A Novel Tale

by Blissey1

First published

Novel Tale, a changeling living in Canterlot as a writer, has his peaceful life shattered when changelings from another hive attack, revealing the existence of changelings to all of ponykind. And his last book had a changeling character in it...

Novel Tale is an author that's been living in Canterlot for about ten years now. That's a pretty good track record for a changeling. He's even included a changeling character in his latest book, and his fans have been loving his take on such an obscure mythological creature, especially his biggest fan, Twilight Sparkle. Things are looking up!

Then an army of changelings from another hive attacks Canterlot.

Now all of ponykind knows that changelings are real, and his readers are sure to realize that the changeling in his book was too similar to the real thing to have just been based on a myth...

earlier chapters have been revised as of 7/19/13 to be more inline quality wise with the later chapters.

Featured on EQD 10/5/13!

Let it be known that there will be extensive changeling world building in the chapters to come.

cover image courtesy of ackdari.

Much thanks to Nyerguds for proofreading and to all my fellow tropers on the TvTropes pony fanfiction thread for helping me develop this from a vague idea into an actual story.

Prologue: The Book Signing

View Online

Novel Tale sat behind a table just inside the entrance of the Canterlot Bookstore. His latest book in a series of mystery novels had come out just a few weeks before, and that meant book signing time. Every book of his had a book signing or two to go with it, something he had been doing since he first came to Canterlot and started writing, about ten years ago. The book signing was going to end in another hour and there wasn't anypony with a book for him to sign at the moment, but he had a strong feeling that was going to change very soon.

Sure enough, a lavender unicorn mare with a deep blueish mane with a pink and purple stripe in it walked through the door. It always pleased Novel to know that he had a minor celebrity and the personal student of Princess Celestia as one of his fans.

She looked around for a moment before she saw Novel and her eyes lit up. A book levitated out of her saddlebags as she trotted up to the table.

“Hello, Novel! I've got your latest book here, ready to be signed!”

Novel smiled, always happy to see his biggest fan. “Hello, Twilight. The book signing is almost over. I was starting to think you might not show up." His smile turned to a smirk as he took the book and a nearby quill with his magic. "That would have been a first!”

“Oh, I'd never miss one of your book signings!" Twilight said excitedly. "I just decided to visit my parents while I was in Canterlot and it took a little longer than planned. You know how doting parents can be!”

Novel nodded knowingly. “That they can. I take it you enjoyed my latest story?”

“Very much so! I found the story to be just as engaging as always!” Twilight said enthusiastically.

Novel chuckled. “Twilight, you have no idea how much I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

Twilight grinned. “In fact, I think this may be my favorite one yet! I especially liked that changeling creature you introduced!”

“Oh, really?”

“Really! I thought it was so interesting, I decided to do some research on them! However, even the Canterlot Archives only had some vague references to them as mythological creatures. It seems that their being shape-changing emotion-eaters is the only point that anypony can agree on. Descriptions of them were extremely vague and conflicting beyond that.”

Novel passed the now-signed book back to Twilight. “Well, yes, that was where I got the idea from.”

“That just makes it so much more amazing that you were able to flesh them out so well! I mean, looking like insectoid ponies with wings and horns? Legs full of holes? Ruled over by a queen changeling? However did you come up with those sorts of things?” Twilight asked as she put the book back in her saddlebags.

Novel waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh, you know, just a very active imagination is all."

"Well, that active imagination is what makes you one of my favorite fiction authors, Novel! You shouldn't sell yourself short like that!"

Novel gave Twilight a sincere smile. "Thanks, Twilight. That means a lot to me. I hope to see you at my next book signing!”

“You can be sure I'll be there, Novel!” Twilight responded as she turned to leave.

Twilight wasn't the first pony to ask him about the changeling creature he had introduced in his latest story. They all were convinced that he had a fantastic imagination to be able to come up with such a thing, even if he did have a basis in mythology to work from. He didn't think so. He had a good imagination, sure, but it wasn't that great.

Really, it was just a matter of writing what he knew.

Novel Tale arrived back at his home in Canterlot. He took off his saddlebags and left them on the couch in his living room, passed through his kitchen, and headed down a set of stairs into his cellar. Now sure that nopony could see him, a green fire began at the tip of his horn and rapidly raced down his body. His light grey coat, black mane and tail, and book and magnifying glass cutie mark were replaced by the black, hole filled carapace of a changeling with a light blue upper carapace plate and magenta eyes.

He trotted over to a pair of barrels against the far wall and opened one up, revealing it to be full of a green, semi-transparent, gel-like substance. His horn glowed and he began the process of transferring the emotional energy he had gathered at the book signing into the gel, just like he did after every book signing.

He meant what he had said to Twilight. She really didn’t have any idea how much he appreciated her enthusiasm and she hopefully never would. Every time he had a book signing, she was there, always giving off plenty of emotion, all directed at him. He had never met a mare, or any other pony for that matter, as enthusiastic about books as Twilight Sparkle and a lot of that enthusiasm for books thankfully transferred over to ponies who wrote them.

He grabbed a small jar of the green gel off a nearby shelf with his magic and trotted back upstairs, shifting back to Novel Tale as he did so. He levitated two slices of bread from the pantry and a knife from a nearby drawer and sat down at the table as he started spreading some of the green gel on the bread.

He took a bite of his gel sandwich and his eyes widened slightly. He looked to his sandwich in confusion. He didn’t remember having gathered any ambition lately. How long had that jar been sitting there? He shrugged as he continued to eat and his mind wandered to his most recent book.

It had been a calculated risk to introduce a changeling character in his latest story. There were some expectations on how much emotional energy he would bring back to the hive and interest in his series of books had been tapering off. Well, mostly tapering off. Twilight and a few others had still been loyally following his stories. He had needed to do something to renew interest. What better idea than to put a changeling in a mystery novel? He had realized his queen might dislike that idea as being too risky, so he hadn’t run it by her first. The way he saw it, as long as changelings remained creatures that, as far as ponies knew, only existed in mythology and old mares tales, nopony would think anything of it, and he’d be perfectly safe.

It would take something crazy, like changelings in their natural form attacking ponies in broad daylight, for his plan to backfire and for ponies to become suspicious of him. And there was no way that would ever happen in a million years.


Chapter 1: The Invasion

View Online

Two weeks later...

Novel Tale was having some lunch at home, another sandwich with that green gel. He looked out his window. On a typical day, he’d be able to see a number of ponies moving about the street outside, but today was much more quiet. No doubt it had to do with that big event going on at the castle, a wedding for a Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, or something like that. He always tried not to concern himself with such high class affairs since he didn’t care for the kinds of snobby ponies that were typically found at such events, or the emotions that usually came with them. Finally some ponies did pass by his window: a pair of royal guards. He had been wondering about the heightened security of the city lately, and he knew he wasn’t the only one. Princess Celestia had made a formal announcement about the changes a few days ago, but remained vague as to why exactly it was being done. He assumed it had something to do with the wedding and hoped things would go back to normal soon. At any rate, he was intent on just having a nice, quiet day. He was planning on getting some work done on his next book, and then maybe go to a local restaurant for dinner.

Of course, things wouldn’t go so smoothly.

He nearly spit out the bite of sandwich he had when his lunch was suddenly interrupted by a tremendous shattering sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once. He nearly fell out of his seat in his rush to go look out his window and immediately noticed that the purplish barrier that had been surrounding the city since Celestia had increased security wasn’t there anymore. He thought on this for a few moments, wondering if the shattering noise and the missing barrier might be related, when he began hearing deep thumping noises, like something impacting the ground at high speeds, and ponies screaming. He darted out the front door as fast as he could to find out what was going on.

He spent an entire minute completely dumbstruck while his mind tried to process the scene before him. Changelings, in their natural form, were falling from the sky enveloped in magic and attacking ponies! This was insanity! This was... This was simply impossible. His mind refused to accept what he was seeing. Changelings would never do something like this. This had to be some kind of nightmare...

He quickly spun around to go back inside and slammed face first into the door jamb of his house. The resulting pain dispelled any hopes that this was all just a dream.

He shook off the hit and continued inside, his mind still playing catch up on the situation he now found himself in. The changelings that were attacking had teal eyes and a dark blue carapace plate. He didn’t recognize what hive those colors were from, but they had to be completely crazy to pull something like this, and he wanted to be as far away from it as possible. He needed to get some essential supplies and get out of Canterlot.

Just as he entered his living room, something smashed through the ceiling and crashed into the floor right in front of him. The force of the impact put a small crater in his floor, knocked him back on his flank, and made a general mess of his living room. As the dust settled, the cause of the destruction became apparent. One of those crazy changelings had dive-bombed into his house! The changeling stood up from the crater it had made and looked around for a moment before his eyes fell upon Novel. It got a sadistic look on its face as it took a step towards Novel, but then stopped as its expression flashed from confusion to a sort of disgusted disappointment. The crazed changeling fluttered back up into the air and left through the hole it had smashed in the ceiling.

Novel let out the breath he had been holding, though his heart was still hammering in his chest a mile a minute. These changelings may be completely insane, but at least they could still recognize another changeling when they saw one. This hopefully meant that he wouldn’t have to worry too much about being attacked as he tried to get out of the pit of insanity that Canterlot had become. He grabbed his saddlebags, packed a few jars of the green gel and some other essentials, and quickly made his way outside.

Progress was a lot slower than he had hoped. Novel knew these strange changelings could recognize him for what he really was, but he still wanted to avoid them if he could help it. If they were crazy enough to attack Canterlot like this, then there was no guarantee that they’d leave him alone just because he was another changeling. As a result, he was forced to take some rather roundabout routes. It was during one of these detours that he came out of an alleyway and saw something unexpected.

It was Twilight Sparkle and five other mares, tearing down the street like their lives depended on it. Which, given the circumstances, was rather likely. The changelings falling from the sky were gunning particularly hard for them, but the mares were surprisingly agile and were managing to avoid being hit. He noticed one thing that worried him, however. There was a changeling perched on the roof across the street, preparing to leap down on Twilight as she passed. He couldn’t let them hurt Twilight; she was one of his best food sources, not to mention his biggest fan! He prepared to take action.

Twilight and her friends were galloping as fast as they could. The unicorn was barely able to spare enough attention to avoid the changelings diving at them from above, dodging the attacks more on instinct than any conscious effort. She was in the back of the group, with Rainbow Dash taking the lead and Applejack bringing up the rear.

She suddenly heard a victorious screech from right above her. She looked towards the noise and her heart nearly stopped at what she saw. There was a changeling leaping right at her, and there was no way for her to avoid it! However, before she could even cry out, a light grey bolt of magic came out of nowhere and knocked the changeling right out of the air.

“Twilight!” Applejack rushed to her side. “Hoowee, that was a close one! You alright, sugarcube?”

“Yeah, I-I think so,” Twilight shakily responded as she tried to catch her breath. That changeling almost landing on her has shaken her up more than she wanted to admit. “But who...” Twilight looked to where the bolt of magic had come from to see one of the last ponies she would have expected trotting up to them. “Novel Tale? What are you—”

“There’s no time to talk!” Novel interrupted. “You’ve got to keep moving!”

Applejack nodded in agreement. “He’s right, Twilight, we gotta skedaddle! Let’s move!”

“Right. You’re right,” Twilight said, still trying to catch her breath. “Thanks, Novel, I won’t forget this!” Applejack also expressed her thanks with a quick tilt of her hat, and they were on their way again. Twilight spared a quick glance behind her to see Novel duck into an alleyway. She started wondering what he could possibly be doing, but quickly stopped herself. She had more important things to worry about right now!

Novel was making his way down another alley a short time after his encounter with Twilight. He was glad he was able to divert any questions. He knew that Twilight was a curious and highly intelligent mare. There was a good chance that she would realize how accurate his story portrayal of changelings was to the real thing, and would start asking questions. Questions that would turn out badly for him. And with her having a direct line to the Princess, there was no doubt that things would quickly escalate from there. In fact, now that he thought about it, he came to the distressing realization that Twilight wasn’t the only one of his readers who would probably start to wonder about that. He tried his best to push such worries into a corner of his mind; he’d worry about that when it happened. Right now, priority number one was getting out of Canterlot. He was already in the outer districts, so he was sure it wouldn’t be too much longer before he was out.

He froze in place when he suddenly detected a massive spike of emotional energy behind him. He turned around to see the most amazing sight, a solid purple globe of energy spreading outwards from Canterlot Castle. With a shock, Novel realized it was actually pure love energy! He would have thought that such a thing would be fantastic for a changeling, a tidal wave of food, but all the changelings he saw where getting blasted clear out of Canterlot by it. He began running in the other direction, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to outrun it. It looked like he was going to be leaving Canterlot sooner than he thought...

The wave hit him. It picked him up off the ground, but surprisingly, didn’t blast him clear out of Canterlot like it did the other changelings. The edge of the barrier lifted him up out of the alley, just over the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, before it lost its grasp on him and he passed through it. It still left him with enough momentum to fly down the rest of the alley, across the street, and right through the wall of a building on the other side.

Novel slowly regained consciousness. He was laying back first on a cold stone floor somewhere, and he groggily tried to remember what had happened. His eyes shot open as his memory rushed back to him. He looked around and found himself in some kind of storage room with a door at one end and a number of crates stacked along the walls. Sunlight was streaming in through a hole he had made in one wall, illuminating a pile of wooden scrap that must have been empty boxes before he crashed through them. Most importantly, the trauma from being hit by that wave of love energy and then smashed through a wall had caused his disguise to break, leaving him in his natural form. He looked at some of the shards of wood laying on the ground around him, and was very glad that he had a hard carapace instead of soft skin.

He began wondering why the blast hadn’t affected him as strongly as the other changelings when he was interrupted by a voice from outside.

“I think somepony crashed into here!”

He quickly shifted back into his pony form just in time for an earth pony mare with a pale green coat and orange mane to stick her head through the door.

“Oh, thank Celestia!” She exclaimed when she saw him. She walked through the door and approached him. “Are you okay? Those... things out there didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“N-no, I’m a bit banged up but I think I’ll be fine...” Novel said as he got back on his hooves. He noticed she called the changelings things. Did they not know what they were? Maybe this was only going to be mostly a complete disaster.

The mare saw the rubble on the floor then looked at the hole in the wall. “However did you crash through the wall like that?”

Novel froze for a moment as his mind raced to come up with a plausible story.

“Uh, o-one of those creatures were... were carrying me through the air right before that wave of energy hit! I-it must have dropped me and sent me flying through the wall!”

“Oh, you poor thing,” the mare said as she helped Novel back to his hooves. “You’re very lucky to be okay after such a—” Her eyes widened in fear and she pointed a hoof at Novel. “What is that!?”

Novel looked to where the mare was pointing. There was a green gel leaking out of his saddlebags, the same gel he had packed into jars before leaving. The jars must have broken in the crash! He wished he could salvage it, but not while other ponies were looking.

“Gah!” he shouted as he used his magic to fling his saddle bags off his back as quickly as he could. “I don’t know what that is! It must have been something from that creature that was carrying me!”

The mare carefully approached his saddlebags to get a closer look. “I think you’re right, dear. I saw some other ponies outside trapped in this dreadful stuff before that wave of energy freed them. That monster was probably getting ready to wrap you up in it too!”

Just then a dark blue pegasus stallion poked his head through the door. “That pony you found wasn’t hurt by the changelings, was he, Wreath?”

So they did know what changelings were. So much for that.

“No, he’s okay,” she said to the stallion. She placed a comforting hoof around Novel’s neck. “Those monsters are all gone, so it’s safe now. Come on, we’re already organizing to help those hurt in the attack.” She began leading him towards the door.

He stole a longing glance back at his saddlebags. There was weeks worth of emotional energy in that gel! Oh well, nothing to be done for it. As he walked with the mare, his mind turned back to what he was thinking of before he was interrupted by the rescue party. Why didn’t the wave of energy hit him as hard as it had the others? He had never seen emotions weaponized like that before, so it took him awhile to think about it. The answer, when it came to him, was surprisingly simple.

It must have been because it was pure love energy. Novel figured that love must have been the primary emotion for the hive of changelings that had attacked, so they got hit with the full force of the love wave. On the other hoof, his primary emotions were respect and admiration, so the majority of the love energy must have simply passed over him.

With that mystery solved, his mind turned back to his current situation. The crazy changelings were gone, but things were still not looking very good for him. His house had a hole in the ceiling and a crater in the floor and he had lost the majority of his food supply. Even worse, he was still worried about his fans getting suspicious about how accurately detailed the changeling character in his story was. The fact that his biggest fan was the personal student of Princess Celestia and could probably have him investigated with but a word didn’t help matters. Most importantly, he needed to check in with his hive to make sure they knew what had happened and to find out what he should do now. He was sure this was going to have ramifications for changelings everywhere, and that nothing was going to be quite the same once everything was said and done.

Chapter 2: Arrival In Ponyville, The Party

View Online

Two days later...

Novel Tale stood in a line of ponies waiting to board the train. Anypony whose homes had been damaged during the changeling invasion had been offered the chance to be relocated elsewhere while repairs were made, all expenses covered by the crown. He had jumped at the opportunity and was now going to some small town called Ponyville, a destination he had chosen because it was the most convenient stop in between Canterlot and his hive. He swore that he had heard the name before and that he should know the place, but he just couldn’t put his hoof on it.

He was drawn back to the present when he found his path blocked by a unicorn stallion wearing Royal Guard armor.

“Greeting, citizen. This is just a quick check we’re performing on all ponies leaving Canterlot to make sure they’re not changelings. It’s just a simple illusion dispelling spell. Please remain still while we cast it.”

Novel had to try very hard to keep from bolting right then and there. He had been so caught up in his thoughts and wondering how his queen would take the news of what had happened, that he hadn’t noticed all the other ponies in line were being checked like this. Before he could react much at all, the unicorn guard had cast the spell. Somehow, his disguise remained intact, with a small flickering around his horn the only thing out of the ordinary.

He could sense a burst of surprise and curiosity from the guard which quickly gave way to suspicion. He had to do something, and fast.

“Oh no! I-it must have... uh... interacted somehow with... with my mane color changing spell!” Novel’s horn lit up with a gray glow that also enveloped his mane and tail, and they turned from black to blond. “You see? A light gray coat like mine with a blond mane is just so unfashionable, so I keep my mane color changing spell up almost all the time. I forget I even have it going sometimes!” He chuckled nervously and put on the most innocent smile he could manage.

He was quaking on the inside. Sure, he had been terrified during the changeling attack two days ago, but he was just a small side player in that event. This was a much more personal kind of danger, just him and impending imprisonment or whatever it was they were doing to changelings they found.

The guard continued glaring at him and the feeling of suspicion didn’t seem to be diminishing much. Just as Novel was about to collapse out of sheer anxiety and fear into a quivering pile of pony on the floor, the guard finally spoke. “Very well then, citizen. You may pass.”

He gladly began moving forward on legs he wasn’t sure could support him. Never had he been more thankful that ponies were such naturally trusting creatures. He wondered why the spell hadn’t revealed him as he boarded the train.

He figured it must have been similar to why the wall of love energy hadn’t blasted him out of Canterlot. Emotion powered magics weren’t too common among ponies. Combined with them likely having no clue how changeling disguises worked, and having only had two days since the attack, they must have jury-rigged up a spell tuned to disrupt any magic powered primarily by love energy. They probably hadn’t even explained exactly how the spell worked to the guard; just showed him how to cast it and sent him out. He was glad these ponies didn't know too much about how changelings worked, or they would have been able to expose him easily.

He took his seat on the train and hoped that the guard was the last big problem he would face today.

“Next stop, Ponyville! Everypony getting off, please gather your belongings and get ready to disembark!”

Novel stepped off the train, thankful that the trip had been as uneventful as it was. He noticed a small group of ponies welcoming the recent arrivals and handing them some kind of slip of paper. He doubted this was a usual practice since this particular train only had ponies relocating here from Canterlot on it. Now he just had to sneak away from everypony else and make his way to his hive. He started looking around for a good place to break off from the crowd.

“Novel Tale? I wasn’t expecting to see you here!”

Novel froze in place. That voice belonged to a mare he also had not been expecting to see, and had in fact been hoping to avoid. Now he remembered why the name Ponyville sounded so familiar; she had mentioned it at some of the book signings as where she lived! He turned and saw Twilight Sparkle walking towards him from the group of ponies greeting the passengers.

He put on a friendly expression that he really wasn’t feeling and waved. “Oh! Hi, Twilight!” This wasn’t good. Twilight was the first pony he’d expect to put two and two together and suspect him of being a changeling. And she then had a direct line to the Princess to report him! He definitely wouldn’t be able to stay in Ponyville very long.

Twilight had a slight frown on her face. “So your home was damaged in the attack, too? You weren’t hurt, were you?" she asked, concern radiating off of her.

Novel shook his head. “No, no, I’m fine. I just got a big hole smashed in my roof, is all.”

A smile returned to Twilight’s face, and the concern he could feel changed to relief. “That’s good to hear. A lot of ponies didn’t got off so easily. That’s a shame about your house, though.”

Novel waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh, it’s not so bad. I was just thinking it was time for a change of scenery anyway! Just the thing to get the creative juices flowing, right?”

Twilight nodded. “I suppose so. It’s good to see that you’re keeping a positive attitude about this.” Her eyes suddenly widened as she remember something. “Oh, by the way, I’m supposed to give you one of these.” She levitated a pink slip of paper towards him.

“What’s this?” Novel asked as he grasped the slip of paper with his magic.

“It’s an invitation to the big party we’re throwing tonight for everypony who relocated here!” Twilight responded with a wide smile. “My friend Pinkie Pie always throws a party for new ponies in Ponyville, but we’ve never had this many new ponies at once before! As soon as we heard what was being planned, Pinkie started preparing. She’d be out here handing out invitation herself if she wasn’t so busy setting it up!”

Novel looked at the invitation. It said You’re invited to Pinkie Pie’s ‘Sorry-Your-House-Got-Damaged-We-Hope-You’ll-Like-It-Here-In-Ponyville-And-Maybe-Even-Decide-To-Stay' Party!

“Huh,” was all he could say.

“So, you’ll come to the party, right?” Twilight asked eagerly.

Novel had been to some parties in Canterlot before. They were generally subdued affairs, with lots of quiet talking and good food. They were also usually decent sources of emotional energy. After having lost most of his stores during the attack and having used up the rest while waiting to leave Canterlot, he could use a bit of a refill. He really didn’t want to spend any more time than he had too in the same town as Twilight for fear that she’d discover what he was, but one night couldn’t hurt, right?

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” Novel said with a shrug.

“Good! I’m sure Pinkie will be pleased to hear that!”

“I don’t plan on staying in Ponyville much longer than that, though,” Novel continued. “I’ll probably be leaving tomorrow morning. I have some, uh... friends nearby I was planning on staying with. Ponyville was on the way and I figured, if the crown wants to pay for some of my travel expenses, then I should let them!”

He could feel Twilight’s enthusiasm die down a bit. “Oh. Well, at least you’ll be here for the party.” She gained a thoughtful look and he could feel her excitement rising again. “You know, if you’re only going to be in town for a day, then you can stay with me!” she said with a huge smile on her face. “I have a guest bed that nopony is using, and I’d love the chance to talk about books with you!”

That was the last thing he wanted to be talking about! He didn't want to, but he was sure that saying no to such a generous offer would seem suspicious. If he accepted, he would at least have some control over what exactly they talked about.

He put on a smile that matched hers. “How could I refuse such a generous offer from one of my biggest fans? I’d be delighted to!” He was sure he would figure out some way to get out of this.

“Great!” She nearly jumped in excitement, and Novel couldn’t help but soak up some of the happiness she was giving off. “We can head over to my home now, you can drop of your things, and by then it should be about time for the party!”

Novel actually liked the sound of that. It didn’t seem like there’d be much time to talk about things before the party, and he imagined everypony would just want to sleep afterwards. Then he just had to find an excuse to leave as soon as possible the next morning. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all!

It had only taken about an hour and a half to get Novel all set up with the guest bed. Twilight’s assistant, a young dragon named Spike, had helped them out. Novel had been surprised at that. Twilight had mentioned that she had an assistant before, but she had never said it was a baby dragon! The sun was hanging low in the sky by the time they had left to go to the party.

They had passed a sign saying Welcome To Sweet Apple Acres! and were now traveling through an apple orchard. They were approaching a barn, something Novel found odd. “So... do you typically have parties on farms around here?”

“Not necessarily. Only when it’s a special occasion or when there’s going to be so many ponies it wouldn’t fit anywhere else,” Twilight explained.

Novel nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

He could hear a fair bit of noise, both music and ponies, coming from inside the barn, and wondered what kind of party this was going to be. Twilight opened the barn door.

Novel was immediately knocked into a sitting position on the ground. It wasn’t the music, or the colors, although both were certainly loud enough to knock a pony off their hooves. It was the emotions! The second she had opened the door, the tremendous amount of emotional energy coming from the barn had hit him so hard, he had been temporarily blinded. He hadn’t seen this many ponies in such a high a state of emotions since a Wonderbolts show he had attended a few years ago, and that had been spread out across an entire stadium, not condensed into a single barn!

“Are you okay, Novel?” Twilight asked, looking at him curiously.

Novel realized he had been sitting there with his mouth hanging open, a dumbstruck look on his face. He got up and moved inside, Twilight following behind him. “I’ve just never been to a party like this before!” he said in awe.

Twilight gave a small laugh. “That’s not too surprising. Nopony throws parties quite like Pinkie Pie, after all!”

“Thaaaat’s right!”

Novel suddenly found himself assaulted by a completely pink pony with a curly mane.

“There's no party like a Pinkie Pie party, and I'm Pinkie Pie!” She grabbed his hoof and gave a shake. “You must be Novel Tale! Twilight has told me a lot about you! She just loves those stories you write! They really bring a smile to her face, and anypony that can make my friends smile is also a friend of mine!”

Twilight blushed slightly at Pinkie’s description of how much she liked his stories, but Novel didn’t notice. He was too busy being completely stunned by an emotional energy overload from the pony before him. He had thought that Twilight gave off a lot of emotions during his book signings, but this mare was making her look like a dim bulb! He had no idea how a single pony was capable of giving off this much energy.

Pinkie backed off and sat on the ground, a comically thoughtful look on her face as she put a hoof to her chin. “Though now that I think about it, saying that implies that ponies who don’t make my friends smile aren’t friends of mine. And I know that’s not true, because I’m friends with everypony!” she said excitedly as she threw her hooves up in the air. Suddenly, she leaped up off the floor as her back left leg started twitching violently. She turned her head to look at the offending appendage and gasped loudly. “I sense a punch bowl in need of refilling!" She turned back to Novel and waved. "Glad I could meet ya, Novel! I hope you enjoy the party!” She dashed off faster than he thought an earth pony mare like her should have been able to.

He was sitting in place with his mouth hanging open. Again.

“Yeah,” Twilight said knowingly as she put a hoof on his shoulder. “Pinkie can have that effect on ponies. Come on, let me introduce you to the rest of my friends!”

Introductions were going swimmingly, and it hadn’t taken Novel long to realize he had seen all these mares before. Having already met Pinkie Pie, Twilight next introduced him to Applejack, who Novel learned owned the orchard and was responsible for all the non-dessert foods at the party. Then came Rarity, who had bombarded him with questions about living in Canterlot. Next was Fluttershy, who had mostly hidden behind her mane and squeaked out a hello. According to Twilight, there was just one more pony for her to introduce him to.

“Now where could she be...” Twilight asked herself as she looked about the barn.

Novel was in an extremely good mood. He had never seen so much concentrated emotional energy in one place before, and he was soaking in as much as he could. It was actually starting to make him slightly giddy. He had never heard of changelings getting inebriated off of emotions before, but that didn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t possible.

“Ah, there she is!” Twilight exclaimed as she pointed up into the air. Novel followed her gaze and saw a cyan pegasus mare with a rainbow mane hovering near the roof of the barn, chatting with some other pegasi.

“Rainbow!” Twilight shouted, struggling to be heard over the noise of the party. “Rainbow Dash!” There was no reaction from her friend. Twilight frowned, and a moment later her horn lit up. Novel saw a purple, phantasmal foreleg appear behind the pegasus mare and tap her on the shoulder.

Rainbow Dash rapidly spun in place to see who was there, but her expression turned to confusion when all she saw was a glowing, translucent limb. The ghostly appendage turned to point towards where Twilight and Novel were standing, and Twilight waved when the pegasus finally noticed them. Dash smiled, turned to say something to the pegasi she had been talking to, and swooped down to join them.

“Hey, Twilight, sup? Great party, huh? Not that I’d expect anything less from Pinkie!” She noticed then that Twilight wasn’t by herself, and landed on the ground in front of the unknown stallion. “Hey, Twi, who’s your friend?”

“Dash, this is Novel Tale, the author of that book series I like so much! Novel, this is my good friend, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said with a smile.

Upon hearing Novel’s name, the cheerful expression immediately fell off of Dash’s face and was replaced with one of wary suspicion. Novel was a bit taken aback by this, and instinctively tried to focus his senses on her to see what she was feeling, but it was no use. The ambient emotion levels in the barn were just too high for him to focus his senses on the emotions from a single pony.

“... Hi...” Dash said reluctantly. She turned to Twilight. “Hey, Twilight? I just remembered something I need to talk to you about. Right now. In private,” she said in a serious tone of voice.

Twilight looked to her friend in confusion. “Really? Are you sure it can’t wait till after the party?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

Twilight looked unsure, but nodded her head anyway. “Well, alright then.” She turned back to Novel. “Sorry, Novel, but it looks like you’re going to have to be on your own for a while.”

There were alarm bells going off in the back of Novel’s head. However, all the emotions he had been soaking up at the party were clouding his thoughts, and he couldn’t guess why he was suddenly feeling so worried. He did his best to push the negative feelings aside in favor of enjoying the party. “That’s fine, Twilight. I hope whatever you have to talk about won’t ruin the party for you!” He waved to her and Twilight waved back and she and Rainbow Dash headed towards a side entrance.

Now bereft of his guide, Novel wandered the party aimlessly, mingling with ponies and just basking in the emotions in the air. He found himself a short time later at the food table eyeing an impressive looking cake. He currently had more emotional energy then he knew what to do with, but some physical food sounded pretty good right about now. He levitated a slice onto a plate, grabbed a fork, and took a bite.

He found himself stunned for the third time that night.

Twilight chose this moment to return, Rainbow Dash no longer accompanying her. “Enjoying yourself, Novel?”

“This... this has to be some of the best cake I’ve ever had!” Novel said with awe, still too stunned to even turn to look at Twilight. “In fact, this must be some of the best food I’ve ever had, period!”

“Yeah, Pinkie is a great chef, especially when it comes to parties. She really puts her heart and soul into everything that goes into making these events, including the food.” Twilight chuckled quietly. “I guess you could say it was made with plenty of love and care.”

Novel had to agree! ‘Made with love and care’ may just be a quaint saying to ponies, but for changelings it was a bit more literal than that. Chefs who were truly enthusiastic about what they did really could infuse their creations with their emotions. He had been to a few high class restaurants in Canterlot with food like that, but this was easily the best he had ever had.

His exuberance died down a bit when he finally turned to look at Twilight. Her demeanor had changed, and not for the better. It seemed like she was still trying to enjoy the party, but something was distracting her from doing so. Now that he thought about it, her voice had also been missing some of her previous enthusiasm when she had explained the cake just now. He tried to sense what she was feeling, but again, was unable to pick out anything over the rest of the emotions in the room.

The alarm bells in the back of his head went off again, and a stray thought told him that this was a sign that something he was afraid of was going to happen. But in his current emotion-addled state, he couldn’t remember what that thing was, so he ignored it. He couldn’t let distractions and bad thoughts get in the way of enjoying himself; this party was simply too great to skip out on!

Chapter 3: The Confrontation

View Online

Earlier, at the party...

Twilight stepped out the side door of the barn right behind Rainbow Dash, the transition to the cool nighttime air causing her to shiver. She was not too impressed with how her friend had just treated Novel, and was interested to know what excuse the pegasus could possibly have for having acted like that.

Dash looked around, making sure there wasn’t anypony else within earshot, before turning back to her friend. “So, Twilight, that was Novel Tale, right?” she asked with a very serious look on her face.

“Yes, that’s what I said his name was,” Twilight replied sternly.

“The same Novel that wrote those books you tried to get me to read?” Dash continued.

After the success of the Daring Do series, Twilight had tried introducing Rainbow Dash to some other books. Dash had read the first few books in Novel’s series, but had ultimately decided that they had too much talking and not enough action for her tastes.

Twilight's scowl was replaced with a look of confusion. “Umm... yes?” she responded hesitantly, suddenly unsure where Dash was going with this.

“The same Novel whose latest book had that changeling character you told me about?”

Dash had stopped reading Novel’s series, but she and Twilight still talked about their respective favorite stories from time to time, and Twilight had told Dash all about Novel’s latest book and the changeling creature that was in it.


“A changeling character that was exactly like the changelings we fought in Canterlot?”

Twilight had been so busy since the invasion, first finishing the wedding and helping organize the cleanup in Canterlot, then helping prepare for the influx of refugee ponies to Ponyville, that she actually hadn’t noticed the similarities before. Now that Dash mentioned it though, she was absolutely right. Aside from some color differences, the changeling character described in the book was nearly identical to the ones that attacked Canterlot. But nopony had known that changelings were even real, let alone what they actually looked like, before the attack...

Twilight’s eyes slowly widened in shock as she realized what her friend was implying. “Dash, you don’t think that Novel...”

“Yeah, I do, Twilight,” Dash said, nodding grimly. She flapped her wings, lifting a few inches off the ground, and floated right up to Twilight so that they were face to face. “I think that Novel might be a changeling,” she said ominously before backing off again.

“No... No, that’s crazy!” Twilight exclaimed, shaking her head in disbelief. “That can’t be!” Novel was one of her favorite fiction authors, somepony she looked up to. The possibility that he had been replaced by a changeling was a bit much for her to take in all at once.

“Think about it, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash insisted. “How else could he have known so much about what changelings are like?” She jabbed a hoof at her chest. “I think that he was replaced, and that latest book wasn’t really written by Novel Tale at all.”

“But his latest book had the exact same writing style as all his other books!” Twilight said, still not quite willing to accept what Dash was saying. “I was able to tell that there something was wrong with Cadance because Chrysalis couldn’t replicate her personality, and I hadn’t seen Cadance in years! You know how much I love reading, Rainbow. I definitely would have been able to notice if somepony other than Novel had written that last book!”

Dash shrugged, not having an answer to that one. “Look, Twi, maybe it’s just a big coincidence. Maybe that pony really is Novel and he just got lucky at guessing what changelings looked like.” She crossed her hooves over her chest. “All I’m saying is, this is way too important for us to not at least look into.”

Rainbow Dash did have a point. If there was evidence that somepony was actually a changeling, then it was their duty to investigate, and the facts that Dash had brought to light were a bit much to brush off as just a coincidence. Twilight gritted her teeth for a moment before sighing in defeat. “Alright, Dash. We’ll... talk to him about it first thing tomorrow morning. For now, lets just try to enjoy the rest of the party.”

Dash grinned. “Thanks, Twi.”

Twilight found Novel Tale sitting by the snack table with a stunned expression on his face, a plate with a slice cake in one hoof, and a fork hanging out of his mouth. “Enjoying yourself, Novel?”

“This... this has to be some of the best cake I’ve ever had!” He replied in awe. “In fact, this must be some of the best food I’ve ever had, period!”

A small grin crept onto Twilight’s face. “Yeah, Pinkie is a great baker, especially when it comes to parties. She really puts her heart and soul into everything that goes into making these events, including the food.” She chuckled quietly to herself. “I guess you could say it was made with plenty of love and care.”

Twilight tried to keep the upbeat mood she had had when she had had first arrived, but the conversation she had just had with Rainbow was weighing heavily on her mind. The possibility that she was talking to a changeling who had replaced one of her favorite authors was doing a terribly effective job at preventing her from enjoying herself. Still, she tried to do her best to hide it. She didn't want to bring his mood down as well if it turned out Dash was wrong.

Fortunately, he seemed to be enjoying himself too much to notice. She spent the rest of the night not letting Novel out of her sight. He ended up eating a lot more cake, playing some pin the tail on the pony, and he even participated in some strange game Pinkie had dug out of somewhere that involved spinning a dial and placing your hooves on colored spots on a mat on the ground.

Much like a number of other ponies at the party, he partied the rest of the night until he finally collapsed from exhaustion. Twilight carried him back to her house with the help of her magic and tucked him away in the guest bed. She wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow...

The next morning...

Novel was roused out of a deep sleep, not by the sun shining through the windows—though the morning sun was indeed shining brightly—but by a strange combination of emotions being directed at him. Some fear, some anxiety and apprehension, some anger and suspicion? He slowly opened his eyes to find Twilight and the five mares she had introduced him to at the party, all standing, and in the case of a certain pegasus, flying, off to one side of his bed, watching him intently. The baby dragon that had helped move him in, Spike, if he recalled correctly, was nowhere to be seen. Still not fully awake, he wondered what they could possibly be doing here when he recalled the events of the party last night. With his mind longer clouded by an emotional energy overdose, he was quickly able to put the cyan pegasus’ reaction to him and Twilight’s more somber mood afterwards together with his bedside greeting this morning. Any remaining drowsiness quickly gave way to a sinking feeling of dread; he really hoped this wasn’t about what he thought it was.

“M-morning girls...” he said as he got out of bed. He tried to act as though nothing was out of the ordinary, but it was no use. He wasn’t very good at handling pressure even under the best of circumstances, and this was already easily turning out to be the worst situation he had ever found himself in. “Is this, uhh...” He gulped noisily. “Is this how you usually wake up guests?”

Twilight’s expression looked very serious with some undertones of reluctance. Novel didn't need to focus on her to know that she was the source of the apprehension being directed at him. “Novel,” she hesitantly began, “we... need to talk about something.”

Any hope he still had that he was just misinterpreting the situation completely evaporated. He had to try deter this conversation, anything to buy some time to think. “Talk? Well, I-I’d love to, but, I’m... uhh... I’m just too hungry to even think straight right now!” He chuckled nervously to himself. “I’m sure that whatever it is can wait until after breakfast, right?” he said with a forced smile as he moved past the mares towards the stairs.

He made it to the top of the stairwell before Twilight spoke again. “It’s about your latest book, Novel. The one with the changeling in it.”

He froze with his front hoof about to take the first step down the stairs and slowly turned around to look at Twilight, fighting to keep the smile he really wasn’t feeling on his face. “W-what about my latest book?”

Twilight’s ears folded back against her head as she began; it was clear that she wasn’t happy to be talking about this. “Novel, that description you gave of the changeling... it was almost identical to the changelings that attacked Canterlot. Nopony knew what changelings looked like, or that they were even real, before that. It’s... a bit too much for us to pass off as a coincidence.” She averted her eyes and looked down towards the floor. “What we’re trying to say is...”

“Novel, we think you’re a changeling!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she pointed a hoof at him from where she hovered in the air, apparently having had enough of Twilight prancing around the subject.

Any hint of control he still had was completely gone now. This was easily the worst morning in the history of Equestria. “W-what?! T-that’s just crazy talk! Come on, l-let’s just all forget about that a-and go get some breakfast!”

“You’re not getting off that easy, pal!” Dash shouted, “This is serious!” She dashed forward a few feet towards Novel to drive the point home.

Novel sidestepped what he thought was going to be a charge. Unfortunately, he had forgotten he was standing next to a flight of stairs and stepped right off the top step. He made record time down the rest of the stairs.

“Oh my goodness!” Fluttershy shouted, any fear over Novel possibly being a changeling instantly forgotten. She immediately took off down the stairs with a flap of her wings to see if he was okay.

The rest of the mares stood there a few more moments, stunned at what had just happened. Twilight was the first to recover and ran towards the stairs, though she was dreading what she would find. Based on Novel’s reactions, she suspected now that Dash’s suspicions were actually right. She skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs and looked down.

Sure enough, there was Fluttershy at the bottom of the stairs, cradling an unconscious changeling in her hooves.

Applejack quickly joined Twilight at the top of the stairs, and her eyes bugged out at what she saw. “Land sakes! You were right, Dash, he was a changeling!”

Dash quickly flew over to the stairs and looked down. “I knew it!” she shouted angrily. “I’m gonna buck his head clean into his torso!” She dashed down the stairs, but only made it a few feet when her tail was caught in a purple glow.

“Hold it, Dash, we can’t just rush into this,” said Twilight, her horn aglow.

Surprisingly, Fluttershy was the next to speak. “Twilight’s right, Rainbow Dash,” she said, not looking up from her examination of the potentially injured creature she held in her hooves. “This changeling is already hurt because of us, and hurting him even more is the last thing we should do.”

Rainbow Dash had an incredulous look on her face. “What!? Are you serious? He’s a changeling, he—”

Fluttershy turned to glare at her. It wasn’t quite The Stare, but it was enough to stop Dash’s words in her throat. “He hasn’t done anything to harm us yet, or shown any signs of intending to,” she said confidently, her voice laced with steel. She looked back down to her patient. “He deserves nothing but the same kindness we would show any other pony.”

Even given the seriousness of the situation, Twilight couldn’t help but grin slightly at the shocked expression on Dash’s face at having been cut off by Fluttershy of all ponies. “And that’s not the only reason, Rainbow.” She moved down the stairs, the others following. “It’s just not a good idea in general to act so rashly when there’s so much we still don’t know.”

“What’s there to know!? He’s a changeling!” Dash shouted. “They attacked Canterlot; they’re the bad guys!”

“We can’t just assume that!” Twilight shouted back at Dash. “For all we know, this changeling might have nothing to do with the changelings that attacked Canterlot!” Having reached the bottom of the stairs, Fluttershy gently laid the changeling on the ground as Twilight approached to examine it more closely. “For instance, this changeling has a different coloration than the changelings that attacked Canterlot.”

“Yes, I couldn’t help but notice that myself,” Rarity said. “That sky blue... back plate thing, is a much more appealing color than that dark, navy blue the other changelings had.”

Twilight leaned down to the changeling's face and opened one of his eyelids with a hoof. "His eyes are a different color as well."

"They are?" Rarity asked, clearly intrigued. She stepped around to the front to get a look and smiled at what she saw. "My my, that is a simply lovely shade of magenta!"

Twilight smiled for real this time. She could always count on her friends to act like themselves, even in strange situations like this.

Dash, however, wasn’t impressed. “Ok, so he’s a different color! Big deal!”

"That's not all, Dash," Twilight continued. "He hasn't been acting like the other changelings, either. You weren’t with him all night, so you wouldn’t have noticed, but I could tell that he really did seem to be enjoying himself at the party last night.”

Dash snorted dismissively. “He was probably just pretending to enjoy the party to lure us into a false sense of security!”

“Nope! Twilight’s right, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie said, hopping up into the air to get her friend's attention. “I get a twitchy eyelid and a quivery lip whenever somepony isn’t enjoying one of my parties, but didn’t get any of those last night, so he must have been enjoying himself!”

“We don’t even know if your Pinkie Sense works with changelings!”

Twilight let out a quiet growl. “Dash, that is enough! Why can’t you just give this changeling a chance?!”

Dash crossed her hooves defiantly over her chest. “Look, Twilight, if it was a pony, a griffon, or even a diamond dog, I’d be willing to let them talk. But this is a changeling!” She gestured with her hooves dramatically as she continued. “They attacked Canterlot, their queen hurt Princess Celestia! We would have all ended up trapped in cocoons with all of our emotions sucked out or something if Shining Armor and Cadance hadn’t done that magic wave thing they did! Unless they’ve stuck their neck out for one of us, then there’s no way I’m giving one of them a chance!”

Applejack looked thoughtful for a moment before frowning. “You know, Twi, I’m afraid I’m gonna hafta side with Dash on this one. It’s true that we don’t have any proof that this here critter is on the same side as the ones what attacked Canterlot, but at the same time, I think it’s just too durn risky to keep him here. Now, I dunno ‘bout beating the stuffing outa the feller,” she shot Rainbow Dash a disapproving glance, ”but I think we should at least let Princess Celestia know about this right quick so that she and the Royal Guard can take care of it themselves.”

Twilight's looked to the floor and gritted her teeth as she thought. Her practical side knew that Applejack was right; keeping a changeling around was a very risky thing to do. However, largely based on his actions at the party last night, she had a strong gut feeling that this particular changeling wasn’t a threat to them. If they let Princess Celestia know that they had found a changeling, she would probably have a sky carriage arrive in Ponyville to pick him up before he even woke up, and she didn’t want to subject him to that if he really didn’t mean them any harm. If only she had some kind of evidence that he truly wasn’t on the same side as Chrysalis, then she could—

Twilight's face suddenly lit up. “Wait, this changeling has actually helped us out before!” she said excitedly.

Dash’s face screwed up in confusion. “What?”

“Back in Canterlot, when we were making a run for the Elements of Harmony, he stopped another changeling that was about to take me down!”

Applejacks eyes widened in shock. “That’s right! I plum forgot all ‘bout that!” she said. “A changeling had leapt from a roof and was fixing to ride you like he was at a rodeo, but Novel knocked him outa the air with a bolt of magic right before he could land on ya! If’n it really is this feller what wrote that book, then it musta also been him that saved ya!”

Dash looked shocked. “Seriously!? Is that why you two were lagging behind? And you didn’t tell any of us!?”

Twilight blushed and rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. “Well, we were kind of busy afterwards fighting a small army of changelings, and then with the wedding party later, I kinda forgot...”

“Yeah, there was a lot of stuff happenin’, but that ain’t no excuse for forgetting somepony doing us a favor like that.” She pulled her hat down over her face in embarrassment. “Well, shucks, now I feel right terrible, about to condemn this feller after he’d stuck his neck out fer us.”

Dash stared at Applejack is disbelief. “Not you, too, AJ!”

“Consarn it, Dash!” Applejack slammed a hoof into the floor for emphasis. “This feller has done us a good turn, so the least we can do is give him a chance to explain himself!”

Dash crossed her forelegs and hovered in the air for a short while, looking at Applejack defiantly. “Alright then, fine,” she finally said with a sigh. “We won’t immediately kick his flank and ship him off to Princess Celestia.” She turned to look to Twilight. “So what’s the plan, egghead?”

Twilight gave a relieved sigh before continuing. “Well, like I said, there’s a lot of questions here that we don’t have answers to. And the quickest way to get answers is to ask!”

“What, so we’re just going to talk to him all nice like?” Dash asked sarcastically.

“Of course not.” Twilight looked back down to the changeling on the floor. “We still don’t know how trustworthy he is, especially now that his cover is blown. We’ll have to make sure he’s properly restrained while we get some information from him.”

“Oh, you mean an interrogation, huh? Just like what those Neighzi's did to Daring Do in Daring Do and the Platinum Crown!” Dash rubbed her forehooves together and grinned wickedly. “Now that I can get behind! So how are we gonna do this?” she asked eagerly.

Twilight looked at Dash knowingly. “I am going to make sure he’s properly restrained and take him into the basement. No offense, Dash, but I don’t think I’d be able to get a straight answer out of him if you were around. Especially not with how you feel about him.”

“I’m afraid I would have to agree with Twilight on that point, darling,” Rarity said.

Dash crossed her hooves and gave Twilight a disappointed look. “Fine...”

Rarity turned back to Twilight. “But, Twilight, dear, are you certain you can handle this interrogation on your own?”

“It’s just one changeling, I’m sure I can handle it,” Twilight said, with just a hint of uncertainty in her voice. Interrogation methods was a topic she’d never done research on. She had read a few stories with interrogation scenes though, including one of Novel’s own books, ironically enough. She would have liked to properly research interrogation techniques, but there simply wasn’t any time for that sort of thing. “I know a lie detecting spell, so it’s not like he can trick me or anything. I just have to act real angry and intimidating, right?”

“Yep, and shine a bright light in his face, too!” Pinkie said excitedly.

Chapter 4: The Interrogation

View Online

As Nurex slowly came to, the first things he noticed were that he was lying on his side on a cold wooden floor and that there was a light shining in through his eyelids. He instinctively tried to move his hoof to block the light, and that was when he realized that his legs were tied up. He wondered why that would be, when the memories of what had happened just that morning rushed back to him. He quickly did a mental check of the rest of his body, and found that there was also some kind of ring on his horn and that his wings were strapped down against his sides. That last one was most worrying part of all of this, as it meant he wasn’t in his unicorn form anymore. There was no doubt about it; they definitely knew that he was a changeling now. A quick attempt at using his magic to remove his bonds resulted in nothing happening, and he realized that the ring on his horn must be some kind of magic suppressor. His hopes sank even further, if such a thing were possible. He reluctantly opened his eyes to see Twilight silhouetted against the bright light that was shining in his face, giving him a glare that could melt a hole through stone.

“So, you’re finally awake,” she said coldly.

He didn’t need his emotion senses to detect the anger in her voice, though when he did focus on her, something about the anger felt a bit off. He also noticed that she was using her magic to hold a lamp in the air, the source of light that was shining on him. He didn’t have time to dwell on any of that, however. “H-hi, Twilight...” he said feebly.

“Don’t play nice with me!” Twilight shot back. She leaned in close so that they were nearly nose to nose. “The only reason you aren’t on your way back to Canterlot in chains is because I want some answers!” she rasped out under her breath. She backed up again and stood at her full height, trying to look as imposing as possible with the lamp as a backlight. “Now what have you done with the real Novel Tale?!”

His mind raced. The real Novel Tale? Were the changelings that attacked Canterlot from a hive that replaced ponies instead of making their own identities? She must have thought that Novel Tale was an actual pony that he had replaced! “I am the real Novel Tale!” he blurted out in a panic. “I-I always have been! It was an identity I created for myself!”

Twilight stomped her hoof on the ground in anger, just inches from Novel’s face. “Don’t lie to me! We learned from Chrysalis all about how you changelings replace ponies in order to steal the love of those that care about them!”

“No, I'm telling the truth, I swear!” he shouted while struggling to back away from the furious unicorn. “Different changeling hives all work differently! We’re not like the hive that attacked Canterlot, my hive would never replace other ponies! We don’t even feed on love! You have to believe me!”

Twilight simply gave him a questioning, suspicious look. This was never going to work. In the ensuing silence, his mind started wandering dark paths. She was going to send him back to Canterlot, and they were going to throw him in a dungeon, or banish him to a far-off land, or execute him, or banish him to a dungeon in a far-off land where he would await his execu—

His train of thought was derailed by a change in the emotions he was sensing from Twilight. Was that curiosity and excitement mixing into the anger?

The gears in Twilight’s head were spinning at full speed. She had been pretending not to believe him in order to keep up the intimidation factor, but she knew he was telling the truth. The lie detecting spell she had going under the glow from levitating the lamp hadn't gone off even once. She had brought up the possibility that this changeling was different from the ones that had attacked Canterlot with her friends, but she hadn’t considered what the implications of that would be if it turned out that really was the case.

Her inner scholar was becoming very excited. There was next to no real scientific information on changelings, which made sense since they had been thought to be merely a myth until the attack just a few days ago. This changeling could prove to be a treasure trove of knowledge on the subject of his kind. She could write a book on the topic and get it published. Her name would live on in academia forever!

She tried her hardest to not squee like a school filly and maintain her scowl.

“Alright then, Novel Tale... if that even is your real name.”

“Umm... M-my changeling name is actually Nurex...”

“Nurex it is then. Here's what's going to happen.” She began pacing back and forth as she spoke. “There’s more than a little evidence to suggest that you might actually be telling the truth, so we're not going to immediately turn you over to the Royal Guard.” She stopped her pacing and turned to look him in the eyes. “But we're not going to just let you go either. There's no telling what you might do now that you’ve been found out.” She resumed her pacing. “You’re going to stay right here where we can keep an eye on you while you help me learn all I can about changelings.”

“No!” Nurex objected, “I can’t stay here! I need to report back to my hive! I was telling the truth yesterday when I said I had some friends living nearby! It’s a relatively small hive and they may not have learned what happened yet! They need to be told!”

The scholar in Twilight jumped at the opportunity before her rational side could stop to consider what she was about to get herself into. “OK then, Nurex. It’s obviously important that your hive know what happened, but I still don’t trust you enough to let you out of my sight. I’m just going to have to go to your hive with you.”

Nurex gave her a shocked look while Twilight mentally patted herself on the back. The academic community wasn't going to know what hit them!

When the door to the basement opened some time later and Twilight came out by herself, only Rarity and Rainbow Dash were still waiting for her. Pinkie Pie had had to return to help the Cakes with the shop, Fluttershy had had to go check up on her animals, and Applejack had had to return to work on the farm, but Rainbow Dash didn’t have much to do today and Rarity was free since she wasn’t getting much in the way of work orders since the attack on Canterlot.

“So what’s the deal, Twi?” Dash asked the second Twilight stepped out the door. “Did you find out where the real Novel Tale is?”

“Well, sort of,” she responded as she closed the door behind her. She then turned to look at Dash. “He says that he is the real Novel Tale, and always has been.”

Dash gave her incredulous look. “And you seriously believed that!?”

“I had a lie detector spell going, Dash. I know it sounds weird, but he wasn't lying. Apparently, some changelings create their own identities instead of replacing ponies like Chrysalis did.”

“Well, I guess that settles it then,” Rarity said with a wave of her hoof. “Who would have thought that such a nice book was written by a changeling?”

Twilight looked to Rarity, surprise clear on her face. “Wait, you’ve read Novel’s books before?”

“Only one of them, the one with that love triangle between the two mares and the stallion. It wasn’t my usual fare, but I still found it to be a fairly enjoyable read.”

Twilight smiled. “Oh, you mean book number five, The Mare Tha—”

“Hello, girls!” Dash interrupted while waving her hooves about, not amused at the tangent the conversation had taken. “We have bigger problems right now than some books! What are we going to do with the changeling?”

“Oh, right.” Twilight blushed slightly at having been so easily distracted. “Well, his real name is Nurex, he has nothing to do with Chrysalis, and he’s going to help me learn more about changelings.” Twilight looked away from her two friends and grimaced. She knew they weren’t going to like this next part. “And... I’m going to be visiting his hive.”

Dash's jaw nearly hit the floor from where she was flying in the air “What!? Are you crazy?” That was about the reaction Twilight had been expecting from her. “You’re going to follow a changeling back to his hive all by yourself!?”

“Nurex assured me that I’d be okay. And remember, lie detecting spell,” she said as she tapped her horn. “So I know that he really does believe that I’ll be safe.”

“That’s still completely insane!” Dash protested. “You should at least take me with you to help keep you safe!”

Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, Dash, but I was hardly able to convince him to agree to take just me. There's no way I could get him to agree to take both of us.”

Dash put her hooves on her hips and glared at Twilight. “There's no way I'm going to let you go into enemy territory all by yourself!”

Twilight put a hoof to her face and sighed in mild frustration. “I already told you, this isn't enemy territory I'm going into.” She looked Rainbow Dash in the face. “And besides, it's not like I can't take care of myself.”

“She has a point there, dear.” Rarity said. “Our Twilight is one of the most magically adept unicorns in Equestria. You remember how she was able to subdue that Ursa Minor all by herself, don't you?”

Twilight's cheeks reddened slightly at the praise from her friend, but Dash still wasn't convinced. She simply floated in the air with her hooves crossed over her chest and a defiant look on her face.

Twilight sighed. “Look, Dash, worse comes to worse, I can just teleport to safety, right?”

Rainbow Dash held her defiant look a few more moments before relenting. “Fine...” she reluctantly said, clearly not pleased about the entire situation.

Twilight smiled. “Thanks, Dash. Now, Nurex told me that his hive is in the White Tail Woods. The day is already halfway over, so there’s a good chance I might end up spending the night there.” Her smile took over the rest of her face and she started prancing about in place. “This is so exciting! I’m going to be the first pony ever to see a changeling hive!”

Dash forced a smirk. “Twi, you are the most eggheaded of eggheads,” she said, then quickly changed to a more serious expression. “Seriously though, Twilight, if you don’t show up by the end of tomorrow, I’m gonna come looking for you. I'll turn the entire White Tail Woods upside down if I have to.”

Twilight gladly nodded in acceptance. “I’d expect nothing less from the Element of Loyalty, Dash.”

Rarity had one more concern, however. “Twilight, darling, I’m glad we’ve come to a conclusion, and I’m sure that you can handle yourself, but don’t you think you should at least send a letter to Princess Celestia before you go?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, she and Luna are still completely swamped with work because of the attack on Canterlot. I know Princess Celestia probably wouldn’t approve of this, but I don’t want to bother her until I have some solid information about changelings to report on,” she explained.

It was clear from Rarity’s expression that she didn’t like that answer, but she chose not to press the issue. “Well, if you’re certain that’s for the best.”

“I am, Rarity,” Twilight said as she nodded. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime! Learning more about changelings could change Equestria!”

After some more discussion over exactly what would happen, and Rainbow Dash extracting a promise from Twilight that she wouldn’t let her guard down, her two friends said their goodbyes and headed out. Twilight went back to the basement and opened the door. “Novel, you can come out now.”

Novel, now back in his pony form, ascended the staircase and entered the main room. “Sorry about keeping you down there,” Twilight said, “but I don’t think I would have been able to convince Rainbow Dash to let me go with you if you were here. I think she would have been too busy trying to grill you herself!”

“Uh-huh,” Novel said half-heartedly, looking towards the ground with his ears folded back against his head.

Twilight winced at how down he seemed. He may have capitulated to her plan to visit his hive, but he wasn’t very happy about it. “Come on, Novel, it’s not all that bad,” she said, trying to cheer him up. “This is an important first step to a proper, and hopefully peaceful, understanding between changelings and ponies!”

Novel looked up at her glumly, clearly not sharing her optimism. “Easy for you to say.” He looked back down to the ground. “You're not the one who has to explain to his queen why a pony found him out and followed him home...”

Twilight frowned at that. If Novel’s queen was anything like Chrysalis, then she could see why he might be so unhappy about this. “She won’t banish you from the hive or anything, will she?”

“What?” Novel looked up at her with a shocked expression on his face. “No! Of course not! She would never do anything like that to one of her changelings! It’s just...” He looked off to the side as she continued. “She can be really intimidating when she wants to be and... well...” He looked down to the ground and sighed dejectedly. “She's my queen and I’ve failed her...”

Twilight could understand where he was coming from. Just the thought of failing a task for Princess Celestia had driven her to do some pretty crazy things in the past. That whole Want-It Need-It spell incident came to mind. Rationally, she knew Celestia would never do anything to hurt her, but when she got into one of her stressed out states, she didn't think very rationally. “Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will work out alright in the end,” she said with a smile. “Just try not to dwell on it too much, it can be bad for you. Trust me on this one."

Novel sighed. “I’ll try.” He looked back up at her. “So when are we going to head out?”

Twilight thought for a moment. “You don't have to pack anything for yourself, do you?”

He shook his head. “We're going to my home, they'll have everything I need there.”

“Well in that case, I just have to pack my saddlebags, and then we wait for Spike to get back.” Twilight had sent Spike off on some errands earlier that morning because she hadn’t wanted him involved in this whole changeling business.

“Why do we have to wait for Spike?” Novel asked warily. “He isn’t coming with us, is he?”

“Of course not,” she said as she shook her head. “We just need somepony to watch the library while we’re gone is all, and Spike knows this place like the back of his claw!” She looked up at the clock on the wall. “He should be back anytime now. Novel, could you watch the door while I pack my saddlebags?”

He nodded and Twilight trotted upstairs. She began packing all she would need to take her observations of the changeling hive, which mostly consisted of copious amounts of writing materials. Just as she was going over a checklist of what she had packed for a second time, she heard the front door open.

“Twilight, I'm back! Oh, hey, Novel. Have you seen Twilight anywhere?” said a familiar, childish voice from downstairs.

“I’m up here, Spike!” Twilight shouted. She heard the clicking of Spike’s claws on the wooden floor followed by the sounds of hoofsteps, and soon Spike appeared at the top of the stairs, with Novel following close behind.

“Heya, Twilight!” Spike said, face barely visible behind the bags he carried. He put down all the stuff he had collected on his errands in the corner of the room and then noticed that Twilight had her saddlebags on. “What’s up? You planning on heading out somewhere?”

Twilight nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! Novel and I are going to visit some friends of his, so we’re going to be gone for the rest of today and probably part of tomorrow.” She trotted up to Spike. “So that’s why you are going to have the big job of watching the library while I’m gone! Do you think you can handle that, number one assistant?”

Spike gave a salute. “You can count on me, Twilight!”

“Thanks, Spike.” Twilight wrapped her hooves around him in a hug. “You’re the best assistant anypony could ask for.” She drew back and looked to Novel. “Come on Novel, it’s time to get going!”

They both headed downstairs and out the front door, taking their first steps on their short but no less important journey.

Chapter 5: On The Way To The Hive

View Online

It was a typical Ponyville afternoon. The sun hung in the middle of a cloudless sky as a plethora of ponies moved about the streets, either out on business or simply enjoying the day. Novel and Twilight stood just outside the door to the library. Novel was holding a map of Ponyville and the surrounding countryside in his magic, checking to see which way they would have to go to reach his hive. After another moment, he rolled up the map and handed it to Twilight, who packed it in her saddlebags, and they headed off into the busy streets.

Novel was the first to break the silence, though he kept his voice low since there were other ponies about. “You really care about that little dragon, don’t you?” he said as he glanced at Twilight out of the corner of his eye.

“Of course,” she said as a smile came to her face. “I’ve been raising him ever since he hatched. He’s like a mix between son and younger brother to me.” She looked back to Novel. “Was it that obvious?”

“I could sense the love between you two, is all,” he casually replied without taking his eyes from the road in front of them.

Twilight’s smile was quickly replaced with a look of suspicion. She glanced about to make sure nopony was listening then leaned in close to Novel. “I thought you said you don’t feed on love...” she whispered.

“I don’t,” he responded quietly as he shook his head, “but I can still sense it. Changelings can sense any emotion.”

“Hmm...” Twilight looked at Novel thoughtfully for a moment as they continued down the street. “Is there anything else you can do with those emotion sensing abilities of yours?”

“We can use it to pick out other changelings, even when disguised.”

“Really?” she asked, clearly intrigued. Twilight thought back to what Nurex had told her, how Novel Tale was an identity he had created purely on his own, an identity that he had maintained for years. She wondered if any other ponies she knew might be changelings. She looked around. They were now in the middle of the Ponyville marketplace, which was teeming with ponies. Her curiosity got the better of her and she leaned in close to Novel again. “Are... are any of the ponies around here changelings?”

Novel Tale stopped where he was and began looking around, taking a few moments to examine every pony his eyes fell upon. Not half a minute later, his gaze stopped roaming and his eyes widened slightly. Twilight guessed he had spotted another changeling, and tried to follow his line of sight to see which pony it was. It was a futile effort, however; there were just too many ponies milling about. Novel remained quiet for a short time before he looked to Twilight and spoke again. “You won’t... do anything to them if it turns out there is a changeling here, will you?”

“Well...” Twilight hesitantly responded as she looked off to the side. She hadn’t really thought that far ahead when she had asked him if anypony else in Ponyville was a changeling. The question had been kind of a snap impulse for her. “I guess I would have to talk to them, if only to learn more about changelings...” she began with a thoughtful look on her face, then turned back to Novel. “But assuming they really have been living here as a pony for so long like you were, and things have been perfectly fine like that, then I guess I wouldn’t have much of a reason to do anything else.”

Novel looked her in the eyes for a few more moments before he reluctantly turned and pointed his hoof at a cream colored earth pony mare standing next to a mint green colored unicorn mare. “That earth pony mare over there, the one at the asparagus stand. She’s a changeling.”

Twilight looked where he was pointing. “Bon Bon!?” she shouted in surprise, and then quickly put a hoof over her mouth. Bon Bon looked about confusedly before spotting Twilight and waving at her. Twilight did her best to put a smile on her face and waved back before they continued on their way.

When Twilight had found her voice again, she made sure to keep it low. “Bon Bon is a changeling? Are you sure?”

Novel looked down towards the ground and his ears folded back against his head. Twilight guessed that he wasn’t very comfortable with having outed another changeling. “Yes, I’m sure,” he finally responded after a few moments of silence.

As they continued walking, Twilight turned her head around to take another look at Bon Bon, who was now following an excited Lyra to another stall. She was acting the same way she always did, and as far as Twilight could tell, was indistinguishable from any other pony. “How can you tell?”

“All ponies are constantly giving off small amounts of emotional energy regardless of how calm or excited they are,” Novel explained while still looking straight ahead. “They do it even when sleeping. It’s a very small amount of energy, not enough to feed on, but it’s enough for us to sense. Changelings don’t give off any emotional energy at all. That’s how we can detect each other.”

“No emotional energy?” Twilight gave him a confused look. “But you seem to have emotions to me,” she said.

He turned and stared her in the face. “Of course we do. We have the same emotions any pony would have.” He turned back to the road ahead of them. “We just don’t give off any energy from them.”

“I guess that makes sense. You wouldn’t need to feed on ponies at all otherwise.” Twilight stopped where she was as she thought back to the events of a few days ago. “Well, hold on then, how come those changelings we fought in Canterlot couldn’t tell the difference between me and my friends and other changelings disguised as us?”

Novel stopped as well and turned back to look at her again. “You got in a fight with changelings?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah, there must have been at least fifty of them trying to subdue my friends and I. They took our forms to try and confuse us. It was a really chaotic fight.”

“Well that explains it,” Novel said as he turned and continued walking again, with Twilight quick to follow. “We have to stop for a moment and focus our senses on a single target in order to tell a changeling from a pony. They probably didn’t have time to do it if it was as hectic as you say.” He gave a small shrug. “Or maybe they just got so caught up in the fight that they forgot to check.”

By now they had left Ponyville and were on the road to Whitetail Woods. Now that they weren’t surrounded by ponies, they were able to talk a little more openly. Twilight levitated a quill and a notebook from her saddlebags and wrote down all that Novel had told her about changelings while they were in Ponyville. When she had finished, she turned to look at Novel again. “So Novel, tell me about the changelings of your hive.”

“Where to begin...” he asked himself. It took him a few moments longer to compose his thoughts. “Uh... well, all the changelings from my hive are particularly creative, as far as changelings go. We create our own pony identities and find work as artists, writers, actors and the like.”

Twilight studiously copied down everything he said. “You’ve said that you don’t feed on love. What emotions do you feed on instead?” she asked, not even looking up from her notepad.

Novel looked down to the ground again. “Well, I guess that’s really only half true. Changelings can feed on any emotion, but each hive has one or two emotions that they prefer to feed on above all others. Respect from our peers and admiration from our fans is what our hive lives on.”

Twilight looked up at him from her notepad. “So you simply don’t like other emotions, or...” she encouraged him to elaborate.

“It’s not that we don’t like them,” he said as he shook his head, “it’s just that we can’t process the energy from them as efficiently as from our prefered emotions.”

“So it’s basically a case of differing nutritional values? Fascinating...” she said, nose stuck in her notebook as she wrote.

Twilight was so absorbed in writing her notes that what Novel said next caught her completely off guard. “You were my best food source, you know.”

“What!?” Twilight shouted in surprise as she stumbled and nearly dropped her quill and notebook.

Novel stopped and turned his head to look at her. “Every time I had a book signing, you’d be there. I’ve never seen anypony as enthusiastic about books as you. From a single book signing, you would always give me enough emotional energy to last a few weeks.”

Twilight managed to regain her composure. “But... but I never felt any less enthusiastic after one of your book signings.” Her face turned thoughtful. She began moving again, Novel once more leading the way, and it took her a few moments longer to continue. “If you were feeding on my emotions then... then shouldn't I have not felt them anymore?”

“No,” Novel said with a shake of his head. “You were always sending more than enough emotions my way that I didn't have to actively drain any from you. Changelings can drain the emotions right out of a pony, but we usually try not to do that. It makes...” he struggled to find the right term, “...long term feeding problematic.”

Twilight winced at his words. It was going to take a long time to get used to the idea of anything “feeding” on ponies, even if it was apparently a completely benign process with changelings. “What do you mean by that?” she asked, though she had some idea based on the state her brother had been in with Chrysalis.

“Well, for one thing, it’s a rather unpleasant experience for the pony in question, or so I’ve heard.” Novel grimaced. “It leaves you dazed and confused in the short term, and lacking in energy in the long term. Worse than that though, at least for us, is that it’s impossible to do discreetly. We have to maintain physical contact in order to drain emotions directly. It results in ponies being entirely too suspicious for a changeling to continue feeding on them.”

He perked up significantly as he continued. “Instead, most changeling try to put themselves into, or create for themselves, situations where ponies are giving off enough emotional energy on their own that they don’t have to drain it out of them. Like my book signings!”

Twilight copied all of this down in her notebook, and on a whim began mentally comparing all she had just learned about emotional energy with what she knew of magic. They continued in silence for a while, and before she knew it, they had entered White Tail Woods. She looked up from her notebook. It was a perfect day out, bright and sunny with the air nice and cool. Twilight would have loved to make this a leisurely stroll through the woods, but she had more pressing matters to attend to. As she looked about, she noticed that they were taking a different path than the one she and the others had taken during the Running of the Leaves.

She simply enjoyed her surroundings and let her mind wander for a while before another thought came to her. “Hey, Novel... if changelings usually don't drain emotions out of ponies, then why was Chrysalis draining the love out of my brother?” Twilight asked. “For that matter, why did Chrysalis attack Canterlot in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Novel said as he shook his head, completely at a loss. “Maybe their hive lost all their stored emotional energy in an accident and they did it out of desperation. Or maybe they just went mad,” he said with a shrug. “I couldn’t begin to guess why a changeling hive would do something so crazy.”

Twilight was about to ask how exactly one stored emotional energy when Novel came to a stop. “We’re here.”

They had arrived at a clearing off to the side of the trail. There was a spot for a campfire, some logs to sit on, and a small cabin. Twilight recognized this place; she had been here back during the Running of the Leaves. She had thought it would be good idea scout out the White Tail Woods beforehoof and had come across this clearing. There had been a yellow earth pony stallion with an easel painting a picture of the woods who had invited her to sit with him. They had talked for awhile on various topics before Twilight had continued on her way. He had seemed like a perfectly friendly pony then, but now she had to wonder.

As they approached the door of the cabin, Twilight put away her quill and notebook. She wasn’t sure what was going on, and the last thing she wanted was somepony asking her about what she was writing. Novel knocked and the door opened to reveal the same earth pony stallion Twilight remembered from the last time she was here. “Heya folks! Welcome to my little clearing! Come in, come in!” They entered the small cabin. It was a single room affair, a small table in the middle, some cupboards, a sink, and some counters off to one side, an easel and some art supplies on the other side, and a bed against the far wall with a dresser next to it. They all went and sat at the table. “My name is Art Style! What can I do for you folks?”

Twilight was confused, but decided to go along with it. “Hello, Art. I’m Twilight Sparkle and this is Novel Tale, we were—”

Novel held up his hoof, cutting off Twilight. “Sylph, cut the charade. We need to see Queen Polistae, now.”

Art’s friendly smile instantly turned nervous and forced. He glanced at Twilight then looked back to Novel Tale and gave a nervous chuckle. “I’m afraid I don’t know who this Sylph character is, and I definitely don’t know anything ‘bout a queen. You must have me confused with somepony else, partner.”

Novel stared at Art for a few moments, then was enveloped in green fire as he shifted back to changeling form. “She already knows what we are, Sylph. Now let us into the hive already. It’s a long story and Queen Polistae needs to hear it. This is important.”

Art’s jaw had hit the table in front of him. He looked at Twilight again, who returned his stare with an even expression, then looked back to Nurex. He sputtered for a good half a minute, unable to say anything coherent, before giving up even trying and closing his mouth.

When he finally spoke again, he looked very stern didn’t sound too happy. “The queen’s not gonna like this one, Nurex. This better be a heck of a story you have to tell her.”

“It’s about the attack on Canterlot,” said Nurex.

Attack?” Art asked as his eyes widened slightly. “We’d heard something serious had gone down out there, but we haven’t gotten the full story yet. Maybe what you’ve got to say will be enough to make up for this after all,” he said, jerking his head in Twilight’s direction. He got up from the table and walked towards the dresser next to the bed. As he went, he was also enveloped in green fire, revealing him to be a changeling just like Nurex. He was a bit larger, but as far as Twilight could tell, they looked identical otherwise.

Twilight and Nurex followed Sylph over to the dresser in the back of the room. Sylph slid open a hidden panel on the side of the dresser opposite the bed, revealing a hole about as wide as his hoof. He stuck his left foreleg in, and as it went in, Twilight heard a series of clicking noises. When he had put his leg in nearly the entire way, Sylph twisted it, resulting in one final click sound before he pulled his hoof back out. The bed began sliding along the wall, away from the dresser. As Sylph went to go stand by the bed, Twilight snuck forward to take a peek inside the hole that Sylph had stuck his hoof in. She saw a series of pegs sticking out from the sides of the hole, and it took her a moment to realize that the pegs in the hole matched up with the holes in Sylph’s leg. Her eyes widened in surprise; they could use their own limbs as keys!

Now Twilight turned her attention to the bed. It had moved aside to reveal a staircase descending into the ground. This must have been the entrance to the hive! She was very impressed by the whole setup they had going here; they were just hiding in plain sight!

Sylph shifted back into Art Style. “You two can go on in. I’ll send word ahead. I hope the queen likes what you have to say.”

“So do I...” said Nurex as he and Twilight descended into the earth.

Chapter 6: The Hive, Part 1

View Online

Twilight and Nurex continued deeper into the earth. The stairs at the entrance to the tunnel had given way to a more lenient grade after they had descended about twenty feet. It had also widened out to a comfortable size, tall enough for even Princess Celestia to walk at full height and wide enough for about four ponies to walk side by side. Twilight had expected it to start getting dark, but was surprised to find strange crystals giving off a soft green glow that were embedded in the walls at regular interval. She wanted to ask Nurex about them, but it was so quiet that she was hesitant to break the silence. Instead, she pulled out her notebook and wrote down all she had observed in the cabin as she went.

A few minutes later, the cave narrowed down to a single entrance that seemed to open up again afterwards. There were two changelings standing in front of the entrance, presumably guards. They were larger than Nurex, but again, Twilight couldn’t really tell them apart otherwise. Their eyes were glued to Twilight as they approached.

One of the guards spared a look at Nurex. “Nurex...” He turned back to staring at Twilight. “...and pony. You are both free to enter. You are to make your way directly to Queen Polistae’s chambers.” The two guards stepped aside.

They entered the hive proper. They were still in a tunnel about as large as the one they were in previously, but Twilight could see what appeared to be a larger chamber up ahead. She could hear a buzzing noise and what she thought was scattered talking. When they finally entered, Nurex paused to give Twilight time to take in the sight before her.

The chamber was very large. The closest size comparison she could make was the Grand Opera House in Canterlot. She figured one could fit a few hundred ponies in here, and that wasn’t even counting the air space overhead! If this was considered a small hive, she couldn’t imagine what Chrysalis’ hive must look like.

In the center of the chamber was a very large pillar of the same glowing crystal she had seen throughout the rest of the hive. It was the primary source of illumination for the entire cavern. She noticed there was a small portion of the crystal pillar about a third of the way down the bottom that was unlit, and wondered what purpose that could serve.

The cavern itself was shaped like a quarter-sphere. The far wall of the cavern, where a stage would be if this was the Canterlot Grand Opera House, was mostly flat and was filled with numerous hexagonal chambers like some kind of giant honeycomb. Most of them were partially covered in some sort of semi-transparent green substance, with only a small, pony-sized hole providing entry. She surmised that these must be what passed for rooms for the changelings that lived here. The rest of the cavern curved away from that wall with various tunnels leading off to who knew where.

Speaking of changelings, there must of been at least a hundred of them walking or flittering about the main chamber when she entered. And they had all stopped what they were doing and were now staring right at her, making her feel more than a little self conscious. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was how Fluttershy felt in public situations. Thinking back on what Nurex had said, she realized that she must be the only source of emotional energy down here. She must appear as a beacon in the middle of the night to them.

They began moving again, Nurex leading her to a tunnel off to the right. As they went, Twilight took a good look at some of the changelings watching her, and once again, could not discern any differentiating features except for size. They all had the same light blue carapace plate and magenta eyes that Nurex had.

Twilight spoke quietly, not wanting to be overheard by all the changelings watching her. “Novel... um...”

“I prefer Nurex when I’m in changeling form.”

“Okay then, Nurex... all these changelings look the same to me. How do you tell each other apart?”

“It’s the holes in our legs and the notches in our ears and wings,” Nurex said as he held up a leg and extended a wing for Twilight to take a look at. “We all have a unique combination of holes and notches.”

Twilight examined Nurex’s leg and wing and then took a closer look at some of the changelings near them. She realized Nurex was right, they did all have different sets of holes and notches. She couldn’t imagine actually using that as a way of telling individuals apart! Changeling brains must just be set up differently from ponies', she guessed. She recorded all of this in her notebook.

They had entered the tunnel that presumably led to the queen. The tunnel was supported by arches of the glowing green crystal, giving it a sense of great importance. Twilight thought it was certainly appropriate for the tunnel that led to the queen of the hive.

Her curiosity had finally grown too strong for her to ignore. “Nurex, what is it that makes these crystals glow like this?”

Nurex looked up at one of the arches as they passed underneath it. “I’m, uh, not sure how exactly they work, just that they glow like that when you siphon emotional energy into them. They can glow for quite a while on only a bit of energy, so it’s a pretty good lighting system for us.”

This led Twilight to another big question her mind. “What about that giant crystal pillar in the main chamber with the unlit portion?”

“Oh, that’s basically just a giant clock. Queen Polistae charges it every night at midnight. The unlit portion starts at the bottom and slowly moves up the pillar, reaching the top at noon, then slowly goes back down and hits the bottom around midnight. Then she starts it over again! It takes more than a bit of magic mixed into the emotional energy to do it, which is why the queen does it, but it’s well worth it for helping us keep track of time while living underground.”

Twilight hadn’t considered how difficult time keeping must be when one didn’t have a day/night cycle to work with. She thought it was a rather ingenious solution. “And that pillar is the same type of crystal as these arches?” Twilight asked, to which Nurex nodded. She stepped up to the next arch to get a closer look at the crystal. “Fascinating...” she said as she scribbled in her notebook. “Do you think I’d be able to take some samples of these crystals back with me? I’d love to examine them more closely,” she asked without looking from her notes.

“You’d have to ask the queen about that. Speaking of which...”

Twilight looked up from her notes to see that Nurex was now standing in front of a set of doors with a final crystal arch as the frame. The door was made of an opaque green substance, likely the same substance that the covers over the hexagonal rooms in the main chamber were made of. The substance actually carried some of the light from the crystal arch surrounding it, causing the door to glow slightly. She put her notebook away as she approached, figuring it would be in poor taste to take notes while meeting the queen.

There were a pair of changeling guards standing outside the door. For once, they were easy to tell apart from other changelings, as they were wearing armor made of some material Twilight couldn’t identify. One of the guards addressed them. “Queen Polistae is expecting you. You may enter.” They opened the doors and let Nurex and Twilight pass through.

Twilight stopped just inside the entrance to take in the chamber they had entered. There was a path going down the center, with rows of large columns of the glowing crystal going up to the ceiling on either side. Stretching between the crystal columns like spider webs was more of that same green material the door had been made of, but shaped into images and patterns that reminded Twilight of the stained glass windows that decorated the walls back at Canterlot Castle. Much like the door, the green substance carried some of the light from the crystals columns, creating a rather spectacular overall effect. At the end of the path the ground rose up slightly and there was a magnificent throne. The throne was giving off a green light, but it looked like it was made of more of that green substance. Twilight guessed that it must have been built on top of one of those glowing crystals. Then Twilight took notice of the changeling that was on the throne.

She had the same general body structure as Chrysalis, but that was where the similarities ended. Whereas Chrysalis’ mane was ragged and a sickly green color, Polistae’s mane was a bright turquoise color and was done up in a bun that Twilight had often seen on some of the high class socialite mares back in Canterlot. Her mane bun had long, thin shards of the glowing crystal sticking out of it, no doubt in order to hold it together. Her tail was the same color, styled in a curvy way that Twilight was certain Rarity would love. The holes in her legs were filled with that green substance, and they must have also had shards of the glowing crystal inside them, because they were giving of a green glow similar to the throne she sat upon.

The overall effect gave her a very regal, haughty demeanor, a veritable aura of importance. Combined with what Twilight knew changeling queens were capable of, she found her to be rather intimidating as well. Nurex had assured her that she wouldn’t harm her, but she couldn’t help but feel somewhat hesitant, almost afraid, to approach her. It wasn’t the same kind of fear that Chrysalis had instilled in her, a fear for her life. It was a fear that she wouldn’t live up to this queen’s expectations, and unlike most noble ponies she knew, Twilight found herself actually caring what this changeling queen thought of her.

The changeling queen had an unreadable expression on her face that Twilight had often seen Celestia use when dealing with noble ponies. She spoke, and she sounded slightly impatient. “Nurex, pony, please approach the throne that we may speak.”

Twilight realized she had been standing there for nearly half a minute just taking everything in! She blushed in embarrassment. Nurex led the way to the throne and Twilight followed just behind. Thinking it impolite to stare at the changeling queen any more than she already had, she looked to some of the... tapestries? Murals? Twilight wasn’t sure what to call the spider web like arrangements of the green substance stretched between the crystal columns that they were walking past. Some of them depicted other figures like the changeling queen, no doubt previous rulers of the hive. To Twilight’s surprise, others depicted ponies. Twilight guessed that these must be the pony forms of particularly notable changelings in the hive’s history. She made a mental note to ask about it later.

She was brought back to reality by the sound of Nurex clearing his throat. She looked back to him and saw that they had now reached the throne. Nurex bowed before the queen. “Queen Polistae.”

Twilight was quick to copy him. “Y-your highness...”

“You need not bow to me, pony. You are not one of my changelings and I am not your monarch. Rise, and tell me your name.”

Twilight blinked. That wasn’t the kind of response she had been expecting. She did as she had been told. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, your highness.”

Polistae smiled, but it somehow did nothing to make her seem less imposing. “Welcome then, Twilight Sparkle, to my hive. I do believe you are the first pony to ever set foot in a changeling hive of their own free will. That is quite an accomplishment. I am quite curious, however, as to how you learned of us.” She looked to Nurex. “Nurex, would you like to explain?”

Nurex cowered as his queen’s gaze fell upon him. “W-well, my queen, uh, you see, interest in my book series was, uh, dropping off, so I wasn’t getting as much emotional energy. So, in order to boost interest, I, uh... kinda... put a changeling character in my last book...”

Queen Polistae had the same neutral expression on her face that she’d been maintaining since they had entered the room. “I see. And you did not think to run this by me first?”

Nurex reeled back as though he had been struck physically. “Well, i-it did cross my mind that you might want to know first... but I just figured that since ponies thought that we were only myths, that it would be okay...” He looked back up to her with a pleading look. “And it was working just fine until those other changelings attacked Canterlot!”

“Yes, thus bringing us to the reason you two have come here. Nurex, we are going to have a talk later about taking liberties with a changeling’s identity. For now, however, I wish to hear the full story of what occurred in Canterlot three days ago.”

“I think I can help with that, your majesty,” Twilight said. “It all started when I got an invitation to my older brother’s wedding...”

Chapter 7: The Hive, Part 2

View Online

Twilight told the tale of the changeling invasion of Canterlot and Chrysalis’ attempted coup of the throne. The entire time, Queen Polistae maintained a neutral expression, only occasionally interrupting to ask a question. Nurex also listened intently, having not heard the full story himself yet.

When Twilight finally finished, Polistae sighed and closed her eyes. “Chrysalis always was one of the more reckless changeling queens, but I never imagined she would do something so foolish.” She opened her eyes and looked to Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, I can assure you that Chrysalis’ actions are not representative of changelings as a whole. You ponies are necessary for our survival, and anything that harms you indirectly harms us as well. I will make certain that as many other changeling queens as I can contact are informed of these events. Thank you, Twilight Sparkle, for bringing us this information,” she said as she gave a small nod of her head.

Twilight bowed her head. “You’re welcome, your majesty.” She looked up again. “But, uh, well...” Twilight faltered. Even though she was fairly sure now that Polistae was much nicer than she appeared, her imperious demeanor still made it difficult for Twilight to ask anything more of her. The unicorn couldn’t help but feel somewhat insignificant before the changeling queen, and that any request she had would just be an annoyance.

She steeled herself and continued. “...Informing you of what happened in Canterlot wasn’t my only purpose in coming here.”

“Oh?” Polistae said, a slightly raised eyebrow being the only change in her expression.

“Yes. I also wish to learn more about changelings. I was... hoping I could see the rest of the hive and take notes on how changelings work and live.”

“I see. And what do you intend to with such knowledge?”

“Well, I was planning to write a book on it...”

Polistae closed her eyes, thinking on the request. After what seemed like an hour to Twilight but was really only a minute, she opened her eyes again and looked to Twilight. “In the past I would have refused such a request without a moment's hesitation. Secrecy and obscurity have always been a changeling’s greatest assets. Now, because of Queen Chrysalis, ponies everywhere know that we exist and our obscurity is all but ruined. Knowing ponies, speculation on us is bound to run rampant, and thanks to the stellar first impression ponies have gotten of us, none of that speculation is going to be good. If things are left as are, I would not be surprised if mobs of ponies started forming in the streets, armed with torches and pitchforks. It will be a veritable witch hunt, all targeted against changelings. That can only end badly for all of us."

Twilight had not considered that there might be fallout of that magnitude. She highly doubted that things would escalate to the extent of torch and pitchfork wielding mobs, but on the other hoof, she couldn’t help but remember how Ponyville had reacted to Zecora. And all she had done was look different! This certainly gave her work here new-found importance.

Polistae continued. "The best way to stem wild speculation is by providing facts. In light of this, I approve of your request. Just so long as you agree to keep the location of our hive and all changeling identities secret.”

"Of course, your majesty!” she responded enthusiastically, nearly overwhelmed with relief. “Participant confidentiality is a vital part of any scientific undertaking." Twilight bowed her head. “Thank you very much, Queen Polistae, for allowing me to do this.”

“If you have anything you wish to ask me about changelings, please, feel free to do so.”

“Uh...” Twilight fidgeted. She had a question alright, but wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to ask.

Polistae smirked. “I promise I am not going to bite. Ask your question.”

“It’s just that...” Twilight hesitantly began. “Well, you’ve been much more patient and understanding about all this than I would have expected...”

Polistae’s expression turned serious. “Make no mistake, Twilight Sparkle. This is easily one of the worst events to have ever happened in the entire history of our hive. However, I understand that what is done is done and ranting and raving about it will not help anything. Truthfully, you were very fortunate that it was Nurex and thus our hive that you discovered. Due to our roles as actors, writers, and such, we are much closer to ponykind than most changeling hives. Combined with our aptitude for creativity that allows us to perform these roles, we are thus much more capable of handling the news that the masquerade has been broken. Most other changeling queens would not have reacted nearly as calmly as I have.”

“But, then doesn’t that mean that the other changeling queens won’t agree with your decision to let me collect information on changelings?” Twilight asked.

Polistae nodded. “That is very likely, yes. However, we changeling queens have no absolute authority over each other. I am sure that this is the best course of action for us to take, given what has occurred, and am confident in my abilities to convince them of the same.”

“Well, I’m just glad you didn’t take the news as badly as I thought you would,” Twilight said with a relieved sigh.

Polistae smirked again. “Oh? And just how did you think I was going to react?”

Twilight faltered at being suddenly put on the spot. “Er, I mean, it's just that your appearance and demeanor are a lot like some noble ponies back in Canterlot. If they were in this situation, they would be yelling and screaming and being completely irrational about it! That's all that I meant, really!”

Polistae’s smirk changed into a smile. As if somepony had flipped a switch, she suddenly seemed much more approachable, the air of importance she exuded greatly diminished. “Tell me, Twilight, what is it again that the changelings of our hive do?”

Twilight was flabbergasted at the sudden change, especially since Polistae physically appeared the same as far as she could tell. She glanced at Nurex, who was also staring in shock, apparently never having seen this side of his queen before.

Twilight did her best to compose herself. She recalled what the queen had just said and what Nurex had told her earlier. “Uh, well, they’re writers, actors, and other professions requiring a degree of creativity.”

Queen Polistae nodded. “That’s right. So would it not make sense, then, that the queen of such a hive would also be particularly adept in one of those roles, much more so than her changelings?”

Twilight supposed that made sense. She nodded.

“Good. Now imagine that queen’s best role is as an actor. Would she not do her best to act the part of queen?”

It took Twilight a few moments to realize what Polistae was getting at, at which point could only stare at her in disbelief. Her regal, imposing demeanor was all an act? If she was this good an actor, then Twilight was glad that it was Chrysalis and not Polistae that had tried to impersonate Cadance.

“But how?” was all Twilight could ask.

“It’s all body language, manner of speech...” she leaned in conspiratorially towards Twilight and whispered the next bit. “And just a touch of magic!”

She returned to her normal sitting position. “I do hope you found that explanation satisfactory, Twilight.”

For the first time since Twilight had finished telling what occurred in Canterlot, Nurex spoke up, his voice sounding slightly confused. “Um, my queen?”

She turned her head towards him. “Yes, Nurex?”

“I have a lot of emotional energy stored up, and—”

“Ah, excellent,” she interrupted. “You can take Twilight with you when you go to Storage and tell her all about how it works. Come, both of you. I will inform the guards of what has occurred here and you two can be on your way.” She rose from her throne and began walking towards the door to her chambers.

Twilight was quick to follow, Nurex falling into place beside her. Twilight took out her notebook and quill again to record all that had occurred here. She looked up for a moment and her sight happened to fall on one of the web-like tapestries strung between the crystal pillars, prompting another question. “Oh, Queen Polistae!” It was so much easier to ask her questions now that she had dropped her unapproachable nobility act!

Polistae stopped and turned around to look at her with a knowing smile. “Another question, Twilight?”

“Yes!” she said with an enthusiastic nod. “About these designs you have between the crystal columns. I'm assuming that the images of other changeling queens are previous rulers of this hive.” She looked to Polistae for confirmation, who simply nodded. “But I was wondering about these images of ponies.”

“Those would be the pony forms of very important changelings in our hive’s history.” Polistae walked up to a nearby tapestry of an earth pony stallion. “For instance, this particular changeling was the most successful changeling to ever come from our hive.”

Twilight took a good look at the design. She swore she could recognize him, but the unusual medium of the design made it difficult for her to pin down.

With a smirk, Polistae continued. “You probably know him by his pony name, Leonardo Da Hoovsie.”

Twilight’s magic winked out and her notebook and quill clattered to the ground. She stood there completely stunned, her mind unable to do anything as it tried to process the implications of the bomb that had just been dropped on her. This was not the kind of information she had been expecting when she set out to learn more about changelings!

Queen Polistae simply stood and watched, clearly amused.

A minute later, Twilight managed to get her mouth moving, and a half a minute after that, she actually managed to produce a coherent sentence. “You mean the most influential pony of the entire Reneighssance Period was a changeling!?”

“I’m sure it comes as quite a shock, but I assure you, it’s true. It was before my time, but from what I understand, he was more pony than changeling. I wouldn’t dwell on it too much right now, though,” she said as she waved a hoof in the air dismissively. “You have a hive to see, and the day is soon to be over. Come!” Polistae turned back and continued towards the door, Nurex following behind.

Twilight still found herself unable to move. Don’t dwell on it? How could she not! This was huge! Tremendous! If it was true that Da Hoovsie was actually a changeling, then Twilight couldn’t help but wonder what other influential figures in history might also have been changelings. Or even what current influential figures might be changelings! What if—

Twilight stopped that train of thought right there, realizing that this particular track could stretch on forever if she let it. Polistae was right. The implications of this could take her weeks to mull over, and she had things to do. She did her best to tuck that particular tidbit of knowledge away in a corner of her mind and turned to see that Polistae and Nurex were almost at the door. She hurried to catch up to them.

Just before they reached the door, Polistae’s smile disappeared. Somepony had flicked the switch back on and her imperious demeanor had returned full force. “Sylus!” she shouted.

The door to the room opened inwards and one of the changeling guards that had let Twilight and Nurex in stuck his head through the door. “Yes, my queen?”

“I have given this pony, Twilight Sparkle, permission to wander the hive so that she may learn about us. Nurex will be guiding her. I wish you to escort them and ensure that they are not harassed by other guards or curious changelings. Understood?”

If Sylus found the command odd, he showed no signs of it. He bowed, his horn touching the floor. “As you wish, my queen.”

Nurex began moving back towards the main chamber, Twilight and Sylus following behind, though Sylus hung back a bit. Twilight glanced behind her to see Polistae turn around to return to her throne before the other guard closed the doors.

They passed through the central chamber and made their way into another tunnel on the opposite side, Twilight and Nurex walking together and Sylus still hanging back a ways. Now that they had a bit more privacy, Twilight finally spoke up. “Nurex, did you have any idea that Queen Polistae was simply acting like that?” She hadn't wanted to bring it up in around all the other changeling in the central chamber, unsure of how common this knowledge was.

He shook his head. “No, I had no idea. I've always thought that's how she really was. And as far as I know, so do all the other changelings.”

Twilight was about to respond when she was interrupted by a pair of voices from a small cavern up ahead at the end of the tunnel.

“Oh boy, a fresh batch of emorphic gel, just filled with emotions! What kind of emotion do ya think is in it?”

“I dunno, but I know a way to find out!”

Twilight heard a quiet cracking sound. Now insanely curious, she ran ahead of Nurex to see what was happening and entered the storage cavern.

She took in the room as she searched for the source of the voices. It was much smaller than the main chamber, or even Queen Polistae’s chamber. She figured it was more the size of Applejack’s barn. It was circular with another tunnel at the far end, and the walls were all tiered. Upon each of the tiers were rows of what looked like green, semi-transparent cocoons. Most of the storage space was full, but there was room for more cocoons as well. At the end of one of the rows, a cocoon had been cracked open and a pair of changelings stood before it. They appeared to be eating some kind of gel like substance that was inside.

“It’s amusement! My favorite!” one of them said.

Twilight had a feeling that they weren’t supposed to be here, and was about to turn around to ask Nurex about it when Sylus entered the room.

“Frix! Frax! What do you two think you’re doing?!” he shouted.

The two changelings spun around and their eyes widened when they saw who had found them. Twilight couldn’t help but think of a filly caught with her hoof in the cookie jar, and was beginning to think that’s exactly what this situation was.

“W-we wasn’t doing nothing, Sylus!” one of them claimed.

“Yeah, we definitely weren’t trying out the newest batch of emorphic gel!” the other provided helpfully.

Sylus growled. “You two get out of here right now!”

They both immediately took to the air and buzzed out of the room as quickly as they could, right over Twilight’s head. She turned to watch them leave, and saw that Sylus had taken up position at the entrance to the room. She turned back to the cocoon they had cracked open and walked up to it, leaning in close to the crack to examine the substance within.

Nurex walked up behind her. “This is what we store our emotional energy in.”

“What did they call it? Emorphic gel?”

“That’s right.” He walked up to the cocoon next to the broken one, and touched his horn to it. His horn lit up and the entire cocoon glowed slightly as Nurex transferred his stored emotional energy into it.

Twilight took out her notebook and began jotting down notes. “So... if you store it, then that must mean you can’t hold onto it yourself for very long?” Twilight reasoned.

Nurex finished transferring his energy before looking back to Twilight and nodding in confirmation. “Right. We can hold onto a lot of energy, but only for so long. I was holding onto a ton of energy from that party your friend threw, and I think I only would have been able to hold it for another day or two. Any longer than that, and we lose it.”

Twilight looked up from her notes. “But Chrysalis had been draining my brother for a lot longer than a couple of days.”

“Oh, well she was a changeling queen. They can hold on to however much energy they want for as long as they want.” Nurex explained.

“Okay...” she said, looking back down to her notes. “So how do you get the energy back out of the gel then?”

Nurex gave her an odd look. “We eat it,” he said as if it was an obvious answer.

Twilight looked up at him a moment before responding. “Oh.”

“What did you think we did?” Nurex asked.

“Well, I thought you might just magically siphon it back out again.”

“We could do that, but then we miss out on the nutritional value of the gel itself.”

“So changelings actually need both physical food and emotional energy?”

Nurex shot her a confused look. “Of course we do! We’re not spirits like windigoes, we have a physical body to maintain!”

Twilight blushed in embarrassment. “Right. Of course.” She scribbled in her notebook some more. “What does it taste like?”

Nurex’s expression turned thoughtful. “Well, for changelings it taste like whatever emotion is stored in it. I... don’t really know how to describe it for a pony,” Nurex said with a shrug.

If Nurex couldn’t tell her, then there was still one way to find out. Twilight lifted her leg and carefully gathered a glob of the gel on the tip of her hoof. She turned to look at Nurex. “Is this stuff safe for ponies to eat?”

“I think so,” Nurex answered.

Twilight glared at him. “You think so?”

Nurex sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I’ve never heard of a pony eating any before, so I can’t say for sure. But just from knowing how it’s made, I’m pretty sure it should be just fine.”

Twilight looked back to the glob of gel on her hoof and grimaced. Was she really going to do this? The things she did for science...

Before she could second guess herself, she lapped up the glob of gel. It instantly sent a shock along her tongue and a shiver down her spine, and she wondered if that was the emotional energy being released. It reminded her of a candy Pinkie had once given her that consisted of little sugary crystals that popped in your mouth, only this wasn’t sugary.

“It tastes like... walnuts?” she said to herself in disbelief.

Nurex trotted up a tried a bit of the gel himself. “Huh, I guess amusement tastes like walnuts to ponies then. Who knew?”

Twilight copied this into her notes, her eyes glinting with excitement. “This is amazing! I never would have imagined that emotions could have flavors associated with them! How do you make this stuff?”

Nurex’s face lit up. “I’ll show you! Come on, it’s just down the next tunnel!”

Nurex headed towards the tunnel in question and Twilight turned to follow him. A quick glance behind her showed her that Sylus had also started following them again.

Twilight moved beside Nurex, who had a big grin on his face. “You got real happy all of the sudden,” she commented.

“Making emorphic gel is what I did before I was old enough to create my own pony identity and leave the hive!” he recounted enthusiastically. “I really enjoyed doing it, and haven't had a chance to see the growing chambers since!”

Twilight stopped in place, her face scrunched up in confusion. “Growing chambers?” she silently mouthed to herself. Now this she had to see! She picked up the pace to catch up with Nurex.

The tunnel they were in began ascending and Twilight could soon hear the sound of running water. About a minute later, Twilight and Nurex stepped into another cavern, about the same size as the one they had just left. There was a small underground stream on one side of the chamber, coming out of a hole in the wall on one side and disappearing into a hole in the wall on the other side. The ground of the chamber was interspersed with pools of the green gel that were bubbling slightly. Twilight noticed there were narrow holes in the ceiling above each pit, about the size of her neck, and couldn’t imagine what they were for.

There was a changeling sitting on the ground off to one side, here to look after the gel, Twilight supposed. He got a confused look on his face and started to get up as they entered, but sat back down when he saw Sylus enter the room behind them.

“This is where we grow emorphic gel!” Nurex said, and Twilight thought she heard a hint of pride in his voice.

“Grow? You mean like a plant?” Twilight asked.

“Exactly!” Nurex answered with a nod. “Here, it gets water, sunlight, and everything else it needs to grow!”

Sunlight? Twilight stepped up to one of the pools of gel and looked up at the hole in the ceiling. With a start, she realized that they were very close to the surface. The hole went up about a few feet before giving her an unobstructed view of the star filled night sky. It wasn’t hard for Twilight to imagine sunlight streaming in through the holes onto the pools of gel during midday.

She began scribbling all this down in her notebook when she heard the changeling watching over the gel get up. He approached the stream, and Twilight then noticed there was a small bucket sitting next to it. The bucket had a strange handle, and Twilight wondered at its purpose until the changeling picked it up by sliding the handle into one of the holes on its leg. He dipped the bucket into the stream and filled it with water, then spat a huge glob of saliva into the bucket and swirled it around a bit before carefully pouring it into a nearby pool of gel.

Twilight grimaced in disgust. She leaned in closer to Nurex. “Did... did he just spit in the water?”

“Yep!” Nurex didn’t seem too concerned about it. “Changeling saliva is a vital part of growing emorphic gel! It’s what gives it its emotional energy storage properties!”

Twilight thought on that a moment. That was... completely disgusting. And— Oh Celestia, she had just eaten some of it earlier! She put a hoof to her mouth as she suppressed an urge to vomit.

“So, uh, I guess this stuff is pretty important to changelings then, huh?” she said nervously, trying to take her mind off of what she had just learned.

“You bet!” Nurex answered excitedly, not noticing Twilight’s discomfort. “Not only is it our only source of food storage, but it’s also a building material!”

Twilight now found herself sufficiently distracted. “A building material?” She thought back to the opaque green substance that had been covering the hexagonal rooms in the main chamber, that had been the door to the queens chambers, and that had been shaped into those beautiful designs stretched between the crystal pillars.

Nurex nodded enthusiastically. “That’s right! When you put magic to it a certain way, it becomes solid, and quite tough! Although, we can’t use it for emotion storage anymore once it’s like that.”

“Really? Can you show me how?” she asked, extremely intrigued at how such a thing could work.

For the first time since they had entered the Growing Chamber, Nurex’s smile faded. “Oh, uh... well, I was only ever in charge of growing emorphic gel, not working with it, so I don’t actually know how.”

Twilight looked back to the gel pool in front of her. She was the Element of Magic, she should be able to figure this out easily enough! She put down her quill and notebook, closed her eyes, and reached out into the pool of gel with her magic.

She could sense a magical lattice framework within the gel, growing but currently magically dormant. She focused in one one of the nodes in the lattice, and it didn’t take her long to find a sort of magical switch within the node. In her excitement, she immediately gave it a magical flick. The node changed, and her excitement turned to horror as she felt the change cascade down the rest of the lattice.

She cut off her magic and opened her eyes. The pool before her was no longer gently bubbling, but perfectly still. She tentatively reached out her hoof and touched the gel, which she found was now as hard as glass.

Her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to! Wait, I-I can fix this! I can fix this!” She immediately reached back into the glass substance with her magic, focused back in on the node she had found before, and flicked the magical switch back the other way, once again feeling the change cascade down the lattice.

She opened her eyes, and the pool appeared to once again be a liquid, though it still wasn’t bubbling gently. She reached out her hoof, and found that it was now completely liquid, not a gel.

“That’s... not right, is it?” she asked, turning to Nurex.

Nurex, a dismayed look on his face, could only shake his head.

Twilight looked back to the pool of not gel and got a slightly maniacal glint in her eyes. “Okay. That’s alright! I can still fix this! I just need to try—”

Nurex put a hoof on her shoulder. “Just... leave it be Twilight. It’s just one pool, we have plenty more where that came from. Let's just... go.”

The maniacal glint in Twilight’s eyes faded and her head and ears drooped towards the floor as Nurex led her back to the tunnel they had come from.

Unseen by either of them, the changeling tending the gel, who had had a scowl on his face ever since Twilight began magically examining the gel, got up angrily from where he was and began approaching them. One glare from Sylus, however, and he reluctantly sat back down, muttering to himself about having more work to do.

Twilight was apologizing to Nurex when they and Sylus entered the main chamber. “I’m so sorry, Nurex! I just get so excited sometimes, and I start doing things without thinking them through, and—”

“Twilight!” Nurex shouted. “Really, for the last time, it’s okay! We can replace that gel in no time! We didn’t even need it all that badly since we’re not actively growing the hive right now!” He took a deep breath and continued in a more subdued voice. “Just, please, try not to worry about it, okay?”

Twilight couldn’t help but remember giving Nurex some similar advice earlier that day, and so did her best to take his words to heart. She sighed. “Alright, I’ll try.”

“I’m glad to hear it!” Nurex glanced at the crystal column clock in the center of the chamber. “Look, it’s past midnight. We should probably both be getting some sleep.”

They both trotted up to the far wall of the central chamber, the one that looked like a giant honeycomb. Most of the rooms were sectioned off with hardened emoprhic gel, with only a small hole in the wall providing entrance. Twilight couldn’t see any way to reach the ones above the bottom floor, but that wasn’t too surprising since changelings could fly. As she was thinking this, she saw a changeling fly up to and enter one of the rooms near the top of the cavern.

Nurex fluttered up into the air a short ways and started scanning the rooms nearby. “Lets see here...” he began muttering to himself “No rooms available on the bottom floor... Oh, there we go!” He landed on the floor next to Twilight and pointed at one of the hexagonal rooms. “That room up there on the third tier is empty. I don’t think I can carry you up there myself, but let me find another changeling and—”

“Thank you, Nurex, but that won’t be necessary.” Twilight said with a faint smile. Her horn glowed, and in a flash she was no longer standing on the ground.

Twilight examined the room she now found herself in. It was a bit smaller than she would have liked, and very sparse. There was a crystal in the ceiling providing some light and what she assumed was a bed made of hardened gel. She was wondering how comfortable that could possibly be when she suddenly realized that Nurex had no idea she could teleport. It must have looked like she had just disappeared! She walked up to the small entrance to the room and looked down. Sure enough, Nurex was frantically looking about, trying to find her.

“Nurex! Up here!” she shouted.

Nurex looked up and his eyes widened when he saw her. He lifted up off the ground and flittered up to her room, hanging in the air just outside the entrance. “What was that!? Was that a teleport?”

She smiled for real this time. “It sure was! I know a lot of spells.”

“Wow, I’ve never actually seen a teleport before...” Nurex said. “Um, anyway, I guess you’ve seen your room then? It’s nothing but a bed and a light, but it’s the best we have on such short notice.”

“It’s a bit more sparse than I’m used to, but I’ll be fine.”

“That’s good! I’m going to get some sleep of my own then. Goodnight Twilight, see you tomorrow!”

“Goodnight, Nurex!” Twilight watched him buzz off, but he was soon stopped by Sylus, who said something to him before flying off with him towards Polistae’s chambers. Twilight remembered that Polistae had said she wanted to speak with him later. She hoped that the changeling queen wouldn't be too hard on him.

She turned around and went to examine the bed she was going to be sleeping on. She touched it with a hoof and was surprised to find that it wasn’t completely hard like many other structures of hardened emorhpic gel she had seen thus far. It was very firm, but still slightly soft. She reached out with her magic, focused on one of the nodes in the gel, and—very careful to not actually modify anything this time—examined it. That same magical switch she had found earlier was in a kind of halfway position. Her eyes widened in amazement. Was this substance really so versatile? She was sure that, if only its creation wasn’t so inextricably tied to changeling physiology, emorphic gel would be a great improvement for pony society.

She put her saddlebags down in a corner of the room and lied down in the bed. It wasn’t nearly as nice as an actual mattress, but it beat sleeping on the stone floor. Combined with a lack of a blanket and a mind full of new knowledge and question that wouldn’t stop whirling around, it was quite some time before Twilight finally fell into a restless sleep.

Chapter 8: Return to Ponyville

View Online

Twilight was slowly roused out of her sleep by the feeling that something was watching her. She tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but it was no use. It had taken her nearly an hour to fall asleep the previous night and she was actually tired then. There was no way it was going to happen now that she was somewhat rested.

She reluctantly opened her eyes to see a small changeling sitting on the floor near her bed, staring at her.

It had been a rough night for her. Between the not quite so comfortable gel bed, the lack of a blanket, and a mind that wouldn’t slow down, she had tossed and turned all night. And now to be awakened like this? Twilight wasn’t in the best of moods.

“What, haven’t you ever seen a pony before?” she asked testily.

“No,” the small changeling said. “I’m still too young to leave the hive, so you’re the first pony I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh. I see.” Well, this was awkward. She sat up in her bed. “Uh, well, for future reference, ponies don’t really like being stared at, especially when they’re sleeping.”

“Okay,” the changeling said as he continued to stare at her.

Twilight fidgeted and tried to smile. This whole situation was making her more than a little uncomfortable. She had to do something to get him out of the room.

“Uh... oh! Could you go find Nurex and tell him that I’m awake now?”

“Okay.” The changeling finally stopped staring at her, lifted into the air, and buzzed out of the room.

Twilight sighed in relief. Now with some privacy, she got out of bed and gathered her saddlebags. She wished she had a mirror to make sure she looked presentable, but then again she hadn't brought a brush or anything so she supposed it was a moot point. After a quick glance out the entrance of her room to get her bearings, she teleported down into the central cavern to wait for Nurex. A quick glance at the crystal pillar in the center of the cavern told her that it was past noon, if she was reading that correctly. She was shocked that she had slept in so late! She hoped her friends wouldn’t be too worried...

As she waited, she noticed that the changelings going about seemed different today. They seemed a bit less energetic, a bit down and distracted. Every now and then, one of them would give her an odd look. She may not have any emotion sensing abilities, but she could swear those looks were full of apprehension and a bit of hope. Did Polistae finally get around to spreading the news of what had happened? This was a surprisingly mild reaction if that was the case. If this was Ponyville, there would be rioting in the streets!

Lost in thought about this as she was, she didn’t notice Nurex approaching. “Good morning, Twilight!” he said cheerfully.

She turned towards him in surprise. “Oh! Good morning, Nurex.” She glanced back at the crystal pillar. “Or, I guess afternoon would be more accurate.”

Nurex looked at the pillar as well. “Yeah, you really slept in late.” He turned back to look at her. “Is that a normal thing for you?”

“No, quite the opposite,” she said with a shake of her head. “I’m usually a very early riser, but then I’ve never slept in a changeling hive before.” Her expression turned serious. “Nurex, everyone seems different today. Did Polistae release the news of what happened?”

Nurex’s cheerful expression dimmed slightly. “Yeah, she did earlier this morning. Everyone is kind of afraid of what’s going to happen, but we all trust in our queen to see us through. She thinks this book of yours is the best bet we have to fix our terrible first impression among ponies, so we're all hoping that you can make something happen.”

That explained some of the looks she had been getting. What had started out as a quest for academic fame was turning into one of the most important tasks she’d had since vanquishing Discord!

Twilight put a hoof to her chest, a solemn look on her face. “Nurex, I promise that I’ll do everything I can to make sure this works out. I won’t leave your queen or your hive disappointed.” She blinked as she remembered something. “Speaking of Queen Polistae, how did that talk you had with her go?”

He looked to the side and gave a small shrug. “It wasn’t so bad. I still got a pretty stern talking to because for the whole book thing, but considering how badly everything could have gone, she’s actually pretty happy with how things have turned out.” His face broke out into a smile. “Oh, and I also asked her about getting some things for you!”

Twilight hadn’t noticed until now that Nurex had a rough set of saddlebags made of hardened emorphic gel. He levitated them off his back and deposited them on the ground near Twilight. They were a simple affair, little more than a pair of bags with a connecting portion between them. She peered inside.

It was some chunks of the glowing crystals and some small cocoons of emorphic gel. Her eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh, I had completely forgotten about asking Queen Polistae for samples to take back with me!” She wrapped her hooves around him in a hug. “Thank you so much, Nurex!”

Nurex awkwardly returned her embrace, unused to such physical interaction in his natural form. “I-it’s really no big deal, Twilight! I just want you to be able to do the best job you can on this book of yours.”

Twilight withdrew from him. “I still really appreciate it, Nurex.” She rearranged some of the materials in her own saddlebags to make room for the samples and transferred them over. “I should probably get going then. I’m sure my friends are starting to get worried.”

His face lit up. “Oh, about that! Queen Polistae decided that it would be best if I went back with you, in case you have any more questions about changelings.”

“Really?" She smiled. "I'm glad to hear that! Are you ready to go, then?”

“Yep!” Nurex said excitedly.

“All right then, time to head back to Ponyville!”

Novel exited the White Tail Woods in high spirits. The trip so far had been uneventful, with Art Style wishing them both good luck on the way out having been the most notable thing.

“Ah, it’s so nice to be back under the sun!” Novel said as he looked up into the sky, only a few clouds marring the perfect blue color. He turned back to Twilight who was trailing behind a ways, still under the shade of the forest canopy. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the hive, but I’ve been living as a pony for so long that I really enjoy the sun now, too. It’s kind of funny actually, I—”

A rainbow blur fell out of the sky and slammed Novel into the ground. “Ha! I’ve got you now, mister bug pony! Now what have you done with Twilight!?”

Twilight trotted out into the sunlight. “Rainbow Dash! What do you think you’re doing!?” she demanded, looking none too pleased with her friend.

Dash had a dazed Novel pinned to the ground and responded without taking her eyes from him. “I’ve been waiting out here all morning, waiting for this bug pony to come out so I could be sure you were—” Her head whipped up towards Twilight as she finally realized who she was talking to. “Twilight! You’re okay?” She got off from on top of Novel and trotted over to Twilight.

Twilight gave a sigh of exasperation. “Yes, Dash, of course I'm okay. I told you I would be, didn’t I? What did you think was going to happen?”

Dash looked at her disbelievingly. “You mean you went to a changeling hive, and met a changeling queen, all by yourself, and nothing bad happened?”

“Yes, that’s right,” she answered with a simple nod.

Dash looked crestfallen. “But... I was sure that something was going to happen, and that you’d need our help, and...”

Twilight put a sympathetic hoof around Dash’s shoulder. “Look, Dash, I know that you've just been really worried about me, and I really appreciate that. It’s something that any good friend would do. But you really need to exercise a bit more restraint.”

Dash's expression suddenly turned suspicious. She threw Twilight's hoof off her back and backed up a few steps. “Hey, wait a second! How do I know you're not just a changeling pretending to be Twilight?” she asked, glaring at Twilight.

Twilight raised a brow. “You really want me to prove that I'm Twilight?”

“Yeah, that's right!” she shouted, stomping a hoof into the ground. “Prove to me that you're not a changeling!”

Twilight smirked. “Would a changeling know about that party Pinkie threw last month where you and Caramel got a bit too deep in the cider and—”

“Whoa, whoa, hey!” Dash waved her hooves wildly in a gesture to stop, her eyes wide and face turning red. “Alright, I believe you! You really are Twilight! Geez...”

“Good,” Twilight said. She looked past Dash to see Novel getting up off the ground. “Now, I think you owe somepony an apology.”

“What?” She followed Twilight’s gaze towards the approaching Novel, who was glaring at her. “Oh! Uh...” She sheepishly rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Yeah, so uh... heh, sorry about dive bombing you like that, Novel. I... guess you’re not actually that bad of a bug pony after all.” She offered a hoof. “So, are we cool?”

Novel continued glaring at Dash for a moment, then glanced at Twilight before finally accepting her hoofshake. “Yeah, we’re cool.”

“Awesome!” She lifted up into the air. “So hey, you two are heading back to the library, right?” Twilight nodded. “Great! I’ll come with. I gotta admit, I’m kinda curious about what a changeling hive is like.”

“Now, the most fascinating thing was the emorphic gel! I’ve never seen a magical lattice framework quite so...”

Rainbow Dash was floating listlessly alongside Twilight, now regretting having asked her about the hive. Of course Twilight would go into full egghead mode if she asked her about what had happened! She thought she was going to go crazy when a suitable distraction finally presented itself and she immediately perked up. “Oh hey, Twilight! We’re almost back in Ponyville now!” She landed next to Twilight leaned in close. “You probably shouldn’t be talking about that kind of stuff where other ponies could hear you, right?”

Twilight stopped in mid sentence to take in her surroundings. “Oh my goodness, you’re right, Dash! I had gotten so caught up in telling you everything that I completely lost track of where we were!”

Dash pressed her advantage. “Sorry I couldn’t listen to the rest of your story, Twilight, but I have some, uh... cloudbusting to do!” She lifted back up into the air and waved. “See ya, Twi. I’ll catch you later!”

“Bye, Dash!” Twilight waved back as Rainbow Dash flew off. “Well, that was a pleasant stroll, wasn’t it?” She turned to Novel and noticed he had a frown on his face. “Something wrong, Novel?”

“Rainbow Dash still doesn’t like me all that much. I wasn't getting any positive emotions from her at all. She didn’t even say goodbye to me just now...”

Twilight smiled in response. “Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about that.” She continued walking again, Novel falling into step behind her. “Dash just takes a while to warm up to ponies, is all. She’s a bit too suspicious for her own good sometimes.” She chuckled. “In fact, when I first moved to Ponyville, she thought I was in league with Nightmare Moon! Just because I knew who she was!”

Novel gave her a confused look. “Really? Nightmare Moon?”

“That’s a story I’ll have to tell you some other time. Come on, we have to get back to the library so I can make a report to Princess Celestia!”

Novel stumbled slightly. “P-princess Celestia!? Why do we have to tell her about everything?”

Twilight turned to look at Novel, her mouth in a frown. “You don’t like Princess Celestia?”

“No, it’s not that,” he said, rapidly shaking his head. “It’s just, she was in the very middle of the attack on Canterlot. The entire thing was meant to overthrow her! If anypony has reason to be angry with changelings, she does!”

Twilight smiled again. “You don’t have to worry about that, Novel. I know Princess Celestia better than most ponies, and I can assure you that she’s one of the most calm and reasonable individuals around. Once I explain everything, I can guarantee that she won’t be angry at you, or any other changelings.”

Novel looked down to the ground, a frown still on his face. “If you say so...”

Twilight grinned. “Just trust me.”

The rest of the short trip to the library proceeded in silence. When they finally got there, Twilight knocked on the door. “Spike, we’re back!”

The door opened, revealing Spike. “Hey, Twilight. Hey, Novel. Welcome back!”

They both entered the library. “Did anything happen while we were gone, Spike?” Twilight asked.

“Nah,” he answered while shaking his head. “Most of the time something happens around here, it involves your friends, and they already knew you were gone so it was pretty quiet.” His expression turned excited. “But I wanna hear about how your trip went!”

“And I can’t wait to tell you, Spike!” Twilight began, just as excited as Spike. “In fact, we’re going to have to write a lett—” Twilight froze mid-sentence as a bolt of realization suddenly hit her. Spike still didn’t know about Novel! And she couldn’t write a letter to Princess Celestia without Spike knowing what the letter was about. She was going to have to tell him. But how?

“Uh, hey, Spike? Could you come down to the basement with us? There’s something else you need to know before I can tell you how our trip went.”

Spike rose an eyebrow in curiosity before giving a shrug. “Sure thing, Twilight, whatever you say.”

The three of them entered the basement and took a seat around a small table in the middle of the room. “Spike, you’ll always trust me, right?” Twilight asked.

Spike gave her a confused look. “Of course I will! You know I’ll always be behind you all the way. That’s why I’m your number one assistant!”

Twilight nodded. “Good. We’re going to show you something that’s probably going to scare you a bit, and I want you to remain calm. Do you think you can do that?”

“Come on, Twilight, of course I can.” Spike puffed out his chest. “I’m a dragon, after all, I don’t get scared that easily!”

“Alright then.” She turned towards Novel. “Novel?”

Novel looked down at the ground and then was covered in green fire as he changed back to changeling form. Silence reigned in the room. Spike’s jaw was on the ground and it took him a few moments before he could finally say something.

“That. is. awesome!” Spike exclaimed.

Twilight and Nurex both blinked in confusion at the unexpected response. “What?” Nurex asked.

“I had no idea you were such a pro at illusion magic, Novel!” Spike exclaimed. “Heck, I think you might be better than Twilight!” He got up from his seat and walked around to table to get a closer look. “Oh man, this illusion is amazing! It looks so real! I bet you could scare the horseshoes off of everypony with this on Nightmare Night!” He began poking a claw through one of the holes in Nurex’s leg. “You’ve even got the holes in the legs! How do you do that?”

Nurex was at a complete loss for words, leaving it to Twilight to clear up the confusion. “Um, Spike? That... isn’t an illusion. Or a disguise.”

“Ha!” Spike laughed. “Good one, Twilight. You mean to tell me that Novel is actually a... real... changeling?” Spike looked up at Nurex and they both stared at each other for a few moments.

“Hi,” Nurex said with a nervous smile.

“Gwah!” Spike jumped back and fell on his tail.

“Spike, it’s okay!” Twilight reassured him. “Novel is a friendly changeling! And so is his entire hive!! Those were the friends of his that we went to see. They have nothing to do with Chrysalis!”

“Really? A friendly changeling?” Spike picked himself up off the ground, not taking his gaze off of Nurex. “If you’re sure, Twilight.” He suddenly turned to look at her in shock. “Wait, you said you went to a changeling hive!?”

She smiled. “That’s right, and I’ve learned a whole lot about changelings! Now we just have to write a letter to Princess Celestia. Think you’re up to the task, Spike?”

Spike, having regained his composure, was now looking at Nurex with curiosity having replaced any fear he might have had. “Of course, Twilight. I can't wait to hear this one! Lemme just get some things to write with.” Spike went to a small cabinet in the corner of the room where Twilight stored writing materials for use during experiments.

“Thanks, Spike. I knew I could count on you.”

Spike returned with paper and quill and spared another glance at Nurex before turning to Twilight. “Alright, Twilight, whenever you’re ready.”

Twilight cleared her throat before she began. “Dear Princess Celestia. I’ve recently made a remarkable discovery...”

Chapter 9: Meeting Celestia

View Online

The next day...

Novel Tale paced back and forth within their small room aboard the passenger cabin, door closed for privacy. Twilight watched him with concern. “Come on, Novel, I’ve already told you that everything is going to go fine with Princess Celestia!”

He stopped pacing and turned to her. “Yeah, but that was when you were just writing her a letter. Now we have to actually go talk to her? This is something else entirely!” He went back to his pacing, no doubt pondering all the myriad ways that things could go wrong.

Looking back on it, Twilight really should have expected Celestia’s response to her letter to be a request to meet with Novel face to face. She was confident that everything would go fine, but could understand why Novel was in such a state. She knew that plenty of real, non-changeling ponies would fret like this upon receiving a summons to speak with the Princess. She gave a resigned sigh. It was probably best to just let him play it out.

Novel happened to glance out the window of their cabin and saw the spires of Canterlot Castle approaching in the distance. In the past, such a sight always warmed his heart; a sign that he was almost back to his home away from home. Now, it only reminded him of how topsy turvy everything had become lately. He wasn’t sure he’d ever feel the same living in Canterlot again. Maybe he could move to Ponyville? It had seemed to be a nice enough place during the short time he’d been there. It was also closer to the hive, and he would have a staunch ally in Twilight nearby. Come to think of it, there was that pink pony, too. If she threw parties like the one he went to on even a semi-regular basis, he would never want for food again! Moving to Ponyville was definitely something he was going to have to consider doing...

“You certainly seem to have calmed down,” said Twilight, snapping him out of his pondering.

“Huh?” He turned to look at her. “Oh. My mind just started wandering onto other things, is all.”

“That’s good. What about?”

“I was thinking about maybe moving to Ponyville once all of this is taken care of.”

Twilight smiled. “Well, that would definitely make Pinkie happy to know that her party won at least one pony over. It would make me happy, too. It would be a lot harder for us to be friends if you were in another town.”

Novel looked slightly surprised. “Friends?” It wasn’t as though he’d never had any friends before. He had a few nymph-hood changeling friends from growing up in the hive, though they were all off on assignment elsewhere and he hadn't seen them in some time. There were also some ponies back in Canterlot that he considered himself to be on friendly terms with, but he wouldn’t place any bits on them remaining friends if they were to discover that he was actually a changeling.

“That’s right, friends!" she happily announced. "What did you think we were?”

“I thought this was mostly a business relationship, since you need me to learn about changelings and I need you to ensure that ponies don’t see my entire race as evil monsters.”

Twilight sheepishly rubbed the back of her head. “Well, it did kind of start out that way, yes. But, I honestly have enjoyed hanging out with you these past two days, so I would certainly say that we’re friends now.”

“Friends, huh?” A pony that was a friend even though they knew he was a changeling? “I think I’d like that!” he said with a grin.

“I’m glad that you agree!” Twilight said. “Now, as your friend, will you please trust me when I tell you that our meeting with Princess Celestia is going to go alright? I’ll be with you the whole time.”

For once, her words actually help calm him down some. He looked out the window again. Canterlot Castle was still visible and rapidly drawing nearer. Now, however, he didn’t feel an upwelling of anxiety at the thought of what was going to happen. He still wasn’t looking forwards to it, but with Twilight’s support, he now felt that he could handle their upcoming meeting with the princess.

Novel, still looking nervous, was sitting next to Twilight outside the throne room of Canterlot Castle. He felt a hoof on his shoulder and looked up to see Twilight smiling at him reassuringly. He did his best to smile back.

The door to the throne room opened and a Royal Guard stuck his head out. “Princess Celestia will see you now.”

Novel got up and began walking towards to door, Twilight right beside him. “Remember Novel, I’m here for you. Just act normal, explain yourself, and everything will turn out OK,” she explained in a whisper.

“Right,” he replied.

The huge double doors opened before them, courtesy of the guards standing to either side, and they both stepped through.

There was Celestia, perched regally on her throne. He had seen Celestia many time in the past, usually giving speeches at big events. But it was quite a different matter being here in her throne room, with him being the main focus of her attention. He imagined anypony would be feeling as self-conscious as he was right now.

“Twilight, my faithful student. It is good to see you again so soon.” Her gaze turned to Novel. “And you must be Novel Tale. Twilight has told me a number of interesting things about you. However, I have a feeling that I’ll be able to learn much more by talking to you personally.” She stood up from her throne. “If you would both please follow me? I’d prefer if we could discuss things in more private setting.”

Celestia turned and began walking towards a door in the back. Twilight was quick to follow her, but Novel hesitated. Going somewhere private to talk? He hadn’t been expecting something like that, but then again he wasn’t really sure what he had been expecting. He supposed it made sense, this was a fairly delicate matter after all. He hurried to fall into step behind them.

They passed through the door. They were now in a hallway running perpendicular to the throne room, and Celestia headed off to the right. Novel couldn’t help but notice that this area was less decorated than the rest of the castle. It seemed to be concerned more with functionality than anything else.

“This area of the castle isn’t open to the public. It’s where we take care of a lot of the day to day affairs that keep Equestria running,” Celestia said to no one in particular, though Novel was pretty sure that the explanation was for him.

“And here we are,” Celestia announced less than a minute later. They had arrived at a door that was rather nondescript except for an emblem of Celestia’s cutie mark. “This is my private office. I enjoy doing paperwork out in the throne room on occasion, but some matters require more privacy than that.” She opened the door and walked inside, Novel and Twilight quick to follow.

The office was much more spartan and functional than he would have expected, considering it belonged to the princess. The walls were bare stone and were lined with shelves and drawers. The shelves were full of books and scrolls, all neatly ordered. In the center of the room stood a large desk. It was very clean and tidy, a few books and an inkwell with a quill laying next to it being the only items on it. He glanced behind himself and saw a large portrait of Princess Luna hanging on the wall next to the door.

When he turned back, Celestia was now sitting behind her desk. Her horn lit up and the door closed. “The guards know that I’m not to be disturbed while I’m in my office, so we should be free to discuss anything you want. Please, both of you, take a seat.” Novel noticed a number of cushions on the floor in front of the desk and sat down on one, Twilight picking another. “Novel, if it is not too much of a bother, could you change back to your changeling form?” Celestia asked.

Novel complied, shifting into Nurex with a burst of green fire. Celestia hummed thoughtfully and her horn glowed, but as far as he could tell, nothing happened. He patiently waited for her to start the conversation, but she just sat there, looking at him expectantly. As the silence continued, he idly focused his senses on her.

His jaw hit the floor. He wasn’t able to sense anything at all from her! But how could that be? All ponies gave of emotional energy!

Twilight looked between Celestia and Nurex, confusion clear on her face. “Princess, is there something I’m missing here?”

Nurex answered first. “I can’t sense any emotions from her at all!”

Twilight's face scrunched up in confusion. “What? But from what I’ve learned, the only things that don’t give off any emotions at all are...” Her eyes bugged out and she turned to Celestia. “Princess, you’re not actually a—”

Celestia chuckled quietly and waved a hoof in dismissal. “No, Twilight, I am not secretly a changeling. It’s just an emotion masking spell that I wanted to test out.” Her horn glowed again, and Nurex could now feel emotions from her. They were very subdued, but he was able to pick up excitement, curiosity and a hint of amusement.

“An emotion masking spell? I’ve never heard of one of those before...” Twilight looked thoughtful. “A spell like that wouldn’t have any purpose unless there were creatures around that could detect emotions, like changelings...” She looked to her mentor in wonder. “You didn’t create a brand new spell in one day just to meet with Nurex, did you?”

“No, this is actually a spell I created a very, very long time ago... back when I first discovered changelings.”

“Y-you already knew about us!?” Nurex exclaimed.

“But Princess, if you already knew about them, then how was Chrysalis able to catch you off guard like that?” asked Twilight.

“Perhaps I should tell you the whole story.” Celestia closed her eyes, the better to recall memories of days long past. “It was a long, long time ago, before Luna and I had taken over rulership of Equestria." She opened her eyes again. "It was not an uncommon thing for stallions to attempt to court me back then.” She smiled to herself. “I may have not been a princess yet, but I still had my regal appearance and was quite adept at magic, an attractive combination for stallions in those days. However, most of these attempts ended nearly as soon as they began, for I had more important matters to concern myself with at that time.”

“But there was one stallion that stood out from the others. Whereas the others tried to win my affection with offers of material goods and wealth, or positions of power, this pony offered only words.” She frowned slightly. “It seemed he always knew just how I was feeling and exactly what to say to me.”

The corner of Celestia’s mouth lifted in a smirk. “I imagine that many mares would have fallen for him in a heartbeat, and I later discovered that many had. But I have to admit, I was a touch paranoid in those days, and he managed to arouse only my suspicion.” Her expression turned more serious. “How could this stallion that I had never met before possibly know me so well? When I talked to Luna about it, she thought that he was just good at reading others and that I shouldn’t think too much about it. But I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to this pony than met the eye. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hooves.”

Nurex was pretty sure he knew where this story was going. He’d heard of such things before; changelings who manipulated others a little too well and drew suspicion to themselves, forcing them to leave before they were discovered. He glanced at Twilight, who was fully engrossed in the story, apparently never having heard it before.

Celestia continued. “I followed him back to his home one night, under the cover of an invisibility spell. It was a large home, one that only a wealthy pony could hope afford, an impressive feat for an earth pony back in those days. I snuck inside the house and watched him for some time, and was beginning to suspect that maybe Luna was right. Finally, my tenacity was rewarded when he revealed a secret passageway leading down under the house. I was quick to follow. I caught up to him in a large, underground room, and there, before my eyes, he transformed into something else. Something that wasn’t a pony.”

Nurex could actually feel just a hint of anger from her. “That was enough for me. I dropped my invisibility spell and confronted him. He tried to fight, but as I said, I was very adept at magic even back then and I managed to subdue him in short order. I wasted no time in questioning him, and thus I discovered what changelings were.” Now he could feel a bit of shame. “Then, in a moment of distraction, he managed to blindside me and escape. I gave chase, but it was no use. There was no way I could locate him that easily with those shapeshifting abilities of his. So, I started making preparations to track him down. And not just him, either. He had made mention of a hive before he escaped, and if there were more creatures like him, I wanted to know. The emotion masking spell was but one of those preparations.”

Her expression darkened. Nurex could really feel some anger now, and a bit of fear as well. “But then, Discord took over.” Her voice had a hardened tinge to it that put him on edge. “I need not tell you that his appearance completely ruined all of my preparations for finding that changeling. Luna and I had to devote all of our time and energy just to surviving, and then eventually to overthrowing Discord. Then, once we had finally dealt with him, we were far too busy ruling Equestria. Even if the trail hadn’t gone cold, there was no way either of us would have been able to find time to go hunting for them.” Her face took on a resigned look. “For years, I kept my eyes and ears open for any signs of him or others like him, but I heard nothing. I decided that they must have gone extinct during Discord’s reign, like a number of other creatures.”

“Was Discord’s reign really that bad, Princess?” Twilight asked.

Celestia closed her eyes and sighed. When she opened them again, Nurex didn’t need his emotion senses to see the sorrow on her face. “It truly was, Twilight. You have no idea how easy we all got off the second time when you and your friends confronted him.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Tell me, have you ever heard of sea ponies?”

“Sea ponies?” Twilight frowned in thought. “Aren’t they just a myth? A race of half-pony, half-fish creatures that live in the ocean?”

“That is correct.” She had a look of profound loss. “Let’s just say that... they were more than just a myth before Discord took over.”

Twilight looked as though she was going to ask more, but Celestia forestalled the cascade of question with a raised hoof. “I... don’t really like talking about it. Maybe I will tell you about them some other time, Twilight. But right now, we have more important things to discuss.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to regain her composure. “Now, where was I?”

She continued her story. “As the centuries passed, I soon forgot all about my encounter with that changeling, and eventually about changelings altogether.” She sighed. “I had forgotten all about them until Chrysalis showed her true form. The shock and the rush of returning memories were so great that I was unable to properly focus when I attempted to subdue her, thus why she was able to overpower me.”

She looked to Nurex and smiled. “Truthfully though, Nurex, I am glad I was mistaken about your kind being extinct, even if I had to find out under such... unpleasant circumstances. The complete loss of any species is a terrible blow that Equestria can never fully recover from. I am also very pleased to learn that Chrysalis’ action are not representative of the rest your kind.”

Nurex nodded. “That’s right, Princess Celestia. I, uh, can’t officially speak for other changeling hives, or even my own hive, really, but I assure you that most of us just want to continue secretly living among ponies like we always have.”

“Yes, about that. Twilight tells me that you have been living as one of my subjects here in Canterlot for a number of years now?”

“Yes. I’ve been living in Canterlot for a little over ten years now...” Nurex proceeded to give Celestia a brief overview of his life in Canterlot up to the invasion. “When those other changelings started falling from the sky, I was just as scared and confused as any of your other ponies. I was sure that my life as Novel was ruined and that I wouldn’t be able to live here anymore.”

Celestia smiled. “I see no reason that you cannot continue living here, so long as you keep your identity secret. In fact, it might be useful to have a changeling nearby in case I wish to communicate something to you for you to pass on to your queen.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I do believe that having one changeling living here in Canterlot would be beneficial for all of us.”

Only one changeling? That’s right, he had never told Twilight... “Uh, about that, your majesty. I’m not the only changeling—”

Nurex was interrupted by the sound of hoofsteps outside. The lock on the door clicked, and the door to the room suddenly burst open. “Ah, Tia, there you are! I have come to inform you... that...” Luna’s voice trailed off as she noticed that Celestia was not by herself. An awkward silence fell upon the room as everypony stared at each other.

Finally, Luna turned to Celestia with a frown on her face. “Sister, what is the meaning of this!? We captured a changeling and nopony thought to inform us?” She looked back to Nurex and gestured with her hoof. “Is this what passes for an interrogation these days? The subject is not even restrained! It should be more like this!”

Nurex’s anxiety had been building rapidly since Luna entered the room, and that last statement was the breaking point for him. He instinctively lifted up into the air in an attempt to escape, but before he could get anywhere, Luna’s horn glowed and a set of translucent midnight blue manacles and a collar appeared on him, causing him to crash back down into the cushion he had been sitting on. He could hardly move at all, these things must have weighed a ton! Twilight immediately went to check on him, and was about to say something to Luna when Celestia spoke up.

“No, no, it’s nothing like that Luna.” She sat up and walked around the desk to Nurex’s side. Her horn glowed, and sparks of golden light appeared within the manacles and collar, causing them to break apart and dissipate into nothingness. “This is Nurex. He is from a hive that has nothing to do with Chrysalis and is here on peaceful terms. He has come to inform us that the rest of his kind are appalled by what Chrysalis and her hive have done, and that as a whole, they wish only for there to be peace between us.”

Luna stared at Celestia in disbelief. “Truly?” Celestia gave a simple nod. Luna turned towards Nurex, who had since returned to a sitting position, and he vigorously nodded his head in confirmation as well. Luna broke out into a relieved smile. “Well, this is most joyous news indeed! We were not looking forward to having to constantly be on the lookout for more changeling infiltrators.” She trotted up to Nurex and grabbed one of his hooves in a hoofshake. “Greetings, Nurex! Apologies for my rash behavior.”

“Oh, I-it’s no problem, Princess Luna,” he said nervously. “I-I’m sure you were just... startled to see me, is all...”

“Indeed I was! Had I but known ahead of time that you would be here...” Luna looked to Celestia. “Sister, whenever did you learn that...” She glanced at Twilight, then looked back to her sister with a knowing smirk. “This is what that letter from Twilight was about, isn’t it? The one that nearly caused you to fall out of your throne?”

Twilight looked at her mentor in surprise. “You nearly what?”

Celestia blushed slightly. “I have to admit, Twilight, that letter you sent gave me quite the shock. Where it from anypony else, I likely would outright dismissed it as some sort of elaborate hoax.”

Luna was grinning widely now. “You should have seen her! She locked up almost as soon as she began reading it and would not respond to anything said to her. Rarely have I seen such an expression of shock and disbelief on her face! Eventually, I went to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention, and she nearly jumped clean out of her throne!" Her amused expression turned more thoughtful. "She then immediately excused herself and ran to her office without telling any of us what the letter was about. I think I understand the need for secrecy now, but you really should have informed at least us, sister!"”

Celestia’s slight blush had progressed to a much deeper shade now. “Yes, well, uh...” She cast about for a change in topic. “Luna! You came here to inform me of something, yes?”

“Ah, right! There is a pair of noble ponies requesting an audience with you.” Her expression turned dark. “Apparently, they are unsatisfied with their homes simply being restored to the way they were before the attack. They think that we should be funding upgrades to their homes as well!” Luna explained with more than a hint of indignation in her voice.

“I see.” Celestia looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. “Luna, do you think you could handle these noble ponies for me?”

“Of course, sister. We can see that you have your hooves full with this matter.” Her smile took on a predatory tinge. “I will show these nobles what happens when one attempts to take advantage of our generosity! Good luck, sister! And welcome, Nurex, to Canterlot!”

Nurex simply nodded, too stunned to actually say anything. “Have fun, Luna,” Celestia said as the door closed. “Now, Nurex, I believe you were in the middle of saying something?”

“What?” It took him a moment to recall what had been happening before the interruption. “Oh, right! I was saying that I’m not the only changeling who lives here in Canterlot.”

Celestia’s smile faded. “Is that so?”

Nurex cringed as he felt a small surge of suspicion. It wasn’t directed at him, but he still didn't like it. “Y-yes, your majesty.”

She was looking much more serious now. “I do not suppose that you could identify these other changelings for me?”

“You won’t do anything to them, will you Princess?” asked Twilight.

“That will depend, Twilight. If they are to remain in Canterlot, then it is my duty to ensure that they are not a potential threat to my subjects. At the very least, I certainly intend to talk to them, as I have with Nurex.”

Nurex looked to the ground and fidgeted. One one hoof, he really wasn’t comfortable with the thought of revealing every changeling in Canterlot. On the other hoof, this was Celestia’s city, so she kind of had a right to know. And he had a feeling that, even if he didn’t tell her, she’d eventually be able to find them on her own. He looked up to see Celestia looking at him, patiently awaiting an answer. He then glanced at Twilight, who gave him a reassuring nod. Twilight had had nothing but good things to say about Celestia. He decided to trust her judgement.

“I... don’t actually know who they all are myself, but I do know a changeling who does know all of them...”

Chapter 10: The Guard

View Online

Twilight walked beside Celestia, both following Novel. They stepped out into a courtyard to one side of the castle. She recognized where they were. This area of the castle grounds was devoted to the Royal Guards. She knew everything here because Shining Armor had once given her a short tour. The large, open grounds they were now passing through was where they did their training exercises and drills, and the various buildings around the edges were where they worked, ate and slept. The buildings were all very utilitarian; they looked like nothing more than giant off-white bricks with doors in them, a sharp contrast to the magnificence of Canterlot Castle. Novel was leading them towards a building to one side that she recognized as where the Guard took care of various administrative duties.

This could only mean that the changeling Novel spoke of was a part of the Royal Guard. She glanced at Princess Celestia. Her mentor had that stone faced, neutral expression she used when dealing with noble ponies, but Twilight had been around her long enough to pick up on a number of subtle cues as to her mood. The way she kept her head perfectly still as she walked, the way her hooves connected with the ground just a tad harder than they normally would. She could tell that Celestia was not very happy right now, and she thought she could guess why. A changeling in the Royal Guard? That was an entirely different matter than a changeling as a civilian like Novel! She wondered how her brother would react if he were to find out...

They crossed the open grounds in an uneasy silence, the sun slowly beginning to dip back down towards the horizon. There was a group of guards doing drills at the other end of the field, but they paid them no mind. The few solitary guards that they came across stood straight and saluted to Celestia as they passed. When they finally reached the building, Novel opened the door and walked inside.

“Hey, you're not authorized to be here!” shouted a voice from inside.

Celestia stepped inside next. “It’s alright, Sergeant Crimson Lance. He is here under my orders.”

“P-p-princess Celestia!”

Twilight stepped through the door just in time to see a unicorn stallion in guard armor fall out of his seat in an attempt to come to attention and salute at the same time. He was seated behind a desk next to a hallway leading further in, no doubt in order to keep track of the coming and going of ponies from the building. She noticed that Novel had fallen to the floor off to the side of the door, eyes bugging out of his head. Was he really so frazzled that a guard yelling at him startled him off his hooves?

Celestia smiled slightly, the first hint of expression Twilight had seen from her since they had entered this section of the castle grounds. “Please, be at ease, Crimson Lance. We’re merely here to see somepony.”

“O-of course, Princess.” He picked himself back up and sat in his chair again, blushing slightly in embarrassment. “Is there anything I can do to assist you?”

“No thank you, Sergent, this is a rather private matter.” She turned to Novel. “Novel, if you would please continue?”

He looked up to Celestia and nodded silently before getting back to his hooves and moving down the hallway. As Celestia passed by Crimson’s desk, she stopped and looked at him again. “Oh, and Crimson? Please don’t inform anypony else in the building about us. We’re here for a bit of a... surprise visit, you might say.”

Crimson looked confused but nodded. “Of course, Princess. Whatever you say.”

The trio continued down a hallway a short ways until Novel stopped in front of a door. It had a placard on it that read ‘Lieutenant Steel Wing’. Twilight stared at the name on the door for a few seconds, wondering why it sounded familiar to her. Then it hit her; her brother had mentioned that name before! They had gone through boot camp together, and had even been partners on a few missions back before Shining became captain. From the way her brother had talked about him, they seemed pretty friendly. Had Shining been friends with a changeling all these years?

Novel looked up at Celestia expectantly, but she just returned a blank stare. He turned towards the door and, reluctantly, knocked.

There were some shuffling noises from the other side before a voice said “Come in.”

Novel opened the door and they all entered one by one. “Novel? What are you— Princess Celestia!”

Twilight entered the room just in time to see a pegasus stallion in guard armor flawlessly leap out of his seat to come to attention and salute. It was a small, simple office, little more than a desk, a chair and a bookshelf. In fact, with three ponies and a princess, Twilight was feeling more than a little crammed in.

“At ease, Lieutenant Steel Wing. I’m afraid that we have much to discuss.” Celestia turned her head towards the entrance, and with a golden glow, the door closed and the lock clicked into place.

Steel Wing returned to his seat. He glanced at the door but didn’t give any other reaction. “I take it that this is a serious matter then?”

“Yes, I should say so. It is a subject that is on many ponies' minds these days. Lieutenant, I wish to talk to you about changelings.”

Twilight watched him for any kind of reaction, but again he gave none. “Of course, Princess. I am all ears.”

Celestia sat down on the ground and looked to Novel and Twilight. “I understand that you already know Novel Tale. He has recently become good friends with my student, Twilight, and told her a number of interesting things about changelings, information which she has passed along to me.” She turned back to Steel. “I wish to know more, and Novel suggested that I come see you.”

Steel Wing kept that signature Royal Guard stone faced expression up during Celestia’s explanation. As she finished, he turned to look at Novel, who looked down to the floor in shame. Twilight could only guess that he was still uncomfortable about ratting out other changelings. She put a hoof about him to try and reassure him.

Steel closed his eyes and sighed. “I knew something like this was going to happen. It was only a matter of time since Chrysalis revealed herself.”

“So what Novel has told me is true then?”

“I’m afraid so, your highness.” And with a burst of green fire, he shifted to changeling form. He was noticeably larger and more sturdily built than Nurex was, with eyes and carapace plate a deep red color. With his size and his red coloration, he put Twilight in mind of a changeling version of Big Mac.

Celestia stared at him for a few moments before speaking. “Specifically, I am here because Novel tells me that there are other changelings living in Canterlot, and that you know who all of them are.”

“That is correct. I do not currently have that information on hoof, but if you wish it, I can have it to you by tomorrow.”

“Why do you have information on all the other changelings in Canterlot?” Twilight asked.

“All major population centers have a changeling selected to keep track of other changelings in the area,” he explained. “It helps ensure that we don’t stumble over each other in the course of feeding.”

“Hmm... I am glad that you are being so cooperative with us, Lieutenant,” Celestia said.

“Of course, your higness. Now that we are discovered, cooperation is surely our best choice of action.”

“I see,” was her only response.

The room was quiet for a few moments before Steel spoke again. “Princess? If I may ask... what do you intend to do now?”

Celestia closed her eyes in thought. “Honestly, I am not sure.” She opened her eyes and looked to Steel as though appraising him. “This situation is much more complicated than I had first thought...”

Twilight put a hoof on her mentor’s shoulder to get her attention. “Princess, I know it seems bad that even the Royal Guard has been infiltrated, but I think—”

Infiltrated?” Steel said the word as though it were a personal insult to him. Twilight put a hoof to her mouth, suddenly regretting her choice of words. “Is that what you believe?” He stood up from his seat. “Princess Celestia, I may be using my position here to aid me in keeping track of other changelings in Canterlot, but I did not infiltrate your Royal Guard!” Twilight reeled back slightly at the fire in his voice. Even Novel seemed shocked at his reaction. “Those vows I took when I joined the Guard were made in earnest! My top priority here is the same as anypony else in the Royal Guard, ensuring the safety of Equestria and its citizens!”

He sat down on the floor, not bothering to get back in his seat. “Changelings need ponies. We cannot survive without you. It is thus in our best interest to help and protect ponies however we can. All hives know this, though few believe in it as strongly as mine. I cannot imagine what could have caused Chrysalis to forget such a vital truth and act the way she did.”

Celestia gave him a critical look. “And if your queen were to give you an order that would result in harm to my little ponies? What would you do then?”

Steel reared up and slammed his forehooves on his desk. “My queen would never give such an order! She values the well-being of ponykind even more than I do!”

Celestia stood up to her full height and glared at Steel. “That does not answer my question, Lieutenant.” Rarely had Twilight ever seen her mentor this intense. Celestia took a few steps towards Steel Wing until she was nearly nose to nose with him. “What. Would. You. Do?

Steel faltered, averted his gaze, and returned to the floor. “I... I honestly cannot say for sure. It is extremely difficult for a changeling to disobey a direct command from their queen.” He turned to look Celestia in the face. “But Princess Celestia, you must believe me, it is my greatest wish that I never find myself having to choose between my hive and Equestria!”

Celestia returned to her seat on the floor and looked thoughtfully at Steel Wing. Twilight wanted to say something, anything to break the silence that had descended upon the room, but she couldn’t think what she could possibly say to help him. She glanced to her side at Novel, who was chewing his lip and looking back and forth between Steel and Celestia. She could only imagine how nerve racking this must be for him. Steel’s fate hung in the balance, and all because he had brought Celestia here.

Finally, Celestia brought a hoof up to rub her forehead, closed her eyes, and gave an exasperated sigh. “I never imagined that I would find myself in a situation like this...”

“You... you believe me then?” Steel asked hopefully.

“Yes, I do. I’ve been around long enough to be able to tell when a pony is being sincere, and it is apparently not so different with changelings,” Celestia said. Twilight heard Novel give a nearly imperceptible sigh of relief.

“So I can stay here in the Guard?” he asked. Twilight could have sworn that his eyes literally lit up slightly.

“That, I am not yet sure about.” She looked at him for another few moments, hoof on her chin as she thought. “I think that that particular decision is going to have to be made by somepony else.”

“Somepony else?”

“Yes. Specifically, your commanding officer.”

“Captain Shining Armor!?”

“My brother?!” Twilight exclaimed.

“Yes, Captain Shining Armor.” Celestia smiled slightly. “You do know each other fairly well, don’t you? You both went to boot camp together, if I recall correctly.”

Steel was at a loss for words, but Twilight had some concerns of her own. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Princess? Shiny has been kind of... jumpy ever since the attack on Canterlot.”

Celestia looked to her student. “I do want to keep the existence of changelings in Canterlot mostly a secret, for fear of causing a panic. But if we truly are going to have peace, then a few, key ponies are going to have to know about them, one of which is your brother. I know that he likely won’t react well to this particular revelation, but I’m afraid that it is going to have to happen.”

Celestia stood up. “Lieutenant Steel Wing, if you would accompany us.” It was clear from her tone of voice that it was less a request and more a command. She opened the door and trotted outside. Steel Wing shifted back to his pony form and fell into step behind her, and Twilight and Novel took the rear.

Celestia made her way back to the room where they had entered. “Sergeant Crimson, is Captain Shining Armor in his office right now?”

This time Crimson calmly got out of his seat to stand at attention. “No, Princess. He had to step out to attend to inspections.”

“I see. When he returns, please let him know that I wish to see him in my office.”

Crimson bowed his head. “Of course, Princess.”

Twilight, Novel, Steel, and Celestia were all waiting in Celestia’s office. Celestia was looking through some paperwork, leaving the other three with nothing to do. Novel and Steel seemed to be handling the idleness well enough, but Twilight’s curiosity was getting the best of her.

“Princess Celestia, do you have some parchment and a quill I can use?” Twilight asked.

Celestia smiled at her student. “Of course, Twilight. Second drawer on the right,” she said, gesturing to one of the drawers on her desk.

Twilight opened it up with her magic and sure enough, there was plenty of blank parchments and some spare quills. She picked some up with her magic and went over to Steel Wing. “Steel, do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

He looked at her curiously. “Questions? What for?”

“I’m writing a book about changelings, and I’d love to learn more about what your hive is like.”

“A book about changelings?” It was clear from his tone of voice that he didn’t approve of the idea. “That we have been discovered period is bad enough! Now you wish to let ponies know everything else about us as well?”

Twilight’s ears folded back and she lowered her head. “Well, I-I just...”

Novel leaped to her defense. “We’ve already run this past my hive’s queen, Queen Polistae. She personally gave it the go ahead and said that she’d be convincing the other queens that this is a good idea. She thinks we should do it because if ponies know more about us, they’ll be less afraid of us.”

“Hmmm... I suppose that there is some merit to that line of reasoning...” He looked back to Twilight. “Very well, you may ask your questions.”

Twilight immediately perked up and shot an appreciative smile at Novel, then turned back to Steel. “Thank you so much for agreeing! I promise, this is going to go a long way towards helping changelings, and the more information I can get the better everything is going to go!” She readied her quill and parchment. “First of all, do you have a changeling name I should call you?”

“My changeling name is Avitus, but I prefer Steel Wing.”

“Really? Novel prefers his changeling name when in changeling form...”

Novel rubbed the back of his head. “That’s really more of a personal thing for me...”

“Okay then.” Twilight noted this down on her paper then looked up at Steel. “Now, lets get into the real important stuff! What would you say is the defining characteristics of changelings from your hive?”

“Duty,” he said without having to think for even a moment. “We all have a very strong sense of duty. Whatever it is we are tasked to do, we will ensure it is done, even if at personal cost to ourselves. The only thing that can override our sense of duty is our urge to maintain our secrecy. We’re also larger and physically stronger than most changelings. Finally, as I mentioned before, we also strongly believe in our need for ponies to flourish. Most hives only take this to mean that they shouldn’t do anything to directly harm ponies, but we take it further than that. We do our best to actively protect ponies.”

“So there aren’t any hives out there that do anything to harm ponies?” Twilight asked. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Celestia suddenly seemed to be paying more attention to their conversation than the papers she was looking at.

Steel gave a disgusted look and turned away. “I am ashamed to say that there are a few hives out there that, due to the emotions that they prefer to gather, cause more harm than anything else.” He turned back to look Twilight in the eyes. “I assure you that they are the vast minority, however.”

“Okay...” Twilight finished writing and switched to a fresh sheet of paper. She glanced back to Celestia to see that she had returned her attention to her own papers. “So, given all of that, what roles do you tend to take in pony society?”

“Guards, like me. Also police, firefighters, anything that allows us to help protect ponies. It also ties into our prefered emotions. We feed off of the appreciation of ponies we protect, as well as the camaraderie you typically find between ponies in those types of roles.”

Twilight wrote his down then idly tapped her quill against her horn as she looked at what she had written. “Those are pretty dangerous jobs. Wouldn’t one of you have gotten... well, have gotten killed in action at some point?” She took her eyes from her paper and turned to Steel. “And then I’m pretty sure that your disguise would break, and the existence of changelings would have been discovered, right?”

Steel smirked. “That would be the case, if we left bodies behind when we died.”

Twilight gave him a confused look.

“It’s the green fire that creates and breaks down our disguises,” he explained. “When a changeling dies, it not only breaks down our disguise, but consumes the rest of us as well. Nothing is left behind. Our final means of maintaining our secrecy.”

Twilight thought on that. That actually answered something that had been bothering her ever since Celestia told them how she discovered changelings. If changelings had really been around since before Discord, then surely the remains of one of them would have been discovered at some point, either fresh or fossilized. But if they didn’t leave remains...

“But wait,” Twilight said, “wouldn’t ponies get suspicious of other ponies mysteriously disappearing like that? Especially if they actually saw you self immolating!”

“It has led to a number of unsolved disappearances and a myth or two, yes,” Steel admitted. “But nothing that could be traced back to our existence.”

Twilight looked down and put a hoof to her chin. Now that she thought about it, she could swear that she had read something about disappearing police and firefighters. What had that book been called? Equestrian Unsolved Mysteries? And... her eyes widened. Could this be the source of that crazy myth about spontaneous pony combustion?

Before she could ask him anything else on the subject, they were interrupted by a knock on the door and a voice that Twilight would recognize anywhere.

“Princess Celestia? It’s Shining Armor. You wanted to see me?”

Celestia put down her papers and, with a glow of her horn, unlocked the door. “Please come in, Captain.”

The door opened and Shining Armor stepped through. “Princess, what is it that— Twily!”

“Shining!” Twilight quickly deposited her notes and quill on the ground and ran up to embraced her brother in a hug.

“The best little sister ever is back in Canterlot and nopony thought to tell me?” Shining said as he returned the hug. “What are you doing here, though?”

Twilight returned to the floor and her ears drooped down as she considered what was about to happen. “Well...” She turned back to look at Steel and Novel.

Shining followed her gaze. “Steel Wing? Why are you here? And...” He looked at Novel for a moment then pointed a hoof in his direction. “Who are you?”

At this point, Celestia took over. “This is Novel Tale, an author here in Canterlot. Your sister has recently become friends with him, and he is largely responsible for why we are all here today.”

Shining raised an eyebrow at Novel before turning back to Celestia. “Okay... and just why are we all here today?”

Celestia turned to look at Steel. “We’re here today because Lieutenant Steel Wing has something very important to tell you.”

Steel reluctantly got up from where he sat and made his way to stand in front of Shining. “Captain Shining Armor, this is a... secret I’ve been hiding from you since we first met...” He began fidgeting slightly and looking anywhere but at Shining. “Uh... oh, there has to be some easy way to say this...”

Twilight looked at Steel in disbelief. This was entirely different from the confidence he had shown when talking to Celestia! He had seemed to be perfectly calm while they waited for Shining, but she realized that that must have been the Royal Guard training masking how worried he was about the outcome of this.

Shining wasn’t very impressed. “Come on, Steel, this isn’t like you. Just spit it out already.”

Steel looked at Shining. “But I can’t think of any way to tell you that would... Gah!” He slammed a hoof on the ground in frustration. “Horsefeathers, I’ll just show you!” Right in front of Shining, he shifted into changeling form.

He was immediately blasted across the room by a bolt of magic, slamming into a bookshelf. He fell to the ground, a small pile of books landing on top of him.

“Captain Shining Armor!” “Shining!” Celestia and Twilight simultaneously exclaimed.

While Twilight ran to go check on Steel, Celestia stood up and walked around her desk towards Shining, clearly disappointed with how things had turned out. “I had hoped that the Lieutenant would show a little more tact with his explanation...” As she spoke, her horn lit up and a similar golden glow appeared around Shining’s horn.

Shining began struggling against the magic holding his horn in place. “Princess, why are you holding me back!? Let me go! He’s a changeling! He—”

“Yes, Captain, he is a changeling," Celestia said in a perfectly calm voice. "He is also Steel Wing. And he is not the enemy. He’s not the only one either; Novel is also a changeling.” Shining whipped his head around, as best he could with his horn locked in place, to glare at Novel, who shrank down to the floor trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.

Celestia turned Shining’s head to look back at her and gave him a stern glare before continuing. “Your sister is aware of what he really is and has still become friends with him. Twilight has learned that Chrysalis and her army were only one changeling hive of many. The rest of their kind are appalled at what she did and simply wish to remain at peace with us.”

While Celestia was talking down Shining, Twilight was frantically using her magic to remove books from the pile that covered Steel. “Steel, are you okay? Say something!”

A few books shifted and Steel’s head slowly rose up from the pile of books, looking a bit woozy. “I’m fine.” He shook his head to clear his mind. “Just a bit shaken up. It takes more than that to incapacitate a member of the Royal Guard.”

“I’m so sorry Shining did that! He’s just been really on edge lately, and—”

“Please, Twilight! It’s alright. I was honestly expecting something like this to happen.” He began to get up, but stumbled and fell back down.

“Steel! Are you—”

“Twilight! I told you, I'm fine. I... just need a few moments is all.” He looked towards Celestia and Shining Armor. “Don’t worry about me, you should go and try to assist Princess Celestia in calming down Captain Armor.”

Twilight turned her attention back to Shining just in time to hear him exclaim “They want peace with us!?” in disbelief.

“It’s true, Shining!” Twilight said as she rejoined them. “I visited Novel’s hive, I even talked to his queen face to face! They just want to continue living amongst us peacefully like they always have!”

Steel picked that time to rejoin them. He sat down before Shining and bowed his head. “Captain.”

Shining glared at Steel in anger. “So... you really expect me to believe that you’re Steel Wing, huh?”

“That is correct, Captain.”

“Then how’d we first meet?”

Steel looked straight at Shining. “Second week of boot camp, we were both on ditch digging duty and struck up a rapport while we worked.”

Shining looked at Steel thoughtfully before dismissively waving a hoof in the air. “That was too easy, anypony could have learned that with a little digging...” He glared at Steel for a few moments. “Alright then, what happened on that scouting mission? If you’re really Steel Wing, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!”

“How could I ever forget...” Steel looked down to the ground. “Two years after we joined the Royal Guard, we were assigned as partners for a scouting mission in the Badlands south of Dodge Junction. We came across an old, abandoned mine that wasn't on any of our maps. I thought we should just mark it and be on our way, but you insisted that we check it out for possible signs of Diamond Dog activity.” He looked back up at Shining. “We had just gone far enough in that you had to start providing light for us magically when the ground suddenly gave out beneath our hooves. You were knocked out cold, and I was only barely able to fly you out of the pit we had we had fallen into.”

As Steel spoke, Shining’s face went from anger to shocked disbelief and, finally, numb acceptance. “Oh sweet Celestia, it really is you...” he said quietly, apparently having forgotten who he was in the room with. Celestia, not the slightest bit phased by his choice of words, released her magical hold on Shining’s horn, and he fell to his haunches on the ground. “We never included that incident in the report we filed when we got back,” Shining continued. “Steel and I were the only ones who knew about it...”

“Truthfully, Captain, were I not a changeling it is likely that neither of us would have come out of that situation as well as we did. My disguise shattered after the first few bumps on the way down, and if I had skin and bones like a normal pony instead of my changeling carapace, I doubt I would have been in any shape to carry us out.”

Shining just sat there silently, staring ahead at nothing in particular. Twilight, starting to get worried, put a hoof on his shoulder. “Shining?”

“What?” His head jerked towards Twilight. “Oh. I’m sorry, Twilight, this is just... a bit much for me to take in all at once.”

“So... will I be allowed to remain within the Guard, Captain?” Steel asked.

“I... I don’t know.” Shining stood up and began turning towards the door. “I think I need some time by myself time to think about this.”

“If I may, Shining, I would suggest that instead of thinking about this by yourself, you think about this with your wife,” Celestia suggested with a smile. "Although I would ask that you please keep this a secret from everypony else."

A hint of a smile appeared on Shining’s face. “Yeah... yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Cadance will help me figure this out. Thank you, Princess.”

Shining made his way towards the door. Twilight was about to say something else to him, but Celestia put a hoof around her neck and shook her head.

Shining left and closed the door behind him. Celestia turned to look at Steel, a slightly sad look on her face. “Lieutenant Steel Wing, I’m afraid that, until Captain Shining Armor can come to a decision on this, I am going to have to have you temporarily suspended from active duty.”

Steel looked down to the ground, clearly crestfallen. “I-I see. Of course, Princess.”

Celestia smiled reassuringly. “Fear not, I am confident that Princess Cadance will help Captain Shining Armor come to the right decision on this matter.”

Twilight put a hoof on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry things turned out like this, Steel.”

Steel only glanced up at Twilight for a moment before returning his gaze to the ground.

Celestia sighed. “I’m afraid that Shining Armor’s response would be typical of most ponies, were they to meet a changeling. Any true peace, and perhaps someday open integration, between changelings and ponies is bound to be a long, drawn out affair.” She looked to Twilight and smiled. “However, I think that this book you have planned is an excellent first step. Twilight, I want you to know that you will have my full support in this endeavor.”

Twilight embraced her mentor in a hug, an action that Celestia gladly reciprocated. “Thanks, Princess Celestia. I knew I could count on your support.” She returned to her hooves and gave one last worried look at Steel before turning back to Celestia. “I guess I should head back to Ponyville and get started on that then.” She turned to look at Novel. “Novel?”

Novel also looked down to the ground now and began rubbing one of his forelegs. “Uh, actually, I’ve... decided that I want to at least try to settle back in here in Canterlot. It’s just... well, I’ve lived here for so long...”

She walked up and gave Novel a quick hug which he returned after only a moments hesitation. “It’s okay, Novel, I understand.” She returned to the floor. “Though I was hoping that you would be there to help me with the book. I’ll be sure to come visit you, alright?”

“Yeah, alright. I’ll... be looking forward to it! And I’ll try to come visit you sometime, too!”

Twilight smiled. “Sounds good to me! I'll be sure to keep you both up to date on how things are going!”

Bonus Chapter: Sparkle's Notes: Changeling Disguises

View Online

...Changeling disguises were, for me, the most fascinating part of my study of changelings. How is it that they are able to magically create disguises perfect enough to fool detailed, physical examination, and maintain these disguises for weeks at a time, all with very little conscious thought or effort on their part?

When I posed this question to my primary changeling contact, he was unfortunately unable to assist me. It turns out that using and maintaining these disguises is a completely instinctual and subconscious process for them. So, just as most ponies would be unable to describe the act of breathing in any more detail than ‘inhale, exhale, repeat’, he was unable to give me any detailed information on how their disguises worked. The only information that he was able to give me was that brand new disguises take a not insignificant amount of mental concentration in order to properly visualize everything the first time. This is in opposition to disguises that have been used in the past, or simply copying the form of another pony, both of which can be done with but a thought. This information, while interesting, wasn’t of much use in my search to find out how the disguises worked...

...My first thought was, of course, illusionary magic. Illusionary spells exist that can be maintained for extended periods of time with little upkeep. However, there was a major problem with illusionary magic. While illusions can easily fool sight, sound, smell, and even taste, touch is another matter entirely. Ponies are very tactile creatures, and even the best of illusions would be hard pressed to survive the amount of physical contact experienced by an average pony on a typical day, to make no mention of the amount of physical contact that would be experienced by changelings that feed on emotions like love or lust. Because of this, I was forced to discard illusionary magic as the source of their disguises...

...Transformation magic was another field that seemed promising. If they actually physically transformed themselves into a pony, then that would certainly explain how their disguises could be so foolproof. However, this line of thinking had a few major problems as well. Transformation spells, especially full body transformations, are horrendously complicated and dangerous spells. The slightest of mistakes could result in fatal outcomes like the lungs or heart not properly forming or reforming. On top of this, full body transformations take a tremendous amount of magical energy to cast and maintain. Even the Princesses themselves would be hard pressed to maintain a full body transformation for more than a few days. For these reasons, I also scrapped the notion that transformations magics were responsible...

...Having run myself ragged trying to find what school of magic could be responsible, I had my first major breakthrough thanks to an offhanded comment from my assistant. This whole time, I had been needlessly limiting myself in assuming that it was only a single school of magic being used to create the disguises. Who was to say that it wasn’t two or more schools of magic acting in concert to create them? This thought in mind, I plunged back into my research with renewed vigor. I was confident that illusion magics were at least a part of the answer...

...As it turns out, the missing piece of the puzzle is hard light shell projected around the changeling’s body. This bit of magic is very similar to the shield spell favored by unicorns of the Royal Guard, and that is the specialty of the Captain of the Royal Guard, Shining Armor. It was only thanks to this similarity, and a comment one of my changeling contacts had made about their disguise ‘shattering’, that I was able to make this discovery. There are some significant difference between the two spells, however. Most notably, the changeling's shell is much softer and less rigid than a shield spell, the better to properly imitate the skin of a pony. This makes it nearly useless for defensive purposes.

This led to another interesting discovery. I was unsure how they could effortlessly maintain such a system of magic across their entire body using only a single focal point, their horn. However, now that I knew what to look for, some quick tests revealed that their horn is actually not used at all in the creation of their disguises. As it turns out, their entire carapace is a magically conductive substance. The magics that make up their disguise are channeled directly through their carapace, in much the same way that pegasi channel their innate weather manipulating magics through their hooves. This method of using their entire body instead of just a single focal point gives their disguises an amazing amount of stability and durability. It is still possible for this shell, and thus the rest of the changeling’s disguise, to break due to physical trauma. But unless they fall unconscious or take some type of blow to the head, the disguises are able to withstand a surprising amount of abuse before completely failing. As far as I have been able to tell, their disguise is the only magic that they are able to channel in this manner; all other magics must pass through the horn.

As for the second half of the puzzle, the illusionary magics that make up their disguises are amazingly advanced and are capable of astounding levels of fidelity. They are capable of simulating sweat when physically active, blushing when emotionally aroused, and even bleeding and bruising when injured. And all of this is on a completely instinctual, subconscious level. While this does seem amazing, it is important to remember just how old changelings are as a species. They have been using and refining these magics since before the original reign of Discord, long before illusions were even a recognized school of magic amongst ponies!

Now, as to how these two puzzle pieces actually fit together. As already suggested, the hard light shell comes first, forming the ‘skin’ of their pony form. This shell extends anywhere from being right on top of to a few inches away from the carapace, to account for different builds of ponies. This gives them that tactile component that illusions themselves are simply unable to provide. Then, their illusion magic is layered over this shell to create the rest of their disguise, making them look, sound, and smell like a pony. This entire process happens in the blink of an eye. The hard light shell and the illusion magics are inextricably linked to each other on a subconscious level; it is not possible for a changeling to utilize one without the other.

There are some important implication to be drawn from this discovery of how their disguises work.

First off, changelings are unable to take a form that is smaller than they are. Their actual changeling body very much still exists underneath their disguise. Attempting to take a form smaller than they are would only result in parts of their changeling body sticking out from the hard light shell. Nopony will ever have to wonder about the identity of young fillies and colts. This led to another small discovery when, curious, I asked my primary changeling contact what happens to their horns when they take earth pony or pegasi forms. As it turns out, changeling horns are actually capable of folding back against their head. This is a completely autonomic process tied into their disguises; they have no conscious control over it.

This raises the small question of how Queen Chrysalis was able to take the form of Princess Cadance despite being taller than her. My best guess is that Chrysalis knew something of transformation magics. Unlike full body transformations discussed earlier, size changing transformation spells are much simpler, though still well beyond the capabilities of all but the most magically adept unicorns. The changeling queen I am in contact with agreed that this could be a possibility. As Queen Chrysalis' location is still unknown, it is possible that we will never truly know the answer to this question.

Another implication is that it is theoretically possible for a changeling to take a form much larger than a pony. All they would have to do is extend their hard light shell further out from their body. They could possibly take the form of a griffon, or even a manticore. However, after running this idea past all my changeling contact, including a changeling queen, I have found that this is not realistically possible. As has been mentioned previously, their disguises are an almost completely instinctual process. Attempting to subvert this process to take any form that is not a pony is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, for the average changeling. Furthermore, even if they did possess the extreme levels of mental discipline needed to wrest control of this system from their subconscious, it would still be completely impractical due to energy constraints. The changeling queen informed me that the amount of energy needed to maintain their disguises, while negligible at pony sizes, increases exponentially with how far the hard light shell is extended from their body. Even if a changeling were able to take the form of a manticore, they would be unable to maintain it for any significant period of time without a constant flow of emotional energy to sustain it.

Even then, these restrictions still leave some intriguing possibilities regarding changelings interacting with non-ponies. Changelings taking the form of donkeys is a possibility, as are buffalos, although that would be stretching things given their relatively large size. The most promising prospect is actually zebras. Zebras tend to be more or less the same size and shape as ponies, and so such a form would not require undue amounts of energy for a changeling to maintain. Upon discussing this matter with a zebra I am good friends with, I found that there are some obscure legends back in Zebrica about shape shifting creatures that feed on emotions, although the term ‘changeling’ was never mentioned. Bringing this up with the changeling queen who is assisting me with my research, she claimed that while such a thing would certainly be possible, she has never heard anything of changelings that live outside of Equestria. Given how helpful she has been with the rest of my research, I am inclined to believe her. It is possible, though unlikely, that a splinter group of changelings and their queen may have left Equestria for Zebrica so far in the past that the event is no longer remembered, thus explaining these seemingly conflicting claims. Unfortunately, a trip to Zebrica in order to investigate further is outside the scope of this current study. As I do not wish to make any claims based only on speculation, this matter will have to remain unresolved for the time being.

Chapter 11: Complications

View Online

The next day...

Novel Tale charged out of the alleyway at full speed, hooves clattering loudly against the Canterlot streets, and made a hard turn to his right down the street he found himself on. He immediately recognized where he was, and would have sighed in relief if he wasn’t so busy trying to feed air into his lungs. He was now running alongside the outer walls of Canterlot Castle, and the main entrance wasn’t much further ahead.

The exact thing he had been afraid of happening ever since Chrysalis attacked had happened again. Some of his readers had come to the same conclusion as Twilight’s pegasus friend; the only way he could have written such an accurate changeling character in his book before anypony even knew they were real is if he was a changeling himself! After how well the entire thing had turned out with Twilight, he had allowed himself to hope that maybe, just maybe, anypony else finding out would go just as well.

But such wishful thinking turned out to be just that. He had returned home after an early morning stroll to find a small group of about eight or so ponies waiting outside his house. It was immediately obvious that they didn’t have the friendliest of intentions based on the emotions he could sense from them. He had tried to quietly sneak away, but one of the ponies had spotted him. He had turned tail and darted into the nearest alleyway, but not before he had felt some magic envelope him and one of the ponies shout something about a tracking spell.

He had fortunately managed to lose them in the back alleys of Canterlot, but that was only a temporary reprieve at best. If that really was a tracking spell, then they’d find him eventually. He couldn’t even risk changing forms to try and lose them; if that spell led them to him while he was a different pony, then that would that would effectively destroy any plausible deniability he may have had. His only hope was Princess Celestia. She would help him! She was holding Day Court around this time, so it should be easy enough to see her.

He slowed to a trot, tried to bring his breathing down to normal levels, and put on what he hoped looked like a casual smile as he approached the main gates of Canterlot Castle. He went up to one of the unicorn guards keeping watch over the entrance. “Hello! Is Day Court still in session? I have a matter to discuss with Princess Celestia.” Even as he spoke, he was already becoming worried as he could feel a hint of disgust coming from the guard.

The guard raised an eyebrow as he slowly looked Novel up and down. “Day court is still in session, citizen, but I’m afraid that you’re in no state to see Princess Celestia right now.”

Novel’s smile faltered as he turned his head to look himself over. His light grey coat was soaked with sweat, his black tail was a complete mess, as was his mane, and now that he was taking a moment to examine himself, he could tell that he smelled a bit too. Running through the city from that mob of ponies had not done him any favors.

He turned back to the guard, a frantic look in his eyes. “B-but it’s really important that I see Princess Celestia! I need her help!”

The guard didn’t budge, and Novel felt his disgust turning to annoyance. “Day Court will be in session for some time yet, citizen. Return to your home, make yourself presentable, and we will gladly allow you entry. If the issue is urgent and concerns your personal safety, then you can tell us your problem and the Royal Guard will be glad to assist you.”

“No!” He was in full panic mode now. “You can’t help me, only Princess Celestia can! And I don’t have time to return home! If I’m not able to see her soon, t-then I’ll...”

Novel trailed off as he could sense the guard going from annoyance to suspicion and a bit of anger. Before anything could happen, though, another voice cut in.

“What’s all this commotion about?”

The guard turned to salute the new unicorn guard that had appeared. “Sergeant Crimson! This unicorn is adamant that he sees Princess Celestia, but—”

“Sergeant Crimson?” Novel immediately perked up. “Sergeant Crimson Lance? You remember me, don’t you!? I was with Princess Celestia just yesterday! I really need to see her for some, uh, follow up business! It’s very urgent!”

Crimson looked at Novel for a moment before speaking. “Yes... yes, I remember you. You were indeed with Princess Celestia and Miss Twilight Sparkle, and then later with Lieutenant Steel Wing. I know not what business you had with the Princess, but it did seem to be important...” He trailed off in thought, curiosity and just a touch of suspicion radiating from him.

“Very well, let him through,” Crimson finally decided with a wave of his hoof.

“Sir!” the guard said as he moved aside

Novel wanted to hug Crimson, but decided against it. He instead just said “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” as he ran by, eager to make it to safety.

When he reached the waiting room outside of Celestia’s throne room, however, his spirits sank again. There was a huge line of ponies waiting to see Celestia! He mentally kicked himself; he should have known this would be the case. She had her throne room door open and he could actually see her over the heads of all the ponies waiting, but he had pushed his luck enough with the guards at the gate. There was no way he was going to be able to get away with cutting past all these ponies. All he could do was wait, and hope that the guards were just as stingy about letting a mob of ponies into the castle as they were about a slightly ripe unicorn.

After about five minutes of nervous waiting, a pegasus guard swooped in to hover in front of the entrance to the throne room. “Princess Celestia! An urgent matter has come up that requires your attention!”

Celestia looked up from the supplicant she was currently speaking with, just a hint of surprise showing on her face. She looked back down to the pony before her, said a few words, and then stood from her throne and walked over to the guard, who whispered into her ear.

Novel couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he could sense what Celestia was feeling. Surprise and shock quickly turned to a kind of resigned disappointment and a bit of sadness. As the guard finished his explanation, she lifted her head and scanned the ponies still waiting to see her until she came across Novel.

She locked gazes with him for a few moments before speaking. “I see.” She turned back to the rest of the ponies waiting in line. “I’m sorry, my little ponies, but I’m afraid that I must ask you all to wait while I attend to this matter.” Her horn glowed, and with a flash, she was gone.

Novel nearly collapsed with relief. This wasn’t an ideal outcome, but he was sure that Celestia would do what she could for him. The situation now out of his hooves, he began wondering what he would do next.

He had wanted to give Canterlot a chance, but this was a deal breaker. If he got out of this alright, he was definitely going to move to Ponyville.

A small crowd of rather angry looking ponies were vehemently arguing for entry into the castle with the gate guards, who were equally adamant about refusing them. They were all stunned into silence when there was a flash of golden light, and then Princess Celestia was standing before them.

She quickly put on her warmest smile. “Greetings, my subjects. I understand that you have something of vital importance to tell me about?”

The small mob of ponies was too stunned to react immediately. It took more than a few moments before one of the members of the crowd, a red unicorn mare, presumably their leader, steeled herself and stepped forwards to kneel down before Celestia.

“Yes, that is correct, your highness,” the unicorn mare said.

“Then please, rise, and tell me what it is that troubles you all.”

The mare rose and looked her ruler in the face, something Celestia was moderately surprised at. Most ponies, to her continued disappointment, were unwilling to look her straight in the eyes when speaking with her. The mare must feel quite strongly about this, which was a bad thing if this was about what she feared it was about.

“Princess Celestia, my name is Willow Winds, and we believe that we have discovered a changeling! Right here in Canterlot!” The ponies behind Willow became more animated at seeing their leader speaking so openly with the Princess, and began voicing their agreements at her claim. The mare continued. “We attempted to apprehend him at his home, but he was able to escape out initial trap. We managed to put a tracking spell on the changeling and chased him throughout Canterlot, and now we believe that he is within the castle itself!”

Celestia put on a concerned look, even though she was pretty sure she already knew exactly what this was about. “That is quite a serious claim to make, Willow Winds. I do hope you have some compelling evidence that this pony is, in fact, a changeling.”

“Of course, Princess!” Willow said confidently. “We would not have taken such drastic actions unless we were sure of our findings. This changeling, he takes the form of a unicorn stallion named Novel Tale. He is an author, and his last book had a changeling character. A changeling character that was almost identical to the changelings that attacked Canterlot only a few weeks after the book came out! This book was written before anypony knew how changeling acted or what they looked like, or that they were even real! How could he have known any of that unless he himself was a changeling?”

“I see.” It was exactly as she had feared; somepony else had found out about Novel the same way that Twilight and her friends had. Celestia mentally sighed to herself. She hated having to lie to her subjects for any reason, but centuries of experience had taught her that sometimes it was necessary for long term peace.

“It may surprise you to know, Willow, that you are not the first group to bring this particular pony to my attention.” Indeed, Willow and the ponies behind her seemed shocked at this admission. “My faithful student, Twilight Sparkle, and her friends came to the same conclusion that you did based on that same book only a few days ago, and quickly brought the matter to my attention. I personally met with Novel Tale in order to investigate further, and I can assure you that there is nothing for any of us to fear from him.”

The crowd of ponies began muttering to each other, clearly not having expected anything like this. They had been so sure that he was a changeling, but if the Princess herself said that he was okay...

“B-but then how was he able to provide such an accurate depiction of a changeling in his book?” Willow asked, looking crestfallen that not only had somepony else had beaten her to the punch, but that she had apparently come to the wrong conclusion as well.

Celestia put her warm smile back on and looked to the mare. “Willow, during my many years I have learned that sometimes, even the most unlikely of occurrences really are just coincidence. All I can say for sure is that Novel Tale has just as much right to be here as you or I.”

That took the last of the steam out of the crowd of ponies, who stopped their muttering and fell into silence.

“I know that you all have only acted in what you believed to be the best interest of Equestria, and for that I am very proud of you. However, I must ask that in the future, if you believe you have found a changeling, please report it to the Royal Guard and let them handle it. Now all of you, please return to your homes and families, and rest assured that we have everything well in hoof.”

The crowd of ponies dispersed. Celestia watched them leaving for a moment before heading back through the gates towards the castle. She stopped to address the unicorn in charge. “Sergeant Crimson Lance?”

He brought his hoof up in a salute. “Yes, your highness?”

“You heard what I said to those ponies about reporting changelings to the Guard, yes?” He nodded in confirmation. “Good. I want that made into a formal announcement to be sent to all Royal Guard stations throughout Equestria, and from there to be distributed to the local populace.”

For just a split second, his stoic expression cracked before returning. “Of course, your highness.”

It was only a minor slip, but one that Celestia noticed. “Please, Sergeant Crimson, feel free to speak your mind.”

“It’s just... I don’t believe that the Royal Guard currently has the proper channels or systems in place to handle that kind of duty, your highness.”

Celestia smiled reassuringly. “You will not have to worry about that, Sergeant. I am going to be having a meeting with Captain Shining Armor in the very near future to work out the details, and I have a strong suspicion that he will be recruiting Lieutenant Steel Wing to assist him in this. Now, if there is nothing else, I must be returning to Day Court.”

“No, Princess, that is all,” Crimson said as he saluted again.

“Very well then. Carry on, Sergeant.” Celestia’s horn glowed, and she disappeared in a flash of light.

Novel was starting to feel a bit antsy waiting for Celestia to return. To his surprise, only a few of the other ponies waiting in line were feeling similar; most were being quite patient. He had asked the pony in front of him about it, and apparently Celestia being called away in the middle of Day Court was, while not frequent, also not unheard of.

All the anxiety in the room evaporated as there was a flash of golden light and Celestia reappeared just inside the entrance to the throne room. “I am sorry for making all of you wait, my subjects. I am pleased to inform you all that the issue has been resolved and Day Court may now recommence.” Celestia turned and went back to her throne, whispering something to one of her pegasus guards as she did so.

With what he had come to see Princess Celestia about now resolved, Novel also turned and headed towards the exit. Just before he could reach the door, however, the swooshing sound of wings flapping and the click of hooves landing on the floor came from behind him. He nearly jumped as he spun around to see the pegasus guard Celestia had spoken to now standing before him.

“You are Novel Tale?” the guard asked.

Novel was worried for only a moment. He could feel just a touch of curiosity from the guard, but nothing else that would be cause for concern. “Yes...” he answered hesitantly.

The guard leaned in a bit closer to ensure that nopony else could hear him. “Princess Celestia has requested that you remain until Day Court has ended so that she may speak with you privately.”

“Oh.” Novel had been so preoccupied with worrying about what was going to happen with the mob and what he was going to do afterwards that he hadn’t considered that Celestia might want to see him. “Um... Alright then, thank you for letting me know.”

The guard gave a nod then lifted into the air to return to Celestia’s side. Novel took a seat at one of the benches along the walls. He should probably let her know about his decision to return to Ponyville on a more permanent basis...

The two or so hours left of Day Court passed surprisingly quickly for Novel. He made of game of guessing what kinds of issues ponies had for Princess Celestia based on the emotions they were giving off. It turned out that there were a lot of different emotions involved in meeting the solar diarch. He was able to pick up apprehension and anxiety from some ponies, eagerness and excitement from others, and even confidence and hope from a few. Novel was actually slightly disappointed when the last pony for the day left and the doors to the throne room closed. He was so distracted that he didn’t notice the guard approaching him until he spoke up.

“Princess Celestia will see you now.”

Novel almost jumped out of his seat as he turned to face the guard. He did his best to compose himself then nodded to the guard, who then led him towards the throne room doors which opened as he approached, courtesy of the unicorn guards to either side. He entered, and there was Princess Celestia, waiting for him.

“Novel, I’m glad you were able to spare the time to talk with me,” Celestia said with a smile as Novel approached her.

“O-of course Princess.” He bowed to her a moment before standing again. “I... assume you want to talk about what happened earlier today?”

Her smile faded. “Yes, that is correct, Novel.” She stood from her throne. “If you would please follow me?” Celestia headed back to the same door in the back of the throne room that they had gone through the first time Novel had met with her. When they passed through the door, however, they were beset by a pony Novel wasn’t expecting.

“Sister! Day Court is now over, yes? You simply must tell us how things went! Have any major issues arisen?”

Novel hadn’t been expecting to see Luna waiting for Celestia just beyond the door, but as he thought about it, he thought he could guess why. He knew from listening in on conversations in the street that very few ponies ever came to Luna’s Night Court, so having Celestia tell her all about Day Court was no doubt a big part of her adapting to modern day Equestria and keeping up on current events.

Celestia smiled warmly at her sister’s enthusiasm. “Yes, Luna, as a matter of fact, a fairly important issue did come up...” She looked back to Novel.

Luna, not having noticed that Celestia was not by herself, was surprised to see another pony. “Oh! Greetings, I did not see you there! Whatever issue you have must be quite important for Celestia to be seeing you after hours! Tell me gentlecolt, what is your name?”

Novel, after how his last meeting with Luna had went, couldn’t help but be a tad nervous. “M-my name is Novel Tale, Princess Luna. And, uh, this... isn’t the first time we’ve met...”

“It isn’t?” Lua’s face turned thoughtful. “I do not recall the name Novel Tale... Though admittedly, naming conventions have changed somewhat while I was... away, and I am still getting used to modern names.” She looked at Novel critically. “However, I never forget a face, and I do not recognize yours. Are you sure we have met before?”

Before Novel could respond, Celestia stepped forward and whispered in Luna’s ear. Her face went from confusion to dawning realization, and she looked back to Novel with a smile. “So we have met then!” Her expression quickly turned to one of concern. “But you are back so soon! I hope nothing unfortunate has occured.”

Celestia gave Luna a grave look. “I’m afraid so. We were on our way to my office to discuss it.” She turned back to Novel. “Novel, would you mind if Luna joined us? We’d both understand if you’d rather keep this among as few ponies as possible.”

Novel only had to think on it for a moment. He really didn’t want to deny the deluge of curiosity coming from Luna, and he had to admit that he was somewhat curious himself to see what she thought of things. “No, I don’t mind.”

Celestia nodded and turned down the hallway, Novel and Luna falling in behind. The short walk passed in silence, Celestia and Novel both thinking on what had happened and Luna realizing she shouldn’t ask any more until they were behind closed doors. When they finally reached Celestia’s office, they closed and locked the door and began recounting the events that happened earlier that day. Novel went first, beginning with that morning and the mob of ponies that had chased him up to the castle, and then Celestia picked up from there, talking about the how she had had to talk down the mob of ponies.

Luna had lain down during the telling, and when they had finished, had a very somber look on her face. “I am very sorry, although not entirely surprised, to hear that this has occurred, Novel.”

Novel sighed despondently, ears folded back against his head. “I was living in Canterlot just fine for 10 years, and now I suddenly have to worry about ponies chasing me in the streets. I’m still the same pony I always was!”

Celestia gave Novel a sympathetic look. “While I do love all of my little ponies very much, and am very proud of all the good they are capable of, they can be a little... jumpy, even at the best of times. And with their first introduction to changelings being what it was... Well, I’m afraid that acceptance is going to be a long and most likely difficult road.”

Novel couldn’t help but let his worrisome nature get the best of him. “They’re never going to accept us...”

“Now, Novel, do not say such things!” Luna reprimanded him. “I know that ponies will come to accept changelings in time. Truthfully, I am somewhat familiar with the situation your kind now finds themselves in.”

Novel looked up at Luna questioningly, and she obliged him by explaining. “When I first returned, ponies were... understandably wary about my presence. Indeed, if it were not for Celestia’s reassurances, I would not have been surprised if some ponies had gotten it into their heads to band together and chase me through the streets as well.”

“Oh, Lulu...” Celestia moved to lie down next to her sister and laid a wing across her, pulling her closer. “You know our ponies would never do such a thing.”

Luna leaned over to nuzzle her sister appreciatively. “I wish I could believe that, Tia, but you did not see the way that they looked at me when you were not around. They were always watching me as if they were afraid that I would pounce on them and gobble them up at a moments notice, or something equally vile.”

This came as something of a shock to Novel. He had been there when Luna had first returned to Canterlot and, thanks to his emotion senses, he had known that ponies were somewhat wary of the lunar diarch. However, he had never seen Luna when Celestia wasn’t around, and so had no idea that things had gotten quite that bad or that it had had such an effect on her.

Luna turned back to him, a smile now on her face. “However, things have since drastically improved. While there is still a distressing lack of supplicants coming to see me during Night Court, ponies at least no longer look at me with fear in their eyes. This change was, in no small part, thanks to the efforts of Twilight Sparkle and her friends, the same ponies that are now helping you! Granted, there are some rather significant differences between our situations, but I believe the point still stands. You must not give up hope so easily!”

“Luna is absolutely right, Novel,” Celestia said, turning to look at him. “I know you must be immensely worried over what the future holds for you and your kind, but you must never forget that you do not have to face this alone. Luna and I will support you, as will Twilight, and I’m sure that her friends will soon join her in this endeavour as well. You could not ask for a more wonderful group of ponies to help you.”

Novel perked up significantly, a smile creeping onto his face. “Yeah... I guess you’re right.” He chuckled to himself. “You know, Twilight has told me more than once that I worry too much and just need to trust her... I guess she’s right. It’s just kind of a hard habit to break...”

Celestia stood up. “I’m glad that you are feeling better, Novel, but there is one matter that still must be addressed. I’m afraid that, if you choose to remain here in Canterlot, you will not be able to find much in the way of peace and quiet. There’s no telling when somepony may come to the same conclusion that Willow Winds did and confront you again. There is not much that I can do to prevent this; any kind of special treatment I afford you would be seen with suspicion by others, and I believe would only hurt your cause.”

Novel nodded his head. “I understand, Princess. I was actually planning on moving out of Canterlot and going to live in Ponyville.”

Celestia smiled in approval. “An excellent decision, Novel. I could not have picked a better location myself."

Luna nodded in agreement. "It is indeed a good choice. That way you will have Twilight Sparkle and her freinds nearby to help you if you need it. When do you plan on leaving?"

"I was hoping to move as soon as possible, actually..."

"Very well, then," Celestia said as she nodded understandingly. "I can understand why you'd want to move as soon as you can. If there is nothing else, I believe we are done here. Give me a moment and I will summon a guard to escort you back to the entrance.” Her horn glowed, and not ten seconds later the door to the room opened and a unicorn guard stuck his head inside.

“You summoned me, Princess?”

“Yes, I would ask that you escort Novel Tale here to the entrance,” she said, gesturing to the pony in question.

The guard gave a quick salute. “It shall be as you say.”

As Novel turned to go with the guard, Luna stood up and waved. “Be sure to keep us updated and how things are progressing, Novel!”

“I will, Princess Luna! And thank you, both of you!” he said as he stepped outside, and the door closed behind him.

Chapter 12: Hope for the Future

View Online

The next day...

Twilight was pacing anxiously back and forth in the main room of her library home. She stopped for a moment to glance up at the clock on the wall and saw that the very event that was causing her such anxiety was only half an hour away. She had spent all day yesterday preparing for this, trying to plan out all the different ways it could happen, and how she would handle each of those outcomes. It was a lot of preparation, even for her standards. But now that it was almost time, she couldn’t help but let her worries overtake her thoughts. This would be a huge help for her research if it went well, but it was a delicate situation and things could easily go wrong. When she first had the idea to do this, she had hoped that Novel would be there to help. She had been sure that his presence would greatly improve the odds of everything going favorably. But he had decided to stay in Canterlot, so now it was all up to her.

She was pulled out of her thoughts by a burping noise from upstairs, followed by the sound of claws scrabbling against the wooden floor. “Hey Twilight, we got some letters from Princess Celestia!” Spike said as he descended the stairs with a pair of rolled up scrolls in his hand.

Twilight perked up slightly. This was just the kind of distraction she need to get herself out of the mental rut she had found herself in! “I hope it’s about Shining...” she quietly said to herself as she walked to meet Spike at the bottom of the stairs. Ever since she had returned from Canterlot, she had been worried about how her brother had been handling the revelation that his friend and fellow guard Steel was a changeling. She took the first of the scrolls from Spike with her magic and unrolled it, both of them eager to see what was written.

Her face slowly broke out into a full smile as she read. “Shining decided that Steel could stay in the Guard!” Her smile faded slightly as she continued to read. “Although he’s still pretty shaken up about learning that changelings have always been living amongst us...”

“I don’t blame him after what he went through with Chrysalis,” Spike said. As Twilight continued reading the first scroll, his curiosity drifted and he unrolled the second scroll. “Hey, what’s this list of names about?”

“List of what?” Twilight glanced at the scroll Spike was holding, and sure enough, there was a list of a few hundred names. Curious, she scanned the paragraph at the top of the scroll, and her eyes widened. “This is a list of all the ponies in Canterlot that are actually changelings!”

“Woah, seriously?!” Spike looked back at the list. “I didn’t think there’d be that many!”

Spike and Twilight both scanned over the list, eager to see if anypony they knew was a changeling. However, only two names on the list were even vaguely familiar. They were a pair of socialites that Twilight recalled Rarity talking about once: Jet Set and Upper Crust. That gave her a pause; from what Rarity had said, it seemed like they were an item. Did that mean that changelings sometimes worked in pairs?

“Huh, looks like nopony we know,” Spike said disappointedly. “That’s too bad, I was kinda hoping that one of your old classmates or something was a changeling.”

“Uh huh...” Twilight replied absentmindedly as she scanned back over the list. Canterlot had over fifty thousand ponies living in it, but this list only had about three hundred names. Was that a normal changeling to pony ratio? She was going to have to see if there was any way to get similar lists from other major population centers like Manehattan or Fillydelphia...

She was so deep in her thoughts that a knock on the door startled her out of her wits, causing her to drop the scroll, which Spike deftly grabbed before it could fall to the ground. Her gaze darted to the clock on the wall. Five minutes till, but Twilight wouldn’t be surprised if she was a bit early. Her previous anxiety returned with a vengeance; this was it. She did her best to compose herself. “Come in!”

The door opened to reveal somepony that she hadn’t been expecting.

“Hey, Twilight! Surprise!”


Spike looked up from the letter. “Oh, hey dude. What's up?" he said as he waved. "I thought Twilight said that you were staying in Canterlot?”

“I was,” Novel said as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him, “but some things happened, and it turns out that I’m going to be staying in Ponyville from now on!”

“This is fantastic, Novel!” Twilight exclaimed.

“Yeah, I’m happy to be here, too!” Novel said with a grin on his face.

“Your timing could not possibly be better!”

Novel’s grin was replaced with a confused frown. “What?”

Twilight excitedly trotted up to him. “I really need your help with something! I don’t have much time to explain, but in just a few minutes, I’m going to be meeting with—”

She was interrupted by another knock on the door.

Twilight gave Novel an excited smile, then went to open the door.

“Bon Bon! I’m so glad you could find time to come see me! Please, come in.”

“I was only barely able to fit this into my schedule,” a grumpy and slightly frazzled looking Bon Bon said as she stepped inside. “This better be important, Sparkle!”

“Trust me, Bon Bon. This is vitally important,” Twilight responded with all seriousness. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Novel give a shocked look of what she hoped was recognition. “Before we get started though, I’d like to introduce you to a good friend of mine. Bon Bon, this is Novel Tale. Novel, Bon Bon.”

Novel quickly regained his composure as he put on a welcoming smile and offered a forehoof. “Hello!”

Bon Bon gave him an odd look before hesitantly returning the hoofshake. “Hi...” She turned back to Twilight. “So you had something you wanted to talk to me about?”

“That’s right," Twilight responded with a quick nod of her head. "It’s a... rather sensitive topic, so we’ll be heading downstairs for some privacy.” She turned back to look at her number one assistant. “Spike, can you look after the library while we’re downstairs?”

“Sure thing, Twilight! And good luck down there!" he replied, glancing at Bon Bon.

"Thanks, Spike," she said before turning back to Bon Bon. “Bon Bon, If you would please follow me? You too, Novel.”

She opened the basement door and the three of them descended down the stairs in silence.

Twilight had prepared the basement just for this meeting. All of her equipment was tucked away into the corners of the room, and she had set up a table and some cushions on the floor for them to sit on. Twilight took a seat on the side closest to the door, with Novel taking a seat next to her and Bon Bon on the opposite side.

Without the clopping of hooves from the stairwell, the silence became oppressive. Twilight opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to begin, but only managed to start fidgeting uncomfortably. She had spent all day yesterday preparing for this, but now that she was faced with the real thing, she was having trouble actually getting started.

Bon Bon didn’t notice, however, because she was too busy suspiciously glaring at Novel, who did his best to smile back disarmingly. After a few more moments of glaring at him, her eyes widened slightly and she turned her glare upon Twilight. “Alright, Twilight, what is it you wanted to talk about and why is this Novel pony with us?”

“Oh!” Bon Bon’s prompt was enough to finally kick Twilight into gear. “Well, I figured that since you two are the same, having him around might help put you at ease.” She immediately winced and mentally bucked herself. Her mouth may have started working, but her mind was still playing catch up; that was not a part of what she had practiced yesterday.

“What?!” Bon Bon shouted in surprise as she nearly jumped out of her seat. She quickly glanced at Novel then looked back to Twilight, a hint of fear now joining the suspicion clear on her face. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sparkle.”

Twilight grimaced. Thanks to that horrendous opening, all her planning had been completely thrown off track, and she didn’t have time to mentally re-organize. She was just going to have to wing it. “You were glaring at Novel for a while, Bon Bon, I think you do know what I’m talking about. Like you, Novel here isn’t an ordinary pony...”

Bon Bon was visibly shaking now, her eyes wide with fear. “Twilight, t-this isn’t funny!” She tensed up and glanced at the door leading upstairs, the door that was across the table and behind Twilight.

Twilight watched Bon Bon's rapidly deteriorating state with a solemn look on her face. She hated having to put the confectionary mare through this, but it was going to have to happen eventually, and it was better that it happen sooner rather than later. “You’re right, Bon Bon, this isn't funny. This is very serious, because Novel is a changeling... just like you.”

That was more than Bon Bon could handle. In a burst of movement, she skittered away from the table to back up against the far wall and fell into a defensive posture. She was shaking violently and hyperventilating, staring at Twilight with pupils shrunk to pin pricks like the librarian was a hungry manticore.

Novel reared back in surprise at her reaction, but all the planning Twilight had done yesterday finally kicked in and she remained calm. This particular reaction was something that she had considered and prepared for. The lavender unicorn calmly and slowly stood up from her cushion. “Bon Bon, please, just listen to me. Nothing is going to happen to you. I just want to talk.” She stepped around the table and began, very slowly, approaching the cowering mare. “I know that Queen Chrysalis was just a single queen from a single hive and that you have nothing to do with her. I know that most changelings are appalled at what she and her hive did and just want to live peacefully with us like they always have. And I’m working very hard to let everypony else know this as well.”

“It’s true!” Novel added from the back, having finally recovered. He shifted back to Nurex in a bust of green fire before continuing. “Twilight went to my hive and met my queen, Queen Polistae, and she’s going to help! And then we went to meet with Princess Celestia, and even she wants to give us a chance! They all just want to help us!”

Twilight shot an appreciative glance at Novel before looking back to the quivering mare before her. “That’s right. We all just want to help you, Bon Bon, and other changelings, too. But even with all their support, this is still going to be a lot of work, and I’m going to need all the help I can get. Especially help from changelings like you.”

Twilight stopped, now only a foot between her and Bon Bon, and put on a hopeful smile. “So will you please help me help you?”

Bon Bon, still shaking in place, began rapidly looking back and forth between Twilight and Nurex, her gaze finally locking on to Twilight, who was still smiling. Her shaking seemed to get even worse for a moment and her face twisted into a strange expression Twilight couldn’t read. Suddenly, faster than Twilight could react, Bon Bon lunged forward, wrapped her hooves around the lavender unicorn’s neck, and began sobbing into her mane.

“Oh, Twilight! I-it’s been so hard just for me to get by ever since that disastrous wedding!” she choked out between sobs.

Twilight was completely taken aback. This... this was not one of the many reactions she had prepared for. She hesitated only a moment longer before returning Bon Bon’s embrace. “It’s alright, Bon Bon. Just let it all out, you can tell me all about it.”

Face still half buried in Twilight’s increasingly wet mane, Bon Bon continued. “I-I had wanted to go with Lyra to the wedding, but Pinkie had placed a huge order of candies to be filled for when she returned, and Lyra insisted I stay behind. But then, when I heard Canterlot had been attacked...”

She removed her face from Twilight’s mane to look her in the face, tears still streaming from her eyes. “Twilight... I was afraid I might have lost her.” She finally released Twilight and fell back to her hooves. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening to Lyra. Until I heard that she was okay, I was a complete wreck.”

Twilight was suddenly more glad than ever that Cadance had managed to diffuse that whole brainwashed bridesmares situation without any injuries.

Bon Bon looked down at the floor and sniffed noisily, an occasional tear still falling to the ground. “But then when I learned what exactly had happened, that Canterlot had been openly attacked by changelings... things just got even worse. Ponies now knew that we existed. I... I started having nightmares.”

Tears started flowing more freely again as she recalled her dreams. “I-I wake up in my home, with an angry mob of ponies outside who have somehow found out what I am. T-they break into my house, and drag me away... Sometimes, Lyra will be at the door, calling for me, b-but the mob won’t let her reach me. A-and sometimes... s-sometimes Lyra i-is a p-part of the angry mob, to-oo!” She collapsed to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably again, face buried in her hooves.

Twilight quickly moved to comfort her, lying down next to the despondant mare and putting a hoof around her.

“I-I’ve been putting on a tough front f-for Lyra’s sake, but she’s starting to suspect that something is wrong. I-I just don’t know how much longer I can keep this up...”

Twilight pulled the distraught mare closer to her. “Oh, Bon Bon... I had no idea...” And it was the truth. She had never considered that ponies might not be the only ones traumatized by the events of that wedding. How many other changelings might be suffering like this? Her face took on a resolute expression. “Bon Bon, I promise that I will do everything in my power to ensure that nothing bad happens to you or Lyra because of what you are.”

Bon Bon looked up at Twilight and rubbed a hoof over her eyes, just a hint of hope visible on her face. “R-really?”

“Really,” Twilight said with a smile. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” She sat up momentarily to perform the requisite actions, remembering to close her eye first this time, before lying back down next to Bon Bon.

“Y-yeah, I’ll be around to help you out, too!” Nurex added. “I don’t know where your hive is, but mine is real close by! If you ever need a safe place to just get away for a while, I’ll be glad to take you there! Or maybe if you just need a changeling to changeling talk, I’d be happy to do that, too!”

For the first time since she had arrived, a smile crept onto Bon Bon’s face. “T-thank you. Both of you.” She was still crying slightly, but Twilight had a feeling those weren’t just tears of sorrow anymore.

“Of course, Bon Bon. If you ever need to talk to somepony about this, both me and Novel will be glad to lend an ear.” The two mares lay there for a short while before Twilight stood up from next to Bon Bon and turned to look at her. “Now, I’m glad that we were able to help you, Bon Bon, and I know that this was really hard on you, but there's still one question left." Bon Bon looked up a Twilight with an unsure expression, tears now mostly dried but still sniffling, and the unicorn responded by offering the earth pony mare a friendly hoof. “Will you help me learn more about changelings, so I can help other ponies learn that there’s nothing to fear from you?”

Bon Bon looked back down to the ground for a few moments before responding. “I will,” she said quietly, then looked up and clasped Twilight’s hoof with her own.

Twilight smiled and helped pull Bon Bon back to her hooves. “Then would you please show me your changeling form?” She did her best to keep her excitement out of her voice. She was finally going to get to see a female changeling!

Bon Bon looked at her for a moment, then looked down to the ground before she was engulfed in green fire.

Twilight did her best to keep her disappointment off her face. Bon Bon had a light pastel green carapace plate and eyes the same shade of pink as Pinkie’s coat, but other than that, she looked identical to every other changeling Twilight had seen so far. Was there no physical difference between male and female changelings? She had initially wondered why Nurex’s hive seemed to have only male changelings, but now she had to wonder if that was actually the case...

Twilight tucked that question into a corner of her mind for later. She had more pertinent information to collect right now. Using her magic, she grabbed a quill and some parchment that she had stowed away in the corner of the room with some of her equipment. “Do you think you’re up for answering some questions about you and your hive?”

Bon Bon, having now mostly recovered from her breakdown, simply nodded her head.

“I’m glad to hear that, Bon Bon. Thank you. To start off, do you have a different name for your changeling form?”


Two days later...

Twilight had begun compiling everything she had gathered so far on changelings, and she was getting more than a little frazzled. It was only now dawning on her the enormity of the task she had ahead of her; she had never really considered how much work was involved in describing an entire species. She had already gathered so much information on changelings, but she only found herself with even more questions as a result.

Even worse, she had realized that she was actually going to have to write two books; one purely scientific version for academia, and another more down to earth version for the common pony.

The beleaguered unicorn was currently seated in the main room of her library juggling a calendar, a quill, and a giant scroll of paper in her magic. She was attempting to create a checklist and a schedule for everything she figured would need to be done accomplish her goal, but it wasn’t going very well. Just from a rough outline of a potential schedule, this was going to take her half a year at the very least, assuming that she had accounted for everything and nothing went wrong. But she was pretty sure that there was a bunch of stuff she was missing and she knew that something was bound to not go according to plan. There were just too many unknowns for her to even attempt to schedule around. A few strands of hair sprung up from her mane to point in different directions. She wished Spike was here to help and not out getting groceries...

She was distracted from her increasing mania by a familiar, pleading voice outside her door. “C’mon, Bonnie, you’ve been acting strange ever since the wedding!”

Twilight quickly shoved her calendar and checklist under the table just as the door opened. A very grim but determined looking Bon Bon entered, followed by a concerned looking Lyra. “Why can’t you just tell me?” the mint green unicorn asked.

“Uh... Can I help you two?” Twilight hesitantly asked.

Bon Bon opened her mouth to speak, but Lyra beat her to the punch. “I sure hope so!” Lyra sat down on the floor and began waving her hooves about animatedly as she spoke. “Ever since I got back from that crazy wedding, Bon Bon has been acting all weird! I thought that she was just worried about me and that it would pass, but it’s just been getting worse! This morning, she wouldn’t even eat breakfast! She was just sitting there, staring at her food! So I ask her what’s wrong—Not for the first time, mind you!—and she gives me this really weird look that I’ve never seen before and says that she has to tell me something, some kinda big secret. Only, she can’t tell me on her own; she apparently needs your support for some reason!”

It took Twilight only a few moments to connect the dots. Her mouth fell open as she turned to Bon Bon. She was already strung up enough because of that attempt at scheduling; this was the last thing she needed! “You mean you want me to help you tell Lyra abou— R-right here, right now?!” Bon Bon just gave her a stare that was all the answer Twilight needed. “But... but I can’t possibly... not all of the sudden like this! …I mean, I’m real busy right now, and I need time to prepare and... and...”

Any further protest died in her throat at the pitiful, pleading look Bon Bon gave her. Despite how stressed she currently was, Twilight knew that Bon Bon was going through something much worse. She needed all the support she could get. And she had told Bon Bon that her door would always be open for her...

Twilight closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, holding it for a moment before exhaling. Now significantly calmed down, she looked back to Bon Bon. “I-I’m sorry, Bon Bon. Of course, I’d be glad to help out.” She stood up from the table and turned towards the basement door. “Let's go downstairs, we’re... going to need some privacy for this one.”

As Twilight and Bon Bon began walking towards the stairs, Lyra just looked back and forth between the two, completely flabbergasted at Twilight's sudden reversal. Twilight had lived in Ponyville long enough for Lyra to know that the unicorn librarian took her planning seriously and wasn’t the best at handling unexpected surprises. For her to immediately calm down and agree to help like that... “Wow, whatever this is must be big!” she said to herself as she moved to join the other two in the stairwell.

They all approached the table downstairs. Aside from a few pieces of equipment that had been moved out from the corners, it was still largely arranged the same way it had been a few days ago when Twilight had confronted Bon Bon. Twilight took a seat on one side, and Bon Bon and Lyra on the other.

Bon Bon turned to Lyra and attempted to say something a few times, but nothing managed to come out. Twilight felt bad about leaving her hanging like that, but she honestly had no idea where to possibly begin with this kind of thing either, and so remained silent as well.

Lyra was getting tired of waiting. “Well?” She looked back and forth impatiently between the other two mares. Her gaze settled on Bon Bon. “Look, Bonnie, if this big secret is what’s been causing you so much distress lately, I need to know! I hate seeing you like this!” Bon Bon looked away, seemingly ashamed at being unable bring herself to say anything.

Lyra winced at her marefriend's reaction and turned to Twilight. “Twilight, c’mon! I don’t know why, but Bonnie came to you for a reason, so help us out here already!”

“Well, uh...” Twilight thought of all the ways this could happen, and finally decided it would be best to take it slow. “Lyra, you... remember the wedding, yes?”

Lyra looked back at her incredulously. “Do I remember the wedding? It hasn’t even been two weeks! And I got brainwashed by a giant shape shifting bug pony! I’ll probably never be able to forget it!” Lyra didn’t notice the pained look Bon Bon gave at her description of Queen Chrysalis.

“Although, honestly...” Lyra glanced to either side conspiratorially before continuing. “I actually thought it was really exciting!” She smiled widely. “I mean, yeah, I was totally scared out of my wits, and I probably could have gotten really hurt, but I didn’t! And in return I got to be right in the middle of one of the biggest events in recent Equestrian history! I got to experience it all first hoof! And getting brainwashed by the changeling queen? Sure, I don’t actually remember much of anything that happened, but how many other ponies can say they’ve been brainwashed by a changeling queen? Not very many!”

Twilight couldn’t help but grin at the mare’s enthusiasm. Lyra always was interested in new and unique experiences and things. She recalled that whole ‘hands’ phase the excitable unicorn had gone through after that minotaur motivational speaker had visited Ponyville.

“I mean, wow!" Lyra continued. "Just imagine the kinds of stories I’ll be able to tell our foals if we ever get around to adopting! Right, Bonnie?” She looked to Bon Bon and nudged her in the side with a hoof, but her smile faded when she failed to get a reaction out of her marefriend.

“Alright...” Twilight thought for a way to continue. “So... how do you feel about changelings then?”

“Huh?” Lyra was caught off guard by the question. “Well...” She looked down and put a hoof to her chin. “Even though it was really exciting, I guess I still really don’t like that changeling queen, since she was trying to overthrow Princess Celestia and trap us all in cocoons and suck out all of our emotions, or whatever it is they do with ponies. And I guess that means that I also don’t really like the changelings that were under her command, either.” She looked back up at Twilight. “But there’s got to be more changelings than just the ones that attacked Canterlot, right? And they haven’t done anything bad yet. At least, that I know of. And I can’t really hate all of them for something only one group did...” She shrugged noncommittaly. “I guess I don’t really feel all that strongly one way or the other about other changelings.”

“Do you think you might be able to become friends with a changeling?”

Lyra raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “If they were friendly, then sure, I guess. But I don’t really see where all of this is going...”

“Do you...” Bon Bon said quietly while still looking down at the floor. Both the other mares turned to her, surprised that she had finally found her voice. “Do you think you could love a changeling?”

Lyra gave Bon Bon a shocked look. “What!? Could I love a changeling? I-I...” She threw her hooves up into the air in frustration. “I don’t know! How the heck could I answer something like that?! What’s up with all these crazy hypothetical questions anyway?!”

Bon Bon winced slightly at Lyra’s outburst, but still continued. “Lyra... what if...” She steeled herself and looked up to stare Lyra in the face. “What if these weren’t hypothetical questions?”

“Huh?” Lyra’s brow knit together in confusion. “C’mon, mare, speak some sense already! What are you talking about?”

Twilight, having some idea of what was about to happen, began walking around the table to Lyra’s side.

Bon Bon simply stared back a Lyra for a few moments. A look of grim determination overtook her face, and she was engulfed in green fire as she shifted back to changeling form.

Lyra’s eyes bugged out of her head and she reared back in shock. She would have fallen flat on her flank, except Twilight was already in position to catch her.

“I know what you’re thinking, Lyra,” Twilight said to the mare in her hooves, whose body had almost completely locked up in shock, “but Bon Bon hasn’t been replaced or anything like that. That really is her. And that’s what she always has been; a changeling.”

Lyra’s only response was to continue to stare in disbelief at the changeling before her. The determined look on Bon Bon’s face slowly broke down into despair. She looked down to the floor her body began shaking with quiet sobs as tears started falling from her pink eyes to the floor.

This was something the scientific side of Twilight’s mind took interest in. Since changelings shared so many other insect like characteristics, and insects couldn't cry, she had wondered if those tears Bon Bon had shed the other day were real or a part of the disguise. This certainly answered that question.

More importantly, Twilight could also feel all the tension start to bleed out of Lyra’s body as changeling before her wept, her face going from shocked disbelief to a frown. “Oh wow, Twilight’s right, it really is you... Nopony but Bon Bon could make me feel this bad just by crying...” It only took her another few moments of watching the other mare cry before she returned to her hooves. “Aw jeez, even as a bug pony it breaks my heart seeing ya like this. C’mere, candy flanks.” She walked up and embraced Bon Bon.

Bon Bon, unwilling to believe that everything had just gone as well as it had, hesitated to return the hug. “So you... you don’t hate me then?”

Hate you?” Lyra gave a look that was somewhere between a sincere smile and a smirk as she held the changeling. “How could I possibly hate somepony that obviously needs me as much as you do?”

Bon Bon hesitated only a moment longer before returning the hug as hard as she could, now crying tears of relief rather than sorrow. Lyra’s eyes once again bugged out of her head. “Woah, hey!” Lyra chuckled quietly. “Lay off the grip, will ya? I still need to breathe, you know!”

Instead of lessening her grip on her marefriend, Bon Bon only said “I love you, Lyra.”

“Yeah, I know. I love you too, Bonnie.” Lyra absentmindedly began stroking the back of Bon Bon’s head, right where her mane would be if she was in pony form. “You know,” she said to nopony in particular as she held Bon Bon in her hooves, “this is actually pretty cool! I’m in love with a changeling, and she loves me back! How many other ponies do you think are able to say that?”

Twilight wisely decided not to inform her that entering into stable relationships with ponies was the modus operandi of changelings from Bon Bon’s hive, and apparently a few other hives as well. There were probably more than a few ponies out there in relationships with changelings, not that they knew it. She instead just remained silent and allowed the sight in front of her to warm her heart. She knew that Lyra was hardly representative of the average pony, but this outcome still raised her hopes about the future of pony/changeling relations.

Bonus Chapter: Sparkle's Notes: Changeling Gender And Reproduction

View Online

When I first encountered a female changeling—here defined by the gender of their preferred pony form, for reasons that will be explained shortly—I found myself quite confused. Based on my initial observations, there were absolutely no physical differences between her and the male changelings I had already seen. All civilized life forms in Equestria, from Diamond Dogs and Minotaurs to Ponies and Griffons, exhibit at least some form of readily apparent sexual dimorphism, but these changelings seemed to have none. Fortunately, unlike with the mystery of how their disguises work, the female changeling I had met was able to fully explain the situation to me.

Changelings both do and do not have genders.

It it easiest to start with the 'do not' side of this seemingly paradoxical statement. This is the biological side of things. All changelings possess organs resembling both male and female pony reproductive organs, which ensures that their disguise is completely flawless regardless of what gender their pony form is. One might be inclined to classify them as hermaphroditic based on this information. This would be an accurate classification, except for the important fact that changelings are also completely sterile. These organs are mere replicas of the ones found in actual mares and stallions. They're not even any more sensitive to physical stimulation than the rest of their body.* Because of their complete inability to reproduce, changelings cannot be said to have such a thing as gender from a biological standpoint.

As an interesting side note, I learned that because of this, changelings who enter into long term relationships with ponies tend to prefer same sex partners. This way, their sterility is much less likely to become an issue, or to even be brought up, period. This is hardly a strict rule, however.

Now, as mentioned above, changelings both do and do not have genders. The biological viewpoint has provided the 'do not' side of this statement. For the 'do' side of things, we must now turn to the psychological viewpoint.

Changelings do possess a sense of gender identity. In laypony's terms, this means that changelings mentally identify themselves as either male or female, despite not actually having a biological gender. This identity develops during their formative years and is reflected in the gender of their preferred pony form. I found this concept confusing at first, but upon further thought, I could see how it was a necessary adaptation for them to develop. After all, how could a species with absolutely no concept of gender manage to secretly integrate themselves into pony society as flawlessly as they have?

It is important to note that the strength of a changeling's gender identity varies between hives. For instance, changelings from some hives will go their whole lives as only a single gender of pony, whereas changelings from other hives are perfectly comfortable with taking the form of a mare one day and a stallion the next. I also later learned that there is a strong correlation between the strength of a changeling's gender identity and how attached they are to a single pony identity. To continue the above example, the first changeling will likely only have a single pony identity that they ever use, while the second changeling is more likely to have a hoofful of different identities that they regularly swap between.

I was curious if changelings queens were equipped the same way, both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately, the female changeling who was explaining all of this to me did not know, and there was no way that I would ever ask such a personal question to a changeling queen myself. This will simply have to remain unknown for the time being.

Learning that changelings were completely sterile brought up another vital question; how do they reproduce? The female changeling was able to inform me that, unsurprisingly, the changeling queen is solely responsible for reproduction, but that she didn't know the specifics behind it. I was once again forced to turn to the same changeling queen that had been such a huge help in helping me learn how their disguises work.

Here, more than anywhere else, does the changeling’s insectile nature become apparent.

Specifically, the horn of a changeling queen, in addition to channeling magical energies, is also an ovipositor. It is used to inject what are essentially very small embryos into cocoons filled with emorphic gel, with one egg per cocoon. These cocoons are carefully nurtured for a few months, at which point the changelings are old enough to move about on their own and are released from the cocoon. Of course, they are only considered changeling nymphs at this point. It takes another eight to twelve years for them to reach maturity, at which point they can create their first pony identity and leave the hive to enter pony society and begin gathering emotional energy.

The cocoon phase is the most vital portion of a changeling’s development. The emorphic gel is infused with as much emotional energy as it can possibly hold, and this is almost always enough to last the few months that it takes for the larval changeling to leave the cocoon. The types of emotions provided to the changeling play a vital role in determining what the changeling will be like when they are older. The only restriction is that the majority of the emotional energy provided must be of the preferred emotion of their hive. The rest of the emorphic gel’s capacity is then typically split between two other emotions. There are no real rules as to what other emotions are added, although, at least with this particular hive, they try to never repeat the same mixture of emotions twice.

The cocoon phase is also what differentiates regular changelings from changeling queens. A changeling queen starts out life just like any other changeling, as an embryo deposited into a cocoon. The difference is in the emotional energy mixture that their cocoon is infused with. Instead of only three types of emotions total, a changeling queen cocoon is packed with as many different types of emotions as the hive can possibly provide it. If the new changeling queen is meant to replace the old one, then the preferred emotion of that hive will still represent the majority of energy in the mix. If she is instead meant to go and found a new hive, then it will instead be a much more even mix between all the emotions present.

Caring for a changeling queen cocoon is a very tricky and delicate process that requires the current queen herself to personally oversee. Emorphic gel is really only meant to hold a single type of emotion for any extended period of time. It can handle more than one type of emotion for shorter periods of time, as with the three emotion mixture used for regular changelings, but any more than that and it starts to become increasingly unstable. In addition to this, changeling queens also remain in the cocoon phase for much longer than regular changelings. Two to three years is not an uncommon time span for this phase. Also unlike regular changelings, the larval queen uses up their provided emotional energy much faster. Their emorphic gel needs to be recharged with more emotional energy every few weeks, and not necessarily with the same mixture of emotions.

Needless to say, raising a new queen is a tremendous expense of time and energy for the entire hive.

I have to admit, I found it surprising to learn that the entire hive’s survival lies solely with the changeling queen. It seems to be a very fragile system; if anything were to happen to the queen, the entire hive would slowly die off. And unlike with actual insects that use similar systems, the loss of an entire changeling hive would be a serious blow to the entire species. However, I have been assured that changeling queens, being creatures with such high levels of internal magical energy, are very hard to permanently injure or kill. They are very similar to the Princesses in this respect. Also like the Princesses, they are extremely long lived creatures. From what I have been able to learn, even the youngest current changeling queen is over three hundred years old. Because of these factors, it is actually a very rare event for a hive to give birth to a new changeling queen.

*I have been assured that being able to directly feel the emotions of their partner more than makes up for any lack of physical stimulation.

Epilogue: The Book

View Online

Roughly two years later...

Twilight sat at the main table in her library home. As she stared at the calendar held in front of her with her magic, a few hairs separated themselves from the rest of her mane to stick up erratically into the air. The table was haphazardly littered with numerous scrolls and letters. They were all more or less the same thing; requests from various institutions and news outlets from across Equestria requesting her presence to speak about changelings.

She had finally released her book on changelings just a few weeks ago, and such requests had started pouring in not long after. She had been ecstatic about it at first. Having a chance to lecture to ponies eager to learn more about a subject she was an expert in had always been a dream of hers. But the requests had just kept on coming in. She was doing her best to fit what she could into her schedule while still trying to find time to hang out with her friends and deal with the minor disasters that always seemed to occur around Ponyville, but it was becoming obvious that it wasn't going to happen. It was just a matter of deciding which ones to accept and which ones to reject, something that was proving to be harder than she had expected.

One of her eyes had just begun twitching when she was distracted by a whistling noise from the kitchen. She stared blankly in the direction of the noise, her mind too frazzled to identify the sound, when Spike stepped out of the kitchen carrying a tray with a tea kettle and some cups. “Tea’s ready!”

“Tea? I don’t remember asking you to make any tea,” Twilight said, still slightly confused. She tried to think back, but she had been so caught up in her work that her memory of the past few hours was a blur.

“That’s ‘cause you didn’t,” Spike replied as he cleared a space on the table for the tray. “I came downstairs about ten minutes ago, saw the look on your face, and figured you were gonna need a little pick me up. I guess you were so caught up in all this scheduling stuff that you didn’t even notice me.”

Now that her focus on her work had been broken, Twilight realized just how stressed she currently was. A small break was exactly what she needed.. “Thanks, Spike,” she said, a smile on her face. “You really are the best assistant ever.” She used her magic to pour some tea from the kettle into one of the cups, which she then levitated to her face to take a whiff of the steam coming of the hot liquid. The herbal scent alone was already calming her down, and she instantly knew which tea this was. It was a special blend that Twilight had picked up from Zecora at Fluttershy’s recommendation. She took a sip, and savored the herbal flavors and the aftertaste that could almost but not quite be described as spicy. She knew exactly what that aftertaste was; a bit of restorative magic infused into the tea, courtesy of some herbs found in the Everfree Forest. Almost immediately, she felt her muscles relaxing and her nerves winding down. She let out a relieved sigh and turned towards Spike. “Absolutely perfect! Sometimes, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Spike gave a wry smirk. “You’d probably get yourself buried under a mountain of books, scrolls, and letters.”

Twilight gave a small giggle. “I wouldn’t be surprised!” She took another sip of her tea and looked to the letters covering the table. “I just never imagined that writing a book would be so much work… and that finishing it would result in so much more work! I wonder how Novel deals with it?”

Spike picked up a pair of letters from the table. “I get the feeling that Novel never had places like Hoofington University asking him to come give a presentation…" he said as he looked at one letter, then turned to the other one. "Or the Manehatten Post asking for an interview.” He glanced at another letter sitting on the table. “Hey, this one is from Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns!”

Twilight nodded. “Yep! I’m definitely going to be accepting that one.” She glanced back at the tray with the tea on it. “Aren’t you going to have some tea, Spike?”

Spike waved a claw dismissively. “Naw. I’ve got few more chores to do, then I'm gonna take a nap. I'm heading upstairs. You be sure to relax for a bit, alright?”

“Whatever you say, Dr. Spike,” Twilight replied with a smile. Spike rolled his eyes as he turned towards the stairs, and Twilight took the tea tray and trotted over to a couch set to one side of the room. This was her favorite couch for reading books on, but right now, it was just for relaxing. She just lay down and closed her eyes as she sipped on her tea. As she lay there, her mind began to wander, and she couldn’t help but think back over everything that had happened over the last two years as a result of her befriending Novel...


After Novel moved into Ponyville for good, he had been welcomed just like anypony else moving into the quaint little town. Which is to say, with open hooves and a surprise party from Pinkie. This was to be expected, since, as far as the rest of the town knew, he was just a regular unicorn. Bon Bon and Lyra, who Twilight had ended up explaining everything to, and the rest of Twilight’s friends were the only ponies in town who knew that Novel was actually a changeling.

Speaking of her friends, they had all mostly lost any remaining animosity towards him, although it took a while for some of them. The first had been Pinkie Pie, which came as no surprise to Twilight. They had actually hit it off right away at Novel’s “Welcome To Ponyville For Real This Time!” party. Changeling or no, Pinkie had been intent on making him feel welcome right from the get go, just like she did with every new pony in Ponyville. And then, once the pink party pony learned that changelings were able to appreciate her parties on a whole other level from normal ponies... Well, to this day, Novel has yet to miss a single one of Pinkie’s parties.

Surprisingly, Rarity had been next to befriend him. She had initially been rather aloof around him until he came to Carousel Boutique one day to ask about some clothes. According to what Twilight had heard, Novel had been trying on an outfit when Rarity made an offhoof comment wondering how he would look if he had a blue coat instead of grey. He responded by changing his coat color, and it was then that a shocked Rarity realized just how useful a changeling could be for a fashion designer (she had, according to Novel, said that it was the “Best POSSIBLE THING!”). Novel could take on almost any body type, color combination, or manestyle, allowing Rarity to try out numerous designs that she had in mind but had never had right kind of pony to try them out on. He found himself being invited over to Carousel Boutique at least once a week after that. Eventually, Rarity even got him to change into mares so that she could try out dresses on him.

Even more astonishing than that, however, is that Rarity had also been the first, and so far only, of Twilight’s friends to visit Novel’s hive and meet Queen Polistae. When Twilight had told her about how elegant Queen Polistae looked and how beautiful the throne room was, Rarity decided then and there that she simply had to go and see for herself. It actually gave her inspiration for some few new fashion styles that, while not wildly popular, had managed to carve out a small niche for themselves.

Applejack had maintained some reservations about Novel up until his first Winter Wrap Up. He wasn’t particularly good at any one job, but he tried his hardest and never once tried using his magic. And that was when Applejack finally decided that she hadn’t really been giving him a fair chance just because he wasn’t actually a pony.

For Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, it had just been a matter of time. Fluttershy soon lost the crippling anxiety that she typically had around new ponies, and while they weren’t exactly the best of friends, she treated him the same as most other ponies in Ponyville. Rainbow Dash was much the same, eventually realizing that her suspicions of him were unfounded and that he really was just here to live a normal life among ponies.

As for Lyra and Bon Bon, their relationship remained surprisingly unchanged. They did become active participants in Twilight’s studies, however, with Bon Bon always willing to provide input when Twilight didn’t want to go to Queen Polistae with a question.

In Canterlot, the Princesses and the Royal Guard had their hooves full with all the changes that needed to take place. Celestia was quick to implement what she called the Changeling Watch Program, a system for ponies to report those they suspected of being changelings to the Royal Guard or other local authorities. The idea was that knowing that the Crown was taking action would help alleviate fear and paranoia in the public. More importantly, it would also keep those who suspected others from trying to take matters into their own hooves.

Unsurprisingly, they were quickly inundated with a flood of reports of ponies suspecting everpony from their neighbors to their boss of being changelings. The entire system would have immediately collapsed under the load if they hadn't been prepared for such an outcome. With the help of Steel Wing, Shining Armor had acquired lists of changelings living in every major population center in Equestria. Thanks to this, they were able to dismiss the vast majority of reports that were filed right off the bat.

However, much to Twilight's dismay, there were still some ponies who chose to take action on their own. Of those, a few actually did manage to find and catch a changeling. For each such incident, a big show was made of the Royal Guard apprehending them and shipping them off to Canterlot to be thrown in the dungeons. Of course, thanks to her connections, Twilight knew what really happened. Upon arriving in Canterlot, the exposed changelings met Princess Celestia, who personally apologized for what had happened, and were then discreetly relocated and given a new identity to live under. This information was also relayed to the changeling hives via Novel and Polistae, so that the changelings themselves wouldn't fear what was occurring.

Twilight had finished her book at just about the best possible time. The fear and paranoia that had ruled pony's minds after the attack, while still present to some extent, had been joined by intense curiosity and rampant speculation. So when Princess Celestia announced that there was going to be a book all about changelings written by her personal student and one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, everypony's interest was piqued.

When it was released a month later, it flew off the shelves (literally, in the case of unicorn and pegasi customers). There was some consternation over some points, especially the claim that Leonardo Da Hoovsie was a changeling, which sent both the historical and art communities into a tizzy. Fortunately, because Twilight had been so thorough with her research, and because Princess Celestia had personally vouched for the accuracy of her findings, most ponies were willing to accept her word as the truth.

Finally, the changelings hives were also abuzz with activity. Understandably, not all the changeling queens had been happy with what Nurex and Queen Polistae had set in motion. There was a short period of intense debate and no small amount of bickering. Thankfully, cooler heads had prevailed and they had eventually all agreed, some quite grudgingly, that it was the best course of action given the circumstances.

After that, focus was shifted to a very important changeling matter; discovering how and why Queen Chrysalis did what she did and what happened to her after the attack. The Queens were all fairly certain that she hadn’t died, or even been seriously injured, by the love blast, and were intent on finding her before she could cause more trouble. Twilight wasn’t privy to all the fine details, but she had learned the basics of what they’d found so far.

A joint expedition of changelings from a few hives close to where Chrysalis’ hive was had been sent out to find whatever they could. When they had arrived at her hive, however, they had found it completely deserted, not a single changeling or bit of crystal or gel to be found. This was very surprising given that hers was one of the larger hives in Equestria. The only clue they were able to find was that the underground river running through her gel growing chamber had dried up, and apparently had been dry for at least a few months before the invasion had happened. This provided a possible answer to why Chrysalis had decided to do what she did, but there were still many more questions left, questions Twilight Sparkle was very interested in learning the answers to. Not to mention, as far as she knew, Queen Chrysalis herself was still at large...


Twilight was pulled out of her ponderings by the sound of the front door opening. She opened her eyes and saw a tan colored earth pony mare with a chocolate colored mane poking her head in through the doorway. The librarian quickly put a welcoming smile on her face. “Hello! Welcome to the Books and Branches Library! How can I help you?”

The mare jumped slightly when Twilight started speaking, apparently having not noticed her beforehoof. “Oh! Umm, you wouldn’t happen to be… Twilight Sparkle, would you?” she asked as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her.

Twilight nodded. “That’s right.” She was keeping a kind smile on her face, but couldn’t help but wonder who this mare was. She could tell right away that she wasn’t from Ponyville, since she hadn’t knocked before entering. It may be a public library, but it was also her home, and everypony in Ponyville respected her privacy. Ponies from outside Ponyville, however, typically didn’t know that the library was also a place of residence.

“The Twilight Sparkle who wrote that book on changelings?” the nervous seeming mare continued.

Twilight looked at her a moment before a knowing smile crossed her face. “That’s right...”

“Oh, good!” A brief smile crossed her face before she went back to looking nervous again. “Um, well, you probably don’t know me. I’m Fine Line, and I’m from Manehatten, and I, ah… well, I wanted to thank you for writing that book.” She began fidgeting and looking anywhere but at Twilight. “Admittedly, I... wasn’t there in Canterlot when the... thing happened... But, uh, I always figured that not all changelings must be like that! That just makes sense, right? Since ponies aren’t all the same, either. And I always thought it wasn’t fair how changelings were all getting such a bad reputation over a single event.”

She looked back to Twilight and her ears folded back against her head as she realized what she was saying. “N-not that what happened in Canterlot wasn’t really serious or anything! It’s just that, I-I mean, ummm...” She stopped and took a deep breath in an attempt to regain her train of thought. “What I’m trying to say is that, since your book came out, I’ve been sen—” her eyes widened slightly “—seeing! Seeing a lot less fear and suspicion from ponies whenever the subject of changelings is brought up. And I think that’s really important, since everypony deserve a second chance, right? So, I really appreciate all the work you put into that book,” Fine finished, sincere gratitude easily detectable underneath her nervousness.

Twilight had a more genuine smile now. “Thank you, Fine. I felt the same way, and that’s partly why I decided to write that book in the first place.” She tilted her head slightly. “But I get the feeling that you didn’t come all this way just to thank me…”

Fine sheepishly smiled as she rubbed the back of her head. “It’s that obvious, huh? Well, you’re right, there’s something I really wanted to ask you. It’s about, uh…” She began fidgeting a bit again. “Well, that one changeling who helped you learn so much about u— er, other changelings. The one that you said in the book that you became friends with.” Fine looked Twilight in the eyes, confusion clear on her face. “How is it that a pony could have becomes friends with a changeling, especially so soon after the attack on Canterlot?”

“It’s quite the story, but I can do better than telling you myself. I’ll take you to meet Nurex, the changeling who helped me, and we’ll tell you about it together!” Twilight explained excitedly. Her horn glowed and a clipboard with some papers on it floated off of a nearby shelf towards Fine. “But first, I would really appreciate it if you could fill out these forms.”

“Forms?” Fine’s brow scrunched together as she grabbed the clipboard out of the air and began reading. “Alternate name? Prefered emotion...” She suddenly dropped the clipboard and jumped back. “Y-you think that I’m a changeling!?”

“Well, you are, aren’t you?” Twilight responded calmly, her smile having changed to a smirk. “I’m the foremost expert on changelings among ponies now; I certainly hope I’d be able to tell you apart from a normal pony.”

Fine was stunned. “B-but... I was... you... How!?”

Twilight tapped her horn. “I’ve learned to detect the magical signature that your disguises give off. It took a long time for me to recognize it for what it was, as it’s almost identical to the signature of Equestria’s magical background radiation field. Unicorns, being constantly exposed to that particular magical signature from birth, subconsciously tune it out, and most forget that it even exists. It took me the better part of a year hanging out around Nurex and other changelings for me to finally figure out what it was!”

Fine’s ears drooped down. “I... I see...”

“Cheer up, Fine!” Twilight said as she got up from the couch and trotted over to her. “I left that little tidbit out of the book on purpose. I want ponies to know the truth about changelings, but I don’t think that they’re quite ready yet for a sure fire method of finding them.” She raised an eyebrow at the disguised changeling. “Of course, even without knowing what magical signature to look for, I think anypony would have noticed something was off about you.”

Fine couldn’t help but blush and look away. “I’m normally not this bad. It’s just so nerve wracking actually meeting you face to face. You know more about us than any other pony, or even some changelings, and you’ve done so, so much for us with that book…” She looked back up at Twilight with a weak smile. “You’re kind of a personal hero to some of us.”

Twilight let out a chuckle which shifted to a sincere smile. “Believe it or not, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that. You’re not the first changeling to come see me since I released that book, and most of them were quaking in the knees as well.” She began leading Fine towards the kitchen. “Come on, let me get you something to drink while you fill out that form. Then we can go meet Nurex and we’ll tell you the whole story together!”

Fine’s smile grew stronger. “Alright, sure!”

Twilight smiled back. She may have finally gotten the basics on changeling all nailed down and distributed to the public, but there was still so much more to learn, and every new changeling she met was another step in the right direction. They still weren’t anywhere near the point of open integration, at least in her estimation. But, assuming that nothing catastrophic happened, then they were well on their way.