I've changed so much that it's like the old me died. Call me sentimental, but I wish to commemorate my new life. I've decided to change my name."

I am Arctic Thunder.

I'm determined. I don't give up. I move forward. I survive. I don't hide. I venture.

And it's about time this, thing, stops messing with my head.

Blackness descends once again, but this time I'm not alone. Shadows pool together into a solid blob, it then transform into a wicked mare of darkness. Her pitch black form bares a set of dark blue armor. Her mane is like the night sky, it flows with a power unseen. Her cutie mark is that of a crescent moon. Her wings flare out, horn alight. Her green, cat-like eyes are locked onto me. A sinister scowl reveal hidden fangs.

"Foolish insect. You dare challenge me in my own domain?"

"I dare."

She snarls and I brace for a fight. Suddenly, she lets out a bone chilling laugh.

"You don't even know who you face, do you? Yet, I know more about you than the others you lead on."

She starts moving, trotting around me in a circle. I hold my ground.

"You say how you are not a parasite. Yet, all I see is a leech in denial about his true nature. The nature of all changelings. You can try to do so all you like. But you can only resist your calling for so long."

She stops in front of me and leans in.

"Let's explore who Arctic really is, shall we?"

I try to move, to strike. But, to my horror, I cannot move my hooves.

"How about those words you first used in justifying your crossing of the sea."

'The swarm continues to grow in numbers and soon the small towns and settlements of ponies of this land may not be able to properly sustain us as we outgrow their numbers. Connecting with ponies across the ocean may bring in new opportunities to continue our prosperity without threat of famine'.

My eyes shrink as the echo of my voice fades into the distance. Then I remember the actual conversation.

"That wasn't even the true reason I had in coming here."

"And yet, you still told your Queen this in an attempt to appease her. To approve your foolish journey. What does this tell me about your "mutualistic" hive?"

"That-NO! Just because we are dependent on ponies' emotions for food doesn't make us parasites!"

"Doesn't it? Tell me, insect, you claim to have come here due to a drive in wanderlust. But, what exactly have you done since you've been here? You've certainly explored Manehatten enough. Why not leave and explore the rest of Equestria like you claim to want to do? What's keeping you here?"

"I-I got shipwrecked I-"

"And what good is a ship when you're in the very heart of Equestria?"

"I...also need to f-fulfill my duties to the hive."

"What, finding a suitable place for your little 'sub-hive'? We both know the Queen let you come here to fulfill your so called 'dream'. She doesn't truly expect to send her changelings to a land she can't control them. It's why you chose the first city you landed in. A city the first few days in. No, your still here, because you found a large influx of food and you can't help but indulge yourself. Sucking out the positive emotions until you can barely stand, unable to tell when you've had your fill. All of this, without needing to lift a hoof."

"That's...not true. If it was, I wouldn't have sought after friendship."

"The emotions were good, but, just like every greedy parasite, you wanted something more, something pure. So when you came across a pair of friends, easy for the pickings, you manipulated them into falling in love just so you can suck on them to fulfill your desires."

'What I get is the satisfaction of another job well done and a potential meal.'

"No! They were in love! I helped them!"

"You secured yourself a pure food source! It was even a bonus when you found out he was a rising star so you could feed off his fans admiration as well as get free access to those games, to feed! And don't get me started on the singing and that band you joined. Face it! You and your kind are nothing but parasites! Leeching off the love and joy of my little ponies!

"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!"

"Humph, very well. But know this, as soon as I'm done dealing with Celestia and her elements, I'm coming to squash you like the bug you are."

The nightmare ends.

Am I a parasite?


It's still dark when I open my eyes. I can't find the motivation to get up. The question still running on repeat in my head.

What am I?

Is it true? Am I nothing more than a parasite, leeching off the friends I made? Are my friends really my friends? My friends...

Adrenaline floods my system. I stand up in a panic, the cold realization of the night's events come rushing back to me. Meadow saw me transform into my natural from. The form I'm still in. She knows that I'm a...I'm a...

"Arctic?"

I dread that voice and who it belongs to. I brace myself as I turn to look at the pink mare. The expected horrified look from before isn't there. There is only concern in her eyes, in her movements, in the air, nothing but concern. Concern for a...

"Arctic, its okay, your okay."

She enters the small room I'm in. I'm too terrified of the unicorn to truly get a good look at the room. Am I terrified of her? Or what I am to her? She hovers in a glass of water and offers it to me. I step back from her magic and I see her ears wilt. She places the cup on a nearby table and takes another step. I follow with a step back. She stops trying to advance and instead sits on the ground. I remain standing, looking around for an exit.

"Arctic, it's me, Meadow. I'm your friend remember? That is you, right? You are Arctic?"

At this point, my natural instinct as a changeling hide our true form from others starts to become too painful to hold back. I give into its demands, as well as answer Meadow's question, by transforming back into my pegasus form. I spy Meadow's eyes temporarily widen before becoming replaced by concern once again.

"Arctic, come on, talk to me. What's going on? What are you?"

"I'm...I'm a...a..."

'Parasite.'

I fling open the window behind me and fly out into the city. I can hear Meadow call after me, but I can't face her. Not after what I did, not after learning the truth. They'll be safer away from me. It's time to return home. Tears fall from the sky as I make my way back to my ship.

'It's time to come home.'

Can I?


"Arctic! Arctic, come back!"

Meadow's pleas are of little use as Arctic's form fades into the night sky. Meadow bolts out her door and onto the streets. She gallops in the direction Arctic took off in in hopes of finding the white pegasus. No, not a pegasus. Pegasi don't transform in fire. But what was that other form? And why did he seem so scared of her?

Meadow catches a speck of white in the corner of her eye. It's not Arctic. A star speeds across the midnight background. Meadow stops to look at the unusual phenomenon, only to spy three other stars; all on a collision course. The focal point of their course? The moon itself. They reach their destination and release a blinding light. When it fades, Meadow is dumbfounded. The Mare in the Moon, the stuff of legends, myths, filly tales, and the inspiration for Nightmare Night is gone.

Commotion in the streets start immediately. Ponies flood the roads looking at the missing image of the moon. They ask each other on what this means. In the rising panic, it doesn't take long for the theory of Nightmare Moon's return. True or not, the story starts spreading like wildfire. Ponies begin to run to and fro while others barricade themselves in homes and stores. Another spreading message adds fuel to the sustaining fire. The sun should be up by now. Could something have happened to the Princess?

Among all the chaos, Meadow pushes through the crowd. She hears the spreading rumors and, although scared herself, she's more concern about her friend, alone and in a low mental state somewhere in the city. She also worries about Pitch, somewhere in the heart of Equestria. In the end she knows she is not going to be able to find Arctic, so she turns back the way she came. She isn't heading to her apartment, however, and instead a familiar house shows up near the edge of the city. She knocks on the door and while she waits the events of the night springs forth in her mind. When the door opens, Meadow doesn't hesitate to dive into the waiting hooves of the white mare. A red stallion comes up to them and starts rubbing her back.

"It's okay, Meadow. It's okay, we're here," says Mom.

"I'm sure whatever is going on, the Princess will pull through," says Dad.

If only it were just that.


The sun returned. A full day since that night and still nopony knows what happened. The News haven't received word form Canterlot yet, so the local paper contained articles upon articles of theories, doom speak, and tales of heroism. Meadow glanced at a couple only to lose interest after the first two. Instead, she stands next to the train platform, counting the seconds. A whistle announces the arrival of the train. Once the steam engine makes a complete stop, the swarm of passengers quickly fill the platform. Meadow searches, but is unable to find her query.

"Hello there."

Meadow jumps several inches off the ground before whirling around to stare down her smug smiling coltfriend. She trots up to him and firmly places a hoof on his chest, fully preparing to give him a piece of her mind for scaring her. Yet that smile, that sparkle in his eyes. She decides to play along.

"General Pitch Out! You are a bold one."

Pitch chuckles which soon turns into a full out belly laugh. Meadow catches his contagious laughter and lets loose several giggles herself. During their little session, Pitch gently takes Meadow's hoof off his chest and draws her into a full out embrace. After the chaos of the previous night, Meadow admits that it's nice to feel Pitch's fur brush against her own. It brings a sense of calm within her that, to her surprise, she couldn't find with her own parents. She nuzzles her way deeper into Pitch's chest and he is all too happy to nuzzle her in return. They stay that way for a long while, blocking out the noise around them. Both are happy to just be in the presence of another. It isn't until Meadow feels something wet drip on top her head that they separate from the deep embrace.

"Pitch? Are you okay?"

"Sorry, I am. I really am. I think it's just hitting me all at once. You're here, you're safe. The nightmare is over."

"It's okay, Pitch. It's okay. I stayed the day with my parents. Nothing happened here outside of everypony running in a panic. Besides, if something were to happen, I'm rather scrappy in a fight if I do say so myself."

"Is that what you call charging a row of bushes while wielding hedge clippers and shouting 'death to the overgrown'?"

"I-What!? No! How do you even know about that?"

"Oh, I have my ways. You make a cute hedge guard by the way."

"Shut up, no I don't."

"Yes you do."

"I'm not cute."

"You're right, you're absolutely adorable."

"Yeah? Well, you-mmpph!"

Pitch silences Meadow with a kiss. She resists at first, only to melt into the affectionate stallion's hooves. In a rare turn of events, Pitch wins this round. They pull away with Pitch sporting a grin. Meadow did as well, but it soon fell into a frown as she stares off into the distance.

"Actually, Pitch. Something else did happen..."

"What? What happened? What's wrong?"

"It's Arctic. Pitch, I'm don't think Arctic is a pony. At least, he's not a type of pony I've ever seen before."

"Say again? He looks very much like a pegasus to me."

"Oh there is no way he's a pegasus. He is capable of performing magic, unicorn type magic. I saw his spell of illusion fail right in front of me."

"Okay, something tells me this is going to take a bit of explaining. Do you mind filling me in over lunch." Pitch's stomach growls as if to emphasize his request.

"Do you have a place in mind?"

Pitch simply smiles sheepishly. It only takes a mere moment for Meadow to catch on to the meaning. With a roll of her eyes, she grabs Pitch's hoof and starts to drag him out of the station. Along the way, they leave the topic of Arctic alone and move onto lighter subjects. This, of course, ends up with a rambling Pitch Out going on and on about how exciting his first days in the Equestrian Baseball League were. Meadow is happy to just listen. It's rare to see Pitch get as excited as he is and she's trying her best to hold in her laughter at the bouncing stallion. This goes on until they reach their destination.

Yes, it's Charlie Hops. On a Sunday this time.

They order their drinks, then Meadow tells the story of the night's events. Arctic came over to her apartment to invite her hang out at Charlie Hops. With nothing to do at the time, she accepted, wanting to get to know the strange (not) pegasus better. Upon their arrival, Arctic then surprised her when he announced that he knew the bar had a portable radio and that they can tune into Pitch's game. Meadow explains how smooth the evening was going and how she was enjoying listening to the game with Arctic, even if he got a bit inebriated. Finally, she gets to the roller coaster of emotions she went through when Pitch entered the game. Pitch kept focused throughout her story, though his ears did welt at the reminder of his first outing.

"When I heard the sound of the ball off the bat, I thought it was over and wanted nothing more than to be by your side. But then, it got caught, and I was so, so happy for you. I must have been the loudest one in the bar."

"Yeah you were."

Two pairs of ears perk up in surprise as Meadow and Pitch turn toward the voice. A green stallion, beer in hoof, waves at the couple and takes a sip. Meadow narrows her eyes as Pitch goes with a flat look.

"Do you mind?" Pitch asks.

"Not at all," The stallion replies.

Before either Pitch or Meadow can respond, a mare sitting at the same table of the stallion hooks one of her orange hoof around the stallion's muzzle and forces him to look her in the eyes. The mare then starts to berate the stallion with words best left unrecorded. Pitch and Meadow, now with horrified expressions, awkwardly turn away from the scene and back to the topic at hoof.

"Anyways," Meadow continues, "I went to celebrate with Arctic, only to find his seat empty. I spotted him stumbling towards the back door. I got a bit concerned and followed him to see what was wrong. When I got to the door, I saw him fall to the ground and then..." Meadow pauses, taking in a deep breath. All the emotions she felt then come rushing back to her. "...I saw him look at me and just burst into flames. Next thing I know, I'm staring at one of my friends sprawled out on the ground, not moving, with what looks like blackened fur. It was horrible, it was-" Feeling a hoof starting to rub her backside, Meadow opens her eyes, unaware she had closed them at some point. Pitch had scooted closer to her and smiles reassuring at her. Meadow wipes her eyes and gives her own gracious smile in return.

"I didn't know what to do, I just stood there petrified. Eventually I went to take a closer look when I saw his chest move up and down. His fur wasn't charred like I thought. In fact, he didn't have any fur at all, instead he had some sort of hard shell. His wings changed as well, they were translucent and looked like insect wings. He also had a horn and holes in his legs."

"Wait a second, Arctic has both wings and a horn?"

"Yeah..."

"Are you saying Arctic is some sort of bug-like alicorn?"

"I- I don't know, I haven't thought about that. I guess, yes? It doesn't feel like it fits though."

"I guess that will be something to ask him. He is still around, right?"

"I'm not sure."

"You didn't leave him there did you?"

No! Of course not! You know me better than that. I was confused, but thought it best if I took him home with me and keep an eye on him."

"That- normally I would agree with that decision. But, we don't know all that much about him. Yeah, he's fun to be around and he's been a good friend so far. Yet, he hid this from us. Why is that? What else could he be hiding? Was it really a good idea to bring him home with you?"

"Well, what would you have me do, Pitch?"

"Take him to a hotel, or a hospital. I don't know, anything but be alone with him."

"I couldn't just dump him off after that; besides, it's Arctic, he's our friend."

"Is he though?"

"Pitch!"

"It's a valid question, Meadow. Think about it, what do we truly know about him? All we know is that he claims to be from across the sea. We don't know why he came here, where he's staying, we don't even know how he came here. He never talks about himself or his interest, instead he's always about us and what we do. Now it turns out he may not be a pony at all. That doesn't inspire confidence."

"Are you saying everything about him is fake? Because he seems very genuine to me. Sure, we don't know much about his background, but that doesn't mean we don't know him. Tell me, Pitch, what has he done since we met him. He helped us get together, he saved us from a very awkward first date. Yes, it was awkward, I said it, but Arctic helped fixed that. Didn't you also say that he had a heart to heart with you about what it meant to him that you were his first friend here? And yet, you accuse him of having some sort of ulterior motive? That we don't know anything about him? I say that we know that he is kind, generous, and cares very, very deeply about who he considers his friends!"

During the monologue, Meadow nearly climbed up and over the table to get to Pitch who had scooted away. She ended her thoughts with a dramatic flop back into her seat, hooves crossed. Pitch works his mouth up and down trying to find the words to respond. She is right. He didn't like it, he felt like there was something missing in this puzzle, but deep down he knew she's right. Arctic had shown to want nothing more than friendship.

"Okay," Pitch says.

"Okay?" Meadow asks.

"Yes, okay. You're right, Arctic has been nothing more than a friend to us and I should give him the benefit of the doubt. But, something still doesn't sit right with me. Why hide behind illusions?"

"I don't know. Maybe he's afraid of what would happen if we found out? It would explain what happened."

"And what happened? Other than the whole, Mare in the Moon disappearing act."

"Well, I stayed up for the Summer Sun Celebration of course, though I think it was more due to me worrying what was happening to Arctic rather than tradition. He slept through most of the night, but woke up before the sun was supposed to be raised. He looked frightened, terrified. He burst into flames again, but this time, when they dissipated, he looked like the pegasus we knew him to be. I tried reassuring him and asked what he was. He threw open the window and fled into the city. I attempted to track him down at first, but then the whole Mare in the Moon thing happened and ponies started panicking. Arctic was lost in the city and you were halfway across Equestria, I didn't know what was happening with you and it all was just too much. I spent the rest of the day with my parents.

"Pitch, I haven't seen any signs of Arctic since. I have no idea where he is, for all I know, he could be hurt. I wandered the city for a bit to see if I could find him, but I mean, this is Manehatten. Finding a single pony here is neigh impossible without knowing exactly where to look."

"We'll find a way, I know we can."

"I may be able to help with that."

Meadow nearly spits out the drink she tried to take while Pitch slams his head on the table in exaggerated frustration.

"Does nopony here know the meaning of private conversation?" Pitch asks.

"Honey, you're in the wrong bar for any conversation of the sort. Now, who ordered the hayburger and fries?"

Meadow raises her hoof. Pitch looks up at the blue coat, silver mane mare as she sets down his meal of alfalfa hay and a corn on a cob on a bun, also known as a corn dog.

"How much did you hear?" Pitch asks.

"Only just that my favorite customer appears to be missing in the city of Manehatten." Silvia floats out a small notebook and pen and begins writing. "As I said, I may be able to help you. I personally don't know where he tends to stay or hangout, but I do know somepony who might." She rips the page from her notebook and levitates it towards Meadow who takes it in her own magic. "Once you find him, tell him I said hi and to stop by more often."

Meadow giggles in her hoof. "Oh, we totally will, don't you worry." Silvia smiles and returns behind the bar.

"What was that about?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just that I think our friend here may have a crush on little old Arctic."

"Ah... if everything works out, we're going to return the favor and play matchmaker aren't we?"

"You bet your flank we are!"

Meadow hovers the piece of paper over the table and sets it down. The paper reveals an address, but doesn't include a name. Meadow and Pitch shrug at each other and move to quickly finish their meals.

After paying, the couple trot toward the nicer residential district in the city where the skyscrapers end and the houses begin. Turns out, the address listed is right near Meadow's parents house. This fact gets the two to be slightly nervous as who they are to meet as this is where the more snobby ponies tend to live. They end up at a simplistic two story house and proceed to ring the doorbell.

They don't wait long before the owner answers leaving the couple frozen in place. A passing mare in the background looks over to the house. She lets loose a high pitched squeal of excitement before slowly collapsing into a heap on the ground. The stallion she's with rushes to her in concern. He looks to see what caused her to fall and lets out a high pitched squeal before fainting on top of his wife.

Standing in the doorway, with his gorgeous black mane and his beautiful shimmering red coat, is none other than teen singing sensation Shiny Teeth and his handsomely brushed, perfectly aligned, shiny smile. Meadow knees go weak standing in front of her celebrity crush while Pitch can't look away from the pretty colt's teeth.

"Can I help you?" Meadow and Pitch nod their heads. "Are you two fans of mine?" More nodding ensues. "I always love meeting with my fans. Would you like an autograph?" Once again, more nodding.

Shiny Teeth reaches for something out of sight. He returns with two signed copies of a picture with him posing dramatically while showing off his perfect pearly whites. Meadow takes hers with a squee which knocks Pitch out of his stupor.

"Actually, Mr. Teeth sir."

"Please, call me Shiny."

"Shiny... we were told you may know where Arctic could be."

Shiny blinks several times as he stares at the couple. He then gives a gasp of surprise and cuts in between them, wrapping a hoof over their withers. This causes Meadow to stiffen once again and intake a sharp breath of air.

"Oh my gosh! You two must be Pitch and Meadow!" Meadow tries to hold in a squeal which causes her to squeak instead. "Arctic talks about you two all the time. You have to come inside."

Shiny let's go of the couple and spins around several times followed by three different poses, including one where he does a forehoof stand. He then dances back into his house to the beat of the music playing in the background. Pitch tilts his head and flops down an ear at the teen's antics. He tentatively takes a few steps towards the door, only to stop when he notices Meadow still frozen in place. He rolls his eyes, moves behind her, and starts pushing her inside.

The house isn't as large as Pitch would expect a celebrity to have. The entrance leads to a cozy, decent-sized living area. Three couches are placed in the middle, next to a fireplace, and around a glass coffee table. On the other side of the room is a doorway which appears to lead out to a hallway. The walls are covered with pictures, awards, and records.

One picture Pitch observes shows Shiny, wearing a pure white jacket, with four other stallions wearing the same type of jacket. What really catches Pitch's attention is who else is in the picture. In the center of the group, wearing a white brimmed hat, is Arctic. Pitch ears fold back as he examines how happy the (not) pegasus appears. He had his hooves over two other members of the band and seems to be laughing at something. It's hard to see him as anything more than just a content stallion pegasus, and yet, he felt like he had to hide his true form from everypony.

Guilt stirs inside Pitch when he remembers how he accused Arctic of not being his friend. He's happy that he didn't have the opportunity to accuse Arctic face to face, else he'd be really depressed at this moment. Pitch feels a hoof rubbing his back and turns to find Meadow's reassuring gaze. He faces the picture once more and sighs. Pony or no, Arctic is his friend and right now his friend needs him. So where could he be?

Shiny Teeth trots back into the room with a couple of glasses and a pitcher of water which he sets down on the table. He offers Pitch and Meadow to sit which they accept as Meadow pours herself a cup.

"So, you mentioned you're looking for the lovebug?" Shiny asks.

Meadow inhales more water than she intended and goes down the wrong pipe. She starts a coughing fit while Pitch comforts her and Shiny looks on with concern. Eventually, Meadow gets her fit under control.

"You know?!" She shouts.

"Know what?" Shiny asks.

"That Arctic i-" Meadow is interrupted by Pitch shoving a hoof in her mouth.

"Lovebug?" Pitch asks.

"Yeah, Arctic is pretty passionate about the power of love so me and the boys all came up with different love nicknames for him. Lovebug is mine, he seems to find that one the most amusing."

"I can't imagine why," Meadow mumbles when Pitch removes his hoof.

"Out of curiosity, what all do you know about Arctic?" Pitch asks. Shiny rubs the back of his neck.

"Not all too much, to be honest. None of us do since Arctic doesn't really like to talk about himself. What I can tell you is that he is very passionate about his work, he's always hanging out by the old lighthouse, and he loves talking about the two of you."

"Wait, what was that last one?" Meadow asks.

"He loves the two of you?" Meadow places a hoof over her heart as Pitch continues.

"And the one before that?"

"He's always hanging out at the old lighthouse?"

Meadow and Pitch share a glance at each other. They're thinking along the same lines. It's the best lead they have and it's worth a shot. They nod and return to the conversation.

"Thank you for the hospitality, Shiny, but we need to get going now," Pitch says.

"Anything for my fans."

Shiny gets up and moves to open the door. Pitch and Meadow trot out and give a final thanks to Shiny.

"Remember, the album comes out July 24th. If you see Arctic, tell him I said hi and to stop by more often." Shiny poses one last time before dancing back into his house as the door closes.

"So... you think he has a crush on Arctic as well?" Pitch asks.

"I don't think so," Meadow responds thoughtfully, "But, you never know."

With nearly an entire city to cross, Pitch and Meadow canter their way towards the docks. Upon arrival, they rent out a rowboat and row their way to the old lighthouse just to the North of the city. As they draw near they are surprised to find a small, single mast wooden ship beached upon the rocky outcropping. Pitch maneuvers as close as he can to the rocky shore while Meadow uses her magic to tie the boat onto one of the larger rocks. They search the lighthouse first, but find it abandoned. As they move towards the shipwreck a wave of magic blasts a hole into the ship's keel. They share a look of concern with each other before quickening their pace. It's very possible they found their missing friend.


It's no use. The structural integrity of the ship's hull is far too compromised. There is nothing I can do to make her seaworthy again. I blast another hole in the hull. My stomach lets out a growl of protest, but I refuse to go back, to leech off the ponies, to be the very thing I hate. I came here with the hopes of bettering the lives of both changelings and ponies. The more I think, the more I wonder. What exactly can we changelings bring that would be of benefit to the ponies here? They made it farther than the ponies found on the homeland, and they did this without us. All we would be doing is leeching off their success.

The Queen, she must have known this. She must have known how naive I am. Maybe she thought I would learn the truth on my adventure, or maybe it was a convenient way to remove me from the hive. The pressure in my head becomes too much. I curl up on the ground, rubbing my hooves on my head. Maybe the Queen knew, maybe she didn't. I stop pretending I have the answers. All I want to do is go home.

The sound of hoof beats on the top deck snaps my focus back to the present. Muffled voices drift down to the hold I lay in. I recognize the voices immediately, and, honestly I'm amazed as to how they found out where I've been staying. The voices draw closer and I resign to my fate. Even if I could push past them, I simply have nowhere else to go. Besides, they deserve to know what I am.

Pitch and Meadow descend the stairs and stop dead in their tracks when they find me. I continue to stare at the ground, head bowed in submission. They don't say anything, but their dual concern tells me all I need to know. They still think of me as their friend. I fear what they may feel after the truth comes out.

"Arctic?" They ask.

"Hi, Pitch. Hi, Meadow. You found me, sorry about that."

"Sorry?" Pitch asks.

"Arctic, why did you fly away? Is it because I found out that you're a...whatever it is you are?" Meadow asks.

"Because, you know, ponies around here would love to welcome a new species to Equestria," Pitch lies.

"Changeling. I'm a changeling, and you wouldn't welcome us after you learn about what we are."

"Let us decide whether or not that's true, Arctic. Don't just assume what we would think," Meadow says.

"Come on buddy, let us help a friend out. We are still friends, right?" Pitch takes a step forward, followed by another when I don't dissuade him.

"I...don't know. Can I truly be considered a friend?"

"Why wouldn't we consider you a friend? Please, talk to us. We just want to know what's happening?" Meadow asks.

"Changelings, don't exactly have a normal diet compared to other species."

"What, you eat meat? I saw your fangs, we do have gryphons here you know,"

"No, we feed off the emotions of other ponies."

...

"Like a vampony or something?"

"Huh?"

"Pitch!"

"What? it's a valid question."

"How is it valid exactly?"

"You just said he has fangs, Meadow. Fangs! And he's worried about how we'll feel after learning this. How is it not a valid question?"

"He doesn't suck out emotions like a vampony."

"How would you know?"

"Do you see any bite marks on either of us? Plus, I'm sure I'd remember being bitten."

"Well, he has magic. Maybe he made us forget and covered up his tracks. Arctic, back me up here."

"We don't bite ponies, Pitch."

"Ha!"

"I said back me up, not Meadow. Why have fangs in the first place then?"

"I don't know, extra grip maybe?"

"Extra-"

Pitch proceeds to slap his face with his hoof. Meadow tries to stifle her laughter, but ends up failing to do so. Despite everything, I end up catching her infectious laugh and let loose a few chuckles. Pitch joins in and steps up to me, patting my back.

"There you are, Arctic. I was wondering when you'd show up," Pitch says.

I try to smile, but the small upwards curve of my lips soon fall flat; the words of the nightmare echoing over and over in my head. I look at both Meadow and Pitch in turn. The shock and disbelief of me announcing how we feed on emotions barley lasted a second in either of them. It's clear they worry for their friend that I use to be, though I think it's because they don't really understand what it means.

"Guys, I really appreciate what you are trying to do. But trust me when I say I don't deserve your friendship."

"Arctic..."

"I know, don't assume what you all think right? Well, then let me explain in full."

I take a deep breath. It goes against my very instincts, but if I'm going to explain everything, then I'm going to do so in my natural form. I let the small pink flames of transformation magic flow out, slowly revealing my black chitin, glowing blue eyes, and insect-like translucent wings, the left wing bearing the lightning shaped scar from my snowy misadventure. Meadow simply stares in curiosity while Pitch's eyes goes wide as he falls flat onto his rump.

"Whoa."

"As I said, we changelings feed on the emotional energies of ponies. We can do the same with other species, such as gryphons, but no other species expel the same substance and power as ponies, possible due to the inert magic present in all of your kind. This essentially makes you our food source, our prey. In order to get in close to feed and harvest, every changeling posses a powerful transformation magic to blend in as well as an ability to sense whatever emotion a pony is feeling to better extract the more pure sources of energy. This not only feeds us, but fuels our magic as well. The more pure source a changeling can leech, the more powerful the changeling."

"Okay," Meadow says, "Granted, that's a bit disturbing to hear how we are a food source. I still don't understand how that affects our relationship precisely. Why would this make us not friends? You can't exactly help what species you're born as. It also doesn't seem that feeding off of us does any harm."

"Whoa."

"How can you not see the problem? We infiltrate pony societies in disguise, feeding off the populace. If I wanted to, I could completely drain a pony dry until they're nothing left other than an emotionless husk. We're par-" I hiccup at the word, sniffling as I try to force the words out of my mouth, "We're parasites, pests, leeches. How can you be friends with a disease?"

My admission leaves Meadow speechless. I can imagine that the gears in her head are finally fitting the pieces into place and I soon expect the two to either leave or worse. I can't quite get a feel on what to expect as I block out their emotions to avoid leeching off them anymore, nor can I see their expressions through my water laden eyes.

"Whoa."

I blink rapidly to clear my vision. Pitch is still sitting their mouth agape. Meadow, on the other hoof, has her brows furrowed and a scowl on her muzzle.

"I can't believe you."

I'm not able to look at them face to face anymore. I tilt my head downwards and prepare for the assault I know to be coming.

"I can't believe how you can just sit there and say such blatant lies about yourself!"

"Huh?"

"Whoa."

"Pitch, will you snap out of it already and help our block headed friend see how irrational he's being."

"Arctic, you're an idiot."

"Huh?"

"You're not a parasite, Arctic. A parasite will keep taking and taking with no concern for the well being of its host. Now, as disturbing as it sounds, I'm sure you've fed off both of us did you not?"

"I- yes, but-"

"Well, last I checked I don't feel the least bit drained, let alone an emotionless shell. Do you Meadow?"

"Nope."

"But, I could do that."

"And I could chuck hard leather balls at 100 mph at any pony that steps up to the plate and take them out of the lineup. Have you ever drained a pony like that before? Have any of you changelings?"

"No, we only feed off the excess so we don't harm anypony."

"And that makes you a parasite? Doesn't sound too convincing to me."

"But, we feed off of you. We leech off of your happiness in secret without warning, concent, or payment."

"Excess happiness as you said. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure there's not much I can do with that."

"There's no way you can just be so accepting of this. What about you Meadow? Surely you can understand my point. I'm the mastermind behind the plan to manipulate you into falling in love with Pitch!"

"If I recall correctly, I've been in love with Pitch for a long while now, I just received a push in the right direction to act on that love before I lost the opportunity forever. Not quite the manipulation you're referring to."

"But, I did it so I could feed off the love you have for each other."

"Did you? Doesn't sound like the Arctic I know. Besides, didn't you have to feel our love in the first place to convince us we did love each other?

"I- you two are impossible!"

"No, you're just doing a poor job at convincing us that your anything other than our friend."

"How? You don't know about changelings. You don't know about me."

"Tag me in, Meadow, I got this." Meadow and Pitch bump hooves. Pitch moves up to me and lays a hoof on my shoulder.

"Why did you want to get Meadow and I together?"

I raise a brow at the question. "To secure a pure food source."

"Uh, huh. Right. And the real reason?"

I think back to that day. Blocking out the memories of the nightmare to find what was truly in my mind back then. The words of the Nightmare ring in my head, assaulting my brain with lies. Yes, they were nothing but lies and deceit because my true motivation was... I chuckle as I remember.

"Because it was very painful to listen to the two of you be so oblivious to one another that I just had to step in."

"And that day on the bridge? What did you say after I announced that I was leaving."

"That you meant a lot to me as my first friend here."

"Why did you bring Meadow to the bar to listen to my first game?"

"Because I figured she would worry and miss you and I thought hearing the game would make her happy."

"And the band? I saw the picture of the five of you smiling and laughing."

"Yeah, the picture was taken before our first show. We were all nervous so Shiny told a story about how a crazed fan tried to marry him against his will, only to break up with him after learning he wasn't all that rich."

Pitch smiles and pulls up onto my four hooves. He then wraps a hoof around my neck in a hug which Meadow also joins.

"Arctic, you are a kind, caring changeling that loves to make and do great things for his friends. If this is what a parasite is, then I'll be your host anytime."

"Okay, that has to be the single most sappy thing I've ever heard, and I come from a hive of matchmakers."

We all laugh at that as the group hug ends. I cautiously allow myself to feel their emotions again and find a large amount of love hanging in the air directed towards me. I draw in the love which satisfies my complaining stomach once and for all. The haunting echoes of the Nightmare still float in my head, but now I recognize what they truly are and I shall never let them define me again.

I am Arctic Thunder. A mutualistic changeling from the hive of Shinuie. I sailed to a far away land seeking adventure, and instead, I came home to Equestria with friends who love me, and whom I love in return, always and forever.

'It's time to come home.'

I am.


My dear Arctic,

I am saddened to hear and witness the trauma you have gone through and that I could not help you in time. I am proud that you managed to make friends that showed you light once more. It is possible that the mare in your dreams was the Night Queen who disappeared from the moon just a few nights ago.

Please note, that I am neither upset at your discovery of being a changeling, or your accusations of us being parasites. I am disappointed that you did not trust enough in what you are to avoid such ways of thinking and I trust that you will never doubt yourself as such other again.

Allow me to reassure whatever lingering doubt you may still have. Yes, we changelings have the capability to live the way of the parasite and it is possible that is what we started out as. However, just because we may be made to live one way doesn't mean we are forced down that path. I have taught my hive to encourage and form relationships between themselves and others not as a means to secure food, but as a means to live happy and fulfilling lives while using our inherent powers for the good of all species. Allow this to put your mind at ease and know just because we feed on emotions, doesn't mean that ponies are our prey. When ponies thrive so do we, so let us strive to better their way of life so that they will, in turn, better ours. That is the way of the changeling.

Lastly, I will close out in saying that my daughters and I have been reviewing the information you have sent to us. We will be discussing today on which action we deem to take within this new land of Equestria. No matter what, we recognize your will to remain and we give you our blessings to do so. We will miss you, Arctic. Not just I, your family, or Wave, but all of us here in the hive. You may not believe it, but you have touched us all in some form or another. Even as I speak, many changelings have started to teach themselves the art of sailing all because of you.

Goodbye my dear little changeling.

Your Queen,
Shinuie


"So, back to being a pegasus are ya? How does it feel?" Pitch asks.

I stretch out my feathery appendages and give them a little shake.

"Actually, very comfortable. I don't know why, but I always liked being a pegasus more than anything else."

"Have you ever tried being an earth pony, or a unicorn?" Meadow asks.

"I tried being a unicorn once. I kept bumping my horn on anything and everything and I'm not all that great at magic. As for earth pony? Well, no. Why be just a plain old pony when I can either have wings or a horn. Er, no offence."

"Oh, I take offence. Besides, us earth ponies are great, we have a connection with the land you know. Makes us rough and tough. Couldn't throw a 100 mph heater without being one."

"Yeah, but while we can transform into ponies, we don't inherit their natural strengths, so as an earth pony I would have no 'connection to the ground', as you say."

"So, I take it your cutie mark doesn't represent your talent or personality?" Meadow asks.

"Nope, I just thought it fit my name well."

"So Arctic Thunder is your real name then?" Pitch asks.

"Yup, no need to hide our names since the majority of changelings choose pony names anyways. I came up with mine after a life altering event."

"You came up with the name?"

"Well, Wave was the first to suggest it, but the decision was up to me. I can sense your bafflement, Pitch, yes we name ourselves as a sort of rite of passage. We still have birth names our parents give us. In fact, my birth name was Lightning Bug. What's so funny?"

"I'm not laughing," Meadow says.

"I can feel your amusement you know."

"That's going to take some getting use to."

"You didn't answer my question."

"How observant, is that one of your abilities too?"

"Oh, har dee har har."

Before the round of bantering could continue, a blue mare with a silver mane came up to the table to deposit the food and drinks, including a mug of beer for myself.

"Uh, I didn't order that..."

"Consider it on the house as a welcome back present," Silvia says.

"I was only gone for like, three days. But if you insist, thank you Silvia, you're the best."

Silvia beams a smile, but doesn't make a move to leave. Instead she watches as I take a sip of beer. This is followed by gulp after gulp as the heavenly tasting alcohol slides down my throat. Finally, after consuming half the drink, I set the mug down and wipe the frosting away.

"This is terrific! What is it?"

"It's actually one of my own recipes that I brewed myself. I figured you would like it," Silvia replies.

"I do. I really, really do. So what, you're a bartender, brewer, and an actress? Is there anything you can't do?"

I watch as her smile grows wider and wider with every word I say. I almost fear that her face is going to fall off, though it recedes a little after I mentioned being an actress.

"Aspiring actress actually, I still need a lot of practice though."

"Well, perhaps I can help. I'm pretty good at playing pretend if I do say so myself. Maybe I can help you practice and give out some tips?"

Curiously, a hint of red starts to show on her blue cheeks and she moves to hide it behind her long silver mane.

"I'd lo- like that. Anyway, I need to... uh... get back to work and stuff so... yeah. Happy you enjoyed the beer, I got more in the back if you want more. Bye!"

I wave goodbye to her and cringe when she nearly walks straight into the bar while looking back. I turn back to Pitch and Meadow, the former having his hooves cross with a smug grin and the latter having trouble not bouncing in her chair.

"What?" I ask.

Meadow continues bouncing and nudging Pitch who simply rolls his eyes and picks up local newspaper.

"Nothing, Arctic, don't worry about it," Pitch says.

I shrug and return to my drink. I then notice the front headline of the paper Pitch is reading.

"Hey, Pitch. Who is Princess Luna?"

Pitch turns over the paper to read the headline announcing the return of Princess Luna. Meadow also glances over to read, but simply stares blankly at Pitch who glances back.

"For once, Arctic, we're in the same boat as you are."


Smokey Records opens the grand door and we trot into the inn together. I take in the sight of what is soon to be mine with glee. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a bounce to every step I take. Smokey, on the other hoof, looks around solemnly at a dream long gone. He takes off to a nearby platform with a sigh and I follow right behind.

On top of the platform are two chairs, a table, and a lantern. When I touch down, Smokey is already at his chair removing papers from his saddle bag. With every signature written my excitement grows more and more. It doesn't take me long to notice Smokey's dower mood, however, and I wonder what I can do to cheer him up. There is one thing I can do, it may not be much, but it is something.

"Smokey."

"Hmm?"

"I promise you that I'll keep the place to be just as welcoming to thestrals as it is to my kind."

He stops writing for a split second. He doesn't show it, but I felt his appreciation and his mood appears to be lighter. It isn't long before the final paper is signed, and the place is mine. We shake hooves, Smokey with a smile, and he takes his leave. I stay at the table, lost in thought as I hear the grand doors open. Then I notice a second presence.

"Sweetheart? What are you doing here?" I hear Smokey ask.

Curious about who would be here, I make my down to the floor.

"Is this? I'm sorry dear, I already signed the papers."

I reach the ground and turn the corner. I freeze up upon viewing our unexpected guess.

"I'll be okay, Vinyl, I trust this young colt to take good care of this place."

The white mare promptly turns her head to face me, a scowl plastered on her face. Upon seeing me the scowl disappears and her shock hits me like a blast wave. She points a hoof towards me.

"Hi Vinyl!" I wave. "Long time no see."

Smokey looks at me raising a brow.

"You know my daughter?"

"Vinyl is your daughter?"

"Yes. How do you two know each other?"

I rub the back of my neck as I recall our spontaneous kiss. I hope for my dear life that I'm not blushing.

"Oh, it was a Thursday night at Charlie Hops-" I catch Vinyl's rapidly shaking head and waving hooves too late.

"That was you!" Smokey screeches.

I decide to continue with a minimalist approach in order to stop digging this hole I'm in.

"Uh... guilty as charged?"

Vinyl slaps a hoof to her face.

Smokey shifts his eyes from me to Vinyl, from Vinyl to me, and so on and so forth. I'm expecting another beat down to occur, instead, Smokey goes with an insane looking grin.

"You know, she didn't elaborate on what happened that night, but she never can seem to get you off her mind."

Vinyl attempts to appear smaller.

"Really? I don't blame her, it was a very memorable night."

For some of us anyways.

Now she sports a nice looking shade of red on her cheeks.

"Not too memorable I hope," Smokey growls.

Vinyl proceeds to nudge her father hard in the ribs, followed by a shake of her head. Smokey nods in understanding. He then looks at me once more.

"Can you excuse us daughter? I need to finalize some details with Mr. Thunder."

Vinyl looks at me and holds up a hoof to her father. She then marches over to me with fierce determination. She gestures to Smokey, the building, and then stares me down dead in the eyes.

"I'll take great care of this place, I owe it to Smokey. I even promised him that he, his family, and every thestral will be greatly welcomed here.

She continues to stare me down, motionless. Finally, after a few moments, she nods and hugs me before cantering out of the building. Smokey then trots up to me.

"Listen, Arctic. I care very deeply for my daughter. She never lets her handicap get in the way of anything, but she has had very rough relationships in the past. Ponies either don't give her the time of day, or think they can take advantage of her disability. It's gotten better since she started DJ-ing, but it's been a struggle for her, do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, what I said is true, she always seem to be thinking about that night you two had together. I haven't seen her this giddy in a long, long time, and I'll be damned if I let anypony breaks her heart again. So if you decide to date my daughter, know that I'll be watching your every move. And if I see you take advantage of her, or harm her in any way, I'll make sure you feel the same struggle she goes through every day. Am I clear?

"Crystal clear, sir."

Smokey Pat's my back firmly. I refuse to admit that this causes me to flinch in fear.

"Good talk."

Smokey leaves the complex leaving alone with my thoughts. Honestly, I haven't given any thoughts to dating as I still feel like I'm not ready. Plus, I'm not 100% sure I want to date a pony, especially one in an unknown land. What is to be expected in this culture? What is considered taboo? I shake my head to clear my thoughts. This is a problem for a different day.

I turn my attention back to the inn. I start trotting to the back portion. Images of ponies start to fill the grand hall. Most are sitting at the ground tables, though I notice a couple of pegasi and thestrals on the platforms. Conversation of all types fill the hall.

I stand behind the bar, serving customers whose bits goes towards the funding us changelings. I admire my selection of real drinks and not that sugar loaded crap anywhere else. The ponies here know where to go for a good stout drink.

A pony walks up to the counter a bit shyly. I ask her what she wants. Maybe the signal is a saying, or a flash of the eyes. Either way, I received it in understanding. I nod to the bartender next to me to take over. Maybe it's Silvia, we could use her homemade brewed beer, plus I trust her with our secret.

I lead my fellow changeling to the backrooms. Up the stairs are many rooms for our patrons to rest, though that's not what she's looking for. Instead, I lead her to the basement. It's large enough in itself, though there is always room for expansion. We pass by several rooms. One of them is the Princess's chambers which she admires.

We arrive at the main gathering site for changelings in Manehatten. I hear her gasp in awe as she takes in the sights of her home away from home. I see a map of the city in one corner which marks places of note. In another is the feeding area where harvesters return with their bounty. A precaution should anyling not be able to feed themselves. Perhaps there is a music player in another corner with dancing and singing changelings. Yes, in fact, there is one who just tripped over himself and landed face first in the padded wall. Laughing fills the area and the poor sap sheepishly stands back up with help from the others.

I chuckle along as I prepare my little I introduction. I turn to face the empty air next to me.

"Welcome from your home away from home."

I turn back to the cold, empty chamber.

"Welcome, to Sub-Hive Manehatten."


Queen Shinuie and her two remaining daughters stand upon the shore, watching as the westbound ship slowly sinks over the horizon. On board, is her youngest daughter and 23 other changelings on their way to begin their new lives in Equestria.

The young, newly crowned, princess stands about a head taller than the average changeling. Her horn is taller than any other changeling, and bears a striking resemblance to that of a pony unicorn. Her long, deep blue membrane mane and tail have been transformed to resemble a pony's mane and tail. Her blueish-green eyes scan the horizon in thought.

A flash of bright yellow pauses her thoughts. She looks down to spy two of her changelings in pony form exaggerating movements. She giggles as she observes the two oddballs.

"Maze, Phalanx! What are you two doing?"

The two ponies, one with a bright yellow coat and dark blue mane and the other with a dark green coat and white mane, turn to face their princess.

"We're just breaking in our new forms and practicing our introductions ma'am," Maze says.

"Since when do introduction start off with insulting a ponies color scheme?" Phalanx asks.

"Since you decided to go with green and white. I mean, those have to be the two most horrible colors to exist with each other."

"Right, because dark blue and bright yellow works sooo much better."

"I'll have you know that these are the colors of champions."

"Champions of what? Getting crushed in embarrassing fashion?"

The two changeling-ponies started growling at each other. The young princess simply rolls her eyes. Though they did give her an idea.

"Hey! Settle down you two. I need you both to round up everyling onto the deck. I'm going to go over what to expect in the new world."

"Yes ma'am," Phalanx says before trotting away.

Maze stiffens to attention and gives a mock salute. "Aye, Aye, Captain!" He then flies his way down into the hold.

The young princess leans against the wheel as she dissects what she just heard.

"Captain Wave Runner. I like the sound of that."

She stares off into the distance once more as the last rays of the sun sink below the horizon.

'You hear that, Arctic? I'm the captain now.'








SEPT 17 21:55

PART 1 COMPLETE

AUTHORIZATION: MASTER WRITER PROGRAM

END OF LINE._