by Krivvy

First published

It was just another routine trip deep within the Everfree Forest when you stumbled upon a most unlikely companion...

Buggy CYOA is an ongoing adventure involving caring for a changeling; one who you discovered trapped in a dire situation in the Everfree Forest.
Life may be simple now, but many secrets lurk within this world, and things can change at any moment...

This is a story directed by the readers comments and participation, and will be incrementally updated as such.
You have the ability to influence what the next chapter will hold.
What will you say? What will you do? Where will you go?
How will you navigate your way through the challenges you may face?
The answer to that is up to you.

Instructions on how to participate and direct how the story continues can be found in the Author's Notes section of both the first and the latest chapter.
Regarding the story rating: Events that have transpired up until this point are firmly T rated, but due to the nature of this being a reader-driven CYOA story, the rating may change to M in the future if necessary. Please be aware of this.

An Unlikely Encounter | Parts 1 - 18A

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Leaves and other debris crunch underneath your boots as you trudge through the undergrowth. You are out on a cool autumn afternoon on one of your routine trips into the Everfree Forest, where you earn a living by harvesting the many rare and magical ingredients that grow deep in that wild forest, something that the average pony would never dare to do.
There is definite danger lurking out here, and you have had more than your share of close encounters, but you are capable of defending yourself, and the pay is good.

After collecting a small patch of Snapcap Mushrooms, you continue on your way into a section of the Everfree that you haven't visited in several months.
You pause as you hear an unusual sound in the distance, a sort of... buzzing noise, you determine.
You listen carefully as the buzzing sounds out for a few seconds, only to stop for several more before repeating. It does not sound like the source of the noise is moving...

You decide to attempt investigating the source of the buzzing noise. Any time you hear something out of the ordinary in this magical forest, you feel both a sense of curiosity and a sense of fear.
You navigate your way through the forest for a few minutes until you finally spot the source of the buzzing, which causes you to pause.

Some distance ahead of you is a strange creature that you recognize as a changeling. You remember reading of them from the books about the various races that inhabit the world along with Equestrian history that Twilight Sparkle loaned you shortly after you first arrived in this world.

This changeling has gotten itself caught in a Tanglehoof Vine. You watch as it struggles in vain to escape, its wings periodically buzzing as it tries to use them in an effort to free itself from the vine, confirming the source of the noise you heard.

You have no idea how long it has been there, but the Tanglehoof is very effective at catching prey and it seems to be just as effective at keeping its prey trapped as well. The changeling's struggles have clearly only managed to entrap it further.
You silently watch as you find yourself faced with a dilemma...

You can't remember all the details about the changeling race from your studies in the books, but you do specifically remember that ponies consider them as vile, evil creatures.
Logically it would be best just to leave it. However, you feel bad knowing the fate that awaits the changeling, either having to suffer starving to death or falling victim to a predator of the forest.

The other part of you feels a little curious about the changeling. You don't know anything about them beyond what was written in the books, so you wonder if this is an opportunity to learn first hand about them. Are they truly as evil as the ponies make them out to be?
You are torn between wanting to save it and not wanting anything to do with it.

You think about the nature of Tanglehoof Vines:

Tanglehoof Vines are a type of magical plant that grows within the Everfree Forest.

Tanglehoof Vines react suddenly when something comes in contact with them, quickly wrapping around and ensnaring whatever disturbed the vine. Attempting to struggle only makes things worse.

The vines are strong and durable, though they can be easily destroyed by fire, magic, or cut with a sharp object.

Becoming ensnared by Tanglehoof Vines is frequently fatal for those who are either not strong enough to break free by force, use magic, or use a sharp object. Causes of death can include asphyxiation, starvation, exposure to the elements, and attacks by wild animals.

You decide to attempt speaking with the changeling. As you cautiously draw close to it, the changeling notices you with wide blue eyes full of fear as it redoubles its efforts to try and struggle free from the vines.

You notice that the changeling must have been here for awhile, as it's terribly caught within the vines. You watch as the vines react to its renewed struggles as more vines wrap around it, further reducing its ability to move.
Suddenly, the changeling ceases its struggles as it gasps for breath, clearly exhausted.

"Please... Help... D-Don't hurt me, please..." the changeling struggles to say as it looks up at you with a pleading look in its eyes.

You find yourself staring at the changeling in surprise; you didn't expect it to speak to you, let alone beg so pathetically for your help. You feel yourself being somewhat compelled to help it, but...

You feel your empathy tugging at your heart as you cannot bear to see the poor thing suffer any longer like this. You decide to take action as you kneel down next to the mass of vines that ensnare the changeling.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you." You say as you unsheathe your knife and begin cutting away at the Tanglehoof Vines.

You watch the vines immediately become limp like wet noodles after you sever each one, making them easy to remove. The changeling silently watches you with wide blue eyes the entire time with no discernible expression.
Finally, you cut the last of the vines as the changeling appears to visibly relax slightly as it takes longer, deeper breaths. You place your knife back in its sheath before reaching out and unwrapping the vines from around the poor creature.

As you do, however, you are quickly taken aback by what you see, as the more you uncover the changelings body, the more you see how it appears to be severely anorexic.

The changelings smooth black body appears largely sunken in, clearly exposing the contours of its ribs and other bones. Its legs have many pronounced holes in them, noticeably more than what you remember the illustrations in the books depicting them as. While its face is still mostly the same, you can see that its eyes are sunken in and its cheeks are severely hollowed, giving it a gaunt expression.

You can't help but wonder again just how long this changeling was caught in the Tanglehoof, or if it was already starving prior to that happening.
Regardless, you can tell that it must have been using the last of its strength in an attempt to escape, as its now struggling to rise to its hooves.

"Woah there, slow down for a moment. I don't think you're ready to get up quite yet." You say as you attempt to reach out and support the changeling.

"N-No! I'm... fine!" It unconvincingly says as it finally makes it up onto all fours. You watch as it begins to move away from you, only to end up stumbling along several feet before bumping into a tree and falling to the ground again.

"Alright, you need to stop doing that." You say as you kneel down next to the changeling and gently rest your hand on its side in an effort to keep it down.

"I... I can do this myself... I-I'm not a burden... I'm still useful!" It weakly protests as its blue eyes begin to well up with tears.

"Look, you really need some help right now. You're not going to make it out here in your current condition. Just tell me what you need." You say reassuringly to the changeling.

The changeling pauses for a moment as it looks at you. You can see it struggling with something internally before it speaks again.
"I... I'm hungry..." It says as its head droops down in defeat.

"I'm sure you are." You say as you pause to try and recollect more of the information that you read about the changeling race in the books. You remember it being noted that they primarily fed from the emotion of love to fuel their unique magic, but you can't remember if that sustained them physically or not.

"Do you eat and drink normal food?" You ask the changeling.

"Yes... I'm hungry..." It says as it turns its head away from you.

"Alright, alright. Don't worry, I'll get you something to eat. Just tell me what you like." You say, attempting to reassure the creature.

"I like fruit..." It eventually responds.

"Fruit? Okay... I'm afraid I don't have any food with me, but you can have this." You say as you remove a container of water from one of your bags before opening it and holding it out to the changelings mouth.
The creature stares at it for a moment before its mouth slowly opens and lets you feed it the water. It eagerly swallows the water as you let more dribble into its mouth.

"Thirsty... Thank you." It says as it finishes drinking.

You smile as you put the container back in your bag.
"Now then. I'm going to carry you out of here now. I don't want you to worry about anything, okay? Just relax." You say.

"O... Okay..." The changeling says before you use your arms to pick it up.

You begin walking back through the forest with the changeling in your arms for a while. It's surprisingly light despite its approximately waist high size, no doubt missing a lot of weight from its apparent starvation. It also occurs to you that you're not entirely sure what this creatures gender is yet, or if it even has a name. Though you suppose such things can wait until later, as there are more pressing issues at hand.

After walking a good distance while carrying the changeling, you decide to take a moment to rest and collect your thoughts.

"We're taking a moment so I can catch my breath. Just lay down here and don't strain yourself." You say as you kneel down and gently rest the changeling on the ground. You then stand back up straight and lean backwards to stretch your muscles.

"Thank you... for saving me. I'm sorry that I'm causing you trouble." The changeling says.

You give the changeling a light nod. "Don't worry about it." You say as you idly scan the surrounding forest while you think about what to do next.

It occurs to you that if what you read in the books were true and that ponies view changelings in a strongly negative light, there may be trouble if it's seen while you're carrying it back to your home. You've seen how the ponies can be rather... zealous in what they believe in.

Granted, your home was built on the outskirts of Ponyville where there is little foot traffic, so that lessens the risk somewhat. You figure that you could also cover the changeling with one of your outer layers of clothing in the final stretch of walking to your home.
In addition, you would guess that it is around mid-afternoon now. Most ponies are likely going to be at the market purchasing their food and other goods for the evening anyway.

Your mind also turns to Zecora as a possibility...
It would be quite a trek to reach her home deep in the Everfree from your current position. You estimate it would take roughly 45 minutes to walk to her home, versus about 13 for the remaining distance to your own home.
Another thought strikes your mind as you turn your attention back to the changeling for a moment to stare at it. What if other races besides ponies hate changelings too? There's no guarantee that a zebra like Zecora would be accepting of it.

You let out a deep sigh as you prepare to get moving again. One thing is for certain, however, and that is you're definitely going to be borrowing those books from Twilight again. You want to know more about this changeling race. This one that you've rescued is seemingly not evil... Yet.

You decide that returning to your home is the only plan that makes sense.
You kneel back down and wrap your arms around the changeling. "Up we go." You say as you rise back to your feet and continue on your way.

Walking the remaining distance is uneventful as you leave behind the Everfree and move into the normal vegetation as you near your home. You decided to take a slightly roundabout way so that the final distance between tree and underbrush cover and the relatively open field between your home is minimal.

Upon seeing your home in the distance, you set the changeling back down on the ground as you proceed to remove a backpack of sorts that contains your forages and other things, followed by your coat that you wear in colder weather.

The changeling notices this and looks up at you with curiosity. "What are you doing?" It asks.

"My home, which is just outside of Ponyville, is up ahead. I've heard that ponies don't think too highly of changelings, to say the least. So I'm going to hide you with this coat." You explain.

The changeling seems to cringe slightly at your mention of Ponyville and the ponies.
"P-Ponyville...? Oh..." It mutters as it begins to look worried.

"Relax, it'll be fine. Most of the ponies should be at the marketplace or somewhere else right now, not around here." You say in an attempt to reassure the changeling as you lay your coat over it before putting your backpack on once again.

"Let's get this over with." You say as you pick up the changeling with your coat draped over it. It definitely will obscure what you're holding from a distance, but you hope that you're not going to meet any ponies in the next short distance.

You step out into the open and begin to walk as quickly as possible without looking suspicious. As you walk, you look around and can see a few ponies off in the far distance, along with some pegasi flying over the main part of town. Thankfully, there doesn't appear to be any close by.
You hear some shouting and look over to see a group of three young fillies running around and playing with each other. You sigh in relief when you see that they aren't paying any attention to you.

You feel the changeling press itself against your body as it hears the voices of the fillies in the distance. "We're almost there." You reassuringly say.

Soon enough, you make it to your front door, and quickly unlock it and head inside, locking it again behind you.
You let out a sigh of relief as you walk over to a simple sofa and gently rest the changeling on it, removing your coat from it as you do so.

"Here we are. Home sweet home. It's not much, but it's mine." You say.

The changeling looks around nervously as it rests on the sofa.

"Listen, I'm going to head into town now to sell what I collected today, and to buy some food for both of us." You begin saying as the changeling stares at you with its full attention.

You then proceed to take a few minutes to explain the layout of your home and approximately where everything it might need is.
"...and if anyone comes up to the door and knocks, don't answer it, okay?" You conclude.

The changeling nods its head in understanding.
"Okay..." It quietly says, still looking a bit nervous.

"Good, that should be about it. Let's see now..." You trail off as you walk over to your small kitchen.

The changeling watches you with interest as you rummage around before returning to the sofa with a small tray.
"Here you go, something to get you started." You say as you set the tray down on a small table in front of the sofa. The tray has a few apples, a glass of water, and a pitcher to refill the glass.

The changeling stares at it for a moment before repeatedly looking back and forth between you and the tray a few times.
"This... This is all for me?" It asks, almost sounding unsure of the gesture.

"Of course. Is this fine? You said you liked fruit." You ask it.

"Y-Yes! Thank you!" The changeling happily replies as you watch its horn briefly glow with green magic as it levitates an apple over to itself before grabbing it with its hooves and eagerly eating it.

You smile as you walk over to a different part of the room and grab a blanket, which you lay over the changelings body to help keep it warm.

"I'll be back as soon as I can. Remember, don't answer the door if there's a knock. I doubt anyone will stop by here, but it's a possibility." You say.

The changeling nods as it continues to eat its apple.
You head back outside, and after locking the door once again, begin your walk on the dirt roads towards the main part of Ponyville.
Along the way, you begin to meditate on the nature of your new guest. You wonder just what exactly you're going to do from this point forward.
Before too long, however, you find yourself arriving in the heart of Ponyville. Several ponies happily wave at you as they trot by.
Now then, you have things to do...

You immediately get to work visiting your regular customers who buy your goods harvested from the Everfree Forest. The walk to each house doesn't take too long and you begin to sell the items you have on hand. In relatively little time you successfully sell everything and feel a satisfying weight from the bit bag hanging off your belt.

You take a moment to consider what to do next. You begin to wonder if it would be a good idea to try and confide in one of the ponies you know about the changeling.
There are a few ponies who you consider to be your friend, but you're not confident in those friendships being strong enough to just drop it on them. You need to feel this out somehow...

After some forethought, you decide to hopefully accomplish two things at once and visit Ponyville's library. You've been meaning to visit it again for a while now.
After a few minutes of walking through the streets, you arrive at the Golden Oak Library.
You walk up to the door of the library and knock a few times before entering.

"Anon! Is that you?" you hear a voice shout from upstairs.

"Yeah, Twilight. It's me," you reply. You enter and see her quickly trotting down the stairs.

"Anon! How are you? What have you been up to?" The purple unicorn mare happily says to you with a beaming smile.

"I've been doing quite well. Just returned from another trip to the Everfree." You say with a smile.

"Another one? You're always going off to that strange forest. Did you encounter any new plants or herbs? If you did, you can always bring them here and we can try and look them up in the botany books!" Twilight eagerly says.

You chuckle at the bookworms enthusiasm. "I'm afraid not. But when I do I'll know where to go." You say.

A small awkward silence falls between the two of you until you hear some noise coming from upstairs before you hear the voice of Spike. "Hey Twilight! Are you coming back up here? How did you want these things sorted?" You hear the young dragon call out.

"O-Oh! Just a minute, Spike!" Twilight responds before turning her attention back to you with a sheepish look on her face.

"Sorry Anon, I'm really busy organizing some things and Spike is helping me out. I should get back to that... Did you need something?" She asks.

"Oh, um... Yeah, do you remember that book on the different races that I read before? Are there any more like that?" You ask.

"Yes, of course! Let me just..." The young unicorn mare trails off as she trots over to some of the bookshelves, pulling three of them away with her magic before returning to you.

"If that's what you're interested in, here you go!" Twilight says as she hands the books over to you with her magic, which you in turn grab with your hands.

"Thanks, Twilight. I appreciate it." You say as you carefully put the books in your backpack.

"No problem, Anon. So... What made you want to learn more about this?" She asks.

"Well it's, uh..." You stumble over your words as you suddenly feel slightly nervous. You wonder if this is really the best time for this. Should you confide right now in Twilight?

"I... I was ju-" You begin before being interrupted by the impatient voice of Spike from up above "Twilight! Alphabetical, or chronological?" The young dragon calls out.

Twilight immediately snaps to attention with a worried look on her face. "Be right there, Spike!" She yells back as she turns around and begins to trot back up the stairs.

You watch as the purple bookworm stops for a moment to look back at you. "Sorry Anon! Let's talk about this more later, okay? I really want to hear what you have to say!" She says before hurrying up the rest of the stairs.

You say nothing in response as you feel a sense of relief wash over you. Yes, maybe another time would be better...
You head back outside of the library and stop to look up at the sky. You guess that there's around two hours left until sunset. You feel like you should hurry and buy your goods from the market before it closes.

You go ahead to the market and do business with the various ponies that are still set up there. You acquire a few pounds of dried oats, several apples, a jar of honey, a jar of blueberry jam, and a fresh loaf of bread.

You also decide to purchase a small vial of what you can only describe as a vitamin potion. You're still not entirely sure what they're made from or how they are produced, but they are often given to sick ponies. They're not cheap, but you don't have much in the way of expenses compared to the income you gain.
You feel it's worth it, as you have a suspicion that the changeling in your care has been in poor health for longer than you care to imagine, given its appearance.

Satisfied with everything you've done in Ponyville for today, you begin your short journey back home on the well worn dirt roads.
Along the way, you look around you and appreciate the autumn beauty surrounding you. The leaves are in full display with vibrant hues of orange, red, and yellow as they rustle in the breeze. The grass is a lush green. The sun is shining brightly overhead, though the chill reminds you that winter is drawing near.

Though you had similar sights and sounds on Earth, you always end up marveling at how pure and untainted this world is, a quality that you deeply appreciate.
As you begin approaching your home, you are suddenly reminded of the changeling you rescued and wonder about what you should do with it.
Assuming you successfully nurse it back to health and it turns out to truly be friendly... Then what? Send it on its way? Try and introduce it to the ponies, who may very well have a real hatred of them?
The thought frustrates you, but you know that attempting to keep it hidden forever is a pointless endeavor. But how do you approach any other option?

You set those thoughts aside for now as you arrive at your front door.
You quietly unlock and open the door, unsure of what exactly is going to await you on the other side. After seeing or hearing nothing inside, you enter and shut the door behind you, locking it again in the process.

"It's me, I'm back." You say as you look around the entrance to your home. You hear no response.

You quietly walk over to the living area with your sofa where you see the changeling laying with the blanket still covering it.
A slight panic grips you as you wonder if the changeling died while you were gone, but with close observation you see the slow rise and fall of its breath.
You smile when you realize that it's just sleeping. You look and see that it ate all of the apples you left for it, and drank nearly the full pitcher of water.
Thinking about the apples brings your thoughts to your own hunger. It's time to make some dinner.

You leave the sleeping changeling to its rest as you walk over to your small kitchen area. You begin bringing some water to a boil while you set out the things you bought from the market, in addition to the books that Twilight loaned you.
While you wait on the water to boil, you take the apples and chop them into bite sized chunks. You then take the loaf of fresh bread and cut off a few slices to toast in a few minutes.

The water eventually comes to a boil, to which you add some of the oats along with the chopped apples, which you proceed to stir together at a simmer.
Soon enough, the hot oatmeal is ready and divided into two bowls. You finish it off by drizzling some honey on top along with a light dusting of cinnamon. You also quickly toast the slices of bread and spread some of the blueberry jam onto them.
A simple meal that is perhaps more suited for breakfast than dinner, or at least how it would be considered back on Earth, but it's easy to eat. You hope the changeling likes it.
Speaking of which, you look across the room and notice that the changeling is once again awake and watching you intently from the couch.

"Hey there." You say as you begin bringing the food over to the small table in front of the couch. The changeling silently watches you as you do so.

You refill the pitcher of water and bring it back along with your own glass, which you promptly fill along with the changelings.
Finally, you pull up a chair to the opposite side of the table and sit down, making yourself comfortable.
The changeling with its curious blue eyes continues to stare at you, in which you do the same.

"I imagine that you're still hungry, right? This is what I made for dinner... Or at least what I hope you can eat." You say as you gesture towards the steaming hot bowl of oatmeal with one of your hands. The changelings eyes appear to go slightly wider in surprise as it looks down at the bowl of oatmeal in front of it, before alternating between you and the bowl several times.

"This... This is all for... me?" It quietly says, almost sounding in disbelief.

"Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't it be? Dig in." You say as you pick up your own bowl and begin eating.

You watch as a big, happy smile suddenly forms on the changelings face. "I-I... Thank you! Thank you!" It happily exclaims as it begins eating its own bowl of oatmeal.

"It's delicious!" It says as it eagerly eats the food. You don't think it's that great, but it makes you happy that it's acceptable for the changeling. Though you suppose anything must taste wonderful to someone who is starving...

You pick up and begin eating a piece of toast with blueberry jam on it. The bread, however... Nothing beats fresh bread that was baked that day, the jam is simply a bonus.
You eat together in silence for awhile, until you notice that the changeling has stopped about halfway through its bowl. It appears to be looking down at it deep in thought.

"Is something wrong?" You ask it.

"Why are you doing all of this for me?" The changeling asks as it looks up at you.

You find yourself caught slightly off guard by its question. Does it think you have an ulterior motive? In your mind, you shouldn't need a reason to help someone in need, it's just the right thing to do.

"Well... Shouldn't that be obvious? Where I am from, it's just normal to help others in need, and from what I've seen of the ponies that is true in this land too." You say.

"The ponies would have left me there." The changeling abruptly replies with a frown on its face.

"What? Why do you say that?" You ask the changeling. You've read that the ponies dislike changelings, but even then you find it hard to imagine the loving ponies leaving another sentient being to die.

"Because they hate us... Most races do." The changeling says as it looks away from you, confirming what you've read.

"Why? Just because you're a changeling?" You ask.

The changeling gives you no response, however. You let out a sigh as you think about this reality.
"Thankfully I'm not most races then, huh? You're the first of your kind that I've ever met, and I know next to nothing about you. I have no reason to hate you, and every reason to help." You say.

The changeling turns to look at you once again. It gives no response, but seems to be thinking about what you've said.

"How did you end up in that situation anyway? What were you doing out there in the Everfree?" You ask the changeling.
Immediately the changeling looks like you pained it with your question, looking very unhappy.

"I... I wasn't useful anymore. I had become a... burden." It says in a sad voice as it looks down between its forelegs.

You feel really bad for bringing this subject up now. Silence fills the room as you wonder what to say, but the changeling begins speaking again...

"The hive is... struggling. We have been struggling for many years now, but then things got worse, and... and then there wasn't enough love to support all of us anymore." It says.

"First there were volunteers to leave, but it wasn't enough. Then the weak and undesirables had to leave, w-which included... me..." The changeling continues as you hear its voice begin to become strained. It sounds like it wants to cry.

"M-Males like me aren't as important o-or valuable as the females of my kind in the hive... I-I was left to fend for myself, but I was too starved to transform anymore, so I ran into the forests to hide from the ponies, when... when I..." The changeling trails off for several seconds, before speaking again.

"I w-was sure that I was going to die like that, b-but... But! I-I wanted to live! I c-can still be useful to somepony! I'm n-not u-useless!!" He cries out, finally giving way to tears.

You suddenly feel awful for the poor changeling quietly sobbing into his hooves in front of you. You sit in a stunned silence, your mind racing as it struggles to imagine wherever this changeling came from being in such dire circumstances that ones like him had to be forced away.
You don't understand yet why any of that had to be necessary, though you know that you're dealing with a unique race that you still know next to nothing about. You hope that your books and this changeling, who you now know is apparently male, will be able to explain more to you.
However, as you look at the crying changeling, you know that's not what's important right now...

You set your bowl of oatmeal down and rise up, moving over to the other side of the table before kneeling in front of the changeling on the sofa.
You lean forward and gently wrap your arms around the changeling in a comforting embrace. The changeling tenses up for a moment before breaking into his sobbing once more and hugging back tightly, his body quivering.

"There, there... It's okay. You're safe now." You say softly.

You hold the changeling for a few minutes as he cries into you. In response, you occasionally give his withers a gentle, comforting pat with your hand.
Eventually the changeling begins to calm down as he nuzzles into your neck.
You tense up at the sudden sensation of the changelings fangs pressing against your skin, but you persist in your attempt at comforting him.

"Shhhhh... It's okay..." You whisper.

The changeling seems to relax and begins to hug you less tightly.
"I'm sorry." He says, a hint of embarrassment in his voice.

"It's okay. You sound like you've been through a lot... We all need a shoulder to cry on sometimes." You reassure him.

"I suppose so..." He says, his quivering beginning to subside.

You sit like that for a while before the changeling pulls away from you, wiping his eyes before looking at you with a warm smile.
"Thank you... All the kindness you have showed means a lot to me." He says.

"You're welcome. Now then... Let's not let our dinner get cold." You say with a smile as you get up and move back to your own seat.

You both continue to eat in relative silence, broken only by the changeling commenting on how delicious it finds the toast with blueberry jam.
Now finished with both of your meals, you take a sip of your glass of water as you stare at the changeling. There's many things you want to ask him, but where do you begin?

"So, uh... Do you have a name?" You ask the changeling, breaking the silence between you.

"Oh! Yes, I haven't introduced myself have I? My name is Notaulix." He answers.

"Notaulix, huh? My name is Anonymous. You can just call me Anon though, most ponies do." You say.

"Anon? That's an interesting name, but... What exactly are you? I have never seen another like you before." Notaulix says.

"Human. The one and only in this world as far as I know." You answer.

The changeling's eyes widen in surprise at your statement. "R-Really? You're the only one of your kind? Where... Where did you come from?" Notaulix asks.

"That's... A long story." You begin as you pause to glance at a clock, noting that it will be nighttime soon. "Do you mind if we save that for another time? I actually had a few questions that I was hoping to ask you before it gets too late." You ask.

Notaulix nods in response. "Of course, I understand."

"Well, where to begin... The simple truth is that I know hardly anything about your kind. Not long after I arrived in this world I was provided a book that gave a brief overview on the difference races, which included changelings." You say.

"What did the book say about us?" Notaulix asks.

"It didn't exactly present changelings in a positive light..." You admit.

"O-Oh..." Notaulix says with a frown.

"When I was in Ponyville earlier I borrowed a few more books that are supposed to have more information... Of course all of these books were written by ponies, so I'm expecting the tone of the books to be the same. Don't worry about that though, I don't hold any preconceived ideas about you or your kind. I want to find the truth myself, so I'm hoping you can help me find that." You say.

"Of course. I will answer all of your questions to the best of my abilities." Notaulix happily says with a smile.

"Great! First thing's first; what exactly is love to a changeling? Do you actually feed off an emotion somehow? You mentioned that your... hive, didn't have enough love to support everyone. Do you need it in order to live or what?" You ask.

"Love is what fuels our magic. Yes, we do feed from the actual emotion itself. We do not need love in order to live, but... it is still essential. A changeling without love cannot transform, and a changeling that cannot transform has great difficulty gathering love, which makes them require support from the hive, which makes them a... burden.... Like me." Notaulix answers with a frown.

"It sounds like it's very hard for you to gather love even when transformed." You say.

"Not at all! In fact, you've been feeding me with love since you rescued me!" Notaulix says in a cheery tone.

Your mind grinds to an immediate halt as you try to process what the changeling just said.
"W-What?! What do you mean? I-I'm pretty sure that I don't... you know, love you! We've only known each other for a couple hours at best!" You stammer as you feel your cheeks flushing out of embarrassment from the implications of what Notaulix just said.

You watch as Notaulix's eyes go slightly wide before breaking into a brief fit of laughter.
"Hehehe! I'm sorry, Anon. Let me explain... Love comes in different forms. Yes, there is the love that exists between two special someponies, which is the strongest type of love. I didn't mean that you were feeding me with THAT type of love!" Notaulix begins with a smile.

"There is love between family and friends, and then there is love given through simple acts of kindness, generosity and empathy. That last form is the most common for us to feed from, and is what you have been providing me. It's the weakest source, but it's plentiful." Notaulix continues.

You chuckle as you feel yourself calming down. "I see. That makes a lot more sense." You say.

"So love just basically powers your magic? Is that all?" You ask.

"Well... That magical power is also responsible for holding our bodies together." Notaulix answers.

"Huh? What do you mean?" You inquire further.

Notaulix stares at you in silence for several seconds before responding.
"Being a race that transforms into others, our bodies are more magical than a pony or a griffin. Even being in our natural form is a drain on our magic... A very small one of course, but..." Notaulix pauses as he lifts up one of his forelegs.

"This is what begins to happen to us when we are starved of love. Our hooves, legs, wings, horn, ears... Holes start forming in them. We can't control it, it's a survival reaction to lessen the drain on what little love we have left." Notaulix says as he lowers his foreleg back down.

"That's... That's awful. Does that just keep getting worse the more starved you become?" You ask, fearing the answer.

You feel your heart sink as the changeling only slowly nods his head with a sad look in his eyes. You don't want to know about what ultimately happens to a completely starved changeling.

"I... I see... Thanks for explaining that to me Notaulix, I appreciate it." You say as you let out a small sigh, eager to steer the conversation somewhere hopefully less depressing.

"Hmm... It's going to be nighttime soon, I think that's enough for now." You begin as you stand up and stretch. "Do you mind sleeping here on the couch tonight? To be honest, I never expected to have anyone stay the night with me here, so the only bed here is mine." You continue.

"I don't mind at all." Notaulix responds.

"Perfect, I'm going to go shower in a moment and get ready for bed then." You say as you collect the dishes and bring them back to the kitchen.

"Do you need anything else?" You ask the changeling as you walk across the room, activating magical lanterns that hang from the ceiling in anticipation for the sudden transition to nighttime.

"No, I'm fine, thank you." He responds.

You nod as you walk into the hallway leading to your room and the bathroom. You first stop in your bedroom to grab a change of clothes before heading in to the bathroom.
As you do so, you hear both the clock in your bedroom and the living room play their little chime which announces that moonrise will be in 15 minutes. It took you awhile to accept the absurdity of the sun and moon being controlled by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, with the abrupt transition that occurs when they raise and lower their respective celestial bodies. You quickly learned to appreciate the ubiquitous clocks of this land that play a simple tune 15 minutes before each transition.

With fresh clothes in hand, you head into the bathroom and lock the door behind you.
After activating the magic lantern in the bathroom, you undress as you step into the shower. You let out a content sigh as you enjoy the feeling of the hot water washing away the sweat and dirt of the day.

As you clean yourself, your mind wanders as you meditate on the events of the day. Where do you go from here?
You wonder what you're going to do with Notaulix. You want to continue helping him, but you're not quite sure how.
What if the ponies reject him and turn hostile? What if he betrays your trust once he regains his strength? What if...
Your train of thought is broken as the light coming through the windows quickly begins to change. Soon enough you are left with the pale bluish glow of the magic lantern illuminating the room. You quickly finish washing and turn off the water.

You step out of the shower and dry yourself off with a nearby towel. You then proceed to get dressed in your clean clothes.
You exit the bathroom and return to the living room, where you find that Notaulix has already made himself comfortable on the sofa with a pillow under his head.

"Everything good over here?" You ask him with a gentle smile.

"Yes... I'm sorry for being such a burden to you, Anon." Notaulix says as he looks up at you.

"You're not a burden at all. In fact, I've enjoyed your company... Haven't had any in awhile." You respond.

Notaulix smiles as he continues staring up at you.

"Well... Good night. Tomorrow's another day." You say as you begin turning off the magic lanterns.

"Good night." You hear him say.

You arrive in your bedroom and close the door behind you. However, a thought crosses your mind that fills you with unease...
As you stare at your bedroom door, you realize that doesn't have any sort of lock on it.
You trust the changeling for the most part, but is it a good idea to leave yourself so vulnerable while sleeping?
Looking around your bedroom, you see that you could use a chair to prop against the door, or you could just leave it be and go to bed.

In the end, you decide to trust the changeling and not bother with blocking off your bedroom door.
Besides, your squeaky door hinge would likely wake you up if he does try to sneak into the room.

Placing a magic lantern on the nightstand, you remove your shirt and pants before climbing into your bed.
After making yourself comfortable under the covers, you reach over and turn off the magic lantern, immediately plunging the bedroom into darkness.
You let out a sigh as you stare up into the darkness, your mind mulling over the events of the day as you await sleep to overtake you.
Sleep does not come easy, however, as you cannot shake the lingering sense of danger in your mind.

After tossing and turning for an unknown amount of time, you eventually drift off to sleep...

Finding A Purpose | Parts 18B - 25A

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Early in the morning, you are awakened by the chime of your bedside clock announcing the coming sunrise in 15 minutes.

You groan as you roll onto your side and close to your eyes to continue resting until the sun rises.
All too soon, your bedroom fills with light as the gentle sunlight filters through the windows.
Lifting up your arms, you breathe in deeply and stretch while you begin to wake up, soon followed by letting your arms fall back to the bed. Your mind wanders as you begin to think about what you're going to do today.

However, your thoughts are interrupted as you hear the gentle sound of hooves clopping against the wooden flooring of the hallway.
You listen carefully as the sound draws closer to your bedroom door, before moving past it, followed by the sound of the bathroom door closing.

It sounds like Notaulix is able to walk around just fine now, you think to yourself.

You lazily climb out of bed and stretch your muscles further in an effort to wake yourself up before putting some fresh clothes on.
After doing so, you open your bedroom door and step out into the hallway, where you hear the sound of the shower coming from the bathroom.
You wonder how long Notaulix may have gone without a proper bath prior to meeting you... Thinking back to it, he was indeed quite dirty.

Regardless of that, it makes you happy to be able to help the poor changeling out by sharing your home with him. If nothing else, it's certainly the most interesting thing that has happened to you in awhile here in Equestria.
You walk the short distance down the hallway until you arrive at the living room, where you make your way over to the fireplace.
In no time at all, you quickly get a new fire burning in the fireplace, which begins to fill the room with warmth.

Afterwards, you make your way over to the kitchen area, where you lean on one of the counters as you look through a window at the cold yet sunny morning outside.
Thinking about what to do next, you decide that perhaps Notaulix would enjoy helping you make breakfast. Maybe it would make him feel useful?

After taking some time to think about it, you conclude that pancakes would be a safe and simple option. Everyone enjoys pancakes, right?
While you wait for the changeling to finish up in the bathroom, you get to work by pulling out a large bowl and a skillet, along with the necessary ingredients.
You set out the large bowl and the ingredients on the counter, while you place the skillet on the stove top.
Basic preparations complete, you walk back over to the entrance of the kitchen, where you look down the hallway towards the bathroom door.

Notaulix should be out any minute now, you think to yourself as you go to tend the fireplace while you patiently wait for him.

Soon enough, you hear the sound of the bathroom door opening and his hooves clopping against the hallway floorboards.
You watch as Notaulix steps into the living room, where he stops and stares with a curious expression upon noticing you.

"Morning." You begin as you wave at the changeling with your hand. "Did you sleep well at all?" You ask.

"Good morning Anon! Yes, I slept very well... It's the best sleep I've been able to have in many nights." He says with a smile as he moves closer to you by the warm fireplace.

"I'm glad to hear that." You say with a smile of your own as you watch Notaulix sit next to you by the fireplace.

You take a moment to stare at the changelings smooth, black body, which now almost seems to shine in a way now that its clean.
As you look, your mind begins to wander and consider how changelings appear to be very similar to ponies, besides the obvious differences like the eyes and the lack of a fur coat.
You wonder how changelings are supposed to stay warm, or what exactly their bodies feel like. You didn't really pay attention to such things during the brief moments that you touched Notaulix earlier.
Regardless, you push those thoughts to the side as your growling stomach brings you back to the task at hand.

"So, I was thinking... Would you like to help me make breakfast?" You ask Notaulix.

"H-Help you...? I would love to!" He responds as he happily beams up at you.

"Great! Let's go get started." You say as you both move over to the kitchen counters where everything is laid out.

As you arrive there, however, you realize a small problem as you look down at the happy changeling looking up at you expectantly...
Being a comparatively tall human in a land of mostly little ponies that are about half your height came with its own challenges for accommodating your housing needs.
Everything the ponies normally built had to understandably be scaled up for you, or else you would be constantly stooping over to use everything.
In the case of your kitchen, the countertops were built up to a comfortable height for you, and your pony-sized stove had to be placed on a built-in platform to raise it up.

This normally wouldn't be a problem, except that your eager helper has no good way to manage what's going on up on the countertops without putting an unnecessary strain on his still recovering body.
The situation reminds you of a scene back home on Earth, of a large dog in the kitchen waiting expectantly for a scrap to fall to the floor, making you smile.
Still, you need to figure something out... You take a moment to consider the best way to make Notaulix feel useful without straining his body.

"Uhh... I suppose the height of my countertops is a bit of a problem, isn't it? Do you mind if I lift you up here? I don't want you to strain yourself just to help me." You say to Notaulix.

"I don't mind... I'm sorry you have to do all of these things for me." Notaulix says as he looks away from you with a slight frown.

"Hey, I'm doing these things for you because I want to. We'll get you back to your full strength in no time." You say as you kneel down in preparation to pick the changeling up.

"Okay... Thank you." Notaulix says as he looks back at you with a smile.

Reaching out with both hands, you decide to grab hold of Notaulix behind his forelegs, in the same manner that you might lift a dog or cat.
As you do so, you take note of how his body is warm to the touch, and appears to have a thick, tough skin, the closest thing it reminds you of being a soft leather of sorts.

"Up we go!" You say as you rise up, lifting the changeling up into the air, which causes his hind legs to dangle below him in a humorous way.

Lifting Notaulix proves to be a surprisingly easy task, the light weight of the changeling is another reminder of his malnutrition, making you feel bad for him.
You hold Notaulix over the counter as he raises his hind legs before setting his rear hooves down on the countertop, followed by his front hooves as you ease him down.

"Now I'm taller than you!" Notaulix says as he turns to face you with a big smile.

"Yes you are." You say in response as you look up slightly at the happy changeling. Standing on the countertop, Notaulix's withers come up approximately to eye level.

As you look at him, you create the mental image of a Celestia-sized changeling, which you can't help but find the very thought of intimidating.
You wonder if such a thing even exists... You make a mental note to ask Notaulix about that later.

"How do you want me to help?" Notaulix asks you.

"Right. Here's what we're going to do; I'm going to add all the ingredients to this bowl here, and you're going to mix it together for me. Does that sound good?" You respond.

"Okay!" Notaulix happily responds as his horn begins to lightly glow. You watch as his green magical aura envelops a large wooden spoon that you placed next to the mixing bowl, lifting it into the air.

You get to work adding the wet and dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, before placing the bowl in front of the changeling.
"Alright, there you go. Mix it together now." You say as you begin putting the various ingredients back in their proper locations.

Notaulix immediately gets to work vigorously mixing the ingredients together with a big smile on his face, making a bit of a mess in the process.

"Woah, slow down there a little!" You say with a chuckle as you watch the eager changeling.

"Hehehe! I'm sorry... It just makes me feel really good to be useful!" Notaulix says as he slows his stirring down a bit.

You finish putting all the unnecessary things away as you make your way back to the stove to begin heating the skillet up.
Soon enough, the skillet is hot and Notaulix has stirred up a nice and smooth pancake batter.

"Alright, that looks great! Just put that spoon in the sink over there." You say as you slide the bowl of pancake batter over to the stove.

Notaulix promptly levitates the wooden spoon over to the sink before moving closer to the stove to watch what you do intently.
Taking a ladle, you begin to scoop up the pancake batter and pour it onto the skillet, making each pancake one by one.
Notaulix proceeds to sit on his haunches as he watches you cook the pancakes with a happy expression on his face.
You can't help but notice that Notaulix is indeed a male, as him sitting in his raised position on the countertop gives you a clear view of the sheath and testicles nestled between his hind legs, exactly like a stallions.
You neither pay much attention to this nor really care, however, as you've grown used to catching glimpses of the private bits of mares and stallions in your time here in Equestria.
Clothing is the exception here, not the norm, after all.

As each pancake is finished cooking, you place them on a plate in the oven to keep them nice and warm. Eventually, you end up with a tall stack of fluffy pancakes as you reach the end of the batter.

"Alright, now it's time to eat!" You begin as you pick Notaulix up once more before gently setting him on the floor.
"Thanks for helping me out there, Notaulix, I appreciate it. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable on the couch, I'll bring the food over." You say to him.

"Great! It smells delicious!" The happy changeling says in response as he makes his way over to the sofa.

You take two plates and begin dividing up the stack of pancakes onto them, smearing each layer with the rest of the blueberry jam from yesterday. You make sure Notaulix gets a few more pancakes than yourself.
You bring the two plates of pancakes over and set them down on the table in front of the couch. You also place the vitamin potion that you bought yesterday next to Notaulix's plate.

"What is that?" Notaulix asks in a curious tone as he points at the small vial with one of his forehooves.

"It's... some sort of potion that is frequently given to sick or injured ponies to help their bodies recover and heal. I bought it for you at the market yesterday, figured you could use one." You answer.

"You did...?" Notaulix begins as he looks down with a small smile as his ears droop. "You're doing so much for me, a changeling, Anon... I don't know how to keep thanking you..." He quietly says.

"Ah, don't worry about that. Drink that potion down real quick and dig into these pancakes while they're still nice and hot." You say while you pick up your own plate and a fork.

Notaulix simply nods with a smile as he does just so. Soon, the sounds of a warm, crackling fireplace and forks clanging against plates are what fill the room as you both begin to enjoy your breakfast.

You both enjoy your breakfast in relative silence, broken only by Notaulix commenting on how delicious the pancakes are, and you getting up to put more wood on the fire.
After finishing your meal, you decide that it's time to discuss what Notaulix's plans for the future are before anything else.

"Hey, Notaulix?" You say to the changeling.

"Yes Anon?" Notaulix responds, perking up as he focuses his attention on you.

"Well... I think before we go any further, we should discuss what the plan for the future is." You say.

"The future? What do you mean?" Notaulix asks as he tilts his head to the side slightly.

"I'm talking about you. I want to help you recover and regain your strength... But then what?" You ask him.

Notaulix's expression changes to a worried one as his ears droop slightly as he thinks about your question for a moment.
"D-Do... Do you want me to leave?" He responds in a slightly sad tone.

"Oh! No, no, I didn't mean that! If you want to leave after you're all better, that's fine, but I don't mind you staying with me, really. It's... nice having some company around." You say.

"Oh... I see." Notaulix says, seemingly relieved by your answer.

"Now, what I was trying to get at is... What do you want to do? From what you told me yesterday it sounds like you're not going to be able to go back to your hive, so wouldn't you like to have a job or something that you could do around here?" You ask him.

"Yes, I would love to have a job! That way I could be useful to somepony!" Notaulix happily responds.

You can't help but smile at the changelings eager attitude. You can really tell just in the short time you've known him that having a clear purpose in life is extremely important to Notaulix.
In the back of your mind, you wonder if that is true of all changelings.

"Well, that's great! The question, however, is what? You could find work in Ponyville, but that would require you to be transformed all the time, or..." You trail off as you think carefully about the subject.

Notaulix stares at you in silence, awaiting whatever else you may have to suggest.

Suddenly, an obvious idea crosses your mind... You know that no pony would want such a job even if it was the last one in the world... Thankfully, Notaulix isn't a pony.

"...Actually, you know what? What do you think about working with me?" You ask Notaulix.

"What do you mean?" He asks, somewhat confused by your question.

"Heh, do you think I wander around the Everfree just for the fun of it?" You begin with a chuckle. "I forage throughout the Everfree Forest, typically for rare and magical plants, herbs and mushrooms that the ponies use in potions and other crafts." You explain.

"Oh! So that's what you meant! You said that you needed to visit Ponyville to sell things when you brought me to your home yesterday." Notaulix says with a warm smile.

"Yep. I was a few hours into a trip through a section of the forest when I stumbled upon you. You could help me gather things to sell, and you would almost never need to be transformed once we got to the forest, as ponies very rarely ever go there. They're scared of the place. Plus... I think it would be nice to have someone else with me; you know as well as anyone how quickly you can get yourself into a bad situation." You explain to Notaulix.

"That's a great idea! I would love to help you! But, I... I don't really know anything about the Everfree Forest, or magical plants and mushrooms, or..." Notaulix trails off, looking disappointed as his ears droop.

"Hmm... I didn't know anything about those things either when I arrived here, but the ponies gave me books that I learned a lot from. I can teach you what I know." You say to him.

"R-Really? You would take the time to teach me?" Notaulix says in a surprised tone as he perks back up.

"Sure! We have plenty of time, it's not like you're in any shape to start heading out there anyway. You need to let your body recover first." You say with a smile.

"Thank you Anon! Yes, I would love to help you! I will try my best to learn everything that I need to know!" Notaulix enthusiastically says with a big, eager smile as his wings twitch in excitement.

"Great! I'm sure you'll have no trouble learning, Notaulix. It's really not that complicated. I'm looking forward to working with you." You say to the happy changeling.

As you look at Notaulix, you can't help but feel happy yourself, knowing that you're helping him to have another shot at life.

"When can you start teaching me?" Notaulix asks."

"Uhh... Just about anytime that we're sitting around I guess. Though some days I'll be heading into the forest, or I may have errands to run... I usually head into Ponyville at least once a day, too." You respond.

"Okay, I understand." Notaulix says.

Silence falls upon you as you begin to think about the future and the best way to teach Notaulix. You take the opportunity to get up and put another log in the fireplace.

"How are you doing, anyway?" You ask Notaulix after putting more wood in the fireplace.

"How am I doing?" Notaulix responds in a confused tone.

"Your recovery. How is your body doing? And what about the whole... uh... love thing? You did say that there's love to feed from the kindness I'm showing you, right? Are you getting enough?" You clarify to him.

"Oh, I see! Yes, I'm feeling much better already thanks to you, Anon. There is more than enough love from you for me to live off of. If I use my magic sparingly, my body might even be able to return to normal given enough time... I wish everypony would treat us changelings with as much kindness as you have. My hive brothers and sisters would be very envious if they knew how fortunate I am, or even my Queen herself!" Notaulix says, nodding lightly for emphasis.

"Even your Queen, huh?" You say as you pause for a moment to think about what Notaulix just said. You wonder what sort of appearance a Queen Changeling might have.

"Either way, I'm glad you're doing well. You'll be ready to head out with me in no time." You continue.

"Mhm!" Notaulix nods in agreement.

"But before then, we need to get you up to speed with the forest. Do you feel like being introduced to those books right now?" You ask him.

"Yes please! I would like that." Notaulix answers.

"Alright then, just give me a few minutes while I go grab them." You say to him as you move forward and gather up the dishes from your breakfast.

"Okay." Notaulix responds as he watches you move about.

After depositing the dishes by the kitchen sink, you make your way towards where you currently keep your books at, which is your bedroom.
You pick out the relevant books, appreciating the kindness of Twilight Sparkle for giving you them on permanent loan from the library as you do so.
She reasoned that you're probably the only one in Ponyville who would be interested in them besides her, and she had already read them many times over.

That's probably not too far from the truth, you think to yourself.

The books range from simple history lessons on the Everfree Forest itself, to an old, luxuriously illustrated compendium of the then-known flora and fauna of the forest.
Without a doubt, the compendium was the most useful of all the books to you, and is one that you still frequently return to for refreshing your knowledge.
However, as you've personally experienced, the compendium doesn't cover everything. The general lack of exploration means the forest still holds many undiscovered secrets to this day.
For that reason, you started a journal of sorts to document anything new or unexpected that you encounter, which you keep by your bedside.

With all the books in hand, you head back to the living room, determined to try and help Notaulix learn to teach himself from them.
Arriving at the sofa, Notaulix scoots over to accommodate both of you as you sit down next to him, setting the books on the small table in front of you as you do.

"Where do I begin?" Notaulix asks as he stares at the small stack on books on the table.

You proceed to give a brief explanation about each book and the kind of information that can be found in each one, capturing the changelings full attention as you do so.
"...and this last one here is just a book on the general history surrounding the forest. You don't necessarily need to read it, but it's interesting." You conclude.

"Wow..." Notaulix quietly says as he ponders each book that you just described to him.

"Now, where I recommend you start is..." You begin as you pick up the old compendium of flora and fauna. "...this one. If you want to learn about the plants and creatures of the Everfree, this is it." You continue.
"Let's say you want to learn about Tanglehoof Vines, which is the plant you got caught in..." You say as you open up the pages to the flora section of the book.

"Yes?" Notaulix says with a hint of excitement in his voice as he scoots a little closer to you.

"This is all alphabetical, so you find your way to T, and then... Here." You say as you turn to the page detailing the Tanglehoof Vine.

As you do so, you are caught slightly off guard when Notaulix moves in even closer to get a better look, resting his forelegs over your right leg as he peers intently into the book.
You find it a bit weird, yet endearing at the same time. You decide to roll with it by repositioning your right arm so that it gently rests on the changelings back.
Notaulix responds by turning his head to look up at you, giving you a happy smile before turning his attention back to the book.

You spend the next couple hours explaining to Notaulix how to look up everything he needs to know in the compendium, along with a few other books.
The changeling intently listens to everything you have to say, sometimes asking questions along the way.
As you do this, you occasionally get up to either use the bathroom or put another log on the fire.

However, you eventually use the last piece from the small wood box that you keep inside, signalling that its time for you to do other things while its still nice outside.
You explain this to Notaulix, and encourage him to continue reading on his own whenever he feels like it.
After doing so, you lace up your boots; a relic from back home that are looking to be in dire need of replacement soon, throw on your coat, unlock the side door and head outside.

Cool autumn air fills your lungs as you step outside, where you feel the gentle heat of the sun on your skin.
You proceed to head around your house where you have a small woodshed for splitting and storing your firewood at.
Picking up the split wood by the armful, you make a few trips back and forth until the wood box by the fireplace is filled.
Notaulix doesn't seem to pay any attention as you do this, having already gone back to being engrossed by the books.
Warming yourself by the fireplace, you begin to ponder what to do next. Being all dressed up with your boots on, it feels like a good time to do something productive outside now.

After taking some time by the warm fire to think about it, you decide that now is a good time to make a trip to Ponyville.

"Hey, Notaulix?" You say, grabbing the attention of the changeling as he looks up at you from his book.

"Yes Anon?" He responds.

"I'm going to head over to Ponyville now before it gets any later. I don't know exactly how long I'll be gone, but I'm sure you can handle yourself here, right?" You say.

"Okay... Yes, I think I'll be fine. I know where everything I might need is." Notaulix says.

"Great! I'll be back as soon as I can. Remember not to answer the door if someone comes by and knocks." You say as you begin walking over to the front door.

"Yes, I remember." Notaulix says in response.

Before you reach the front door, however, you pause and turn your head towards Notaulix again.
"Oh, do you want me to get you anything specific while I'm out?" You ask him.

"Anon..." Notaulix begins as he turns his head towards you, looking embarrassed as his ears droop to the side.
"I can't ask for anything when you are already doing so much for me... I'm grateful for anything that you get for me." He continues.

"Are you sure? It really isn't a problem." You ask the bashful changeling.

"Yes, I'm sure." He responds with a gentle nod.

"Well... Okay then." You say as you arrive at the front door.

You proceed to put your backpack on and clip your bit bag to your belt before heading outside, locking the door behind you as you do so. Afterwards, you set out walking down the dirt road towards Ponyville, eager to enjoy the beautiful sunny day.

These Old Boots | Parts 25B - 31A

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As you walk down the familiar dirt road, your mind begins to wander as you think about Notaulix.
You wish that he wasn't so ashamed about you asking him if he wanted something for himself. It really isn't an imposition, you're just trying to be kind.
Though, you can empathize with how he must feel. When you meditate on the matter, you can't help but imagine you would feel the same way if you were suddenly dependent on someone for everything.

Those feelings aside, your mind drifts back to the subject of just what exactly you're going to do about your new changeling friend.
With how well everything seems to be going, you feel reluctant to confide in a pony about his existence... Yet, what if hiding things results in a worse situation?
You continue to mull over such thoughts in your mind until you find yourself approaching Ponyville.

As you enter the outskirts of Ponyville, you look around at the scene of the town today.
You see several ponies moving about the streets, entering and leaving their homes, stores, and other buildings.
You also find that several ponies are already set up and selling goods in the marketplace. In addition, it appears that a train is currently at the train station.

You decide to make your way over to the train station first out of curiosity, as the train always seems to bring a rush of activity to the otherwise quiet town.
Meandering your way through the streets, you find yourself near the train station as you stop to examine what is going on.
You see several ponies inspecting various parts of the train, while a few unicorns and earth ponies work on loading some crates and other goods into a couple of box cars.

It would appear that the train has been here for awhile and has had its shipments to Ponyville unloaded first, judging by the neatly stacked pile of crates by the train platform.
A number of Ponyville residents are gathered around that pile, no doubt picking up whatever it is they may have ordered.
Among those ponies, you spot Mr. Cake, who appears to be loading up his saddle bags with several small cloth bags.

Most likely baking ingredients, you think to yourself.

Your thoughts turn to that of Sugarcube Corner and their delicious, sugary delicacies...
You try to avoid going there very often for the sake of your health, but you can't help but think it would be fun to pick something up for Notaulix there.
He seemed to enjoy sweets, if how much he enjoyed that blueberry jam is any indicator.
Though as you think back to the conversation you had before you left home, you begin to feel uncertain about doing so.
Letting out a sigh, you put those thoughts to the side for now as you look around at the town, wondering what you should do next.

You turn your attention back down to your feet as you study the creases in the leather of your well-worn boots.
They have served you well both back home on Earth and here in Equestria, but you know they only have so many miles left in them.
Normally it wouldn't be a big deal to ask around about having a new pair made for you, however... You have hesitated to do so for nearly a full year now.
That hesitation stems from the fact that you've never actually seen any material yet in Equestria that you could identify as leather at a glance.

As you've quickly learned from your time spent in this world, it seems like nearly every creature appears to be sentient to one degree or another, including the cows.
Because of that, you have had a lingering fear in the back of your mind that a material like leather may be considered a big taboo to the ponies.

You've seen how the ponies can feel strongly about certain things, getting a bit carried away in the process.
Word inevitably spreads quickly in this small town... You don't want anyone to think poorly of you, let alone the ponies you are close to who you consider to be good friends.
Yet... This can't wait any longer.
Winter is coming, and you know that you're going to be in big trouble if your boots finally decide to fall apart on you when ice and snow is on the ground.

But who do you talk to? You think to yourself as you furrow your brow.

Out of all the ponies you know, only two come to mind that both make sense and who you have a good measure of trust in.
You could speak with Rarity... She has already helped you with clothing and your backpack, and her knowledge in textiles and materials may be useful.
Though, you can't imagine her wanting to work with leather, let alone create a rugged pair of boots built for trudging through mud and filth.

You could also speak with Twilight Sparkle... That bookworm is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If she didn't already have the solution, she would know where to find it for you.
Additionally, you feel like you can trust her the most, though she can be somewhat irrational at times, which worries you... She has the ear of Princess Celestia, after all.
You begin to slowly work your way back towards the center of town as you mull over what your decision is going to be.

In the end, you decide that you're the most comfortable with approaching Twilight Sparkle about the subject.
Within a few minutes of walking the streets, you find yourself in front of the familiar sight of the Golden Oak Library.
Feeling slightly nervous, you reach out and open the door to the library, where you immediately see Twilight looking up from a book to see who her guest is as you enter inside.

"Oh, hello Anon! It's nice to see you!" Twilight says in a cheerful tone.

"Hey there Twilight. Nice to see you too." You respond as you close the door behind you.

As you walk into the library, you take a brief moment to look around to see if anyone else is here. Thankfully, it appears to be just you and Twilight at the moment.

"Are you looking for something?" Twilight asks.

"No... I was actually hoping to speak with you for a little bit." You respond as you turn your attention to the purple unicorn.

"Oh! Of course! Did you come to continue our conversation from yesterday?" Twilight asks with a hint of excitement in her voice.

"No, actually... Is Spike around here?" You say.

"Spike's out helping Rarity with something at the moment, actually. Why do you ask? Is this about him?" Twilight asks you as she begins to look slightly worried.

"Oh no, not at all!" You reassure her. "I was just hoping to have a brief private conversation is all." You continue.

"I see... Well, I'm all ears Anon!" Twilight says as she places a bookmark in her book before setting it down, giving you her full attention.

You let out a sigh as you mentally prepare yourself to get this over with.
"Well, you see, it's about my boots..." You begin.

"Your boots?" Twilight says in a confused tone as she brings a forehoof up to her chin before gazing down at your boots, studying them carefully.
"What about your boots, Anon? I don't notice anything particularly different or unusual about them." She says as she looks back up at you.

"I fear that these boots don't have much life left in them, Twilight. I'm going to need a new pair made for me, except that there's two problems." You begin.
"The first problem is finding someone with the proper skills to make something like these, and the second problem being the material they're made from." You continue.

"I'm sure I can help you find somepony fit for the job, but why would the material it's made from be a problem?" Twilight asks.

"Because... My boots are mostly made from something called leather, Twilight. Does that exist in this world?" You answer.

You feel your heart sink as you watch Twilight visibly stiffen up at the mention of leather, followed by scrunching her nose and pinning her ears back slightly as she looks away from you.

"O-Oh... I... I see. Yes, I know what leather is, but it's certainly not something you're going to find here in Equestria. I've only heard of the Griffons producing small amounts in their homelands." She says.

Time feels like it slows to a crawl as an awkward silence fills the air between the two of you.

"I... I was hoping you might know of a different material that could be used instead of leather. Something similarly tough, durable and flexible." You say, breaking the silence.

"Something similar? Hmmmm..." Twilight muses as her features begin to soften.
"Maybe... Oh! I think know just the thing!" Twilight suddenly exclaims as she looks at you with a big smile.

"Really? What is it?" You ask.

"I can't remember the name of it off the top of my head, but I know that the Royal Guard makes extensive use of it in their armor and other gear. It should be similar enough to leather." Twilight answers.

"That's great! Do you have any ideas about who I should talk to about making me a pair of boots out of that stuff?" You say.

"I'll write a letter to my brother about it. He'll definitely know the right pony that can help you." Twilight says with pride.

"Ah, your brother... I remember you mentioning him before. He's in the Royal Guard, right?" You ask.

"Mhm! His name is Shining Armor." Twilight happily responds.

"Shining Armor..." You repeat to yourself. "Are you really okay doing all of that for me, Twilight? I don't want to be a big imposition to you and your brother." You add.

"Not at all! I understand that your feet need protecting. This is something that's important to you Anon, I'm more than happy to help with that." Twilight says reassuringly
"Besides, isn't that what friends are for?" She adds with a big smile.

"Yes, I suppose so." You say as you return the smile.
You take a calming deep breath as you feel your anxiety over the situation leaving.

"Now that we have that settled, did you want to talk about anything else, Anon? Or do you have things to do?" Twilight asks.

Pausing for a moment to think, you decide that it would be best to return home as quickly as possible in case Notaulix is having trouble.
"I would like to, but there's a few stops I need to make today. I also have a little visit to Sugarcube Corner planned." You respond.

"Okay then! I'll tell you more as soon as I hear back from Shining." Twilight says.

"Sounds good, and... Thank you for helping me, Twilight. I've been really worried about how you or any other pony would react over the subject of leather. I've been putting this off for a long time." You admit.

"Aww, it's no problem, Anon." Twilight begins as she walks up to you. "I admit that I was a bit shocked, but that doesn't affect how I view you." She gently says as she looks up at you.
"It would be really mean for anypony to think differently of you over something like that. Besides, Anon... You're my friend." She adds as she rears up onto her hind legs to give you a hug.

You can't help but smile at Twilight's gesture of kindness as the purple bookworm gently nuzzles against your belly, being careful not to poke you with her horn.
"Thanks, Twilight. I really appreciate it." You say as you gently scratch the mare behind her ears with your fingers, causing her to giggle softly.

"Hehehe! That feels nice..." Twilight says as she enjoys the scratches for several more seconds before lowering herself back onto all fours.
"I'll let you be on your way now. I hope the rest of your day goes well for you." She says.

"You too. I look forward to hearing what your brother has to say." You say as you make your way back over to the entrance, followed by opening the door.

"Bye Anon! Say hi to Pinkie for me!" You hear Twilight call out from behind you.

"Will do!" You call back as you turn to wave at the purple unicorn mare before stepping outside and closing the door behind you.

You feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders now that you've finally spoken out about your boots. Especially since it sounds like an alternative to leather exists here.
As you take a moment to look around, you begin to ponder what to do next. Regardless of anything else, you need to stop at the marketplace before heading home.
Besides that, you also want to stop at Sugarcube Corner and pick up a treat for you and your changeling guest.
You begin to casually walk down the streets towards your next destination...

You soon find yourself among the many ponies buying and selling their goods at the marketplace.
After briefly checking what sort of produce is available today, you decide on making a vegetable scramble of sorts for dinner.
With a dinner plan in mind, you visit the various vendors and acquire what you think will be good for the scramble.

Being at the tail end of autumn, the variety of produce is dwindling, but thankfully there are still several late harvest choices available.
You pick out some peppers, tomatoes, carrots, a bundle of spinach, and a small eggplant.
You make some small talk along the way, and hear a little town gossip, though none of it is particularly interesting.
Having figured out dinner, you continue on and pick up more oats and other dry goods, a bit more than you would normally get considering you have an extra mouth to feed.

Eventually you finish your shopping and begin to move on for Sugarcube Corner. However, you pause when a particular vendor catches your attention.
Your gaze falls upon a mare selling a variety of saddlebags. Normally such a thing would have no interest to you, but a particular thought has crossed your mind...
You may have no use for a saddlebag, but Notaulix certainly would once he is healthy enough to venture out into the Everfree with you.
It would certainly simplify working together, as he would be able to carry whatever he finds himself without the need to stop and place it in your own pack.

As you stare at the saddlebags from a distance, you feel the desire to go and take a closer look at the selection, though a nagging thought in the back of your mind tells you that doing so may seem a bit strange.
It's obvious that you have little to no use for a saddlebag yourself. So why would you be buying one?
You can't help but imagine that you may very well be asked who you're buying one for, or perhaps if you've made a new friend. You wonder how you would answer that.

In the end, you decide to leave the saddlebags alone for now and instead continue on your way to Sugarcube Corner.
The wonderful aroma of freshly baked goods fills the air as you draw closer to your destination, making you hungry.
Soon enough, you find yourself at the origin of the delicious smells as you step up to the door and make your way inside. A ringing of a small bell announces your presence.

You are immediately greeted with the sound of several ponies speaking. Looking around, you see that it's fairly busy in here at the moment.
A number of ponies are gathered around little tables, enjoying some sweets and each others company. Several briefly pause to look at you before returning their attention back to their friends.

"Well, look who's here!" You hear the familiar voice of Mr. Cake say.

You look forward to see the friendly stallion smiling back at you from behind the main counter.
"Hey there Mr. Cake. It's looking pretty busy here today, huh?" You say to him as you walk up to the counter.

"Sure is! It's nice to have you drop by, Anon. What can I g-" Mr. Cake begins to say before being interrupted by the approaching noise of an excited Pinkie Pie.

"...do I hear Anon out there?" You hear Pinkie Pie's voice draw closer before seeing her head poke out from the kitchen, followed by an excited gasp when she notices you.

"Yay! Hiya Nonny!" Pinkie excitedly says as she comes bouncing out of the kitchen to see you.

You can't help but grin whenever Pinkie comes along. The amount of energy and enthusiasm the pink mare has never ceases to amaze you.
"Hi Pinkie! How are you doing today?" You ask her as she continues to happily bounce around you.

"Hehe, I'm doing great! I can't stay and chat though, I need to get back to helping Mrs. Cake! I just wanted to say hi while you're here... Even YOU have a sweet tooth sometimes, don'tcha?" She beams up at you.

"Yes. Yes I do... What do you recommend today? By the way, Twilight says hi." You say to her.

"Oh! Oh! Did you visit Twilight today? Hi Twilight!" Pinkie says before breaking into a momentary giggle fit.
"Hehehe... You should get some cookies Anon, we made all kinds of flavors today!" She continues.

"Some cookies, huh? That does sound good... Anyway, if you need to get back to helping, I won't keep you any longer than necessary. It was nice to see you, Pinkie." You say to her.

"Okie dokie! Enjoy those cookies, Nonny!" Pinkie says before bouncing back off into the kitchen.

After recovering from Pinkie's burst of energy, you turn your attention back to Mr. Cake who gives you a knowing smile.

"As I was saying... What can I get you today, Anon?" Mr. Cake says.

"Oh, uh... I'll definitely be getting some of those cookies, but could you give me a moment to look over what else is available today?" You ask him.

"Sure thing. Let me know when you're ready." Mr. Cake responds.

You take some time and look over the various goodies for sale today. Sure enough, there is a big plate stacked with mixed cookies of many different flavors.
You also see several cakes, pies, muffins, and pastries of assorted types, in addition to the many candies and chocolates that are available. You wonder what sort of things Notaulix might like.
Satisfied with a decision in mind, you get Mr. Cakes attention again, who eagerly awaits your order.

"Alright then, I'll have two chocolate chip cookies for starters, and two more of the ones with peanut butter. I'll also have an apple pie, please." You say to him.

"Gotcha, I'll have them ready in a moment." Mr. Cake says as he gets to work putting the cookies into a small paper bag and the pie into a box.

As he does so, you take the moment to reach into the bit bag on your belt and place the appropriate amount of bits onto the counter.

"Here you go Anon. Enjoy." Mr. Cake says as he places your goodies onto the counter before picking up the bits you placed.

"Will do." You answer, quickly putting the bag of cookies into your backpack and picking up the pie with both hands, as there is a mare waiting in line behind you.

With your pie in a box held firmly in both hands, you make your way back out of Sugarcube Corner and into the crisp autumn air outside in Ponyville.
Having accomplished everything you set out to do in town today, you begin the walk back to your home with a small sense of pride.

Mutual Learning | Parts 31B - 42

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The walk back home is uneventful, though you appreciate the feeling of the warmth from the still-warm pie seeping into your hands.
Soon enough, you find yourself nearly at home again. One thing you notice, however, is that there is still smoke coming out of the chimney.

Notaulix must have kept the fire going, you think to yourself.

It seems so obvious, yet it's something that you failed to consider before leaving. You hope that no one may have noticed this oddity while you were in Ponyville.
Arriving at the front door, you unlock it before opening it and stepping inside, where you are immediately greeted to the luxury of your home being toasty warm.
As you close the door behind you and lock it again, you hear the sound of hoofsteps against the wooden floor drawing close from the living room.

"Welcome back, Anon!" You hear the surprisingly cheerful voice of Notaulix say.

"Hey there." You respond as you finish locking the door. As you turn to face the changeling, you find yourself a bit caught off guard by what you see...
Notaulix stands at the entrance to the living room, looking up at you with a big smile, perked up ears and slightly ajar wings, reminding you of a pegasus who is excited about something.

Before you have a chance to comment, Notaulix speaks up again. "I kept the fire burning for you, so it would be warm and comfortable for you when you returned!" He says.

Any desire that you had to talk to Notaulix about the fire being a potential source of getting caught completely disappear at the sight of how happy and proud he is for doing such a simple yet kind thing for you.

"I can tell! It feels great in here. Thanks Notaulix, that was very considerate of you." You say to the changeling, causing him to beam in happiness at you.

You can't help but smile in return as you watch Notaulix move with some spring in his step as you both walk into the main living area of your home.
Notaulix returns to his spot on the couch where he still has the compendium open, while you make your way over to the kitchen where proceed to set the pie down on the counter before unloading your backpack.
After spreading out all of your purchases from the marketplace onto the countertop, you make your way back over to the entryway of your home.

Once there, you remove your bit bag from your belt along with your backpack, and hang both up on metal hooks by the front door.
As you do so, you make a mental note to refill the bit bag before the next time you head out to town, since it's nearly empty now.
You also take your boots off, and following a quick visit to the bathroom, return to the kitchen.
Pouring yourself a glass of water, you take it and move over to stand by the fireplace.

"So... How were things back here while I was gone?" You ask Notaulix, followed by taking a sip of your water.

The changeling looks up from his book to stare at you for several seconds, looking almost confused by what you asked before smiling.

"Everything was fine while you were gone. I continued to read and learn from this book while keeping the fire burning hot." Notaulix answers.

"That's good, it sounds like you've had a relaxing day. What kind of things have you been learning so far?" You ask him.

"Many things!" Notaulix happily proclaims. "I was hoping you could help explain some of them to me though... I-If you don't mind." He continues as his ears droop slightly.

You can't help but chuckle in amusement at how quickly Notaulix went from being excited and confident back to being more reserved.

"Sure, we still have plenty of time before dinner should be started. Scoot over and show me what you got." You say as you walk over to the couch.

"Thank you!" Notaulix says with joy as he moves over to give you room.

Once you sit down, Notaulix scoots in closer again and places the compendium onto your lap, where he uses his magic to turn to the first page in question.
You proceed to spend approximately the next 45 minutes going over questions that the eager changeling had, in addition to clarifying some of the things he had learned.
You find yourself thoroughly enjoying the time spent explaining things to Notaulix. Or for that matter, any time you've gotten to spend with him thus far.
Being able to interact with a race that you know hardly anything about has proven to be surprisingly fun.
There are still so many unknowns about your new house guest, and many questions that you would like to ask him.
Eventually, you conclude discussing the compendium for now as you place it to the side...

"Well, I'd say that you're pretty quick learner, Notaulix. If you keep these studies up while your body finishes recovering, you'll have no trouble at all helping me out in the Everfree." You say as you give the changeling a few gentle pats on his head.

"R-Really? You really think so?" Notaulix says as he looks up at you with a hopeful look in his eyes.

"Sure I do!" You reassure him, resulting in a big smile. "Anyway, I'm getting pretty hungry... Since you seemed to enjoy helping with breakfast, do you want to help me make dinner?" You ask him.

"Yes, I would love to!" He eagerly responds.

"Let's get to it then!" You say as you stand up from the couch, making a stop at the fireplace to put another log on as you both move over to the kitchen.

At the kitchen, you begin to think about the best way to have Notaulix help you, who is awaiting instruction as he stares up at you with a happy look on his face.

"Umm... How about you work on the vegetables? I'll rinse things off in the sink, and you can prepare them over there." You ask as you point at the area of countertop by the sink.

"Okay!" Notaulix enthusiastically responds as he moves over by the sink. You watch as he appears to spread out his wings and prepare to jump up before pausing for several seconds.

Notaulix relaxes his posture, looking very embarrassed as he turns to look back at you. "I'm sorry Anon, but could you please lift me up again?" He asks.

"Don't feel bad Notaulix, it's no problem. I know you're feeling better, but it's wise not to push yourself. It's only been a day, after all." You say as you walk up to him.

"Yes, you're right." He says in agreement.

You bend down and grab hold of the changeling the same way as you did last time, lifting him up until his hooves land on the countertop.

"There we go. Now you're taller than me again, huh?" You say with a smile as you give his withers a firm pat for emphasis, eliciting a smile in return from him.

You proceed to bring over a cutting board, knife, vegetable peeler and a grater, before showing Notaulix an example of how you would like each vegetable prepared.
"...and two or three of these carrots like that should be enough. Think you got all that?" You ask Notaulix.

"This will be no problem. I'll wash the vegetables for you too!" He happily responds.

"That would be nice, thank you. I'll bring the pan out and get the eggs ready to go" You say as you turn away to go get the pan.

"W-Wait! Eggs?!" Notaulix exclaims, startling you as you quickly turn back to look at the changeling.
As you do so, you find Notaulix looking visibly distressed as he stares back at you. "W... W-What eggs, Anon? What do you mean?" He asks you in a worried tone.

You find yourself taken aback as you struggle to try and figure out why Notaulix is suddenly so upset.
"I, uhh... These eggs." You begin as you go and grab a small wooden box before bringing it over to show Notaulix.

Notaulix intently watches as you open the small box, revealing it to be lined with straw on which several medium sized chicken eggs rest.

"See? Eggs. From chickens. Are these okay? I guess I didn't ask you if you're able to eat such things or not..." You say.

"Oh... Chicken eggs... Yes, these are just fine, Anon." Notaulix says as he visibly relaxes. "I'm sorry, I thought... Never mind." He adds before turning his attention to preparing the vegetables.

"Is it really okay, Notaulix? It's fine if there's something that you don't want to eat. Really, please let me know if there is." You say to him.

Notaulix turns to give you a smile. "Everything here is great, Anon. I was just... surprised. Where I am from, chicken eggs are a rare treat. I have never had one." He says before turning his attention back to his prep work.

"Alright then..." You say as you stand there and stare at him for awhile. You can't help but feel unconvinced, and that you may have offended him somehow, but you don't want to sour the mood by pressing him further.

You get to work on your side of the preparations, bringing out the pan you wanted to use and placing it on the stove top to let it begin heating up.
Following that, you crack several eggs into a bowl and beat them together. Following that, you grab a knife of your own and chop up an onion to add to the mix.
After doing so, you add a small amount of cooking oil to the pan, to which you add the onions to once heated up.
The loud sound of sizzling onion suddenly fills the room, prompting Notaulix to look behind him to see what you're doing.

"Oh no! I'm almost done!" He says as he turns his attention back to a bell pepper. You hear the speed of his knife work suddenly increase, making you smile.

"Don't worry, there's no rush. These onions will take a few minutes before anything else needs to be added anyway." You reassure him.

You occasionally stir the onions around until Notaulix levitates the cutting board over with several neat piles of prepped veggies on it. "Here they are!" He says.

"Thanks. You did a nice job with these." You compliment Notaulix, prompting a warm smile to return to his face once more.

One by one, you add in the vegetables in the appropriate order of cooking, filling the room with a nice aroma.
Notaulix simply sits on the counter and watches you cook, curiously observing to see how you do everything.
Eventually you add in the egg, and after a few minutes of stirring everything together, result in a finished dish.
You remove the hot, fluffy vegetable scramble from the heat and set it to the side, where you sprinkle some basic seasoning onto it.

"All done! Are you ready to eat? Because I certainly am." You ask Notaulix as you move over to lower him back to the floor.

"Yes I am! It smells great!" He happily answers.

You gently grab hold of the changeling and lift him up before placing him back on the ground. Afterwards, you bring out two plates and another glass.
After dishing up and filling your glasses with water, you both head back over to the living room table where you make yourselves comfortable before digging in.

"This is really good, Anon!" Notaulix proclaims as he chows down on his portion of the vegetable scramble.

"Yeah? I'm glad you like it. Could use some cheese though... That would make it even better." You say as you enjoy the meal yourself.

"Cheese?" Notaulix asks in a curious tone, slightly tilting his head to the side as he stares at you for an answer.

"Wait, you've never had cheese before?" You ask him in return, to which he simply shakes his head in response.

You can't help but pause to think about what Notaulix just said. You can't imagine someone never trying cheese at least once. Even here in Equestria it's somewhat common.
Many different questions begin to fill your mind. You realize that it would be wise to learn more about Notaulix and his kind sooner rather than later.
At the very least, you want to avoid any future issues for what you can eat together.

"Huh, well... Cheese is a type of food produced from milk. Usually cows milk. There's many different styles of it with different flavors and textures." You begin to explain.
"Many types of cheese melt nicely when exposed to heat. So in the case of this vegetable scramble, having cheese with it would give everything a delicious, gooey coating." You continue.

"Oh! That sounds interesting! Why didn't you get any cheese if it's so good?" Notaulix asks.

You chuckle in amusement at the reality of the situation. "Because I forgot about it while I was in Ponyville. Sorry." You explain.

"Hehehe... There is no reason to be sorry, Anon. This tastes great even without cheese." Notaulix says.

On that note, silence falls between both of you as your focus shifts back to enjoying your meal while it's still hot.
Several minutes later after you both finish your meal, you decide to start seeking some answers for the questions in your mind.

"So, Notaulix... What exactly can you eat? Or rather, what do changelings prefer to eat? So far you seem to enjoy everything, but I don't want to accidentally get something that you either dislike or cannot eat." You ask the changeling.

"What can we eat...?" Notaulix begins, bringing a forehoof up to his chin as he appears to think deeply about your question.
"We can eat almost anything if food is scarce... But I have been told that the things we usually eat are similar to what the ponies eat." He continues.

"You've been told? Shouldn't you know what ponies eat by now?" You ask, slightly confused.

"Yes, I rarely ventured far from the hive. Most of my knowledge about ponies came from my hive sisters who lived among them. There are many things I haven't had a chance to eat." Notaulix explains.

"So wait a moment, have you ever actually met a pony?" You ask him.

"I have not." He plainly answers.

"Oh, uh... Okay. Continue telling me about the food, please." You say, slightly surprised by what you just heard.

"At the hive, we grew some vegetables and many mushrooms. Anything else is foraged from the surrounding land or acquired from the surrounding races." Notaulix continues.
"Fruits are special. All changelings love fruits." He adds with a big smile.

"I see. That explains why you liked that apple so much. So when you say that you can eat almost everything, does that include meat?" You ask.

"Meat?" Notaulix repeats. "We... can. But it's not preferred. It is avoided unless necessary." He answers.

"Understood. That's good to know, since I eat meat myself." You say.

"R-Really? You eat meat?" Notaulix questions as his eyes widen, sounding very surprised.

"Sort of, I don't eat it like I used to. Most animals here are far more intelligent than where I came from... I can't eat them, it just seems wrong. I only occasionally eat fish now." You explain to him.

"That's very kind, Anon." Notaulix says with a gentle smile.

You slowly nod your head a few times before picking up your glass of water and drinking from it.
Staring at the glass in your hand, you ponder the things that Notaulix just told you. There may be many things that he has never tried, but you find relief in knowing that he at least appears to enjoy most common foods.

"What about your kinds magical capabilities? I've seen you pick up and manipulate things like a unicorn multiple times now, but what else can you do?" You ask Notaulix, resuming your conversation.

"My... O-Our magic?" Notaulix responds, sounding both slightly confused and surprised.

"Yeah. Besides transforming, what other kinds of magic do you commonly use?" You say.

"Well... All changelings know how to transform, how to manipulate objects, and how to defend ourselves with a stunning attack." Notaulix begins to explain.
"We can also study and learn any type of magic as needed if we are given enough time and love to do so." He continues.

"Really now? If I remember correctly from what I learned about ponies, most unicorns only learn a small amount of magic in an area that they specialize in." You say.

"Is that true? I didn't know that." Notaulix says as his ears perk up in interest.

"Sort of. I think it was mostly implied that the average unicorn would have difficulty trying to practice anything they want, and that such a thing was more of a strength of particularly strong or gifted unicorns." You say, clarifying what you meant.
"Basically, that would seem to imply that your kinds ability to learn anything is pretty special... What other magic have you learned, Notaulix?" You ask him.

You watch as upon hearing your question, Notaulix suddenly looks embarrassed as his ears droop, followed by looking away from you.
"I-I haven't learned any new magical spells... I'm sorry..." He answers.

You can't help but stare for a moment as you wonder why Notaulix suddenly reacted this way.
"What are you sorry for? There's nothing to be ashamed of." You ask him.

"Because... Because I could be more useful if I knew more magic." He responds.

"There's no need to feel that way, Notaulix. You're already plenty useful without knowing any extra magic." You reassure him.

"R-Really Anon? Do you mean that?" He asks as he looks back at you with hopeful eyes.

"Sure I do! There's plenty of ways you can help me just by being able to magically pick things up. That's something I can't do." You begin to explain.
"You're able to help prepare meals, you kept the fire going while I was gone, and once we get out into the Everfree you'll be able to easily harvest things that are difficult for me to reach." You continue.

"Thank you, Anon... That means a lot to me." Notaulix responds, once again looking like his happy self.

You nod in agreement as you think about what to say next.
"By the way, since you've mentioned it a few times since we met... Can you tell me about how changelings transform? Is it an illusion? Or..." You trail off as you ask Notaulix.

"Our transformation no illusion. We are able to transform into most living things if it's a similar size to us." Notaulix answers.

"So... Your body physically changes? Or something like that... Why does the size of the transformation matter?" You inquire further.

"Yes, it's a physical change." Notaulix nods in responses. "And the bigger or smaller something we transform into is than us, the more it strains our magic in exchange." He adds.
"We may be a race that can transform into others, but we still have our natural forms... Every transformation is an effort to maintain that deviation from the natural." Notaulix explains further.

"I see... Wow, that's really interesting. Could you show me a transformation, please? I think actually seeing it would help me understand a lot more than anything." You ask.

"I would love to, Anon! But... Would you mind if that waited a couple more days? I would feel much more comfortable transforming again if I could continue feeding on more love and recover more first..." Notaulix asks in response with a sheepish smile.

"Not at all, there's no rush. The top priority is you getting better first. Other things can come after that once you're all back to normal." You say.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says with eyes full of gratitude.

As you sit in your chair, you begin to ponder some of the things Notaulix just told you and their implications.
You didn't think about it until now, but if the rest of Notaulix's kind are just like him, they are a race that can both use magic like a unicorn, yet fly like a pegasus...
Such a combination would seemingly put them in the same class as the two mighty alicorns of this land, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, though obviously weaker by a large amount.
The implications of this raise many questions within your mind, but you choose instead to push those to the side for now.
You take a moment to glance at a clock, noting that its getting later in the day.

"Anyway, got any room for some more food? I think it's time for dessert." You say with a smile.

"Dessert? What is that, Anon?" Notaulix asks in a curious tone as he tilts his head slightly to the side.

You can't believe what you just heard. Surely everyone knows what dessert is...?
"Wait, you've never had dessert before?" You ask Notaulix.

"N-No..." He plainly responds as he looks down at his forelegs.

"Well it's time to change that. Wait here." You say as you stand up and make your way back over to the kitchen.

Notaulix watches you in anticipation as you bring out two smaller plates before placing a generous slice of apple pie on each one.
The changeling continues to watch you carefully as you return with two plates in hand before setting one of them down in front of him.
After getting to the comfort of your chair, you watch Notaulix as he alternates between looking at you and the slice of pie in front of him.

"What is this?" Notaulix asks, pointing a forehoof at his plate for emphasis.

"A slice of apple pie. It's sliced apples mixed with sugar and spices placed in a pie shell, which then gets baked in an oven. I bought it in Ponyville today." You answer.
"Try it, you'll like it." You say to encourage him.

"It's... It's made from apples?" Notaulix says with a hint of excitement as he picks up his plate, bringing it close to his nostrils to smell. "It smells nice!" He adds.

You watch as he proceeds to grab hold of his fork, followed by bringing a small experimental bite of the pie into his mouth.
The affect is nearly immediate as you watch Notaulix's eyes widen, ears perk up and his wings spread out.
"This is amazing!" Notaulix proclaims with delight as he digs into his slice of the pie, eating it with gusto.

You can't help but laugh at the sheer joy your changeling friend is experiencing from his first slice of apple pie, prompting you to begin eating your own slice.
Sure enough, it's a fantastic apple pie; the flavors reminding you of home. Although, you're fairly certain by now that everything the Cakes make is nothing short of fantastic.
You both enjoy your dessert in silence, broken only by the occasional sound of Notaulix's wings briefly buzzing as he chows down on his pie.

Upon finishing with your bellies full, you proceed to take some time and explain the concept of dessert to Notaulix, in addition to letting him know that more pie will be available tomorrow, much to his excitement.
After putting another piece of wood on the fire, you examine the clock once more and see that the night will be arriving soon.
Turning your attention back to the fireplace to warm your hands by, you stare into the mesmerizing flames as you ponder what to do next...

"I think I'm going to wash the dishes real quick before it gets any later. Do you want to help?" You ask Notaulix as you turn around and walk back over to the table.

"Yes, I would!" Notaulix eagerly responds as he moves himself off the sofa.

You quickly collect the dishes on the table before bringing them over to the kitchen sink, with Notaulix following you closely.
"What do I need to do?" Notaulix asks as he looks up at you.

"Well, how about you dry the dishes off after I finish washing them?" You respond.

"Okay!" Notaulix says.

You proceed to bend down and lift Notaulix up onto the countertop once more, followed by handing him a dry cloth.
You then fill up the sink with some water and mix in a little soap.
Soon enough, you are busy scrubbing the dishes clean, which you rinse and hand off to Notaulix to dry.
Notaulix, in turn, dutifully does his job by grabbing hold of what you pass to him with his magic, followed by drying it off with the cloth held in one of his forehooves.
After drying something off, Notaulix neatly places it off to the side on the counter. This process continues on in relative silence.
As you work, however, a thought comes to your mind...

"Hey, Notaulix? I've been asking you a lot of questions... Do you have anything that you want to ask or talk to me about?" You ask him.

"You... don't mind? I didn't want to ask you too many questions when you have been doing so much for me..." Notaulix responds.

"Ah, don't worry about things like that. I enjoy having something to talk about." You say.

"Oh, okay! Well... Why are you always wearing clothes? Those... are clothes, right? I always heard that clothes were only worn for special occasions among the other races." Notaulix asks.

"My clothes, huh?" You say as a smile creeps onto your face. You've been asked this very question by the ponies quite a few times now.
It seems strange to you, though you understand why you're just as strange, probably more so, in the eyes of those who live in this world. Clothing is the exception, not the norm.

"My kind doesn't have fur, or feathers, or some sort of thick skin to help keep us warm. Without clothes, I would eventually die if it was cold enough." You begin as you continue doing the dishes.

Notaulix listens with interest as he continues drying the dishes that you hand off to him.

"Additionally, our skin isn't very strong, so our clothes help protect us from cuts and scrapes. We even make clothes out of extra tough material just for working in." You continue.
"It's like those boots you've seen me put on; they protect my feet and make it easier to walk. It would be very difficult and painful to walk any distance outside without them." You explain.

"Why do your feet look different from the rest of your body?" Notaulix asks as he leans over the counters edge to look down at your sock-covered feet.

"Huh?" You say in confusion as you look down at your own feet, staring at them for a moment before you realize what the changeling is talking about.
"Oh! Heh, that's because I'm wearing socks." You say as you turn your attention back to the dishes.

"Socks?" Notaulix questions with confusion of his own.

"They're a piece of clothing that goes over the feet to keep them warm and make wearing shoes easier." You explain.

A brief silence falls between you as Notaulix thinks about the things you just said.
"Do you ever remove your clothes?" Notaulix asks.

"Of course. We usually only remove all of our clothes to either change into a clean set of clothes, bathe, have a medical procedure, or to, well... mate." You reply.
"It was generally considered embarrassing and improper for fellow humans to see each other naked without clothes in public, which is why we almost always have them on..." You continue.
"For example, even when it gets nice and warm in the summer, we just wear less clothing. Clothes have just always been a part of us humans, I suppose." You conclude.

"I see... Thank you for explaining that to me, Anon." Notaulix says.
"I think it's very strange though." He adds after a few seconds.

You chuckle at the changelings honesty. "Yeah, I guess we are pretty strange, huh? You're plenty welcome, Notaulix." You say in response.

Several more minutes pass by as you finish washing and drying the dishes, followed by neatly putting them away where they belong.
Afterwards, you lift Notaulix off the countertops and back down onto the floor, when you then take a damp cloth and wipe off the counters to finish cleaning up.

"With that done, I think I'm going to head to the shower now and get cleaned up before bed. You need anything before I do that?" You ask Notaulix.

"No Anon, I'm fine, thank you... Do you mind if I use your shower to clean myself? I didn't ask you before I used it this morning... I'm sorry." Notaulix says in response.

"Don't be sorry, I don't mind at all. I do appreciate that you're asking now, though. You're free to use whatever is in there." You say to him.

"Okay Anon, thank you." Notaulix says with a gentle smile.

After speaking with your changeling housemate, you proceed to make your way to your room where you pick out a fresh change of clothes.
Following that, you walk back out of your room and into the bathroom, where you lock the door behind you and begin to undress.
Having placed your dirty clothes in a basket on one side of the room, you step into the shower and begin washing yourself.
You make a mental note to pick up another bottle of shampoo soon, as your current bottle is nearing empty. This lilac blossom one that the mare recommended you is nice, but you prefer your normal choice.
Finishing your shower, you dry off, shave, and brush your teeth. It occurs to you that you should buy Notaulix his own toothbrush, as you really don't like the idea of sharing one.
Once your new set of clothes is on, you unlock the bathroom door and walk back out to the living room, where you find Notaulix reading the compendium once again.

"Hey, Notaulix? I need to specify something about when I said you could use anything in the bathroom." You say to him.

"What is it, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Just, well... Don't use my toothbrush, please. I'll get you your own toothbrush tomorrow." You answer him.

"Okay Anon, I won't use it." Notaulix says as he examines your new appearance from top to bottom, before his gaze settles on your feet.
"Oh! Your feet don't have socks anymore! May I please see them?" Notaulix asks in an excited tone.

"You... You want to look at my feet? I-I... uh..." You trail off, caught off-guard by the sudden strange request.

"...Okay, I guess. Why do you want to look at them?" You ask Notaulix.

"Because you're so very different, Anon! It's very interesting to learn about you, especially since you told me you are the only one of your kind in this world." Notaulix answers.
"It's very difficult to imagine what most of your body looks like, since you always wear clothes." He adds.

"I see. Well, I understand the curiosity. The ponies are the same way." You say as you grab a chair and bring it close to the sofa that Notaulix is resting on.

With Notaulix watching you in eager expectation, you sit down on the chair, followed by lifting both of your feet up onto the sofa.

"There you go. Go ahead and look." You say to him.

"Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix says as he scoots in closer to get a good look at your feet.

You watch as the curious changeling carefully examines your feet from a respectful distance, frequently changing his position to look from a different angle.
You can't help but smile in amusement at the situation. In your entire life you never anticipated that your feet would be the subject of such interest.

"What are these strange things?" Notaulix asks as he points at the toes on your left foot with one of his forehooves.

"Those are my toes." You answer as you wiggle them, prompting a look of amazement on Notaulix's face.

"Wow! What purpose do they serve?" He asks.

"Mostly to help me walk and stay balanced while upright." You answer him once more.

"Wow..." Notaulix trails off as he returns to silently examining your feet.

"Try feeling the bottom of my feet. I think you'll understand why I wear those boots once you do." You suggest to Notaulix.

"Okay!" Notaulix says as he reaches out with one of his forehooves and begins to gently poke and prod at the underside of your feet.

Almost immediately, Notaulix's expression turns into one of surprise as a sudden realization hits him.
"It's so soft and squishy!" Notaulix exclaims. "There's no way you could walk on rocks or other sharp surfaces with these!" He adds.

"That's right, and that goes for the rest of my body too. Now do you understand better why I wear those boots and these clothes to help protect myself?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes, I do. Thank you Anon, I appreciate you letting me look at your feet." Notaulix responds as he scoots back away from your feet while looking at you with an appreciative smile.

"Yep, no problem." You say as you lift your feet off of the sofa and return to a normal sitting position.

You find yourself sitting together in silence, unsure of what to say or do next.
As you do so, your focus falls upon Notaulix's forelegs spread out on the sofa, and subsequently you can't help but stare at the holes riddled throughout them.

"Hey, Notaulix?" You begin as you point at his forelegs. "Do those hurt at all? Those holes in your legs?" You ask.

"No, they don't hurt, but..." Notaulix begins to answer as he looks down at his forelegs "...it's uncomfortable. Each hole is numb. I can't feel anything around them." He continues.

"That sounds unpleasant... Doesn't that make it hard for you to walk?" You ask him.

"Sometimes, yes. It depends on where the holes form. Flying also becomes more difficult when we are starved of love." He responds.

"Why would flying be more difficult? Just the lack of strength, or...?" You ask.

"See for yourself." Notaulix says as he spreads out his insect-like wings for you to look at.

As you look at the changelings wings, you immediately understand why. You failed to notice before that his wings have holes in them just like his legs.
In fact, the more you look at him, the more you realize there are chunks missing from other parts of his body, like his ears.

"Oh no! I didn't notice before that you had those holes all over your body! Can you even fly at all with your wings like that?" You ask.

"Yes, but it's very difficult." Notaulix answers.

"That's why you have me lift you up onto the counters, huh? I understand now." You say.

Notaulix simply nods his head as silence falls between you once more. You can't help but think about what a dire situation changelings get into when they go through this love starvation.
Why does it have to be like this for changelings? You think to yourself. Surely there is more than enough love from the friendly, loving ponies of this world for them...

"You said that you've been able to feed from me being kind to you, right? Is that enough to eventually heal your body?" You ask Notaulix.

Notaulix smiles in response to your question. "Yes, with all your kindness my natural form will eventually be able to completely heal. It will just take time to happen." He answers you.

"Good. I'm glad that I'm able to help you that way." You say.

Your focus falls back to Notaulix's forelegs once more, when a thought crosses your mind.
"Mind if I take a look?" You ask as you point at his forelegs.

"I don't mind." Notaulix says in a cheery tone as he stretches out his forelegs towards you.

You scoot your chair closer to the sofa before reaching out and taking hold of Notaulix's right foreleg with your hands.
You immediately note that the strange leather-like skin covering Notaulix's body feels the same here as it did on the main part of his body.
In addition is the bizarre sensation of his foreleg being both warm and cold to the touch. On closer inspection, you realize that it is the areas around the holes that are cold.
Running your thumb around the perimeter of one of these holes, you notice that they seem to be comprised of a different material that reminds you of your fingernails.
As you continue to examine Notaulix's foreleg, you can almost imagine in the back of your mind that the leg holes appear ever so slightly smaller than when you found him in the Everfree.

"You don't feel anything here?" You ask Notaulix as you press into the outer rim of one of his leg holes with your thumb.

"No, nothing." Notaulix says as he shakes his head.

"Huh..." You say in conclusion as you let go of the changelings foreleg before returning to sitting upright in your chair.

"Well, I think I'm going to head off to bed now and read a little before it gets dark. You need anything before I go?" You ask Notaulix as you stand up.

"Okay Anon, I will continue reading here myself. And no, I don't think I need anything, thank you." Notaulix says in response.

"Alright then. If you do need anything, you'll know where to find me... Sleep well." You say as you move over to the fireplace and put one more log on the fire for the day.

"Good night, Anon." You hear Notaulix say behind you.

After putting the log in the fireplace, you begin to make your way back towards your bedroom, when a thought crosses your mind, making you stop.

"I think I'm going to turn off the morning alarm for tonight. Sleeping in sounds nice." You say as you walk over to the clock in the living room, which you then adjust the settings of.

Notaulix simply watches you with interest as you adjust the clock.

"There... Now it shouldn't wake you up first thing in the morning." You say to Notaulix.

"That does sound nice. Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says.

"Yep. See you tomorrow." You say as you make your way through the kitchen, into the hallway, and finally to your room where you close the door behind you.

You then walk over to the clock on your bedside table, which you then adjust the same way you did in the living room.
After doing so, you take a moment to look around your room in order to decide what to read.
Immediately you notice the books on the different races of the world that Twilight had loaned you again just the other day.
The same books that portray changelings in a negative light... A fact that now fills your mind with negative thoughts.
You want to revisit these books to try and discern why exactly the changelings are viewed that way, but not tonight.
Instead, you opt to spend some time in your journal, which you have neglected to update since your return from the Everfree when you discovered Notaulix.

Grabbing the journal from your bedside, you walk over to your desk where you sit down and open up your journal.
Upon readying your quill and inkwell; an acquired skill you have been working on in your time spent here in Equestria, you begin writing in new details on how you encountered Notaulix.
During the course of writing, it occurs to you that it may be a good idea to purchase another journal book, one that you could record your interactions with Notaulix in.

Eventually you hear the clock by your bed begin to play its signature chime announcing the coming moonrise in 15 minutes.
You wrap up your writing for the day and move over to your bed, which you climb into after removing your pants and setting them neatly aside.
Pulling the covers up around your body, you relax and unwind, reflecting on the days activities as you wait for the night to arrive.
Soon enough, the lighting quickly changes as the sun sets and the moon rises, bathing your room in a welcoming darkness.
It does not take long for you to drift off to sleep...

Scrambled Egg Surprise | Parts 43 - 50A

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You wake up at some point in the morning, prompting you to toss and turn for several minutes as you work up the energy to get out of bed. When you look over at your bedside clock, you see that it's about 40 minutes past sunrise.
Gathering up your energy, you throw the bed sheets back and climb out of bed, stretching and breathing in deeply as you stand up.

You then put on your pants and open the door to your room, making your way out into the hallway where you then make a stop at the bathroom.
As you make your way into the kitchen, you are greeted by the sight of Notaulix reading his book on the sofa.

Upon noticing you, Notaulix looks up and smiles at you. "Good morning Anon!" He says.

"Morning... Did you sleep alright?" You ask the changeling as you get yourself a glass of water.

"Mhm. I did." Notaulix replies.

"Well that's good." You say as you lean on the counters and drink your glass of water.

"What are we making for breakfast today?" Notaulix asks in an excited tone.

"Hah! You're eager today, aren't you? I didn't have anything planned for today, so... What would you like to eat?" You ask him.

"What I want to eat...? I... I don't know." Notaulix says as he raises a forehoof to his chin in thought.
"I don't know of all the different things to eat, Anon. The... mushy stuff with the fruit was delicious, and the pancakes, and the scramble, and... and the pie too!" He adds.

You smile as you nod your head slowly in understanding. "I see... Well, we'll fix up something good in a moment." You say as you fill up your glass with water again.

"Okay!" Notaulix enthusiastically says.

While leaning on the kitchen counter, you down the contents of your glass as you begin to ponder both what to do today, and what sounds good for breakfast.
Setting your now-empty glass down on the counter, you walk over to the fireplace and begin preparing a new fire.
You start by scooping out most of the ash from the firebox into a container.
Next, you spend the next few minutes building up the fire by igniting some tinder, then kindling, and finally full size wood pieces.
With a nice crackling fire burning in the fireplace, you move over to where Notaulix is resting, who in turn looks up at you as you approach.

"How does some scrambled eggs and fruit on the side sound for breakfast?" You ask Notaulix.

"That would be nice, Anon. Can I help you make it?" Notaulix asks in response.

"Sure, I'll have you cut up the fruit. Let's go." You say as you begin to move towards the kitchen. However, a thought crosses your mind, causing you to pause.
"Actually..." You begin as you turn around to face Notaulix again. "Do you mind if I ask you a question real quick?" You ask him.

"Oh? Of course." Notaulix says with a smile as he changes his position to sit on the sofa.

"It's just... Are you really okay with eating egg? You seemed really upset when I mentioned it the other day... I've just been wondering what that was all about." You ask him.

Notaulix's expression turns to a frown as he looks away from you, ears drooping slightly. "I'm sorry about that, Anon. I was just... worried." He says.

"Worried about what?" You ask.

"I was worried that you might be an egg thief too... I have heard stories of certain griffons sneaking into our hives to steal our eggs." Notaulix begins to explain.

You can only stare in shock as the changeling begins to speak, your mind racing to process what he just said.

"They steal them for sport, like a game of bravery... I don't want to imagine what they might do with them, if they break them, o-or... or e-eat them..." Notaulix continues.
"...so that's why I reacted that way, Anon. I thought you wanted to cook changeling eggs... I'm sorry." He concludes.

"No, no, you don't have anything to be sorry for. Wow, I..." You trail off as you struggle to think about how to respond.
"Your... Your kind; changelings, lay eggs?" You ask in confusion.

"Yes. All changelings are born from eggs." Notaulix answers in a matter-of-fact way as he looks back up at you with a neutral expression.

You return to staring at Notaulix once again as you practically feel the gears grinding in your mind as you struggle to figure out the biology at play here.
In an effort to check your sanity, you take a quick glance between Notaulix's hind legs again, where you confirm that he does indeed appear to have mammalian equipment.
As much as you want answers to the questions that have filled your mind, you know that this isn't the time for them as you push them to the back of your mind.

"That's... really awful, Notaulix. About the griffons and the eggs. I had no idea... Are you really okay with eating chicken eggs? Please be honest, I won't be upset if you don't want to eat them." You ask him.

"Thank you for understanding, Anon. Yes, it doesn't bother me to eat the chicken eggs. I think they taste very good!" Notaulix responds.

"Really?" You ask again.

"Really." Notaulix reassures you with a smile.

You take a deep breath and let out a sigh as you release a tension that you didn't realize you were holding. "Well, alright then..." You say.

Looking down at Notaulix, you can't help but feel more and more pity for him and his kind the more you learn from him.
Unconvinced that things are really okay, you do the only thing that you can think of for him by kneeling down in front of the sofa and embracing Notaulix in a comforting hug.

"A-Anon..? Why?" Notaulix asks in surprise.

"I just feel like you need a hug. I don't even know what a changeling egg looks like, but I can promise you that I've never seen an egg around here yet that wasn't a chickens." You say reassuringly.

"Thank you... That does make me feel better." Notaulix says as he presses the side of his head against your own.

You maintain the hug for several more seconds before letting go, prompting Notaulix to look at you with gratitude in his eyes.
"Come on now, let's make some breakfast!" You say as you give Notaulix a firm pat on his withers.

"Okay!" He happily says as he follows you over to the kitchen.

You go through the usual routine of lifting Notaulix up onto his spot on the kitchen counters, where you quickly instruct him on how to quickly cut an apple into slices without the core bits.
Following that, you begin heating up a pan on the stove as you beat several eggs together in a bowl, which you pour into the pan once it's hot.
Soon enough, you and Notaulix are both enjoying a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs seasoned with salt and pepper, apple slices, and some toast.

You are both about halfway through eating your breakfast when there is suddenly a series of loud knocks at your front door, startling you both.
Notaulix stares at you wide-eyed with fear, waiting to see what your direction is.

"Uh... Ca-Can you transform? Is that too much for you right now, or...?" You loudly whisper to Notaulix as you lean in closer.

Notaulix simply shakes his head in response, still looking fearful.

"Okay uh... Quietly go to my room and hide there, alright? Go! Go!" You urge him in hushed tones as you stand up from your chair.

You watch as Notaulix immediately gets off the sofa and carefully makes his way towards your room, being careful that his hooves don't clop against the wooden floors too loudly.
However, you then notice a problem with the fact that there are two sets of dishes with half-eaten food on both.
Quickly, you begin scraping the rest of the food onto one plate as you hear a series of knocks at the door again.

"Just a moment!" You yell out as you carry over the now clear extra set of dishes to the kitchen sink, which you then deposit them at.

Finally making your way over to the front door, you check behind yourself in the hallway and see that the door to your room is now closed.
You then unlock the front door and open it...
...where you see none other than Twilight Sparkle beaming up at you with a big smile, who is wearing a scarf of alternating pink colors along with a saddlebag.

"Hi Anon!" She cheerfully greets you. "Did I catch you at a bad time?" She asks.

"Hey Twilight. I was... just finishing making some breakfast." You answer.

"Hehe! Sorry to knock on your door right at that moment, Anon... Anyway! Do you mind if I come in for a moment? I have things to tell you!" She says in an excited tone.

"Yeah sure. Come on in." You say to Twilight as you step aside while holding the door open for her.

"Thank you!" Twilight says as she trots into your home and into the living room, where she then decides to sit by the warm fireplace.

"Can I get you anything, Twilight?" You ask as you join her in the living room.

"No thank you, Anon. I won't take too much of your time. I just wanted to let you know that I received a letter back from my brother this morning!" Twilight says.

"Oh yeah? About my boots, right? What did he have to say?" You ask.

"He thinks that one of the armorers for the Royal Guard will have no trouble making a pair of boots for you. In fact, he's already obtained the permission for you to go visit him!" Twilight answers.

"Really? That's great! When can I go see this armorer?" You ask her.

"You can go see him anytime you want, but...!" Twilight pauses, her horn glowing as she opens up one of her saddlebags with her magic.

You watch as she levitates a small piece of paper out of it before moving it over to you. As you take hold of it and her magic dissipates, you immediately recognize it as a train ticket.

"...I got us some train tickets to visit Canterlot today! You can visit the armorer, and I can go visit with Princess Celestia! It's been almost two months since I last got to visit with the Princess!" Twilight excitedly continues.
"We could even stay at the castle overnight! It'll be a lot of fun, Anon!" She adds.

"T-Today...?" You stutter as you look at the departure time on the train ticket. "In... In about an hour?!" You exclaim in surprise.

"Well, yes... Is there something wrong, Anon? Are you not able to go today?" Twilight asks you as she begins to look disappointed.

You feel like you're suddenly caught in a trap.
Normally you wouldn't mind the short notice of Twilight's plan, but you realize that even a brief trip to Canterlot would mean leaving Notaulix alone for at least a day or two.
And yet, you cannot think of any good reason to give Twilight as to why you would not be able to go today. Not without seeming suspicious.
She knows that besides the days you are in the Everfree, you almost always have a very open schedule to do things with.

"No, nothing's wrong. I was just... surprised, is all. That was very nice of you to buy us the train tickets, Twilight. Thank you, it'll be a fun trip." You say to her with a reassuring smile.

"Great!" Twilight happily says as she clops her forehooves together in excitement. "And with that, I should head back to the library and finish my preparations." Twilight says as she makes her way back to the front door.

You walk with the bookworm and open the door for her, which she thanks you for as she trots on back outside.

Once out onto the dirt road, Twilight turns around to wave at you with one of her forehooves. "See you later at the train station, Anon!" She calls back at you.

"Yep! I'll be there." You say as you wave in return.

You watch Twilight take off down the dirt road for several seconds before closing the front door, letting out a loud sigh as you hear the loud clunk of the door lock moving back into place.
Walking back down the hallway, you arrive at your bedroom door, which upon opening yields no obvious sign of Notaulix.

"Notaulix? It's okay now." You say as you walk around to the other side of your bed, followed by looking underneath it.

Finally, you open the door to your closet, where you immediately find Notaulix looking back up at you with a frown on his face.
"Come on out, it's just us again." You say reassuringly as you begin making your way back to the living room.

"O... Okay..." Notaulix says as he follows you out.

Once back out in the living room, you take a moment to put another piece of wood in the fireplace while Notaulix climbs back up onto the sofa.

"Who was that, Anon?" Notaulix asks as you walk back over to him. "And what happened to my food?" He adds, slightly confused.

"That was Twilight Sparkle, a friend of mine. I put all the food onto one plate, the rest of it is yours." You answer Notaulix as you pass the plate over to him.

"A-All of this, for me? But what about your breakfast Anon?" Notaulix asks you as he slightly tilts his head, now even more confused.

"I've had enough, really. Besides, I don't really have time to eat any more now." You answer the confused changeling.

"You don't have time? Why?" Notaulix asks.

You spend the next few minutes briefly explaining to Notaulix what Twilight's visit was all about, and why you need a new pair of boots.

"I understand the importance of this... Your soft, squishy feet need the protection. I'll be fine here, Anon." Notaulix calmly says in response as he munches on the scrambled eggs, which surprises you.

"Really? You're fine if I leave you alone here for a day or two?" You ask him.

"I don't want to be alone, but I feel safe here. You've only done kind things for me since you rescued me, Anon. I know you will be back, I trust you." Notaulix answers with a smile.

You can't help but feel your heart warm at Notaulix's answer, making you smile in return.

"Thanks, I appreciate that... Anyway, you keep eating your breakfast, I need to get prepared real quick." You say as you make your way over to the front door where your boots, backpack and bit bag are.

Grabbing your backpack and bit bag from their spots by the door, you walk back into your bedroom where you quickly pack a change of clothes.
Next, you kneel down by the side of your bed and reach underneath, pulling out a simple wooden box, approximately the size of a shoe box from back home.
You undo the two latches on the box and open it, revealing it to be about halfway full of bits.
Taking your bit bag, you open it up and fill it full of bits before pulling the draw string tight and tossing it on your bed.
After closing the box of bits and shoving it under the bed again, you then make your way to the pantry to check what sort of easy to eat things you have.

You determine after a quick examination that there is more than enough food Notaulix can eat without cooking for a couple days.
Following that, you take your two glass pitchers and fill them both up with water, after which you set them down on the small table in front of the sofa.
You then take a few minutes to explain to Notaulix everything you're setting up for him, along with what sort of food is ready to eat.

"...and you can go ahead and finish off the pie while I'm gone. There's a little paper bag next to it that has these things called cookies. Enjoy those too. Sound good?" You ask Notaulix in conclusion.

"R-Really?! I can eat the rest of that delicious pie?" Notaulix asks, now seemingly excited about the situation.

"Heh... Yeah, it's all yours." You answer him.

"Thank you Anon!" Notaulix says.

"Yep. By the way, let the fire go out and don't start it up again. Some pony might notice the smoke when they know I'm away, right?" You say to Notaulix.

"Oh... I... I didn't think of that." Notaulix says as his ears droop slightly.

"Don't worry, it shouldn't be particularly cold. There's extra blankets if you do start getting cold. Also, feel free to rest or sleep in my bed while I'm gone, it'll be much warmer." You say.

"Your bed?" Notaulix questions as his ears perk back up. "You really don't mind?" He asks.

"No, I don't really mind. I just want you to be comfortable... Oh, you can also use that toothbrush if you really want to. I'll buy new ones while I'm out there." You answer.

"Thank you Anon. I'm sure that I'll be just fine." Notaulix says.

"I'm sure you'll be fine too, though... What about your love magic reserves?" You ask him.

"Hehe... You don't have to worry about me that much, Anon. We can go without for a long time as long as we do not use any magic needlessly." Notaulix reassures you.

"Well, alright then, just making sure. I'm going to go finish getting ready now." You say as you begin making a trip around the house, drawing the curtains over the windows for more privacy.

You end up back at your room, where you put on a pair of socks after drawing the last curtain.
Placing your bit bag on your belt and donning your backpack, you walk back to the front door where you put on and lace up your boots.
After placing one last piece of wood on the fire, you walk over to Notaulix who looks up at you expectantly.

"Well, I'm going to head out now." You say to him.

"Okay Anon. Thank you for everything, I will be fine." Notaulix says to you with a smile.

You nod your head a few times as you stand in place awkwardly. It doesn't feel quite right to leave him yet...
You then kneel down, much to Notaulix's surprise, and embrace the changeling in another hug, which he quickly accepts.
Releasing the hug after several seconds, you rise to your feet, where you see Notaulix's expression filled with appreciation.

"Thank you..." He simply says.

"Right. See you soon." You say to Notaulix as you begin your departure, making your way out the front door and locking it once outside.

With everything you may need on you, you begin the walk down the familiar dirt road towards Ponyville and its train station on this beautiful, sunny autumn day.
The trip to the train station is uneventful, and you arrive there with time to spare.
Eventually, you see the familiar purple unicorn approaching, wearing the same scarf and saddlebag from earlier.

"No Spike for this one?" You ask Twilight as she draws near, noting the lack of her usual dragon helper.

"He had promised to help Fluttershy with something this afternoon, so Spike couldn't come along with us, unfortunately." Twilight answers.

"Ah, that's too bad... Well, are you ready to get going? Train should be leaving in a few minutes." You say to her.

"Of course! Let's go Anon!" Twilight says with excitement in her voice as you both make your way over to the train platform.

You both present your tickets and board the train. You let Twilight make her choice of seating as she plops herself down on one of the passenger car benches.
Removing your backpack and setting it on the floor by the nearby window, you then sit down on the bench opposite of her own.
You then sit in silence together as you await the trains departure while a few other pony passengers board the train.

"All aboard!" You soon hear the train conductor yell from outside. Not long after that, you hear the trains whistle blow as it slowly begins moving forward out of the station.

Minutes later, you and Twilight find yourselves staring out the window at the scenery rolling by as the train speeds down the tracks, towards its destination at Canterlot.

Canterlot Armory | Parts 50B - 55

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Up until this point, your train ride has been enjoyed in relative silence. However, a thought crosses Twilight's mind...

"Oh!" Twilight perks up as she turns her attention to you. "Did you read through those books on the races that you wanted to see again, Anon?" Twilight asks you.

"Hah! It's only been a couple days, Twilight. I haven't looked into them again yet, I'm not quite the bookworm like you are, sad you say." You respond jokingly to her.

"Hehehe... That's right, sorry Anon." Twilight says while looking slightly embarrassed.
"Soooo... What made you interested in those books again anyway? You never got to finish telling me why." Twilight asks you, clearly curious of what your reason is.

"Oh, just, you know..." You stumble as your mind races for several seconds thinking how to answer Twilight without potentially exposing Notaulix.
"...I wanted to look over that information again now that I've lived here in Equestria for a couple years now." You begin to answer.
"Back when I arrived here, I was struggling just to get acclimated with all the new things around me, so I only really scanned through those books... Didn't read them in detail." You continue.
"I've lived here for awhile now, yet I've only really interacted with ponies up to this point, so I've just had this growing desire to learn more about the other races in detail lately." You conclude.

"I see... That's perfectly understandable, Anon." Twilight says as she brings a forehoof up to her chin in thought. "You should introduce yourself to a griffon next!" Twilight excitedly says several seconds later.

"A griffon, huh? They do stop by Ponyville sometimes, like those traders... Tell me about griffons, Twilight." You ask her; an action you almost immediately regret when you see her eyes come alive in excitement.

You proceed to sit and listen to Twilight spend the next hour or so of the train ride enthusiastically telling you the history of the griffon race and their way of life, much to the dismay of the other passengers.
It is admittedly both interesting and informative, but it's way more information than you want to process at once.
Only when Twilight notices that Canterlot is drawing near does she conclude her teaching lesson, to which every pony in the train car breathes a collective sigh of relief.

You thank her for sharing all of that with you, and begin to prepare yourself mentally for your arrival at Canterlot.
After the train has come to a stop at the Canterlot train station, you and Twilight both depart onto the train platform, where you immediately feel the colder air compared to Ponyville.

"Here we are!" Twilight says as she stops to turn and look up at you.

"Anon, I'm going to go to the castle right away to see the Princess as soon as possible. Wanna come with me? Or did you want to go find that armorer my brother recommended first?" Twilight asks.

"I'd really like to go and find this pony that I'm supposed to talk to. It's the reason why I'm even here, you know?" You answer her.

"Very true. Okay Anon, come and find me at the castle once you're all done. I'll see you later!" Twilight says as she waves a forehoof goodbye before turning to walk in the direction of the Royal Castle.

You reach into your pocket and pull out a piece of folded paper that Twilight gave you during the train ride. You unfold the paper to study its contents.
Upon examination of it, you find that it contains both the address of the armorer and a written note of recommendation by Shining Armor.
Holding onto the paper in one hand, you begin casually walking down the streets of Canterlot; the address being somewhere you have an idea of the general location of.

Much like your previous visits to Equestria's capital, you attract the attention of many stares as you wander through the streets.
It's something that you've never quite been able to grow used to, though you understand why it happens. The ponies here don't see you regularly like the ones in Ponyville do.
Regardless of that, you enjoy window shopping the large variety of stores and businesses as you move along.
Antiques, clothing, furniture, tools, art, restaurants and bakeries, traders from foreign lands, high end and low end, almost anything one may want to buy can be found here.

Your mind drifts to the doughnut shop that you visited once. You make a mental note to try and visit it again at some point.

Eventually you find yourself in the area of the city where several different workshops are set up.
Rounding a corner, you finally see your destination; a compound comprised of a few different buildings surrounded by a high stone wall, the entrance of which is a metal gate flanked by two royal guards.
As you approach, the two who you now identify as unicorn mares look your way and notice you, to which they proceed to stiffen up their posture. To look more official, you suppose.

You stop in front of one of the guardsmares, who looks up at you in response. "Excuse me, is this the place I'm looking for?" You ask as you hand her your piece of paper.

The guardsmare takes hold of the paper with her magic and reads it. She hands it back to you several seconds later with a smile on her face.
"Yep, this is the spot! You may enter." The guardsmare says as she opens the metal gate with her magic.

You hear the gate close behind you as you walk into the compound. Once inside, you look around and find things to appear not particularly busy at the moment.
There are three different buildings, where you occasionally see different ponies going to and from. In addition, you see several crates strewn about the area along with a few carts and wagons.
You wonder what to do next, as you don't know exactly who you are supposed to be talking to here.

You soon decide to make your way towards one of the buildings in an effort to find who you are looking for.
As you approach the building, you see what looks like a worker pony of sorts come out, and upon noticing you walks up to meet you.
After exchanging greetings, you explain to the pony the reason why you are here, and ask if they could provide you some direction.
The pony instructs you to go wait in one of the buildings while they go and inform one of the head craftsponies of the armory, who you learn is named Sturdy Stitch.

You follow the direction and walk over to the specified building. Upon entering, the heavy scent of a workshop fills your nose.
Looking around, you can tell that you're in the right place. Off on one side of the building, you see a few ponies gathered around workbenches, plying their craft.
They all stop to stare at their unusual visitor for awhile before returning to their work.
On closer inspection, you watch as they appear to be working mostly on the straps and harnesses the Royal Guards have built into their armor and other equipment.

You watch them work for a few minutes before turning your attention to the other parts of the building, which appears to be used mostly for storage.
There are sets of armor resting on stands in various levels of completeness, more wooden crates and boxes, and finally neatly organized stacks of raw materials.
You then notice several rolls of what to your eyes looks like leather, which you then walk over to inspect.
Sure enough, the material feels very similar to a sort of heavy leather, though in its subtleties you can tell that it's not the real thing.
As you examine the leather-like material, however, you notice an older looking unicorn stallion enter the building and begin walking towards you.

"I see you've already found what you're interested in, huh? You must be Anonymous, the human... Name's Sturdy Stitch, a pleasure to meet you." He says as he comes to a stop in front of you.

"Yes I am, it's nice to meet you. I was told that I might be able to get some help with a special request." You say to the older unicorn.

"I've been informed already. Come over here and take a seat, we'll see what we can do for you." Sturdy Stitch says as he leads you over to the workbenches where the other ponies are working.

Sturdy Stitch comes to a stop by an unoccupied workbench and gestures with a forehoof to a small stool, which you then sit down on.

"So you're here for some shoes then? Not the kind us ponies wear, at least..." Sturdy Stitch muses as he stares down at your boots.

"That's right. These boots are from my old world, and they don't have much life left in them. I've had trouble because they're made mostly from leather, but that's not really something available here in Equestria." You say.

"Real leather... Interesting, if a bit distasteful. You won't find much of that around here. But that's what brought you here, isn't it? You heard about the Glyph Skins that the Royal Guard makes." Sturdy Stitch says.

"Glyph... Skins?" You repeat the odd name. "Is that the stuff I saw piled over there that resembles leather? What is it?" You ask him.

"Indeed it is. It's an alchemical material made mostly from plant matter, which happens to be mildly resistant to magic; an improvement over an older creation." He explains.
"It's just as tough as leather, if not more so..." Sturdy Stitch adds. "So tell me first, Anonymous, what exactly are you looking for out of a pair of these boots?" He asks.

You proceed to spend several minutes explaining in detail the general construction and functionality of your boots, making sure to emphasize the need to support the feet properly.
During the course of your explanation, you notice the other ponies stop their work in order to come over to watch and listen.

"Very interesting... Nopony around here has any need for something that intricate. Do you mind taking those off for me to inspect?" Sturdy Stitch asks you.
"And this isn't a circus." Sturdy Stitch says as he turns his head to look at the other ponies. "Back to work, all of you. There will be time for looking later." He says to them.

You can't help but smile as you hear a quick "Yes sir." from all the other ponies before returning to their work.

"Sure, go ahead." You say as you unlace your boots and remove them, which Sturdy Stitch promptly places on the workbench with his magic.

You sit and watch as Sturdy Stitch begins by using a brush to clean off any dirt before carefully inspecting the construction of your footwear.
While the minutes tick by, the older stallions expression changes into one of increasing interest, as if he's discovered a new toy to play with.

"This is very interesting indeed." Sturdy Stitch begins as he turns to look at you. "Do you mind if I spend the time to break these down?" He asks you.

"Uhh... What do you mean by break down?" You respond, slightly worried by the choice of words.

"I want to undo the construction of these boots in order to both make patterns to work off of, and to see exactly how these are built." Sturdy Stitch begins to explain.
"Seeing as how you're the only human around, I have no references to work from. Having those patterns would give me something to work off of and make life easier." He continues.
"I would wager I can have the job done in about two or three hours... And don't you worry, I'll put them back together exactly the way they were." He reassures you.
"You'll have to wait around here for awhile, but I imagine you can entertain yourself by watching the apprentices. What do you say?" Sturdy Stitch asks you.

"Sure, go ahead." You answer him after thinking it over for a moment.

"Great! I'll get right to work then." Sturdy Stitch says as he levitates over various tools next to him, in addition to sheets of paper along with a quill and inkwell.

You watch in amazement as Sturdy Stitch, true to his word, begins to quickly deconstruct your boots one stitch at a time.
Within only about fifteen minutes, the old craftspony has most of the outer panels of one boot separated neatly on the workbench, in addition to the sole.
You can't help but notice as Sturdy Stitch works that he appears to be genuinely enjoying what he is doing.
Not long afterwards, what was once your left boot only a short while ago is now completely in its original pieces.
You then watch as Sturdy Stitch slows his work down to carefully write down measurements and notes before tracing the contours of the individual pieces onto the paper.

"You know, I've heard that the griffons make natural leather... But why should they? This Glyph Skin stuff seems like it has no downsides compared to the real thing." You say in an effort to strike up some conversation.

"Hah! The downside is that it takes a lot of time to produce, and above all it's expensive." Sturdy Stitch says as he continues writing down notes.
"Anypony could make it if they really wanted to, but for the average pony there's little benefit over using the predecessor to Glyph Skin: Barkmat." He continues.

"Barkmat...? What's that?" You ask him.

"It's a similar material to Glyph Skin; a much older creation. Slightly less durable than natural leather." Sturdy Stitch begins to explain, pausing his explanation to bring over a new sheet of paper.
"Most ponies who really need something rugged will make use of it. The process to make it is significantly easier, and as a result is much less expensive." He explains.

"That's interesting. So what drove the use of this Glyph Skin if it's so expensive?" You ask in response.

"The ponies protecting the land deserve the best, don't you think?" Sturdy Stitch says, followed by letting out a heavy sigh.
"In the past, there were problems with the straps, buckles and harnesses used with armor, chariots, wagons, and other equipment being a weakness." Sturdy Stitch begins to explain.
"You see, for nearly as long as Equestria has been founded, the special metal used in the creation of the Royal Guards armor is fortified to be magically resistant." He says.
"However, there have been times where especially clever threats learned to directly target with magic those very straps, buckles and harnesses that were made from ordinary material, be it heavy cloth or Barkmat." Sturdy Stitch continues.
"So that's what eventually spurred on the creation of Glyph Skin. It's been a very valuable addition to the Royal Guard." He concludes.

"Wow. Thanks for explaining that to me, I had no idea about any of that." You say to the older unicorn, to which you get a grunt of sorts in response.

Several more minutes pass in silence as you ponder what Sturdy Stitch told you, until a particular detail suddenly sticks out in your mind.

"Wait a moment." You say, breaking the silence. "Just how expensive is Glyph Skin? How much will I owe you for this?" You ask.

You sit in embarrassment as Sturdy Stitch breaks out into a laugh. He then looks at you after settling down.

"Don't worry about it. Your recommendation here doubles as a requisition order, the cost is covered for you." Sturdy Stitch explains.
"And even if it wasn't I still wouldn't charge you. You don't know how much joy it brings to an old colt like me to work on a unique project like this." He adds.
"Besides, if the rumors I've heard are true, you sound like somepony who could use the absolute best yourself." Sturdy Stitch says with a smile before turning his attention back to his work.

"Seriously? I don't have to pay for this...? Thank you very much!" You say with gratitude.

"Don't thank me, thank the royal treasury." Sturdy Stitch replies.

"That's true, but still..." You trail off as you think about what was said. "Wait a moment, what kind of rumors?" You eventually ask.

"I've heard you're the crazy type who makes a living out of trotting around the Everfree Forest. Is that true?" Sturdy Stitch asks in return.

"Well yes, it is... But where are you hearing that from?" You respond, prompting Sturdy Stitch to turn his head, looking at you with surprise on his face.

"Really? You're the only known human in the land, ponies are bound to be interested in you. Word gets around from out of Ponyville." He says before focusing back on his work.

"I really had no idea things like that were getting this far... But you're right, it makes sense I guess." You say.

Silence falls between you once again for several minutes. You take the moment to look around the room to see what the other ponies are doing.

"So... Got any stories about the old Everfree? You surely have some." Sturdy Stitch eventually asks, prompting you to chuckle at his interest.

"Yeah, of course I do. Let me first tell you about the time..." You say as you begin to regale Sturdy Stitch with some of your more notable experiences, barring the one involving Notaulix.

The minutes quickly pass by into over an hour as you do so, during which Sturdy Stitch has begun reconstructing your boots.
Sturdy Stitch isn't your only recipient however, as during the course of your tales you notice that you captured the rapt attention of the other working ponies.
Eventually you decide that you've shared enough and conclude your story telling.

"That's something else, Anonymous. Thanks for sharing all of that." Sturdy Stitch thanks you.

"No problem. Besides, it made a great way to pass the time." You say in response. "By the way, what sort of threats are out there that made Glyph Skin needed?" You then ask.

"Ohhhh..." Sturdy Stitch begins with a heavy sigh. "Evil unicorns mostly, along with the occasional magical creature." He continues.

"I see." You simply respond after several seconds go by. You get the impression that he doesn't want to elaborate on the subject further, so you decide to leave it be.

The remaining time passes by uneventfully as Sturdy Stitch finishes reconstructing your boots. Soon enough, they look exactly like before he started.

"That'll do it. Here you go." Sturdy Stitch says. After putting the insoles back into each boot, he levitates them over onto the floor in front of you.

"Hey... This is really incredible. Thank you." You say in appreciation as you carefully inspect one of the boots, finding it to be indeed rebuilt the same way it was before.

"No, thank you." Sturdy Stitch says as he takes a moment to stretch. "Go put them on, I'll be back in a moment." The older stallion says as he begins walking off to some other part of the building.

You do as instructed and get your feet back into the boots before lacing them up. About the time you stand back up, you see Sturdy Stitch returning with something in the grasp of his levitation magic.

"Here, take this home with you." Sturdy Stitch says as he hands over a small nondescript container, which you grab hold of.

"What's this?" You ask as you turn over the container in your hand, looking for some sort of indicator as to what it contains.

"Some hydrating grease. Your current boots need some badly, and your next pair will need it too." Sturdy Stitch answers.

"Oh wow! I didn't know this kind of thing existed here. Thanks!" You say as you take a moment to put the small container in your backpack.

"No problem... Now, I don't mean to be rude, but there are other things I need to attend to today. When your new boots are ready, they will be sent to Ponyville. You can be on your way now." Sturdy Stitch says.

"Okay, I understand. Thank you again for everything Sturdy Stitch, I really appreciate it." You say to him.

"You're quite welcome, Anonymous. Take care." He says in response before walking away.

You then proceed to depart from the building, making your way back over to the metal gate, which the guardsmares open for you once more.
Now back on the streets of Canterlot, you take a moment to stretch out your muscles as you look up at the sky. You would guess that it's around the middle of the day now. With that in mind, you begin your walk back towards the heart of the city.

Visiting Canterlot Castle | Parts 56 - 73A

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As you walk back towards the main area of the city, you begin to think about your upcoming visit to the Royal Castle.
The thought of meeting either of the Princesses again fills you with a subtle nervousness.
Even though you have met both Celestia and Luna, and have been in their presence several times now, you have yet to get used to the experience.

You distinctly remember the first time you were brought to Canterlot, not long after your arrival in Equestria, where you met Princess Celestia for the first time.
It would've been an understatement to say that you were scared stiff...
You couldn't help approaching the situation like if you were to meet world rulers back home on Earth, where a misstep or poorly chosen word could get you into big trouble.
And yet... She was so gentle and kind to you and her pony subjects. Nothing at all like what you had expected, but a quality you immediately came to respect deeply.
Equally surprising to you was encountering a pony that was as tall, if not taller than you are.

As you think about your experiences from those early days in this world, however, your thoughts are interrupted by the growling of your stomach.
Remembering your light breakfast this morning, you decide to make a stop somewhere for lunch.
You walk over into the area of Canterlot where several different restaurants and bakeries are established.
After seeing what is currently open, you narrow down a few places that sound good to you at the moment...

You decide to visit the Emerald Way Eatery; an establishment that appears to be on the upper end of casual dining.
Upon entering the restaurant, you come to a stop in front of a pegasus waitress mare who wears a cute uniform. She looks up at you with a friendly smile.

"Welcome to the Emerald Way, sir! A table for one?" She asks you.

"Yes." You simply reply.

"Right this way, please." The waitress mare says as she leads you to your seat.

As you walk through the restaurant, you notice several other customers present who take their time to stare at you, some leaning over to whisper to one another.
You ignore them for the most part, as you've grown to expect such things. You do have to give credit to this waitress who didn't skip a beat though.

"Here we are." The waitress mare says as she gestures to a small table by a window with one of her wings.

You carefully sit down at the pony-sized table while the waitress brings you a menu, which she sets down in front of you.

"May I interest you in today's lunch special? Or will you be ordering from the menu?" She asks you.

"Tell me about the special." You say to her.

"Certainly. Today's special is freshly made squash soup with a side of tomato basil bruschetta topped with olives and parmesan, with your choice of drink." The waitress mare answers.

"That sounds good. I'll have the special with..." You pause as you look at the available drinks. "...cider, please." You say to the waitress mare.

"Got it. Your lunch will be out shortly." The mare says as she takes your menu and walks away.

You take a moment to look around the restaurant, where you find that the other ponies have returned to focusing on their own meals.
A few minutes later, the waitress mare returns with a glass of cider on a small tray held in her mouth, which she places onto the table.

"Thank you." You say to the mare as she walks away, followed by picking up the glass and sipping on the sweet, delicious cider as you stare out the window and watch the world go by.

Not long after, the waitress returns once more with a larger tray with your meal balanced on her wings, which she skillfully slides onto your table.

"Enjoy!" She says as she walks back to the entrance of the restaurant to greet a couple that entered only a moment ago.

You proceed to take your time and enjoy your delicious lunch. Once finished, you pay for your meal and exit the restaurant.
Once back out in the streets, you decide that now is a good time to make your way over to the Royal Canterlot Castle to check in with Twilight.
The walk is uneventful, and after only a short while you find yourself at the grand main entrance to the castle.
Walking past a series of gates and Royal Guards, followed by a short flight of stairs, you finally walk through the large doors of the castle's main entryway.

You admire the beauty and splendor of the castle surrounding you as you wander its halls, vaguely remembering the layout of its public area.
Rounding a corner, you see a small line of ponies in the room ahead of you trailing off in the direction you know to be the throne room; evidence that a day court is currently in session today.
You stop to take a moment and think about where to go or what to do next, as you know Twilight wouldn't be with the Princess during the day court.

You conclude that the natural habitat of bookworms is the library, so that is where you will go.
Making your way into the room ahead, you turn the opposite direction from the throne room, towards a hallway that you know leads into the interior parts of the castle.
However, a set of five Royal Guards block the way, protecting the interior from any would-be intruders or trespassers.

A unicorn stallion guard standing foremost in the center, who wears a slightly different armor, watches as you approach. "How may I help you?" He says as he looks up at you.

"Hey there... I'm trying to catch up with my friend Twilight Sparkle. She arrived here before I did. Do you happen to know where she is?" You ask the guard.

"Sorry, I don't know where she is. We've been expecting your arrival though. Do you need any direction?" He asks you.

"Yes, actually. I wanted to check the library first, could you remind me where that is exactly, please?" You respond.

"Better yet, I'll take you there. Follow me, please." The guard says as he turns around and begins walking.

You follow the Royal Guard as he takes you through the hallways of the interior portion of the castle. Soon enough, you come to a stop in front of a large, ornate wooden door.

"Here we are." The guard says as he turns around to look back up at you.
"Please keep a respectful volume inside the library. Additionally, you are free to wander most areas of the castle as you please. Have a wonderful day." The guard concludes as he begins to walk away.

"Thank you!" You say to him before turning your attention to the library door.

You open the large wooden door and step through into the library, making extra effort to quietly close the door once inside.
Immediately the heavy scent of old books fills your nose, providing a feeling of comfort as you begin to walk through the grand library.
After a quick search, besides the librarian and yourself, there are only a few other ponies here. However, none of them are Twilight Sparkle.
You let out a quiet sigh as you place your hands on your hips. You wonder what to do next as you idly examine the spines of the books on the shelves near where you stand.
After spending several minutes aimlessly looking at books, you decide to walk back to the main desk where the librarian currently sits.
Once at the desk, the distinguished looking unicorn stallion at the desk looks up at you from a book he was reading.

"Yes?" The librarian simply asks in a quiet voice.

"Hello, I was just wondering if a certain purple unicorn mare visited here earlier." You respond in an equally hushed tone.

"Hmm, Twilight?" The librarian begins with a knowing smile. "Yes, she was here not too long ago." He says.

"Do you happen to know where she went?" You ask.

"I believe she went to get something to eat approximately..." The librarian pauses as he turns to glance at a clock. "...twenty one minutes ago." He answers.
"Knowing that protégé of the Princess, I imagine she will return soon. After all, she entrusted me to make sure that nopony touches these books until she returns." The librarian says as he gestures to a small stack of books next to him.

"I see... I'll wait around for her then. Thank you." You say to the librarian, who simply nods in acknowledgement before returning his attention to his book.

You decide to pass the time by returning to looking at the many books in the library. Specifically, you attempt to find a book on changelings.
Unfortunately, you have no idea how the books are grouped together and arranged here, leading to you aimlessly skimming through books in an effort to find one with a promising title.
Eventually, you decide to give up the effort after going down one section of shelves and reaching the other end of the library.
Looking around from your current position, you see nobody else, though you occasionally hear the sound of hooves against the floor.
Something that does catch your attention, however, is what appears to be a small metal gate at the furthest corner of the library from the entrance.

Approaching the gate in order to inspect it, you find it to be of a relatively simple design with a keyhole for a lock.
The gate itself blocks a narrow, unlit corridor. Standing close by and looking through it, you can see a plain wooden door at the end in the darkness.
Turning your attention to the keyhole, you happen to notice a faint orange glow emanating from it.
With nothing else to see, you decide to leave the gate alone and make your way back towards the entrance of the library.
Once at the entrance of the library, you walk over to the door and exit back into the castle halls. Leaning against a nearby wall, you wait for Twilight to return.

Several minutes later, your thoughts are interrupted by the cheerful call of Twilight. "Anon!" You hear her call out.
Looking over, you see the purple unicorn happily trotting down the hallway towards you.

"Did you have a good lunch?" You ask Twilight as she draws close to you.

"Why yes, I did! ...How did you know I went to eat lunch?" She asks in response as she comes to a stop in front of you.

"I asked the librarian in there if he had seen you. You'll be happy to know that he's still dutifully guarding those books for you." You answer her.

"Hehe, I'm glad! Were you looking for me? How long have you been here?" Twilight asks.

"Yes I was. When I got here I saw the Princess had a day court going, so I figured you'd be elsewhere. I haven't been here for very long; must have just missed you when I arrived." You respond.

"And the library was the first place you checked?" Twilight says with a giggle. "Soooo, how did your visit with the armorer go, Anon?" She asks you.

"You know what? It went really well, actually. We got everything sorted out, and I'll be having a brand new pair of boots sent to Ponyville soon. I can tell you all about it later, if you're interested." You answer.

"That's great, Anon! I would love to hear about it in detail later." Twilight says.
"Anyway..." Twilight begins. "Princess Celestia won't be done with her duties for another hour or so. Wanna go see where your room for the night is?" She asks you with a warm smile.

"Sure, may as well. Lead the way, since you seem to know your way around here." You answer her.

"Okay Anon, just let me go get those books real quick." Twilight says as she makes her way back into the library.

You wait around for a minute or two until Twilight returns, her saddlebags now visibly weighed down with books.

"Let's go!" Twilight cheerfully announces as you both begin walking down the hallways together.

While meandering your way through the castle interior, you decide to strike up some conversation. "So what kind of books did you pick up?" You ask the purple bookworm.

"Ohh, mostly books on magic and magic theory. Just some light reading for tonight." Twilight answers.

"Just some light reading? Twilight, you had like five or six different books in that pile." You say to her.

"Well, yes... That's light reading, isn't it?" Twilight responds in a matter-of-fact way, prompting you to chuckle in disbelief.

"If you say so... It's a pretty incredible library in there, isn't it?" You say, changing the subject.

"The greatest in all of Equestria! There's so many books contained here in the castle that you cannot find anywhere else." Twilight proclaims.

"I bet. But... How do you find anything in there, anyway?" You ask Twilight.

"With the card catalog, of course." She answers.

"The... The what catalog?" You ask in confusion.

"The card catalog." Twilight repeats.

"What's a card catalog?" You ask her.

You watch in mild embarrassment as Twilight proceeds to stare at you like you're some sort of monster from another world, nearly stumbling over her hooves in the process.
...Which admittedly isn't too far from the truth.

"Anon!" She cries out. "You've seen a card catalog before... R-Right...?" She asks you in disbelief.

"No, I really haven't." You respond.

"I don't believe it..." You hear Twilight mutter as she focuses her attention forward again. "I need to teach you how to use the card catalog before we leave, Anon. This is serious!" Twilight adds.

"Well, I would appreciate that. I really don't know how to find anything in a library like the one here." You say in response.

An awkward silence falls between you after that point. Glancing over at Twilight, you can tell that the gears are turning in her mind. Probably in disgust, you think to yourself.

Soon enough, you arrive at a section of the castle familiar to you: The guest rooms.
Meant primarily for visiting dignitaries and other guests of honor, you spent several days in one of these rooms not long after your arrival in Equestria.

"Here we are." Twilight says as she comes to a stop. You watch her horn glow with magic as she removes an ornate golden key from her saddlebags, before passing it over to you.

Grabbing hold of it, you examine it to see an elegant number five formed within the bow of the key, signifying your room number.
"Number five, huh? Which one did you get?" You ask Twilight.

"Room six. We get to be next door neighbors." She responds with a silly smile. "Meet me back here in about an hour? We can go see the Princess then." Twilight asks.

"Sure thing." You answer.

"Okay Anon, I'll see you then." Twilight says as she walks over, unlocking the door to her own room before entering and closing the door behind her.

You do the same as you walk up to the door to your own room, inserting the golden key into the keyhole, followed by a satisfyingly loud click as you turn the key.
Opening the door, you step inside and close it behind you. The sight that greets you inside is almost nostalgic.

Your assigned room is one of the smaller ones meant for one person, or perhaps a married couple. The room is laid out in a very similar way to hotels from your old world.
There is one large, luxurious bed, comparable to what you would call a king size mattress.
It's far larger than what any pony besides the Princesses would need, but you know that these rooms are meant to accommodate many of the different races.
Beyond that, the room is simply furnished in addition to a few paintings hanging on the wall.
There is a decent sized bathroom, along with a large window overlooking the Royal Garden and surrounding scenery, along with another door leading out to a balcony.

You remove your backpack and set it down on the floor, followed by walking over to the foot of the bed and sitting on it before leaning backwards and laying down.
Breathing in deeply followed by slowly exhaling, you stare up at the ceiling as you enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.

You decide it would be best to take a moment and freshen yourself up before appearing in front of the Princess.
Rising from the foot of the bed after removing your boots, you lock the main door before walking into the opulent bathroom.
Once there, you undress and step into a large shower where you enjoy the luxurious soap and shampoo available.
After finishing up and drying off, you put your clothes back on again, taking a moment in front of the mirror to tidy up your hair with a comb.
Stepping out of the bathroom, you put your boots back on and exit your room into the castle halls.

Wanting to try and familiarize yourself with the castle layout better, you begin to go for a short walk, starting with retracing your steps to the library and back.
After that doing that, you decide to fork off in a new direction and see where you end up.
Along the way, you pass by Royal Guards, servants, maids and other castle staff, who pay little attention to you as you walk by, for the most part.
You soon come to a stop at a four-way cross section where multiple hallways meet. Looking down each one, you cannot determine where exactly they lead to.

Continuing on straight ahead, you see nothing else of interest until you reach a corner.
At that corner, the hallway transitions from straight into one that is slightly curved, making it so that you cannot see where it leads.
Curious, you begin walking down the curved hallway, where you are immediately caught off guard by what you see.

Lining the full length of the outer curve are windows of alternating clear and stained glass in beautiful designs, framed by equally beautiful masonry.
You've seen how the Royal Castle has plenty of opulent beauty and ornate details, but this particular sight strikes you as exceptional.
Slowing your pace, you take the time to stop at one of the clear windows to look out from it, finding that it presents a fine view of the Royal Garden and surrounding mountainside.
You then take your time to stop and observe each stained glass window, with each one being a unique piece of art.
Before long, you notice the end of the hallway come into view, which you resume walking at normal speed towards.

You find yourself looking at another impressive sight before you; a floor to ceiling relief carved into the pristine white stone of the walls.
The relief depicts a large, detailed pair of splayed wings with a large horn placed between them.
Depicted above the wings and to the one side of the horn, is a large sun with its rays shining out. On the other side is a crescent moon with many stars surrounding it.
Finally, at each corner of the wall sits a large, ornate metal brazier, both of which are currently unlit.
Walking closer to the relief, you then notice two large doors on each side of the hallway.
One has ornate designs inlaid in gold, prominently featuring the sun. The other is equally as ornate but inlaid with silver, prominently featuring the moon.
On closer inspection of the doors, you notice that they appear to have no lock, only a simple ring for a handle made from each doors respective metal.

Above all, you notice that it's very quiet here. There is nobody here but yourself.

You may be curious where these doors lead to, but you don't want to be intrusive, as you suspect that these rooms belong to the Princesses, judging from the designs.
In the end, you turn around and walk back the way you came from, while taking the time to enjoy the other stained glass windows that you didn't look at.

As you round the corner back into the main castle hallways, you notice a couple Royal Guards on patrol glancing at you.
While walking past them towards the four-way cross section, however, they say or do nothing.
Coming to a stop at the hallway intersection, you take another look down the other two halls that you haven't explored.
In your mind, you reckon that you have enough time left to check out one more area of the castle before you should meet up with Twilight again.
At the same time, you feel a worry in the back of your mind over accidentally getting lost, or losing track of the time.

You decide to turn to the left this time, or rather what was once to your right when you first passed through this location.
Passing by several doors and a few ponies, you meander down the hallway until you arrive at a corner.
Rounding the corner, you find that the hallway transitions into two large doors that are currently open to the outdoors, or rather, the Royal Garden.

Walking outside into the Royal Garden, you are struck by how idyllic the scenery here appears; the picturesque landscaping of a beautiful park.
You've only seen a portion of this place before from the balcony of the guest rooms. If even that relatively small portion was deeply impressive to you, seeing the rest of it fills you with a sense of awe.
Walking onto a small stone bridge over a water feature, you come to a stop as you lean on the railing to observe the things around you.
You can tell there are more things to see here than you have time for at the moment...

From your point of view, you can see what looks like a hedge maze, a statue garden of sorts, a few outbuildings, and other decorative features.
You also see a few ponies tending to the garden and other duties, along with Royal Guards on patrol.
Looking down into the calm water below you, you take a moment to stare at your reflection and the reflection of the clouds in the sky.
Above all, you wish that you can see this garden someday during the middle of summer, when all the flowers would be in full bloom.

Having spent an enjoyable peaceful moment on the small stone bridge, you decide to head back into the castle, especially after seeing there is more to the Royal Garden than you have time for.
Once back in the castle, you walk down the hallway until you yet again reach the four-way cross section.
This time, you decide to go ahead and take a look at the final path, since you didn't spend that much time out in the Royal Garden.
Walking down this new hallway, you pass by plenty of doors to different rooms, in which you see plenty of castle staff going to and from.
You wonder what sort of rooms are behind those doors, but that's a question that you know there isn't the time to find the answer to.

Eventually, you end up at two enormous open doors that nearly span the height of the floor to the ceiling.
Looking inside, you see a grand dining room, where many ponies appear to be busily making preparations.
You don't go inside, as you don't want to potentially get in the way or be somewhere that you're not supposed to be.
To your left and to your right, the hallways continue. However, you decide to head back to the guest rooms, as you do not want to be late and stress out Twilight.

On your way back to your destination, you feel a pang of guilt shoot through you as your thoughts shift to Notaulix.
Part of you wishes that you could have stayed home to look after him, especially as it's only been about two days since you found him.
Even though Notaulix was doing much better after those two days, and has everything he could need at your home, you can't help but worry about him.
In that time, you've quickly grown to enjoy the changelings company, in his own unusual way.
Above all, though, the act of taking that weak, struggling changeling into your care gave your life here in Equestria newfound purpose; Something that you didn't even realize you were lacking.
You hope Notaulix isn't upset with you for leaving on a trip so soon.

Putting those thoughts aside, you arrive back at the castles guest rooms. You lean on the wall by the door to your own room, wondering what to do since Twilight is not yet present.
A twinge of fear crosses your mind as you consider the possibility that you've returned late, since you do not know what time it is.
Unlocking the door once more, you briefly enter your guest room, as you recall that there is a clock inside.
Checking the clock, you discover that you still have about eight minutes until the appointed hour.
With the current time clearly in mind, you lay down on your bed to relax for a few minutes.

Afterwards, you stand back up onto your feet and exit the guest room, where you wait for Twilight to join you.
Sure enough, the door to Twilight's room opens, followed closely by the purple unicorn mare stepping out, minus her saddlebags.

"Hey there Anon. Ready to go?" Twilight asks you in her usual cheery voice.

"Of course. Lead the way, Sparkle. You know where we're supposed to be meeting the Princess, not me." You answer her.

"Right this way." Twilight says as she begins to walk back down the hallway towards the library, which also connects up to the main hall leading from the public area of the castle.

Walking by Twilight's side, the journey is uneventful until you go to change direction at an intersecting point.
As the two of you round the corner, you find none other than Princess Celestia in all her radiant glory, along with an entourage of Royal Guards, approaching from no less than 30 feet away.
You come to an immediate halt, your mind racing in a panic as you try and determine what the best, most respectful course of action is in this unexpected situation.

"Princess Celestia!" Twilight joyfully cries out as she trots over to her mentor.

"Ohoho, Twilight!" Celestia giggles. "It is so very nice to see my faithful student today." The Princess says with her warm, soothing voice.

You watch as Twilight comes to a stop in front of Celestia, followed by Celestia craning her head down next to Twilight, the two then rubbing the sides of their heads together; a common expression of affection among ponies.
Meanwhile, you are still standing awkwardly by yourself, unsure of how to proceed.
Twilight may have a special friendship with the Princess, allowing her to safely skip many of the formalities, but that is a privilege that you lack.
Time feels like it slows to a crawl, until you finally find an example to follow...
You notice that not too far behind the Princess's entourage, a member of the castle staff is respectfully backed up against the wall and gently bowing.
Following that example, you do the same as you back up to the wall of the hallway and hold an awkward forty-five degree bow.

"I'm so excited to spend some time with you today! It's been almost two months, and there's so much I want to talk with you about!" You hear an enthusiastic Twilight say.

You hear Celestia giggle, then speak again. "Indeed, Twilight. Come now, we will have plenty of time to converse at our destination." She says.

The sharp sound from the clipping and clopping of metal hoofshoes fills the hallway as the entire group begins moving again.
Celestia's legs come into your view as she approaches you, prompting all the other ponies to stop.

"Anonymous..." Celestia says to you.

"Y-Yes, Princess?" You stutter, betraying your nervousness.

"Please, there is no need to be so formal in this situation. You are a special guest here in Canterlot." She warmly says to you.

Before you can say anything, the Princess steps closer to you, and uses one of her wings to gently push you back into an upright position, where you find yourself looking straight into her beautiful magenta eyes.

"There, isn't that better?" Celestia says before catching you completely off guard by stepping forward and embracing you in a hug of sorts.

You feel her hook one of her forelegs around your lower back, while resting her head against your own on your shoulder.
Your mind draws a complete blank. This has never happened before.
In that moment, you decide to roll with the situation and gather up your courage, in order to do what would be unthinkable with the ruling class of your old world.
You raise your arms and embrace Celestia, your arms gently wrapping around her neck, with your hands coming to rest on her withers.
Celestia responds by ever so slightly increasing her grip on you, along with a gentle hum escaping from her throat.
Meanwhile, you find yourself lost in the sudden barrage of sensory information coming over you.

The first thing you noticed was how absolutely luxuriously soft and silky the Princess's smooth, warm, pristine white coat is.
You've felt the coats of several different ponies before, and they were very soft as well, but they all pale in comparison to what you feel right now.
It takes all of your willpower in that moment to not start petting the Princess like some sort of animal, in order to explore this sensation even more.

The second thing you noticed was the wonderful, delicate aroma of fragrant flowers emanating from her body.
You don't know if it's the shampoo she uses or some sort of light perfume, but it's a very pleasing scent regardless.
However, you quickly snap back to reality when you realize that as the seconds tick by, the Princess still holds you in her embrace.
You feel your cheeks rapidly flush red in embarrassment, as you know that everyone around must be staring at you.
You remove your hands from her withers, thinking that perhaps she was waiting for you to do that. The Princess, however, only responds by slightly tightening her grip on you.

"Uhh... P... Princess?" You quietly say to her.

The alicorn suddenly snaps to attention as she releases her grip on you. As she moves back away from you onto all four hooves, you happen to notice something strange...
For a brief moment as she was releasing you from the hug, she was looking at you with her ears perked up and facing forward. As she looked at you, her eyes appeared to be filled with... Surprise?
Whatever that reaction may have been, it quickly disappears as Celestia resumes her normal peaceful expression that you have come to associate with her. This time with a hint of pink on her cheeks.

"Everypony deserves to feel a welcoming hug throughout their lives, do they not?" Celestia says with a warm, loving smile.
"Come, Anonymous. Let's continue on our way." Celestia says with a giggle as she gently nudges you to get moving with one of her wings.

"Right..." You say as the group begins moving as one once again. You walk alongside Celestia to her right, while Twilight walks to her left.

"Aww! That was so cute!" Twilight chimes in. You glance over to see her looking up at you with a big smile.

"Thank you for you for the kindness, Princess." You say to Celestia.

"You are most welcome, Anonymous." The alicorn responds.

The brief walk down the halls that follows is uneventful. Soon enough, you arrive at a particular door at the end of the guest room hallway.
Celestia's horn glows with magic as it opens the door. You let the Princess enter the room first, followed by Twilight and yourself.
Once inside, one of the Royal Guards closes the door behind you, leaving the three of you alone together.

Looking around, you find yourself in a medium sized room, a parlor of sorts, beautifully decorated with fine furniture, marble sculptures and artwork.
On one side of the room, several windows let plenty of natural light in to illuminate the space, while also providing a view of the Royal Garden.
Towards the center of the room, you find a large, pony sized table with different seating options surrounding it.
Resting on top of the table, you see a teapot with steam coming out of it, along with a few trays which hold different goodies to eat.

"Please, make yourselves comfortable." Celestia says as she steps forward to recline herself on a sofa, which happens to be long enough for her entire body to comfortably lounge on.

Twilight eagerly moves forward, choosing to sit on a comfy looking floor cushion right next to her mentor's front half.
You pause to look at the remaining seating options around the table as you decide where to sit.
After a moment of thought, you walk over to a sofa opposite of Celestia's and sit down on it.
Celestia's horn glows with a yellowish white aura as her magic envelops the teapot, which she then uses to fill three teacups sitting on saucers.
The Princess then levitates one of the teacups over to you, which you grab hold of, thanking her in the process.

"Now then, my dear student..." Celestia begins as she turns her attention to Twilight. "I think anypony can see how eager you are to share something that you're passionate about. Please, do share." She warmly invites the purple unicorn.

"Oh yes! So I was reading more into some of Star Swirl the Bearded's manuscripts, when I came across a particular magic theory that..." Twilight begins to say...
...Which is coincidentally about as far as you were able to follow the resulting conversation.

Unfortunately for you, the conversation goes into the deep end of magic. While the Princess may be able to keep up and understand the bookworm, you cannot.
Instead, you opt to sip your tea, which is admittedly quite nice. Sometime later, after Celestia helps herself to a pastry, you do the same.
The minutes drag onward into slightly over an hour as you feel the boredom really begin to set in.
While you do find the subject of magic very interesting, as it's something that did not exist in your world, there's only so much discussion of it that your brain can handle at once.
Occasionally, Celestia will briefly give you an apologetic look, to which you simply smile and nod your head in response.

As Twilight's ceaseless enthusiasm about knowledge and magic continue to spew forth from her little pony mouth, you glance at the clock again to find that you've been here for about an hour and a half now.
You begin to wonder just how much time you have left here before the Princess's schedule requires things to move forward.
The thought crosses your mind that you may not have the chance to speak with the Princess at all... Though, at the same time, you can't exactly think of what you would talk to her about anyway even if you had the chance.
Besides thanking her for the seemingly endless generosity, of course, you think to yourself as you pick up some sort of pastry filled with a lemon cream. Delicious!

Eventually, the clock strikes over to a new hour, and not long after that you hear a knock on the door, prompting the conversation between Twilight and Celestia to cease.

"You may enter." Celestia calls out.

You turn to look at who is entering as the door opens, revealing a member of the castle staff; a unicorn mare.

"Please excuse my interruption, your highness." The mare begins as she takes a bow. "It's time for you to attend the meeting regarding the funding distribution." She continues.

"I see." Celestia says with a bit of a sigh. "Very well, I will be on my way there shortly. Thank you." The Princess adds.

With that, the unicorn mare closes the door and departs.

"Oh no!" Twilight cries out as she looks at you with surprise in her eyes. "Anon, I'm so sorry! I... I didn't realize I was talking for that long. You should have said something!" She says as her ears slightly droop to the sides.

"Ah, don't feel bad Twilight. It's no problem, really." You say as you wave a hand dismissively. "I found the conversation to be quite... fascinating." You reassure her.

Celestia giggles at your response before speaking. "I'm sure Anonymous understands, Twilight. We can plan another time to visit together, a time when Anonymous can do all the talking that he wants." She says to Twilight.

"That's a wonderful idea!" Twilight says, now back to her normal cheery self.

"Now then, let's leave this room now, shall we?" Celestia says as she stands back up, prompting you and Twilight to do the same.

The three of you leave the parlor back out into the guest room hallway, where the group of Royal Guards that follow the Princess around still stand.

"I must attend to further duties now. Will both of you be joining me for dinner at the dining hall?" Celestia asks both of you.

"Of course!" Twilight answers.

"It would be an honor, Princess." You respond.

"Excellent! I shall expect to see both of you there in approximately... Ohh, thirty minutes? Feel free to do whatever you wish with your time until then." Celestia concludes.

You nod your head before you and Twilight turn to leave and let Celestia get on with her duties.

"Twilight? I almost forgot, may I briefly ask you something?" Celestia says to her student. "You may continue on your way, Anonymous." Celestia says to you with a warm smile.

"What is it, Princess?" Twilight asks in a curious tone as you continue on your way, with your first stop being your guest room.
After all, you have a strong desire to take a leak after all that tea you drank.

You hear Twilight and the Princess talking behind you, though you don't pay any particular attention to what they're saying...
...Until you're about halfway to your room, when you can't help but hear your name being mentioned.

"...if Anonymous has made any new... friends, lately?" You faintly hear Celestia ask Twilight, causing you to nearly stumble over your own steps as paranoia runs wild through your mind.

What would normally be an innocent question, one you've heard the Princess ask about you before, takes on new meaning as you feel the full weight of carrying a secret weigh down upon you.
There's no way she could know about Notaulix... Right?

You keep on walking towards your guest room until you arrive at the door, which you promptly unlock and enter.
Once inside, you immediately head into the bathroom to relieve yourself.
Afterwards, you lay down on your bed in order to calm down and think about the situation.
As the minutes tick by, you reach the conclusion that it's going to do you no good to stress out over what is almost certainly only a fear in your mind.
You'll just have to see how the rest of the day plays out, you reason to yourself.

Dinner With Royalty | Parts 73B - 78A

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Soon enough, the appointed time to join Celestia at the dining hall arrives, so you once again exit the comfort of your room and out into the castle halls.
Thankfully, you happen to know exactly where the dining hall is, thanks to your previous exploration.
Drawing close to those massive doors once again, you can see Celestia already sitting front and center at a table placed on the far end of the room.

Entering the dining hall, you notice Twilight waving at you to come over with a forehoof, who happens to be sitting next to her mentor.
You walk down the length of the dining hall until you arrive in front of the two.

"Where should I sit?" You ask them.

"Anywhere that you wish, Anonymous. Though, I would most certainly enjoy having you join us at our table." Celestia answers with a gentle, loving smile.

"Come sit with us, Anon!" Twilight enthusiastically adds.

"Alright, alright." You say with a smile as you walk around to the other side of the table.

Once around to the other side, you consider your seating options...
This special long table of the dining hall, the one meant for the Princesses and their special guests, is arranged slightly differently compared to the other tables.
It's built to a standard pony height, which is low for you, yet it's placed on a platform, giving extra height to those to sit at it.
As for the seating itself, there are very comfortable, plushy cushions to sit on. In particular are the two very large cushions in the middle; a yellow one for Celestia, and a blue one for Luna.
Twilight is unsurprisingly sitting next to her mentor. Luna's spot is presently empty. Looking around, you catch no sight of the Princess of The Night.

You decide to sit down next to Twilight, who smiles at you as you do so.

"So what will we be having tonight?" You ask as you look at both Twilight and Celestia.

As if on cue, a unicorn servant levitates a menu over to you, which you grab hold of.

"Order whatever you please, Anonymous." Celestia answers you.

Opening the menu, you begin to look over the many different things available to eat.
However, your decision making is interrupted when you hear the unmistakable voice of Princess Luna.

"Hello, dearest Anonymous!" Luna calls out from halfway across the room, in a voice that you feel is slightly louder than necessary.

Looking up from your menu, you watch as a happy looking Luna trots toward your table, which she then walks around to the other side of.

"Hi Princess Luna!" Twilight says as the blue alicorn approaches, prompting you to bow in her direction as you sit.

"Hello, Twilight. It is good to see you." Luna says as she passes by. As she does so, she surprises you by flicking her tail into your face.

You feel your face flush in embarrassment as you hear the three mares all giggle in unison.

"Now Luna, it isn't nice to tease poor Anonymous like that." Celestia says, clearly amused.

"My apologies, dear Sister. 'Tis simply a bit a fun." Luna says as you turn your attention back to the menu.

You do not get very much time to read it though, as the next thing you know, Luna kicks the cushion next to you away with a forehoof, before magically setting her cushion down next to you with a loud thump.

"Do you mind if I sit next to you, Anonymous?" Luna asks as she stares down at you with a kind, gentle expression.

"Not at all, Princess." You answer her.

"Wonderful!" Luna says as she plops her rump down onto the cushion.

"You're up early today, Luna. To what do we owe this honor?" Celestia asks her sister.

"The honor is owed to Anonymous, dear Sister. Rarely does Equestria's only human come to visit here. A treat indeed!" Luna answers

"Yes, not since the last Grand Galloping Gala, if I recall." Celestia says.

"Indeed." Luna agrees. "So tell us, Anonymous. What brings you here to Canterlot this day?" She asks you.

You proceed to briefly explain to Luna your visit to the Royal Armory, and the issue that you had surrounding your boots wearing out.
"...so that's why I'm here today." You conclude. "I do also want to say, though..." You begin, turning your head towards Celestia in order to get her attention also.
"...how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. There's no way in a million years that the rulers where I come from would treat anyone with as much kindness as you two do." You continue.
"You've even covered the cost of my new boots. I... I really don't know how to thank both of you enough." You say in conclusion as you offer a brief, slight sitting bow, prompting Celestia to giggle lightly.

"You're such a humble soul, Anonymous. And you are more than welcome, but... I think that you have forgotten something important." Celestia says to you with her signature warm, loving smile.

"Huh...? What did I forget?" You ask, clearly confused.

"Everything that we have provided for you, you have done more than your share to rightfully earn through your service to our little ponies." Celestia answers you.

"My service?" You question, now even more confused.

"You brave the dangers of the Everfree Forest and harvest the valuable things from it, some of which are used to make rare and powerful medicines." Celestia responds.

"That medicine, in turn, can help sick ponies all around Equestria, quite possibly saving their lives." Celestia says. Twilight also nods her head in approval.

"Indeed." Luna says as she places a wing on your back, focusing your attention on her. "Do not think lightly of your work, Anonymous. For it is indeed honorable." She encourages you.

"Thank you. Really..." You say as you look away from the Princesses, feeling a bit embarrassed by all the praise you're receiving.

"Now then!" Luna says as she pats your back with her wing before withdrawing it. "Let us allow Anonymous to decide what he wishes to eat, for it will be time to order soon. We may converse more later." She adds.

"Right." You say as you turn your attention back to your menu. Picking it up once more, you open it to view your options...

The menu contains practically everything, as there are options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, in addition to a variety of beverage options.
Everything is served all day, since you know that it's breakfast time for ponies like Luna and the Night Guard.
You feel your stomach begin to growl as you consider some of your options, as you know that only the finest food in the land is served here.

Having decided what you want for dinner, you set your menu down on the table. Moments later, Celestia waves over the unicorn servant from before with a forehoof.
The unicorn comes to a stop in front of your group on the other side of the table, looking up at you all expectantly with a notepad and quill held in magic.

"I will have a Royal Salad with vinaigrette and a glass of white wine." Celestia says.

"I'll have the spaghetti and hayballs, with lemonade please." Twilight says.

"Could I get the breakfast bowl with some salsa? And a white ale." You request.

"The usual." Luna says.

After writing your orders down, the unicorn departs to where you assume the kitchen is.

"A fine choice." Luna says to you with a smile.

"It sounds really good." You say in response.

"Mhm... Pray tell, Anonymous; during your ventures into the Everfree Forest, have you visited our old castle?" Luna asks you, catching Celestia's attention in the process.

"No, not yet." You answer. "I haven't thought of a good way to cross that river yet... Besides, I'm not too excited at the thought of going that deep into the forest. There's already more than enough for me to cover near Ponyville." You add.

"I see. That is wise, especially for one who goes alone. Who knows what sort of things may lurk in those ruins these days?" Luna concludes.

"I agree. Please don't take any unnecessary risks, Anonymous." Celestia chimes in.

You all engage in some small talk while waiting for your meals to arrive. Soon enough, several unicorns emerge from the kitchen carrying your meals.
Once the meals are placed on the table, you glance over to see that Luna's usual order is apparently a big stack of pancakes covered in fruit and some sort of syrup, with a glass of orange juice.

As for you, your attention is drawn to your breakfast bowl and surprisingly large mug of ale as your mouth begins to water.
Your breakfast bowl contains zesty rice and beans, scrambled egg, crunchy fried potatoes, diced peppers, all luxuriously held together with a blend of hot melted cheese, topped with sour cream and a fresh salsa.
The four of you dig into your respective meals, enjoying them in relative silence as the time passes by.
Some time later, you all sit in satisfaction with a full stomach.

"If I may..." Celestia speaks up, drawing your attention to her.
"Normally I would suggest we all enjoy a fine dessert. However, today's activities pushed dinner a bit later than normal." The Princess continues.
"Anonymous, Twilight; would you like to join Luna and I in observing our duty of lowering the sun and raising the moon?" She asks the two of you.

"That sounds great! Yes please!" Twilight answers first.

"It would be an honor, Princess." You reply.

"Wonderful. Let's be on our way then, shall we?" Celestia says as she rises to her hooves.

The rest of you follow suit as you rise and leave the dining hall behind. You then follow the Princesses as they lead you the short distance to the Royal Garden.
Once in the garden, you come to a stop in a relatively open section of it, giving you a full view of the sky and surrounding horizon.

"Anonymous, Twilight. I am afraid that I must depart from you once the night begins, but it was a pleasure to spend time with both of you." Luna says.

"It was a nice surprise to have you join us for dinner, Princess." You say to her. "Thank you for everything, both of you." You add.

"I agree!" Twilight joins you.

"You are most welcome. Now, the time has drawn near... Luna?" Celestia says as she looks over at her sister.

"Yes, Sister. Let us fulfill our duty." Luna responds as the two alicorns turn their attention to the sky.

You and Twilight both watch in reverence as the Alicorn Sisters horns glow brightly with their respective auras. A few seconds later, you see the sun begin to move.
Over the next couple of minutes, the sun moves towards the horizon, where it is held to produce a beautiful sunset, until it finally dips below sight.
In its place, the moon rises high into the starry night sky, bathing the world in a gentle glow.
Almost immediately, you feel the temperature begin to cool off from the lack of the suns warming rays.

"Another night begins..." Luna says as she turns to face you and Twilight. "I must be on my way now. Farewell." The blue alicorn adds as she begins walking back towards the castle halls.

You and Twilight both say your goodbyes before turning your attention back to Celestia, who is looking at the two of you with a smile.

"Well then. It's been a long day for me, and I am more than ready for some rest. Do either of you need anything before I retire to my room for the evening?" Celestia asks.

"No thank you, I'm just fine." You answer her

"As am I." Twilight says.

"Very good. Will you both be able to join me for breakfast tomorrow morning before you leave?" Celestia asks.

"Mhm!" Twilight quickly nods her head. "The train to Ponyville won't leave until the early afternoon." She says.

"Wonderful! I will look forward to that. Sleep well." Celestia says as she departs from you.

With that, you and Twilight decide to return to your guest rooms for the night to unwind and get some sleep.
Once back inside of your room, you flip a switch that turns on several magic lanterns built into the wall, illuminating the room for you to see.
This lighting system used for most of the rooms in the castle is a more elaborate version of the magic lanterns that you have at your own home.
To you, it's incredibly reminiscent of electric lighting from your world, and in many ways it works on similar principles.
However, setups like this are seen only in the Royal Castle and other important places, as they are incredibly expensive and resource intensive compared to other, more simple forms of night time lighting like candles and oil lamps.
Even the magic lanterns that you have, which are expensive in their own right, pale in comparison to the luxury available here in the castle.

After locking the door behind you and removing your boots, you take a moment to reflect on the day.

With nothing else left to do, you walk into the bathroom and brush your teeth, making use of the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste provided.
Knowing that these things just get thrown out after use, you decide to put them in your backpack.
That way, you'll only need to pick up a new toothbrush for Notaulix to use, you reason to yourself.
Once done with that, you decide to step out onto the balcony to enjoy the beautiful night scenery for awhile.

After you begin to feel sleepy, you head back into your room, strip down to your underwear, and climb into the silky soft sheets of your bed.
Reaching over, you flick another switch on the wall, turning off the lights and plunging your room into darkness, with only the soft glow of the moon shining through the curtains of the window.
Staring up at the darkness, your thoughts drift to Notaulix once again. You wonder if he's sleeping in your bed right now, or if he decided to stay on the couch.
Above all, you simply hope that he's doing well.
Soon, you drift off into a peaceful sleep...

Store Browsing | Parts 78B - 85A

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Early in the morning, you are awakened from your slumber by the sound of the bedside clock playing its familiar chime, announcing that sunrise is imminent.
You toss and turn in bed, too comfortable to move until the moon is lowered and the sun raised, filling your room with bright light.
Crawling out of bed, you walk over to your backpack and retrieve your fresh change of clothes before heading to the bathroom.
Once there, you relieve yourself, freshen up, get dressed and comb your hair before stepping back out, where you then put your boots on.

Not long after that, you found yourself back in the dining hall with Twilight and the Alicorn Sisters, enjoying breakfast, or in Luna's case, dinner together.
With all being said and done, you bid each other farewell before departing from the Royal Castle, after retrieving your backpack and Twilight's saddlebags, though not before Twilight returned her books to the library.
You and Twilight find yourselves back on the already somewhat busy streets of Canterlot. It is another beautiful sunny day, if a bit cold.

"Well Anon, we have about an hour before our train departs. Is there anything that you wanted to go do?" Twilight asks you.

"Yes there is, actually. I was thinking about doing a little window shopping, maybe pick up a few things that you don't normally find in Ponyville." You answer her.

"Oh, alright then. I'm not really interested in doing shopping right now myself, so I'll let you go do your thing. Just make sure to be at the train station in an hour, okay Anon?" Twilight says.

"Right. I won't be late." You reassure the purple unicorn with a smile.

"Hehehe... Okay then, have fun!" Twilight says as she begins walking away.

You take off walking in your own direction towards where the majority of shops in Canterlot are located.
Once there, you begin to take some time and browse the storefronts of the more modest shops that may have something of interest to you.
After the lunch that you enjoyed yesterday, you have 78 bits left in your bit bag.

You come to a stop at a particular establishment that catches your eye: The Cheese Shoppe.
Looking in the window display, you happen to notice Pepper Jack being prominently advertised; one of your favorites.
Recalling your conversation with Notaulix about cheese, you decide to make this store your first stop in order to get some for him to try.

Entering the The Cheese Shoppe, you are immediately assaulted by the intense aroma of all the different cheeses available here.

"Welcome to the ch-" You hear the voice of a mare speak before being interrupted by a loud gasp.

Looking behind a glass counter to the source of the voice, you see a very surprised looking unicorn mare. She wears a white apron and a silly little cheese hat.
You wave a hand at the mare and smile, something that seems to bring her back to reality.

"W-Welcome to The Cheese Shoppe! How may I help you?" The mare stutters.

"Well, I'd like some of that Pepper Jack for sure, but do you mind if I look around a bit first?" You ask her. "Sorry for surprising you." You add.

"Not at all! Let me know when you're ready... And it's fine, you're the... Human, right? Anonymous?" She responds.

"Yes I am." You say as you look at a selection of crackers for sale.

The mare leaves you to your browsing as she busies herself by tidying up the store.
As you examine the somewhat small, rustic themed cheese shop, you find that it stocks an impressive variety of cheeses, crackers, some boutique vinegars, along with serving boards and utensils.
The prices are all reasonable, for the most part.
Upon finishing your browsing of the goods available, you walk up to the counter, grabbing the attention of the mare working there.

"What can I get you?" She asks you in a happy tone.

"I'd like two pounds of Pepper Jack, a pound of Mozzarella, and this." You say as you set a small paper bag full of rye crackers on the counter.

"Okay! Just a moment." The mare says as she goes to get your requested cheese.

You watch as she measures each one out, before placing each kind in their own waxed bag, which she then seals with a hot iron.

"Here you go. That will be eight bits, please." She says to you upon returning.

You reach into bit bag and place the appropriate amount on the countertop, which the mare promptly takes.
Following that, you place your goodies into your backpack before departing from the shop. This fresh cheese has given you an idea for dinner tonight.

"Thank you! Have a wonderful day!" You hear the mare call out as you leave.

Back out in the streets of Canterlot, you breathe in the fresh cold air, cleansing your senses of the powerful cheese aroma.
You feel like you probably have enough time left to visit two, possibly three more businesses. You have 70 bits left in your bit bag.

Next, you decide to check out a store by the name of Saddles & More.
Looking through the storefront windows, you see there are indeed plenty of saddles. You still haven't gotten over the fact that the ponies here wear saddles as a fashion item.
However, you also see several different styles of saddlebag being advertised, among other things.
You feel that this may be a good opportunity to get a saddlebag for Notaulix, if an appropriate one is available.

A small bell rings as you open the door and step inside, revealing a relatively simple looking store.
On the center of the floor are two rows of pony mannequins, each displaying a different fashionable saddle.
Meanwhile, different shelves and racks line the walls, where saddlebags, scarves, hats and other associated things are displayed.
At the back of the store, you see a simple wooden counter. To the left of the counter is a doorway covered by a curtain, and to the right is an open door that appears to lead to a back room.

Noting the lack of any other ponies in the room, you wonder where the shopkeeper is for several seconds until you hear the sound of hooves coming from the back room.
A middle aged, well-to-do looking unicorn stallion wearing a pony suit jacket of sorts emerges from the back room.
The stallion comes to a stop when he notices you, looking very surprised as he stares at you.

"Hello... Sir. I, uh... I'm not sure that I carry anything suitable for you, unfortunately..." The stallion says, giving you an apologetic smile.

"I'm not looking for anything for myself, actually. I've been thinking about getting a gift for a friend of mine." You explain.

"Oh, I see!" The stallion exclaims, his expression lighting up as he approaches you. "In that case, what sort of gift did you have in mind? Is this for a mare or a stallion? What size?" He asks you.

"I was thinking about a saddlebag. It's for a, uh..." You briefly pause as you decide on how to answer the question.
"...pegasus stallion. He's a bit larger than average; his withers come up to about here." You answer as you hold out your hand to approximately the level you remember Notaulix's withers to be at while standing.

"A large size saddlebag, then. Very good, please take a look over here." The stallion says as he leads you over to the corner of the room to the left of the counter.

You come to a stop at a wall rack filled with different saddlebags in the corner of the store.

"These should all be suitable for a larger pegasus stallion. Feel free to inspect them as you wish." The stallion says to you.
"Now then. I must admit that I was busy composing a letter that needs to be finished. If you wish to buy something, just ring the bell on the counter." He says as he begins to walk away to the back room.
"Oh! Also..." The stallion pauses. "If you don't find an ideal style for your friend, you may wish to browse Hoofington's down the street." He says.
"Though, I think you'll find my prices to be more appealing." He adds with a wink before disappearing into the back room that he emerged from.

Now alone, you turn your attention to the wall rack filled with saddlebags. There are more types of designs available than you realized even existed.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the amount of choice, you allow yourself to become distracted for a moment as you look at the curtain covering the doorway next to you.

You didn't notice it when you walked in, but there is a small sign above the curtain that reads: Mares And Stallions Only
Staring at the curtain, you wonder in the back of your mind what could possibly be in there.
However, you turn to your attention back to the saddlebags when the thought crosses your mind to check for something similar to Notaulix's color first.
There aren't many, but you spot a couple saddlebags in a suitable shade of black, though none of them exactly match his colors.

You pick out a particular saddlebag from the rack; one with top flaps that tie down with buckles, made from a dark grey heavy canvas, with a light amount of built in padding for comfort.
This seems the most ideal choice for starting Notaulix out with something of his own, though the only negative is that it features a bright yellow trim.
You hope to ask the stallion running the store if he happens to have another bag like this one, only with a different colored trim.
With the saddlebag draped over your left arm, you begin to turn towards the wooden counter when you suddenly pause.

You look back towards the curtain with the peculiar sign over it, your curiosity getting the better of you.
After checking around you and listening carefully that nobody is present, you quietly walk over to the curtain and peek inside.
On the other side of the curtain is a smaller room, dimly lit by the glow of an orange colored magic lantern, reminiscent of candlelight.
As for the contents of the room, you see several more pony mannequins that appear to be adorned with... Harnesses?

Intrigued, you decide to step into the room to get a closer look. You've seen the ponies using harnesses for heavy work before, but these seem a bit different.
On closer inspection, you find that everything in here appears to be made from Barkmat and metal, clearly meant for heavy duty work.
The more you look, though... Redundant straps that appear to serve no obvious purpose, buckles in places you don't expect, hearts and other designs carved into the leather-like material... And blinders?!

Your mind reels as you suddenly realize what exactly you're looking at. These harnesses aren't for work, they're for play.
Horrified yet morbidly curious, you glance over at one of the other harnesses to see how it's constructed.
Is... Is that a...?

You quickly make your way out of the room, your cheeks burning red in embarrassment.
Never would you have guessed in a million years that the wholesome ponies of this land would have things like... THAT.
Much to your relief, nobody is on the other side of the curtain. You weren't going to be caught dead in that room; no way.
The gossip would spread through all the land, and you'd never hear the end of it. Every mare in Equestria would giggle at you and whisper to each other as you pass by.

Having avoided crisis, you step up to the wooden counter and ring the bell placed on it, producing a loud chime.
While waiting for the stallion to return, you notice a sign on the desk that reads: For anything, ask about customization!

Soon enough, the stallion returns to the main room of the store. "Did you find something?" He asks you.

"Sort of... I was wondering if you possibly had a saddlebag like this, but with a different colored trim. Like a green or blue or silver, something like that." You explain.

"Hmm..." The stallion muses as he takes the saddlebag from you with his magic to inspect it, raising a forehoof to his chin in thought.

"Possibly. You said you were shopping for a pegasus, correct?" He asks you.

"That's right. Why do you ask?" You ask in return.

"You may have not considered this, since you have those dexterous fingers, but buckle top bags like these are an uncommon choice for a pegasus." The stallion says.
"It's an honest mistake, really. One I've seen made many times by my unicorn customers. Earth ponies and pegasi can have a bit of a hard time of these sort of buckles." He continues.
"Pegasi do sometimes use these anyway. Usually the ones who need to ensure whatever they're carrying stays safe and secure while flying." The stallion explains.

"Wow, you know what? You're absolute right, that didn't even cross my mind... I do think my friend wouldn't mind though, he's pretty nimble." You say in response.

You know buckles shouldn't pose any problem for Notaulix since he can use magic, but that's not exactly something you can mention right now. Your primary thought was just a bag he could fly with if need be.

"That's great! There's a better chance I may have the perfect bag for you. I'll need a few minutes to look through my inventory in the back, though. Do you mind the wait?" The stallion asks you.

"I don't mind. I'm in no particular rush." You answer him

"Good to hear. I'll be back as soon as possible." The stallion says as he returns to the back room, leaving you alone in the main part of the store once more.

With nothing else to do, you return to browsing some of the other things for sale, mainly the selection of scarves.
You find plenty of nice looking ones, some of which would even go well with Notaulix's colors, but a scarf is not something that you think is necessary at the moment.
Several minutes pass until you hear the sound of hoofsteps approaching, prompting you to return to the wooden counter.
The shopkeeper returns with three different saddlebags in the grasp of his magic. You almost immediately notice that a fourth one, quite different from the rest, is draped across his back.

"Here we are! I found three that are close to what you're looking for. Please take a look." The stallion says as he sets three similar looking saddlebags down onto the wooden counter.

All three saddlebags share the same basic design as the one you picked out, though with subtle differences.
The first saddlebag is almost exactly the same dark grey, but with a forest green trim.
The second is more of a medium grey with turquoise trim, in addition to the buckle straps for the top flaps being made from Barkmat instead of heavy canvas.
Finally, the third saddlebag is almost a charcoal grey with midnight blue trim. The top flaps, however, make use of a simpler, less secure hook-and-eye clasp design for closure.

"Hey, these are much closer to what I was originally looking for! But... What's the story with that last one you're carrying?" You ask the shopkeeper stallion.

"Ah, this? Well... I picked it out since it was similar to one of you desired color combinations. There's a bit of a story to this one. Take a look." The stallion answers as he sets the saddlebag in question on the counter.

In the process of moving the saddlebag with his magic, you noticed the stallion struggling quite a bit to do so.
On closer inspection of the strange saddlebag, you find it to be unlike any other that you have seen before.
The saddlebag itself is composed half and half of two materials; dark blue heavy canvas with black trim, and another material that you immediately recognize from your visit to the Royal Armory: Glyph Skin.
The design is different from the normal as well. The main bags are not quite as deep, but in their place built into the bottom of the bags are sturdy tubes fashioned entirely from Glyph Skin. One for each side.
You notice the emblem of the Night Guard is prominently embroidered into the sides of the bags, in addition to appearing as decorative silver buckles for the top flaps.
Finally, you can feel that it's quite luxuriously padded. There is also something hard and articulated embedded within the top padding.

All together, this saddlebag is deeply impressive and incredibly overbuilt, as if it's designed to last a hundred years.
Surprisingly, it doesn't feel that much heavier than a normal saddlebag; a few pounds at most, you would guess.

"What's this all about? This sure uses a lot of Glyph Skin." You ask the stallion.

"Oh? You know about that stuff? I'm impressed! I won't have to explain it for you then." He begins to explain.
"This is an unused courier's saddlebag from the Night Guard. A few years ago there was a mistake in an order, and a few too many of these were made." The stallion continues.
"Instead of having them sit unused and taking up valuable space for who knows how many years, they were instead offered for sale to the public." He concludes.

"Really? That's quite interesting... So why is one here?" You ask.

"Heheh, well... I bought one, thinking it could be an opportunity to make some bits. It's quite rare for Royal Guard equipment like this to be publicly available." The shopkeeper answers with a chuckle.
"Someponies buy things like this as a collectible, or keepsake. Others may have a genuine use for such a special construction." He says.
"Unfortunately for me, it's been years and I still haven't sold it. The average pony just has no need for something as extravagant as this." The stallion says before letting out a big sigh.
"At this point, I just want to get rid of it for what I paid. The magic resistant construction makes it a real chore for me to move around." He admits.
"I know it's probably not something that you want, either. But you're an unusual customer, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to show you it." The stallion says.

"Hmm... It's definitely cool looking. How much did you buy this for?" You ask.

"Ninety three bits." The stallion answers.

Your eyes go wide as you recoil at the price of the saddlebag... Just how much are those Glyph Skin boots you're receiving for free really worth? You can't help but think to yourself.

"Uhh..." You pause as you stare at the saddlebag, creating a silence in the air between you two.

You can't deny the practical value of this unusual saddlebag. Even something lightly armored like this could go a long way towards protecting Notaulix's life out in the Everfree.
Especially valuable is the magical resistance of the Glyph Skin used in its construction. Your thoughts return to your conversation yesterday with Sturdy Stitch about normal materials potentially being a target for magical attacks.
...You also can't deny that it simply looks cool.

The cost, regardless of how high it may be, isn't an issue for you, seeing as you have several hundred bits stored back at home.
Your present issue if that you simply don't have enough on you at the moment.
After giving it some though, you decide to attempt to negotiate the price with the shopkeeper stallion.

"Well, to be honest... I kind of am interested in this one. I think it would be a super cool gift." You say as you point at the Night Guard saddlebag.

"R-Really?! You're actually interested in it?" The shopkeeper exclaims, clearly surprised.

"Yes I am. One problem though." You say as you remove your bit bag and present it to the stallion. "This is all I have on me, about seventy bits I think. Could you possibly do that?" You ask him.

The shopkeeper scrunches his nose and furrows his brow as he ponders your offer.

"I understand if you don't want to sell it that low. Just thought I'd offer, you know?" You add.

The stallion lets out a heavy sigh before looking up at you with a weary smile. "No, no... I'll sell it to you for seventy bits, under one condition." He says.

"What kind of condition?" You ask.

"Promise me that you'll stop by again someday and buy something else, no discounts." He asks you with a light smirk.

"Hah! Alright then, you got a deal. I promise. Save me this one, I'm sure my friend would appreciate something a little more casual too." You say as you point at the charcoal grey saddlebag.

"Very well, I'll reserve that one for you. To be honest with you, I'm more relieved than anything that I don't have to lug that thing around anymore" The stallion chuckles as he empties out your bit bag onto the counter.
"Exactly seventy bits, sure enough." He declares before handing you back your now empty bit bag.
"Oh! You live in Ponyville, right? Do you already have your train figured out? You're not getting far with no bits." The shopkeeper asks.

"Yep, that's already taken care of. I appreciate the concern." You answer as you carefully rearrange your backpacks contents before loading the saddlebag into it.

"Just making sure... Well then! I hope you have a good day and a safe return trip home. Whoever that saddlebag is going to is very fortunate to have a friend like you." The shopkeeper stallion says with a smile.

You smile and nod in response as you lift your backpack onto your shoulders. "Thanks again, I'll be back here the next time I visit Canterlot." You say as you make your way back to the entrance.

"Thank you for your business! Take care!" You hear the shopkeeper call out as you step out onto the streets.

You feel very pleased with yourself as you begin making your way back towards the train station. You weren't expecting to strike a deal like that.
Even though it drained your wallet, if Notaulix is going to be working with you in the Everfree, anything that can help keep him safe is worth every bit in your mind.
Soon enough, you arrive at the train station where you find Twilight laying on a wooden bench, reading a book.

"Oh hi Anon!" Twilight says when she notices you approaching. "Did you have fun? Find anything to buy?" She asks you.

"Yeah, I picked up a few things." You honestly respond, though you have no intention of bringing up the saddlebag...

"Very nice. I'm curious to see what you got while we're on the train." The bookworm says with a smile.

You don't have to wait very long before the time to board the train arrives, which you proceed to do after Twilight presents your tickets home; Another gift of the Princesses.
Departing from Canterlot, you and Twilight sit together in silence for some time as you both stare out a window and watch the scenery roll by.

Transformation Information | Parts 85B - 94A

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Not long into your journey home to Ponyville, Twilight turns her attention towards you. "So tell me Anon, what did you find in the shops?" Twilight asks.

"Ohhh, just some food and stuff for around home. Among other things, I found a great cheese shop." You answer her.

"What kind of cheese did you get?" She asks.

"Some Pepper Jack and Mozzarella. I've been thinking about expanding my cooking skills lately... Think you and Spike would be interested in being taste testers for a quiche?" You ask in return.

"That sounds great, Anon! I'm sure Spike would love it." Twilight answers. "Mmm... I can imagine it. You're going to make me hungry before we return to Ponyville." She adds with a giggle.
"Would you like to borrow a cookbook? The library has quite a few of them." Twilight asks you after a several second pause.

"Maybe in a couple weeks. I'd like to read through the ones I just borrowed and return them before I borrow any more." You answer.

"Understandable. Either way, you know where to find them." Twilight says.

"Yes I do, and I know a certain bookworm that can help me find the right one, too." You say, prompting Twilight to smile at you.

Silence falls between the two of you as you return to staring out the windows of the train. Eventually, a thought returns to your mind...

"Hey Twilight?" You say, bringing the purple unicorn mares attention back to you.

"Yes, Anon?" She responds.

"I almost forgot. Yesterday after we had tea with the Princess, I heard her start talking to you as I was heading back to my guest room, but I could have sworn that I heard her mention my name. Mind filling me in?" You ask her.

"Oh, that? Princess Celestia simply asked me how life was going for you in Ponyville, and if you had made any new friends recently." Twilight answers.

"And? How do you think I'm doing lately?" You ask, now slightly curious.

"I think you're doing wonderful, Anon!" Twilight happily answers. "While I don't think you've made any new friends recently, you've continued to grow the many great friendships that you already have." She says.
"Above all, you've really carved out a spot for yourself in the community, Anon. You belong in Ponyville just as much as anypony." Twilight adds while nodding for emphasis.

"Aww, thanks Twilight. I'm just doing what I can... Which according to the Princesses is far more valued than I could ever have imagined." You say

"It's true, Anon! Even though we really worry about you, nopony can deny that you're doing a wonderful thing that affects everypony in the land." Twilight reassures you.

"I guess I just didn't realize the true value of some of the things I was harvesting. I knew many of them were medicinal, but I never really imagined that they could be used for serious, life saving medicine." You say.

"Just think, Anon; the things you have brought out from the Everfree Forest may have already been used to save a ponies life. Isn't that great?" Twilight asks you.

"Hmm..." You muse with a satisfied look on your face as you return to looking out the window, pondering over what Twilight and the Princesses have said to you.

The rest of the train ride to Ponyville proves to be uneventful, with you and Twilight only engaging in some occasional small talk about the visit to Canterlot.
Eventually the train comes to a stop at the familiar sight of the Ponyville train station, followed by you and Twilight departing the it.

"So what are you going to go do now, Anon?" Twilight asks as the two of you stand on the train platform.

"I want to make a quick stop back at home first... After that I'll come back into town and do a little shopping at the market for dinner. You?" You ask in return.

"First thing I'm going to do is go and find Spike and see how he's doing." Twilight answers.

"Alright then, I'll let you get to it. See you later!" You say with the wave of a hand as you begin walking away.

"Bye Anon!" Twilight says as she does the same.

The walk through town to the other side of Ponyville is uneventful. You're always hit with the reminder of just how peaceful and quiet it is here whenever you've gone on a trip to Canterlot.
That being said, even the center of Canterlot is like a peaceful walk through a park compared to the cities of your old world.
Once you make your way through Ponyville and arrive at the familiar dirt road to your home, you pick up your pace into a jog, eager to see how Notaulix is doing.

Approaching your home, you find it appears from the outside to be just as you left it. The curtains are closed, and no smoke comes up from the chimney.
You stop at your mailbox to check it, and upon finding you have no mail, walk up to the front door.
After unlocking it, you open the door and step inside before closing and locking the door behind you.

"Hey Notaulix, I'm back." You call out as you examine your surroundings.

Looking down the hallway, you find the bedroom doors closed, while the bathroom door is slightly open.
Moving into the living room and kitchen area, you discover that Notaulix is nowhere to be seen.
Walking up to the sofa and low table, you find a couple books, a blanket, and an empty tin of crackers and an empty glass strewn about on the two pieces of furniture.

"Notaulix?" You call out in a louder voice, to which you hear no response.

Feeling a bit worried, you decide to check your bedroom first for the absent changeling.
Upon opening the door to your room, however, all your worries disappear when you find Notaulix to be peacefully resting in your bed.
In fact, on closer inspection as you quietly walk to the side of the bed, you find him to be sound asleep.
The only thing you hear is the quiet sound of Notaulix breathing as the bed sheets slowly rise and fall with each breath.

You can't help but smile at how comfortable Notaulix looks, all snuggled in with the bed sheets pulled up around his neck, while his head rests on your pillow.
Feeling conflicted, you stand in place as you try to decide whether to wake him up or not.
You know that if you're going to make a quick trip back to Ponyville, you'll need to drag out the box you store your bits in from underneath the bed, which would no doubt wake the sleeping changeling.

You decide to let Notaulix rest a little longer, so you quietly make your way back out of your bedroom, gently closing the door as you do so.
While the house doesn't feel particularly cold, you set out to get a fresh fire going in the fireplace, just to keep things a little warmer come nightfall.
After cleaning out the fireplace and scooping the ash out into a metal bucket, you start a new fire that you quickly build up into a nice crackling blaze.

Moving on from that, you take a moment in the kitchen to unload your purchased foodstuff. The bag of crackers go on a counter, while the cheese is placed in an appropriately cool location to keep it fresh.
You also do a quick look-over of the pantry and kitchen counters to see what Notaulix ate while you were gone.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the apple pie and the cookies are nowhere to be found. In addition, it would appear that Notaulix has wiped you out of easy to eat things like crackers and fruit.

Having taken a mental note of things you need to buy in Ponyville, you turn your attention to the sofa and small table, which ended up being a bit messy.
You slide the books ribbon markers to their current pages before closing them, neatly fold the blanket, fluff the pillows, and return the empty cracker tin and drinking glass to the kitchen.
Returning with a small dustpan and brush, you clean up some cracker crumbs and other little bits of foodstuff from the floor and sofa.

Having done everything that you can think of, you decide to return to your bedroom in order to wake Notaulix up. You know he'll no doubt have trouble sleeping tonight if he sleeps too much during the day.
Quietly, you open the door to your room and walk inside, finding that Notaulix is still peacefully sleeping.
Walking over to the side of the bed Notaulix is laying on, which happens to be where you normally sleep, you kneel down in preparation to wake the sleepy changeling up.

Reaching out, you rest a hand on the bed sheets over Notaulix's side. "Hey there sleepy... It's time to wake up, I'm back." You say to Notaulix as you gently shake him with your hand.

"Mmmff..." Notaulix groans as he begins to stir. The changeling lifts his head from the pillow before letting out a big yawn. Afterwards, he cranes his neck to look over his back in order to see you.

"Anon... You've returned." Notaulix says with a warm smile and an expression that reads as being completely at ease.

You can't help but chuckle, finding Notaulix's behavior to be a bit silly. "Yeah, I'm back. Has everything been fine here? Are you okay? I'm kind of surprised you're still sleeping at this hour." You say to him.

"Mhm. Everything has been fine, though the food I've been eating doesn't taste as good as the food we make together." Notaulix answers.
"...Except the pie. And the... Cookies? That is what you called them, right? Those were amazing..." He adds.
"And... I don't know how to praise this bed enough, Anon. It feels like nothing I've ever experienced before. So warm, soft and comforting... How can you possibly rise from this every morning?" Notaulix asks you.

"You get used to it, I guess. I'll agree with you that it's a wonderful bed, though." You answer him with an amused smile.
"Anyway, I know you're really comfy right now, but you should really get out of bed before the day gets any later. You won't be able to get to sleep tonight if you don't." You say to him.

"Okay Anon, I'll be right up..." Notaulix says before flopping his head back onto the pillow.

You stand up and watch the changeling for several seconds, which then turn into minutes as Notaulix shows no signs of rousing himself from the comforts of your bed.

Did he fall asleep again? You think to yourself.

Letting out a small sigh, you get back down on your knees and reach under your bed to drag out the small wooden box which you store your bits in.
Opening it up, you proceed to fill up your bit bag with approximately fifty bits. Looking at what remains in the box, you would guess that you have around two hundred bits left.

"What are you doing, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

Looking up, you find Notaulix to have turned over in order to look directly at you with a curious expression.

"Just filling up my bit bag. I need to make a quick trip to Ponyville to pick up some stuff for us to eat." You explain to him.

"Oh... Is that what ponies trade with? I think I remember some of my hive sisters mentioning bits." Notaulix says as he picks out one of the small golden coins from the box with his magic in order to inspect it.

"More or less, yep. Gems and a few other things are sometimes used, but that coin is the standard currency here." You say to Notaulix.

"Interesting. That's good to know." Notaulix says, followed by depositing the coin back into the box.

"Sooo..." You begin as you close the wooden box and slide it back under the bed, before rising to your feet once more.
"I'm going to head back out now, okay? There's a nice, warm fire going in the living room now if you want to relax there and read your books." You say to him.

"Okay Anon, I will." Notaulix responds.

You begin to walk out of the room when you pause and turn your attention back to Notaulix. "By the way, we're going to have something special for dinner tonight, if I can find what I need in town." You say.

"R-Really?!" Notaulix says excitedly as his ears perk up to attention. "If the delicious food you've shown me so far has been normal, I can't wait to see what's special!" He adds.

"You'll see." You say with a smile before departing the room into the hallway.

After taking your backpack and emptying your dirty clothes into the basket in the bathroom, you are left with the special saddlebag resting in the bottom of your backpack.
Walking back into the hallway, you are left with the question of what to do with the saddlebag now. You're not sure if it would be better to show it to Notaulix now, or to save it as a surprise for when he's ready to help you.
Glancing over at the door to the unused bedroom, you recall that there is an empty closet you could keep the saddlebag in, if you wanted to save it as a surprise.

In the end, you decide to simply leave it in your backpack and save it for a surprise after dinner.
With a plan in mind, you head back outside while locking the front door behind you, before setting out on the dirt road to Ponyville.
You feel like you have a spring in your step as you enjoy the sunny, mid-afternoon weather.

Now that you've returned home, you feel completely at ease. The trip to Canterlot went very well, and Notaulix is safe and sound and seemingly in good spirits.
Today feels like one of those perfect days, especially with the dinner that you have in mind. Assuming you can get what you need for it, of course.
While walking down the dirt road, you continue to think about where you're going to stop at first once you reach Ponyville.

The trip to Ponyville that follows is uneventful, yet productive.
With a specific plan for dinner in mind, you set out to the marketplace and a couple different stores in search of the things that you needed.
Thankfully, everything that you wanted was available for sale. In addition, you picked up some other goods, mainly to restock what Notaulix ate while you were gone.

You also enjoyed some light conversation with Pinkie Pie, along with Mr. and Mrs. Cake during a stop at Sugarcube Corner.
All in all, your visit to Ponyville took about an hour; leaving you with time to spare before you need to get dinner started.
Having arrived back at your home, you go through the usual routine of unlocking the front door, stepping inside, and locking it once more.

"I'm back." You announce as you walk into the living room, where you see Notaulix poke his head up from the sofa.

"Welcome back, Anon!" He cheerfully greets you.

Looking over at the fireplace, you notice that Notaulix has continued to follow your instruction from before, regarding keeping the fire going while you're gone.
Because of that, the fire that you left is now down to a few glowing embers. You remedy that by stopping at the fireplace and putting some smaller wood on the hot coals.

Knowing that the fire will take off again, you walk over to the kitchen area to put the things that you bought away. "Everything been fine here while I was gone?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes, everything has been fine." Notaulix answers. "I'm sorry that I left a mess here... Thank you for cleaning it up." He later adds.

"No need to worry about it. Just be a little more mindful of those cracker crumbs in the future." You say with a smile, prompting Notaulix to smile in return.

Having put everything away that was in your backpack besides the saddlebag, you return to the fireplace to put a proper piece of wood on the now rekindled fire.
After doing so, you walk back to the front door, where you remove your boots and hang up your bit bag and backpack.
With that being done, you make a quick stop at the bathroom, before walking back into the living room and coming to a stop by the fireplace.

Enjoying the warmth of the fire, you turn around to observe Notaulix, who is once again deeply absorbed in reading his books.
You take in a deep breath as you feel yourself begin to unwind and relax. It feels good to be home.
Looking at the nearby clock, you would guess that you have about half an hour before you should get dinner started.

Walking over to the sofa, you sit down and make yourself comfortable on the side that Notaulix isn't laying on, prompting the changeling to look behind himself to see what you're doing.

"Mind if I sit here?" You ask Notaulix, to which he simply shakes his head in response.

"Cool. Do you want to discuss what you're learning in that book? Like we did before?" You ask him.

"Yes, I would!" Notaulix responds with excitement, before repositioning himself by moving closer to you and resting his forelegs over one of your own legs.

You grab hold of the book for Notaulix, prompting him to snuggle up into a more comfortable reading position as you rest an arm on his back, just like last time.
Notaulix then proceeds to tell you about some of the things he's been learning, while asking you questions and turning the pages of the book with his magic.
This continues on for about twenty minutes, until the conversation reaches a long pause.

"You're really doing a great job picking this stuff up, Notaulix. You'll definitely do just fine when you feel ready to help me in the Everfree." You say to him.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says in response as he looks up at you with a smile, clearly pleased with your commendation.

"By the way... When exactly do you think you're going to be ready to go out? There's no rush, I'm just curious." You ask.

Notaulix's happy expression turns into a neutral, if slightly troubled looking one as he looks away, bringing a forehoof up to his chin in thought.

"I... I don't know... How strong do you think I need to be?" Notaulix responds as he turns his attention back to you.

You hum in thought as you ponder the answer to Notaulix's question.

"I mean, I don't think you'd need to be in perfect shape. Strong enough to comfortably walk for a couple hours, at least." You begin.
"Actually, what would be the most important things for you is being able to fly, and being comfortable using your magic. Where do you feel that you're at regarding those two things?" You ask.

"Flying...?" Notaulix repeats as he turns his head to look at his insect-like wings, which are still riddled with holes from his magical starvation.
"If I tried really hard, I think I could fly right now. But not for very long..." Notaulix says as his ears slightly droop.
"But the more love that I'm able to take in, the more my wings will heal along with the rest of my body, making it easier to fly." He adds with a sense of positivity.

"Well that makes sense. Don't worry about the flight stuff for right now. I think the more important thing is your magic." You say.
"Especially being able to transform. That's really essential for moving back and forth from the Everfree. I know you couldn't transform yet when Twilight showed up, but..." You trail off as you think about how to phrase your next question.

"I could have transformed then... I'm sorry, Anon..." Notaulix says with a frown.

"Huh? Really? That's great, but... Why didn't you?" You ask.

"I... I-I was really afraid, Anon. I was scared that I would mess up, or I wouldn't be able to stay transformed long enough, or something else that could have happened." Notaulix answers as he looks away from you.

"Hey now, it's okay. I'm sure you would have handled it just fine." You say as you gently rub his withers in a comforting way.

"But... Do you remember when you asked me if I had ever seen a pony before?" Notaulix asks as he looks back up at you again.

"Yeah, I do. Why do you ask?" You respond.

"If I've never seen or been around ponies before, I don't know how to transform into one." Notaulix admits.

"R-Really?" You stutter in surprise. "But I thought... Didn't you say your... What did you call them? Hive sisters that lived among ponies? Didn't they tell you things about them?" You ask him.

"Yes, they did." Notaulix plainly answers.

"Okay, then couldn't they have helped you learn how to transform into one? Maybe by transforming into one themselves for you to study? I don't know..." You ask.

Notaulix's ears droop once again before responding. "Because our hive was starving, using magic for anything other than a necessity was forbidden." He responds.

"Oh, I see..." You say as a silence falls between you, during which you take in a deep breath and let out a sigh, after which a thought crosses your mind.

"So wait a moment, if you don't know how to transform into a pony... What exactly do you know how to transform into?" You ask.

"I can transform into a griffon." Notaulix answers with a hopeful look in his eyes.

"Oh really? That's actually pretty interesting. I didn't expect that, seeing as how uncommon griffons are around here... Though, you aren't from around here either, are you?" You say.
"That's beside the point though. If you can transform into a griffon, then that should be just fine." You continue.

"Yay! Have you ever seen a griffon before, Anon?" Notaulix asks you with a big smile, his wings twitching in excitement.

"Yeah, I have. From a distance. Never gotten around to meeting one up close before though. There's a couple traveling merchants that rarely visit Ponyville, who happen to be griffons." You respond.

"Why didn't you meet them?" Notaulix questions you as he tilts his head to the side.

"For starters, there's always a big crowd around them when they're set up and selling their stuff. And, well... I don't know..." You trail off as you contemplate your answer.
"...I guess I'm just a little intimidated when it comes to meeting new races, you know?" You answer.
"Notaulix, you need to understand that where I came from, us humans were the only truly intelligent race on the planet." You begin to explain.
"When I ended up here in Equestria, it was a huge shock to me to discover that there are many different intelligent races here. Even most of the wild animals here seem to have some degree of intelligence..." You continue.
"And even though the ponies were nothing but kind and generous towards me, it still took me several months to truly accept them and feel normal living among them as I learned their culture and way of life." You admit.
"During that time, I was always worried of saying or doing something that might be considered offensive to them. So... Yeah. I guess that's my reason why." You conclude.

"You were the only race where you came from? Wow... That's very hard to imagine, Anon." Notaulix says as he thinks about what you just told him.
However, his expression turns into one hinting at sadness before he begins to speak again. "Do I intimidate you, Anon?" Notaulix asks you, clearly worried.

"No, not at all." You reassure him. "I was worried the night I brought you here, since I didn't know what you might do, but you've dispelled those worries over the last few days." You say.

"I'm glad." Notaulix says, his expression softening.

You slowly nod your head a few times before changing the subject. "So how did you learn how to transform into a griffon? What brought that on?" You ask Notaulix.

"My Queen wanted a male to go with two of my hive sisters on a journey to a small griffon settlement named Talonsburg." He begins to explain.
"I was selected as a potential candidate for the mission, and was taught more about the griffons and how to transform into one." Notaulix continues.
"I wasn't the one who ended up being chosen, though..." He concludes while looking a bit disappointed.

"Why not? If you don't mind me asking." You ask.

"One of my other hive brother candidates could act like a griffon better than the rest of us, and was selected for that reason." He answers.

"That must have been disappointing for you..." You comment, to which Notaulix nods his head.

"Look at it this way though, if you were selected for that, we most likely would never have gotten to meet each other." You say in an effort to be encouraging.

Notaulix's ears perk up as he thinks about what you said before a small smile creeps back into his face.
"You're right, Anon. When you say it like that... I'm glad that I wasn't chosen." He says.

"See? There's always a bright side to things. Anyway, how long does it take you to learn how to transform into something new?" You ask.

"Most things, if they're a similar size to us, we can learn in about a day of exposure to them." Notaulix answers.

"Hmm... So do you just learn to copy one particular griffon, pony or whatever? Or can you become whatever you want of that race?" You inquire further.

"We can copy somepony if needed, which is a bit easier, but we all try to create our own unique identities." Notaulix answers.

"That makes a lot of sense. Would cause a lot of trouble if it was noticed that two of the same griffon or pony were running around, I imagine." You say, to which Notaulix simply nods in response.

"By the way, why 'somepony'? You've said that a few times now. Do all the other races use that too?" You question him.

"H-Huh?" Notaulix stutters, clearly caught a bit off guard by the question.
"That's... That's correct, isn't it? My hive sisters told me that is what the ponies of this land say... Everypony, somepony..." He trails off.

"Well yeah, but neither of us are ponies, are we? I don't mind, I was just curious." You explain.

"I... I've just been trying to use the speech that I thought you would be familiar with in this land. But you are right, Anon, you say it the way most other races do, including our own." Notaulix says.

"Everyone? Someone? Stuff like that?" You ask.

"Yes, just like that." Notaulix answers.

"Interesting, that's good to know. So anyway, if we planned a day or two, when you're ready of course, to introduce you to the ponies as a griffon, would you be able to transform into one after that?" You pose the question.

"Yes, I'm almost certain that I could. It wouldn't be perfect, but I could practice and refine it here where nobody could see. You could even help me!" Notaulix says with excitement in his voice.

"Sounds like a plan." You pause to glance at the clock to check the time. "We can talk about that more later though. How about we get that dinner started?" You suggest.

"Okay!" Notaulix says as he quickly climbs off the sofa before walking over to the kitchen area.

You do the same as you rise up and follow the enthusiastic changeling over.

Cheesy Goodness | Parts 94B - 97

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Arriving at the kitchen, you lean against the countertops and look down at Notaulix, who looks back up at you expectantly.

"What are we going to make? What's the special dinner?" Notaulix asks you.

"I'd like it to stay a surprise right up until the end, but I'll tell you this: It's an old favorite from my homeworld, and it involves cheese." You answer

"Wow! You acquired cheese while you were gone, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Yep. I could hardly believe that you never tried any cheese before, so while I was in Canterlot I found a nice cheese shop. What we're making is the perfect way to introduce you to it, I think." You explain.

"This is exciting! How can I help you, Anon?" Notaulix asks with slightly spread wings, displaying his eagerness to help work on dinner.

"Mind working on some vegetables again? I have a few things that I need to do; the preparation is a little more involved for this." You ask him in return.

"I don't mind at all!" Notaulix happily declares, before surprising you by jumping up into the air, his wings buzzing loudly, followed by landing on the kitchen counter in one smooth motion.

The changeling looks proud of himself from his quick ascension to the countertop, before he notices you staring at him wide eyes.

"Did... Did I do something wrong?" He asks you as his expression turns into a worried one.

"No, you just surprised me there. You must be really feeling better, huh?" You say in response.

"Yes, thanks to you." Notaulix says as he relaxes again.

"I'm glad. Hold on a moment, let me go get the things for you to chop up." You say as you disappear into the pantry.

You reemerge carrying an onion, two peppers, a small jar of olives and a fresh bundle of spinach.
Setting the olives and spinach down, you find that Notaulix, who looks at you expectantly, has already brought out the cutting board and knife.
Smiling, you walk over and place the onion and peppers next to him.

"Just dice these things, please." You say to Notaulix.

"Dice... That's cutting them into small cubes, right?" He asks you for clarification.

"Yes, that's right." You answer.

"Okay Anon. I will do that." Notaulix says.

With that, you leave Notaulix to his prep work as you begin your own. After returning to the pantry, you come back with everything else that you need for tonight's dinner.
You begin by mixing flour, salt, yeast and a little warm water into a bowl, which you combine until a smooth, slightly sticky ball of dough is formed.
The dough ball gets lightly brushed with olive oil, before you cover it with a kitchen towel and set it near the fireplace.

Next, you begin heating the oven up, followed by picking up another knife and a grater before bringing it over to the cheese that you bought in Canterlot.
Starting with the Pepper Jack, you tear open the waxed bag and remove the two pound block, which you then cut in half.
With a one pound block of cheese in hand, you begin grating it.
As you do so, you turn your head to look at Notaulix, who is currently sitting on his haunches, horn lightly glowing as he works on dicing the onions and peppers.

Eyeing the floating knife held in his magical grasp, you mentally scold yourself because of your potential foolishness.
You've been so caught up in caring for your new companion these last few days, that you've ignored the uncomfortable reality that at least according to the ponies, this changeling is an evil, dangerous threat.

While Notaulix has been nothing but good, friendly company who you more or less trust, you can't help but wonder what another one of his kind might do with that knife. Especially one that wasn't exiled like him.
You know that before too much time passes, you really should set some time aside to carefully read through those books that you borrowed from Twilight.
After doing that, perhaps you could speak with Notaulix in an effort to try and discern what the truth is.
Taking in a deep breath, you exhale loudly through your nose as you turn your attention back to grating the cheese.

Having finished grating the Pepper Jack, you scoop all of it up and place it into a small bowl, which you set aside.
Next, you bring out the one pound ball of fresh Mozzarella, which you proceed to slice.
Finally, you open up the small jar of olives. Upon removing a few, you carefully slice them up too.
With that done, all that's left to do is for Notaulix to finish dicing vegetables, and for the dough to rest a little longer.

You walk over to Notaulix, who smiles at you as you approach. "Is this fine, Anon?" He asks you while working on the last pepper.

"Looking good there." You respond as you lean on the countertop. "You do a nice job getting everything cut up about the same size." You comment.

Notaulix says nothing in response, but his smile slightly increases, along with his wings spreading out ever so slightly, betraying his appreciation of your praise.
You watch Notaulix dice the pepper for awhile, until you decide to test the waters with some conversation about his kind.

"So... About your, uh... Hive. What does your kind think about the other races?" You ask.

"What we think...? What do you mean, Anon?" Notaulix asks you, slightly confused by your question.

"I mean, with how you were nervous about coming into contact with ponies before, along with what you told me about the griffons... Are there negative feelings towards the other races?" You clarify.

"Oh. We hate those who attack our home, but we don't hate any race specifically. We are just... Cautious of them; those among them who hate us." Notaulix explains.

"But why would anyone hate you?" You question.

"I... I-I don't know..." Notaulix answers with a frown.

"Hmm." You hum as you slowly nod your head a few times. "I'll be right back. Once you finish that pepper we can begin putting our dinner together." You add as you begin walking away.

"Okay." You hear Notaulix say behind you.

You make a quick stop at the bathroom before returning to the living room. After putting another piece of wood in the fireplace, you check on the covered ball of dough and find it ready to be used.
Picking up the bowl, you then walk back over to the kitchen, where Notaulix has finished his prep work and is watching you with his ears perked up.

"What is that?" He asks you as you approach.

"Just come quick dough." You respond as you set the bowl on the counter and uncover it, revealing the dough ball.

"Dough? Like... For making bread?" Notaulix asks while carefully examining it.

"Yep, more or less." You answer him as you bring out a rectangular metal baking pan. "Have you had bread before?" You add.

"A few times. It's very good... Are we having a special bread for dinner?" Notaulix asks as he watches you arrange the metal pan and all the ingredients out on the countertop.

"Not quite. We're making pizza." You reply while removing a little flour from a jar and pouring it on the countertop.

"P... Pizza? What's that?" Notaulix questions, watching as you coat your hands in flour before picking up the dough ball.

"You'll see." You say while gradually working and stretching the dough until it forms a thin layer on the bottom of the baking pan.
After doing that, you open up a small jar of tomato paste before spreading it out as a thin layer on the pizza crust.
"So here's the fun part." You begin as you turn your attention to Notaulix. "You just put toppings on this however you want." You continue.
"Like this..." You demonstrate as you take the slices of Mozzarella and begin evenly spacing them out over the crust.

"Really? And is that a cheese?" Notaulix asks you.

"Yes and yes. This is Mozzarella, it's a soft cheese which doesn't have that much flavor by itself, but it melts really nicely." You explain.

Once you finish spacing out the Mozzarella slices, you turn and stare at Notaulix, who stares back at you in confusion.

"Is something wrong, Anon?" He asks you.

"Go ahead and build it up however you want." You say to him while gesturing towards the toppings.

"M-Me?! But Anon, I don't know anything about peetzer! What if I do something wrong?" Notaulix exclaims in surprise.

You can't help but smile and chuckle at the changeling, who is so worried over something as simple as pizza.

"It's 'pizza', and I'm pretty sure It's impossible to mess up. Just take a bit of each and distribute it evenly, until you think there's enough. Save the grated cheese for last." You explain.
"Don't worry so much about it; I have confidence in you." You reassure Notaulix as you give his head a few gentle pats.

Notaulix stares at you for several seconds as his worries disappear and his smile reappears.

"Okay!" He announces as his horn begins to glow. You watch as he begins to pick up small clumps of the toppings with his magic, which then get sprinkled around on top of the pizza.
"Is this fine, Anon? There is still onion and pepper left..." Notaulix asks you as he pauses.

"Looks great. I was hoping there would be some stuff left over anyway to add to a salad." You respond.
"Anyway, now we just take some of this..." You begin as you grab a couple handfuls of the grated Pepper jack. "...and sprinkle it on top." You continue as you do just so.

Finally, you grab hold of the baking pan with one hand, followed by momentarily opening the oven door and sliding it inside.

"And now we wait. What did you think of helping make your first pizza?" You ask Notaulix.

"It's exciting! How long until we get to eat it?" He asks you in return.

"About fifteen minutes. So if you want to return to reading your books or something, there's time for that." You say to him.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix says before spreading his wings and jumping off the countertop, with his wings buzzing loudly as he makes a quick yet smooth descent to the floor.

You watch the changeling as he walks over to the sofa, before climbing up onto it and laying down as he snuggles into his spot. He quickly resumes reading one of his books.

Taking a moment to stretch out your muscles, you begin to consider what to do while you wait for the pizza to bake.
The first thing you do is grab the bundle of spinach that you set aside earlier and quickly rinse it.
Next, you take the washed spinach along with the unused pizza toppings, and combine them together into a large bowl.
You then prepare a basic vinaigrette and use it to dress the simple salad, thus completing it.
Setting the bowl aside, you lean against the counters once more while you look over at Notaulix reading his book.

Having nothing else to do while you wait, you decide to be productive and do a quick clean up of the kitchen.
You put things back where they belong, in addition to bringing knives, bowls, and other implements over to the sink to be washed.
Finally, you take a damp cloth and wipe down the countertops, leaving them nice and clean.

The unmistakable savory aroma of pizza begins to fill the room, making your stomach growl in anticipation as you bring out two plates and glasses.

"This dinner smells very good, Anon!" You hear Notaulix call out as the scent wafts over to his location.

"It does, doesn't it? Brings back a lot of memories for me." You say in response.

"Did you regularly eat this back where you came from, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Regularly? No, but I had it often enough. It was a very popular thing to eat, especially since there are practically limitless ways you can make it to suit your own tastes." You answer.

"Wow... Are you the only one in Equestria who knows how to make it?" Notaulix questions further.

"Hah! No I'm not, thankfully. That would be really sad if pizza didn't exist here prior to my arrival. There's no restaurant here in Ponyville that makes it though. I've only seen one in Canterlot which serves it." You reply.

"Oh." Notaulix simply says as he pauses to think about the things you just said. "How much longer until it is ready?" He adds.

"About..." You pause to look at the clock. "Six more minutes." You answer.

"Okay." Notaulix says before turning his attention back to his book.

From your position against the kitchen counters, you ponder deep thoughts while you wait for the pizza to finish baking.
Soon enough, that time arrives. Taking an oven mitt, you open the oven door in order to inspect your creation.
Inside the oven on the baking pan, you find the pizza to be perfectly done and ready to come out. The cheese is thoroughly melted and starting to brown, and the crust appears to be good as well.
The only defect to speak of is a large bubble that formed on one side, though you know that is nothing a quick poke with a knife can't fix.

Grabbing the pan with the oven mitt, you pull it out and place it on the stove top in order to begin cooling.
It may not be a true traditional pizza in your eyes, being rectangular and baked in a metal pan and all, but you're proud of it nonetheless, and excited to see what Notaulix thinks of it.
While you wait for it to cool, you go ahead and dish up the salad into two smaller bowls, each with a fork, before bringing them both over to the small table in front of the sofa and setting them down.

"Is it time to eat?" Notaulix excitedly asks you as he looks up from his book.

"Almost. Just letting the pizza cool a little before I slice it up." You answer him.

"Slice it? Why would you do that?" Notaulix questions.

"Because it's easier to serve and eat it that way. It would be hard to share with multiple people if it was one solid piece, wouldn't it?" You explain.

"Oh, I see!" Notaulix says with a smile, before setting his book aside in preparation to eat.

You fill up two glasses of water and place them on the table, before walking back over to the rectangular pizza.
Taking a knife, you cut it up into six squares, which you then place one of on each of your plates.
Notaulix watches you in eager anticipation as you walk over to the table, carrying a plate in each hand.

"Here it is." You announce as you set the two plates down onto the table, before pulling up a chair and sitting opposite of Notaulix.

"Wow... It looks so different now! It's so... I don't know a word for it." Notaulix says as he stares down at his hot slice of pizza.

"Well, go ahead and give it a try!" You encourage him. "It's still quite hot, but it should be edible now." You add as you pick up your own plate.

You watch as Notaulix uses his magic to bring his plate close, along with grabbing the fork from his bowl of salad, clearly eager to try a new food.

"Hey, hold on there." You say to Notaulix.

"W-What?" Notaulix stutters as he looks back at you, clearly caught off-guard.

"You can eat it however you want, but the way it's intended is like this." You say as you pick up your slice with one of your hands.
"That's part of the appeal of pizza. You can just pick it up with your hands and eat it. Or hooves. Or... Magic." You explain.

"Oh... Okay!" Notaulix says before putting the fork back in the salad bowl.

You watch in suspense as Notaulix brings the plate close to his nose, where he gives the slice of pizza a brief sniff before lifting it up with his magic.
Finally, the changeling takes a small experimental bite off of one of the corners, and begins to chew...
Suddenly, Notaulix's ears perk straight up, quickly followed by his wings spreading out.

"Well?" You ask as a smile creeps onto your face.

"Delicious!!" Notaulix declares after swallowing his first bite. "Anon! This...This is...!" He continues before quickly taking another bite, this time a larger one.

You can't help but laugh at his reaction before taking a bit of the pizza yourself... Not bad at all. It could be better, but you're still proud of how it turned out for a first attempt.

Already almost done with his first slice, Notaulix pauses to speak again. "This is what cheese is like, Anon? It's so... Soft! And stringy! And... And salty! I love this!" He says before continuing to chow down.

"I'm glad you like it. There's all different kinds of cheese out there, with different flavors and textures." You say to him.

By the time you're halfway through your slice, a very happy looking Notaulix sits on the sofa after finishing his slice.

"Want some more? We have three slices each." You ask him.

"Yes please! It's so good! I..." Notaulix trails off as he looks down at his empty plate.

Suddenly, his expression begins to change as his smile slowly turns into a frown, along with his ears beginning to droop to the sides.

"Is something wrong?" You ask, feeling a bit worried.

"N-No, I'm fine. Everything is fine, Anon. This food is amazing, and... I... I just..." Notaulix trails off as he begins to fidget around slightly, clearly looking agitated over something.

Before you have a chance to question him further, tears suddenly begin to well up in Notaulix's eyes as he clambers off the sofa.

"Notaulix, what's wrong? Wha- Hey wait!" You call out after him as the changeling suddenly takes off, his hooves clopping loudly against the wooden floors as he gallops out of the living room.

A few seconds later, you hear the sound of a door closing loudly, leaving you sitting in place with pizza in hand, stunned as your mind reels over the sudden turn of events.

Those Peetzer Blues | Parts 98 - 100A

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Setting the remainder of your pizza and the plate down on the table, you stand up in order to find where Notaulix went.
For a moment, the thought crossed your mind that Notaulix may have went outside, but that fear quickly fades away as you remember that both of the doors leading out are locked.

Walking out into the hallway, you find the doors to the unused bedroom and the bathroom to be closed, while the door to your room is open.
You remember leaving your bedroom door open, and recall that the bathroom door was left open earlier.
With that knowledge in mind and a quick check of the unused bedroom, you walk up to the bathroom door.
Grabbing hold of the door handle, you gently attempt to turn it, only to find that it's locked.

"Notaulix? What's the matter?" You say with concern while gently knocking on the door.

You listen for a response, but hear none.

Pressing your head up against the door, you can faintly hear the sounds of sniffling.
You patiently wait by the door for several minutes, though it never opens. Taking a few steps back, you let out a sigh and rub your forehead while thinking about what to do.
While you want to help Notaulix, you don't want to force your way in there by unlocking the door yourself if he doesn't want you there.

With nothing else to do, you decide to give Notaulix some time to himself and return to the living room.
Once there, thoughts of the pizza drift back into your mind as you stare at your half eaten slice. You decide to walk over to the kitchen area and put the rest of the pizza back into the still warm oven.
After doing that, you finish off your own slice before choosing to stand in front of the fireplace.
As you stare into the gentle flames, you can't help but wonder what could have suddenly made Notaulix so unhappy.
Whatever it may be, you want to be there for him when he is ready to speak...

Returning to your chair, you sit back down and begin working on your bowl of salad, giving Notaulix some time to himself.
The minutes tick by, while you slowly eat your salad as you get lost in your thoughts, pausing only to put a piece of wood on the fire.
Nearing the end of your salad, the sound of soft hoofsteps alert you to Notaulix's presence.
Looking over to where the sound is coming from, you watch as the hoofsteps come to a stop, before Notaulix pokes his head around the corner.

Upon catching sight of you, Notaulix's ears immediately droop as he looks away from you, as if ashamed over something.
You don't say anything as Notaulix slowly walks back towards the sofa. Instead of staring at him as he does so, you choose to quickly finish off the remainder of your salad.
Notaulix climbs back up onto the sofa before greedily drinking from his glass of water. After setting it back down, he continues to look away from you as an awkward silence fills the room.

"I'm... Sorry, Anon." Notaulix finally says.

"There's nothing to be sorry for. Don't worry about it." You say in an effort to be comforting.

"B-But I ruined our dinner..." Notaulix says, his sadness still evident in his voice.

"Not at all. I put the pizza back in the oven to stay warm, and your salad is still there waiting for you... Do you want to talk about what made you so sad?" You ask him.

Several seconds go by in silence until Notaulix slowly nods his head.
"Anon, I..." Notaulix begins before pausing to collect his thoughts. "Your kindness, your... Love. All of this." He continues as he gestures around the room with a forehoof.

"When I ate the delicious food that you made for us, I could only think about my hive brothers and hive sisters and my... My Queen." Notaulix begins to explain.
"You saved me from death and brought me to your home. You treat me with kindness, provide me with types of food that I could never have even imagined..." He continues.
"...love to renew my body and sustain my magic, and a warm, comfortable place to sleep. You treat me like a friend even though I'm a changeling." Notaulix says.
"Why do we have to be so hated and viewed with distrust, Anon? Why does it have to be this way?" Notaulix questions while turning his head to look at you.

Despite the odd nature of his eyes, you can tell they are still filled with pain.

"Why do the majority of my hive brothers and hive sisters have to struggle just to survive? Why does my Queen have to be filled with sorrow when she is forced to exile her own kind when times are hard?" He questions further.
"Why... W-Why can't we live peacefully with the other races, so that all of them could be treated with love and kindness, eat delicious food, or have a warm place to sleep where they feel safe and secure?" His barrage of questions continues.
"And to be able to do all that without needing to stay transformed around the other races..." Notaulix says as his voice begins to become strained.
"If only everyone treated us the way that you do, Anon! That way we could- If only..." Notaulix trails off as the tears begin to well up in his eyes again, prompting the distraught changeling to lay down and over his eyes with his forehooves.

You get up and move over to the sofa, where you sit down next to Notaulix.
Resting an arm over the changelings body, you give Notaulix a reassuring squeeze between your arm and leg, in addition to the occasional pat on the withers in an effort to comfort him.

"I don't know why things are that way." You say to Notaulix.
"Back where I came from, there were lots of injustices and groups of people looking down on other groups, treating them poorly for seemingly no good reason." You add after several seconds of silence pass by.
"Sometimes you just had to live with that reality. But other times, people changed. Maybe one day things can change here too?" You say encouragingly.

Notaulix says nothing in response, though his breathing settles down as he begins to relax again.
You continue to sit with Notaulix as he stares at the fireplace, while you occasionally give him another gentle squeeze or a pat on the withers.

Eight minutes later, Notaulix finally turns his head to look up at you, displaying a weary smile. "Thank you, Anon." He says.

"I want more peetzer, please." Notaulix adds.

You chuckle before giving him one last pat on the withers and a gentle shake. "Sure thing." You say with a smile as you stand up.

Taking both of your plates, you walk back to the kitchen area where you remove the baking pan once more from the warm oven.
After loading both plates up with the remaining two slices each, you return to the table and resume your meal together.

Transformation Information, Pt2 | Parts 100B - 108A

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Having replaced the previous sorrow with salad and a few hot slices of pizza, you and Notaulix soon find yourselves relaxing in the aftermath of a great dinner.

"That dinner was so good, Anon... I'm full!" Notaulix remarks while patting his belly with a forehoof.

"Yes it was... Brought back some good memories. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I'm glad you're feeling better now." You say to Notaulix.

Looking over at the clock, you note that there's a bit over an hour left until nighttime arrives.

"So, going back to what we were talking about before dinner; about your ability to transform..." You begin, causing Notaulix to perk back up to attention.

"Yes? What about it, Anon?" Notaulix asks with excitement, clearly enthusiastic about the topic.

"You mentioned practicing it, and that I could help you somehow. How would that work?" You ask him.

"Oh! Once I learn how to transform into a pony, you can help me by telling me how accurate the transformation is." Notaulix begins to answer.
"I might get the teeth wrong, or the ears are not correct, the legs too long or too short, or the rump too large. You are familiar with ponies, so you can tell me those things!" Notaulix cheerfully continues.

"Ah, okay then... I guess. I have to admit, this whole concept is still very strange to me." You admit.

"What do you mean, Anon?" Notaulix questions with a slight tilt of the head.

"Well... Physically transforming into something else, changing the proportions and design of your body as you please. There's no way I can wrap my head around how that might work." You answer.
"I mean, the only way I think that I'll really understand is when I see for myself." You continue.
"Speaking of which, when do you think you'll be up to transforming again?" You ask Notaulix.

"I can transform for you right now, Anon!" Notaulix replies as he stands up and jumps off the sofa, before neatly landing on the floor, where he looks up at you with a happy expression.

"Woah, hold on now!" You exclaim while gesturing with a hand to pause. "I don't want you to transform if it's going to be too much for you and your magic at the moment." You say.

"Don't worry, Anon! Thanks to you, I think I'll be fine." Notaulix reassures you.

"Well... Okay, if you say so. Just don't push yourself. Let's see it." You say to him.

Notaulix takes a few steps away from the table to give himself more room. Meanwhile, you reposition your chair and lean forward slightly in anticipation of whatever it may be that you're about to witness.
After turning to face you, Notaulix takes a deep breath before his horn begins to glow...

Suddenly, bright green flames spring forth and envelop Notaulix, whooshing and crackling like a mighty blaze as they wildly move around Notaulix's location.
You nearly fall backwards in your chair as you recoil at the sudden display, while also raising an arm to shield your eyes from the bright fire.
The transformation process ends as quickly as it began. Upon noticing the silence as you steady yourself, you lower your arm, followed by your eyes immediately fixating on the sight before you.

Where Notaulix once stood, now stands the unmistakable half lion, half eagle form of a griffon. You can't help but stare wide-eyed as you take in Notaulix's new appearance.
Noticeably larger than before, Notaulix's griffon form sports earthy colors such as reddish, golden brown fur, creamy white plumage speckled with ochre colored spots, with a yellow beak and talons.
In addition, you find yourself caught off guard as you stare into a set of yellow eyes that are very clearly staring straight back into your own; a sharp contrast from Notaulix's unusual, nearly solid blue eyes in his natural form.

"What do you think, Anon?" Notaulix asks you in a new, yet distinctly masculine voice, his tail swishing from side to side as he anxiously awaits your answer.
"A... Anon? Is everything all right?" Notaulix repeats, concerned by the expression on your face and lack of response.

"Uhh..." You begin with a pause. "Yeah, everything is fine. I just wasn't expecting all of... that." You continue while gesturing vaguely with your hands. "Those bright green flames." You explain.

"Oh no! I'm sorry, Anon! I didn't think about that before transforming." Notaulix says as he looks down at the floor in shame.

"Ah, don't worry about that, it's fine." You reassure him. "Really though, this is amazing!" You say.

"R-Really? You think so?" Notaulix questions while returning to looking straight at you.

"I do! I feel like every time that I think that the magic of this world won't surprise me anymore, I see something new which does just that." You admit with a lighthearted chuckle.
"Still... I know you told me the other day that your transformation isn't an illusion, but it's just so hard to believe. Would you mind if I, uh... Touch and see what you feel like?" You ask.

You mentally cringe almost immediately upon the question leaving your mouth, quickly breaking eye contact as you feel your cheeks grow warm in embarrassment.
You're not sure if its the expressive eyes staring back at you, or interacting with the appearance of a race that you've seen before and know a little about, but the awkwardness of your question comes crashing down upon you.
While you are indeed curious about the details of changeling transformation, you wouldn't ever normally ask anyone such a question. It just feels inappropriate, you think to yourself.

"Okay!" Notaulix cheerfully answers, surprising you as you look back at him.

If your question bothered the changeling at all, it doesn't show. If anything, Notaulix looks happy.
Before you can say anything else, Notaulix walks forward, closing the distance between you in a few steps.
Coming to a stop in front of you, Notaulix presents himself at an angle, raising his left foreleg before resting his talons on your left knee.
You can't help but feel a little intimidated as you stare down at the sharp looking claws for several seconds, until you begin to look over the rest of Notaulix's griffon form.
Additionally, the fact that Notaulix now almost comes up to eye level with you while you're sitting aids in the intimidation factor.
You knew and have personally seen that the average griffon is slightly larger than the average pony, but to see the difference up close is something else entirely.

"Go on Anon, I don't mind! This is important to me, because you can tell me if something is wrong with the transformation." Notaulix encourages you.

"Right..." You say as you tentatively raise a hand and bring it to rest on the back of Notaulix's neck.
You immediately feel that the slightly shiny feathers that make up Notaulix's plumage are soft and silky smooth, with an underlying warmth from his body heat.
"Wow, it's so soft!" You remark as you slowly pet the transformed changelings neck a few times, in order to enjoy the luxurious feeling of the feathers more.

In response to your compliment, Notaulix's chest plumage puffs out in pride, making you smile.

Turning your attention to individual feathers, you single them out one by one and examine them closely, before giving each a gentle pull and finding they are firmly attached to Notaulix's body.
Next, your hand drifts down Notaulix's griffon body towards his midsection, specifically the left side of his body that he presented to you.
First you feel up and examine his left wing, now making use of both of your hands as the initial awkwardness begins to fade, and personal fascination takes over.
The wing feathers are not as soft, but they feel stiff and strong. You can also feel the powerful muscles lying underneath.

Meanwhile, Notaulix simply remains quiet with a happy expression as you conduct your examination, occasionally turning his head to look at you or what you're doing.

Despite the absurdity of the entire situation nagging at the back of your mind, deep down you are thankful that you have this opportunity to examine one of the races of this world up close and personal, feeding a curiosity you didn't realize that you had.
Finally, you shift your attention to the reddish, golden brown fur that covers the rest of Notaulix's griffon body.
Running a hand across his side, you note that a griffons fur is surprisingly coarse. While soft and pleasant to the touch, it's not nearly as soft as pony fur.

After several seconds of feeling his fur, you notice Notaulix has closed his eyes with a content look. With a grin, you know what to do next as you reach up and begin scratching his back along the spine.
The effect is immediately seen, as Notaulix's plumage puffs out while his head droops forward ever so slightly, his eyes still closed.

"Anon... That feels good!" Notaulix exclaims.

"I had a feeling you'd enjoy this. Ponies love these back scritches." You say before moving your attention up between his wings.

Almost immediately, an involuntary shiver runs through Notaulix's body as he begins to produce a soft, cooing sound, reminding you of a bird.
You can't help but laugh at the sound. You knew that griffons are half eagle, but you weren't expecting one to be making bird noises.

"Anon? What are you laughing at?" Notaulix asks while looking at you in confusion.

"Hehehe... I'm sorry, I didn't know griffons made noises like that, it surprised me. It's kind of cute in its own way." You admit.

"C-Cute?" Notaulix repeats.

"Sure it is. Anyway, don't worry about that. Let me finish looking you over real quick." You say while briefly resuming scratching Notaulix's back, much to his joy.

Turning your attention to Notaulix's left foreleg, you use both hands to feel up the structure of the leg.
Giving a gentle squeeze, you find yourself impressed with the firm, dense muscles there. You can't imagine these forelegs being anything other than strong.
Working down towards the talons, Notaulix shifts his weight, allowing you to lift up and hold his foreleg in place.

You spend some time looking over the various details of the talons. From the sharp claws, to the tough, scaly skin covering them, and even the articulation of the joints.
The versatility of the talons comes as a surprise to you. You've known that griffons can use them in a similar way to your own hands, but you can understand that fact clearly now.

A few minutes later, you gently lower the foreleg down and release your grip. "Wow... This is really neat, Notaulix. I have a question though." You say to him.

"What is it?" Notaulix asks in response.

"How do I say this... Things like those feathers are real, right? Can you lose them? What would happen if you lost a feather, then transformed back?" You ask.
"Actually, to add to that, what about injuries? If you had a cut or bruise or a broken bone, does that just heal itself when you transform?" You add.

Notaulix raises a few talons to his beak in thought before answering. "We... Yes, these feathers are just like real griffon feathers, and they can be lost." He begins to answer.
"If I lost some feathers, they would remain even if I transform again, since they wouldn't be part of my body anymore. The only bad thing for me is that I wouldn't recover some of my energy." Notaulix continues.

"What do you mean by that? Recovering energy?" You interject.

"O-Oh, um..." Notaulix pauses as he thinks about how best to answer you. "Do you remember what I told you before?" He asks.

"That thing about, uhh... About smaller and larger transformations taking more effort, or energy? Something like that, I think." You respond.

"Yes, that's right! When we transform into something larger than our natural form, like this griffon form, it takes more magic and energy to accomplish that transformation." Notaulix explains.
"But when we return to our natural forms, or transform into something smaller, we can regain some of what we used." Notaulix continues.
"A smaller transformation than our natural form uses less energy, but it's harder to maintain and drains our magic faster." Notaulix concludes.

"Harder? More so than transforming into something bigger?" You ask.

"Yes." Notaulix simply replies.

"Huh... Why's that?" You question him.

"I..." Notaulix pauses as his eyes widen in surprise at your question. Several seconds later, Notaulix looks away from you, appearing a bit downcast.
"I'm sorry, Anon. I don't know how to answer that question. Everything I have been telling you simply comes naturally to us changelings. It is very... challenging to try and think of how to explain certain things." Notaulix admits.

"Don't worry about that, it's fine. I think you're doing a good job explaining everything to me. I don't need to know all the details, I was just curious." You say while giving Notaulix some more back scratches to cheer him up.

"Really? You think so?" Notaulix asks as he turns his head back to face you.

"Sure I do. Hey, does touch and other sensations feel different to you when transformed?" You ask while giving Notaulix a pat on the back for emphasis.

"I feel things the way a griffon would feel them, yes. Whatever we transform into, we can feel, smell, taste, hear and see as they do." Notaulix answers.
"Although it's common to choose our senses to benefit ourselves. Almost every changeling chooses to keep their sense of smell, no matter what they transform into." Notaulix adds.

"That's interesting. Why smell?" You inquire.

"I was told that among the races, us changelings have one of the strongest senses of smell. It can serve as both a protection and a tool for us." Notaulix answers.

"Wow, is that right? This is very interesting... Anyway, I'm getting us sidetracked here. What happens if you get injured?" You ask.

"Oh, yes. Injuries stay with us. If I hurt my foreleg..." Notaulix pauses, lifting up his left foreleg for emphasis. "...my foreleg would still be hurt after I reverted to my natural form." He continues before lowering his foreleg.
"Most things stay with us. Any injuries, what we eat, what we drink, and... Oh! I remember learning of one of my hive sisters; after many trips to a small settlement, she and a pony stallion fell in love and were married..." Notaulix begins to recount.
"This meant she could live there as a pony mare for the rest of her life, and collect lots of love! Not long after the marriage, she became pregnant with her first foal." Notaulix continues.
"Even if she returned to her natural form, she would still be carrying the foal." Notaulix concludes.
"We were all so happy for Lunule... It has become rare for one of our own to find a mate among the other races." Notaulix says as his eyes relax and stare out into nothing, no doubt reminiscing of his old hive.

Silence fills the room as your conversation pauses, broken only by the occasional crackle of pop from the fireplace.

You use the time to ponder over the things Notaulix has told you. Many things seem to make sense, though you find yourself left with new questions in place of the old ones.
Regardless, you find all these things fascinating, if a bit over your head.

"Well..." You begin, breaking the silence. "Thank you for explaining those things to me, Notaulix. I learned a lot." You say to him.

"I'm happy I was able to explain some of those things to you, Anon." Notaulix happily says, now focused on you once more.

"Yep. Anyway, I don't see anything obviously wrong with your griffon transformation. You can go ahead and change back now if you want. To preserve your magic and all." You say.

"B-But what about the rest of this form, Anon?" Notaulix asks with a hint of distress.

"The rest of it? What do you mean?" You ask in confusion.

"You only examined my front half! What if there's something wrong with the rest of it?" Notaulix explains.

"Well uhh, you see, I... Uh..." You stumble over your words as you think about how to tactfully respond to Notaulix's concern.

"I mean... You remember what I said about having never properly seen a griffon up close before, right? I'm no expert, but everything I see here looks very accurate to me." You respond.

"Oh..." Notaulix says, his voice full of disappointment. "It's okay if you haven't been around other griffons before, Anon! I'm sure you can still tell if something looks wrong!" He perks up again, looking at you hopefully.

At that moment, you feel yourself becoming trapped. You can tell this clearly means a lot to Notaulix; you don't want to hurt his feelings.
You decide to go ahead and fulfill the changelings wishes, giving him the full examination that he wants. Though, you have no intention of making it a thorough one.

"All right, all right... Let's continue." You say to Notaulix, much to his joy.

"Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix cheerfully says, before moving forward slightly so that the left side of his rump is directly in front of you.

Suppressing the awkwardness and embarrassment that you're feeling, you press onward as you lay your hands on Notaulix's griffon form again, starting with his tail.
Grabbing hold of it, you gently pull the tail towards you in order to briefly examine it, while taking a little time to look over the tuft of fur on the end of it, which happens to be the same color has his wings.
Letting go of his tail, you turn your attention to the hind leg directly in front of you. Avoiding his rump and thigh altogether, you instead focus on the paw.
Bending forward, you reach down and grab hold of Notaulix's left hind paw and give a gentle tug. After a moment, the transformed changeling gets the idea and shifts his weight, allowing you to lift the hind paw.
After flexing the joints to get a good look at the underside of the hind paw, you find it to be almost exactly like a lions, a fact which doesn't surprise you.

Once you feel you've spent enough time looking at that, you gently lower the paw back to the wooden floor, where Notaulix resumes resting his weight on it.
Finally, you decide to reach underneath and feel Notaulix's belly area. While lightly moving your hand around, you stay far away from his hindquarters.
You decide to conclude your examination of that area by giving his underside a brief scratching, eliciting another pleased shiver from Notaulix.

"Alright, now turn around." You say to Notaulix after giving him a gentle pat on the side.

"Okay." Notaulix says as he does what you asked, turning around in order to present his other side to you.

You proceed to spend a few more minutes simply looking at the parts of Notaulix's body that you already examined on his other side.

"Well Notaulix, as far as my untrained eyes can tell, there's nothing wrong with your griffon transformation." You say to him in conclusion.

"Yay! Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix happily says as he turns to face you directly, his eyes full of deep appreciation.

"You're plenty welcome." You say with a chuckle.

You can't believe that for all intents and purposes, you just shamelessly felt up a changeling transformed as a griffon; an intelligent race of another world, and a male one at that.
Although with it all being said and done, you suppose it wasn't so bad... At the very least, Notaulix appeared to think nothing strange or uncomfortable of you laying your hands on him.

With that out of the way, you decide to get up and and stretch before putting another piece of wood on the fire.
Notaulix joins you by the fireplace, doing a very cat-like stretch of his own, making you smile.
Turning your attention to the clock, you see that there's about thirty minutes left until nighttime arrives.

Your gaze drifts across the living room until it settles upon the entryway by the front door. After staring for a moment, you begin to think about the special saddlebag you bought for Notaulix.

"Hey, before you return to your natural form, wait here for a moment." You say to Notaulix as you walk towards the front door.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix responds while turning his backside to the warm fire, before sitting down on his haunches to watch what you're doing.

Arriving at the front door, you grab your backpack and remove it from its hook on the wall, before returning to the fireplace.

"What are you doing?" Notaulix asks as you lower yourself onto one knee next to him with backpack in hand.

"Do you remember our brief discussion about having you work with me in the Everfree?" You ask Notaulix in response.

"Of course!" He eagerly responds.

"Right. Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that just as I have my own gear, you could use the same. So I picked something up for you in Canterlot." You explain to Notaulix.

"You bought a gear for me? To help me work with you?" Notaulix asks, his voice betraying excitement.

"I bought a.." You pause to lightly chuckle at the changelings odd wording. "...I bought a saddlebag for you. A pretty special one at that." You answer before digging into your backpack.

"A... A-A saddlebag...? What is that?" Notaulix stutters as he leans in closer to you, eager to see the thing that will help him work.

"It's something ponies wear to carry things, similar to my backpack." You answer him while pulling the luxurious Night Guard saddlebag, which you then hand over to Notaulix.

Notaulix, in turn, carefully holds the saddlebag in his talons, looking at it in wonder, like it's a precious object meant to be handled with care.

"Go on, take a look at it." You encourage Notaulix after tossing your backpack out of the way.

You watch as Notaulix fumbles around with the saddlebag for a few minutes, turning it around to look at the different parts and design features on the outside of the bag.
However, it quickly becomes evident that Notaulix has no idea what to do with the various straps and buckles built into the saddlebag, clearly demonstrated by his futile tugging on them.

"What do I do with this, Anon? I don't understand how it works." Notaulix asks, looking towards you for help.

"That's okay." You reassure him. "What I was thinking we could do is a test fitting and make sure this will work with your griffon transformation. I can explain everything to you along the way. Does that sound good?" You continue.

"Yes please!" Notaulix eagerly answers.

"Great! Hand it back over here for a moment." You request while holding your hands out.

Notaulix quickly complies and hands the saddlebag back to you. You begin by loosening the buckle on the thick main strap that runs under the belly, followed by pulling it loose so that the saddlebag can lay flat on the floor.
Once laid out for easy inspection, you notice a detail of the saddlebag that you previously overlooked: Additional metal rings of various styles riveted into place on different points of the saddlebag.
Confused as to what these may be used for, you open up the left bag where you find nothing. In the right bag, however, you discover an additional bundle of Glyph Skin straps with metal rings and connectors of their own.
Setting the newly discovered extras on the floor, you repeatedly look back and forth between them and the saddlebag in an effort to discern their proper usage at a glance.
As curious as you are, you take a moment to consider if bothering with them is really necessary or not at this moment. As far as you can tell, they are not necessary for simply wearing the saddlebag.

"What are those for, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"That's what I'm wondering. To be honest, I didn't even know these came with the saddlebag... They serve some sort of purpose, but that's not important right now." You say as you move the extras aside.
"What is important is this main strap here. That's all you need to wear it." You say.

"Hmm... So how does it work?" Notaulix inquires.

"Like this. You take the end, run it through this buckle, and..." You begin as you proceed to explain to Notaulix how to adjust the main strap, so that it will fit his body properly.

After having demonstrated it a few times, you hand the saddlebag over to Notaulix to practice himself.
With the help of his relatively dexterous talons, Notaulix is able to make the adjustments himself with little trouble.

"Anon? How do ponies without magic do this? It seems like this would be very difficult with hooves." Notaulix questions you.

"Well, the type of saddlebag most ponies wear just uses some sort of stretchy band, which doesn't need to be adjusted, and requires little effort to take on and off." You respond.
"Heavy duty bags and other things make use of straps and buckles like these... Earth ponies use this type of stuff on farm equipment a lot." You continue.

"How do the earth ponies adjust these and put them on, Anon?" Notaulix asks you, clearly interested in the answer.

"That's simple, they just... They uh..." You trail off as you try your best to recollect the moments you've observed earth ponies working in the field, or pulling heavy carts.

However, you soon furrow your brow, which Notaulix quickly picks up on. "Is something wrong?" He asks.

"To be honest, I don't know how they do it. Never really paid attention, I guess." You reply with a smile, prompting Notaulix to give you a griffon smile in return.
"I'll find the answer to that question for us another day, how about that? Either way, even with your magic this bag is unfortunately going to be a bit difficult for you to take on and off." You say to Notaulix.

"What do you mean, Anon?" Notaulix asks while tilting his head in confusion.

"This is a special saddlebag. This material here is magically resistive, meaning that you have to put in more concentration and effort to manipulate these parts with magic." You answer him.

"It resists magic...? Why would you get something like that?" Notaulix questions.

"Because I want you to be safe out there. You can never quite know what you might encounter in the Everfree. When I learned this saddlebag had built in protections like that, it just made sense to get it for you." You answer him.

"You... You really care about me that much, Anon? You would buy such a special thing for me?" Notaulix quietly asks you, his plumage puffing up as he does do.

"Of course I do! Shouldn't anyone show some concern for a partner working in a dangerous place?" You say to him.
"It's one thing to go alone and look after myself, but I can't help but feel the responsibility to look after anyone helping me out there, regardless of if it was you or anyone else." You add.

"Anon... Thank you." Notaulix says with heartfelt gratitude.

"You're more than welcome. Now let's go ahead and give this a quick test fit! Stand up for a moment and I'll help you." You say to the transformed changeling.

"Okay!" Notaulix quickly responds, handing the saddlebag back to you before standing up as requested.

After completely undoing the main strap, you scoot over on one knee to Notaulix's side, where you proceed to place the saddlebag onto his back.
You then adjust its position until it looks about right for his body. Next, you reach underneath Notaulix and grab hold of the main strap, which you pull back towards yourself.
Finally, you run the strap through the buckle on your side and snug it up, before securing it into place.

"There we go! How's it feel? Go ahead and walk around a bit." You say to Notaulix.

You watch as Notaulix walks around the living room with a spring in his step, frequently pausing to look behind him and inspect his new saddlebag.

"It's very comfortable! And it looks nice!" Notaulix happily says to you.

"It does look pretty cool, doesn't it?" You say with a grin. "Now you're looking like a real Everfree worker." You add.

At that remark, as if something clicked in his mind, Notaulix pauses as he looks at you with wide, happy eyes.

"Anon, I..." Notaulix begins as he spreads his wings out slightly. "Thank you so much!" He joyfully cries out while suddenly bounding towards you, much to your surprise.

"Hey, what are y- Woah!" You cry out yourself as Notaulix abruptly throws himself into you, his forelegs wrapping around with talons gripping you in a hug.

Caught off guard and off balance by the sudden gesture, you fall backwards, landing on the wooden floor as you find your face smothered in griffon plumage.
You wave your arms around aimlessly in surprise for a few seconds, before settling down and returning the strange changelings hug.
After releasing your grip, Notaulix does the same as he climbs off of you, looking down at you apologetically as he does so.

"Hehehe... I'm sorry for knocking you over, Anon. I just feel so grateful for this gift!" Notaulix explains.

"No worries. I'm glad that you like it so much." You say as you sit up on the floor.

"Now let's see..." You begin, pausing to glance at the clock once more. "It's going to be nighttime in about twenty minutes. How about you change back so we can quickly see how it fits on your normal self?" You suggest.
"Also, can you even transform while wearing something? Does the bag need to be removed first?" You add.

"That would only be a problem if I wanted to transform into something larger than this." Notaulix says before taking a few steps away from you in preparation for returning to his natural form.

"Good to know." You say as you preemptively squint your eyes in anticipation of the bright flames that stunned you the first time.

Not long after that, you notice Notaulix's eyes glow brightly before the bright green flames you were expecting erupt around him.
Being able to observe the transformation process more carefully this time around, it dawns on you that the bright green glow being cast across the room is a potential danger.
While it's still light outside, you wonder if this light is bright enough to be seen through the light and airy curtains covering the windows by any pony who may happen to be passing by.
And without any doubt would this spectacle be plainly obvious during the night, with the bright green glow no doubt filtering out from any nearby window.
You make a mental note that it would be a wise idea to, at the very least, pull the heavier drapes over the curtains before Notaulix transforms in order to block out the light.

Much like before, only a few seconds after it began, the green flames die down again, revealing Notaulix in his natural changeling form.
In addition, the saddlebag is still resting on his back, though you can see about an inch or so of slack on the main strap hanging below his belly.

"How do you feel? Did that take a lot out of you?" You ask Notaulix.

"No, not at all." Notaulix answers in his unusual tone of voice. "I feel a small drain from transforming, but your love and kindness is enough to keep it sustained." He adds.

"Well that's good to hear." You say in response as Notaulix walks up to you.

After spending a moment to tighten the strap and verify that it's still comfortable for him, you remove the saddlebag from Notaulix and drape it over one of the chairs by the small table.

"Think I'm going to try and take a quick shower and get ready for bed before it gets dark. Do you want in there after me?" You ask Notaulix.

"No thank you, Anon. I am clean." He answers.

"Alrighty then. By the way, I know how much you loved my bed, but... Are you fine with sleeping back out on the couch?" You ask him.

Notaulix looks up at you with a grateful smile before responding "Yes Anon, I'm fine with it. While your bed was amazing, this couch is still very comfortable compared to what I once slept on." He responds.

"Really? Well, I'm glad it's comfortable enough for you... I've been thinking, and maybe sometime after we've used your transformation to introduce you to the ponies, I could buy you a bed of your own." You suggest.

"M-My own bed?! I would love that!" Notaulix joyfully proclaims. "But... Why until after you introduce me to the ponies?" He asks, slightly confused.

"It's simple, really. As far as everyone around here is concerned, I'm living by myself. Don't you think it would be a little strange if I suddenly bought a pony sized bed?" You reason.
"We'll also need it to be known that you're living here with me, or at least temporarily staying for awhile." You continue.

"Ohh... That does make sense, I didn't think of it that way." Notaulix says.

"Right. All of that is something for another day though. Let's not worry about those things tonight." You say in conclusion.

"Okay." Notaulix agrees with a light nod of his head for emphasis.

With that, you depart from your changeling friend and head to your bedroom. Once there, you gather together a fresh set of clothes, along with the magic lantern from your bedside table, just in case you take too long.
Clothes and lantern in hand, you walk from your bedroom and into the bathroom, where you lock the door behind you.

Know Thy Neighbor | Parts 108B - 114

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Once inside the bathroom you place the fresh clothes and lantern on the vanity. Next, you strip down and place your dirty clothes in their designated basket.
Noticing that the clothes basket is almost full, you make a mental note to do some laundry soon. Either by yourself, or dropping them off at the cleaning mare in Ponyville.

You proceed to take a quick, yet relaxing shower before drying off, getting dressed, brushing your teeth and exiting the bathroom with your magic lantern in hand.
Taking a detour before retiring to your room for the night, you walk back into the living room to check on Notaulix, who you find snuggled up on the sofa with his blanket covering him, staring off into the warm fire in the fireplace.

"All good out here?" You ask him.

"Yes Anon, thank you." Notaulix says while looking up at you with a small smile.

"I'm glad. Well... Good night then." You say to Notaulix as you walk towards your room.

"Good night." You hear him say behind you.

Closing the door behind you once inside your bedroom, you glance at the neat stack of the three books that Twilight loaned you resting on your desk, the books involving the races of the world.
While you are eager to read them, you know it would need to be done by the light of the magic lantern. Though, after the long, busy day that you've had, simply going to sleep sounds wonderful.

Walking over to the desk, you examine the three books before deciding on one in particular, a medium sized book titled Know Thy Neighbor: A Racial Primer.
Beyond the promising title, the book appears quite old compared to the other two that Twilight loaned you. The cover is well worn, and the outer edges of the pages have discolored with age.
With the old book in hand, you step over to the side of your bed where you place it on the bedside table, after which you strip down to your underwear before climbing into bed.

After taking a moment to simply lay in place and enjoy the comfort of doing so, you roll over onto your stomach and prop yourself up on your forearms.
Reaching over to the bedside table, you preemptively activate the magic lantern, followed by grabbing your book of choice and setting it on your pillow in front of you.
Opening the book, you take a moment to study the first few pages, where you find that this particular book is a reprint of an older work.

Despite being a reprint, the book is marked to have been produced about 136 years ago, if your memory of the current age and year serves correctly.
Moving forward in the book, the first section you arrive in is unsurprisingly dedicated to the intelligent races that dwell on this world.
You quickly flip through the pages in an effort to find a section on changelings. As you move from race to race, however, you can't help but slow down and enjoy the beautifully done illustrations that accompany each one.

While searching in the book, the transition from day to night unfolds, soon leaving you with the cool glow of the magic lantern to read by.

After some time, though, you find yourself turning from the last page of the races section of the book, and into one dedicated to common animals.
Feeling disappointed that there was no information on changelings, you decide to scan through the rest of the book anyway, just to enjoy the illustrations.
However, you pause when the section on animals ends, and a section on monsters begins. A small section at that, judging by the relatively few remaining pages in the book.

As you continue forward into the new section, your progress slows as you spend more time staring at the illustrations of horrors that you have neither seen nor heard of.
Horrors being an apt description of what you are viewing; the previous illustrations were done in an elegant, classical way. These illustrations of the monsters, however...
The once pleasing style gives way to a more surreal one, inspiring fear. You can't help but look over your shoulder and peer into the dark corners of your room as a sense of paranoia gnaws at the back of your mind.
Turning another page, your heart nearly skips a beat as you find a page dedicated to changelings and its accompanying illustration.

The illustration depicts many changeling heads emerging from the darkness, almost as if they were a swirling mass, their dark bodies blending together.
They are depicted with featureless red eyes that glow, prominent fangs, and open maws lined with razor sharp teeth.
At the top of the illustration is the profile of something different, something larger than the rest, with a single glowing eye featuring a slit pupil staring directly at the reader.
You continue to study the illustration for several minutes, unable to peel your eyes away from it, until you suddenly hear the sound of steps approaching your bedroom door.
Startled, you quickly whip your head back to look over your shoulder in the direction of the door, as your mind races with adrenaline filled thoughts.

You stare at the bedroom door, listening to the steps until they come to a stop just outside.
A few seconds later, the handle begins to turn, and the door slowly opens just wide enough for Notaulix to poke his head into your room.
In this low light, you can't help but notice that Notaulix's blue eyes stand out from the rest of his body, similar to what you see in the old books illustration.

"Notaulix? Is something wrong?" You ask him.

"Nothing is wrong, Anon. I am fine. On my way to the bathroom, I saw a light coming from underneath this door." Notaulix explains.
"What are you doing, Anon?" The curious changeling asks you.

"Just reading one of those books I borrowed the other day to see if it had anything to say about changelings... By the way, you usually knock first before you enter someone's room when they're inside." You respond.
"...Or using the bathroom." You quickly add.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Anon! I... I..." Notaulix stammers as he looks down at the floor in shame.

"Ah, don't worry about it. I'm not upset, it's just something you should be aware of." You reassure him.

"Okay..." Notaulix quietly says before a period of silence falls between the two of you.

You wonder if you should say anything else while Notaulix continues to avoid looking at you. You're not sure if he is embarrassed by his intrusion, or possibly bothered by the book you are reading.

You don't have to wait long until the changeling resumes eye contact with you, though. "I... I'm sure it isn't good, but... What does the book say about us?" Notaulix asks you.

"I don't know yet, actually... It took me awhile to find anything on your kind in this one, I just found something a few minutes ago. Haven't read anything yet, but there is an illustration I've been looking at." You answer.

"An illustration?" Notaulix repeats while cocking his head to the side. "Do you mind if I look at it, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Uh..." You pause as you take a moment to glance back at the illustration in the book. "...I don't mind, but I don't want you to be insulted by it. The art is... How should I say it? Some creative liberties were taken, I think." You say in response.

"I understand." Notaulix says.

"Well, alright then. Come over here." You say to him.

You watch Notaulix fully enter your room as he makes his way over to your side of the bed. Once near the head of your bed, he rears up and rests his forehooves on the covers, in order to get a clear look at the book.
Turning the book in your hands, you reposition it so that it's easy for Notaulix to examine.
Notaulix, in turn, silently studies the illustration. At first, his ears perked up in interest. However, that quickly changed as his ears gradually drooped to the side.

"We don't look quite like... that." Notaulix quietly says while averting his eyes from the book.

"It's an old book, it shouldn't be too surprising that there's inaccuracies." You say in an attempt to encourage Notaulix.

"Yes, I understand." Notaulix says as he lowers himself back onto all fours. "Good night again, Anon. I'm sorry for bothering you." He continues while walking out of your room.

"Good night." You say just in time before the door gently closes.

Pondering the interaction that just took place, you can't help but feel bad for Notaulix. You could tell what he saw in the illustration was upsetting to him, even if he didn't let it fully show.
Letting out a small sigh, you simply hope that whatever thoughts that may be going through his head now, won't interfere with getting a good nights rest.
Turning your attention back to the book, you delve into what it has to say about changelings. While only a single page of information, you pick out a few key statements...

- Changelings are magical transforming fiends of the earth that prey on the life force of ponies

- Changelings are known for abducting family members and replacing them with one of their own

- Changelings attacks are carried out by crafty magic and other trickery, ending in them sinking their fangs into their prey to drain their life forces from them

- Changelings make their home in the dark bowels of the earth, where they are led by a great evil one; The Queen

- Changelings are indeed a very poor choice of neighbor

- If a changeling is sighted, or if there is suspicion over a friend or family member being replaced, a letter must be sent to The Princess immediately

While staring out at nothing, your mind runs wild as you meditate on the things you just read.
From your interactions with Notaulix up until this point, you have doubt that very little of this information is true, but you know that you need to keep an open mind for your own safety. There's still so much that you don't know...

One thought that you cannot shake from your mind is that of Notaulix's fangs. In the back of your mind, you've wondered what purpose those could possibly serve.
They didn't seem necessary for eating, attacking or defending himself. And yet, they are a prominent feature. Could they really be used to drain whatever this book is referring to as life force? You think to yourself
Additionally, as you glance back at the illustration, you can't help but wonder if Notaulix's mouth is filled with such razor sharp teeth, as it occurs to you that you never bothered to look before.
You continue to think about such things until a yawn interrupts your thoughts.

Having read enough for the evening, you close the old book and set it aside before reaching over and turning the magic lantern off, plunging your bedroom into the darkness of night.
Turning over onto your back, you rest your head on the pillow and settle into the familiar comfort of your bed.
While the luxuries of Canterlot are nothing short of exquisite, there's nothing better than coming back to your own home.
Staring up at the dark ceiling, you mull over the events of your busy day until sleep eventually takes hold of you.

You enjoy a peaceful sleep, until you wake up and find your room to still be dark.
Groaning as you turn over onto your side, a glance at your bedside clock, which tells you that it's still about two hours until sunrise.
Feeling perfectly comfortable in your current position, you close your eyes to drift back off to sleep. However...
Much to your dismay, your bladder is telling you that it could stand a trip to the bathroom.

Wanting to get things over with quickly so that you can return the comforts of your bed, you throw back the bed sheets and climb out of bed.
Taking a moment to slide your shirt on, you walk over to the bedroom door and quietly make your way from the hallway to the bathroom.
Despite there being no lights in the house, there is just enough ambient light filtering in through the windows from the bright moon and stars, which help you discern where you're walking.

After relieving yourself, you walk back out into the dark hallway. Instead of returning to your room, however, you decide to check on Notaulix.
You can't help but feel bad for when Notaulix looked at the illustration of his kind in the old book. In the back of your mind, you wonder how you would personally feel if everything written about you was negative.
Moving as quietly as possible so as to not disturb the changeling if he's sleeping, you slowly approach the sofa in the living room.

Once there, you find Notaulix to be bundled up in his blanket and sleeping peacefully.
Satisfied that he appears to be doing fine, you turn around and return to your room.
Upon returning there, you remove your shirt once more and eagerly climb back into your still warm bed, pulling the covers up around your neck as you settle back in for sleep.
Before you know it, the restful embrace of sleep comes over you once more...

Sometime later, you open your eyes to find your room bright with daylight. Taking in a deep breath, you stretch some of your muscles before exhaling.
As you lay in bed and work on waking up, you hear the sound of hoofsteps coming from elsewhere in the house, no doubt those of Notaulix doing something.

After several minutes, you finally rise from your bed, get dressed, and stretch some more to wake your muscles up for another busy day.
Opening the door to your room, you step out into the hallway as you make your way to the living room in order to see how Notaulix is doing.
While rounding the corner into the kitchen, you find Notaulix to be standing on one of the countertops, much to your surprise.
Notaulix, who was filling up a glass of water, turns to look at you as he hears you approach.

"Good morning, Anon!" Notaulix cheerfully greets you with a smile.

"Good morning." You say with a chuckle. "You're full of energy today, aren't you?" You add.

"Yes, I am!" Notaulix says in response before drinking from his freshly filled glass of water.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that. Did you sleep well last night?" You ask.

"Yes, I did." He says while nodding in response.

"Mm..." You hum as you lean up against the countertop. "Last night, did that book... Well... Did it bother you at all?" You ask him.

Notaulix's happy expression turns to a more neutral one before answering. "It doesn't feel good to know what bad things others think about you, but... I expected it." He responds.
"Knowing that you don't feel the same way as those books do helps me to not feel hurt by them." Notaulix adds, his smile returning.

"I see. That's good... Maybe we could sit down together one of these days and read some of those books? You could tell me what's accurate and what's not." You suggest.

"That would be fine." Notaulix says.

"Great! Now, we have another decision to make today." You say while peering out the kitchen window, where you find it to be a slightly overcast, but otherwise nice day outside.

"What kind of decision, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Now that we know you can transform well, and that the saddlebag fits you, do you want to put some of those book smarts to work and make a little trip into the Everfree today?" You ask in return.

"Yes! I would love to! When do we go?" Notaulix eagerly responds.

"Right after breakfast?" You suggest.

"Okay! Let's have breakfast now!" Notaulix responds with enthusiasm, making you laugh.

"Alright, slow down now. Is there something in particular you would like for breakfast?" You ask.

Notaulix pauses as he considers his answer. "I don't know, Anon... How can I choose? Everything you have made for me has been delicious; I can only dream of what else you know how to make!" He says.

"Hah! I think you're thinking too highly of me. How about something quick and easy? Could do some scrambles eggs, with a little of that extra Pepper Jack cheese mixed in." You suggest.

"Yes, let's do that!" Notaulix agrees

"Let's get started then. Do you want to grate some of the cheese while I get the eggs ready?" You ask him.

"Okay!" Notaulix happily responds.

You proceed to make cheesy scrambled eggs with Notaulix. In addition to having him grate the cheese, you also had him try his hoof at scrambling the eggs in the hot pan, which he was quite successful at.
While Notaulix was working on his task, you prepared some simple toast to go along with your meal.
In little time, the two of you were sat down in the living room, enjoying your hot breakfast together.
Notaulix was particularly impresses by how much more flavorful the scrambled eggs were with a little cheese added, and expressed his interest in trying different kinds of cheese.
Soon enough, you both finish your simple meal as you begin to think about what to do next.

Gerson The Griffon | Parts 115 - 122A

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In the aftermath of breakfast, you begin to think of something important regarding Notaulix's griffon disguise...

"Hey, Notaulix?" You say to the changeling, who promptly focuses his attention on you.

"Yes, Anon?" He asks.

"Back when you were training to go to that griffon town, did you have a name to go along with your transformation?" You ask him.

"Of course. I was to go by the name of Gerson. Why do you ask, Anon?" Notaulix asks in return while slightly tilting his head in curiosity.

"I'm not planning on it happening today, but if we do run into a pony, either going to or returning from the forest, we need a name for you, along with a story." You respond.

"A story? What do you mean?" Notaulix questions.

"The reason why you're here, and presumably staying with me. Griffons are an uncommon sight around here, so any pony who may see you around is bound to be curious." You answer.

"Oh, that's right... Do you have any ideas, Anon? And... Does my name sound okay to you?" Notaulix asks.

"That name sounds fine to me, though I'm not exactly knowledgeable on griffon names... As for why you would be here, that's... Well... Hm." You begin to answer as you pause for a moment to think.

Meanwhile, Notaulix patiently sits in comfort on the sofa as he waits for you to continue.

In your mind, you run through multiple scenarios until you settle on one that feels plausible enough to be believable. Or, at the very least, believable in this fantastical, magical world.

"...How about something like this: You were a bit of a loner who didn't quite fit in where you came from, so you decided to get out and see some of the world." You continue.
"You ended up wandering into the Everfree Forest unprepared, and subsequently got yourself ensnared in some Tanglehoof, where you began to starve." You elaborate.
"Thankfully, I happened to nearby during one of my trips and heard your cries for help, and was able to rescue you and bring you back here, where I took care of you. How's that sound? Mixes some truth in." You conclude.

"Yes, that would work!" Notaulix enthusiastically agrees.

"Good. I'm glad you think so too. Although..." You trail off as your brow furrows in thought.

"Is something wrong, Anon?" Notaulix questions.

"Well... Not really, it's just that I can think of a few ponies who might question why I didn't bring you to the Ponyville Hospital, or mention anything to anyone else." You explain.
"Although, I think that would be a problem no matter what story we might come up with. Ponies are normally quick to spread news of new arrivals and friends." You add.

"O-Oh... Will this really be okay, Anon?" Notaulix asks, sounding slightly worried.

"Sure, I think so. If we do meet someone, just act naturally, don't get all nervous." You respond.

"Okay Anon, I trust you." Notaulix says with a smile.

"I appreciate that." You smile in return. "As for why you're staying with me, we could say something along the lines that you were interested in my profession, and wanted to repay me saving you by helping as an apprentice." You say.

"I think that's also a good explanation!" Notaulix says.

"It'll do for now, at least. We can always consider it more another time. Instead, how about we get ready to head out?" You suggest.

"Yes! Let's do so!" Notaulix eagerly responds while jumping off the sofa. "What do you want me to do, Anon?" He adds.

"Go head into the bathroom and do your transformation there. Once I get my stuff ready, we'll get your saddlebag on." You say to him.

"The bathroom? Why do you want me to transform there, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Because that transformation process of yours puts out a lot of light. It occurred to me yesterday that if we're not careful, it could be seen by someone." You explain.

"I didn't think of that... The bathroom would make a safe place to transform then." Notaulix agrees as he begins to walk away.

"Just make sure to cover that one window." You call out to Notaulix.

"Okay." He responds.

Satisfied with that matter being taken care of, you rise up and begin getting prepared yourself.

The first thing you do is put on and lace up your boots, briefly pausing while doing so as you reflect on the fact that this may be one of the last times you wear these old boots.
While the boots themselves were not particularly special, they are one of the few keepsakes that you have from your home world.
When you have the time, you plan on making full use of the special grease that Sturdy Stitch provided you, in order to try and preserve them for a long time to come.

Putting those thoughts aside, you continue with your preparation as you walk down the hallway, into your room, and over to the closet.
Besides your backpack, there are a few other pieces of gear that are brought with you into the Everfree, which you usually keep within your bedroom closet.
Onto your belt, you place a knife, a small first aid pouch, another small pouch for storing things, and a larger third pouch meant to contain a few magical fire starters with a container of sticky tree sap mixed with other ingredients.

The fire starters were a solution made by Twilight Sparkle to tackle one of the Everfree Forest's most common dangers: Timberwolves.
While usually not overly aggressive, they are an ever-present danger in all regions of the forest; one that you needed a plan to handle on your own.
Lacking the luxuries of flight or magic, you instead took advantage of the fact that Timberwolves have an aversion to fire, being easily combustible themselves.
With the help of Twilight Sparkle, and several humorous tests that may or may not have been gossiped about throughout Ponyville for months to come, you were able to come up with the system that you use now.

The fire starters themselves are magically infused crystals, each about the size of a chicken egg, which respond to a sharp impact by breaking apart and burning up.
During the time that the crystal is burning, you hope to find a suitable stick to pick up and coat with the tree sap mixture, making a makeshift torch that will hopefully burn long enough to get you out of danger.
You can count on one hand the amount of times you have had to do this, but it worked perfectly each time.

The only downside to these fire starters is that it requires caution while you carry them with you, as a hard enough impact, either by bumping into something or falling on them, could set them off.
For this reason, you keep the actual fire starters safely outside of your home, and the pouch they travel in fits loosely on your belt, allowing you to easily toss the pouch away if they did go off.

With everything on your belt in place, you grab a few small woven baskets before leaving the closet behind and exiting your room, where you find Notaulix in his griffon form waiting in the hallway.

"Are you ready to go now, Anon?" Notaulix asks you, clearly excited and eager to depart.

"Almost, just need a couple more things." You say as you walk past him and grab your backpack, which you stuff the baskets into.

Notaulix follows behind as you walk towards the kitchen with backpack in hand, where you proceed to fill up a canteen of sorts of water.
It occurs to you, however, that there's no such water container for Notaulix. You make a mental note to buy one for him, and to try and make this trip a bit short.

"Let's get your saddlebag on." You say to Notaulix after placing the canteen in your backpack.

"Okay!" Notaulix says as he follows you over to where you left the saddlebag last night.

Placing the saddlebag onto Notaulix's back and securing it into place takes only a few seconds, being a relatively easy task for you.
Finally, you grab your coat and put it on, before placing your backpack onto your body.

"Alrighty then. Are you ready for your big outing?" You ask Notaulix with a smile.

"Yes! Let's go to the Everfree Forest!" He responds.

With that, you walk over to the side door by the fireplace and unlock it before opening it, feeling the cold morning air rush into the house as you do so.

"Wait here for a moment." You say to Notaulix as you step outside to check if anyone else may be nearby.

Satisfied that you're clear to go, you return to the side door where you gesture Notaulix to come on out.
Notaulix does just so, until he reaches the threshold of the door, where he suddenly stops.

"What's wrong?" You ask him.

"I... I'm a little nervous... Is it really safe to leave?" Notaulix admits as he pokes his head outside to look around.

"As safe as it'll ever be. It'll be fine." You say in an effort to encourage him.

"O-Okay..." Notaulix says as he finally steps outside onto the porch. You close the door after him and lock it, before turning around and beginning your journey with your changeling companion following at your side.

You walk past the woodshed at a brisk pace until you soon arrive at a patch of small trees and shrubbery. Nestled among the bushes is a small wooden box, which you kneel down at.

"What are those, Anon?" Notaulix asks as he watches you carefully place a few small crystals of assorted color into one of the pouches on your belt.

"I'll explain on our way over. Let's keep moving." You say in response while you rise back up onto your feet.

You explain the fire starters and their purpose to Notaulix as you continue on your way towards the Everfree Forest, making use of small stands of trees and underbrush to stay concealed.
After several minutes of walking, you reach a point where the surrounding vegetation begins to change, marking the edge of the Everfree Forest.
You press onward for a short distance, until you come to a stop well within the Everfree Forest.

"Here we are! This should be good enough..." You pause as you look around and listen carefully to determine if anyone happened to follow you.

Satisfied that nobody else is there, you turn your attention to Notaulix, who is looking up at you expectantly.

"You can go ahead and transform back to your normal self now. It should be fine." You say to Notaulix.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix says before moving away from you in preparation to transform.

However, you watch in confusion as the transformation never occurs. Instead, Notaulix begins to look slightly troubled as he raises a talon to his beak in thought.

"What's wrong?" You ask Notaulix.

"Anon..." Notaulix begins to respond as he looks up at you. "What if it isn't a good idea for me to return to my normal self?" He says to you.

"What do you mean? Is there a problem?" You ask him.

"W-Well, no... It's just... I didn't think about it yesterday, but if I return to my natural form, and you tighten the saddlebag to fit me, I won't be able to transform quickly if we encounter someone." Notaulix explains.

"I could only transform into a small griffon, which might look strange to someone who has seen a griffon before." He continues.

"Hmm. That's a good point." You admit. "I understand the concern, though besides the occasional visit with Zecora, I have never seen anyone else out here." You say to Notaulix.

"Zecora? Who is that?" Notaulix asks.

"She's a zebra who lives by herself in the eastern part of the forest. She's a sort of shaman who's very knowledgeable in making use of the things that grow here in the Everfree. I've learned a lot from her." You answer him.

"Why does she live by herself? In this forest of all places?" Notaulix asks with a measure of surprise in his voice.

"That's a bit of a story... To make it short, the ponies in Ponyville were afraid of her for quite some time, making her a bit of an outcast. Because of that, she chose to make a home for herself in the Everfree." You begin to explain.
"The ponies are friendly with her now, though. Regardless of that, she's continued to live where she is. I've asked her why myself, but the best I've gotten are vague, cryptic answers." You continue.
"But that's okay, really. If you spend some time with Zecora, you can clearly tell that she enjoys living here, for one reason or another. It's where she wants to be." You conclude.

"Zecora sounds like an interesting zebra, Anon. How likely are we to encounter her?" Notaulix asks.

"Extremely unlikely, I wouldn't worry about that. She doesn't wander from her area that she's established at in the eastern part of the forest." You answer.
"Something to do with how she's able to ward away most dangerous creatures... I don't understand how she does it, though I've never really asked, either." You add.

"It sounds like it would be dangerous for me to go near there, Anon." Notaulix comments.

"You might be right. No need to worry though, I wasn't planning on going anywhere near Zecora's territory today." You reassure Notaulix.

"I'm glad, Anon." Notaulix says, after which a period of silence creeps back into your conversation once more.
"Still... Wouldn't it be safer for me to remain a griffon, Anon? As long as I'm with you, I can sustain this form. P-Plus, I'm physically stronger like this, too!" Notaulix speaks up while giving you a griffon style smile.

"But what about your magic? Don't you want to be able to make use of it if you need to?" You question him.

"I can still use my magic! It's just... Harder to use it, without transforming into something that normally uses magic." Notaulix answers.

"Like a unicorn?" You ask.

"Yes, like a unicorn." Notaulix says.

"Huh... Well, this is a lot to suddenly think about, now that we're out here." You say.

"I know, and I'm sorry, Anon... Whatever you think is best, I will do that. I trust you." Notaulix says, giving you another smile.

"There's no need to be sorry about anything. Do what you're comfortable with. If you want to stay a griffon on this trip, that's fine with me." You reassure him.

"Really? You don't mind?" Notaulix asks you.

"Not at all. This is just a simple outing to help you get used to my line of work, after all. Besides, getting some time in brushing up on your griffon skills is probably a good thing, for when we have you eventually meet the ponies." You answer.

"Thank you, Anon! For this journey, I will remain in this form." Notaulix says with eyes full of gratitude.

You chuckle as you take a few steps forward and pat the transformed changelings head a few times, taking a moment to ruffle his plumage as you do so.

"Alrighty then, let's continue on and see what all you've picked up from those books of mine." You say as you begin walking deeper into the Everfree Forest.

"Okay!" Notaulix says with enthusiasm as he closely follows at your side.

Not long after you begin walking, Notaulix speaks up. "Anon? If Zecora lives in the eastern part of the Everfree Forest, where are we going?" He asks.

"Right here in this region, the southeastern corner of the forest. For the Everfree, it's pretty tame around here." You answer him.

"Safety is good. Why would you go elsewhere in this forest, Anon?" Notaulix questions you.

"Well... It can be slim pickings around here, especially in the winter. There's a lot of valuable things that simply don't grow here." You respond.

"Oh. That doesn't sound good... I hope we can find something." Notaulix says.

"I'm sure we will. We may be nearing the beginning of winter, but there's still some of that autumn bounty out there. Keep those eyes focused." You encourage Notaulix.

"I will!" Notaulix proudly proclaims.

With that, you and Notaulix begin your first trip into the southeastern corner of the Everfree Forest, carefully searching for valuable goods to harvest and interesting things to observe.

The journey that follows goes smoothly, with nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary occurring.
Not long after you started, Notaulix found and correctly identified his first few beneficial mushrooms, making him feel very proud.
You couldn't help but feel happy for the changeling as well. Despite there not being much to harvest today, you could clearly tell that being out and doing this work was satisfying to Notaulix.
In a way, it was surreal to you; having only a few days ago rescued from this forest a member of a race that you had never met before, and now you here you are, working together.

Even though you are still learning about and growing accustomed to Notaulix, you found yourself surprised by just how much more comfortable you feel wandering the Everfree with a companion.
There's just no substitute for the safety that another pair of eyes and ears brings, especially in a place such as this.
As the day progressed, the grey overcast started to break up, allowing some much appreciated sunlight to filter through the overhead forest canopy.

After a few hours, you decide to call it quits for the day, mainly due to the lack of water for Notaulix.
You grew thirsty yourself, but you chose to not drink from your canteen, out of respect for Notaulix not having one of his own.
During the walk back out towards the Everfree's edge, you calculated in your mind what your meager harvest of mushrooms and herbs may be worth: About 15 bits, you guess.
Nothing spectacular, but still an honest days wage; one similar to what the average pony makes.

For Notaulix's sake, you hope to get every one of those bits when you sell your goods. Although, you suspect that he could care less about the bits, and instead is happy just to be out and working.
Regardless of that, you still plan to present him with his share of the bits later.

Leaving the Everfree Forest behind, you retrace your steps until you arrive at the hidden box near your home, where you store the crystal fire starters.
After carefully returning the crystals from your pouch, you pause for a moment as you consider the best way to get Notaulix back inside without being seen.
From your current point of view, you cannot see or hear any ponies nearby, either on the ground or in the sky. However, you know that such observations don't mean much in forested areas such as this.

"Let's go." You say to Notaulix, who follows you wordlessly as you leave the cover of the trees and underbrush behind.

Passing by the woodshed, you find the coast to the be clear when you continue to see anyone around as you approach the side porch.
With the key already in hand as you walk up the steps, you unlock the side door and open it for Notaulix, who quickly moves inside.
You enter your home after him, closing and locking the door behind you as you do so.

Turning around, you watch Notaulix as he breathes a sigh of relief before looking up at you. "We did it, Anon!" He triumphantly says.

"Yep! You did great out there for your first time." You say, giving him a warm smile in response.

Notaulix basks in your praise for a moment, before giving you a sheepish look.

"Anon... Would you mind taking off the saddlebag for me before we do anything else?" Notaulix asks you.

"Oh, uh. Sure." You say before kneeling down next to Notaulix's griffon form, then unfastening the main strap holding the saddlebag to his body.

Grabbing hold of the saddlebag, you take it with you as you rise back to your feet. "There you go." You say to Notaulix.

"Thank you!" Notaulix says before hurrying off and disappearing around a corner into the hallway, where you hear the sound of a door closing.

Curious, you walk over to the hallway and peer around the corner, where you find the bathroom door to be closed.
You can't imagine that Notaulix wanting to go there and transform back so quickly. Though, seeing as how neither of you stopped to relieve yourselves during your trip, you can understand his haste.
Returning to the living room, you walk up to one of the chairs and drape Notaulix's saddlebag over it, which happens to be empty.
Early on, you both decided on just having you carry whatever is found in your backpack, for simplicity's sake. That way, Notaulix could focus more on other things.

Glancing down at the floor, you happen to notice the extra straps that came with the saddlebag. Bending down, you pick them up and take a moment to examine them...
While you still find yourself unable to discern their purpose, you wonder if something here could be beneficial to Notaulix.
Such things can wait for later, though. You decide to place the extra straps on the chair with the saddlebag, just to keep things neat and tidy.

While you wait for Notaulix to reemerge from the bathroom, you walk over to kitchen and fill up a pitcher and two glasses with water.
Not long after finishing your own glass, Notaulix rounds the corner into the kitchen in his natural form.

"I bet you're thirsty. Here." You say to Notaulix while holding out his glass of water, which he quickly grabs hold of with his magic.

"Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix says before quickly downing his glass.

After taking a moment to catch his breath, you take the pitcher and fill up both of your glasses, Notaulix looking up at you with eyes of gratitude as you do so.
Several minutes go by as you both enjoy your hydration, until you set your now empty glass down and speak up.

"As much as I'd like to stay here, I should head over to Ponyville and sell what we harvested today." You say to Notaulix.

"Okay Anon, I don't mind. How long do you think you will be gone this time?" He asks you.

"Ohhhh... Probably around the same amount of time as usual; an hour or so." You respond. "Is there something in particular you would like for dinner?" You quickly add.

"How could I possibly choose? There are so many things to eat that I don't know about. I will be happy with anything that you make, Anon." Notaulix answers.

"I think you're giving me too much credit." You say to him with a smile. "Anyway, if you're all good here, I'm going to leave right away." You continue.

"That's fine. I think I will lay down and read the books on the Everfree Forest some more, and compare what was written in them with the things I experienced for myself." Notaulix says.

"Sounds like a plan. I'll see you again soon." You say to your changeling companion as you walk past him on your way to the front door.

Once there, you stop and grab your bit bag. Checking inside, you find there to still be a decent amount of bits: Approximately 37 left, if your memory serves you right.
Having secured the bit bag to your belt, you proceed through the usual process of unlocking, opening, closing and once more locking the front door behind you.
Such a process would normally be entirely unnecessary, as crimes like theft are incredibly rare here among the ponies. Prior to meeting Notaulix, there have been several times where you left your home unlocked, yet felt at ease.
However, friendly surprise visits are a common thing, prompting you to take these extra steps for Notaulix's protection.

Walking out to the dirt road, you stop at your mailbox and check it, where you find nothing inside.
With that, you set out on your way to Ponyville.

Sweetcorn Delight | Parts 122B - 138

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The journey to Ponyville is uneventful and peaceful, surprisingly so to you. Giving it some thought, you realize that you don't feel worried about Notaulix being back home by himself now.
You know that for the most part, he's back up on his hooves now, so to speak, and can take care of himself while you're gone.

As you approach the outskirts of Ponyville, you take in the sights and sounds of the daily activities taking place there.
You can see several ponies walking about, doing their business, while various pegasi fly around from one place to the other. You also see the marketplace set up and at peak activity, as it usually is in the early afternoon.

After being greeted by a few ponies, who you greet in turn, you immediately go to work seeking out the usual buyers of your goods.

The first stop you make, and your most frequent customer, is a particular stallion who specializes in potions, tonics and other such things.
Today, however, he proved uninterested in the particular herbs you brought to him, and instead expressed interest in the mushrooms.
With a little conversation, you end up agreeing on selling them for 8 bits, which are added to your bit bag.
Having done your business there, you depart from the apothecary stallions shop and back out into the quaint streets of Ponyville, in search of your next customer.

While walking down the street, you watch as a familiar blue blur fly down one of the intersecting streets in front of you.
You weren't completely confident on who you may have just seen at first, until you see the rainbow-maned pegasus mare slowly flying backwards, and looking in your direction.

"Anon! This is perfect timing!" Rainbow Dash calls out to you, before she turns her attention back to the direction she was flying in.
"Hey G! Come over here!" She yells.

Confused, you continue walking towards Rainbow Dash, who gracefully lands on the ground as you draw close.
Right before speaking up, you instead come to a halt as you see a griffon appear from around the corner of a building.

"What's up? Is there someth-" A griffon with a female voice begins to speak, before being cut short as she turns her head and notices you, letting out a squawk of surprise.

"Hehehe! Gilda, this is Anon. Anon, this is Gilda." Rainbow Dash says, introducing each of you with a gesture of a forehoof.

"Uh... Nice to meet you, Gilda." You say, feeling slightly unsure of yourself as you resume walking to close the distance between the two.

"Y-Yeah... Nice to meet you too..." Gilda says, sounding somewhat distracted as she looks at you with eyes full of surprise.

Coming to a stop in front of Rainbow Dash and Gilda, you find the situation to be a bit awkward as Gilda takes in your appearance, studying you from head to toe.

"So this is the human, huh?" Gilda asks as she locks eyes with you.

"Yep! The one and only in all of Equestria!" Rainbow Dash responds with pride.

"Wow..." Gilda murmurs as she begins to circle around you, in an effort to examine all the things that you're wearing.

"So like I said Anon, this is Gilda the griffon. We go back a looong ways, but we haven't seen each other in over a year. I was so surprised when she showed up to visit in Ponyville today! Isn't that awesome?" Rainbow Dash says.

"Oh really? It's always nice to meet up with old friends again." You say while watching Gilda complete her circle around you, then coming to a stop next to Rainbow Dash again.
"...Maybe getting ahead of myself there. Are the two of you friends?" You ask.

"Sure we are!" Rainbow Dash proclaims. "We had a little falling out a few years ago, but all that's in the past now. Isn't that right, Gilda?" She adds.

"Heh, yeah... Old stuff." Gilda says, looking away with a bit of a guilty expression.

"Aw, don't feel that way, G. You know we're still best friends." Rainbow Dash says, while giving Gilda a comforting pat on the back with a forehoof.

"I know." Gilda says with a smile.
"A-Anyway!" Gilda snaps back to attention, her plumage puffing out slightly in embarrassment as she looks back up at you.
"What do you do around here?" Gilda asks you.

"Well, you see... I explore the Everfree Forest in search of valuable things to bring back. Plants, herbs, mushrooms; things like that." You answer the griffon.

"You WHAT?!" Gilda cries out in surprise. "B-But that's some real dangerous stuff out there! Why would anyone do that?" Gilda questions you. You can't help but feel a faint smirk of amusement form at her outburst.

"Because nobody else does." You bluntly respond. "It's where I found a purpose for myself in this world. Sure, it's dangerous out there, but it's... not quite as bad as it's made out to be." You continue.

Silence falls between the three of you as Gilda simply stares up at you, mulling over your words in her mind.

"Anon has a really important job! If it wasn't for him, there's a lot of rare medicinal thingies that wouldn't be available for everypony." Rainbow Dash speaks up.

"Really?" Gilda says, turning her attention back to Rainbow Dash.

"Mhm! He's kinda like a local hero!" Rainbow Dash says with pride.

"I think that's taking it a bit far, Dash. I'm no hero... But yeah, that's what I do. Just returned from a trip this morning, actually. I was just on my way to sell the last bit of today's haul." You explain.

"Oh! Well don't let us hold you back any longer, Anon. Besides, Gilda and I were doing our own thing too." Rainbow Dash says.
"Let's go! We still need to track down Rarity!" Rainbow Dash says to Gilda before taking off into the air once more.

Gilda turns to follow her, spreading out her wings in preparation to fly, before pausing.
You watch as Gilda looks back and forth between you and the direction Rainbow Dash took off in, as if conflicted over something.

"Later." Gilda finally says before taking flight herself, leaving you alone.

You continue on your own way while thinking about your unusual encounter. At the very least, you can honestly tell Twilight Sparkle that you've met a real live griffon now.

Back to the task of selling your remaining herbs, it doesn't take you very long until you find an interested mare who offers you 6 bits, giving you a total profit of 14 bits.
With a job well done, you begin meandering the streets of Ponyville as you think about what sounds good for dinner, along with anything else that you can think of to do while you're here.

You decide to wander over to the busy marketplace, in order to see if anything in particular jumps out at you as a good idea for dinner.
Passing by each stall, cart and wagon, you weigh your options until you see the mare selling sweetcorn.
Immediately, the perfect dinner for the evening forms in your mind, one that you think Notaulix would enjoy.
After shopping around the marketplace, you end up with six large ears of sweetcorn, a bundle of green beans, a half pound chunk of hard parmesan cheese and a stick of butter.
In total, you spent 7 bits on your purchases, leaving you with about 44 bits left.

Having concluded your business in the marketplace for today, you depart from the busy activity there and wander back into the quiet streets of Ponyville.

The streets of Ponyville with all its sights and sounds give way to the humble dirt road that you're familiar with. Having nothing else that you want to do in town today, you begin your walk back home.
Your short journey is uneventful, with only the peaceful scenery of late autumn surrounding you, full of rustling leaves that will no doubt all be on the ground soon.
Upon your home coming into sight, a sense of anticipation builds within you for a delicious dinner and time to relax.

Stopping to check the mailbox once more, which remains empty, you walk up the front steps onto the porch, before letting yourself inside.

"Welcome back, Anon!" You hear Notaulix call out to you while you're locking the front door.

Turning around, you find the changeling's head to be poking above the sofa with a big smile, while waving a forehoof at you.

"Hey there." You wave back to Notaulix. "How's everything been while I was gone?" You ask as you walk into the living room.

"Everything has been fine." Notaulix answers.

"That's good." You say as you approach the kitchen area. Glancing over at Notaulix, you find him to be snuggled under his blanket with an open book to read. He continues to look at you with a happy smile.

You smile in return before taking off your backpack and setting it down against the kitchen island.

"Once I get my stuff put away, we have something to discuss." You say to Notaulix while walking back across the living room to the front door.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix says in response as he watches you move past him again.

Back at the front door, you remove your coat and hang it up on a metal hook, followed by taking off your boots.
You then walk over to your room and return all of the gear hanging off of your belt back to its place in the closet, with the exception of your bit bag.
Following that, you make a stop at the bathroom to both relieve yourself and clean up a little before you return to Notaulix.
Returning to the living room, you pull up a chair to the small table and sit down.

"What did you want to discuss, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Your payment, of course." You say while removing your bit bag from your belt.

"Payment? What do you mean?" Notaulix asks, cocking his head in confusion.

"Well, you did good work out there in the Everfree today. I sold what we harvested today for fourteen bits. It's only fair that you get your share." You explain to him as you grab a few bits from the bit bag.

Unsure of what you meant, Notaulix watches as you place 7 bits down on the table in front of him, which he alternates between staring at, and back at you.

"Anon... I don't want these." Notaulix says to you with a frown.

"Huh? Why not? You earned them." You ask.

"I have no use for these little golden coins. But you use them. You use these coins to care for me, and buy delicious food for us to eat, and a saddlebag for me to wear. You need them, not me." Notaulix begins to explain.
"Being able to work with someone who saved my life, feeds me amazing food and love, and allows me to stay in a warm, dry home is all the payment I could ever want." Notaulix continues, his smile returning.

"I can appreciate that viewpoint Notaulix, but when it comes time for it, don't you want to have the opportunity to buy whatever you want after we get you introduced to the ponies?" You question him.
"Besides, it would just feel wrong to me for you to do your part and not get payed for it." You add.

"That does make sense, b-but..." Notaulix stutters as he appears to become deep in thought.

You patiently sit and wait for the changeling to continue, but it quickly becomes obvious that he doesn't quite know what to say next.
Notaulix occasionally fidgets around as he looks at you before looking away, clearly agitated.
As much as you want to repay Notaulix monetarily right now, you can tell that he really doesn't want any bits at the moment. A solution crosses your mind, or at least a temporary one.

"How about this: For now, I'll just keep track of how much you've earned, and count it towards paying back the things I've bought for you, like your saddlebag. Would you be agreeable with that?" You ask Notaulix, breaking the silence.

Immediately, Notaulix's ears perk up before eagerly responding. "Yes, I would like that, Anon!" He says.

You nod your head in agreement. "Cool. So, once that's been done, we'll talk about this again, alright?" You say to Notaulix.

"Okay." Notaulix agrees, now looking very content.

"Great! Anyway..." You glance at the clock as you begin speaking. It's still relatively early in the afternoon, with several hours to go until the days over.
Despite that, you're already a bit hungry, since you started the day out with a light breakfast and have not eaten anything since then. You imagine that Notaulix likely feels the same.
"...When would you like to eat dinner today? Are you hungry?" You ask Notaulix, focusing your attention on him once more.

"I am a little hungry. We can enjoy dinner whenever you want it, Anon." Notaulix responds.

"Whenever I want, huh? Sounds good. We don't want to eat dinner too early though, it isn't that late in the day yet. How about in an hour or so?" You suggest.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix says, nodding his head in agreement.

You nod your own head a few times in unison, soon finding the two of you staring at each other with nothing to say.
Notaulix eventually turns his attention back to his book, leaving you to your thoughts.

Taking note of the coolness of the house, you turn in your chair in order to look back at the fireplace behind you.
You consider for a moment if you want to get a fire started this late in the day, but you decide against it, as the house still has enough residual warmth in it to keep you comfortable enough until tomorrow.

Straightening your posture back out, you stare down at the floor by your feet as you try and think of something to talk about.
There are many questions floating around your mind regarding Notaulix and his hive that you would like to ask him, but you question yourself if certain subjects would be appropriate to ask about or not.
Thinking back to your past conversations, a particular topic comes to the forefront of your mind.

"Hey, I have a question about something." You say to Notaulix.

"What is it, Anon?" Notaulix asks while setting his book down once more.

"It's about love; or at least what love is to a changeling. How do you know when there's love for you to consume? Can you see it? Or hear it? Feel? Smell? Or..." You trail off, unsure of how to best articulate your question.

Notaulix gives you a gentle smile before answering. "Love and its many forms is something that us changelings can sense when it's directed at us." He says.
"Besides being a source to feed from, we are also able to use that sense to try and determine how someone currently feels." Notaulix explains.

"Wait a moment... Are you saying that you can sense my other emotions too?" You ask, feeling slightly disturbed at the thought.

"Only love." Notaulix plainly answers.

"Huh? What do you mean, then? How can you tell how someone feels just by love alone?" You question the changeling.

Notaulix pauses as he thinks about how to explain the subject better to you.

"It's... Difficult to describe. This just comes naturally to us, we don't have to think about it." Notaulix says.

"Oh, well... That's okay, I think I get the idea." You say to him.

"No, no, I want to explain it to you, Anon!" Notaulix reassures you.
"Maybe... Maybe imagine this? Imagine that you knew someone was your friend, but after you said or did something, you knew that they were less of a friend, even if that friend never said something, or showed any reaction." Notaulix explains.
"Soooo... Feeling the strength and type of love change can tell us a lot about what someone is feeling. Does that make any sense, Anon? I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job explaining... I'm sorry." Notaulix says with a disappointed look.

"I think you're doing just fine. I'll admit that it's a strange concept, one that's difficult for me to imagine, but I more or less get what you're saying." You say to encourage Notaulix.

"Really? You do?" Notaulix asks while his expression perks up.

"Sure I do. If nothing else, it's really quite impressive that you have such an ability." You respond.

Notaulix's ears perk up as he smiles at your praise, while looking very proud of himself.
"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix happily says.

You nod your head a few times while pondering over what Notaulix just told you. Not long after, a new thought pops into your mind.

"Hm... I have a new question now." You say.

"What is it?" Notaulix asks you.

"If you were to run into one of your own who is transformed, how are you able to identify them?" You ask in return.

Upon hearing your question, a sort of blank expression grows on Notaulix's face, morphing into one of slight confusion as he cocks his head to the side.
You patiently wait for what you thought would be a simple answer, but the seconds tick keep ticking on by as Notaulix considers your question.
After several changes of head position, and a few flicks of his tail, Notaulix finally turns his attention back to you to deliver his answer.

"I.... I don't know, Anon. I never thought about that before." Notaulix says, his ears drooping to the side as he does so.

"You don't know? But... How do you not know something like that? Doesn't that cause problems when you live with a bunch of your own kind who can also transform?" You question Notaulix.

"It was never a problem. Because transforming without a reason to do so was forbidden, my hive brothers and sisters were very rarely ever transformed." Notaulix responds.
"Because of those efforts to conserve what little magic we had, it must have been considered unnecessary to teach such things to everyone. I'm sure those who traveled outside the hive in groups knew." Notaulix continues.
"Yes... If all of us needed to know such a thing, our Queen would have taught us." Notaulix concludes.

"Right, I didn't consider the restriction that you had back home... Sorry about that." You apologize.

"It's okay, Anon." Notaulix reassures you. "Why do you ask such a question? Do you think there is a changeling living in this town?" Notaulix asks you.

"No, I've never suspected that. Although I guess that doesn't rule out the possibility, does it?." You answer.

"I don't know how, but if I ever think that there is one of my kind nearby, I will let you know." Notaulix says while giving you a reassuring smile.

"Alright, I'll count on that." You say, giving Notaulix a smile in return.

Afterwards, you and Notaulix take some time to discuss the day together, or more specifically, the time spent in the Everfree Forest.
The discussion is both fun and engaging, especially for you. You never realized it was something that you wanted, but it feels good to talk about your experiences in the forest with someone who shared them with you, and understands.
Eventually, the growing hunger between the two of you shifts your focus to that of filling your bellies with something delicious.

"Well, I think it's about time for some dinner. What do you think?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes, dinner would be great!" Notaulix agrees.

"I'll get right to it then." You say as you stand up and walk over to the kitchen area.

Notaulix quickly comes out from under his blanket and clambers off the sofa before moving over to your side. "What can I do Anon?" He asks, eager to help.

"I don't think there's anything for you to help on this one. We're having a pretty simple dinner tonight." You answer Notaulix while digging into your backpack.

"Oh..." Notaulix says, sounding slightly disappointed. "Can... Can I still watch you cook?" He asks.

"Of course you can!" You say to Notaulix, who gives you a big, happy smile in response.

Notaulix watches with eyes full of curiosity as you pull out the things you purchased from the marketplace one by one.
"What are those things, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"This is sweetcorn, and these are green beans." You answer while holding out an example of each vegetable for Notaulix to look at.

"S... S-Sweetcorn? Are those like a dessert? Like a cookie?" Notaulix asks with a hint of excitement in his voice.

You chuckle before responding. "No, they're not nearly that sweet. In this form, it's more or less considered a vegetable. You eat these things." You say while pulling back the husks, revealing the bright yellow kernels hiding within.

"Wow..." Notaulix quietly says as he stares at the ear of corn like it's an object of wonder.

You put your examples back on the counter before returning to the task of unloading your backpack.
However, that simple task is interrupted when you suddenly hear knocking at the front door, startling you both.

"W-What should I do, Anon?" Notaulix quietly asks you.

"Go and hide, I'll take care of this." You answer him in hushed tones. You begin to move towards the front door, when a thought crosses your mind...
"Wait a moment." You say as you turn your attention back to Notaulix, who stops and looks back up at you.
"There's a chance this might be a griffon, so... You should actually go somewhere you can transform, just in case." You tell Notaulix, his eyes widening as you do so.

"A-A-A Griffon? B-But...! What room should I go to?" Notaulix asks you, clearly a bit distressed now.

"Go to my room and wait there. You should transform just to be safe; use the closet for that. Also, take your books with you." You quietly answer him before walking over to the low table and picking up the books on the Everfree.

Returning to Notaulix's side, you both walk out into the hallway. Glancing to the left, you note that there doesn't appear to be anyone trying to look through the curtain covered windows flanking the front door.
Notaulix opens the door to your room and quickly moves inside, before turning around and taking the books you were carrying from you with his magic.
After giving him a nod, you close the door while leaving it slightly ajar so that Notaulix might hear any potential conversation.

Turning your attention back to the front door, you approach it while digging the appropriate key from your pocket. Once there, you unlock the door and prepare to open it.
Opening the door, your suspicions are confirmed as you find yourself staring at Gilda, the griffon who you met just a couple hours ago.

"H-Hey..." Gilda stutters while giving you a small wave, looking slightly embarrassed as she does so.

"Gilda? This is a surprise. What brings you here?" You ask the female griffon.

"Sorry to bother you, Anon. I didn't think you were gonna answer the door... Am I interrupting something? It sounded like somebody's here already. I-I could come back another time, or..." Gilda trails off.

"Oh, uh..." You pause as you quickly try and think of what to say. You can't believe that she could have heard you inside, you were trying to be quiet! You wonder if you've severely underestimated a griffons ability to hear.
Awaiting your response, Gilda stares up at you, her amber eyes filled with curiosity.

"...not really. I was just moving some things around before I get a start on making dinner." You answer her, hoping to change the subject.

"Dinner, huh? You have that this early?" Gilda questions you.

"Only on days like today when I've been out in the Everfree. You work up a hunger out there when all you've had is a light breakfast." You respond to Gilda, giving her a friendly smile.

"Oh yeah, for sure. Anyway... I was wondering if you had a moment to talk; maybe tell me a thing or two about exploring the Everfree Forest?" Gilda asks.
"N-Not like I'm some kind of dweeb who thinks that kind of thing is really cool or anything..." Gilda comments, looking slightly flustered as she rubs the back of her head with her talons.

Feeling very stuck in the current situation, you rack your brain for a suitable way out.
You wouldn't mind inviting Gilda in for some chit chat and sharing of your Everfree stories. However, you and Notaulix are still ill-prepared for a situation such as this, especially one involving another griffon.
Thankfully, a potential compromise quickly comes to mind...

"That does sound nice, but I'm pretty tired out after working out there today. I don't think I'd be a very good host at the moment, sad to say." You answer Gilda.
"But!" You quickly add before the griffon can respond. "I have to ask, are you staying somewhere around here?" You ask her.

"Yeah, I'm staying at Dash's place. Why?" Gilda answers.

"Tell you what; how about we meet up somewhere tomorrow? Would that work for you? That way, I'll be all rested up and have the whole day available." You suggest to Gilda.

"Sure! Got any ideas for when and where?" Gilda asks, wasting no time in her response.

You pause to consider your options before answering. "Sugarcube Corner, sometime early in the afternoon?" You respond.

"Deal. Thanks for taking some time out of your day tomorrow for me, Anon. I really appreciate it." Gilda says while gently scuffing one of her hind paws against the porch decking.

"It's no problem, really. Besides, you aren't from around here, are you? The least I can do is indulge you with some conversation and stories that you won't hear anywhere else." You say with a gentle smile.

"I used to live around here, actually. Long time ago, but..." Gilda trails off, turning her head away from you as she does so. You notice the same look in her eyes that she had around Rainbow Dash earlier.
"W-Well that doesn't matter anymore! It's really not interesting." Gilda abruptly speaks out before turning around.
"Don't let me keep you from dinner any longer. I'll see you tomorrow, Anon. You better be there!" Gilda playfully says, spreading her wings as she jumps off the porch and takes flight.

You stand in the doorway for several seconds before stepping back inside and closing the front door.
Gilda seems like a nice, if somewhat strange griffon, you think to yourself while locking the door.

Turning around, you look down the hallway as you take in a deep breath before letting it back out. You begin to refocus your mind now that your unexpected visitor has departed.

The first thing you do is walk down the hallway to your bedroom. Once there, you open the door you left ajar in order to check in on Notaulix.
You expected to find Notaulix hiding, possibly in the closet. What you didn't expect to find is Notaulix comfortably lounging on top of your bed in his griffon form, looking perfectly calm.

"Who was it, Anon? Was that the griffon?" Notaulix asks you.

Feeling a bit caught off guard, you simply stare at the scene before you in mild confusion, while watching the occasional swish of Notaulix's lion tail.

"Anon?" Notaulix says to you with slight concern.

"Uhh... Sorry, yeah. That was the griffon; her name is Gilda. Apparently an old visiting friend of one of the ponies I know." You respond.

"Dash? Is that the ponies name?" Notaulix asks, cocking his head slightly as he does to.

In the back of your mind, it occurs to you that this particular mannerism reminds you of a giant parrot, making you smile.

"So you heard all of that, huh? It's Rainbow Dash, actually. Lots of ponies just call her Dash or sometimes Rainbow though. She works with the weather patrol; nice mare once you get to know her." You answer him.
"With that being said..." You quickly add. "You've kind of surprised me here, Notaulix. I expected you to be hiding, or at the very least not out in the open like this." You continue.
"What made you decide to lay right here on my bed?" You ask Notaulix.

Upon hearing your question, Notaulix's calm demeanor shifts to one that is slightly nervous, even fearful.

"I-I'm sorry for laying on your bed without permission A-Anon. I..." Notaulix stammers as he stares at you.

"Hey, it's okay! I'm not upset at you or anything over something like that!" You tenderly say to Notaulix while gesturing defensively with both hands.

"R... Really?" Notaulix quietly asks while holding his body still in anticipation of your answer.

"Yes, really. I'm just curious why you decided on this course of action, that's all." You reassure the transformed changeling.

Notaulix visibly relaxes as he lets out a sigh of relief. "Thank you for not being mad at me, Anon. I... chose to stay here to try and be brave." Notaulix says as he locks eyes with you.

"Brave?" You repeat.

"I want to be more useful to you, Anon. I know that I'll need to be brave in order to meet the ponies and not betray my transformation." Notaulix explains.
"So that's why I wanted to be here on your bed. And... And also... Your bed is so nice and comfortable and amazing; it makes me feel safe." Notaulix admits while looking away.

You consider Notaulix's reasoning for a moment, before approaching the side of your bed.

"That's very thoughtful. I'd say all things considered, you did good." You say to Notaulix, much to his joy.

"You really mean that, Anon?" Notaulix asks with a happy expression as he looks up at you.

"Of course I do." You respond, followed by reaching out and giving a good back scratch.

Much like last time, an involuntary shiver runs down Notaulix's spine as you scratch along the length of his back, in addition to his plumage puffing up. As you do so, Notaulix closes his eyes and enjoys the treatment.
You keep this up for a minute or two, until you conclude by giving his back a few firm pats with your hand.

"Mmmhh... Thank you, Anon. That felt nice." Notaulix quietly says as he lies motionless on your bed, eyes still closed.

"You're welcome. Now then... It's time to get back to making dinner." You say as you turn around and begin making your way out of your room.

However, once nearly past the threshold of your bedroom door, you stop when you hear Notaulix call out to you. "Anon?" He asks.

Looking over your shoulder, you see that Notaulix has rolled over onto his side and is looking at you. "What is it?" You ask him.

"I was wondering... You said that you don't need my help to make dinner today, so... May I continue to lay on your bed until dinner is ready?" Notaulix asks you.

"Any chance you can get, huh?" You tease Notaulix. "That's fine with me, I'll come get you when it's time to eat. Also, it's safe for you to transform back to your normal self now." You add.

"Okay Anon, thank you." Notaulix says before relaxing once more and resting his head on your bed.

With that, you depart from the comfortable changeling, closing the door behind you as you make your way back to the kitchen.
Once there, you waste no time filling up a large and medium pot with water, which get placed on the stove top to begin heating up.
While you wait for the water to come to a boil, you husk the sweetcorn and prep the green beans. After giving both a rinse, you place the sweetcorn in the large pot, and the green beans in the medium pot.
With both vegetables in the heating water, you place a lid on the medium pot before turning your attention elsewhere.

Grabbing the half pound chunk of hard parmesan, you spend the time to finely grate it into a small pile, which you then spend several minutes chopping with a knife until you are left with something close enough to parmesan powder.
Not long after finishing that task, the lid on the medium pot begins to rattle, steam hissing out from around its edges as it comes to a boil. For now, you simply lower the heat and leave it be.
The sweetcorn eventually comes to a boil, which you allow to cook for a few minutes until you turn off the heat.

Now that both vegetables are done, you decide to go get Notaulix, as your meal is more or less ready to eat.
Arriving at the door to your bedroom, you grab hold of the handle and open it. Looking inside, you find that not only is Notaulix still in his griffon form, but it looks like he's fallen asleep!

Feeling amused, you step up to the side of the bed that the sleeping changeling is resting on in order to wake him up.
Taking one of your index fingers, you lean in and guide it towards Notaulix's griffon beak, which you proceed to gently poke.
After a few pokes, Notaulix begins to stir, subconsciously bringing one of forelegs up to brush away whatever is bothering his beak.
You wait for a moment to see if he wakes. When that fails, you proceed to poke his beak a few more times, stifling laughter as you do so.
The poking is cut short when Notaulix suddenly opens his beak enough for the tip of your finger to fit inside. Before you even realize what happened, you find your finger to be firmly caught.

While not painful, the action catches you by surprise.
You gently tug in an attempt to remove your finger, but it does not release. Thankfully, this proves to be enough to rouse Notaulix from his slumber.
Notaulix's eyes open and quickly focus on you. Not long after that, he notices that he happens to be holding your finger captive, much to his confusion.

"What are you doing, Anon?" Notaulix asks after letting your finger go.

"Trying to wake you up." You answer with a chuckle. "Come on sleepyhead, dinner's ready." You say to Notaulix before turning to depart.

"Yay! I'm ready for it!" You hear Notaulix say behind you, along with the sound of him climbing off of your bed.

On your way back to the kitchen, you hear Notaulix turn to walk down the hallway, followed by the sound of the bathroom door closing.
In preparation for dinner, you bring out some butter along with salt and pepper, which you set by the powdered parmesan that you prepared.
As you bring out two plates, Notaulix enters the room, happily trotting up to you in his natural form.

"Do you need help with anything, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Well, let's see..." You briefly pause. "How about you get some water ready for us to drink at the table?" You suggest.

"Okay!" Notaulix responds before immediately getting to work on his task.

Meanwhile, you work on putting the finishing touches on dinner. Starting with the green beans, you pick up the pot and bring it over to the sink, where you carefully make use of the lid to drain the water out.
Once the hot water has been drained, you put a slab on butter on the green beans, along with a little salt, pepper and parmesan powder. You stir everything together as the butter quickly melts.
Following that, you fish the sweetcorn out of the large pot, placing three ears onto each of your plates.

While you work on buttering up each ear of corn, Notaulix comes trotting up to you. "The water is ready! What should I do now?" He asks you.

"Go ahead and get comfortable, I'll be bringing your plate over in a moment." You say to him.

"Okay Anon." Notaulix says before walking away to the sofa.

You give each ear of sweetcorn a thorough dusting of powdered parmesan, which readily sticks to the buttered surface. Next, you divide up the green beans into equal portions on each plate.
After placing a fork on each plate, you grab both of them and walk over to the small table in front of the sofa.
Notaulix watches you in eager anticipation as you lower his plate to him, which he takes hold of with his magic.
Pulling up a chair and sitting down, you watch Notaulix carefully examine his meal, occasionally giving it a quick sniff.

"What is this, Anon? Did you cover the sweetcorn in something? It smells nice... And... What are these?" Notaulix asks while gesturing at the green beans with his fork.

"Those are green beans with butter and some light seasoning. The sweetcorn has a light coating of butter which I covered with powdered parmesan, which is another kind of cheese." You explain.

"C-Cheese! Anon, I want to try it!" Notaulix exclaims. "How do I eat the sweetcorn?" He asks you.

"It's simple. You pick it up and eat it; just like this." You answer before demonstrating. With your plate resting on your lap, you pick up a warm ear of corn by the ends and bring it up to your mouth, where you take a big bite from it.

The sweetcorn lives up to your expectations, creating a delicious, buttery pairing with the rich saltiness of the parmesan cheese.
After observing you for a short period of time, Notaulix can no longer wait as he sets down his plate before using his magic to pick up an ear of corn to begin eating.
Knowing that Notaulix understands the concept now, you focus on your own food as you chow down. You find the green beans to taste especially good today.

However, after a few minutes have gone by, it occurs to you that you haven't heard any reaction or compliment from Notaulix yet...
Turning your attention back to Notaulix, you discover your changeling companion to be facing a problem that you would have never thought of.
Despite his best efforts, Notaulix's prominent fangs are proving to be a hindrance when it comes to eating corn off the cob in the same way that you or the ponies do.
You can see that he's getting some of it, but it appears to be a real struggle, one that is frustrating the changeling to a degree.

"Hey, hold on a minute." You say to Notaulix, grabbing his attention.
"Sorry about that... It didn't even cross my mind that those fangs of yours might get in the way. Would you like me to cut off those kernels for you? That way you could just eat it with your fork." You suggest.

Notaulix's ears droop in embarrassment upon hearing your suggestion. "If... If it isn't too much trouble, I would like that, Anon. It tastes so good, I want to eat it!" He says.

"It's no problem, really. Look! It'll just take me a moment." You say as you set your plate down on the table, before taking Notaulix's plate back over to the kitchen.

Once there, you take hold of a knife and separate the delicious corn kernels from the cob. You end up doing a somewhat messy job, but you complete the task within a minute or two.
After taking a moment to rinse off your hands, you return the plate to Notaulix, who immediately resumes eating from it.
As you sit back down in your chair, you watch how Notaulix's ears perk back up, coupled with the occasional twitch and buzz of his wings.
With the plain evidence of Notaulix's enjoyment filling you with a sense of satisfaction, you pick up your own plate and get back to eating.

Sometime later, the two of you find yourselves quietly relaxing in comfort after a good dinner. Notaulix enjoyed the green beans, but the parmesan corn was by far his favorite.
Leaning back into your chair with your hands behind your head, you take a moment to reflect on the day and all the things that you did.

Backstory Brainstorming | Parts 139 - 150A

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From the comfort of your chair, you think back to your brief meeting with Gilda today, and your planned meeting together for tomorrow.
Considering all the different possibilities that such a meeting may hold, you decide that it would be wise to speak with Notaulix about it.

"Notaulix? We need to discuss something." You say to the changeling.

"What is it, Anon?" Notaulix asks in response, giving you his full attention.

"I was just thinking about Gilda again. Did you hear all of that brief conversation that we had?" You say to him.

"Yes, I did." Notaulix confirms.

"So you noticed when Gilda said that she thought she heard someone else in here?" You ask.

"Yes. It doesn't surprise me that she could do that. Why do you ask?" Notaulix asks you in return.

"Well, I mean... It sure surprised me! I guess I had never thought about how sharp a griffons sense of hearing may be. Do you think that she could hear us speaking quietly when she knocked on the door?" You respond.

"I don't think so, Anon. It's more likely that she could hear our hoofsteps as we moved towards your room." Notaulix says.

"Footsteps in my case." You correct Notaulix with a smile. "That would be the best case scenario. I tried to avoid the subject when I said that I was just moving things around. She seemed to buy that, at least." You continue.
"Either way, when I go to meet with Gilda in Ponyville tomorrow, we need to be prepared for the possibility that she didn't believe my explanation, and knows for a fact that someone else was here." You explain.

"How do we prepare, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"The only thing I should need to say in that situation is that I did have a friend over... But if she presses further, we should carefully consider the details of the backstory of your griffon form now, rather than later." You answer.

"Oh, I see! Yes, that's a good idea, Anon. What did you have in mind?" Notaulix cheerfully asks, eager to hear what you have to say.

"Let's start at the beginning with your origin. Or rather, Gerson's origin." You suggest.

"My origin? What do you mean, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"What was Gerson's life like before he ended up in the Everfree forest? Where did he live? What did he do? You know, things like that... Didn't you go over any of this when you were training that one time?" You say to Notaulix.

"O-Oh, well, um..." Notaulix pauses as he considers your question. "N-No, we didn't do any of that. I'm sorry..." He admits.

You furrow your brow upon hearing Notaulix's answer. "Huh?! Really? How were you supposed to carry out your task if you didn't have those things worked out?" You question him.

"That was knowledge for the one who was selected to be told, I'm sure." Notaulix responds.

Staring at Notaulix in mild confusion, you wonder just exactly how his hive operated. "That seems strange." You comment.

"I'm sure my Queen had a good reason to do things that way, Anon" Notaulix plainly states in response, his voice hinting annoyance at your comment.

Notaulix's tone of voice gives you pause. You aren't certain what exactly prompted it, but you don't want to agitate him further.

"...Anyway, back to Gerson. Where did he come from?" You begin. "From what I understand, there aren't too many griffons here in Equestria, so we shouldn't say that he's from around here. Logically, that leaves us with Griffonia." You say.
"When we were talking the other day, you said that you were being selected to go to... What was it? Talons... Talon Hill? Or..." You trail off.

"Our journey was to take us to Talonsburg. Do you think that's where I should say I came from, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Ah, that's right! Talonsburg... Not necessarily. With a real griffon hanging around here, we need to think carefully about details like this." You explain.

"Hmm..." Notaulix muses while raising a forehoof to his chin in thought. "What do you suggest?" He asks.

"It would be nice to know some other options. Sadly, I'm no expert on Griffonian geography... Were you told about any other towns or villages?" You ask Notaulix.

"No, I was not." Notaulix answers while shaking his head. "Only Talonsburg." He adds.

"Only Talonsburg, huh?" You repeat while crossing your arms.
"What do you know about that place?" You ask Notaulix.

"Talonsburg is a small griffon settlement in a region known as the Eastern Mountains." Notaulix promptly replies.

"...Anything else?" You question the changeling after waiting a few seconds to see if he would say more.

"I don't know anything else about Talonsburg, Anon." Notaulix answers.

Letting out a small sigh, you uncross your arms in order to rub your forehead. "This is going to be more difficult than I expected." You comment.

"I'm sorry that I can't be more helpful..." Notaulix says, giving you an apologetic look.

"No, no, don't worry about it." You reassure Notaulix. "Without knowing much about that place, maybe we should think of something else?" You suggest.

"Like what?" Notaulix asks.

"Well... Somewhere abroad? Where all have you been to outside of your hive? What did you do?" You ask Notaulix in return.

Upon hearing your question, Notaulix immediately perks up. "I was tasked as a stick gatherer and made frequent trips to the surrounding forest! I gathered many sticks." Notaulix proudly announces with a big smile.

"A... A stick gatherer?" You repeat, to which Notaulix nods his head with great enthusiasm.

You find yourself distracted for a moment as you ponder the incredibly simple sounding job that Notaulix is obviously proud of.
As much as you want to ask what the purpose of such a job was, you decide against it, as you don't want to accidentally offend Notaulix. Besides that, you have more important things to discuss.

"...Sooo, uh. Did that stick gathering ever take you very far from the hive?" You question Notaulix further.

"No, there was never any need to go far away." Notaulix answers.

"So we can't use that..." You mutter while trying to think of an answer to your problem.

After several minutes of silence, you watch as Notaulix climbs off the sofa. "I'll be right back, Anon." He says as he walks away, before disappearing around the corner into the hallway.

You take the opportunity to stand up and stretch, in addition to gathering up your dishes and bringing them over to the sink for washing later.
Once there, you lean up against the countertop as you stare out through the window above the sink, which a simple white lace curtain currently covers.
You feel a possible solution to Gerson's origin coming to mind, when you hear the approaching sound of hoofsteps against the wooden floor from behind you.

"Did you get a dessert for us, Anon?" Notaulix asks as he approaches you.

Turning around, you look down at the changeling looking back up at you expectantly, and smile. "Not today, sadly." You say to Notaulix.

"Oh... That's unfortunate. I would love to try more dessert some day." Notaulix comments.

"I'll get us something the next time I go to Ponyville, how about that? Anyway, come back over here, I think I got a good idea." You say to Notaulix while walking back over to the small table.

"Okay!" Notaulix says while following you over.

Over the course of the next hour or so that follows, you and Notaulix work together to flesh out what is a hopefully believable backstory for his griffon transformation.
While Notaulix had little in the way of ideas to offer, he still provided his own opinions on the things that you suggested.
In the end, the key points for Gerson the Griffon that you settled on are as follows...

- Until you can find an appropriate book or map detailing Griffonia, Gerson is simply from somewhere in the Eastern Mountains

- Gerson took an interest in plants early in his life and wanted to become an herbalist

- Gerson's interests were considered strange by the other griffons around him, leading to occasional ridicule that prompted him to eventually leave his home village

- One of the first places that Gerson sought out was the Everfree Forest in Equestria, as he had heard rumors of the strange and powerful plants that grow within

- Gerson is currently staying with you, both to recover from his near-death experience, and to work with someone who shares his interest

- You have not mentioned Gerson to the ponies, because he has never interacted with ponies before, and has been nervous what his first encounter with them might be like

With a more thought out backstory in place, you feel a measure of stress and anxiety at the thought of Notaulix's eventual first meeting with pony or griffon leave your mind.

After concluding your discussion, you and Notaulix take the time to wash and put away the days dishes.
The task doesn't take the two of you very long. Before you know it, you find yourself putting away the last dried off plate.
Looking over at the clock, you can see that there's about an hour and a half left in the day.

"Well Notaulix, I'm thinking a warm shower and some fresh clothes sounds real good right now. Do you want to get in there and clean up before I do this time?" You offer him.

Notaulix considers your offer for a moment, before shaking his head. "That's very kind of you Anon, but I am happy to simply wait my turn." He says.

"Suit yourself. I'll try not to take too long in there for you." You say before walking out of the kitchen towards your room.

"Thank you, Anon." You hear Notaulix say behind you.

Once in your bedroom, you are immediately reminded of your need to get some laundry done from the sparse supply of remaining clean clothes to put on. Or at the very least, clothes that are appropriate for the season.
Besides meeting with Gilda, tomorrow will no doubt be a laundry day. You consider simply bringing your clothes with you to drop off at the cleaning mare before your appointed time at Sugarcube Corner.

Having selected your next set of clothes, you walk from your bedroom to the bathroom, where you begin your usual end of day routine.
While cleaning yourself off in the shower, your thoughts drift to your upcoming meeting with Gilda tomorrow.
Will she bring up the guest that she thought she heard in your home? What kind of things about the Everfree does she want to know? Does she actually think what you do is cool? Such questions cross your mind.
Regardless of how the conversation goes, you simply hope it turns out well.

Some time later, you emerge from the bathroom all fresh, clean and ready for bed. Walking out into the living room, you find Notaulix resting in his usual spot on the sofa.
As you approach, Notaulix's ears perk up before looking in your direction. Upon seeing you, the changeling gives you one of his happy smiles.

"Bathroom's all yours." You say to Notaulix.

"Okay!" Notaulix replies before quickly climbing off the sofa. Once all four of his hooves are on the wooden floors, he takes a moment to stretch before trotting off to the bathroom.

Notaulix sure seems to enjoy his shower time, you think to yourself.

Taking a moment to do some stretching of your own, some of the many mysteries surrounding Notaulix and his home; his hive, flow through your mind.
You wonder just what exactly a changeling hive is like. The name alone can only bring forth mental images of insect colonies.
Granted, if Notaulix is any example to go off of, the natural form of his kind does have vague resemblances to insect-like features, but... Do they live like that too?

Furthering that train of thought, you begin to wonder how advanced or simple life might be like at his old hive, and if he had even experienced things like a warm shower prior to living with you.
The more you think about it, the more your mental image of changeling life becomes muddled when you recall what Notaulix said about his kind laying eggs to reproduce.
You decide to give up on the speculation and mysteries for now as you walk back over to the kitchen, opting instead to enjoy a glass of cool water.

After enjoying your hydration, you walk from the kitchen over to your bedroom. As you cross between the two rooms through the hallway, you can hear the gentle sound of running water coming from the bathroom.
Once back in your bedroom, you look around and quickly find the books covering the Everfree Forest neatly stacked on your desk, the ones that Notaulix has been studying.
Knowing how much he'll want to continue reading them, you decide to take a moment to bring the books back out to the small table in the living room for him.

While you're at it, you decide to tidy up the sofa and fluff the pillows for Notaulix's benefit. You know that he finds it comfortable regardless, but you'd like it to be the best that it can for him.
Thoughts of your previous conversation with Notaulix resurface in the back of your mind. If you're able to successfully introduce him to Ponyville, getting him his own bed is a definite priority.
As you walk back to your bedroom after completing your simple tasks, you idly wonder how much a pony sized bed even costs.

Once back in your room, your attention returns to your desk where, among other things, are two of the three books that Twilight loaned you regarding the races of the world.
Walking over to the bedside table, you pick up the third loaned book, the one you read last night titled Know Thy Neighbor, and place it on the desk next to the other two.
You don't find yourself in the mood to read more of that particular book at this moment. In fact, after last nights experience with Notaulix, you feel wary of even reading the other two.
And yet, you understand that there may be something useful to glean from those books. You consider your dilemma as you stare at the books resting on the desk.
On the other hand, when you turn your head the other way, your bed is looking very inviting at this hour after a long and busy day...

You decide to take a look at one of the loaned books that you've never read before, which goes by the title: Everypony: The Ancestral Tribes and Their History.
Judging from the appearance of the book alone, you would guess this book to be a much more recent production than the previous one you read.
With the book in hand, you climb on top of your bed and maneuver yourself into your usual comfortable reading position. Once there, you open up to the front pages to see if your suspicion holds true.

Sure enough, you find that this particular book, a first edition copy nonetheless, was produced only 22 years ago.

Turning to the table of contents, you notice that the book is divided into three main sections: Major Tribes, Minor Tribes, and Alicorn.
Reading further in the table, you find the Major Tribes to unsurprisingly discuss Earth, Pegasus and Unicorn ponies and their history.
As for the Minor Tribes, you see a slightly larger list of subjects, such as Donkeys, Thestrals, and other associated races which you know little to nothing about.
Scanning further ahead, there is no mention of changelings to be found. Flipping over to the back of the book, you locate an index where you confirm that there is nothing to read about changelings.
You expected such a result from the title alone, yet there's still a sense of disappointment.
Turning the book back over to the front cover, you let out a small sigh as you consider what to do next.

Moments later, you're back in position on your comfortable bed with the final book of the three loaned to you, titled: Silver Quill's Guide to The Races of The World.
A familiar title; one that you regard with a little nostalgia as you examine the cover before opening it up to its first pages.
Memories of your arrival in Equestria just a few years ago come to the forefront of your mind. You recall when Twilight Sparkle first loaned you this exact book to try and help you get acclimated to this world.
It was a difficult and stressful time for you, but it's one that you can look back on with fondness now.
There's things that you miss from your old life back on the Earth that you knew, but you wouldn't trade your new life here for anything. Without any doubt, the home in your heart is here in Equestria now.

Bringing your focus back to the book, you scan through the table of contents and quickly locate the section on changelings that you know exists in this book.
You may have read what it had to say on changelings before, but at the time you only paid the information enough attention to remember a few key points.
Turning the pages back, you quickly arrive at the small portion of the book dedicated to changelings.

The first thing you stop to observe is the relatively simple illustration of a single changeling, which takes up the entirety of the first page in addition to the sections title.

As you study the illustration, it's apparent that it appears to be an accurate depiction, more or less. The more you look, however, the more you see subtle differences compared to Notaulix.
For starters, the changeling depicted in the illustration seems smaller than Notaulix. In addition, you notice the fangs appear to be smaller, the unusual webbed mane a slightly different shape, and other such minor differences.
You understand that such differences could just be this particular artists depiction, but the artwork seems accurate enough to make you ponder over what the differences may mean.

While studying the changeling depicted in the book, your thoughts are interrupted when you hear the door to the bathroom open, followed by the sound of hoofsteps moving down the hallway to the living room.
You wait for a moment to listen if Notaulix is going to come visit you. When it becomes apparent that he isn't, you return your focus to the book.

Moving on from the opening illustration, you proceed to read through the books section on changelings.
Much of what you read are things that you either remembered or already knew. What you do notice is that this book has mostly the same things to say about changelings that the previous older book said.
Unfortunately, because of that, changelings are presented in the same negative light, albeit with some slight differences in wording. You do pick up on a few new things, though.
In the end, you consider the following to be the key points in this book...

- Changelings are an evil race of shapeshifters that devour the life force of other living beings

- Changelings live in dark, filthy tunnels dug into the earth, where they are led by an evil, fearsome Queen Changeling

- Changelings are known for abducting family members and replacing them with one of their own

- Changelings attack by disguising themselves through transformation as a pony or other race to produce a false sense of security around others, before sinking their fangs into their prey when an opportunity presents itself

- Changeling attacks are almost always carried out on isolated individuals, where the act won't be seen by others

- Changeling attacks were once a more frequent threat to Equestria. However, thanks to Iron Bit's reformation of the Royal Guard at the direction of the Princess, attacks are now a rare occurrence

- If their disguise happens to fail, changelings may try and claim that they simply feed from "Love" in an attempt to garner sympathy, in order to deceive and hide their true intentions

- Should a changeling be sighted or suspicious activity observed, the Royal Guard or the Princess, whichever is easier to contact, must be notified immediately for the safety of everypony

As you finish reading the last paragraph, you find yourself struck by how relatively consistent the information being presented is.
Between this book and the previous one that contained changeling information, there's roughly a century separating them, and yet very little had changed, apparently...
You do wonder about this Iron Bit mentioned in the book, along with the corresponding reformation that took place.
Above all, the question at the forefront of your mind now is a simple one: If ponies viewed changelings in roughly the same way for over a hundred years, how do they view them in the present day?
It seems strange to you. For such a supposed danger, you don't recall ever hearing a pony mention changelings before. You would never have initially known about them yourself if it wasn't for reading this book.
You decide to close the book and set it aside before rolling onto your back, where you rest your hands behind your head.
Staring up at the ceiling, you spend some time meditating on the contrast between what these pony books say, and your own personal experience with Notaulix.

You eventually turn to look at your clock and see that there's about half an hour left in the day. With that in mind, you decide to go visit Notaulix and check in on him before bed.
Rising from your bed, you walk out of your bedroom, through the hallway and into the living room. Almost immediately, Notaulix pokes his head over the side of the sofa.

Upon catching sight of you, the changeling gives you a warm smile. "Hello Anon!" Notaulix cheerfully greets you.

"Hey there." You say in response while walking around to the front side of the sofa, where you see Notaulix is reading the Everfree Forest books, unsurprisingly.
"It's been a good day, hasn't it? Did the shower feel good?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes, today has been a very good day!" Notaulix says, nodding his head for emphasis. "The shower does feel very good, Anon. It's very warm, and being clean is good." He continues.

"Yeah. I always think they feel extra good after a day spent in the Everfree. Especially a hot shower on an icy cold day, or a cold one when it's hot outside." You say.

"I'm just happy that I got to work with you today, Anon. That's what has made me feel the best today." Notaulix says to you.

You're not entirely sure if that was a statement or him thanking you, but Notaulix's comment can't help but force a smile to your face.

"I have to say, it really was nice to have a partner out there. I'm looking forward to wandering out there with you again one day soon." You say to Notaulix.

"As will I, Anon!" Notaulix says with enthusiasm.

You slowly nod your head a few times in agreement. Soon, a lull begins to develop in your conversation as you think about what to say next.

"I don't know about you, but I'm feeling pretty tired. Is there anything you wanted to talk about before I go to bed?" You ask Notaulix.

Notaulix takes a moment to consider your question before answering. "I can't think of anything, Anon. I am content." He replies.

"Okay then. I'll see you in the morning, Notaulix. Good night." You say with a wave of a hand before beginning the short walk back to your bedroom.

"Good night, Anon" Notaulix says in response.

Back in your room with the door firmly shut behind you, the first thing you do is sit down at the desk near the foot of the bed and spend some time writing in your journal.
You get a good amount of progress written in, but you can feel your concentration growing weary as sunset approaches.
Taking a moment to set down your writing quill to give your hand a rest, you find yourself letting out a big yawn.
After that, you look down at the fresh ink drying on the open pages of your journal, debating internally whether or not you want to push forward and finish your writing now, or crawl into the comforts of your bed and save it for tomorrow.

Knowing the rest can wait for tomorrow, you leave the pages of your journal open to allow the ink time to dry, followed by standing up from the desk and walk over to the side of your bed.
Once there, you go about your usual routine of taking off your undesired clothes and neatly setting them aside before climbing into bed.
Pulling up the sheets and blanket around your neck, you begin to relax as you rest your head on the comfortable pillow.
While waiting for the final minutes of daytime to pass, you stare up at the ceiling as your thoughts return to your meeting with Gilda tomorrow.

You might have some worries over how things may go, but overall you feel surprisingly good about it.
You're not quite certain if it's from getting to know Notaulix or Twilight encouraging you to do so, but the opportunity to properly meet and interact with a new race sounds fun to you now, even if you avoided griffons in the past.
As you ponder your recent change in attitude, the transition from day to night occurs; first bathing your room for a brief moment in the brilliant golden tones of sunset, before plunging it into darkness.
Soon, your eyes begin to adjust to the darkness, and see the gentle illumination of moonlight filtering in through the windows. You close your eyes, and not long after that, fall asleep.

Meeting With Gilda | Parts 150B - 167A

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Sometime in the morning, you awake with a bit of a start. You groan as you shut your eyes and bring a hand up to rub your face.
You can vaguely recall that you were dreaming about... something. However, you can't seem to remember anything specific about it.
Rolling onto your side, you try to remember anything that you can about the dream, but you quickly abandon the fruitless task.

The more you try and think about it, the more it seems to slip away.

At this point as you quietly lay on your bed, you notice the sound of rainfall outside. Listening carefully, you can hear that it's actually raining quite hard.
Knowing that the weather is foul today suppresses your desire to crawl out from your warm, comfy bed.
Opening your eyes once more, you glance over at your bedside clock and find that sunrise wasn't that long ago. The thought crosses your mind to simply continue to lay here and rest for awhile. It's still fairly early in the morning, after all.

Deep down inside of you, though, you know that today isn't the best day to be lounging around. You have things to do before you head out to Ponyville.
With that thought in mind, you work up the energy to drag yourself out of bed. As you toss the bed sheets back, you immediately feel that your home has cooled down considerably overnight as cold air makes contact with your warm skin.
Motivated by the temperature, you quickly swing your feet out which make contact with an equally cold wooden floor. Following that, you stand up and quickly get dressed.
Once dressed in warm clothes and a comfortable pair of socks, you make your way out of your bedroom and go about your usual morning routine, starting with a stop at the bathroom.

Concluding your business there, you exit the bathroom back into the hallway, where you make your way towards the living room, doing so quietly in case Notaulix is still sleeping.
Rounding the corner into the living room, you neither see nor hear Notaulix. Assuming the changeling to be sleeping, you approach with soft steps, when you notice something unexpected...
Not only has the old ash been scooped out of the fireplace, but a neat pile of tinder and kindling has been arranged in the center of it, ready for ignition.

As you approach the fireplace to inspect it further, you hear Notaulix speak. "Good morning, Anon." He greets you.

Turning around to look at Notaulix, you find a humorous scene as you stare at the sofa that functions as his bed.
Notaulix has himself firmly snuggled up into a corner of the sofa with his blanket tightly wrapped around his body, as well as covering most of it.
In fact, the only part that Notaulix has left exposed is his muzzle and horn which poke out from underneath the blanket. Looking closer, you see his eyes focused on you, staring back with a neutral expression.

"Good morning... You look cold." You return his greeting with a light chuckle. "Did you do this?" You ask, gesturing to the fireplace with one of your hands.

"Yes, I did!" Notaulix cheerfully replies. "I thought I could be useful if I prepared the fire to warm the house for you, Anon. I... did it just the way that you do it. I-I hope you don't mind..." Notaulix explains as he slightly shrinks back under his blanket.

"I don't mind at all! It..." You reassure Notaulix while taking a moment to look behind you and briefly inspect the prepared fire starting material, before looking back at him.
"...looks fine to me. All I have to do is light it and we can get things warming back up in here." You say to Notaulix. "...How come you didn't just light the fire yourself?" You add a moment later.

"I didn't know if you would want me doing that or not, Anon. You cautioned me about the fire before, I don't want to make you angry by doing something I'm not supposed to do." Notaulix answers you.

"Oh, well... I appreciate that. I don't see any problem with you starting the fire in the morning as long as I'm here." You say to Notaulix.
"Although, you might have some trouble depending on how early you started it, and how much wood was left in the little wood box here." You say while gesturing towards the half-full box in question.

"Why would I have trouble with that, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"It's just because you'd have to go outside to the woodshed to get more wood, that's all." You respond.

"You're right, Anon... I didn't think of that." Notaulix says.

"No need to worry about that though; I'll try and remember to keep it filled up for any morning that you might want to start a fire yourself." You say to Notaulix.

"R-Really? You would do that for me, Anon?" Notaulix asks in surprise as he adjusts his position to lay in a more upright position, uncovering his head and neck in the process.

"Sure. It's not a big deal. Enough about that though, let's get this fire going." You say as you turn around and kneel down in front of the fireplace.

Over the course of a few minutes, you ignite the tinder that Notaulix prepared and progressively feed the flame larger wood until you have a nice, vigorous fire established.
Satisfied, you rise back up and walk up to Notaulix, who stares up at you as he watches you approach.
Once in front of the sofa, you reach out and bring a hand to rest on top of Notaulix's head. Immediately, you discover him to be warm to the touch and not feeling cold at all.

Notaulix briefly looks up at you in confusion before you begin to give him scritches and scratches behind the ear, which he responds to by closing his eyes and pressing his head into your touch.
You continue with a smile for several seconds, finding a measure of amusement in how this simple act seems to be universally loved by the inhabitants of this world.
Concluding with a final pat on the head, you watch as Notaulix takes a few seconds before opening his eyes and looking back up at you.

"Thank you, Anon. That feels nice." Notaulix says to you with eyes full of appreciation.

"You're welcome. Also, you're still pretty warm, aren't you? You just looked cold with how you had that blanket over you, I guess." You comment.

"Staying extra warm feels good, Anon. I wanted to stay that way as it was getting colder in here." Notaulix says.

"That's understandable... Is that part of why you love my bed so much?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes." Notaulix plainly while a faint smile creeps into place, making you laugh in response.

"You'll love it when we can get you your own bed. Until then, how about we work on something that can be done right now, like breakfast?" You suggest to Notaulix.

"Yes, breakfast sounds nice! How can I help you, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Well, let's go over here and see what we got..." You say before turning and walking over to the kitchen with Notaulix eagerly following after you.

Over at the kitchen, you and Notaulix spend a moment considering what you would like to eat. Soon enough, you both come to an agreement on some nice and hot oatmeal.
With that plan in mind, you delegate a few tasks to Notaulix as you begin working together on your meal.
All things considered, there aren't many things that needed to be done. Because of that, you end up spending a few minutes speaking with Notaulix while you wait for the oatmeal to cook.

You ask him specifically if there is anything he would like you to get while in Ponyville, to which he replied saying that he would love to try another dessert tonight.
Seeing as how you're going to Sugarcube Corner today anyway, you agree to Notaulix's request, while also mentioning that you plan on picking up a brand new toothbrush just for him, much to his appreciation.

Soon, the two of you are sat back down in your usual spots by the small table, enjoying the warmth coming from the fireplace as your hot oatmeal and some fresh tea warm you from within.
The tea happened to be yet another thing that Notaulix had never tried before. His first impression of it was neither bad nor good, but he enjoyed the heat that it provided on this cold, damp morning nonetheless.
You explained that there are many different kinds of teas and tea blends out there, to which Notaulix expressed his interest, saying that he would always enjoy trying something new if you happen to get it.

After that, you decide to start asking Notaulix some simple questions about the Everfree Forest, in an effort to gauge just how much he's started to learn in the last few days.
Even after finishing breakfast, you continue your brief discussion that develops. There are unsurprisingly large gaps in the changelings knowledge, but you can clearly tell that Notaulix is putting a genuine effort into learning as much as he can.
In the end, your conversation draws to a close with you encouraging Notaulix to keep up the good work.

Afterwards, you both get up and take the brief moment needed to wash your dishes. Looking out through the window above the kitchen sink, you can't help but feel a little discouraged by how hard it's raining outside.
Once finished with that, you take a moment to walk over to the fireplace and put another piece of wood on the fire. After doing so, Notaulix approaches and sits next to you on the wooden floor with his back turned to the warm fire.
As for yourself, you begin to think about your next move as you hold out both of your hands to warm them at a distance, staring into the flames as they dance around the burning wood.

Glancing over at the clock to check the time, you decide that you may as well start preparing for your trip to Ponyville. Before doing that, you turn your attention to Notaulix.

"I'm going to go ahead and start getting some things ready before I leave for Ponyville. You need anything before I start doing that?" You ask Notaulix.

Notaulix turns his head to look up at you and smile before responding. "I am fine. Thank you for asking, Anon." He says.

"Alright then. I'll check in with you again before I leave." You say before walking towards the hallway.

"Okay." Notaulix says as he watches you move away.

In the hallway, you stop by the front door and grab your backpack before making your way into the bathroom. Once inside, you kneel down in front of the simple woven basket that you toss your dirty clothes into.
Removing first the simple lid off the top of the basket, you grab hold of the entire container and turn it upside down, dumping its contents onto the bathroom floor.
You then begin sorting through your previously worn clothes, picking out the particular pieces that you want to bring to the cleaning mare in Ponyville.
But because of the recent events over the past few days, you've managed to accumulate a nearly full basket; which is something that you normally avoid.

With that in mind, you decide to just bring it all with you today, if nothing else for the convenience of having it done and off your mind.
Shirts, pants and socks all get loaded into your backpack, leaving you with a small pile of underwear on the floor. You quickly realize that you have a minor situation at hand.
You frequently used to take even your underwear to the cleaning mare. After a particular embarrassing incident that happened last year though, you've avoided doing that, opting to wash them yourself instead.

However, even that simple task has an issue now that you have Notaulix living with you...
Like a true bachelor, what you've always done after washing things like your socks or underwear yourself is simply hang them up somewhere in the house. Usually above the shower or the fireplace.
While you know that the average pony, and most likely Notaulix, wouldn't consider such a sight to be particularly strange, the thought of having such things up in plain view of someone living with you stings at your human sensibilities.

With the possibility of the same incident looming deep in your mind, you end up deciding on washing them yourself later today. You'll deal with setting them out to dry when the time comes.
Having decided that, you put all of your underwear back into the basket, place the lid on it, and leave the bathroom with your backpack in hand.
Returning to the front door, you drop your backpack on the floor before putting on your coat, along with your trusty boots before lacing them up.
Once done with that, you walk back into the living room where you catch sight of Notaulix once more. You can see that he's flown up onto the kitchen counter, where he currently sits while drinking a glass of water.

"I'm going to take a moment and fill up the wood box for you before I leave." You tell Notaulix as you approach the side door.

"Do... Do you want me to keep the fire going while you're gone, Anon? Is that really okay?" Notaulix asks you, sounding slightly unsure of himself.

"Sure it is. On a day like today with it dumping rain outside, I really doubt anyone would notice anything while I'm gone. Besides, it's not like I'm going to be gone that long." You reassure Notaulix.

"Okay Anon, I will keep the fire going while you are in Ponyville today. That does sound good." Notaulix says.

"Thanks. I'll certainly appreciate it when I come back to a nice, warm home." You say as you unlock the side door.

Once unlocked, the sound of the falling rain immediately intensifies as you open the door and step outside onto the porch, where you immediately feel the cold and moist air of the day against your hands and face.
After taking a moment to observe your surroundings, you pull up the hood of your coat over your head before stepping out from the cover of the porch, where you run the short distance over to your woodshed.
At the woodshed, you assemble a bundle of firewood in your arms, which you haul back and deposit into the wood box near the fireplace, a process which you repeat twice until its full.
By the time you finish all of this and make sure that the side door is locked once more, Notaulix has returned to his usual spot on the sofa, where his blanket gently drapes over his rear half.

Taking one more look at the clock, you see that you may as well begin your rainy trip towards Ponyville, in order to allow yourself plenty of time to get to Sugarcube Corner.
Before leaving, you make a stop at the sofa, immediately drawing Notaulix's attention towards you.

"Besides something for dessert, is there anything in particular you'd like for dinner?" You ask Notaulix.

"Anon, you know that I am happy with anything that you decide to make for dinner. Everything you have made for me has been amazing." Notaulix says with a gentle smile.
Mere moments after saying that, however, Notaulix's posture jolts slightly, his face conveying an expression of surprise along with ears pointing straight up.
"But..." Notaulix begins, bringing up a forehoof to his chin in thought. "If.... If it isn't too much to ask..." He timidly continues, his ears drooping to the side in the process.

You patiently wait for Notaulix to finish what he started to say, though as the seconds pass by, you can see that he's very reluctant to do so.

"Go on, it's really not a big deal to suggest something that you want to eat." You encourage Notaulix.

"But I already asked you to get us a dessert for today, Anon! I don't want you to think I'm greedy..." Notaulix admits as he looks up at you with a frown.

You chuckle lightly and smile before responding. "Trust me. If you were being greedy, I'd let you know. There's no harm in suggesting more than one thing. Tell me what you were thinking." You reassure Notaulix.

"If it's really okay... Do you remember what we made together a few days ago, Anon? The food with the... the chicken eggs, and the vegetables." Notaulix asks you as his expression returns to a more neutral state.

"Oh, you want another scramble for dinner? We can do that." You answer Notaulix.

"Not just any s-scramble, Anon. After we finished eating was when you first told me about the wonders of cheese, and how one of those would have been even better with it, so..." Notaulix explains with a brief pause.
"May we please have a scramble with cheese for dinner, Anon?" Notaulix finally asks, his eyes full of hope as he stares up at you.

"Of course we can!" You respond with laughter. It both puzzles and fascinates you how Notaulix can make such a big deal out of what are minor things to you.

"Really?! Thank you Anon!" Notaulix says with great joy and some light buzzing of his wings. "I will be looking forward to this special dinner tonight!" He adds.

"Me too." You agree with a nod. "It sounds really good on a day like today... Anyway, now that we're decided on that, it's time for me to get moving." You say to Notaulix.

"Okay Anon. Have a good journey!" Notaulix enthusiastically says in response.

"Heh, thanks. As good of a journey as one can have in the rain, huh?" You tease Notaulix, making him smile.

You begin to continue on your way towards the front door, when something comes to mind, making you abruptly stop after a few steps.

"Is something wrong, Anon?" Notaulix asks as he peers over the arm of the sofa at you.

"No, I just thought of something." You begin to explain as you reverse your steps back towards the sofa. "The next time you decide to read those books on the Everfree, I would recommend that you read about..." You trail off.

"About what?" Notaulix asks.

"...It'll make more sense if I just point out what to read. One moment, I'll be right back." You say before making a brief detour to your room before returning with a few scraps of paper.

Notaulix watches with great interest as you take a few minutes to quickly navigate to key locations in the Everfree books, where you place a scrap of paper as a marker at each one.

"What is this for, Anon?" Notaulix asks once you finish placing the paper scraps.

"If you're up for it, I want us to get right back into the forest on the next good day that we get. But next time, I'd like to go a bit deeper." You explain.
"Going deeper into the Everfree means more plants to look out for, along with more specific dangers to keep in mind. At the very least, I want you to be familiar with the things that I just bookmarked before we go again." You continue.

"I'll do my best!" Notaulix proudly proclaims before quickly picking up one of the books to read, clearly eager to learn.

"Very good. Anyway, I don't know how long my meeting with Gilda is going to last, but I'll be back as soon as I can. See you later." You say before continuing on your way to the front door, where you put on your backpack and grab your bit bag.

Once outside with the door securely locked behind you, the first thing you do is stand at the edge of the porch and stare at the inclement weather before you.
Such things don't hold you back for long, however. After mentally preparing yourself and adjusting the hood of your coat, you step out into the heavy rain.
While your coat and backpack are both thoroughly waxed and water resistant, you don't want to spend any more time than necessary out in the rain.

With that in mind, you take off down the dirt road towards Ponyville at a steady jogging pace. Thankfully, doing so significantly cuts down on the time it takes you to reach your destination.
Arriving at the outskirts of Ponyville, you can already tell that there is little activity happening today. The biggest giveaway to this that you observe is the marketplace, where you see only a few brave ponies selling their goods.
None of this surprises you, of course. It's only natural when the weather is this bad. Pushing those thoughts aside, you begin to focus on your first destination as you make your way into the inner portions of the town.

The first thing you do is arrive at the front door of the home and business of Bubble Shine, a kind and gentle unicorn mare who runs a small cleaning service.
In this land of colorful ponies that you found yourself in, there is very little demand for the cleaning of clothing, as such things are generally rarely worn, usually reserved for special occasions.
In contrast, there is plenty of demand for the cleaning of everyday things. Curtains, rugs, bed sheets and table cloths, Bubble Shine cleans them all, to name a few.

Originally, you were washing everything by hand, which took an increasingly long time to accomplish as you had more pieces of clothing made for you.
That lasted until one day, Rarity recommended that you give this mare a visit, which turned out to be a piece of advice that you've been thankful for ever since.
There's just something nice and incredibly convenient about dropping off your laundry, paying a few bits, and coming back in a few hours to fresh, clean clothes. Especially when you have as much as you do today.

Besides that, everything that you bring to this mare comes back cleaner and fresher than you could ever do by hand. You're not sure how she does it, but you suppose that's why her service has so much praise from the locals.
...Including yourself. Even if you don't bring your underwear here anymore.
Giving the door a few firm knocks, you don't end up waiting long until the door opens, revealing Bubble Shine looking up at you with her light blue eyes.

"Hello Mr. Anonymous! Please, come inside out of this awful rain!" The cleaning mare greets you while stepping aside and gesturing you in with a forehoof.

"Thanks." You say, making sure to take a moment and wipe your boots on the doormat before entering.

Entering Bubble Shine's home, the soothing aroma of lavender and other fresh floral scents fill your nose, undoubtedly related to her cleaning work.

After closing the door, Bubble Shine trots over to the other side of a small wooden counter. "What can I do for you? Did you bring me some of your clothes today?" She asks in a cheery voice.

"I brought a lot of them, actually." You say while removing your backpack, prompting the mare to giggle.

"The more the merrier! Let's see what you've brought today." Bubble Shine says as her horn glows, bringing a large woven basket over by your feet.

Opening up the backpack, you turn it upside down and shake it over the basket, causing all of your clothing to fall down into it.
Bubble Shine then takes a brief moment to examine what you've brought, gauging how much work there is to be done.

"Hmm... How about six bits today?" Bubble Shine suggests, turning her attention back to you.

"Sounds good." You say before digging the six bits out of your bit bag and placing them on the counter, which the mare accepts.

After placing the bits somewhere behind the counter, Bubble Shine turns her attention back to you.

"What are you going to do now when it's so wet outside? Did you have any plans?" Bubble Shine asks you.

"I do, actually. I made some arrangements to meet with someone at Sugercube Corner around noon." You answer her.

"How nice! Spending time with a good friend and a sweet treat, hmm?" Bubble Shine comments.

"Well... Not quite. You see..." You proceed to retell your encounter yesterday with Gilda, the griffon visiting Ponyville, and how she wanted to hear about you and some of your experiences in the Everfree Forest.
You speak with Bubble Shine for several more minutes before she wishes you luck on your meeting and you depart, leaving behind your dirty clothes to be washed. After that expense, your bit bag has 38 bits left.

Back on the streets of Ponyville, you decide to make a quick dash over to the marketplace to see what's available before you go to Sugarcube Corner, since you realize that it may close early today because of the rain.
When you arrive at the marketplace, your heart sinks upon seeing just how sparse things are today, with less than half the normal amount of vendors set up and selling their goods.
The only ponies selling here are the ones who make use of tents, stands, carts or wagons that happen to have cover built into them.
Doubt fills your mind as to whether or not you will be able to fulfill Notaulix's dinner request, but you press onward anyway, checking out the available vendors to see if you might be in luck today.

And as luck would have it, you quickly figure out that everything that you need is here today, including the usual cheese vendor.
You immediately go from pony to pony, acquiring whatever is available that you know would work well in a scramble. You end up with an onion, a few small potatoes, a green pepper and a big red tomato.
At the cheese vendor, you find yourself facing a more difficult decision. The selection is both reduced and slightly different today, which is due to todays weather, or so the mare running the booth explains to you.
After asking for some recommendations, you end up purchasing a small chunk of Hoovarti, which sounds suspiciously close to the Havarti of your old world, along with a small chunk of Gouda.
Having everything that you will need for dinner, you leave the marketplace with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that Notaulix will get to enjoy his special request. You ended up spending 9 bits, leaving you with 29 remaining in your bit bag.

From the marketplace, you walk down and around the wet streets of Ponyville until you arrive at the unmistakable Sugarcube Corner, the aroma of which you could smell before you even stepped up to the door.

Upon entering the building, you pause for a moment to pull back your hood and take in the sights and sounds around you, along with the heavenly scent of freshly baked treats.
Sugarcube Corner happens to be a lively spot today, with many ponies packed around the available tables, who happily chat among each other while enjoying a sugary delight.
Looking over at the main counter, you spot Mr. Cake talking with a couple other stallions. Upon noticing you, he offers a friendly wave of a forehoof before turning his attention back to his conversation.
In the end, you see no sign of Gilda yet. Thankfully, despite how busy things are at the moment, you spot a couple tables that are still open for when she does arrive.

Weaving your way around the groups of ponies, you make your way towards one of the walls where an available table happens to be.
Once at the table, you remove your backpack and lean it up against the wall, which you rest your coat on after removing it too.
Finally, due to the absence of chairs, you opt to simply sit down on the floor and lean against the wall to rest while you wait for Gilda to arrive.
While you wait, you begin to listen in on some of the conversations taking place, curious to hear if there's anything interesting going on.

One group of young mares are discussing what they plan on doing after this harsh weather clears up.
Another group is talking about their family and a recent visit to Appleloosa.
Then there's a colt and a filly, who look like they could be siblings to you. They playfully argue over who is going to be faster in the Running of the Leaves this year.
You pause as you consider what the young ponies just said. Your mind has been so preoccupied ever since taking Notaulix in under your care, you had forgotten that event was coming up.
The more you think about it, the more a particular idea begins to manifest itself in your mind.

You know that the ponies love their holidays and local events. The whole town practically gets involved in them, and they become their focus.
What if you could use that focus to your advantage? What if you introduced Notaulix in his griffon form to the ponies during the days leading up to the Running of the Leaves? You think to yourself.
On paper, the idea sounds good. You wonder if the ponies would really be distracted enough to not overwhelm Notaulix, or rather Gerson, by wanting to all meet him at once, especially considering the planned backstory.
You continue to mull over the idea in your mind, losing track of time as you do so.

When you return your attention to reality, you look up at a clock on a wall and discover that it's a few minutes past noon.
Knowing that Gilda should be here any minute now, you decide to take a moment and get up to walk over to the main counter to get something warm for yourself.
As you approach, Mr. Cake and the two stallions pause their conversation and look up at you.

"Sorry to interrupt things here." You say with a smile.

"It's no problem." One of the stallions says while waving a forehoof dismissively, while the other one nods in agreement.

"Good to see you Anon! Did you come in like everypony else to escape the rain?" Mr. Cake greets you.

"Sure did. I actually planned on meeting someone here today... She should be here any time now." You say in response.

"Is that so? Well, it's a great day to spend some time together indoors." Mr. Cake says. "Can I get you anything?" He adds.

"Yeah, could I start out with a hot chocolate, please?" You request.

"Of course! I'll have it right out for you in a moment." Mr. Cake says as he briefly disappears into the kitchen, before reemerging several seconds later with a pony sized mug of hot chocolate.

"Thanks." You say while taking a bit out of your bit bag and setting it down on the counter, which Mr. Cake accepts. With the warm mug in hand, you return to your table, allowing the three stallions to resume their conversation.

Using your hot chocolate mostly as a hand warmer, you take the occasional sip from it while you patiently await Gilda's arrival.
However, with the minutes ticking on by, you begin to doubt that she is going to show up, as it's now almost a half hour past noon.

Despite that, you give Gilda the benefit of the doubt and continue to wait, or at least until your hot chocolate runs out.
Besides, you find it pleasant enough just to relax here where it's warm and listen to the conversations around you.
Time continues to pass, and your doubt continues to increase. You begin thinking about what you're going to bring back home for dessert when the door opens, where a very wet and slightly wide-eyed Gilda steps through.

The conversations among the ponies quickly dies down as most turn to look at the female griffon who entered. Gilda appears to pay no attention to this, instead scanning the room, no doubt looking for you.
You raise an arm up and give her a slow wave, which she quickly notices. Upon catching sight of you, Gilda visibly relaxes before making her way over to your table.
As she does so, the ponies begin to pick up where their conversations left off.
Once at the table, Gilda sits down on the opposite side from you, followed by looking at you for a moment before looking away.

"Hey, yeah... Soooo... Dash's place drifted further away than we thought it would when the rainstorm hit last night, so I needed to fly further to get here, and..." Gilda trails off before taking a deep breath.
"Ugh. Look; I know I got here real late like a dweeb. I'm sorry." Gilda says to you, both looking and sounding disappointed in herself.

You let out some lighthearted laughter before waving a hand dismissively towards Gilda. "It's all good, really. Considering the rain by itself, it's perfectly understandable to be a little late, let alone having a longer distance to travel." You say to her.

"You're not mad at me?" Gilda questions you with a hint of surprise, turning her head towards you once more as she does so.

"Nah. It's not like I had some sort of pressing schedule on a day like today. " You joke with her.

"If anything I feel a little bad for this... If I knew the weather was going to be this bad, I would have just invited you in for awhile yesterday so you wouldn't have to go through all that rain." You admit.

"Psh! A little rain is nothing; I can handle myself out there, but... Thanks. I appreciate the thought." Gilda says, her expression softening.

You smile and slowly nod your head a few times before taking your mug and finishing off the remainder of your hot chocolate. "Mind if I get us a little something?" You ask Gilda afterwards.

"Oh, uh... You don't have to do that for me. I don't care if you get something though." Gilda says in an unconvincing manner.

Noting that, you press the matter further. "I insist. Wouldn't you at least enjoy something hot to help warm you up? It would make me feel better." You say to Gilda.

"If you're insisting... Well, sure!" Gilda happily says with little hesitation, instantly betraying how she really felt.

You chuckle as you climb to your feet. "Alright then, I'll be right back." You say as you walk off to the main counter once more with your empty mug in hand.

A few minutes later, you return to your table and set down a fresh mug of hot chocolate for each of you, followed by a small plate of assorted cookies.

"Thanks." Gilda says, taking hold of her mug while watching you return to your position on the floor.

Once comfortable, you take a cookie and give it a bite while waiting to see if Gilda wants to start off your conversation with something specific.
When several seconds go by and Gilda does nothing but stare, you decide to take the initiative and ask her a question.

"So Gilda." You begin, taking a moment to pause and finish your cookie. "You and Rainbow have known each other for a long time? Are you from around here?" You ask.

"Yeah, Dash and I met when we were a couple of pipsqueaks at something called the Junior Speedsters Flight Camp." Gilda answers with a bit of amusement in her voice at the mention of the flight camp.
"I'm... not really from around here though." She continues. "I was born in Griffonia, at some little village in the middle of nowheresville along the Western Mountains." Gilda begins to explain.

"Western Mountains?" You interject with a measure of interest, as you immediately recall Notaulix's mention of the Eastern Mountains.

"Never heard of it, huh? Figures... Guess you don't have much of a reason to learn about Griffonia though, do you?" Gilda says to you.

"No, I haven't heard of it. But I'm always interested in learning more about this world. There's so much that I don't know." You respond.

"Hm..." Gilda pauses as she considers what you just said. "I'm not gonna give you a geography lesson, but this is basically all you need to know about Griffonia..." Gilda begins.
"You got the Western Mountains, the Eastern Mountains, the Central Range in the middle, the ocean on both sides and the Frozen North above." Gilda explains while gesturing with her talons in the air.

"And Equestria below?" You add in conclusion.

"Uh huh." Gilda plainly says as she reaches in and takes a cookie for herself.

"Are there any major differences between those different regions?" You ask in hope of learning more information that may be helpful for Notaulix.

"Nah, not really. It's all looks the same with the same kinds of towns and villages scattered around. The only thing that's different are the griffons." Gilda answers as she munches on her cookie.

"Different? What exactly do you mean by that?" You press further.

Gilda stares at you for a moment with a half-annoyed expression before answering. "Yeah. Different. Our way of life is different." Gilda says.
"Us Western Griffons are traditionally farmers. You know, growing potatoes and carrots and other lame things like that." Gilda starts to explain.
"Things like hunting and mining are more the Eastern Griffons game. They also tend to keep to themselves more... The only real activities we usually have in common are fishing and trading." Gilda continues.

"Really? That's quite interesting. Do Eastern Griffons never farm, and vice versa?" You ask.

"Of course they do! It's just... uncommon, that's all. Lots of value placed on tradition and stuff, you catch my drift? It's expected for a family to pass down a trade from one generation to the next." Gilda answers you.

"Oh... It's like that, is it?" You comment as you think carefully about the things you're learning. You're realizing that the story of Gerson may be shaping up to be an improbable one.
"What happens if someone wants to pursue a different trade than the one their family practices? Does that even happen?" You question Gilda.

Upon hearing your question, Gilda's expression begins to turn a bit sad. "Yeah, that happens. Depends on how traditional the family is. Usually starts a bunch of fighting." She answers you while breaking eye contact.

As much as your genuinely curious and want to know more, you feel a twinge of guilt for asking these questions, as Gilda's changing disposition is plainly telling you that she doesn't want to talk about these things.
In the back of your mind, you can't help but wonder if perhaps Gilda is one of those griffons who strayed from tradition. If that happens to be the case, you understand that you must be treading on a very sore subject.

"This is very interesting to learn about, but I feel like I'm getting us off track here. Sorry about that." You apologize to Gilda.
"Go ahead and continue what you originally started to tell me about. How did you end you end up here in Equestria?" You ask.

"Alright then..." Gilda says, visibly relaxing before looking back at you. "I'll save you the big boring story and explain it to you this way..." Gilda begins.
"My parents were both traders. As soon as I was old enough, we all made the trip south to Equestria and back at least a few times a year for my parents to do their business, and for me to learn something, hopefully." Gilda explains.
"Or at least that's what they hoped I would do." Gilda says with a playful, devious look in her eyes.

"Cloudsdale was a place we'd usually stay at once here in Equestria. To a young mountain bird like me, I thought it was the coolest place around." Gilda continues.
"And of course, the pinnacle of cool in the whole land were the Wonderbolts. Who else?" Gilda says while pausing for a moment to chuckle.
"I wanted to be that cool, and like most young ones in Cloudsdale, I practically begged my parents to enroll me in the Junior Speedsters Flight Camp." Gilda explains.
"But... You know the scene. They didn't want their little chick to do that. They wanted me to stay by their side and learn the art of trading." Gilda says.
"Right before we were going to head back up north, I finally convinced them by saying I could be a better trader if I could learn to fly faster than any other griffon." She continues.
"Soooo yeah... They made sure I would be cared for, enrolled me into the flight camp, and left. Dash and I soon met and became best buds. The rest is history." Gilda concludes.

"Wow, that's quite an upbringing you had. What about now? Is there a reason why you're visiting Ponyville?" You ask her.

Gilda remains silent at your question. You watch as she takes a moment to sip her hot chocolate before staring down into the mug for several seconds.
Finally, she sets the mug down before taking in a deep breath and letting it back out. "You remember what Dash said, right?" Gilda asks you.

"About what?" You ask in return, unsure of what she's getting at.

"That little fall out we had years ago, and that she hadn't seen me in a long time." Gilda clarifies for you.

"Right, I remember that. Why?" You ask once more.

"The truth is, I was a real punk growing up. I think Dash was the only one who really tolerated the way I was." Gilda admits. "But Dash had her limits too, and eventually I got a real wake-up call from her and her friends a few years ago." She adds.
"I ran away from them, and decided that I wanted to go find my parents. It took me a couple years to finally find them." Gilda says.

"Years? You didn't know where they were anymore?" You question her.

"Nope. Back when I convinced them to let me stay at Cloudsdale? Yeah. They never came back for me... I think they knew how I was going to turn out." Gilda bluntly answers. Immediately, you feel your heart sink.

Your mind runs wild as you struggle to find the right words to speak, but those words easily slip away from you. After a moment of silence between the two of you, Gilda catches on and gives you a smirk.

"Cat got your tongue?" She teases you. "That's fine; I'm not looking for any sympathy from anyone. It it what it is, and I've moved on from it." She says.
"Anyway! Lemme finish what I started... So I traveled back to Griffonia to search out my parents, and, well... I found them, but..." Gilda pauses.
"I didn't feel anything, you know? It just wasn't home anymore. I didn't feel like I belonged there or even in Griffonia anymore." Gilda admits.
"So I left, probably for the last time, and made my way back down here. I've been traveling around Equestria and checking out all the different towns and cities." Gilda says.
"See, what I'm really looking for now is someplace to settle down. A place to call home and feel like I belong, where I can have some kind of purpose to my life." Gilda admits, albeit bashfully as she runs a set of talons through her plumage.
"S-Sorry for laying all this sappy dweeb stuff on you, Anon. I'm only telling you this stuff because I have the feeling that you might understand me. You're not like the ponies." Gilda apologizes to you.

"No, it's fine." You nod your head a few times for emphasis. "Gilda, I'm not going to pretend that I understand what you went through; I can't imagine what it must have been like to be left behind by your parents." You say to her.
"But I can empathize with you over searching out belonging and a purpose for you life. That's exactly what I went through when I first arrived in this world." You continue.

"Yeah, that's it!" Gilda happily exclaims. "Wow, it really feels good to talk about these things with someone like you." Gilda states before tension seemingly disappears from her body after letting out a deep breath.

"Well, I'm glad I can be a listening ear for you. So... Are you planning on living here in Ponyville?" You ask Gilda.

Upon hearing your question, Gilda sits in silence for awhile as she considers her response. "No, I don't think so." She eventually replies.

"Really? Why not?" You question her.

"Dunno... I just don't feel it, you know?" She shrugs. "I do like being close to Dash, but I just can't think of anything to do around here that would be worthwhile. And there's no way I'm mooching off anyone just to get by." Gilda responds.

"Ah, that's understandable... Hey, if you're looking for work, how do you feel about getting chased around by some Timberwolves in the Everfree?" You joke with the griffon.

"Hah! No way!" Gilda exclaims with laughter. "That's not something for me, e-even if I do think what you're doing is pretty cool." Gilda says, her plumage puffing out slightly in embarrassment after doing so.
"Speaking of... I've told you a lot about me, how about you take your turn now? Tell me something about that forest." Gilda requests.

You comply and begin to regale Gilda with tales of your experiences and discoveries from within the Everfree Forest.
Gilda listens with rapt attention as you do so, occasionally making a comment or asking a question, which you do your best to answer.
Whenever you retell a situation that had a measure of danger or suspense to it, Gilda visibly tenses up and leans closer, much to your amusement.

At some point the heavy rain outside begins to calm down, turning into a mere drizzle. Not long after that, many of the ponies who were inside Sugarcube Corner with you begin to leave.
Even Pinkie Pie emerges from somewhere once the crowd clears out. The energetic mare spots the two of you, but she simply waves with a forehoof before departing, no doubt out of respect for your one-on-one conversation.
Eventually, things begin to settle down as your conversation comes to a natural lull. You take a moment to look over at the clock on the wall, where you find that you've been at this for about two hours now.
Gilda follows your eyes, and upon noticing the clock, quickly looks back at you with a surprised expression.

"I didn't think we've been here for that long!" Gilda cries out. "Sorry to take up so much of your time..." She apologizes.

"This was the perfect kind of day to be inside telling stories. It's fine, really. I enjoyed it." You reassure her.

"Really? W-Well... I enjoyed this too. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day for me, Anon." Gilda says, earnestly thanking you.

"You're more than welcome. I think this is a good place to stop at though." You say as you casually rise up to your feet and stretch.

"Yeah. Of course." Gilda agrees as she gets up herself. "Thanks for the sweets, also..." Gilda pauses as she steps closer, before gesturing you closer with one of her talons.

Confused, you lean in closer where Gilda begins to whisper to you. "Uhh, so... You don't need to be telling Dash that stuff about my parents, okay? She doesn't need to know. Got it?" She says before taking a few steps back.

"Got it." You say to Gilda after straightening yourself back out.

"Cool... Alright, I'm gonna head out now. Thanks again." Gilda says to you with a smile.

"Take care. It was nice talking with you." You say to Gilda, who then turns around and walks over to the door.

"See you around!" Gilda calls out to you before opening the door to Sugarcube Corner and stepping outside. Finally, the door closes, leaving you there with the few remaining ponies.

After taking a moment to collect your thoughts, you put on your coat and grab your backpack, which you bring over to the main counter.

"Hey there Anon. Your story buddy finally left now, did she? You two looked like you were having a good time." Mr. Cake comments from behind the counter.

"Yes we did. The time kind of got away from us." You say to the stallion.

"Time flies when you're having fun! I'm glad to hear that; it's not everyday somepony gets to sit down for some chit chat with a griffon around here." Mr. Cake says. "Anyway, do you need anything else?" He asks you.

"Yeah, let me just take a look here real quick..." You say as you browse all the wonderful goodies on display, thinking carefully about what you might want Notaulix to try next.

While browsing, a selection of doughnuts catches your attention. Simple, easy to eat, and surely nothing that Notaulix has ever had before.
In the end, you come walking out of Sugarcube Corner with a paper box containing a dozen doughnuts of assorted varieties. You have 18 bits left in your bit bag.

Now that it's simply drizzling outside, you begin to walk around Ponyville in a more casual manner with your hood down.
As you do so, your thoughts turn to your laundry that you left with Bubble Shine. You know from experience that they have likely been washed by now, but have yet to dry; especially so considering they couldn't hang outside today.
Meandering along from street to street, you weigh your options. You could go pick up your laundry early, but then you would have to mess around with hanging it up to dry yourself when you got home.
On the other hand, you could leave it at Bubble Shine's and simply make another trip to Ponyville tomorrow to pick everything up.

After thinking about it for a moment, you decide that it's best to simply wait and return tomorrow for your things.
With that plan in mind, you begin your short journey to return home, though not before making a quick stop at the Ponyville Dentist, where you purchase a grey handled toothbrush for Notaulix to use.

Having accomplished everything you set out to do in Ponyville today, you leave behind the quiet town and travel the familiar dirt road to your home, now with 16 bits left in your bit bag.

The Doughnut Incident | Parts 167B - 178A

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The walk back is nothing special, but as your home comes within sight, the thin trail of smoke coming up from the chimney fills you with a sense of comfort, since you know that the house will be warm thanks to Notaulix's efforts.
Making a quick stop at the mailbox, you find nothing inside before walking up to the front door and letting yourself inside.
Stepping into the house, the delightful feeling of warm air immediately hits you. Yes, Notaulix has done a good job indeed.

"I'm back!" You call out while locking up the front door. Moments later, you hear the sound of hooves scampering across the wooden floor.

"Welcome back, Anon!" Notaulix happily greets you as he trots up next to you.

Looking over at him, you find Notaulix to be looking up at you with a warm smile and perhaps a hint of pride. He looks genuinely happy to see you return today.

"How have things been going around here? Everything okay?" You ask Notaulix while walking into the living room on your way to the kitchen area.

"Everything has been fine while you were gone, Anon!" Notaulix cheerfully reports. "Did you get to speak with the griffon? You were gone for a long time!" He asks while following at your side.

"Glad to hear it. And yes, I did. We actually had a nice time together; lost track of time because of that. Sorry." You answer Notaulix, giving him an apologetic smile at the end.

"There's no need to apologize, Anon. I was confident that you were safe." Notaulix says to you.

At the kitchen, you remove your backpack and begin unloading everything from it onto the counters. Meanwhile, Notaulix watches with interest as you remove each item.

"By the way Notaulix, you did a nice job keeping the fire going today. It feels great in here!" You say to Notaulix while unpacking things.

"T-Thank you, Anon! I'm happy I was useful to you!" Notaulix says as his wings briefly buzz, unable to contain his joy at your praise.

"You're in good spirits today, aren't you?" You comment while glancing at the changeling with a grin.

"Yes, I am!" Notaulix replies.

"That's great, though I think it's going to get even better for you..." You pause for effect. "I got both of the things you wanted; the cheese needed for dinner, and something simple for dessert." You continue.

"Really? Thank you, Anon! What did you get us for dessert?" Notaulix asks, still following you around as you bring your now-empty backpack over to the front door to hang up.

"Well... It'll be a surprise." You reply while hanging up your backpack, coat and bit bag. Before you remove your boots, you glance over into the living room and see that the wood box is almost empty.

"Okay Anon, I will look forward to the surprise." Notaulix says as he follows you back into the living room.

You walk across the room towards the side door, which you proceed to unlock.

"What are you doing, Anon?" Notaulix asks while watching you perform the task.

"I'm just going to take a moment and fill the wood box back up. That way we can keep burning for another hour or two, let the fire go out, and still have plenty to start with tomorrow morning" You explain before slipping outside.

Bringing in the first armload of wood, you see Notaulix sitting in front of the fireplace, looking very content. After filling up the wood box with two more trips, you lock the side door once more.
After doing that, you determine that you've done everything that you need to do outside today, and can finally take off your boots and relax for the rest of the day.

Returning to the front door, you free your feet from the confines of your boots before taking a moment to stop in the bathroom and relieve yourself.
While doing so, you take a glance over at the woven basket containing your remaining laundry, or rather, your underwear. You consider taking the time to wash them now, though you quickly decide against it.
You don't want to use the remaining hours of the day being constantly busy at home, you think to yourself. Today you just feel like doing a little less and relaxing instead. Besides, it can wait until tomorrow.
Concluding that train of thought, you wash your hands and exit the bathroom. Upon returning to the living room, you see that Notaulix is still sitting in front of the warm fireplace, looking at nothing in particular.

"Hey, did you see what I got for you?" You ask Notaulix while walking over to the kitchen counters where you unloaded everything.

"What do you mean, Anon?" Notaulix asks with a slightly confused expression. "I saw the cheese for dinner and dessert, yes." He says.

"Those too. I was referring to this." You say as you hold up the new grey handled toothbrush for Notaulix to see.

"Oh! Is that my new toothbrush? Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix says before trotting up to you.

"Yep. I even got it in your color, see? Or... At least as close as I could get it." You say to Notaulix while holding out the toothbrush to him, which he quickly takes hold of with his magic.

"Hehe, I can see that. These brushes are different from how we cleaned our teeth in the hive, but I like them!" Notaulix says as he inspects the toothbrush for a moment before holding it up against his body to compare the colors.

"Really now? Well, that's good then, right? You may as well go take that to the bathroom real quick; just toss the old one into the garbage bin." You suggest to Notaulix.

"Okay Anon. I will go do that now." Notaulix says before walking away and out of sight into the hallway.

Since you're already right there, you decide to get a start on dinner, beginning with hauling out a pan that you place onto the stove top.
Moments later, Notaulix rejoins you and the two of you begin working together on your dinner.
Using the last of the eggs that you have on hand, you prepare Notaulix's requested dinner in no time at all: A delicious scramble with vegetables, fried potatoes, a few simple seasonings and plenty of melted cheese.
After dishing up and sitting down to eat, Notaulix is thrilled with the result, and thanks you earnestly for buying the necessary ingredients for him despite the terrible weather.

Following that, you have a brief conversation about cheese, which turns into you simply taking turns talking about the days activities.
Notaulix tells you of the things he learned in his books today, while you share some of your interaction with Gilda earlier in the day.
Eventually, you both decide to get up and take a moment to do the dishes. While doing so, you realize just how much you're growing to appreciate having Notaulix around.
Besides having someone around to keep you company; something you didn't even realize you wanted, having his help available makes all these little daily tasks go by twice as fast.
Soon enough, the dish washing is complete. Everything is put away, and the countertops receive a final wipe down.

Satisfied with a job well done, you walk over to the fireplace and put another piece of wood on the fire. While you're there, you look at the clock and see that there's a little over an hour and a half left in the day before the night arrives.

"Hey, Notaulix? How about we move on to dessert?" You suggest to the changeling.

"Yes please! I would love to see what you got for us, Anon!" Notaulix happily replies.

"Let's get to it then. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable, I'll bring them over." You say before walking over to where you left the paper box full of doughnuts on the counter.

Notaulix, in turn, trots over to the sofa and settles into his favorite spot. Once there, he watches in eager anticipation as you walk towards him with box in hand.
Instead of sitting on the other side of the small table, you opt instead to sit next to Notaulix on the sofa. As you do so, Notaulix turns himself to face you directly.
Setting the box of doughnuts down in the space between you on the sofa, you finally remove the lid from the container, revealing the contents within.
Placing the lid aside, you watch Notaulix to see how he reacts. However, Notaulix soon appears confused as he alternates between staring at the doughnuts and looking up at you.

"What are these, Anon?" Notaulix eventually asks while looking at you with his head slightly tilted.

"These are called doughnuts; most have a sweet glaze that comes in different flavors. You just pick 'em up and eat." You answer Notaulix.

Several more seconds go by as Notaulix returns to staring at the doughnuts before returning his attention to you.

"Dough... Nut? But Anon, these don't look like they grow on trees! Why are they called nuts?" Notaulix asks you.

You can't help but laugh at Notaulix's question, much to his continued confusion and slight annoyance.

"That's... heh... Look, it's just a name. They're just made from fried dough, they don't grow on a tree." You explain to Notaulix. "Go ahead and try one. Pick whatever you want." You add.

"Oh, I see! That makes more sense..." Notaulix says in a happy tone. After a moment of consideration, his horn glows, and he picks a plain white vanilla glazed doughnut from the box.

You watch and wait for Notaulix's reaction as he brings the doughnut close to his muzzle, where he sniffs it before giving the icing a tentative lick.

"It's delicious, Anon!" Notaulix immediately proclaims with a big smile. "But... Why is this here?" Notaulix questions as he looks through the hole of the doughnut with one of his eyes.

Before you can form your response, you find yourself dumbfounded by the sudden spectacle before you...

For reasons unknown to you, after looking through the doughnut hole, Notaulix brought the bottom of the doughnut up against his lips, where he proceeded to poke his tongue through the doughnut hole.
And not just any tongue, to your surprise. Right in front of you, Notaulix's tongue is, without any doubt, long, slightly forked at the tip, and most surprisingly to you: Green.
You become transfixed on the changelings tongue as it swirls to and fro around the vanilla glaze on the other side of the doughnut, periodically disappearing back into Notaulix's mouth before reappearing again.

However, this strange behavior quickly becomes messy, as you notice some glaze begin to flow around the bottom of the doughnut and onto Notaulix's face.
After what felt like a long time to you, though was only a minute at most in reality, Notaulix finally notices you staring at him with a peculiar expression.
Notaulix removes the doughnut from his now messy face, complete with lines of white glaze plastered along his muzzle.

"Is something wrong, Anon?" Notaulix asks you with all sincerity and his ears perked up.

"Uh..." You pause for a moment before chuckling in amusement. "Nothing's wrong, it's just, well... I wasn't expecting all of THAT." You answer Notaulix, gesturing both of your hands towards him in a vague fashion.
"Why were you licking the glazing off the doughnut like that? You're supposed to just take a bite out of the entire thing." You ask Notaulix.

"I thought it would be fun to try and lick up as much of that delicious stuff that way as I could, Anon. Like a challenge!" Notaulix cheerfully answers.

"And was it fun?" You question him.

"Yes, it was." Notaulix responds while looking very proud of himself.

You can't help but grin at Notaulix's silly antics for a moment before continuing. "Alright then. Another thing that surprised me was your tongue." You say to him.

"My tongue?" Notaulix repeats as he tilts his head in confusion. "Why did my tongue surprise you, Anon?" He asks you.

"I mean... It's long and green! I guess I just wasn't expecting that... How long is your tongue, anyway? If you don't mind me asking, of course." You ask Notaulix in response.

"Oh, I see! I don't mind at all, Anon. Here, I will show you." Notaulix says before sticking his green forked tongue straight out past his lips. At its full length, you would guess that it sticks out about five inches.

Beyond the aforementioned qualities of it, you don't notice anything else unusual about the changelings tongue. After examining it for a moment and thanking Notaulix for showing you, he promptly withdraws his tongue back into his mouth.

"Still... Green? Is that normal for your kind?" You ask Notaulix.

"Yes Anon, all changelings have green tongues." Notaulix answers you in a matter-of-fact way.

"Really? Huh." You say as you begin to ponder what you've just learned about Notaulix and his kind. However, it only takes a moment before another question rises to the forefront of your mind.
"Now I'm curious; if your tongue is green, does that mean the rest of your body is green too? Your internals, I mean." You ask Notaulix.

"Yes Anon, that's right." Notaulix responds with a few nods of his head. "Do you want to see for yourself?" He asks you.

At first you think that Notaulix may be joking with you, but you soon realize that his question was entirely genuine as he stares at you expectantly, waiting for your answer with a happy look on his face.

While you feel more than a bit awkward with the situation, your curiosity gets the better of you. "...Sure?" You hesitantly reply.

"Okay Anon. I will finish eating this first." Notaulix says before taking a normal bite out of the doughnut. After a moment of chewing, his expression lights up in joy.
"Oh! The rest of it is delicious too! It's chewy!" Notaulix comments as he enjoys the rest of his doughnut.

"I'm glad you liked it. You were sure messy with that one though, you're going to need to take a moment and clean yourself up after we're done eating." You tease Notaulix.

Notaulix considers your words for a moment, before his long tongue reemerges from his mouth, lapping up much of the vanilla glazing as it circles around his muzzle.

"Is that better, Anon?" Notaulix asks you after finishing his makeshift cleanup work.

"Yeah, that's better. You still need a good wet rag, but it's better." You tell Notaulix with a smile, unable to suppress the amusement you're feeling from witnessing all these bizarre things over a simple box of doughnuts.

"I understand, Anon. Now I will show you..." Notaulix says, his horn glowing as he moves the box of doughnuts off the sofa and onto the small table in front of you.

With the box out of the way, Notaulix scoots closer until he sits right next to you. Once there, you watch as he opens his mouth wide in front of you, presenting a clear view of the inside.
Looking inside, the first thing you notice is that Notaulix's internals do indeed appear to be a few different shades of green.
The second thing you notice is that besides Notaulix's prominent fangs, his teeth are very similar in structure and appearance to that of a pony.
Finally, the third thing you notice are all the little bits stuck to his teeth from the doughnut Notaulix ate moments ago.

"You really are green on the inside, huh? Thanks for showing me." You thank Notaulix, who quickly closes his mouth and nods his head before returning to looking at you with his usual happy expression.

"Soooo..." You trail off momentarily to collect your thoughts. "If your internals are green, that must mean that your blood is green, right?" You say to Notaulix.

"That's right, Anon. The blood of my kind is green." Notaulix says.

"Wow. You know, that's really interesting to me. I've only ever known of things having red blood, like myself. Well, besides a few things like some insects and specific things in the ocean. I think those had blue blood, if I recall." You muse to yourself.
"Do you know if any of the other races in this world have green blood like you do, Notaulix?" You ask the changeling.

After a moment of bringing a forehoof up to his chin in thought, Notaulix shakes his head. "I don't think so, Anon. There might be, but I never heard of such a race from my hive brothers and sisters." He answers you.

"Interesting. Well, thanks again. I feel kind of bad though... It's a bit weird to open up your mouth to someone just so their curiosity can be satisfied, isn't it? Sorry for that." You admit to Notaulix.

"I don't mind, Anon. There are many things we don't know about each other; the more we know about each other, the more our bond is strengthened, right?" Notaulix reassures you.

A moment of silence passes between the two of you as you think about what Notaulix just said.

"Yeah, I suppose it is, isn't it?" You answer Notaulix. "Anyway, how about we get back to enjoying our dessert?" You suggest.

"Okay!" Notaulix quickly agrees before scooting back to his original spot, before levitating the box of doughnuts onto the sofa once more.

After that, the two of you enjoyed your dessert without further incident. Notaulix ate the rest of his share of the doughnuts like a normal person, his favorite one being maple flavored.
Once finished with your dessert, you went and brought Notaulix a damp cloth, which he used to clean up his sticky muzzle from his prior antics.
Afterwards, you find yourself standing in the kitchen with a glass of water in hand to wash down the sweetness of the doughnuts. From there, one look at the clock tells you there is about an hour and ten minutes left in the day.

Looking out across the living room, you eventually focus on Notaulix's saddlebag, which is still draped across the back of the other chair from yesterday.
More specifically, you look at the pile of extra straps resting on the seat of the chair; the extra straps that you discovered inside the saddlebag after you purchased it.
Downing the rest of your water, you set the glass down on the counter and walk over to the chair, where you pick up a couple of the straps and try to make sense of them.
Notaulix, who was relaxing on the sofa, perks up and watches with interest as you mess around with the saddlebag and its components.

"What are you doing, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Just taking a moment to try and figure out what these are for." You answer him.

Unfortunately, after spending several minutes experimenting with attaching different straps to different attachment points on the saddlebag, you haven't been able to discern any functional purpose.
Setting the straps back down, you turn your full attention back to the saddlebag itself.
You begin to carefully look through the compartments built into the saddlebag. After all, if all those extra straps were included, there stands a chance that there are other things you didn't know about too.
The first place you check are the two main bag compartments where most things are to be stored. You check and double check to see if there were any pockets within that you may have missed to store things in, but you find none.

Next, you begin to examine the two tubes fashioned from Glyph Skin that rest under each bag. Up until this point, you've neglected to take a look at them.
Knowing that this saddlebag was designed for a courier, you assume that these would be used to transport scrolls and other important documents.
At first you struggle to figure out how to open these tubes, but after some experimentation you find that they are simply sealed with a tight fitting Glyph Skin cap, one that is meant to be pushed on and pulled off.

The evidence of this design becomes more obvious when you consider the fact that the caps have an oversized handle sewn into them, likely to allow earth ponies and pegasi to open them by grabbing hold with their teeth.
Moving forward in your search, you find the left tube to be empty. However, when you pop off the cap on the right tube, you discover something rolled up inside.

"What's that thing, Anon?" Notaulix asks you with interest as his ears perk up to attention.

"Let's see..." You say as you slide the contents of the tube out. After doing so and unrolling your discovery, you see that you are holding none other than a manual of sorts for the saddlebag.
"Hey! It's a little instruction booklet!" You proclaim while quickly flipping through a few pages before settling on looking at the back.

"That's great, Anon! Will it tell you how to use all those strange pieces?" Notaulix asks.

"Yeah, I think it will." You say to Notaulix while flipping the document back over to the front.
"Hey, Notaulix? I'm going to spend some time looking this over, but it's getting late. Do you want to hop into the bathroom before me and get cleaned up before bed?" You ask Notaulix.

"I would like that, Anon. You don't mind if I go in ahead of you?" Notaulix questions you in return.

"Not at all. Besides, it'll give you a chance to use that new toothbrush of yours." You say to Notaulix with a smile.

"Okay Anon, I will go do that now." Notaulix says as he begins to climb off of the sofa. Before he has a chance to get very far, you remember something that was said earlier.

"Wait a moment, got a quick question before you go." You say to Notaulix, who immediately stops moving.

"What is it, Anon?" He asks you.

"How did you clean your teeth, anyway? Back at your home, I mean. Your hive." You ask Notaulix.

"Oh, that's simple, Anon! We make a paste from specific crushed rocks, tree resins and herbs. Using the useful parts of certain dried plants, we scrub that paste on our teeth." Notaulix explains.

"Really now? Guess it isn't too different from how things are done here, are they? Thanks for explaining that one; that's all I wanted to know." You say to Notaulix.

"You're welcome, Anon." Notaulix says before continuing on his way, soon disappearing out of sight around the corner leading into the hallway.

Taking a seat in the other chair, you turn open the first page of the manual and begin carefully reading the instructions.
The first things that you see are the emblem of the Night Guard stamped onto the page, along with #13/15 written below it, signifying the production number.
After taking a look through a small table of contents, you start reading through each accessory and its intended purpose. Each page also includes a simple illustration to help better visualize things.
Most of the straps turn out to simply be for securing larger items to the outside of the saddlebag, with different configurations best suited for different purposes.

One strap in particular strikes you as being especially useful for Notaulix, a so-called quick release strap, designed in a way so that the wearer can release the saddlebag from their body by simply biting onto it and pulling.
However, there are a few pieces that provide extra support for the saddlebag itself, preventing it from sliding around on its wearer under certain circumstances.
In total, there are the following three pieces designed for this purpose: The breastplate, the crupper, and a second belly band meant to be secured behind the forelegs.
The breastplate fits around the front of the wearer, preventing the saddlebag from sliding backwards. On the other end, the crupper is designed to loosely fit around the tail dock and prevent it from sliding forwards.

With everything combined, the saddlebag can be anchored to its wearer with four points of contact. In the back of your mind, you wonder what sort of situations would need such a setup.
While you may have raised an eyebrow at the crupper, upon turning to the final two pages, you find something that sounds even more uncomfortable. The Acrobatic Crupper, designed for intense flight.

This piece of equipment is the only one with two pages of instruction, and for good reason. At the very beginning, it is plainly stated that it should only be used by fliers in situations where absolute flight control is important.
Instead of a simple loop going around the dock, this is a substantial set of straps that goes around the dock, joins underneath the tail, and loops down between the hind legs where it splits into two once more and attaches to the main belly strap.
It doesn't take much imagination to think of a particular problem with this setup. Sure enough, much of the instructions are simply recommendations on how to adjust and pad things out to avoid chafing or squeezing of the genitals.
As you finish reading through the final pages, the very thought of such things makes you want to cringe and cover your manhood out of reflex.

You find it hard to believe anyone would want to use either of these cruppers. Although, you understand that they must be used in one capacity or another, as ponies don't have very many alternatives due to their anatomy.
Tossing the instruction booklet onto the small table, you simply hope that they aren't as uncomfortable to use as they sound.
Regardless of all that, you feel quite pleased after discovering the instructions, and after a quick check, you confirm that everything came with the saddlebag, including the dubious acrobatic crupper.

With nothing else of importance to do, you relax and wait for Notaulix to exit the bathroom.

When the changeling eventually does, he comes trotting up to you after rounding the corner into the living room. "Did you learn anything, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"I did. There's a purpose for every one of those extra pieces, some of which might even be useful for you in the Everfree." You respond.

"Really? That's great! Can you show me everything, Anon?" Notaulix eagerly requests.

"Well..." You pause. "I really need to get in and do my thing in the bathroom before it gets much later, unless I want to be showering in the dark. How about we save it for tomorrow?" You suggest.

Notaulix's ears droop down ever so slightly at your response. "I understand, Anon. It can wait." He says while gently nodding his head for emphasis.

"We can go over this first thing tomorrow after breakfast, okay? Until then, you could take a look at the instructions yourself, if you want." You say to Notaulix while pointing at the object in question.

"Okay, I will!" Notaulix happily announces before taking hold of the instructions with his magic and hopping up onto the sofa.

With that, you leave Notaulix to his reading and proceed to take your turn in the bathroom.
Once there, you enjoy a nice warm shower and take care of some personal grooming. Inspecting yourself in the mirror, you take note that besides needing to shave soon, you could stand to have a haircut.
After finishing your business there, you exit the bathroom and begin walking down the hallway.

Taking a quick detour to the living room, you and Notaulix wish each other a good night before you retire to your room for the evening.

At your bedroom, you immediately sit down at your desk to record the days events in your journal.
Though before you do so, you take a moment to thumb through some of the prior pages, just to remind yourself of some of the things you were doing in the previous months.
Something that immediately stands out to you is how ordinary they seem compared to your recent ones. Routine, even.
It has only been five days since you discovered Notaulix by chance in the Everfree Forest, but you've begun to really realize just how lively your life has become since then.

Granted, you didn't consider your prior life to be dull, but you value the companionship, you enjoy interacting with and learning about a mysterious race, and you appreciate the practical safety of having another with you in the Everfree.
You didn't think that you needed any of those things. You've been proven wrong, and you're grateful for it.
Having those happy thoughts in mind, you begin writing out your latest journal entry.
You write at length for roughly half an hour until you decide to give it a rest, knowing that the night draws near.
Rising up from your desk, you walk over to your usual side of the bed, remove your shirt and pants, and finally make yourself comfortable under the covers.

The night soon arrives, and so does your restful sleep.

Saddlebag Training | Parts 178B - 185A

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You open your eyes at some point in the morning, feeling well rested and very relaxed. Looking at the clock by your bed, you notice that you've slept in a little today; about forty minutes past sunrise.

Soon enough, you motivate yourself out of bed and go through the usual motions of getting dressed, using the bathroom, and making your way to the living room.
Once there, you are greeted with the sight of a happy looking Notaulix staring at you from the comfort of the sofa.

"Good morning, Anon!" Notaulix greets you.

"Good morning." You greet in response as you draw close to the sofa.

Looking over at the fireplace, you can see that Notaulix has once again taken the time to prepare a neat pile of tinder and kindling, ready for ignition.

"Did you sleep well last night?" You ask Notaulix upon arriving at one end of the sofa. "Thanks for taking care of that, by the way." You add while gesturing to the fireplace.

"Yes, I had a good sleep. Thank you for asking, Anon." Notaulix answers you.

"I'm glad to hear that. You can tell I was having some deep sleep; just look at how late I'm up today, huh?" You say to Notaulix, who simply continues to happily stare up at you.
"...Anyway." You continue after a short period of silence. "How about we get a start on breakfast after I get that fire going? I could use a helper." You suggest to Notaulix.

"Okay! Let's make breakfast, Anon!" Notaulix proclaims with great enthusiasm before leaving his blanket behind and hopping off of the sofa.

With your changeling helper following at your side, you proceed to ignite the prepared tinder in the fireplace, quickly building it up to its proper size.
Following that, you both move over to the kitchen area, where you spend a moment deciding on what you want to make.
Which unfortunately, considering your present lack of several useful ingredients, is a rather limited menu.
Despite that, you both quickly decide on some good old tried-and-true hot oatmeal. With a plan in mind, you immediately set yourselves to work.

Considering the simplicity of your meal, most of your time is spent waiting on the oatmeal to cook. You spend much of that time in relative silence, broken by an occasional short bit of conversation.
At one point, you take a look out the kitchen window, where you discover the days weather to be grey skies with a light sprinkling of rain coming down from above.

Not the best weather, but certainly better than yesterday, you think to yourself.

Once your oatmeal is ready and dished up into bowls, you both return to your usual seating positions near the warmth of the fire, where you then enjoy your breakfast.
You eat in silence, soon finishing your meal to satisfaction; an outcome easily attained with the addition of cinnamon and a little sugar, elevating what would otherwise be a very bland experience.

With breakfast concluded, Notaulix is the first to speak up. "Anon? After we wash our dishes, could we please try fitting my saddlebag to me with all the extra pieces?" He asks you.
"I even read the instructions last night!" He quickly adds, his wings spreading out slightly as he does so, betraying his excitement.

"Of course we can. After all, that's what we agreed on yesterday, right?" You answer Notaulix.

You and Notaulix then take the brief moment necessary to clean your breakfast dishes, avoiding the sticky, hard to clean mess that would result from letting the oatmeal residue dry.
After completing that task, you return to the main living area of the room, where Notaulix sits on the floor and watches as you begin to prepare things for getting his saddlebag fitted properly.
Beginning with the saddlebag itself, you lay it out neatly on the floor, followed by taking the extra associated pieces and arranging them next to the saddlebag.
However, after a moments though, you decide to exclude the Acrobatic Crupper and set it aside on one of the chairs. You can't imagine such a thing really being necessary.

"Are we ready, Anon?" Notaulix asks you. "Oh, here's the instructions if you still want them!" He quickly adds as he levitates the document in question over to you.

"Thanks." You say before grabbing hold of the saddlebag's instructions. "Yeah, let's get to this." You then answer Notaulix.

"Okay!" Notaulix says as he rises back onto all four hooves before approaching the saddlebag.

Though once there, Notaulix pauses for a moment as he stares down at the saddlebag, carefully studying it and its extra straps before looking back up at you.

"How do you want to do this, Anon? Where should we begin?" Notaulix asks you.

"Hmm... What do you think about just getting the saddlebag on you first, then fit things together one piece at a time and see how it feels?" You suggest to Notaulix.

"Yes, let's do that." Notaulix agrees.

"Alright then." You begin as you kneel down onto the wooden floor next to Notaulix. "Let me just check something real quick..." You continue while opening up the pages of the instructions.

While you read, Notaulix patiently stands in place while looking toward you, waiting further instruction.
A few minutes later, you set the instructions down on the floor with the page turned to the quick release strap.

"So, first things first; let me take a moment to get this quick release thing set up. I think it'll be easier to do without you wearing the saddlebag." You say to Notaulix as you grab hold of the set of straps in question.

Notaulix watches with interest while you spend the next several minutes getting the quick release integrated into the saddlebag, frequently pausing as you work to glance at the instructions.
With the quick release set up according to the instructions, you give the entire saddlebag a cursory examination before proceeding.
Satisfied with your work, you lift up the saddlebag and position it over Notaulix, who in turn scoots a little closer to make your job easier.

Once in position, you lower the saddlebag onto Notaulix's back and tighten up the main belly strap. "Does this still feel comfortable?" You then ask Notaulix.

Before answering, Notaulix walks forward and takes a few laps around the sofa before coming to a stop next to you. "Yes Anon, it still feels fine." Notaulix happily answers you.

"Cool. Now let's get the rest of these on." You say as you begin to work on the saddlebag's other extra pieces, starting with the forward belly band.

In no time at all, you have both the second band and the breastplate attached to the saddlebag and fitted comfortably to Notaulix's body. You then reach out and grab the final piece: The crupper.
Taking hold of the clasp on one end of the crupper, you snap it into place on a metal ring at the back of the saddlebag. You then take the other end and prepare to make a loop. However...
As your hands move close to Notaulix's hindquarters, a particular problem makes itself apparent, making you pause as the situation suddenly turns into an awkward one.

You didn't really think about it when reading the instructions, but to put this piece on for Notaulix requires you to get your hand under his tail. Beyond that, you can't imagine the dock being anything other than a bit of an intimate area.
Putting yourself in Notaulix's place, you know you wouldn't want someone sticking a hand, hoof or other appendage down your pants just to put something on you.

Noticing your lack of activity, Notaulix looks back at you to see what's going on. "Is something wrong, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"Well, it's just, uh..." You stumble over your words while vaguely gesturing at the changelings rump. "...you know." You continue.

"What do you mean, Anon? What do I know?" Notaulix asks you, clearly confused.

Feeling your face beginning to grow warm in embarrassment, you exhale loudly before responding. "You remember that this bit needs to go under your tail, right?" You ask Notaulix while holding up the other end of the crupper for him to see.

"Yes, of course I remember. Why do you ask, Anon?" Notaulix says in response.

"I mean... It's encroaching into some private space. It just doesn't feel right for me to reach under your tail without at least asking." You explain to Notaulix.
"Are you actually fine with that? Wouldn't you rather try and put this piece on yourself?" You ask the changeling.

"Ohhh... I understand now." Notaulix says before briefly pausing to think. "What would you rather have done, Anon?" He then asks you.

You furrow your brow in confusion as you stare at Notaulix before responding. "This shouldn't be about what I want. Look, why don't you just try manipulating this one piece with your magic?" You suggest.
"Just remember that it's going to be magically resistant." You quickly add.

"Okay Anon, I will try to do that. And yes, I understand." Notaulix says.

"Alright then, go ahead and give it a try!" You encourage Notaulix before letting go of the crupper strap, which then dangles against his flank.

You watch as Notaulix looks behind at the flank in question before his horn begins to glow, giving off its usual bright green light.
Moments later, the green aura of Notaulix's telekinesis magic surrounds the crupper strap. However, as soon as it begins to be lifted upward, it drops back down as the magical aura suddenly disappears, much to Notaulix's surprise.
Notaulix repeats this process several times to no avail. Every time progress begins to be made in lifting the small trap, his control over the object quickly fades away.

"It's slippery..." Notaulix comments while narrowing his eyes, adopting a look of utmost concentration as the magical aura surrounding his horn increases in size, glowing more intensely than before.

"Slippery?" You repeat while Notaulix continues to struggle. This time, he manages to lift the crupper all the way up to where it should be, until his magical grasp disappears once more, making him wince in the process.
"Hey, hold on now. Please don't push yourself too hard. We don't have to do this." You say to Notaulix.

"But I want to do this, Anon!" Notaulix reassures you. "There's something... I'm almost..." He trails off before levitating the crupper once more.

With great effort, Notaulix slowly brings the crupper up, followed by raising his tail and passing the strap underneath it. Once past that point, you notice it begin to shake slightly as the magic appears to waver.

"T-Take it, please." Notaulix requests, which you quickly respond to by grabbing hold of that end.

As soon as you do so, Notaulix's horn stops glowing as he releases his magic, his head hanging low as he catches his breath.
You can't help but stare at the changeling out of concern. After resting for about a minute, Notaulix turns to look at you once more with a happy expression.

"I... I did it, Anon! I moved it under my tail!" Notaulix joyfully proclaims.

"Yes. Yes you did." You agree with him, giving a nod of the head in the process. While you want to tell Notaulix that you think it was a bad idea to put that much strain on his magic, you don't want to rain of his parade either.
"Let's clip this in and get it adjusted." You say, moving forward from the incident. After snapping the other clasp into place, you adjust the crupper so that it just comes into contact with Notaulix's dock.

Having all the extra pieces of gear in place, you reach out and try moving the saddlebag around on Notaulix's back. Unsurprisingly, the saddlebag has very little play in it now that it's so well attached to its wearers body.

"Pretty sure, huh? Try taking a couple laps around the living room." You say to Notaulix.

You watch as Notaulix does just so. As you watch him walk around, you can't help but think that he looks like he means business with all that gear strapped to his body.
You also notice, especially upon viewing him from the front, that he's looking rather stylish, especially with the shiny new breastplate fashioned after the emblem of the Night Guard.
In the back of your mind, you feel slightly proud of yourself for stumbling upon such a good deal during your last trip to Canterlot.

Eventually, Notaulix comes to a stop once more in front of you. "What do you think? Does it feel alright?" You ask him.

"Yes Anon, it's surprisingly comfortable!" Notaulix answers you in a pleased tone of voice. "This piece feels a little strange, though..." He comments as he looks back at his rump, flicking his tail a couple times for emphasis.

"I bet it does. Thankfully, we really shouldn't need to have to use all this stuff. It's just good to know that it all works for you if the need ever arises, right?" You say to Notaulix.

"I agree, Anon. I think it's good to know these things as soon as possible." Notaulix says as he returns his attention to you.

"Right. Anyway, do you feel like doing more of this?" You ask Notaulix.

"Of course! What do you want to do next, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"We should check and see if all of this stuff will fit when you're transformed as a griffon. But before we do that, why don't you give that new quick release a try?" You suggest to Notaulix.

"Okay!" Notaulix excitedly agrees before craning his head over to the strap in question, which is conveniently located by his right foreleg.

You watch as Notaulix opens his mouth and bites down on the strap, followed by giving it a firm pull. At first, nothing appears to happen, so he pulls it again while wiggling his body.
Despite his best efforts, Notaulix cannot seem to get his quick release to work, leading to him looking at you with disappointment clearly written on his face.

"it's not working, Anon! Something must be wrong!" Notaulix says to you, his ears drooping in the process.

From your perspective, you can't help but grin in amusement, as you see exactly what the problem is. The quick release worked just as it should, for the main strap. You failed to consider all the other pieces that you added after the fact.

"There's nothing wrong; we just weren't thinking about this." You reassure Notaulix as you scoot yourself closer and loosen the forward belly band for him.
"How about that? Can you get yourself out of all that now without needing to use magic?" You ask Notaulix while standing back up to stretch your legs.

Over the course of the next few minutes, you watch an amusing scene unfold of Notaulix attempting to free himself from the confines of the saddlebag and its attachments.
Despite the struggle, he does manage to accomplish this task, and is clearly proud for doing so.

"I did it, Anon!" Notaulix triumphantly says as he takes a few steps away from the pile of bags and straps on the wooden floor. "It was very difficult, though..." He adds.

"Yeah, I could see that. Don't worry though, I'm not going to make you do that every time. It's just good to know that it can be done." You say to Notaulix.
"Anyway, how about you head in to the bathroom real quick and transform? I'll get this stuff ready to fit to your griffon body." You then suggest.

"Yes, I will go do that now. I'll be right back, Anon." Notaulix says before walking away, soon disappearing around the corner into the hallway.

While you wait for Notaulix to return, you take a moment to put a piece of wood on the fire, then get to work loosening the adjustments for the various pieces of the saddlebag.
Notaulix soon returns in his griffon form, making you pause for a moment to stare at him. You find it hard to wrap your brain around the fact that your changeling friend can just disappear around the corner, then return as another race.
You wonder how long it will take you to get used to such things, if ever.

In the end, you find that the fully equipped saddlebag has no trouble fitting onto a griffon's body.
After figuring that out, you remove all the extra pieces, and instruct Notaulix to simply practice using the quick release, first in his griffon form, and then in his natural state.
Several minutes later, you lift the saddlebag from Notaulix and place it on the back of a chair, concluding your little practice session.

Thanks to the quick release strap, you found it to be quite easy for Notaulix to remove the saddlebag by himself, regardless of his current form.
Turning to look at Notaulix, you are about to say something when the unexpected happens...
While walking towards the sofa, Notaulix appears to stumble over his hooves, quickly sending him tumbling forward, where he hits his head against the sofa before falling onto his side with a loud thump.
Regaining your focus after staring in a stunned silence, you quickly close the distance to check on Notaulix, though by the time you do so, he is already lying upright again.

"What happened? Are you hurt?" You ask Notaulix while kneeling down next to him, your voice full of concern.

"Owww..." Notaulix groans as he rubs at the new sore spot on one side of his head with a forehoof.

When Notaulix turns his head to look up at you, his ears quickly droop to the side before looking away from you out of embarrassment.

"I-I'm fine... I'm sorry for worrying you, Anon." Notaulix quietly says.

"There's nothing to be sorry for." You reassure Notaulix. "Are you really fine? What happened there?" You repeat your question.

You anxiously wait for Notaulix's answer, which drags out over several long seconds while the changeling simply lays on the floor in silence.

"I got dizzy, Anon. I... I think I used too much magic too quicky. I'm not used to freely using so much magic." Notaulix eventually answers.

Notaulix's words hit you like a sack of bricks as you suddenly feel guilty. You feel responsible for this happening.
Even though Notaulix seemed to be doing much better, you realize that it was still only just a few days ago that your new companion was practically on death's doorstep, starving both physically and magically.
Before you can say anything else, you watch as Notaulix rises back onto his hooves. Upon taking a step forward, his balance becomes unsteady once more, prompting him to widen out his stance as you reach towards him out of reflex.

"I'm f-fine, Anon, really!" Notaulix says, making you stop your hands right before they touch his body. "Need to..." He mumbles before climbing up onto the sofa in one smooth motion.

Once there, Notaulix scoots over to his favorite spot and lays down, closing his eyes as he does so, leaving you kneeling on the floor as you think about what just happened.
Eventually, you decide to rise back to your feet. Feeling guilty over Notaulix falling down, you struggle to decide on what to do next, until you settle on simply sitting next to Notaulix on the sofa.
Notaulix pays you no attention as you sit down, choosing instead to keep his eyes closed and rest. As for yourself, you choose to look ahead towards the fireplace, staring at the flames dancing within.
Left to your own thoughts, the minutes tick on by until Notaulix begins to shuffle himself towards you, catching your attention.

"Anon?" Notaulix says while looking up at you.

"Yeah? What is it?" You ask Notaulix.

"If you don't mind... Can I be closer to you, Anon? Please?" Notaulix asks in response.

"Closer?" You furrow your brow slightly in confusion. "What do you mean by that?" You ask him.

"It's just..." Notaulix begins, pausing briefly to consider how to answer you. "...the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to consume the love they release, and I... I would like that right now." Notaulix explains.

"Oh, so... Closer as in, distance? Are you saying that you want a hug or something?" You ask Notaulix, seeking clarification on what he's asking of you.

"Yes, a hug would be very nice right now. A long hug." Notaulix says while nodding his head in agreement.

"A long hug?" You repeat, finding yourself feeling slightly uneasy as you do so. "Well..." You trail off.

In your mind, you debate whether or not you really want to do this, and if so, how you would go about doing it.
Though in the end, the combination of your guilt and Notaulix staring up at you hopefully, the answer is obvious.

"...okay. It's the least I can do for you, right? How should we do this?" You ask Notaulix.

Immediately, Notaulix perks up with a happy smile before responding. "Can we be close like when we read a book together, Anon?" Notaulix asks in response.

"That's what you would like? Sure, come here." You say while giving the top of your right leg a few firm pats. You feel a slight sense of relief over doing something that you're already used to.

Your relief is short lived though, as you watch Notaulix move up and over both of your legs. Lowering himself, Notaulix rests his body on top of your lap, before stretching his fore and hind legs out.
The unexpected position is both physically uncomfortable and more than a little awkward for you. While you briefly considered objecting, you stopped when you found yourself looking into Notaulix's eyes.
Mere inches from your face, your changeling companion looks up at you with his big blue eyes; eyes full of trust and appreciation.

And when those eyes look to your side is when you notice that you were holding your right arm up, hovering it over Notaulix's body.
After Notaulix exchanges a few glances back and forth between you and your arm, you get the point and bring it to rest across his back, just like when you read a book together.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says, giving you a warm smile before snuggling in closer to you.

"You're welcome." You say to Notaulix, a faint smile of your own creeping onto your face.

You then watch as Notaulix's horn begins to lightly glow. Confused, you are about to say something when you find the blanket that Notaulix uses being gently wrapped around the two of you.
Finally, Notaulix closes his eyes, and surprises you by resting his head up against your chest, making you wrap your left arm around him out of reflex.

And just like that, there you find yourself: Snuggled up on your couch, holding a changeling in your lap, with a blanket wrapped around the two of you.
A week ago, you would never have guessed that this is how you would be spending a morning.
You feel your cheeks grow hot in embarrassment as the reality of the situation settles on you. And yet... Why are you so bothered by this? You think to yourself.
Is it the close, intimate contact? The love feeding? The fact that Notaulix is a male? Or that he's a changeling? Such questions flow through your mind.
Though, you know you won't find any answers immediately. You need time to think and meditate on such things. Thankfully, that kind of time appears to be in no short supply right now.

Resigning yourself to the fact that you're doing this for Notaulix's sake, you settle in for the long haul by shifting your position to make yourself comfortable, being careful to not jostle Notaulix around in the process.
Soon, all that you're left with are your thoughts; thoughts that mix with the gentle sounds of your snuggle buddy's steady breathing, and the occasional crackle and pop of the fireplace.
At some point, you would guess that Notaulix has fallen asleep, if the occasional involuntary twitch of his ears that tickle your chin are any indicator to go by.
Breathing in deeply, you exhale and release some of your tension. In the back of your mind, you think to yourself...

Maybe this isn't so bad.

Misty Autumn Morning | Parts 185B - 195

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Approximately twenty or so minutes later, you find yourself nearly nodding off a few times from the warmth of your combined bodies and the blanket wrapped around you.

Unfortunately, you force yourself back to attention as you consider one small problem: The fire in the fireplace is nearly burned out.
You really want to keep the fire going this morning, but you know that doing so would require rousing Notaulix from his rest.
Although the more you think about it, the more you realize that since you need to go to Ponyville today, you would have let the fire go out anyway.

Because of that, you decide to let Notaulix enjoy himself in peace and comfort until the fire burns itself out, at which point you will continue on with your day.
And so you wait, holding your sleepy changeling friend close to your body...
Several minutes later, when the fire is gone, you turn your attention back to Notaulix in preparation for waking him up.

"Hey, Notaulix? It's time to wake up." You softly say while giving him a gentle shake.

At first you think your attempt is successful, with Notaulix's ears twitching as he begins to stir. However, you are proven wrong when he simply nuzzles into your chest before resuming his calm, steady breathing.

"Notaulix, wake up." You repeat in an amused tone while gently shaking him once more.

This time Notaulix responds by breathing in deeply and stretching his legs out, followed by loudly exhaling as he opens his eyes, which quickly focus on you.

"What is it, Anon? Is something wrong?" Notaulix asks you.

"No, nothing's wrong." You reassure Notaulix. "I need to make a little trip to Ponyville today. The fire just went out, so I figured this would be a good time for me to get going." You then explain.

"Oh, I see..." Notaulix says as he takes a moment to glance over at the fireplace before looking back at you. "How long did I fall asleep for, Anon? I'm sorry I made you sit here for so long." He then apologizes as his ears droop downward.

"Not that long; don't worry about it." You reassure Notaulix with scritches and scratches behind his ears, causing them to perk back up.

"That feels nice..." Notaulix comments with a smile, clearly enjoying the treatment.

"So how did this little arrangement work out for you? Do you feel any better?" You ask Notaulix after concluding his ear scritches with a firm pat on the withers.

"Yes, I feel much better now. Thank you for letting me be so close to you, Anon." Notaulix answers while moving himself off of your lap, allowing you to stand up.

"Glad to hear it. Anyway..." You pause as you take a moment to lift up your arms and stretch once back on your feet. "...I'm gonna go get ready to leave now, alright?" You continue.

"Okay Anon. I will be fine by myself now." Notaulix says.

With that, you begin to walk across the living room towards the hallway, though you only make it a few steps before you hear Notaulix call out from behind you.

"Anon?" Notaulix says, sounding slightly unsure of himself.

"Yeah? What is it?" You ask as you stop and turn to face Notaulix.

"Could we... do more of this, please? Be close together? It really helped me take in more love." Notaulix asks you. "A-At least until my body has recovered! Please?" He quickly adds, stuttering in the process.

Taking a moment, you weigh your answer in your mind before responding.

"Sure, I'm fine with that." You answer Notaulix.

"R-Really?! Thank you, Anon!" Notaulix cheerfully answers, clearly happy with your response. "You really don't mind?" He then adds.

"Really." You reassure him, giving a light nod and a smile for emphasis.

Upon hearing your words, Notaulix simply stares at you with a happy expression while his insect-like wings quietly buzz away.
After staring at each other for a few seconds, you turn around and depart into the hallway to begin getting ready to leave.
Am I really fine with it? You think to yourself as you do so.

Eventually you move that thought to the back of your mind once you lace your boots, don your coat, throw on your backpack and fill up your bit bag to a good sum of fifty bits.
Before heading outside, you check in with Notaulix once more, asking if there's anything he would like you to pick up in Ponyville for him or for dinner.
Notaulix responds by informing you that he has no requests and is perfectly happy with anything that you get for him.
An expected answer, but you decide not to push the matter, since you know now that Notaulix will most likely ask you if there's something that he really wants.

Sharing your goodbyes, you depart from the comfort of your warm home into the cool, damp autumn air outside. After locking the front door behind you, you turn and see that the light rain has reduced to more of a fine mist.
Feeling pleased with fairer weather to travel by, you step out onto the dirt road to begin the walk to Ponyville, though not before making the customary stop at your mailbox.
Opening the mailbox, you discover a small letter waiting for you. After removing it from the mailbox, you find it to be addressed to you and simply folded with a small wax seal, on which is stamped the emblem of the Equestrian Postal Service.

Curious, you immediately break open the wax and unfold the letter to read what it has to say. After all, it's not everyday that you get mail.
Once open, the letter reads...

Dear Mr. Anonymous

This letter is to inform you that a package addressed to you has arrived from Canterlot

Please consider stopping by at your earliest convenience to receive your package

Have a wonderful day!

- Equestrian Postal Service, Ponyville Office

Folding the letter and tucking it into a pocket, you take off down the road towards Ponyville feeling quite pleased, since you know this can only mean one thing: Your new boots must be here.
In several ways, this news brings a sense of relief to you, as your old boots wearing out has been a long-standing source of stress for you.
You know more than ever that a good, solid pair of footwear is vital for moving around the Everfree. It's arguably your most important piece of equipment; especially now that the cold and rainy season is drawing close.

Thoroughly distracted by thoughts of what your new boots will be like, you soon find yourself entering Ponyville before you even know it.
Looking around, you find the peaceful town to be quite busy today, with ponies going about their regular business on the streets while pegasi fly above.
You also see that the marketplace appears to be very active despite the light rain, with many vendors set up to sell their goods.
Coming to a stop, you take a moment to collect your thoughts and decide what to do first now that you're here in Ponyville.
Weighing your options, you soon formulate a route through town to accomplish everything you want to do, beginning with walking in the direction of the marketplace.

The cheerful sound of ponies conversing and doing business grows louder as you approach, until you find yourself in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.
In the heart of the marketplace, you slowly walk around in a circle to examine what is being sold. While there are many things for sale today, you are specifically interested in what sounds good to stock up on and eat.

Though despite your best efforts, you end up being distracted by the heartwarming scene of a young filly dressed up in little boots, splashing in puddles and giggling and carrying-on while her mother buys goods from a vendor.
Elsewhere, you observe a group of ponies conversing with one another in a circle, a stallion carrying a basket of cabbages on his back, a colt walking by his fathers side, and a mare wearing a newly purchased hat.
Such simple moments fill you with a sense of peace, contentment, and a measure of pride for what you now consider to be your home town.

You're certain that you will always find yourself thankful, for however many years you may have left, for this opportunity to live and have a place in this world. Life here is a far cry from where you came from, after all.
The more you live here, the more you wish you could simply forget about the crowded towns, the towering cities, the famine, the violence, the politics. And yet, you cannot. How could you ever forget?

Before your mind has a chance to become fixated on such negative memories, you happen to notice a familiar face among the vendors. Applejack is here with her cart, loaded with fresh apples and homemade goodies.
Seeing all those apples piled high, you recall how on the day you first discovered Notaulix, apples were the first thing that you offered him to eat, much to his delight.
With a smile on your face and a plan in your mind, you resume your task at hand as you approach the friendly Apple Family mare.

Several minutes of shopping and friendly conversation later, you depart from the marketplace with the weight of your purchases firmly settled at the bottom of your backpack.
Since it is the closest to the marketplace, the next destination that you stop at is the Ponyville Post Office; a quiet little building.
Not long after entering the building, you depart from it with your new pair of boots contained within a fairly lightweight wooden box, the lid of which is sealed with string and a wax seal of the Royal Guard.
You opted to simply carry the box with your hands instead of stuffing it into your backpack, in order to avoid damaging the produce and other goods at the bottom of it.

Nobody wants a squished loaf of bread, do they?

Finally, you arrive at the familiar dwelling of Bubble Shine, the cleaning mare. Once inside, you discover your clothes to be clean, dry and neatly folded in a stack.
After engaging in some small talk, namely over the box you were carrying, you thank the mare, load up your backpack, and exit back out onto the streets of Ponyville.
With your foodstuffs and fresh clothes tucked away in your backpack, along with the box containing your new boots held firmly in your hands, you soon depart from Ponyville onto the dirt road leading home.

Along the way, you begin to think about those boots held within the wooden box that you're carrying. Will they fit you well? Will they be comfortable? How long will they take to break in? Such questions come to mind.
Before you know it, your daydreaming is interrupted as the sight of your humble little home draws into view from behind a stand of trees.
Eager to get back inside, you break into a jog and quickly close the remaining distance. Once on the porch, you set your box down to fish for the key in your pocket to unlock the front door.
Opening the door once unlocked, you shuffle you and your box inside before closing the door behind you.

"I'm home now!" You call out while busying yourself with relocking the door.

"Welcome home, Anon!" The somewhat muffled voice of Notaulix responds from somewhere behind you.

Confused, you turn around to look down the hallway, where you see that the bathroom door is closed.
Assuming that Notaulix is simply in there, you leave your box by the front door as you walk down to the other end of the hallway, where you then enter your bedroom.
In there, you remove your backpack and proceed to unload all of your freshly washed clothes onto your bed. You plan on sorting, folding, and putting everything away later.

Next, you grab hold of your backpack once more and exit your room, taking a moment to glance down the hallway at the still-closed door to the bathroom as you cross into the kitchen.
While unloading the remaining contents of your backpack onto the kitchen counters, you hear the sound of hooves against the wooden floor drawing closer, and sure enough, you see Notaulix round the corner into the kitchen.

"Hey there." You greet Notaulix.

"Hello Anon!" Notaulix returns your greeting with a cheerful voice. "Did your journey to the pony settlement go well?" He then asks you.

"Yep, it did. I was able to hurry right along and do everything that needed to be done. The rain let up a bit too, which was nice." You answer Notaulix.

"That is very good." Notaulix comments as he comes to a stop next to you. "Is there any dessert for us, Anon?" He then asks as he watches you finish unloading your backpack of food items.

You can't help but chuckle at the changelings forwardness as you take a moment to look down at Notaulix with a grin on your face, who in turn looks back up at you with hopeful eyes.

"Not today, but I did get us some apples. How about that?" You say to Notaulix in response while holding up one of the perfectly ripe apples for him to see.

"Oh! Yes, I do love apples!" Notaulix says, his wings buzzing in approval.

"I thought you'd like them." You say while taking the things from the marketplace and putting them where they belong.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says to you.

"Mhm." You hum in acknowledgment. "By the way, my new boots arrived today from Canterlot." You then say after a few minutes of silence.

"Did they? I remember that those are very important to you." Notaulix says.

"They really are... I'm hoping they fit me well, because if they do that'll take a stress that I've been holding on to for a long time off of my mind." You say.

"That would be a very good thing, Anon. Stress is bad." Notaulix agrees.

Not long after that, you finish your task of putting everything away. You then find yourself a glass and fill it with water, which you then begin to drink from while leaning up against the kitchen counter.

"Anon?" Notaulix says to you, looking for your attention.

"Yeah? What is it?" You ask him.

"Could we sit down together when you're not busy, please?" Notaulix asks you. "I have questions about one of the things that you wanted me to study in the compendium; one that you marked with a piece of paper." He explains.

"Of course we can!" You reassure him with a smile. "Which one were you looking at?" You then ask Notaulix, curious about what's on his mind.

"C... Cockatrice." Notaulix answers you with a slight stutter.

"The cockatrice, huh?" You repeat, your smile diminishing as you think about that particular beast.

In response, Notaulix simply nods his head a few times, looking slightly troubled.
From that point, silence falls over the two of you, leaving you to your own respective thoughts for several minutes. Eventually, you finish off your glass of water and lower the now-empty glass to the counter with an audible clunk.

"I'm going to get the fire going again for us. How about you go make yourself comfortable on the couch? We'll talk about what's on your mind." You suggest to Notaulix with a nod of your head in the direction of the piece of furniture.

"Okay! Thank you, Anon." Notaulix responds in a cheery tone before trotting over to the sofa, followed by climbing up onto it.

As Notaulix settles into his favored spot, you walk over to the fireplace and kneel in front of it, where you then grab hold of a metal poker.
Taking the poker, you use it to sift through the ashes and inspect what you have to work with. Thankfully, you find that there is still a nice bed of embers glowing orange and hot.
You take some smaller pieces of wood and set them directly on the embers. The material soon ignites, at which point you coax and build up the fire until it is back to its full size, filling the room with its heat.
Satisfied, you rise back up onto your feet in order to walk over and join Notaulix on the sofa.

"What did you want to talk about?" You ask Notaulix as you sit down.

Before answering, Notaulix scoots up closer to you while levitating over the old Everfree compendium, which he then opens up to the two pages detailing the cockatrice.

"Do these really exist, Anon?" Notaulix asks in response while passing the large book over to you, which you take hold of.

"Yes, of course they do. They wouldn't be in this book otherwise." You respond.

"Can... Can they really turn living things to stone?" Notaulix asks in a slightly quieter, more tense tone.

"Yeah. They can." You answer him with a nod of your head.

"How do you know that?" Notaulix then asks you.

"I've stumbled upon a few petrified forest critters and a couple timberwolves." You respond as you recall the moments when you found such things. "Nothing more than that, thankfully." You add.

"Oh no... I'm glad that you never found a cockatrice, Anon." Notaulix says.

"Well actually, I have. I've had the misfortune of running into one out in the wild twice. Quite a scare when that happens!" You say nonchalantly.

"T-Twice?! Anon!" Notaulix cries out, catching you by surprise as you find him staring up at you with wide eyes and droopy ears.
"What if you were turned to stone when you were all alone, doing these things in the Everfree Forest by yourself? That could have been your end!" Notaulix continues, clearly distressed.

You can't help but stare back into Notaulix's solid blue eyes, searching your mind for a response to his unexpected outburst. Yet, you find nothing.

"How did you do it, Anon? Where did you acquire the bravery to face such dangerous things by yourself?" Notaulix asks you with a quieter voice; one that almost sounds sad.

Several long seconds drag by in silence as you wait to see if Notaulix says anything else, though it quickly becomes apparent that he is, in fact, waiting your answer.
Eventually, you allow the old, heavy compendium to rest on your lap, freeing both of your hands to briefly rub your face after breaking eye contact with your changeling friend.
Lowering your hands, you take a moment to stare ahead and gaze into the dancing flames held within the fireplace.

"Dunno." You blurt out, followed by a heavy sigh.
"I just... choose to not think too much about things like that. If I constantly thought about everything bad that could happen to me, I'd never get anything done, you know?" You finally answer Notaulix.
"I studied these old books for months before I started going deeper into the forest. I decided on a plan of action for whatever I could beforehand." You explain.
"What if I encountered a pack of timberwolves? A manticore? A cockatrice? What if I stepped in a pile of Tanglehoof? What if I twisted an ankle? ...I would ask myself questions like those." You continue.
"That way, I could react quickly and not panic. That's why I'm not a statue now, and that's also why I want you to learn these things, so that you too can be prepared for them." You say.
"Because the reality is, we're going to need to go deeper into the Everfree; at least as deep as where I found you. That's where you have to go to find the best things to harvest in these final weeks before winter arrives." You conclude.

And with that, the silence resumes between you, apart from the occasional snap or crackle of the warm fire.
Looking back down at Notaulix, you find him to be staring down at his forehooves. You don't know if he is deep in thought or not, but the fact that his ears are still pinned to the side speaks to you of his emotions.

"Hey..." You begin while reaching over to rest a hand on Notaulix's withers. "...I know it's scary to think about, but you should realize that now we're going out as a team, we have a major advantage against the cockatrice." You continue.

"We do?" Notaulix questions as he looks back up at you in surprise and confusion. "What do you mean, Anon? What kind of advantage?" He then asks.

"As far as its ability to petrify goes, it can only focus on one thing at a time, as far as I know." You begin to explain.
"Let's consider the worst case scenario: If one of us did happen to become petrified, the other could run back to Ponyville and get help." You continue.
"You should know from the book that this kind of petrification usually isn't a permanent thing; an exceptional magic user can often reverse it, among other ways. So, that isn't so bad, right?" You conclude.

"I don't know, Anon... It would be better if nobody became petrified." Notaulix says, sounding very unconvinced.

"Well, that's the idea." You agree with a chuckle. "If I easily avoided it twice, you can too." You add, hoping to encourage Notaulix.

"What did you do when you encountered a cockatrice, Anon?" Notaulix asks you.

"I looked away." You simply reply.

Upon hearing your response, Notaulix simply stares up at you for several seconds with a blank look on his face, before tilting his head slightly to one side.

"The moment I saw the cockatrice and recognized what it was, I turned my head away from it, and walked away. That's what I mean about having a plan in your mind before it happens. You want it to be a reflex." You elaborate.

"Oh, that's all? Really? Doesn't the cockatrice want to chase you?" Notaulix asks.

"Hasn't happened to me. Don't think it would, either. In my opinion, I think the whole petrification thing is just a defense mechanism for the cockatrice." You respond.

"A defense... mechanism? What do you mean by that, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"Think about it logically; the petrification doesn't serve the cockatrice any good beyond disabling whatever it perceives as a threat. It can't eat the statues it makes, as far as I know." You explain.
"I've never seen any damage done to the petrified critters that I've found, at least." You then add.

"Hmm." Notaulix hums as he brings a forehoof up to his chin in thought, while his ears slowly begin to relax and raise up once more.

"See? It doesn't seem as bad when you think things through, right?" You say to Notaulix.

"Yes, I guess you're right, Anon." Notaulix agrees.

"There we go. Just continue to study these things and think about how you should react." You recommend to Notaulix.

"And remember, I wouldn't be having you study up to begin with if I didn't think you couldn't handle yourself out there." You conclude with words of encouragement, while also reaching up and scratching behind Notaulix's ears, much to his joy.

In no time at all, your changeling companion is back to his usual self, with perky, upright ears and a more relaxed demeanor.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix says once you conclude the ear scritches.

"You're welcome, Notaulix." You say in response.

Following that, you share another moment of silence together, lost in your respective thoughts. Though as much as you find the moment relaxing, you know there are things that you should be doing.

"Well..." You begin while giving both of your legs an audible slap. "...if that covers everything you wanted to talk about for now, I think it's about time I get up and take care of my chores for the day." You continue.

"Okay Anon. Thank you for helping me." Notaulix says as he scoots back, leaving you plenty of room to get up.

"Sure thing." You say as you rise up from the sofa. "Remember, just keep studying, and try to have a plan in mind for everything, one thing at a time." You recommend before walking over to the fireplace.

"Thank you, Anon." Notaulix responds while watching you put another piece of wood on the fire. "Do you need any help with your tasks?" He then asks you.

Pausing for a moment, you consider his offer before responding. "Nah, it's just some laundry folding and other stuff. There's not much to help with, really. Thanks for the offer though." You reply with a smile of appreciation.

"Okay." Notaulix simply says before getting snuggled into place under his blanket.

Leaving Notaulix and the fireplace behind, you make a stop by the front door, in order to free your feet from the confines of their boots.
Once your feet are free and comfortable, you walk down the hallway and enter your bedroom, where your first task in the form of a pile of clothes on your bed awaits.
Folding all of your freshly cleaned clothes is a job that you take your time with, finding it somewhat relaxing on a day like today.
Before too long, the messy pile is transformed into neatly folded stacks of shirts, pants and socks, which you then take the time to put away in a small dresser placed up against the far wall.

Upon putting away the last of the folded clothing, you take a moment to gaze out at nature from one of the windows in your bedroom.
With a sigh, you depart from your bedroom back out into the hallway, ready to tackle the one chore that you're really not looking forward to: Washing your underwear.

Walking the short distance down the hallway, you enter the bathroom, leaving the door partially open behind you as you walk over to a vanity of sorts, which is built around the sink.
Bending down, you open up one of the cabinets underneath. Reaching inside, you pull out a wooden bucket, which contains a small washboard and a bar of soap.
Next, while waiting for the bucket to partially fill up with water, you grab hold of the woven basket that you use for your dirty clothes and deposit it by the shower.
Once the bucket is filled to the appropriate level, you haul it over and place it in the shower. You then take the lid off of the basket and turn it upside down, dumping all the underwear contained within onto the floor.
Finally, with everything in place, you roll up your sleeves, kneel down on the floor, and get to work.

A far cry from the washing machines that you were once familiar with, you diligently go through the motions of soaking, soaping, scrubbing and rinsing, one at a time.
While not an overly difficult job by any means, it's a monotonous one. Still, it needs to be done, even if there were other things you would rather be doing.
Regardless, you carry on scrubbing away as the minutes go by...
At some point after you've lost track of time, you look over your shoulder as you hear the sound of hoofsteps drawing near.

"Anon?" You hear the voice of Notaulix call out from behind the door, shortly followed by the changeling poking his head inside.

"Do you need a moment in here?" You ask Notaulix, pausing your work.

"No, not yet... I was just wondering what you were doing, Anon. You've been in this room for a long time, and the noises being made are strange." Notaulix explains.
"May I come in and watch what you're doing, Anon? I-If you don't mind!" He then adds.

"Well uh- I... I'm just washing some clothes." You blurt out. "Nothing interesting to watch, really." You add.

Notaulix simply stares at you, gears clearly turning in his mind before tilting his head in confusion.

"Didn't you just get your clothes washed in Ponyville, Anon?" Notaulix questions you.

"I..." You pause for several drawn out seconds, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed and stuck. "Well, yeah. I had everything done except for these." You say while gesturing at the bucket that you're working over.
"Just, these uh... My underwear." You finally spit out.

"What's an underwear, Anon?" Notaulix quickly asks with keen interest.

Scolding yourself inwardly for not just closing the door before you got started, you can't help but let out a heavy sigh, which Notaulix picks up on.

"I'm sorry, Anon! I-I can leave if you don't want me bothering you..." Notaulix meekly says, partially retreating back out of the doorway.

And just like that, you immediately feel bad. Not wanting to put a sour note on the day, you begin to weigh your options.
While you may be bothered by the forwardness and strange questions of the residents of this land, be it pony, changeling or any other race, regarding things that you consider to be private affairs, you know that it isn't their fault.
Because in the end, you know that you are the strange one, not them. You're the exception to the norm, a mystery, an anomaly; one that shouldn't exist.
And yet, here you are...

After weighing your options, you conclude that one way or another, Notaulix was going to end up seeing your underwear, either now or when you would go to put them up to dry.
Prompting the very questions that he is asking you now, no doubt. With that in mind, you decide to swallow your pride and simply get it over with.

"Hey, I didn't mean anything like that. You can come in and watch if you want. I don't mind, really." You reassure Notaulix.

"O-Okay." Notaulix says before pushing the bathroom door open further and taking tentative steps inside.

Returning your attention to your work, you continue scrubbing away. Shortly after that, Notaulix appears at your side before sitting down next to you.

"These are underwear?" Notaulix asks, pointing one of his forehooves at the undergarments in question.

"Yep, they are." You respond.

"What are they used for?" Notaulix then asks.

"I wear them. They're a common, everyday piece of clothing for my kind." You answer.

Upon hearing your answer, Notaulix alternates between looking at the underwear and eyeing you up and down.

"They are? But Anon, where do they go? I have not seen you wear anything like these... Do they go on your head for a special occasion?" Notaulix eventually asks, clearly confused.

You can't help but laugh and smile at Notaulix's silly question, which only furthers the changelings confusion.

"They don't belong on the head!" You respond in an amused tone. "They go underneath the pants, here in this area." You say while vaguely gesturing at your pelvic area.

"Really...?" Notaulix says, sounding somewhat unconvinced.

"Look." You say as you take the current one that you're washing and hold it up. "See? The legs go through here, and this part here holds onto the waist." You explain before putting it back into the bucket.

"Oh! Yes, I get it now!" Notaulix happily announces. However, his expression quickly returns to one of puzzlement.

"But... What purpose do they serve, Anon? Why do you need to wear a piece of clothing under more clothing?" Notaulix questions you.

"Well, they just..." You trail off as you catch yourself. The reality is that they really just keep the goods thoroughly supported and chafe-free, but you really don't feel like outright saying that. After all, things are already awkward enough as-is.
"...help keep me warm and comfortable. Do you remember when you asked me about clothes a few days ago? How we wear more or less depending on the temperature around us?" You continue.

"I do remember! I think I understand now Anon, thank you." Notaulix says, the lightbulb finally going off in his head.
"Even if I do understand, it is still very strange to me, Anon." He adds not long after.

"Yeah... I guess I am kind of strange, huh?" You say to Notaulix with a smile, prompting him to smile in return.

With that, you continue your task of washing for several minutes uninterrupted while Notaulix sits and observes, allowing you to get most of the underwear done before his next question arrives.

"What is that tool you are using to clean the underwear, Anon?" Notaulix asks.

"This is a small washboard." You say as you hold up the object in question. "You rub things made of cloth up against these ridges with soap and water to make them clean." You explain.

"I see. And that basket? You store your clothing in there?" Notaulix asks, pointing a forehoof at the basket in question.

"The ones that I've worn or gotten dirty, yes." You answer him.

"Oh. Now I understand why your scent was so strongly attached to it, Anon." Notaulix comments.

"What? Have you been over there smelling my dirty clothes basket?" You question Notaulix with furrowed brows as you turn your head to look at him, unsure of if you should be offended or weirded out right now.

"I haven't laid a hoof on the basket, Anon! In fact, I have stayed away from it." Notaulix reassures you. "It is easy to smell whenever I walk into this room." He begins to explain.
"Since it was strongly marked with your scent, I knew it belongs to you and is important. It would be very disrespectful to handle something marked without permission!" Notaulix concludes in a very matter-of-fact way.

"Alright then..." You say, expression softening as you return your focus to your work. As you do so, you begin to ponder what Notaulix just told you. More specifically, this thought of something being "marked" by scent.
When you think back on it, you remember Notaulix explaining to you that changelings supposedly have a very sharp sense of smell, but now you wonder just how extensive that sense is.

"Anon? I almost forgot! If you just had the rest of your clothes washed in Ponyville, why did you not have these washed with them?" Notaulix asks you, interrupting your thoughts.

"Uh, about that..." You pause as you consider how to answer your changeling friends question.

After thinking about it for a moment, the answer arrives in your mind, closely followed by a smile creeping onto your face.
You'll tell him. After all, having someone sit next you and ask questions while you wash your underwear is already bizarre for you. Why not add a little more to the mix, just for the fun of it?
You'll tell Notaulix the real reason why you don't bring your underwear to Bubble Shine anymore; about the incident that rocked the little town of Ponyville, and nearly Equestria itself, just over a year ago.

If nothing else, it'll help pass the time, right?