Would I Lie To You? /nmp/

By Aftercase on 21st October 2020 10:55:18 PM

  1. >Be Gan Ainm
  2. >Be Jack Tanner
  3. >Be Ben Goldlock
  4. >Be Daniel Briel
  5. >Be an identity thief.
  7. >You have so many fake identities going now in Anywhere City USA that you are starting to make mistakes.
  8. >Rookie mistakes.
  9. >You had to make a hasty profile deletion on Facebook as you anciently crossed two of your stolen identities.
  10. >You accidentally sent a friend request as of your victims instead of the solicitor's account.  
  11. >There goes your ‘well priced legal fees'.
  12. >It'll only be a matter of minutes till you victim will check your sock profile to spot it had a few name changes.
  14. >You lean back in the computer chair and take a swig of beer.
  15. >Well at least you got to stay in this sweet vacation home.
  16. >All it took were a few email exchanges with the caretaker to leave you a key hidden in a bush and to top it off you allowed the caretaker to have a week’s holiday.
  17. >'Paid' of course.
  18. >Thank you...You click on the start menu on the PC.
  19. >Jack Tanner.
  20. >Man, whoever this guy was seems like he's well off, but lonely.
  21. >And fucking weird.
  23. >He had gigabytes of little ponies on a hard drive.
  24. >Honestly when you found it hidden under the desk you hoped it'll be filled with a good few nasties to blackmail the guy with.
  25. >But this...
  26. >You wouldn't know where to start.
  27. >Had to admit, the ponies are cute though.
  28. >Kind of gave you that little pony vibe from that old cartoon from the 80’s
  30. >You return your attention back to the computer after placing down the bottle of beer.
  31. >Well it’s nothing you can do now.
  32. >You noticed your victim has escaped by reporting your sock account which has been immediately suspended.
  33. >Damn, that was your oldest account.
  34. >Placing an elbow on the table you rest your cheek on your hand.
  35. “So much for working tonight” You mumble to yourself.
  36. >Just before you were about to get up from the chair you noticed a small magazine next to the computer mouse.
  37. >huh,
  38. >How did you miss that?
  39. >’Immigrating to Equestria’
  40. >Equestria? Where the hell is that?
  41. >Sounds European.
  42. >You flick open the magazine to the first page where a small photo of a pony falls out.
  43. >Raising an eyebrow, you inspect the photo.
  44. >The creature in the photo seems…real.
  45. > Almost life like if it wasn’t for the dark green mane and the white coat.
  46. >The eye’s though, if they were on a woman, you’ll fall for her in an instant as you never seen green like it, comparing them to emeralds would not do them justice.
  47. >Flipping the photo over you see some printed text.
  48. >>’She is waiting for you, sign the documents today’
  50. >You slowly shake your head as you get up and head to the mini bar.
  51. >What is this guy into?
  52. >Some pony dating fetish?
  53. >You laugh at your own thoughts as you reach for another beer bottle.
  54. >You know what? You’re going to fill out those documents for a laugh.
  55. >It may be a stupid idea, but the beer is in charge now.
  56. >But fucking up this guys immigration/dating pony role play would be funny.
  57. >Besides you’ll be leaving in a few days, so you’ll be long gone when Jack finds out.
  58. >Be a few days later.
  59. >Be Nymph Drone 12431
  60. >Be a free drone.
  61. >After the fall of your queen you decided to leave the hive once Thorax took the throne.
  62. >Him and the others all changed for the worse in your opinion.
  63. >In fact, many others shared similar thoughts too.
  64. >Thorax is a nice guy, but no King.
  65. >The others that follow them may like it at first, but his weak attitude will become bait for the other hives.
  66. >Then again luck graced him on the first day on the throne by securing an alliance with Equestria and maybe the Crystal Empire further down the line. Maybe that’ll deter the other hives for a while.
  67. >Probably worst of all is that to join Thorax you had to give up your black chitin in trade of a multicolored nightmare.
  68. >Yeah you know what changelings used to look like before the great fall, but damn you look good in black.
  70. >You look up to the mare in the green pod that has been attached to her ceiling in her little home.
  71. >Focusing your magic, a green flame envelops you leaving you a spitting image of her.
  72. “Not bad, not bad at all.”
  73. >You look over your new disguise. Honestly, you're loving the green mane and eyes.
  74. >You’re almost jealous.
  75. >Turning around you glance over the letter placed on the coffee table.
  76. >>’Your husbando will soon be here.’
  77. >A smile grows a little wider as you realise you're so close.
  78. >You read so much about these ‘humans’ and how much love they offer.
  79. >If you could get your hooves on one of them, you’ll be set for many moons.
  80. >And today, you will get your own.
  82. >Be Identity thief.
  83. >You have a bug-out bag ready beside you.
  84. >It’s the last day before needing to move on from Jack's vacation home.
  85. >So you are finishing up adding ‘borrowed’ credit card details into a dark net crypto currency exchange.
  86. >Most of the card numbers were still active to your surprise most of the time when you brought bulk details most had been cancelled.
  87. >You weren’t greedy as you only borrowed about $30 worth off each card.
  88. >In total there should be enough to last you for a month if needs be.
  89. >You transfer around $200 through many exchanges before putting into your offshore account.
  90. >The downside when doing that you are hit with a few fees, so in the end you got roughly $180.
  91. >Hopefully that should cover your food and travel expenses but covering your ass is worth the fees you had to pay.
  92. >Once finished, you took your time removing all your activities and history from Jack's computer.
  93. >Pretty much everything can and will be used against you if caught.
  95. >A small crackle to the left caught your attention.
  96. >Swivelling around on the computer chair you saw a small letter addressed to Jack on the corner of the desk.
  97. >You are bewildered how that letter got there. It wasn’t there just a moment ago as you’ve been cleaning up after yourself.
  98. >Picking it up you open the envelope. Yeah, you know it’s a federal crime, but fuck it, you’ve been doing worst just ten minutes ago.
  99. >Seeing it’s a simple small letter you read through it.
  100. >>Dear Mr Tanner.
  101. >>We are delighted that you have chosen to immigrate to Equestria. Please be reminded that all advanced human technology will be confiscated upon arrival. Please refer to issue one to our Immigrating to Equestria magazine for a full list of illegal technologies.
  102. >>Regardless, you will be pleased to know that your waifu is very eager to meet you and we are pleased to inform you that we will be collecting you shortly.
  103. >>Your Sincerely,
  104. >> Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, Princess of Love.
  106. >A loud thumping knock at the front door jolts you from your thoughts.
  107. >”FBI Open up!”
  108. >Ohshit.jpg.avi.mp4
  109. >You run to a wall and carefully glance out the window.
  110. >It’s your worst fear, it’s the feds.
  111. >How did they find you?
  112. >Peeking back out the window you spot a civilian talking to the agents.
  113. >Looking at a picture on the wall you recognize him as the real Jack.
  114. >Ah shit, looks the caretaker and Jack got talking.
  115. >”I REPEAT! OPEN UP!”
  116. >Shit time to bug out.
  117. >You run and grab your bag and head to the back door.
  118. >Fuck, they got you surrounded.
  119. >Beads of sweat appear on your forehead as you look for an escape.
  120. >Another crackling sound caught your attention, but this time it was much louder.
  121. >Covering your ears, a blinding white flash dazzles you for a moment.
  122.   >”Mr Jack Tanner?”
  123. >Your eyes adjust to see a small unicorn pony thing in front of you.
  124. ”Err maybe?”
  125. >The unicorn sighs and shakes his head mumbling about humans always forgetting their name when the portal opens.
  126. >”Are you Jack Tanner or not?”
  127. >You simply nod.
  128. >” Very well, this way please sir.”
  129. >The unicorn starts to head back into the portal from which it came.
  130. >You quickly grab the letter back in the other room and follow just before the FBI boots open the door.
  132. >Be sneaky changeling.
  133. >Being in the Crystal Empire can be risky, even though your hive has been reformed.
  134. >But you are still rocking your black chitin so if caught they’ll know that you haven’t reformed.
  135. >On top of that the prince and princess here are still not fond of us after the wedding fiasco.
  136. >Regardless you trot down the cobblestone road in your disguise.
  137. >What was your disguises name again?  Tea leaf? Forest? Oh yeah, Forest leaves.
  138. >Got to remember that.
  139. >You stop and pull out the letter from your saddle bag.
  140. >Where did I suppose to meet him again?
  141. >By the Crystal Heart.
  142. >Great.
  143. >Even though it produces pure love magic, being near it can prove uncomfortable.
  144. >It’s like cramming fifty hay burgers down your throat every minute.
  145. >And it’ll make you fat in no time.
  146. >Just getting the goods and leaving is the best option here.
  147. >You feel the love get thicker as you approach the Crystal Heart just outside of the palace.
  148. >Looking around you see other mares and their new husbandos talking to each other.
  149. >Surly he’s got to be around here somewhere.
  150. >You reach back into your saddle bags to pull out the photo of him.
  151. >Let me see, short cut mane. Little skinny for your liking.
  152. >You look around for the human.
  153. “Ugh they all almost look the same…” You grumble to yourself.
  154. >Eventually you find a human face down on the ground.
  155. >There were no mare’s ready to pounce on him, so you had a hunch he was yours.
  156. >You give the human a nudge on his shoulder.
  157. >He flinches and rolls over and sits up on his behind.
  158. >”What happened?”
  159. “You’re in the Crystal Empire.”
  160. >”Crystal who? Am I in Europe?”
  161. “What’s a Europe?”
  162. >He looks dead at you with a sudden realisation on his face.
  163. “It’s you! You from the photo!”
  164. >”Yes, it’s me. I’m Le- Forest Leaves. I’m your new waifu.”
  165. >You cringe on the inside, muttering that word.
  166. “Waifu? Like a wife?”
  167. >”You bet!”
  168. >He sits there completely dumbfounded.
  169. “I’m married to a horse now?”
  170. >”What no! the Crystal Heart over there matched us for a relationship, silly.”
  171. >The human looks at the Heart and back to you.
  172. >You give one of your best and cutest giggles.
  173. “So, I’m guessing you are Jack?”
  174. >”Jack? Uh… yes, yes…Jack.”
  175. >Poor thing he’s still in shock being here. Well that’s what the magazines and brochures said that could happen.
  176. “Ok Jack, why don’t we go somewhere warm?”
  177. >Plus, you're almost bursting at your seams standing here.
  178. >If you stand here any longer, you’ll end up spewing changeling goo everywhere.
  179. >That would alert the guards.
  180. >Jack finally speaks up “Yeah, yeah sure.”
  181. >You give him a wink.
  182. “Follow me~”
  184. >Be fake Jack.
  185. >You are not sure why you are playing along but you think the culture shock of being surrounded by ponies has something to do with it.
  186. >Where credit is due that Jack guys was onto something here.
  187. >It’s a shame you can't grasp how beautiful this city is as you walk down the cobblestone streets.
  188. >”Come on this way!”
  189. >The white mare bumps you on your hip nudging you towards a hotel.
  190. >You guessed she’s female, only to be confirmed when she walked on ahead.
  191. >You shake the image out of your head.
  192. >You both enter the lobby to bear witness to the sheer wealth that the hotel has to offer.
  193. >The marble floors, crystal chandeliers and the golden furniture…
  194. >This mare must be rich to be able to book a room here, you wonder.
  195. >You should stick with her for a while. Maybe borrow some of her wealth once you work out what’s going on.
  196. >You and the mare head towards the grand reception, where a unicorn mare is sat.
  197. >The ponies here look different to Forest Leaves; they all have this odd sparkly shine to them.
  198. >Maybe Forest is from out of town. You can tell she doesn’t really fit in here.
  199. >”Right, let me get my coin purse.” Forest Leaves speaks up as she rummages through her saddle bags. “Oh no!”
  200. “What’s the matter?”
  201. >A visible blush appears on her muzzle; you must admit it's darn cute.
  202. >”I-! forgot my bits!”
  203. “Bits?”
  204. >”Money...” She replies with a whisper.
  205. >You take a glance out the window behind you.
  206. >It’s getting dark. Plus, it is cold here.
  207. >You got into hotels for free before, so let’s try here.
  208. “How long are we staying?”
  209. >”A night. Maybe leave for home in the morning.”
  210. >You nod. Easily doable.
  211. >You take a few steps and ring the bell on the reception.
  212. >You could just speak to the sparkly pony unicorn thing. But fuck, you love desk bells.
  214. >” Oh! hello there! First time in the Crystal Empire?”
  215. >Empire?
  216. “You could say that.”
  217. >The female unicorn laughs. “I’m Cozy Stays. Is there anything I can help you with?”
  218. >Time to shine.
  219. “Right, yes. There has been a bit of a mix up. You see, a good friend of mine has sent a message here to put our staying costs on his tab.”
  220. >” Sorry to hear that, what is your friend's name?”
  221. >Shit a name, human names wont work, ponies seem to have names that are either nouns and/or verbs that relate to each other.
  222. >You guess Forest Leaves lives by or in a forest somewhere. Probably in a large farmhouse if she was planning to pay for a room here.
  223. >Glancing around you look for anything that can give you inspiration for a name.
  224. “Ah yes, the name is…”
  225. >You spot a diamond ornament on the desk.
  226. “Diamond…”
  227. >Your eyes dart back around the room again until falling on a “Restaurant this way” Sign with what you presume was the pony language above it.
  228. “Ways”
  229. >You cough.
  230. “Sorry I Just call him Diamond, had to think of his second name.”
  231. >Cozy just stares at you.
  232. >”Diamond Ways. A Canterlot noble? A distant cousin from Prince Blueblood?”
  233. “Yes! That’s it! Though he never told me about the Blueblood thing, that’s new.”
  234. >”I probably wouldn’t tell any pony either.” The receptionist muses. “Let me take a look.”
  235. >You look at Forest with a sly grin.
  236. >Her mouth hangs open in disbelief at what you are doing.
  237. >You give her a wink.
  239. >”Sorry I couldn’t find any messages left by him. I can see he checked out this morning, but by the looks of his signature he was in a rush.”
  240. >You pray to the heaven for your dumb luck.
  241. >This is too easy.
  242. “Right, that explains why he had to…”
  243. >You trail off. Shit you hardly know anything of this place.
  244. >”Train! Catch a train. There were some family troubles. I can’t really say why, you know. Nobility and the press and all.” Forest chimes in placing her hooves on the desk.
  245. >Damn she’s good. You think this mare has something more to her than she lets on.
  246. >”Hmm… sounds worrying.” The Cozy replies tapping her chin with a hoof.
  247. >”There’s no worries, just an oversight, can you put our stay on his tab?”
  248. >The mare thinks for a while before nodding. “Think I can, only due to your circumstances. I could probably guess this human is for one of Diamonds family?”
  249. >It's your turn to speak up.
  250. “Yes, I don’t know the lucky mares name yet. So, no spoilers.”
  251. >”Then that settles it. I can’t let a member of the Ways family sleep in the cold. I’ll put you in the penthouse and I’ll send the invoice in the morning. Oh, right, I'll also need your names.”
  252. “That’s great. The names Ben Goldlock”
  253. >You guess you can break the rules about recycling names, it’s not if the FBI would follow you here.
  254. >”Lovely name, and you miss?”
  255. >”Leafy Meadows.”
  256. >”Beautiful now here’s your keys, any problems let me know.”
  257. “Thank you.”
  258. >”Thanks.”
  259. >”No problem at all. Please enjoy your stay!”
  260. >With that you a Forest make your way up the stairs to the penthouse suite.
  263. >Be Drone 12431.
  264. >You slam the door of the penthouse suite behind you and lean back on it for a few moments. Eventually gravity wins out and you fall back on your hooves. Your heart is still pounding in your chest.
  265. “I can’t believe you just did that!”
  266. >It’s very rarely you speak the truth to those outside your race, but on Chrysalis tiny behind, he can lie. He would make a formidable changeling.
  267. >”What? Saved our asses instead of sleeping on the streets?” Jack strolls over to the huge double bed, he throws his bag on the floor and flops back onto the comfy mattress. “Your welcome.”
  268. >You try to regain your composure as you wonder what donkeys have to do with anything.
  269. “I guess a thank you is in order.”
  270. >”Indeed, this Diamond guy is going to be pissed once he sees the bill. I mean look at this place!”
  271. >He motions his…hand? Yes, hand at the grandeur of the room.
  272. >You couldn’t help but let a small chuckle slip by.
  273. “So, where did you learn to lie like that? Hmmm?”
  274. >Jack shrugs his shoulders. “I was a lawyer for a while.”
  275. >You felt it was a half truth, but no hint of fear coming from him when he lies.
  276. >He’s a pro.
  277. >You put on your best giggle again.
  278. “Sounds about right.”
  279. >”What about you?”
  280. “Me? Oh, I’m just a small-town girl. You know…” You play with your mane. Being an ex-lawyer, Jack had to come from a big city. So, you do the ol’ ‘small-town girl’ ploy. Your personal favorites.
  281. >Jack looks at you with a raised eyebrow.
  282. >“I call bullshit.”
  283. >What!?
  284. ”What!?”
  285. >Jack sits up as he explains.
  286. >”First a ‘small town girl’ would not be trying to pay for a place like this. Even if you forgot your purse.”
  287. >You try to retort but he silences you by pointing a single finger.
  288. >”Second, the ponies here are dressed in fancy dresses and tuxes. You on the other hand are butt naked. Normally when a person goes out into a familiar setting, they would try their hardest to fit in. That means following the accepted dress code.”
  289. >Horse-apples! how is he doing this! He’s on a whole nother level and you trained in your first ten years of your life to lie perfectly.
  290. “And third. Don’t fidget with your hair- mane when you lie. It’s a dead giveaway.”
  291. >You lower your hoof from your mane and gently place it on the floor.
  292. >It’s only a matter of time before this human is going to find out.
  293. >But you came too far now.
  294. >All this effort would be for nothing.
  295. >Why couldn’t he have been an idiot, like your other victims?
  296. >“Ah, shit I didn’t mean to upset you. I was giving some good pointers. You did good down there. You even saved me from dropping the act.” Jack breaks your internal conflict.
  297. >You didn’t know what it was, but you feel good about that compliment.
  298. >Almost as if its heart felt.
  299. “Thanks, yeah. I did well, didn't I?”
  300. >You feel a smile grow on your muzzle, since you are here you might as well enjoy yourself.
  301. >You trot over to the mini fridge and open it.
  302. >Looking over the drinks you spot a champagne bottle tucked in the door.
  303. > Mon champagne d'amour prançais
  304. >hmm… Prench champagne.
  305. “Jack love, can you grab two glasses from the side there?”
  306. >”Uh sure and don’t call me love.” Jack gets up from the bed and grabs two glasses. Coming over to you he looks at the bottle “That looks expensive.”
  307. “It is. Good thing we’re not paying.”
  308. >Both of you enjoy a good laugh.
  309. >Popping the cork and letting it fizz out over the floor you fill the two glass with the expensive bubbly.
  310. “To us!”
  311. >”Yeah, sure…”
  312. >You awkwardly hold the glass between your hooves and gulp down the drink.
  314. >Be love princess.
  315. >Be Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.
  316. >It’s early hours in the morning and you are stressed beyond belief.
  317. >You look over the reports at your desk.
  318. >Two photos’ also lay on the desktop.
  319. >The real Jack and the other of the real Forest Leaves trapped in a changeling pod.
  320. >Lucky for Forest her neighbor found her when she let herself in wanting to borrow some sugar.
  321. >You heard about unreformed changelings still in operation, but why did they have to rear their ugly heads now?
  322. >Especially now. There is already a love crisis already as there’s a massive shortage of stallions for mares to have a relationship with.
  323. >Even using propaganda for herding hasn’t seemed to help. You guess the ponies do have a distaste of the old ways.
  324. >You sigh as you flick through the notes.
  325. >Luckily you do have a few leads.
  326. >Probing Earth for information has been fruitful.
  327. >Looks like the guards or ‘FBI’ on Earth have been looking for this individual.
  328. >From what you can gather the impostor is just a human version of a changeling. But instead of stealing love he steals bits and is unable to completely change his appearance.
  329. >You just wish you knew what the impostor looks like as there are hundreds of humans here already and more coming every day.
  330. >All is not lost though; you do have one of his fake names he borrowed in the past.
  331. > Ben Goldlock.
  332. ”Well Mr human I hope you read the rules, you’ll be the first to be banished.”
  333. >Get up from your desk and walk to the kitchen and start to make a strong coffee.
  334. >By Celestia you need it after today, there’s nothing worse than creatures who toy with other emotions to get what they want.
  335. >Hopefully you’ll find more information from his smartphone once the human tech team works out his password.
  336. >”My Majesty, we’ve had news on the human and the changeling.”
  337. >You turn around to the crystal guard as a cup of coffee floats in your magic.
  338. “Tell me, have you found them already?”
  339. >”Yes Princess, a Ben Goldlock has signed into the Grand Crystal Hotel...”
  341. >Be Jack.
  342. >Be very, very, comfy.
  343. >You try to roll over, but you notice a weight on your chest preventing you from moving.
  344. >Cracking your eyes open you see Forest bathed in the morning light that’s peeking through the curtains.
  345. >You raise your hand and poke her right at the end of her nose.
  346. >She snorts and bats away your hand.
  347. “Why are you on top of me?”
  348. >”Hmm?” Forest opens one eye and closes it again. “Because your warm and I was cold last night.”
  349. “Well why didn’t you grab more blanket?”
  350. >”Because you were hogging it all. So, I came up with a better solution. Plus, what’s wrong with cuddling up to my husbando?” Forest still lays on your chest and snuggles into you and the covers.
  351. “Because I don’t even know you.”
  352. >Forest yawns before replying. “Hello I’m Forest Leaf. Nice to meet you.”
  353. “It was Forest Leaves yesterday.”
  354. >”Hmm? Yeah like I said, Leaves.”
  355. >You grunt and you fling the mare off you.
  356. >She eeps as she bounces once on the bed and tumbles off the other side.
  357. >”Hey!” she gets up rubbing her head.
  358. “Sorry, any longer I would have to charge you.”
  359. >It was good news that when you got out of bed you were still fully dressed.
  360. >Yesterday must’ve taken it out of you.
  361. >Grabbing your bug-out bag, you head over to the mini fridge and start piling the food and drinks into your bag.
  362. >”What are you doing?”
  363. ”Borrowing.”
  364. >”I know that but let me have some.”
  365. >You look over to Forest with an amused look who is already getting her saddle bag.
  366. >You shrug and move away from the mini fridge.
  367. >Pulling back the curtain you peer down to the streets below.
  368. >You squint as you spot a fair few guards outside the hotel.
  369. “Uh, Forest? Do guards here have a concept of raids?”
  370. >”Yeah. They do why?” The mare pauses what she was doing growing concerned.
  371. >You point out the window.
  372. >Forest uses her hooves to pull herself up and look.
  373. >”Rut me sideways! It is the guard! We got to go!”
  374. >There’s no need to tell you.
  375. >You already have your bag slung over your shoulder already booking it out the door.
  376. >”Hey! Wait up! Turn left down the fire escape.”
  377. >You take her order and dart left and boot the fire door open.
  378. >”Move!”
  379. >The mare squeezes past you as you clamber down the stairs.
  380. >Making it down to street level the stairs lead you into a small alleyway.
  381. >”This way!”
  382. >You follow forest with haste.
  383. >You both flee out of the alley way as if your lives depended on it.
  384. >As for Forest, how fast she’s running you think she has more than reason to run from the guard.
  385. >Well you kind of did as you are not familiar with pony’s laws and how they would treat a human fugitive. Then again, you haven’t really done anything that bad and you could just blame it on Forest and play victim.
  386. >”Hey! There’s the bug and that must be the human impostor!”
  387. >You look around to see a guard already taking chase.
  388. >Shit they know!
  389. >They must’ve found your phone. You thought you lost it going through the portal.
  390. >”The Station! Head to the station!” You hear Forest cry out as she runs ahead.
  391. >Both of you make a sharp right down the main street, a few more guards join in the chase.
  392. >Looking up you spot flying ponies also in pursuit.
  393. >God damn, they fly too.
  394. >You quickly duck as one swoops down at you.
  395. >You and Forest dodge in and out the crowd of ponies also shoulder barging a few humans on the way. To your dismay they decide to play hero and give chase.
  396. >”For Celestias' sake Jack! Stop making new friends! You are making it worse!” Forest shouts between her heavy breaths.
  397. “You got me in this mess!” You snap back as you pick up the pace.
  398. >”Me! Oh no! they are after you too.”
  399. >The station is not far now as you can see it at the end of the street.
  400. >You grunt as you leap over a few ponies who are cowering in the commotion.
  401. >”Help!”
  402. >You see Forest surrounded in a blue glow and being pulled back.
  403. >You swerve and grab her in mid-air, the blue aura fizzles out.
  404. >Stumbling over a few steps you regain your speed as you throw her over your shoulder.
  405. >”Get us out of here!”
  406. “What do you think I’m doing! Quite honestly it should be the other way around.”
  407. >”What are you saying! Keep running!”
  408. “No, I should be riding you!”
  409. >”Hun, get me out of here you can ride me all the way to the Badlands!”
  410. “I’ll make sure I’ll add a bridle and saddle to my shopping list!”
  411. >You feel the mare tense up on your shoulder. “Just shut up…please!”
  412. “…Shit the train is leaving!” You see the train hauling multiple carriages slowly pull away from the platform, with smoke billowing from its chimney. “We can’t wait for another one!”
  413. >You feel Forest lean around. “On to the rails! Ponies never lock freight carriages.”
  414. >Banking right you run onto the rails and run beside the train.
  415. >You thank god for steam trains, they seem to take a while to pick up speed.
  416. >Pulling the handle of the freight carriage the door slides open.
  417. >You grab forest from your shoulder and haphazardly toss her in.
  418. >That took more out of you than you thought. You feel your muscles ache and your chest burn.
  419. >You slowly fall behind the train.
  420. >Your legs give way.
  421. >But instead of eating rail and dirt like you expected. You feel yourself fly at great speed into the carriage hitting a huge sack of mail and packages.
  422. >You groan as you slump down onto the floor of the carriage.
  424. “Thanks for the assist.”
  425. >”I didn’t do anything.” Forest states flatly.
  426. “But there’s no…Forget it,” You pant still trying to catch your breath.
  427. >You notice Forest making her way over to you and plopping her rump next to your legs.
  428. >”Who are you Jack? If that’s your real name.”
  429. “I could say the same to you.”
  430. >Forest’s head flinches back “They called you an impostor.”
  431. “And they called you a bug.”
  432. >”Yeah, another word for an infiltrator, you know a plant, mole, rat…”
  433. “Right, never heard it called a ‘bug’ before.”
  434. >The white mare sighs as her ears drop. “In a way, I’m an impostor like you.”
  435. “I fucking knew it! I knew something was off about you!” You let out a hearty laugh. “So, what’s your real name?”
  436.  >”What’s yours?” She asks tilting her head to one side emphasizing the rhetorical question.
  437. “Good point. I’ll keep Jack and you keep Forest?”
  438. >”Deal.” She offers out a hoof.
  439. >You grab her hoof and give a good shake.
  441. “I still don’t understand, why are you going through all this just for a human?”
  442. >Forest looks down and scuffs her hoof on the wooden floor. “I kind of wanted one.”
  443. “Really? Why risk everything?”
  444. >”Because… because humans aren’t available where I come from and the Crystal Empire doesn't take kindly to - ponies like me.”
  445. “You Impersonated someone else?”
  446. >Forest nods for an answer.
  447. “But you look just like the mare in the photo. I presume the guy I’m impersonating is supposed to have met her.”
  448. >”I do look like her yes, but her coat is more grey than white and her mane a lighter green.”
  449. >You try to think back to the photo of the mare.
  450. >To be honest so much has happened you struggle to pull the finer details.
  451. “I think you're right. But damn this has been a ride. It would have been easier if you had the real Jack Tanner.”
  452. >”Probably.” A playful smile grows on the mare’s face. “Probably would’ve been better looking too.”
  453. “Hey, I’m the finest there is.”
  454. >”Sure…”
  456. >Be Forest.
  457. >A while has passed since the train left Crystal City.
  458. >With the door open just enough to squeeze your head through to see where the train is heading.
  459. >The train is heading south through the Crystal Mountains.
  460. >It’s more than likely being a freight train, it’ll make a beeline straight to Canterlot
  461. >You feel anxiety wash over you as you realize that it’ll be certain Celestia's Royal Guard will be waiting at the other end.
  462. >You pull your head back into the carriage and turn to the human.
  463. >Jack has been busy going through the mail and packages, and it would seem he struck some gold.
  464. >Literally.
  465. >A small pile of bits lay next to him, presumably from stupid ponies sending money through the post for either birthdays or mail orders.
  466. >Jack smiles as he rummages through another package. “Hey look! A fresh change in clothes!” He grins as he shows you a jacket and a pair of jeans accompanied by a few T-shirts.
  467. >You never really understood the human’s obsession with clothes. You may have to give in to your curiosity and ask him one time.
  468. >But for now, pressing matters need attending.
  469. ”I have a feeling that this train is heading to Canterlot.”
  470. >”That sounds very European.”
  471. ”No, it’s in Equestria, a country below the Crystal Empire.”
  472. >”If it’s heading out of state lines, I don’t see the issue…” Jack replies as he packs the clothes and bits into his bag.
  473. “Equestria and the Crystal Empire are very close allies. Trust me when I say the royal guard will be waiting for us.”
  474.  >”So now what?”
  475. >You look at the door then back to Jack.
  476. “We jump.”
  477. >”Are you insane! This train is traveling too fast.”
  478. “It is now, but it’ll have to slow down as it descends the mountains this line has a few bends.” You slide back, open the door and glance outside. “And our opportunity will be arriving shortly.
  479. >”Fine, this better work.” Jack gets up to his feet with the audible pop to his joints.  “It’s going to be cold out there.”
  480. “You found some more clothes to wear them.” You continue to stare out the sliding door.
  481. >”I’m talking about you.”
  482. >You feel something woolly be placed on your head. From the corner of your eye you see some yellow wool.
  483. >“There and wear this” Jack hands you a yellow scarf.
  484. “Thanks Jack. But yellow really clashes with my mane.” You chuckle.
  485. >”Beggars can’t be choosers.”
  486. “Right the snow looks deep enough here, where the tracks have been shoveled.” You get ready to leap from the carriage as you feel the train decelerate.
  487. >”We’re jumping now?”
  488. “Yes now! Jump!”
  489. >You throw yourself out the carriage and plunge headfirst in the snow.
  490. >You breathe a sigh of relief as the snow was deep enough, hitting the floor headfirst would put a short end to your journey.
  491. >You wiggle your back legs to free you from your snowy prison, after a few minutes of struggling you give up and call for Jack.
  494. >Be Jack.
  495. >Your landing couldn’t have been better.
  496. >You hit the snow back and tumble a few meters down a small slope. You think you may have cracked a few ribs in the process, as you lay there winded.
  497. >You groan and you struggle to your feet.
  498. >”Jack!” You hear Forest call out.
  499. >You stumble and crunch around in the deep snow trying to pinpoint Forest’s voice.
  500. “Where are you!”
  501. >”Over here!”
  502. >Wherever she is she sounds muffled.
  503. >Why did she have to be white and green?
  504. >You glance around and all you can see is white snow and green shrubbery.
  505. >”I’m freezing here!”
  506. >Her voice is closer now; you look down to see a white rump and a green tail sticking up from the snow.
  507. “Don’t panic. I found you…” You notice her tail flicked over her back. “Besides why don’t ponies wear underwear?” You try and not look at her marehood that’s on full display. “Or is this you attract a mate for spring?”
  508. >Forest’s hind legs start to thrash around and kick up the snow. “I swear on Tartarus I’m going to buck you right in the gut! Just get me out!”
  509. “Okay, okay.” You grab her flanks and give a quick tug realizing her from the deep snow.
  510. >A huge blush crosses her face as she stumbles away from you.
  511. “A thank you would have been nice.”
  512. >”Buck you!”
  514. >You both trod through the snow following the tracks.
  515. >Forest hasn’t really said a word since you pulled her from the snow.
  516. >Even here the females know of the dreaded silent treatment.
  517. >You couldn’t help but laugh to yourself.
  518. “Hey, it’s like we’re already married, with the silent treatment and all that.”
  519. >”Not helping Jack!” Forest snaps back.
  520. >You continue to laugh at your own antics.
  521. >Before long, you both reach an old log cabin not too far from the tracks.
  522. >Forest decides to speak up “It’ll be dark before we know it. I suggest we stay here tonight.”
  523. “Sounds like a plan, but why is there cabin all the way out here?”
  524. >”It was probably built for the railway workers for a base camp.”
  525. “Looks haunted.” You shrug.
  526. >”D-don’t say that!” Forest shudders.
  527. >You chuckle as you wade through the snow up to the cabin’s entrance. Pushing the door, it refuses to budge.
  528. >Lifting a foot, you give it a swift kick, it flies upon greeting you with the smell of damp and dust.
  529. >It seems that it hasn’t been used for a good while, everything is covered either in ice or a layer of dust. You spot a fireplace accompanied by old logs at the far end of the cabin.
  530. >You also spy a few lockers to rummage through that sits next to two sets of bunk beds, followed by a desk and chair.
  531. >The beds won’t hold your weight let alone for you to fit in them.
  532. >A sigh escapes your lips, looks like you’ll be sleeping in front of the fire if you can’t get it lit.
  533. >Opening the lockers, you try and find something to use as kindling, because fuck it, it’s too cold to go outside and look for twigs.
  534. >You rummage through old work-wear plus other odds and ends.
  535. >”Do you just loot everything you see?” Asks Forest as she inspects around the fireplace.  
  536. “Had a lot of practice when I was a kid.”
  537. >”You used to be a goat?”
  538. “Huh? No, that is what we call a young human.” You slam the locker shut. “I was hoping to find some matches or something.”
  539. >”Why do you need matches?”
  540. “To light the fi-“
  541. >You look at the mare who had already got the fire going.
  542. “How did you?”
  543. >”I’m just that good.”
  544. >You stare at her dumbfounded before shaking your head.
  545. “Well at least it’ll warm up now.” You mutter as you head towards the small bunk beds.
  546. >You pull off a mattress and drag it by the fire, but far enough so it didn’t burn.
  547. >Lifting the sheets, you gave them a sniff, you can smell the damp in them.
  548. >You drag the wooden chair across the floor and throw the sheets over it. Hopefully it’ll air out by nightfall.
  549. >Singling your bag from your shoulder, you sit down on the mattress and open it.
  550. >You pull out some squashed fruit and some chocolate you borrowed from the mini fridge back at the hotel.
  551. >Plus, another fancy bottle of champagne that was already nicely chilled.
  552. >You pop the cork and take a swig before starting your strange lunch.
  553. >Forest trots over and sits beside you on the mattress and follows suit by pulling out a few apples.
  554. >”Are you going to share that?” she points to your drink.
  555. “Knock yourself out.”
  556. >It didn't really matter if you said anything different, the mare is already chugging the bottle.
  557. “Hey!” You pull the bottle from her. “Leave some for me.”
  558. >”Heh, sorry. I was thirsty.” She replies followed by the cutest burp you ever heard.
  559. “Have we got a plan?” You talk through a mouthful of apple. “Or are we just going to keep running until we are caught?”
  560. >The mare puts down her apple.
  561. >”I have been planning ahead if that’s what you are implying.”
  562. “I wouldn’t put it past you. I can tell you're always one step ahead.” You reply dripping in sarcasm while you gave her a deadpan look.
  563. >Forest rubs her temples with both hooves. “What I’m saying is maybe we should enter Equestria. I know for a fact Celestia keeps her guards in the main cities and towns. A small village would be a great place to lay low.”
  564. “Planning to keep me around then?” You raise an eyebrow at her.
  565. >”Of course! I didn’t come all this way just to get rid of you.” Forest’s face falls into a frown as her ear’s droops. “You not planning on ditching me, are you?”
  566. “Yeah. Soon as we are clear, then I’m back on my own. I’ll either find a way back to Earth or find my own way here. It depends what’s easiest.”
  567. >You feel a hoof slap you across your face.
  568. “What was THAT for!?” You run a finger inside your mouth to check for blood. “Hooves fucking hurt!” You shout at Forest who has tears welling up in her eyes.
  569. >”You're planning to leave me!?”
  570. “I told you before, I barely fucking know you!”
  571. >”Well you try!” Forest stands up and storms towards the door.
  572. “It’s been barely a day!” You shout back at her only to be met with the slamming of the door.
  573. >Fucking hell, you get the same grief from females back home.
  575. >Be Forest.
  576. >Tears are running down your cheeks as you sit just outside the door.
  577. >Why did that hurt!
  578. >Why did he hurt me!
  579. >He’s nothing but food, how dare he hurt you like that!
  580. >Fine, who needs him.
  581. >You stomp off into the snow.
  582. >You stop and look back at the cabin, maybe you should drain him for all he’s worth.
  583. >He’ll be more useful as nothing more than a husk.
  584. >You shake off the dark thoughts. You hate to admit it you couldn’t do it if you tried.
  585. >He’s too much like you. It’ll be like draining your own kin.
  586. >Maybe you’ll just walk off the anger for a bit.
  587. >The cold crisp air will work wonders on clearing your mind.
  588. >With that, you walk around aimlessly keeping in mind  not to stray too far away from the cabin.
  590. > “Far away from home little pony?” A raspy voice calls out behind you.
  591. >You spin around to be greeted with a pair of orange bug-like eyes.
  592. >A changeling from the forbidden south. You recognize those colors from anywhere.
  593. >They have been nothing but thorn in Chrysalis' side for generations.
  594. “This isn’t your territory; I suggest you leave!”
  595. >You drop your disguise with a hiss.
  596. >”Oh! How quaint! A changeling without a hive! We heard about Chrysalis’s fall.” The changeling slowly circles around you. “Equestria and the Empire are easy pickings ever since Thorax took charge.”
  597. “You better leave, Thorax’s scouts do patrol this area.”
  598. >”Please, give it up, what are they going to do? Beat their bongo drums at me? I dread to think.”
  599. “What do you want?”
  600. >”What I want? Nothing really. I’m Heading to the Crystal Empire.”
  601. “Let me guess, Humans?”
  602. >”You heard of them too? The hivemind has been buzzing for days about them.”
  603. “It’s a fool’s game. Take my word for it.”
  604. >”You’re word? Hah! You just want them for yourself.”
  605. “I’ve spent the last day fleeing that city! It’s swarming with guards.”
  606. >The changeling scrunches her muzzle as she analyses you.
  607. >” Your hiding something.”
  608. “Leave!”
  609. >The changeling turns its head to the cabin.
  610. >No, don't.
  611. >Too late your expression spilt the beans.
  612. >”Terrible liar. You already got one.”
  613. >The changeling spins on her hooves and bolts towards the cabin. An orange flame engulfs her putting on your disguise.
  614. “Hey get back here!”
  615. >You follow suit and change back into Forest.
  617. >Both of you crash and tumble through the door, causing Jack to jet up from his mattress.
  618. ”Be careful! She’s a Changeling!
  619. >”Be careful! She’s a Changeling!”
  620. >You both fire a hoof at each other.
  621. >Jack slowly walks over to you with a puzzled look on his face. “What going on?”
  622. “She’s an impostor Jack, I’m the Forest you’ve been with the whole time!”
  623. >”Jack listen to me! We got to leave! Now!”
  625. >Jack folds his arms and bites inside of his cheek thinking. “No. Not until I find the real one.” He paces the floor as you both snarl at each other. “I’ve seen this situation before on television. I’ll ask three questions then I want three short answers.”
  626. >”What’s a television?”
  627. >”I’m asking the questions here.” He mentions sternly. “Question one.”
  628. >Your heart beats in your chest, please ask questions I know.
  629. >”How did we get here to this cabin?”
  630. >”Train.” The impostor replies, answers too quick.
  631. >Dammit Jack the question is too easy! It can be guessed!
  632. >”Question Two. Where did we stay in the city?”
  633. >”Hotel, a really fancy one.”
  634. >No please…
  635. >She’s too good of a liar.
  636. >You sink low as you see Jack's gaze darken as he looks at you.
  637. >With a loud screech he brings the chair in front of him and leans on it. ”Three. Where did you find me?”
  638. >”Easy! The Crystal Heart!”
  639. >Dammit out of all the questions he could have asked. All humans appear there when they come to this world.
  640. >You look up at Jack with worrying eyes as he brings up the chair above his head and brings it down with a massive amount of force.
  641. >Crushing the changeling next to you.
  642. >How?
  643. “How?”
  644. >A smirk appears on the human’s face. “You’re a terrible liar, and she was too good, almost believing her myself.”
  645. >He leans down and whispers in your ear. “My other plan was to have you both turn around, I had more of an eye full to kno-“
  646. “JACK!”
  647. >You push him back on his behind with your front hooves.
  648. >”Thank god, I did choose the right one…” He chuckles.
  649. “What…”
  650. >Did he mean that?
  651. “That isn’t funny!”
  652. >He continues to laugh.
  653. “Jack! Tell me! You knew all the long…right?”
  654. >He wipes a tear “Yeah I did…maybe…”
  655. “This isn’t funny.”
  656. >”Okay, I did.” He shakes his head before glancing at the unconscious bug “What are we going to do about our guest?”
  657. “Tie her up, looks like she’s staying with us tonight.”
  660. >It didn’t take long before the disguise of the changeling slipped away revealing her true form.
  661. >Finding some old rope, you tie the changeling to the old bunks. Her holey legs were put to good use.
  662. >” I have to admit changelings do look weird…”
  663. >You couldn’t help but frown at his comment. But it did remind you that you will have to talk to him about earlier.
  664. “Hey Jack, about earlier…when I stormed out.”
  665. >”Huh? Oh, that. No worries.” He waves his hand dismissively.
  666. “I just want to say I’m sorry. I just started to like having you around, you know?”
  667. >”I have to admit it has been fun, it’s been a while I had a rush like this.”
  668. “Is this normal for you? Always on the run?”
  669. >”Yeah, I guess. But I’m free, no job, no relationships, no money worries. I can go, stay and leave whenever I want.”
  670. “Does that make you happy?”
  671. >”It did for a while, kind of got stale back on Earth.”
  672. “Can you at least stay with me until we find somewhere to lay low for a while?”
  673. >”What is this about Forest?” Jack folds his arms and leans against the cabin wall.
  674. “I’ve gone through so much effort to get you. I just don’t want it all to go to waste.”
  675. >”You want to spend a little time with me?”
  676. >You nod.
  677. >”I’ll think about it.”
  678. >Deep down you know that’s the best you will get for now.
  679. >At least it’ll give you more time for him to fall for you.
  680. >You hope he does, from what you have read he will be a constant food supply.
  681. >Come to think of it, you wish that you read more about humans other than their everlasting love.
  683. >Be Jack.
  684. >You give a last tug on the rope to make sure the changeling is fully secured to the bunk.
  685. >Satisfied, you make your way to the fireplace and chuck in another log.
  686. >The fire pops and crackles as the new log burns.
  687. >You feel exhausted, it’s been a long day. Too many adrenaline rushes.
  688. >You undo your laces and pop off your boots followed by your jacket.
  689. >Picking up the sheet you flop down onto the mattress.
  690. >Not as comfy as the one from the hotel but it’ll do.
  691. >You slept in worst conditions before.
  692. >”Goodnight Jack.”
  693. >You roll your head to watch Forest climb into the spare bunk and snuggle in.
  694. “Goodnight Forest.”
  695. >She must be tired too.
  696. >Noticing the champagne bottle from earlier, you pick it up and take a few swigs before laying back down.
  697. >You smile to yourself. That pony is something and she does love the trouble you always find yourself in. You give her a bonus point as she’s easy to wind up.
  698. >Thinking of winding up. A devious plan forms in your mind.
  699. >You give it a few minutes to make her believe you are asleep.
  700. >Grabbing the champagne bottle, you scratch it along the wooden floor.
  701. >You see the silhouette of Forest’s ears perk up.
  702. >Before she looks in your direction you pretend that you are asleep.
  703. >”J-jack?”
  704. ”W-what… I was falling asleep.” You feign your grogginess.
  705. >”Did you hear something?”
  706. “No, go to sleep.”
  707. >You give it another few minutes until you repeat dragging the bottle.
  708. >”There it is again!”
  709. >You see Forests dark figure bolt right up.
  710. “Maybe it’s the ghosts of the workers who died building the railway.” You mumble trying to stifle a laugh.
  711. >”D-don’t say that!”
  712. “It does sound like a railway hammer being dragged on the ground…”
  713. >”Jack stop!”
  714. “Just go to sleep! The cabin is old and probably just settling.”
  715. >Before you could drag the bottle once more, a loud howl of wind blows giving a long drawn out moan.
  716. >”That’s it!” Forest shouts and she stomps over to you. “Move over!”
  717. “It’s just the wind.  Go back to bed.”
  718. >”No!” She climbs in under the sheets.
  719. “Forest there’s not enough room!”
  720. >”Don’t care.”
  721. “Forest!”
  722. >She ignores you and lays on your chest.
  723. >You grumble as you rest your head back down.
  724. “Forest, it was me. I was messing around trying to scare you.”
  725. >”You’re just saying that.”
  726. “I’m not, now back to bed.”
  727. >”No.”
  728. >You tried to move but you are too exhausted to fling her off.
  729. “This plan has backfired,” you mumble under your breath.
  730. >You feel Forest nuzzle into your neck.
  731. >Fuck it, you run your hand behind her ear and scratch.
  732. >At least you can pretend she’s a giant house cat or something.
  733. >To your surprise, her fur is quite soft, almost like strands of velvet between your fingers.
  734. >You continue to scratch until sleep finally overcomes you.
  736. >Be Princess Cadance.
  737. >Be frowning at your desk.
  738. >You had just received a letter from Celestia that she had her guards check the train in Canterlot.
  739. >It looks like the two fugitives have somehow slipped from her hooves.
  740. >Surely no pony is stupid enough to jump from a moving train.
  741. >Well the changeling could fly away you ponder, but the human…
  742. >You gasp.
  743. >What if he hurts somepony?
  744. >It’ll be a PR disaster!
  745. >You take deep breaths to calm yourself down.
  746. >If anything, you know humans can take a fair few knocks thanks to their endurance.
  747. >”Honey, it’s getting late. You're rivaling my sister at this rate.”
  748. >You turn to see Shining Armor.
  749. “Sorry, I’m just so worried. The thought of a human changeling terrifies me.” You walk over to him and rub your cheek against his.
  750. >”The human can’t change his appearance; we can find him.”
  751. “But I fear he’s just as devious as a changeling.” You bury your face into his shoulder. “Why does it always have to be changelings?”
  752. >”Don’t worry, get some rest. I’ll send a letter of request to Celestia to have her guard patrol the rail line and I’ll send ours on our side.”
  753. >”Thanks, Shining, but I still don’t understand why the portal allowed that human through in the first place, every safeguard he simply bypassed.”
  754. “I think that would be Twilights territory, why don’t you ask her for help.”
  755. >”But she already has her hooves full.”
  756. “I know my sister Cadance, do you think a magical anomaly such as this will slip past her?”
  757. >You feel a smile creep on your muzzle, your husband is right. Twilight would probably find out eventually. Sending her a letter isn’t a bad idea.
  759. > Be Drone 12431.
  760. >Also known as Forest.
  761. >You are currently standing in your hive, but something is wrong.
  762. >Very wrong.
  763. >The halls and tunnels should be buzzing with activity, but you are met with a deafening silence.
  764. “Hello?” You call out in the hive-mind.
  765. >No answer.
  766. “Hello!?” You shout using your voice.
  767. >You hear shuffling behind you, turning on your hooves, you spot a familiar human.
  768. “Oh! It’s just you Jack, what’s going on?”
  769. >His mouth bears a snarl, as he holds the chair from the cabin.
  770. “Jack?”
  771. >”You’re one of them! One of those god damn bugs!”
  772. >Oh no. You look down to spot black chitin legs filled with holes.
  773. “I-I’m not like them! Not anymore! I don’t have a hive!”
  774. >”Liar! I bet that changeling is one of your friends scheming to hurt me!”
  775. “I’m nothing to do with her Jack!”
  776. >”Like they say, A good bug is a dead bug!”
  777. >Jack lifts the chair like back at the cabin, but this time aiming for you.
  778. >You raise a leg and brace for impact.
  780. >”ENOUGH!” A voice bellows out. “BEGONE TERROR OF THE NIGHT!”
  781. >The ground shakes as the voice trembles the walls of the hive.
  782. >Slowly everything around you fades into black.
  783. >Your heart pounds as you feel the panic set in.
  784. >”Fret not little changeling.”
  785. >You zone in on the voice, spotting a dark figure you somewhat recognize you stumble back onto your behind.
  786. >”Please calm yourself, we are not here to cause harm.” A blue black alicorn steps into the light that seems to come from nowhere. “By the expression donning your face, we believe no introduction is in order.”
  787. “Luna….Princess Luna?” You mutter out, “Am I dreaming?”
  788. >”That you are. A rogue changeling subconscious has become very easy to access without tens of thousands of linked minds.”
  789. “W-why are you here?”
  790. >”We won’t lie, we grace your presence to find out what you and the human companion are up to.” Luna’s horn lights up and your memories flash in the void. “Interesting.”
  791. “Are those my memories?”
  792. >”Yes, we don’t normally do this as it’s forbidden to use on citizens of Equestria and her allies without permission.” She turns to you, “Sadly that doesn’t include you interloper.”
  793. >You feel powerless as you watch your past actions on fall display. But you can tell Luna only has interest in those with the human.
  794. >”There’s another hive?” She asks calmly.
  795. “Y-yes…”
  796. >“So, it’s true.” Luna frowns as she thinks. “Tell us young changeling. Are you interested in a deal?”
  797. “A deal?”
  798. >”Yes, work for me against this new hive, we need somepony with your skill set.”
  799. “Can’t Thorax help?”
  800. > “Unfortunately, Thorax and his hive would be little use. They are more concerned with being good that they avoid standing the grey at all costs.”
  801. “And if I refuse.”
  802. >Luna slowly walks over and peers down her muzzle at you. With a flash of her horn and image of the cabin appears beside her. With malice she speaks, dropping the royal tongue “I’ll simply teleport to you and tear the chitin off you head to hoof.”
  803. >All you could do is nod, you thought Chrysalis can be terrifying. But this, this is pure terror.
  804. >A smile appears on the Princess’s face. “Good then we have an accord. Head to Vanhoover and keep off the tracks, there will be patrols. We will have a point of contact waiting for you. Don’t look for her, she'll find you.”
  805. >Luna turns and flaps her wings once, prepping to fly. ”One last thing bug.”
  806. “W-what is it?” You are still trembling from her threat.
  807. >”Pray tell, why haven’t you used mind magic on the human?”
  808.  “I…”
  809. >You didn’t have an answer.
  810. >”We did wonder.” The princess flaps her wings again and glides into the void.
  813.  >”Forest…”
  814. >”Forest!”
  815. >Your eyes blink open to see yourself still laying and Jack who is looking a little worried.
  816. >”You’ve been kicking and muttering…Bad dream?”
  817. >You recall everything from you dream with Luna.
  818. >Luna!
  819. >Your eyes widen.
  820. “Jack, we need to go! Luna has found us!”
  821. >”Who?”
  822. “Princess Luna, she’s known as the goddess of the night! Let alone the co-ruler of Equestria”
  823. >”How do you know she found us?”
  824. “She can enter our dreams! She pulled up all my memories!”
  825. >”She can do that?”
  826. “You live in a world of magic Jack if you haven’t realized!”
  827. >You recall the last part of your conversation with her.
  828. >”There’s more, isn't there?” Jack stares into your eyes gazing into your very being.
  829. “Yes, I-I may have brought us time,” Not quite a lie, but it’ll soften the point, “I may have struck a small deal with her…”
  830. >”Deal?”
  831. “Please Jack, Luna is very powerful and unlike her sister Celestia she’s not afraid to get her hooves dirty. She’ll hunt us down in no time.”
  832. >”I don’t believe this.”
  833. “She’s not somepony we can run from Jack. For some reason we have caught her attention, us…ponies… like me are normally beneath her.”
  834. >You feel Jack grow restless beneath you, “This is just great! Now we have a goddess that can invade our dreams, from my experience lately I would have called bullshit. God damn, what have I gotten myself into!?”
  835. >You sit up on Jack's chest and lightly press your hooves on his shoulders.
  836. “Jack, I’ve got a good read on you now. I know you want leave and make it on your own. But it’s our only chance if we stick together.”
  837. >”Fine.” He wrestles an arm free and poke you right on the nose. “But you gotta tell me what’s really going on.”
  838. “I will,” you reply. You glance over at the changeling still tied up on the bunk, “But not here.”
  839. >Be Jack.
  840. >Leaving the cabin and the changeling behind, you both leave the railway lines and head into dense forest. Your companion mentioned that you had to keep a good pace as the forest isn’t a place to be at sundown. Between slipping through fallen branches and treading through the snow you spent the last hour listening to Forest giving you a run down on the changeling hives.
  841. “Ok I get it, the fall of Chrysalis her hive has caused a power vacuum.”
  842. >”Yeah.” Forest replies as she hops over a fallen tree.
  843. “Then what does that do with us?”
  844. >”Like I said, the changelings from Plagiaria’s hive have gained interest in humans.”
  845. “Let me rephrase the question, what does it have to do with you?”
  846. >The mare stops and lowers her head as her mane falls from under her yellow hat “You, you being human.”
  847. >Unsatisfied with her answer you throw up your arms in frustration.
  848. “Why are ponies bringing humans here in the first place!”
  849. >”The equine race is dying Jack.” Forest breathes an aspirated sigh. “There are hardly any males left so some reason they are not being born and no pony knows why.”
  850. >It’s easy to work out what she meant. With no males a race will slowly die out.
  851. “Can’t you guys, you know, use sperm banks?”
  852. >”No use, I don’t fully understand it, but it’s on the genetic level. It’ll just postpone the inevitable.”
  853. >You feel a pang of guilt, sure humans are always on the brink of self-destruction. But seeing another race dying out due to no fault of their own is horrible.
  854. >”That’s why we are borrowing males from your world as yours can recover quickly.”
  855. “But there’s a hole in that plan. Human genetics are locked, our genes are incompatible.”
  856. >”Was incompatible. I read in the news a mare gave birth to a colt a few weeks ago. It’s amazing what magic can do sometimes.”
  857. “Right, magic…who would have guessed”
  858. >Forest giggles behind a hoof “Get used to it monkey boy.”
  859. “Hey! I find that offensive.”
  860. >”Really?” Forest raises her eyebrow.
  861. “Not really, but I imagine some humans would.”
  862. >”Like who?”
  863. “Let’s just drop it. It’s kind of a sore subject.”
  865. >Eventually the snow started to thin out making it easier to walk through. The sun is now starting to descend casting long shadows through the trees. The cold chilled your skin, pulling up your jackets collars you call out to Forest who was trotting out in front.
  866. “I do hope you know where you are going.”
  867. >”I do, I’ve got a built-in compass.”
  868. “Is that true.” You reply in disbelief.
  869. >”Don’t you think that with that cutie mark on my hip I wouldn’t know how to navigate a forest?”
  870. >You look at her rump to spot a few leaves tattooed on her hips.
  871. “I was meaning to ask about them, is it a cultural thing?”
  872. >”Kind of, it signifies our special talent.”
  873. “What’s yours then?”
  874. >”Navigating forests.”
  875. “Convenient.”
  876. >”I see the tree line!” Forest jumps with joy before running ahead.
  877. “Forest wait!”
  878. >You run after her, pushing through branches and shrubbery. After a minute dash you stumble out of the treeline into a meadow that seemed to go on for miles. The sun casts an orange light over the rolling hills. You look up to the sky and see how the red hues fades to purple creating an image to behold.
  879. >You couldn’t help but smile as you see Forest looking back at you with glee. Her green eyes shimmer in the remaining light.
  881. “Come on. It’s getting colder.”
  882. >”You're right. We should find somewhere to stay for tonight.”
  883. >It wasn’t long before you found a well-treaded dirt path. It was getting hard to see as you start to wish for simple things like streetlights or even a torch. In the distance an old farmhouse stood in the darkness.
  884. >Without a word, you both head towards it, the two of you had the same idea.
  885. >As you get closer you can see candlelight flicker in one of the bottom windows. Look likes someone’s already home.
  886. “What now?”
  887. >”We knock.”
  888. “Knock? They’re not going to invite two strangers in their home, at night no less!”
  889. >”In your world maybe.” Forest replies as she trots up the path and rap on the door. “Hello any pony home?”
  890. >You walk up beside her with your arms folded.
  891. “Is it my turn or yours?” You whisper.
  892. >”Let me do the talking”
  893. >The door opens with a tired looking earth pony mare who was way past her prime. “Can I help you?” She speaks with caution.
  894. >”Oh, thank you. You see we’ve been hiking, and we’ve gotten a little lost.”
  895. >The mare looks between you both then at your bags. Her demeanor changes as she realizes you both are covered in dirt and grim from the past day.
  896. >”How long have you been out there?”
  897. >”Nearly two days.”
  898. >”You silly foal, didn’t you bring a map?”
  899. “That would be my fault, I lost it while setting up camp.” You chime in rubbing the back of your head.
  900. >”Stallions…” The old mare nudges Forest with a leg, “No matter where they’re from they’re always the same.”
  901. >Forest couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
  902. >The old mare stands back into the doorway and waves you both in. “Come come, you two will catch your deaths out here.”
  903. >You step into the house and it's how you would imagine it’ll look like inside. Old rustic flooring, wooden furniture and a smoldering cobble stone fireplace.
  904. >”Go and stand next to the fire, I’ll get you two some tea.”
  905. >”That’ll be great. Two sugars please.”
  906. “No sugar for me, I’m sweet enough as it is.” You add quickly receiving a hoof to your side.
  907. >”Behave you.” Forest giggles.
  908. >”Ah to be young again.” The old mare shakes her head. “I’ll get your tea.” The mare pauses “Oh, the name is Hay Barn by the way.”
  909. >”Twig Leaf. Just call me Twig.”
  910. “James. But most call me James for short.”
  911. >Hay Barn laughs, “Ok Twig and James, make yourself comfy. I’ll get the kettle on.”
  912. >You both watch the old mare trot to the kitchen.
  913. “You know, there’s a few stories about a couple ending up in an old farmhouse like this.”
  914. >”Really?”
  915. “Yeah, with a kind old lady.”
  916. >”So, what happens?” Forest asks while taking off her woolly hat and scarf.
  917. “Turns out the old lady is a wanted serial killer.” You watch Forest eyes shrink  to pin pricks. You lean in close and continue. “She starts out all nice, get them to relax. Then bam!” You motion a quick stab with your hand “She comes with a knife…”
  918. >”’orry you two…” Hay Barn appears around the corner with a knife in her mouth. “Woul’ you like a ‘andwich as well?”
  919. >Forest spotting the knife yelps almost tripping over her hooves.
  920. >This couldn’t have been timed perfectly, it’s almost something uncanny is setting up the punchlines for you. Either way you couldn’t stop laughing.
  921. >”Are you okay dear?”
  922. >”Yes, sorry the human was an idiot.” Forest narrows her eyes at you.
  923. >Hay Barn shoots a look at you. You felt like a kid under a parent’s gaze while your hand is in the cookie jar.
  924. “I was telling her a spooky story…sorry…”
  925. > Hay puts tuts and puts the knife down on a counter then looks to Forest.  “Twig, come with me and help with the sandwiches. And you…” She trots over to you and head but you in the hip. “You go and have a bath you smell like a swamp rat.”
  926. “But.”
  927. >”No buts mister.” She headbutt’s you again ushering you along and up the stairs. “Go, go and up.”
  928. “I don-“
  929. >”Bathrooms on the left, towels on the side. Now go.”
  930. >You grumble as you make your way up the stairs and into the bathroom.
  931. >Be Forest.
  932. >You watch Jack grump as he ascends the stairs like a colt sent to bed. Honestly, he did need a bath as he started to smell a little too ripe. You probably need one too.
  933. >”Right sandwiches and tea.” Hay Barn speaks up and trots into the kitchen.
  934. >You follow the old mare; you walk past the dining table to spot a newspaper open on it.
  935. >Your heart sinks as you see the headline “A Human changeling? Two fugitives on the run.”
  936. >To add to the stress, you see a picture of the real Forest Leaves just above her interview section.
  937. >”I already know.” The old mare speaks up as she pours the tea.
  938. >You shuffle back from her ready to flee.
  939. >”It’s okay changeling, I have no plans in telling.” Hay Barn stirs some sugar into a cup “Two sugars.” She slides the cup along the counter.
  940. >Not sure what to think, you slowly walkover and carefully lift the cup between your hooves.
  941. >”So how did you wind up with a human?”
  942. “It’s a long story,” you stare into your tea. “It ended up as a plan gone wrong.”
  943. >”Let me guess, you wanted him as a love supply.”
  944. >You shrunk back; she’s reading you like a book.
  945. >Hay chuckles. “Sounds like how I met my late husband.”
  946. “You mean?”
  947. >”No I’m not, my husband was.” Hay Barn smiles with a hint of grief in her eyes, she uses her mouth to open the drawer and pull out an old photo. Dropping it on the counter she carries on, “Found the old stallion injured in one of my fields, almost had him with my cultivator.  Of course, he was disguised,” She points to a picture on the wall of her and a yellow stallion with a cropped brown mane. “Well I took him in and healed him up good. It wasn’t a few months until he started to act strange.”
  948. >You look at the photo on the counter  you couldn’t tell what hive he was from due to the nature of a black and white image. He was definitely a male, he looked a lot bigger than you with much more chitin armor, a queen’s guard of all things. Makes you wonder what happened for him to leave a queen’s side.
  949. “Then what happened?” You take a swig of your tea invested in the old mare’s story.
  950. >”Well the poor thing couldn’t work out why he was constantly full of love, I was already head over hooves for him by then. So, things carried on, until one day I caught him in his true form. Oh, I never hit somepony so hard with a pan in my life. Almost killed him!”
  951. “And you still kept him around?”
  952. >”Of course! I didn’t know it was him!” Hay chuckles as she thinks back. “Plus, he did bleed pretty bad, he had to wear a bandage over his eye for a while.”
  954. “So, you two fell in love?”
  955. >”That we did, got married a few years after.”
  956. >Your ears drop back as you wonder why she is telling you this. You look at her completely unsure of her motives.
  957. “Why are you telling me this?”
  958. >”What do you think?” Hay Barn sighs. “To stop you making a mistake.”
  959. “A mistake?”
  960. >”Ask me this, why isn’t he in a pod yet being drained? And he doesn’t look like he’s under mind control, trust me I’ve seen it used a few times by my husband and tax collectors.”
  961. >Luna asked you the same question when you were dreaming. Do ponies want you to mind control him or something?
  962. “I…I can’t. I can’t do that to him.” Again, you couldn’t give a complete answer.
  963. >“Why?” The mare didn’t bother to look at you while she buttered some bread.
  964. “I don’t know. It’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.”
  965. >”What if he leaves?”
  966. >The thought of him leaving you. It wasn’t about a supply anymore. You just wanted Jack.
  967. >”A terrible thought, isn't it?”
  968. “It is,” Is all you can mutter.
  969. >”Then tell him, tell him what you are.”
  970. “I can't, he would hate me!”
  971. >”No he won’t, he’s from another world. The stigma of changelings doesn’t carry with him, at least not yet.” Hay Barn pauses, her ears flicker as footsteps come down the stairs. “The earlier the better.”
  972. >Jack appears in the kitchen doorway with slightly damp hair and wearing the clothes he stole from the freight train. “The shower isn’t not half bad. Though why is there shaving foam?” He rubs his clean-shaven face.
  973. >”Stallions shave too.” Hay speaks up.
  974. >Jack looks slightly shocked at that statement. “Wait so they grow beards and mustaches.”
  975. >”Sure do.”
  976. >Jack starts laughing at the thought. “This place man, completely nuts.” He shakes his head and fully enters the kitchen. His laughter stops when he sees the newspaper. “Twig…”
  977.  “She already knows.” You cut in.
  978. >Jack looks back up to Hay Barn who was finishing the last sandwich.
  979. >”It’s fine dear, I’d harbored a fugitive before.” She pushes a plate letting Jack know that is his sandwich.
  980. >Jack picks up his tea and sandwich using both hands and returns to the dining table. “What does it say?” He scans over the article. “I can’t read pony.”
  981. >Hay Barn climbs onto a chair at the table. ”Equestrian. It’s about how a human changeling managed to get through the portal. After that it’s just old speculation about the both of you.”
  982. >”Human changeling?” Jack snorts at the idea. “I struggle to change my fashion sense, let alone what I look like.”
  983. >Hay Barn looks at you then back to Jack.  “So why are they calling you a human changeling?”
  984. “Back on Earth,” Jack pauses. “I might as well tell you since it's probably in the news article away. I borrowed people's identities for a living, made a few dollars, err bits, here and there.”
  985. >Unexpectedly, Hay Barn smiles at that. “My husband had a similar career.”
  986. >”He was a changeling?”
  987. >The old mare nods “There are no bad ponies once you find the right one.” She winks at you while Jack picks out the daisies out of his cheese sandwich.
  988. >Once everyone finished their food and drinks, Jack excuses himself for bed after a series of yawns. You were about to follow only to be pulled on the tail by Hay Barn.
  989. >”If you’re not willing to change your appearance because of the human, then you're going to have a makeover.” She points a hoof at you.
  990. ”Make over?”
  991. >”Don’t be a stupid filly. Your face is all over the papers. Luckily the photo doesn’t show your cutie mark so we’re going to do something about that mane of yours.” The old mare walks to the bottom of the stairs “To the bathroom, come on.”
  992. >Making your way to the bathroom you slip into the bathtub and turn on the shower. While Hay Barn brings in some old fashion magazines. You wondered if it’s inspiration for your mane. Maybe you should tell her the mane would just go back how it was once you take off the disguise and put it on again.
  993. >”Drop your disguise.”
  994. “Why?”
  995. >”Because your real form needs a wash too.”
  996. >You drop the disguise revealing your true form. The old mare did even flinch at the sight of you, she gives you a warm smile instead.
  997. >”You’re from that hive who invaded Canterlot on time.”
  998. >You were stationed to harvest in Baltimare at the time, but the news of your hive being defeated makes you remember that day sorely.
  999. “Yeah, but I wasn’t involved. I’m a nymph, we rarely fight.”
  1000. >”It was your hive that killed off my husband's hive.” Hay states if it were a matter of fact.
  1001. “I’m sorry.”
  1002. >”It’s fine dear, it was way before your time by the looks of it.”
  1003. “I don’t recall anything about it, so it must have been.” You look down at the water circling the drain.
  1004. “If it any consolation, my hive suffered a similar fate. But more of a rebellion than an invasion.”  
  1005. >”So you are disconnected from the hivemind?”
  1006. “Yeah, completely silent. I didn’t submit to the new ruler.”
  1007. >”I see,” Hay Barn flicks open the magazine revealing pictures of fashion mares. “Without a hivemind clouding your mind, this should be much easier.”
  1008. >You step out of the bathtub and look over the magazine.
  1009. >”Look at a mane and tail style you like, now imagine it on your disguise.”
  1010. >You stare at a fashion mare in particular; her mane is shorter but with a more styled fringe. You can tell her tail has been thinned out as it flowed closer to her behind.
  1011. >”Choose one? Now imagine and change.”
  1012. >You imagine your disguise in your mind with the mane and tail. Quickly before you lose the image you pull your magic to activate the new disguise.
  1013. “Did it work?”
  1014. >”Not quite.” Hay Barn points at the mirror.
  1015. >You look in the mirror to see a ridiculous sight of a changeling with a pony mane.
  1016. >”Try again.”
  1017. >You try again but this time you imagine every detail you could, the mane, tail, eyes, ears and cutie mark.
  1018. >The cutiemark…
  1019. >You are not the one for creativity but you imagine a single green leaf instead of a few.
  1020. >Happy with what you envisioned, you pull the magic again changing your form.
  1021. >Hay Barn gasps, “You look wonderful dear.” She inspects around you looking for flaws. “Nice touch on the cutie mark.”
  1022. “It worked?” You look around at your cutie mark to spot a single green leaf. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a change for Jack to notice. The mane and tail can be easily explained. You throw your hooves around Hay Barn “Thank you, thank you, thank you…”
  1023. >”It’s quite alright dear. But this isn’t an excuse not to tell your human friend who you are.”
  1024. “I won’t.”
  1025. >”Promise?”
  1026. “I will.”
  1027. >”Good, now off to bed.”
  1030. >Be Jack.
  1031. >You’re currently laying in bed, to your surprise the bed was big for pony standards. Plus, it was much more comfortable than the mattress last night.
  1032. >You roll over and watch the flame dance on top of the candle placed on your bedside cabinet. You reflect on the last two days; you couldn’t understand why you weren’t freaking out about being shoved in the world of talking ponies and magic. Being honest with yourself all you could really think about is Forest, you never really met anyone like her. It’s her somewhat innocent demeanor that masks her mischievous side and you know well her moral compass is as broken as yours. You find it charming.
  1033. >The bedroom door creaks open and you are greeted with a familiar face.
  1034. >You are almost speechless when Forest steps further into the candlelight. Her mane has been cut shorter and her fringe has been styled. She looks cute.
  1035. >”What do you think?”
  1036. “I never would have guessed you would brush up so well.” You rest your head on your hand. “So, who’s the lucky guy?”
  1037. >”Shush you.”
  1038. >You fall back down on the pillow as Forest climbs into bed. You’re getting used to sharing a bed with her. Like you wouldn’t get a choice anyway. She’ll complain it’s cold or something.
  1039. >You roll your head to find her muzzle inches from your nose, you can feel her breath on your face. You make the fatal mistake looking into her large green eyes. The way the candlelight danced in them, they almost glow in the dim light. You were trapped in her gentle gaze.
  1040. >”Jack,”
  1041. “hmm?” Her voice breaks your trance.
  1042. >”What do you think about me?”
  1043. “Mischievous.”
  1044. >That earns you another cute giggle.
  1045. >”Is that it? Mischievous?”
  1046. >She shuffles closer, you can almost feel her muzzle at the end of your nose.
  1047. >It feels wrong and right at the same time. She’s not human but not an animal either. You know she does have a strange interest in you. You guess that your flirting hasn’t helped. You weren’t trying to pull her, but it’s like you knew her for years and she can put up with your nonsense.
  1048. >You are tempted to say something stupid but running a risk of having another hoof across your face is too much. Then again hurting her like that doesn’t sit well with you either.
  1049. >Fuck it, you’ll meet her halfway and hope it’s just a passing fancy.
  1050. >You slide an arm under her barrel and roll her onto your chest.
  1051. >A flash of relief appears on Forest's face. “Phew, I honestly thought we were going to kiss then.”
  1052. “You got to take me out for dinner first. I order expensive food so beware.” You smirk, helpfully dispelling any awkwardness between you.
  1053. >You run a hand down her mane on to her withers and gently rub her muscles. You can feel her slowly turn to putty under your touch as she rests her head on your shoulder.
  1055. >Be Forest.
  1056. >You feel Jack hand massage your withers, it feels too good. Within seconds he made your body feel like lead.
  1057. >Even though your body feels relaxed you couldn’t help but worry.
  1058. >You almost lost control, but when you walked into that door you felt a quick surge of love from Jack.
  1059. >It wasn’t deep love or a romantic one but all you know it was directed at you.
  1060. >All you wanted was more. That was all you cared about.
  1061. >You dread to think what would have happened if you both kissed then and there.
  1062. >Would your instincts kick in and drain him then and there?
  1063. >You never felt so hungry in your life.
  1064. >You bury your muzzle into his neck as it dawns on you.
  1065. >The hunger, it’s gone.
  1066. >You can feel it. You could’ve missed if you weren’t paying attention; a small torrent of love seeps in your being.
  1067. >You bolt up and look at Jack who is looking concerned at your sudden movement.
  1068. >He doesn’t look like he’s in discomfort or in pain, more confused than anything.
  1069. >You’re not draining him either, but deep down you know it’s coming from him.
  1070. >”Are you alright?”
  1071. “Yeah, sorry. Just had a sudden thought.”
  1072. >”What were you thinking about?”
  1073. “Nothing, just wondering how I can get more of these massages.”
  1074. >”I fear what devious plan you will come with.”
  1075. “Hush, let me return to bliss.”
  1076. >You lay back down and place your muzzle back into the crook of his neck.
  1078. >Still be Forest.
  1079. >”Must you poke your muzzle into everything we do?” Luna mutters to herself as she stands in the void flicking through your memories once again.
  1080. “Luna?” You look around the void “Am I dreaming again?”
  1081. >Luna pauses the memories and turns her head, “That you are.”
  1082. “I didn’t think I would see you so soon.”
  1083. >”Rest assured, we are trying our best not to make this a regular occurrence.”
  1084. “Then why are you here?”
  1085. >”The dreamscape is our domain bug and vagabond have no authority to claim where one should not tread.” The princess replies as she walks over to you with an air of dominance. “Thankfully we digress little changeling, once again we must question, why didn’t you drain him?”
  1086. “Who? Jack?”
  1087. >Luna stares at you without a hint of any expression. Her horn lights up showing the recent memory of you and Jack inches away from a kiss.
  1088. “Because I can’t!” You snap at Luna. Realizing who you just yelled at you lower your entire body. “S-sorry, I-I’m just fed up being asked that question.”
  1089. >Luna simply waits for you to continue but you see in her eyes a warning not to overstep your boundaries again.
  1090. “It’s because he’s becoming very special to me.”
  1091. >”Indeed, it appears that way.”
  1092. “But why does everypony keep asking why I haven’t drained him? Do you want me to?”
  1093. >”It would make the circumstances more straightforward for us.”
  1094. “Well I won’t.” You give her a curt reply.
  1095. >”Then it appears that there are two who are going against their very nature.”
  1096. >You wonder if she meant Jack with that comment, but there was no doubt she was referring to you.
  1097. “Nature? Its proven changelings can change their ways, look at Thorax and his hive.”
  1098. >”Do not be so ignorant. Thorax’s hive only learnt to love each other, replacing him with a queen such as Chrysalis the drones will simply follow suit.”
  1099. “But other changelings haven’t joined Thorax.”
  1100. >”At first yes. Eventually all but you have returned to the hive. It causes us to wonder.”
  1101. “Wonder about what?”
  1102. >”None of you concern changeling.” Luna quickly changes the subject. “We can see you still journeying to Vanhoover, correct?”
  1103. “Yes, we stopped off for the night.”
  1104. >”Very well. Then we bid you goodnight.” The princess of the night turns away from you.
  1105. “Luna wait…” You call out.
  1106. >”Speak quickly, we have other duties tonight.” Luna replies over her shoulder.
  1107. “I’ve changed my disguise a little, would the point of contact still be able to find me?”
  1108. >”We already know, we bid thanks for telling us… By fair means or foul.”
  1110. >You stir awake still on Jack's chest. You feel his arm loosely placed around your back. You couldn’t help but smile as you gently rise and fall due to his breathing. You glance at the window, the fresh morning light filters through the curtains, you feel a pang of sadness as you know you both must get up soon.
  1111. “Jack” You softly call in his ear.
  1112. >He grumbles under his breath as he rolls over grabbing you into a hug.
  1113. >Pulling you tighter you feel something warm and hard press against your rump.
  1114. >It seems it happens to human males too.
  1115. >You feel mirth spread across your face.
  1116. ”Oh, well good morning to you Jack junior, at least someone’s up.”
  1117. >”Junior?” Jack mumbles in between dream and reality. A few moments pass before you feel him jolt away. You hear him curse as he tumbles off the bed, taking the sheets and his pillow with him.
  1118. >You look over the bed edge to see Jack heaped in a pile of sheets not looking amused.
  1119. “Well at least one of you is an early riser.” You stifle a laugh behind a hoof, revenge never tasted so sweet.
  1120. >Your comment earns you a face full of pillow.
  1122. >Both of you descend the stairs, Jack is still visibly embarrassed as he refuses to look at you as he turns into the kitchen.
  1123. >”I was wondering when you two would decide to get up.” Hay Barn is sitting at the dining table will a cup of tea looking through some letters.
  1124. > Jack rubs his eyes; you can hear the grogginess in his voice. “What time is it? It feels too early.”
  1125. >”You colt, honestly….It’s six o’clock. If an old mare can get up before the crack of dawn, you can handle this.”
  1126. “Yeah Jack, the early bird catches worm.” You chime in as he glares at you from his seat, early morning Jack is easy to torment.
  1127. >Hay Barn places the letter she was reading down on to the table. “Let’s get some breakfast in you before you leave, does eggs and toast sound good?”
  1128. >”Yes please.” Jack mumbles.
  1129. “That sounds great thank you.”
  1131. >It didn’t take long for Hay Barn to cook breakfast; it took less time for you and Jack to eat it. You weren’t hungry not in the slightness, but it seems the human is ready to get going.
  1132. >After breakfast you put back on your hat and scarf followed by your saddlebags.
  1133. >You look up to Jack who is ready to leave.
  1134. “Hang on one second. We should really thank Hay Barn, she has been nothing but nice to us. Even in our predicament.”
  1135. >”You're right,” He lets go of the door handle.
  1136. >”Wait a second you two. Not leaving an old mare without saying goodbye, are you?” You see Hay Barn trot down the stairs.
  1137. >”Wouldn’t dream of it, Mrs Barn.”
  1138. >You shoot a look at Jack.
  1139. >Hay Barn laughs “Behave you.” The old mare taps her chin, “Give me a tick, I need to give you something.” She checks in a few cupboards looking for something. “Ah, there you are.” She trots over to you with a gem in her mouth placing it in your hooves.
  1140. >You look over the gem as it gives off a soft green glow.
  1141. “What is it.”
  1142. >”It’s an enchanted gem. You can use it to send mail to me. You see it’s hard for the mail ponies to deliver the mail to the farm this time of year.”
  1143. >”Why are you giving us this?” Jack asks.
  1144. >”To send me mail of course. I want to know how you guys are faring occasionally.”
  1145. >”You want us as a penpal?”
  1146. >”I want to know you are staying safe out there.” Hay Bale looks to you.
  1147. “We will. No I will, Jack doesn’t know how to write Equestrian.”
  1148. >”Keep out of trouble you two and remember there’s good ponies out there.”
  1149. “We’ll try.”
  1150. >Hay nods at you and looks up to Jack. “And you look after her, else I’ll come and beat your rear end to Tartarus and leave you there.”
  1151. >“She is in safe hands Mrs Barns.”
  1152. >”Right get,” Hay opens the door and playfully nudges him out the door.
  1153. >You head out before giving Hay a hug and thanking her quietly.
  1154. >You and Jack wave bye to the old mare before making your way down the dirt path to Vanhoover.
  1156. >Jack glares back at the farmhouse then looks around at the surrounding area. “Did that lady seem odd to you?”
  1157. “Not really, why?”
  1158. >”Well she was too nice, kind of rubbed me the wrong way.”
  1159. “She was lovely.”
  1160. >”Look around Forest. Look at the fields they are all barren, looks like they haven’t seen a single crop in years.”
  1161. “Well she is old, I’m pretty sure she can’t farm all this land.”
  1162. >”That may be. I don’t know, maybe ponies are more willing to help strangers than humans.”
  1163. “Could be.” You think back to last night. Hay Barn seemed very motherly towards the both of you, a few times you felt love from her, like how a parent loves a foal. You couldn’t put your hoof on it.
  1164. >”Hey Forest…” Jack breaks you from your thoughts. “Do you think she was a ghost?”
  1165. >You shudder at the thought.
  1166. “W-why would you think that?”
  1167. >He points at the old farmhouse. “It looks pretty abandoned now.”
  1168. “Don’t say…”
  1169. >A chilling shiver snakes down your spine, you dare to look back down the path towards the house.
  1170. >It looked just the same. You even see Hay Barn in a window cleaning.
  1171. >Jack prods you on the side, “Gotcha!” He quickly marches ahead.
  1172. “Jack! You get back here!”
  1174. >Be Princess Cadance.
  1175. >You watch Twilight work around the Crystal Heart probing it with her magic then scribble down some notes on the scroll.
  1176. >You found her banging on your door in the early hours of this morning. It didn’t surprise you when you found out she travelled through the night once she received your message.
  1177. >If anything, you know Twilight can solve this mystery. Hopefully soon.
  1178. >Your hoof taps on the floor as impatience grows inside you. Noticing this you draw in a deep breath and breathe out. The last three nights you barely had a wink of sleep due to working late nights and getting up for Flurry Heart.
  1179. ”Found anything?”
  1180. >Twilight stops scribbling notes and looks up to you. “I can’t find anything wrong. Everything with the heart is working fine. No dark, chaos or spirit magic at play here. I can’t get my mind around why the heart let the human through the portal.”
  1181. “Maybe the changeling done something and covered its tracks.” You knew you were clutching at straws at this point.
  1182. >”Very unlikely.” Twilight sits on her haunches and taps her chin. “I read through the witness reports this morning when you were dealing with Flurry. The changeling never went close to the heart at all; even one witness account said she looked uncomfortable being a hundred yards away.”
  1183. “Don’t you think it’s strange that a changeling avoids the Heart like that? It emanates love magic, surely that would encourage them to stick around.”
  1184. >”You would think that, but love is food for a changeling. I imagine it would be very uncomfortable for one nearby.” Twilight trots back over to the Heart. “How much love magic radiates from the Crystal Heart is phenomenal, I imagine it’ll be like eating a whole buffet table in one sitting every minute.”
  1185. >You sit down and sigh. You were hoping for some progress with Twilight here, but she was just as baffled as you are.
  1186. >You know the Crystal Heart does its own thing once in a while. But why a changeling human? All those bugs do is make your fur crawl, now you discover something similar on the other side.
  1187. >”Princess Cadance? Hellooo!” Twilight waves a hoof in front of your face.
  1188. “Huh?”
  1189. >”I said, how's the real Jack and Forest doing?”
  1190. “Sorry I was away with the breezies, Forest Leaves the poor thing has to wait a little longer while we get the new paperwork to Jack Tanner. I’m just glad she has patience like no other as we got to start the process all over again.”
  1191. >”Poor mare, I do hope they get united soon.”
  1192. “So do I Twilight.”
  1194. >Be Jack.
  1195. >You listen to Forest give you a run down on Equestria and the types of ponies who live there.
  1196. >You were surprised to learn that dragons and griffons exist. You would like to see a dragon, preferably at a distance if they are anything like the legends from back home.
  1197. >”And that’s why there are only a few alicorns in existence.” Forest concludes the brief history of this world.
  1198. “Let's get this straight, this Princess Luna who talks to you in your dreams can move the moon?”
  1199. >”Yep, and her sister moves the sun.”
  1200. “If you are telling the truth then they are literally goddesses.”
  1201. >”Sure am.”
  1202. >You rub your temples, are there actual gods here too? You would have laughed at the idea of the moon and sun being moved by equines but being surrounded by magic everyday it seems not that far fetched.
  1203. >You see a small city emerge over the hills, the pure sight of it takes you breath away. The town is built around a great reservoir that held by a great dam that could have been pulled from a fantasy film. Its impressive grandeur stands against the elements with its beautiful design. You couldn’t be more in awe at the massive statues of two alicorns either side standing watch over the flowing water.
  1204. >”If Vanhoover impresses you then you haven’t seen anything yet.” Forest says looking back at you.
  1205. “Honestly this place is like a fairy tale.” You reply by catching back up to your companion.
  1207. >You couldn’t be more impressed with the city up close. Sure, the Crystal City was something to behold but you didn’t have a chance to admire it. Taking the opportunity of the slow pace you look around in awe once again.
  1208. >Everything here is spotless, no litter, graffiti or other grime you find in a city district. Granted it’s a little busy with foot traffic, and you are somewhat glad to see other humans among the crowd. Being this far away from the world you know; it’s refreshing to see some familiarity once in a while.
  1209. “So ,where do you meet your point of contact?” You look down at Forest who is trotting close to you.
  1210. >”We don’t, Luna said they’ll find us.”
  1211. >As if on cue an odd-looking pony walks up to you. It had a grey coat with a set of leathery wings, the best way you could describe them is they should belong to a bat. The weirdest part it's wearing sunglasses, the weather isn’t practically that sunny.
  1212. >”Forest? Jack?” It speaks up, you presume she’s female due to the pitch of her voice.
  1215. >You notice Forest flinching away from the weird pony as she stares at its fangs.
  1216. ”Are you the point of contact?” You ask.
  1217. >”Good. Follow me.”
  1218. >You were just about to follow until you felt a tug on your jeans. You look down to see Forest pulling you back.
  1219. >”Jack, that’s a thestral…” Forest mentions in a hushed tone.
  1220. “Is that what she is?”
  1221. >”I can’t do this…”
  1222. “Why she seems alright.”
  1223. >”And you thought there was something up with Hay Barn?”
  1224. “Forest, is this the point of contact Luna sent or no?”
  1225. >”Luna is known for having thestral guards, so I guess that’s her.”
  1226. “Right, come on.”
  1227. >You follow the thestral along the streets, Forest keeps behind you almost to hide from her. You notice other ponies give an odd glance as they walk by, but you couldn’t see any signs of fear.
  1228. “What’s wrong with thestrals?” You whisper behind you.
  1229. >”Bad history with them. Please leave it at that.”
  1230. “Fine. Just don’t go freaking out or something.”
  1232. >The thestral turns down a side street and stops near a bar. She impatiently waits by the door until you catch up.
  1233. >”In here,” She pushes the door open and holds it.
  1234. >You and Forest slip into the bar, you can smell the alcohol in the air. Mostly the distinct smell of cider. It looks like an average place fitted with tables, chairs and a bar displaying advertisement for multiple beverages.
  1235. >The bar is very quiet, not many ponies in here at all. You see a few sitting at the bar and a few couples enjoying a midday meal.
  1236. >You notice the thestral move towards a darkened table near the back and sit down.
  1237. >Walking over to the pony; she speaks up as she takes off her sunglasses revealing her golden cat-like eyes.
  1238. >”I have no clue how you day walkers do it. It’s way too early to be up.” The bat mare rubs her eyes. “Before you sit Jack, head to the bar and grab us some drinks.” The thestral pulls out a coin bag from under her wing and flings it on the table. “Whiskey make it a single, and I’m expecting change!”
  1240. >You nod and look at Forest and ask what she wishes to drink. She simply replies wanting some water. With a nod you head to the bar coin bag in hand.
  1241. >You put your elbows on the bar top and wait to be served.
  1242. >”I’ll be there in a minute.” The bar pony yells out from the bottom of the bar.
  1243. >You wave your hand signalling that you heard them.
  1244. >While you wait you spot a bowl of sugar cubes. Remembering your childhood, you couldn’t resist taking one and licking it.
  1245. >To your dismay the sweetness you wished for didn’t come into fruition, instead you got a taste-full of bitter salt instead.
  1247. >Be Forest.
  1248. >It had to be a thestral! Why does Luna have to be so cruel!
  1249. >You shrink into your chair as the bat pony gives you a fang bared grin.
  1250. >”It’s been a while since I came across a bug.” She somehow grins even more further pushing your anxiety. “From Chrysalis hive of all things…”
  1251. >You start to shuffle your chair away from her, something primal strikes at your very being when you look at those fangs.
  1252. >Sure, changelings have them, but they use them for self defense and opening mail. But thestrals, theirs are predatory. Especially designed for cracking through thick chitin armor.
  1253. >You're glad a multiple millennium has passed, and you both are currently in a civilised society. If any different, you’ll be food right now. Either way, the instinctual fear still lies no matter how many generations have passed.
  1254. >”And where do you think you are going?” She raises an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t want to trigger my hunting instincts, now would you?”
  1255. >Upon hearing that, you freeze in your seat as the thestal gives a full-hearted laugh. “Oh, that face, it was the same when a few changelings barged in the barracks during the invasion.”
  1256. >You tear your eye away from her to look for Jack who was bringing over three glasses.
  1257. >”Right since the food chain is complete, let's get to it.” The bat pony picks up her whiskey with her front hooves and takes a sip and places the glass back down “I’m Crescent Glow, I’ll be your point of contact for this operation.” Crescent Glow pauses and glares at Jack.
  1258. >”What?” He speaks over the froth of his beer.
  1259. >”Change.”
  1260. >”Right sorry,” Jack goes into his pocket and throws the coin bag on the table with a thunk.
  1261. >To a trained ear that didn’t sound like coins, to your surprise the thestral places the bag back under her wing.
  1262. >’For heaven's sake Jack, not now, not her.’ You shout in your mind.
  1263. >Crescent Glow looks around for any eavesdroppers or anything suspicious. She continues speaking in a quiet tone. ”Anyway, your assignment is a simple one. We have reasons to believe that there is a changeling operation going on in this city. One of our scouts has confirmed a changeling is impersonating the project manager at the dam.” Crescent Glow pulls out a photo and tosses it on the table showing a grey unicorn stallion with a brown mane. “This is the changeling in question, our reports tell us he will be attending the end of year masquerade ball tonight, that’s were you two will be going.”
  1264. >”Wouldn’t I stick out like a sore thumb?” Jack asks.
  1265. >”No, two reasons, one, other humans will be there. And two, it’s a masquerade. Quite fitting isn’t it Forest?” The thestral finishes looking at you.
  1266. You knew what she meant but you speak up anyway. “It’ll make our lives easier.”
  1267. >”Good, once you find him do not approach, all you are there for is information gathering. Understood?”
  1268. “Understood.”
  1269. >”Jack?” Glow stares at Jack who is using his finger to stir the froth of his beer.  
  1270. >”Yeah sure. Understood.” He replies dismissively.
  1271. >Nevertheless, the bat pony smiles “Excellent. I’ve booked you two a room for tonight. Everything you need is up there. A carriage will be outside at seven.” The thestral gulps down the rest of her whiskey. “I’m off to bed. I’ll see you two tomorrow. Don’t buck this up for Luna’s sake.”
  1272. >You both watch Crescent Glow nod to the bar pony before making her way upstairs.
  1273.  >Jack returns to his drink, looking like he’s deep in thought. After downing a manageable amount, he speaks up. “I don’t think I can do this Forest.”
  1274. “Why not?”
  1275. >”Getting caught in government affairs always ends badly. Besides we’re way over our heads here.”
  1276. “We came this far Jack. A little information gathering shouldn’t be an issue.”
  1277. >”I’m just a conman with a few technical skills. Playing spy is well above my skills.”
  1278. “Well it could be fun?”
  1279. >”Fun?”
  1280. “You said to me after the Crystal Empire you never had a rush like it.”
  1281. >”That was the adrenaline still talking.”
  1282. >You decide to take a different approach, you sit up from the chair and make your way to the stairs.
  1283. >”Where are you going?” Jack questions you. Surprised at your actions.
  1284. “Well if you don’t want to go, I’ll just go myself. I’m not having Luna tear off my ch- fur.”
  1285. >”Ugh, fine! Only to keep you out of trouble!” He downs the rest of his beer and gets up.
  1286. >Be Jack.
  1287. >You sit on the bed in the booked room upstairs. You sit in a tuxedo with the bow tie around your shoulders. You think about ditching it, one thing you hate is things around your neck. Plus, you didn’t know how to tie one. You pull the bow tie from your collar and throw it on the bed.
  1288. >You can hear Forest clutter and bang in the bathroom as she gets ready. You couldn’t help smiling as you hear her curse and swear about the color of the dress.
  1289. >The opening of the bathroom door catches your attention, an impressed smile forms on your face as you see Forest step out.
  1290. >She looked somewhat beautiful in her black dress. The dress had to be expensive as you see the decorated teal lace around her front keeping the rest of the dress hugged to her barrel. The rest of the dress flows out over her tail with green edges.
  1291. >”I think Luna’s playing a small joke with this!” Forest grumbles as she fumbles with the laces trying to loosen the dressing.
  1292. “Not a dress person then?”
  1293. >”You can say that.”
  1294. “I think you look good in black.”
  1295. >Forest stops fiddling with the laces and looks back up to you. “You think so?”
  1296. “Yeah, it shows off your eyes.”
  1297. >”Thanks,” The white mare blushes a little. “You look quite good yourself.” Forest frowns as she sees your neck. “Where your bow tie?”
  1298. >You run a hand across your neck.
  1299. “I hate bow ties.”
  1300. >”But you have to wear one.”
  1301. “When do I follow the rules Forest?” You fold your arms.
  1302. >”Fine, come on troublemaker. We need to get going, it’s nearly seven.”
  1304. >You couldn’t stop laughing at the sight. Watching a carriage being pulled by two stallions with another one sat in the drive seat. Forest couldn’t quite understand why it was so funny, you attempted to explain but the more you thought about it the more absurd it became.
  1305. >Still snickering, you board the carriage and sit next to Forest who was already adjusting her black floral decor mask.
  1306. You lean over and whisper into her ear. “So do I say giddy up or something?”
  1307. >Forest knees you in the arm with her front leg. “Shush, that’s really offensive thing to say.”
  1308. “Why?”
  1309. >”It’s what the pony slave owners used to say.” She replies sharply.
  1310. You were astonished that these ponies had a concept of slavery. As well to have been to be the instigators of it at one point in time.
  1311. “Who did you guys enslave?”
  1312. >Forest rolls her eyes, clearly not wanting to have this conversation. “Zebras.”
  1313. “Wait there’s Zebras too?”
  1314. >”Yes, now be quiet.”
  1315. >You sit and think for a bit as another question forms in your mind.
  1316. “Did they call them zig-“ You are cut off by another knee to the arm. “Ow!”
  1317. >”There’s no filter on you, is there Jack?” Forest asks with a small smile forming on her lips.
  1318. “Not really.”
  1320. >”We’re almost there you two.” The carriage chauffeur speaks up over his shoulder. “Both you tickets are under your seat, it should have your names you will be using tonight already on them.”
  1321. >You sit up a little and tuck your hand under the seat and pull out two tickets.
  1322. >You shudder a bit when you see your new fake name you will be using.
  1323. > Daniel Briel
  1324. >These ponies knew much more about you than you thought.  Forest has a similar response when she sees her ticket, looking over you see her name as Changing Meadows.
  1325. >You guess that they know more about Forest as well.
  1327. >The carriage pulls to a halt and you both exit in front of the gates of a massive manor house. You couldn’t help whistling at the size of it. Whoever owns this has serious money.  Spot a unicorn standing by the gates with a clipboard hovering in front of him. By the shirt and cap he was wearing you presume he seems like a private guard.
  1328. ”Names?” The guard speaks up as he flicks through his papers then grabs a pen out his shirt pocket using his mouth.
  1329. >”Changing Meadows.”
  1330. “Daniel Briel”
  1331. >The unicorn looks down the list and crosses out your names then puts the pen back into his shirt pocket. “Have a good night both of you.” He says as he opens the main gates using his magic.
  1333. >You and Forest walk up a long winding path through the front gardens and reach the front door.  What you think is a butler opens the door for you bidding you both a welcome.
  1334. >”Your mask, Daniel, you’re at a masquerade remember.”
  1335. >You groan as you pull out, put make and place it over your face.
  1336. “Man, if we were invited to some sex cult…”
  1337. >”What are you on about?”
  1338. “I forgot its name but there’s a movie about an alien cannibalistic sex cult-“
  1339. >”No, not listening!” Forest covers her ears. She obviously wises up to your games.
  1340. >”Society, a good cult classic.” A voice chimes in.
  1342. >You both look up to see another human wearing a suit like yours. He looks slightly older than you are. You couldn’t help noticing the ring on his finger when he brushes back his blonde hair.
  1343. >”Hello, I’m John, I’m the host of this ball,” He offers his hand to you. In which you grab and give a firm shake. “You have to bear with me, I have so many guests coming that I don’t know your names.”
  1344. “Daniel, just Dan will do. I’m not one for formalities.”
  1345. >”Ms Meadows.”
  1346. >The human bites inside of his mouth in thought. “I don’t recall knowing anyone by those names.” He looks at you with suspicion.
  1347. >You keep your cool and feign your confusion.
  1348. >”Okay out with it. Who are you?”
  1349. >You see Forest starting to panic. You sigh expressively and prepare your bullshit.
  1350. “Fine you got me; I’ve got some ponies to pull some strings to get me here.” You look down at the floor as you continue. “You see I was hoping to find some high-profile individuals to land me a well-paid job.”
  1351. >You look back up to John, who is looking a bit annoyed “And you drag your mare into this?”
  1352. “I’m sorry, we’ve been struggling. I’m a software engineer by trade and since ponies lack computers…well you know.”
  1353. >”I see,” John slowly nods. “I got lucky and landed myself with a Canterlot noble. Being a post grad architect engineer myself I got lucky securing a contract for Vanhoover dam.” He smiles and taps you on the shoulder, “I have to admit what you are doing is a ballsy move to get a job. It tells me what type of guy you are.” He lightly punches you in the gut. “You’re a go-getter. Something my company needs.”
  1354. “Really?” You are taken back at the turn of events.
  1355. >”Sure, I’ll speak with you later, but for now I see more guests arriving.” He stops to wave at the entering guests. “Enjoy your night you two.”
  1357. >You both nod and make your way across the foyer through another set of doors into the manor’s grand hall. You see what you expected at a masquerade, decorated table and chairs that lined around the dance floor with a live band playing on a grand stage. You see masked guests chatting among each other while waiters weave in and out between them with trays offering drinks and gourmet food.
  1358. >Make your way over to a spare table and sit down with Forest opposite you.
  1359. >Spotting a waitress carrying a tray of champagne glasses on his back, you wave him over.
  1360. >She trots over to your table with the tray.
  1361. >You thank her as you take two glasses and place them on the table.
  1362. >As the waitress leaves, Forest speaks up after a mouthful of champagne. “You got a plan?”
  1363. “Not really, talking to the other guests would be a good start. Maybe asking a few employees about any gossip would help.”
  1364. >You spot another waitress carrying a cheese board on her back, you give her a wave to come over.
  1365. >”Cheese board sir?” The waitress asks, offering the cheese beverages on her back.
  1366. “Yes, thank you,” You take two cheese and pineapple sticks and offer one to Forest. Your companion shakes her head leading you to shrug and bite the cheese and pineapple off the toothpick. Before the waitress mare could leave you speak up. “Tell me, do you enjoy this job?”
  1368. >The waitress hesitates on her answer, “It’s well paid.”
  1369. You laugh, “Fair enough,” You take a drink from your champagne. “An odd question but have you heard any good gossip or seen anything unusual around here?”
  1370. >The mare looks at you in surprise that you would ask such a question. “Nothing that I’m aware off.”
  1371. >You see on her face that she knows something. You reach into your pocket and pull out a few bits you borrowed from Crescent Glow’s coin purse. You hold your hand out to show her how many and place them into her uniform pocket.
  1372. >The waitress looks around and moves closer to whisper. “John and project manager, Shady Designs have been arguing a lot lately. Apparently Shady has been hiring ponies behind John's back. I don’t know somethings weird is going on at the dam.” The mare finishes with a nod expressing that is all she is going to say.
  1373. “Thank you.”
  1374. >”Have a good night sir.” The waitress walks off to another table.
  1376. >You turn to Forest who has been oddly quiet.
  1377. “Looks like we got a lead for tonight. We should split up and mingle for a bit to see what else we can find out.” You pause to see Forest not really taking interest which makes you a little irritated. “Forest, I’m trying to help you here as you wanted to do this.”
  1378. >”Huh? I’m sorry. I was deep in thought.”
  1379. “What about?”
  1380. >”I almost freaked out when we were talking to John. I’m never like this.” Forest covers her eyes with her hooves. “I couldn’t get a read on him. Human faces don’t show much emotion.”
  1381. “Hey, come on now, I slip up time to time. It’s part of the trade.”
  1382. >”I know, it’s just that…”
  1383. “Alright, I’ll cut you a deal, we find out the info we need then we just kick back and enjoy the rest of the night.” You lean over the table and remove her hooves from her face. “No tricks, no lies, just me and you.”
  1384. >”So, like a date?” Forest quietly asks with a small blush forming on her muzzle.
  1385. >You feel a hint of dread as you see her blush. You got too deep with this mare, you should have ditched her sooner.
  1386. >You look back at her green eyes, you see sadness grow within them as she looks away probably due to your hesitation.
  1387. >Pushing your thoughts aside you give her a warm smile.
  1388. “Yeah, a date.”
  1389. >She looks at you for a moment before getting up from her chair. “You’re such a liar.”
  1390. >You are taken back to her outburst. You call her by her fake name as she trots away into the crowd.
  1391. >That hurt coming from her. She knows you lie , you thought you both established that shortly after you met. It was the way she said it, it cut right through your heart.
  1392. >She doesn’t think you’ve been leading her on, has she? You’ve made it clear many of times you do not have an interest in ponies.
  1393. >You think back over the last few days, from the get-go it was like talking to an old friend. All those times you made her laugh and smile…
  1395. >You frown and look back at the exit. You could still leave, it’s Forests’ mess you’re in anyway. You turn back to see Forest watching you from the crowd looking more heartbroken.
  1396. >You got to go. Getting up from your chair you head towards the exit and stare at the doors to the foyer.
  1397. >You huff and turn around and head out to the back gardens. You rub your fingers over your temples as you lean on the patio wall. You couldn’t leave. If you leave now, she’ll be gone for good.
  1398. “I can’t do this.” You mutter barely over your breath.
  1399. >”And here me thinking you 're a go-getter.”
  1400. >You turn around to see John lighting a small cigar.
  1401. “No it’s not that.”
  1402. >”You want one?” He offers a cigar, it’s been years since you smoked, something you had to give up being on the run all the time.
  1403. “Thanks” you take it and put it in your mouth.
  1404. >John lights the end of the cigar for you and leans on the patio wall. “Tell me, what did you give up on?”
  1405. “I’m out of my depth here.”
  1406. >John laughs as he blows out some smoke. “Don’t worry about that, nearly every guy here is socially adept.”
  1407. >You couldn’t help but smirk.
  1408. >”Trust me when I first met my wife, I was a mess. I couldn’t get a word out, her being a noble made it even worse.” John places a reassuring hand on your shoulder. “I felt like a peasant for a while being around her.”
  1409. “Is she here tonight?”
  1410. >You feel his hand slip off your shoulder.
  1411. >”No she isn’t, she had to leave last minute for a meeting for something. She didn’t give me a clear answer.”
  1412. >This piques your interest, so you decide to push further.
  1413. “Trouble in paradise?” You take a drag rolling the tobacco smoke in your mouth.
  1414. >John glances at you then out to the gardens. “I’ll probably regret telling you this, but she’s been acting strange.” He smokes on his cigar and breathes out the smoke. “It started a few weeks ago, the romance just died, now it feels fake. Nothing more than a show. I just feel emotionally drained around her.”
  1415. >The last sentence confirms your suspicions, from what Forest told you about changelings it seems like his wife is an impostor.
  1416. “I wish I can give you advice, but I’m probably the worst person to ask.”
  1417. >John smiles, “I think every human here would be.” He flicks the ash from his cigar. “To top things off, she’s running off with Shady Designs all the time. Do you think a mare would cheat?”
  1418. “In your case, no I don’t think so.” You gave him a half truth.
  1419. >”What makes you think that?”
  1420. >You take your time to reply as you order your thoughts.
  1421. “In relationships mistakes happen,” You look around through the doors window to see Forest sat on a table on her own not sure what to do with herself. “It’s something that needs talking through, because maybe losing each other would be worse than lying to yourselves that everything’s okay.”
  1422. >”And you said you were the worst for relationship advice.” John chuckles as he pats you on the back “I like you, hand in your resume and I’ll see what works available within the company.” He says with more of a cheer as he finishes off his cigar and flicks it out into the garden. “Well Dan, I’ll see you around, you’ve given me something to think about.”
  1423. >John turns and holds out his hand once again.
  1424. “No problem, and thanks for the offer.” You give his hand a shake.
  1425. >Once John leaves you turn around and finish your cigar and stub it out on the patio floor with your shoe.
  1426. >You glance through the window once more to check Forest is still at the table, your heart sinks as you see nothing but an empty chair.
  1428. >Be Forest.
  1429. >Be alone.
  1430. >You aren’t sure how you got here, but through your hazy vision it seems you ended up in a utility room.
  1431. >You try and think back.
  1432. >You remember you trying to find more information as Jack went to leave before you saw him change his mind.
  1433. >Then you remember heading back to the table. Then you had to use the mare room to powder your muzzle.
  1434. >Then…
  1435. >Ugh, you couldn’t remember.
  1436. >You try getting to your hooves, but you quickly stumble over.
  1437. >You gasp as you see your holey black legs tied together.
  1438. >You struggle to no avail. You couldn’t wriggle yourself free.
  1440. >An opening and closing of a door catches your attention. Shuffling round you see the grey coated unicorn trot in.
  1441. >”Ah, you're awake. If you're wondering why you are not dead yet, I still have a message from one of my sisters.” The unicorn uses his magic to pull your head up “Remember that changeling your human friend hit with a chair? Remember?” He drags your body over to him. “She says she doesn’t want that damn human.”
  1442. “What are you planning to do with him?” You ask trying to struggle out of his magical grip.
  1443. >”Oh! the changeling human, such a delight knowing there’s others like us out there.” He turns with a malice grin “Shame he’s got to go too, human or no, My Queen doesn’t like competition.”
  1444. “You Leave him alone!” You shout now desperately trying to free yourself.
  1445. >The disguised changeling tosses you along the floor and you slide into a heap. “I wouldn’t worry about us hurting him. That’ll be your job.”
  1446. “I’ll never hurt him!” You cry out.
  1447. >”Really?” He walks towards you. “I’ll give it a day or two until he’s nothing more than a husk. Trust me, you’ll drown in love.”
  1448. >You were about to reply but you feel a hoof crash down on you.
  1449. >…
  1450. >Your head pounds as you regain consciousness, the changeling is now gone,
  1451. >You find yourself in an up-right position feeling something pressed against you back.
  1452. >That scent.
  1453. >You turn your head as far as you can to see the side of Jack's face.
  1454. >He’s here!
  1455. >He can’t see you like this! Not yet!
  1456. >You catch yourself instinctively changing to your disguise. With a heavy feeling you let the magic dissipate from your horn.
  1457. >What’s the use? He hates you anyway.
  1458. >You look down at your body. What were you thinking, who would ever love a bug?
  1460. >Jack wakes and gasps behind you. You feel him try to pull forward dragging you with him.
  1461. >”Where am I?”
  1462. You hesitate at first, but you eventually reply in your natural raspy voice. “I’m not sure, those changelings tied us up here.”
  1463. >You feel Jack jump a bit at the sound of your voice. He struggles as he tries to turn his head too look at you.
  1464. >”Great, I'm tied to a bug!” He growls. “You not one of those orange eyed bastards, are you?”
  1465. >You feel your heart break a little upon hearing his outburst.
  1466. “N-no I’m not, I’m from a different hive.” You feel tears fall down your cheeks. “They’re not fond of changelings who are not under their queen.”
  1467. >”I guess that’s why you're tied up with me?”
  1468. “Yeah…”
  1469. >Jack sighs, “You are not going to drain me, are you?”
  1470. “No, I don’t feel like eating right now.”
  1471. >He looks over his shoulder scanning you with suspicion before smiling.
  1472. >”I don’t blame you.” He chuckles. “Man, I really fucked up tonight.”
  1473. “Something tells me we both did.”
  1474. >”What happened to you?”
  1475. “I was disguised as a pony gathering love as I do day to day. Then I ran into these guys…”
  1476. >”Hard luck then?”
  1477. “Yeah…what about you?”
  1478. >”Lost someone…close to me, I searched all over the place for her, I spent hours walking around due to not knowing Vanhoover,” Jack huffs. “I finally made it back to our room only to find one of those fuckers disguised as her”
  1479. >You look around at his cheek, he wasn’t crying but you can feel his loss. You wanted to say your right behind him. But you can’t, not now. It’s too late.
  1480. “What happened to your friend?”
  1481. >”We had an argument then I messed up even more and now she’s gone. She wanted to make something a date and I hesitated. She’s too…” He finishes trying to find the best word for you.
  1482. “Different?”
  1483. >”Yeah, I only knew her for a few days. Sure, she is fun to be around, has a cute smile, beautiful eyes and a hell of a troublemaker.”
  1484. >You couldn’t help but smile as you feel the love radiate from him.
  1485. “She sounds nice, I take it you like you like her.”
  1486. >”Maybe.”
  1487. “If you saw her again, what would you say?”
  1488. >Jack stares at you over his shoulder for a moment with a smile while he muses over his words. “I’ll tell her I’m sorry, and that I never met anyone like her before and I would hate to see her go.”
  1489. >You just wanted to hug him then and there.
  1490. >You didn’t want to consume his love, a part of you wanted to keep it forever.
  1491. “She’s a lucky mare.”
  1492. >Jack laughs. “She is.” He struggles again trying to free himself. “And I have a strange feeling she’s here. Wherever we are.”
  1493. >After a few minutes of trying to wrestle free, you both stop to take a breather.
  1494. >”Hey…uh changeling. You can use magic right? Like a unicorn?”
  1495. “Yeah I can, but my spells are very limited.”
  1496. >You forgot about your horn, being an earth pony for days on end magic becomes a second thought. In fact, you are mentally face hoofing for not releasing earlier.
  1497. >”Can you use a spell to free us?”
  1498. “I think I got one” You reply.
  1499. >You pull the magic up through your horn and cast a small bolt at the rope. The rope starts to smoulder as the fibres start to separate. You and Jack pull from each other with everything you got. Eventually the rope breaks sending you both to the floor.
  1500. >Jack gets up and dusts himself off and looks around the room. “You have a name?”
  1501. “No, I don’t, nymphs normally go unnamed.”
  1502. >”Nymphs?”
  1503. “Females, it’s a name for a changeling mare.”
  1504. >Jack raises an eyebrow while you scrunch up your muzzle, you can already guess what he’s thinking.
  1505. >”So.. you guys…”
  1506. >And there it is…
  1507. “No, you're thinking of woodland nymphs. We just gather love.”
  1508. >”So.. you don’t-“
  1509. “No! well maybe, some do.” You reply shuffling on your hooves awkwardly.
  1510. >”So… you are a v-“
  1511. “Enough!” You snap back at him.
  1512. >Why does he have to do this now?  
  1513. >Thankfully Jack laughs and drops it before trying the door of the utility room.
  1514. >He pulls the handle and gives it a shake. “It’s locked…of course it is.”
  1515. “Can’t you kick it open?”
  1516. >”Probably can, but thinking about it, they could still be out there.”
  1518. >Jack looks around the room rubbing his chin, he looks up and squints when he sees a vent panel.
  1519. >”Can you take that panel off?”
  1520. “Sure,” You use your magic to pull and tug at the panel, with a little more effort it came free.
  1521. >Jack watches the panel that is wrapped in your green aura as you levitate it gently onto the ground.
  1522. >”Nice,” He walks over and picks you up without hesitation. “In you go.”
  1523. >You feel his hands on your flanks as he pushes you up into the vent.
  1524. “You know I can fly!”
  1525. >Jack ignores your outburst and orders you to go have a look if it’s clear behind the door.
  1526. >You crawl along the metal ventilation, it was a tight fit, but it was nothing like how it was in some places in the hive. You see a small grate ahead with light flooding through. You shuffle towards and peek through.
  1527. >You see a corridor with a few doors to either side. By the number of trolleys and tools laying around it would seem it’s a maintenance corridor. As expected, you spot two changelings nodding and moving their limbs silently.
  1528. >Damn, they are talking through their hivemind, if only you could hear them.
  1529. >They finish off nodding once more at each other then march off in different directions.
  1530. >You wait for a few more seconds before popping up the vent with your magic and slide it further into the vent. You poke out your head and glance around.
  1531. >All clear.
  1532. >You slide out of the vent and buzz down from the ceiling and approach one of the doors.
  1533. “Ja-“ You pause cursing yourself over the almost slip up. “Human are you there?” you quietly ask.
  1534. >”Yeah, now open the door.”
  1535. >You look at the door handle to see one of those twisty locks. The bane of all non-magic users.
  1536. >Luckily for you simply twist it and the lock pops open.
  1537. >Jack opens the door and looks up and down the hallway then turns back to you “I was thinking, I didn’t tell you my name.”
  1538. “I guess you haven't.”
  1539. >”Hello I’m Jack. Nice to meet you.” He holds out his hand.
  1540. >Slowly you place a hoof in his hand and then he gives it a quick shake.
  1541. >Something unsettling turns your stomach. Does he know?
  1542. >You look up to his face as usual and you struggle to see through his poker face.
  1543. “Nice to meet you Jack, shall we go?”
  1544. >”Would be ideal.”
  1545. >You and Jack creep along the corridor checking through every open door until your human companion taps you and points towards a sign.
  1546. “It’s a fire exit. Perfect.” You whisper.
  1547. >You both follow the signs that lead you upstairs onto another floor like the one below. You see another fire exit sign pointing to your left.
  1548. >”Look down the hall.”
  1549. >You see two ponies chatting at the bottom of the corridor. One you recognize is the grey unicorn from earlier. “It’s that project manager.”
  1550. “I knew you’ll slip up eventually.” Jack whispers in your ear.
  1551. >You look down at your black hooves.
  1552. “Horse-apples…” You curse quietly, you look back at him fearing what comes next.
  1553. >Jack just returns a smile. “We’ll talk later,” He points at the other pony. “Does that mare he’s talking to look noble?”
  1554.  “What do you mean noble?”
  1555. >”At the ball I talked to John, he was mentioning about his wife being a Canterlot noble.”
  1556. “And you think she’s an impostor?”
  1557. >”Yeah, he mentioned being emotionally drained when he’s around her. Is that a changeling thing?”
  1558. “Yeah, it’s a side effect of being love drained slowly.”
  1559. >”That’s good to know.”
  1560. “Hey, what does that mean?”
  1561. >”Shh!” Jack covers your mouth. “Quietly back down the stairs. One coming this way.”
  1562. >You both carefully descend the stairs, not making a sound. Halfway down you both crouch and look up.
  1563. >The mare walks past the stairs entrance before stopping and looking behind. With a flash of orange flames, she changes her disguise to a worker pony in a boiler suit.
  1564. >You both release your breaths as she continues her way.
  1565. >”That was too close.” Jack mutters as he climbs the stairs slowly. He peers back around the corner and waves you up. “it’s clear.”
  1566. >You stretch out your wings and buzz up the stairs.
  1567. >Both of you moved quickly and silently towards the fire exit. Jack stops just before he pushes the door.
  1568. >”Ponies don’t have alarms attached to fire doors, do they?”
  1569. >You shake your head. “Nothing that I’m aware off.”
  1570. >Jack nods and pushes the door opening the way to your freedom.
  1571. >You both breathe in the fresh air and look around. Almost forgetting you change back into your normal disguise.
  1572. >”Do you know where we are?”
  1573. >You ear flick as you hear the crashing of falling water.
  1574. “Yeah, we are at the dam.”
  1575. >Jack quickly looks back round at you alerted by your change of voice.
  1576. “Ah Forest, there you are. Trust me it’s been a weird night…”
  1577. >You jab Jack in the side with your hoof.
  1578. “Quiet you.” You giggle. “Come on let’s get back to Crescent Glow, hopefully she’s still awake.”
  1581. >Be Jack.
  1582. >It ended up being a long walk back to your temporary accommodation.
  1583. >The sun was peeking over the horizon before you both stumbled in through the door of the bar.
  1584. >You see Crescent Glow passed out at the table surrounded by bottles.
  1585. >Looking around to Forest you quietly ask if you should wake her. She tells you it’ll be better if you didn’t. All she wanted was a bed, you couldn’t agree more.
  1586. >You both sneak past the sleeping thestral as the bar pony walks down the stairs.
  1587. >You hold up a finger to your mouth then point to Glow.
  1588. >The bar pony just rolls their eyes before heading to the bar.
  1589. >Entering your room, you simply took off your Jacket and shoes and flopped on the bed face first into a pillow.
  1590. >A few seconds later you hear Forest draw the curtains and jump onto the bed.
  1591. >You roll your head to see her lying next to you, her expression tells you that she was dying to ask you something.
  1592. “Something on your mind?”
  1593. >”Yeah, but I was thinking that I should leave it for later once you have some sleep.”
  1594. “Are you going to get some sleep?”
  1595. >”Not really, too much on my mind right now.”
  1596. “Hmm…okay I’m all ears.”
  1597. >You roll over onto your back and pull her onto you. Unlike other times you see a blush form across her cheeks.
  1598. “So about earlier…” You start off almost knowing exactly what she's thinking.
  1599. >”How did you know Jack? How did you know it was me?”
  1600. “The way you talked. I also gained some suspicion something was off about you, well, from the first day we met.”
  1601. >”Like what?” She replies gently placing her head on your chest.
  1602. “For starters, I got dragged into that train, who else would have helped me escape hmm? I picked up the fact that unicorns, later changelings are the only ones that can use magic. Second, the cabin, you lit that fire, there were no matches. And the third thing is that I caught you a few times doing it, that when we talked about Equestria or the Crystal Empire you refer to them as ponies, never ‘Us ponies’ or ‘We’.”
  1603. >”Are you always this observant?”
  1604. “Yeah, I have to be.” You laugh as you think of something else. “Also, winding you up about the nymph thing pretty much confirmed it.”
  1605. >You feel her hoof lightly prod you in the nose.
  1606. >”Jack about what you said, did you mean it?”
  1607. “About what?”
  1608. >”You. Liking me.”
  1609. >Damn, that puts you on the spot.
  1610. “Maybe.” You gave her the same answer as last time. You can see her face sadden. Before she could reply you place a finger on her lips. “I’m not going to abandon you. Give me time.”
  1611. >You pull back your finger and run your hand behind her ear and play with her mane, hoping she got the hint.
  1612. >”That’s good to know Jack.”
  1613. “Anyway, why are you still disguised?” You tilt your head up “I kind of know now.”
  1614. >”Because you wouldn’t like it, you said changelings look weird.”
  1615. “I said ‘they’ look weird, not you.”
  1616. >Forest narrows her eyes at you but couldn’t help but smile, “Liar.”
  1617. >You lean up and look over her, looking amused.
  1618. >”What are you doing?”
  1619. “Trying to find the button that makes you change.” You prod and poke Forest as she giggles and squirms on your chest.
  1620.  >”Alright, alright…” She tempers her laughter as she rolls off you and stands on the bed.
  1621. >A green flame burst around her, showing her black chitin body. “There, happy?”
  1622. “You look good in black.”
  1623. >You couldn’t help but smirk as a green blush showed on her face. You found it hard to know if she was looking at you or not, with her teal bug eyes.
  1624. >”Thanks.” She gives a bashful reply before returning to your chest.
  1625. >Her body feels weird against your skin, you run your hand over her head and down to her withers. Her chitin felt oddly cool and smooth. It’s hard to describe but it’s like somewhere between plastic and rubber.
  1626. >It didn’t really matter; you pull her into a hug, nevertheless.
  1627. >You feel yourself start to doze but couldn’t help noticing a clicking and tutting noise from Forest.
  1628. “Is that a changeling’s version of a purr?” You ask sleepily.
  1629. >Forest didn’t reply but gently gave you a kick in the thigh with her back leg.
  1630. >Slowly sleep overcomes you.
  1632. >You look up to the towering shelves of your old local supermarket, looking over the branded food you wish you could have. The iconic commercial music plays in the background, occasionally interrupted by the crackling sound of the calls for staff to customer service.
  1633. >You feel your hand pulled by your mother as you both make your way down the aisle. The wheel on the trolley squeaks as your mother mumbles under breath about the rising food prices.
  1634. >You stop again to look down the toy aisle only to be tugged harder.
  1635. >”Come on or else I’ll just leave you here.” Your mother scorns you. “Now, down here.” She escorts you down the booze aisle and aims straight for the cheap spirits.
  1636. >Picking up a small bottle of alcohol, she checks the area for employees or customers. Ensured that the coast is clear she pushes the bottle into your hands.
  1637. >”Quickly! Under your coat!” She orders in a scornful hushed tone.
  1638. >You hesitate to take the bottle,
  1639. >You know this is wrong and you were tired of doing it.
  1640. >”Either be of use, or you can go. I’ll be more than happy to save some money on food.”
  1641. >You do what she says and pull up your coat and slip under the bottle.
  1642. >After collecting a few more items; mostly from the bargain shelves, you both make your way to the check out.
  1643. >It seems like forever as you wait for your mother to finish paying for the groceries with the endless number of coupons.
  1644. >”Stop daydreaming and move!”
  1645. “Sorry mom…” You speak in a young voice.
  1646. >You nod and walk next to the shopping trolling. You can see your mother seem to grow more anxious as you both approach the anti-theft scanners in the doorway.
  1647. >Both of you know it's going to beep, but you both did this many times before.
  1648. >As to be expected the anti-theft started beeping and both of you stopped and waited for the security guard out in the parking lot.
  1649. >On cue, your mother is approached by the supermarket security.
  1650. >”Sorry ma'am, can you please come back into the building?” One of the security team asks putting his foot behind the trolley wheel.
  1651. >”Can’t you just check my receipt? I’ve paid for this stuff!”
  1652. >”I won’t take long, please it’ll be appreciated if you complied.”
  1653. >A cold sense of dread drips down your spine as another guard kneels in front of you and holds out his hand. He isn’t angry or even frowning, just a reassuring smile.
  1654. >You look up at your mother who is giving you a grievous glare.
  1655. >”I’m so sorry, he’s always doing stuff like this! The kid is uncontrollable.” Your mother lies through her teeth. “Whatever you took, give it back. We’ll be having words when we get home!”
  1656. >You slowly slide the bottle from your coat and place it in the guard’s hand.
  1657. >A deathly silence grows around you as the hustle and bustle of the busy supermarket fades. You look up to find yourself alone in front of the massive shop. You peek through the doors only to find abandoned trolleys still filled with products.
  1658. >Turning around you notice it is now night and the parking lot is empty, nothing but a flickering light of a streetlamp signalling where your mother once parked.
  1659. “Mom?” You ask into the emptiness, this time your voice much lower.
  1661. >”Interesting, it seems to be more nurture than nature with you, Jack.” A voice comes from behind you. You flinch round to find a blue-black pony that bares a horn and wings.
  1662. >Speechless you watch her scan over you with her large cyan eyes. Almost visually deconstructing your very being.
  1663. >”Tell us nay, that the human Jack has lost his tongue?”
  1664. You try and sputter out a coherent sentence “No, I’m just confused.”
  1665. >”If one says he’s dreaming then would it put one’s mind at rest?”
  1666. “Am I dreaming? As in lucid dreaming?”
  1667. >”Correctly put, yes.”
  1668. “Then you must be…”
  1669. >”Princess Luna, goddess of the night.”
  1670. >This must be the one who has been talking to Forest in her dreams.
  1671. “Then why are you here?”
  1672. >”You two failed to debrief with the point of contact last night.”
  1673. “Ah right, we got kidnapped.”
  1674. >”We see, tell us human, have you found any information?”
  1675. “I can confirm Shady Designs is a changeling and I think one is impersonating a Canterlot noble.”
  1676. >”You think, or you know?”
  1677. “Forest and I, we both saw it change into her. I have a feeling it could be John's wife.”
  1678. >”John?”
  1679. “The owner of a company that deals with the maintenance of the dam.”
  1680. >”Worrying indeed. Is there anything else?”
  1681. >You think back to last night running all the conversations through your head.
  1682. “I was told by one of the waiters at the party that Shady has been employing ponies behind John's back and she believes something weird is happening over at the dam. So yeah, that’s all the information I can give you from last night.”
  1683. >Luna scrutinizes your face, looking for any telling signs of dishonesty.
  1684. You roll your eyes “I’m not lying as there is no point, Forest mentioned you just magically pulled her memories I was expecting the same.”
  1685. >”Pulling memories upon will is not something we could do safely with our current understanding of the human psyche. Do not take it as one’s weakness though Jack, as we are more than willing to experiment.”
  1686. >You didn’t like that one bit; you couldn’t tell if she was bluffing or not. Either way, you know you’ll end up disappearing once her games are over.
  1687. “You’ll probably do it anyway, once I’ve done your dirty work,” You snap at her.
  1688. >”Tell me, human, do you know what authority you are conversing with?”
  1689.  >You glance back at the empty supermarket. Even in a different universe you find yourself laid with idle threats by those above you while you do their dirty work for them.
  1690.  >Luna notices where you were looking, as you draw your attention back to her, you catch a glimpse of regret.
  1691. >Her eyes narrow and she speaks with caution. “Jack, we pray you will choose your next words carefully…”
  1692. “I know this type of story; I already know the ending.” You grumble quietly. “I like to wake up now.”
  1693.   >”It appears you do not Jack. Earn my trust and I’ll give you a promise.” Luna starts to fade into darkness as she knows that she will get nothing else from you. “Very well.”
  1695. >Be Forest
  1696. >you are just finishing up your letter to Hay Barn in regards to you and Jack. You smile as you write about how Jack doesn’t seem to mind about your true form. You decided to skip the part about the ponynapping as you didn’t want to worry the old mare.
  1697. >The quill floats along in your magic as you sign the letter with your regards before placing it on the enchanted gemstone. You flinch back as the letter flashes in a golden flame startle you.
  1698. >Jack moves in the bed and shuffles around, you watch him check the bedside cabinet and under his pillow. Half asleep he grumbles as he sits up and checks his trouser pockets.
  1699. ”What are you looking for?” You ask tilting your head to one side.
  1700. >”My pho-“ Jack pauses, “Ugh, I was looking for the time.” He flops back down into the bed.
  1701. You giggle, “You won’t find it in the bed or your pockets Jack.”
  1702. >Jack laughs, “I mean, what time is it?”
  1703. >You glance out the window and you guess it's early afternoon.
  1704. “Looks like it’s just past midday.”
  1705. >”Then food is in order. Hungry?”
  1706. >You nod your head. You weren’t really, you just want to spend time with him. The love from the cuddle last night would last you a day alone.
  1707. >”Good.” Jack says as he rolls out of bed. He stops and sniffs himself. “Scrap that, I need a shower, hope you don’t mind waiting.”
  1708. “Go ahead, it wasn't fun sharing the bed with a stink ape...”
  1709. >Jack grins, “Says the bedbug…”
  1710. “Hey!”
  1711. >The human shakes his head and heads to the bathroom shutting the door behind him. A few minutes pass by until you hear him call out. “Dammit! Showers broke.”
  1712. “Well use the bath.” You shout back through the door.
  1713. >You didn’t get a reply, but the running of water says he took your advice. You look down at the pile of Jack clothes on the floor. You still down understand why they need to cover up so much. Plus, you beg to think what he looks like underneath them.
  1714. >You slowly divert your attention to the bathroom door. You didn’t see him take a towel in.
  1715. >Maybe…
  1716. >A sly smirk curls the side of your mouth. It’s time to get him back when he saw you on full display.
  1717. >You trot over to the door and put your ear next to it, you can hear the water running and what sounds like Jack climbing into the tub.
  1718. “Jack? Do you have a towel?” You raise your voice behind the door.
  1719. >”Huh? Ah shit…” Jack groans, you hear splashing as he is probably looking around for one.
  1720. >You head to the cabinet where the towels are kept and pull one out and place it on your back.
  1721. “That’s fine I got you one!” You yell as you quickly trot towards the door.
  1722. >”No Forest! Wait!” His plea’s fall on deaf ears as you use your magic to unlock the bathroom door and walk in.
  1723. >You see Jack in the bathtub, beet red with his hands over his stallionhood.
  1724. >”Forest! Please leave!”
  1725. “Huh? I got you a towel, thanks should be in order.”
  1726. >”Thanks, now go.” He points towards the door.
  1727. “No Jack, say ‘I’m sorry Forest for making you take time out of your day because of my forgetfulness’… Just like that.” You cannot help but grin at Jacks expression as it’s a mix of embarrassment, anger and helplessness.
  1728. >”Forest…just go.”
  1729. “Say it else I’ll get in with you.”
  1730. >”I don’t think you understand the faux pas you're committing here.”
  1731. “And I don’t think you understood the faux pas you committed when I was stuck in the snow.”
  1732. >”That was a few days ago!”
  1733. “Yep and today is revenge day. A good changeling always keeps score.”
  1734. >”Just...go…please…”
  1735. “Say it!”
  1736. >”No!”
  1737. “Very well,” You drop the towel on the floor and climb into the tub with him. You’re not completely devoid of mercy for Jack, so you turn around and lean back on his bare chest. Feeling his soft wet skin against your chitin producing a small green blush across your muzzle.
  1738. >”Okay! Okay! I’ve learnt my lesson; now can we make it less awkward?” Jack begs as he tries to shuffle back from you.
  1739. “Nope,” You lay back even more and use your hind leg to turn on the hot water, “Besides, in Equestria good friends bathe together all the time.”
  1740. >”Yes, but where I’m from its considered intimate,”
  1741. >…
  1742. >You look over your shoulder to see Jack staring back at you with all seriousness. You feel your face heat up and your wings start to flutter.
  1743. “Jack…I’m so sorry…”
  1744. >”It’s fine Forest, I think we’re past the point of no return anyway.” His voice changes from serious to a more joking tone.
  1745. >You pull yourself away from Jack, still blushing. Your face is on fire with embarrassment.
  1746. >Getting to your hooves, you stumble in the water. To your dismay your front hooves slip sending you tumbling face first into the water.
  1747. >You gurgle and splash about, somehow you manage to twist back around. You gasp as you sit up with your hind legs splayed out.
  1748. >Jack is now trying not to burst with laughter as he looks at your face. You let out a high pitch whine as it occurs to you that you are completely exposed.
  1749. >All you could do is watch Jack's eyes with dread.
  1750. ”Jack…don’t…”
  1751. >Jack glances down. “huh, I was expecting something more exotic…”
  1752. “JAAACK!”
  1754. >Be Jack
  1755. >You sit across the table from Forest chewing through your late breakfast.
  1756. >The inn is very quiet, you two are the only guests in the bar area at the moment.
  1757.  >Forest is currently in disguise in her pony form, a red blush still marks across her cheeks and muzzle while she pokes at her food silently.
  1758. >You couldn’t stand the awkwardness between you both, so you decide to speak up.
  1759. “So, uh, Luna visited me in my dreams last night.”
  1760. >That gets the changeling's attention as she looks up from her plate, “Really? What did she say?”
  1761. “Nothing much, she wanted to know why we didn’t report to Glow.”
  1762. >”Ah right, forgot about that. We should speak to her. ”
  1763. “Maybe.” You look round to see the bat pony walking towards you, “Talk of the devil.”
  1764. >”Jack, Forest.” Crescent Glow says before a fanged yawn. “I’m hoping that today-“ She yawns again, “be much better, had Luna chewing my flank all morning.”
  1765. “Sorry about that Glow, we got-“
  1766. >”Ponynapped yeah. I know. Had Luna update me on everything.” Glow sits down at the table and pulls some paperwork out of her saddle bags. “Right, we need to act quickly, as we all know there is something going on at the dam. Our intelligence says multiple humans who work at the damn did not come home last night.”
  1767. >”My guess they’re already in pods.” Forest chimes in.
  1768. >”We suspect as well.” Glow replies. “We’ve gotten a small team together to raid the lower dam’s control rooms. From the information you gave us we believe there is a hive outpost due to the number of changelings sighted.”
  1769. “What do you need us to do? Where not exactly fighters.”
  1770. >”No, you’re not, you're more disposable than that Jack.” Glow winks at you. “Besides you mission is simple, locate their main base of operations and use this to notify us of the location,” She slides a gem onto the table.
  1771. You pick up the blue gem and inspect it, it square in shape but you can see something swirling inside of it. “What is it?”
  1772. >”Locator gem, break it and it’ll send a magical pulse.”
  1773. “So, we get in, find the main operations inside the dam and break this?”
  1774. >”Correct.” Crescent Glow affirms.
  1775. “Why can’t you just raid the place?”
  1776. >”We could but we will be easily swarmed. Going in blind will be a disaster.”
  1777. “And me and forest wouldn’t!?”
  1778. >”You escaped without being seen, you can sneak back in.”
  1779. “When do we start?”
  1780. >”Now, these changelings seem to operate with their plans at night. I guess they are gathering love during the day.”
  1781. “Alright let’s go.”
  1783. >You and Forest make it to the dam's fire exit with a small team of Thestral guards.
  1784. >The Thestral all are wearing their black armour and carrying spears, they make a small base camp in one of the rooms inside the dam.
  1785. > Crescent Glow speaks up. “Alright troops listen up.” She whispers as everyone gathers round. “We are not here for a prolonged fight. We get it, find the outpost, find the humans and get out. Is that clear?”
  1786. >”Yes ma’am” Her soldiers reply in unison.
  1787. >Glow turns to you and Forest. “I’ll go through the plan again, find the outpost and break the gem, hide it and get out. My team will handle the rest.”
  1788. >You both nod.
  1789. >”Good off you go.” She motions to the door with her leathery wing.
  1792. >You and Forest creep back down the stairs into the lower corridors, you check around every corner for any changeling on patrol, you’ve been lucky so far as none has been seen.
  1793. >”I’m not sure about this Jack.” Forest whispers.
  1794. “Why?”
  1795. >”There was a patrol here last night.” She looks around. “Changelings don’t change their patrols on a whim.”
  1796. “Maybe the guards somewhere else.”
  1797. >”Maybe, but this is an entrance, those changelings should know about it and place more guards.”
  1798. “I did wonder that last night.”
  1799. >”I’m not liking this at all.” Forest replies sounding unsure.
  1800. >You both continue to sneak through the maintenance corridor and down another flight of stairs into the main engineering floor. Once again, the floor is devoid of guards. Both of you hear the rushing of water from down below.
  1801. >”Is that normal?”
  1802. “We are in a dam.”
  1803. >”Yeah but the water wasn’t flowing out on the outside.”
  1804. “Good point, maybe it’s being drained somewhere else.”
  1805. >You both weave around dozens of pipes and valves to make it to the stairs on the other side.
  1806. >Once again you quietly descend the stairs. You point at the sign for Forest to read for you as it’s in Equestrian.
  1807. >”Says the main control room. Level four.”
  1808. >You nod and enter along an iron grate catwalk that looks upon a massive room below. You see massive pipes that open into a reservoir that’s starting to overflow as the main gate for the water to escape is closed.
  1809. >You spot human dam workers who continue to work mindlessly as if nothing is wrong. You are no dam expert but a flood in the main control room is bad news.
  1810. “What’s wrong with them?” You ask, watching a worker open a valve causing more water to rush into the reservoir.
  1811. >”Mind control!” Forest almost breaks her whisper. “Look at their faces.”
  1812. >You look at their faces, they are completely devoid of emotion, walking around like mindless drones.
  1813. “That’s messed up,” You mutter, “Can’t we break them out of it?”
  1814. >”A counter spell should do it.”
  1815. “Can you?”
  1816. >Forest shakes her head. “No, I can’t, us changelings are very limited when it comes to magic.”
  1817. “Shit, okay.” You continue watching the workers down below, the water is now lapping at their ankles. “We’re going to have to open that main gate.”
  1818. >”Shall we break that gem thing?”
  1819. “Glow said to only use it for finding their main outpost. I haven’t seen any so far.”
  1820. >”I know, but flooding the dam is urgent Jack.”
  1821. “Fine,” You pull out the gem from your pocket and break it, “There, done.”
  1822. >You tuck the gem under the rail of the catwalk.
  1823. >”So now what?”
  1824. “I guess we leave.”
  1826. >A massive rumble shakes the entire floor, the catwalk clunks and rattles. More water burst in from every pipe filling the lower floor.
  1827. “Fuck!”
  1828. >”That wasn’t a locater Jack!”
  1829. “Don’t you think I know that!” You snap back, “Those weren't Thestrals!”
  1830. >You sprint along the catwalk and down the stairs. You wade through the now knee high water.
  1831. >Forest changes back to her changeling form and hovers above the water.
  1832. >”What are you doing!”
  1833. “Saving them!”
  1834. >”There’s nothing we can do; they won’t listen to you!”
  1835. “I have to do something! I can’t leave them here to drown!”
  1836. >”Open the main gate!”
  1837. >You nod and look around for the controls for the gate.
  1838. “I can’t see any control panels or anything!”
  1839. >”The emergency gate crank! Over there beneath the sign!”
  1840. You push through the rising water. “Forest try and get the workers upstairs!”
  1841. >”How?”
  1842. “I don’t know, do something!”
  1843. >You grab the crank and pull; it creaks then locks. You spot green goo within the gears. Cursing, you dig your fingers into the mechanism to try and pull it out.
  1844. >Forest flies over to the workers and shouts at them to leave. One grunts and grabs a spanner and swipes at her. She darts out of the way as the others give chase.
  1845. >”Found a way Jack!” She yells quickly flying past you with an angry mob of workers shrinking behind her.
  1846. >You stay motionless until they all pass, you let out the breath you didn’t know were holding and continue to pull out the goo.
  1847. >The water is now past your hips; you can feel the shivering cold starting to ache your leg muscles. You desperately pull the crank again, this time it pulls free and the main gate creaks loudly.
  1848. >As more water floods in it becomes harder to pull. You strain to move the crank but surely it continues to move as the main gate opens a few inches letting a trickle of water out.
  1849. >You feel your soaking jacket and t-shirt stick to your skin; the level is now rising past your chest. Breathing has become laboured as you feel your chest tighten due to the pressure of the freezing water.
  1850. >You grit your teeth trying to stave off your shivering as you cranked again. No use, the crank is now under water, and you can no longer budge it.
  1851. >”Jack!” You hear Forest call out.
  1852. “Forest! A little help here!”
  1853. >The changeling splashes down into the water and paddles over to you.
  1854. >You both take a deep breath and plunge underwater and together pull the crank.
  1855. >It creaks and groans and it turns, you can hear the water rushing.
  1856. >Trying to ignore your body telling the surface of the air you pull it one more time.
  1857. >It slips round, and the flooded floor becomes a rip tide taking you and Forest with it.
  1858. >You flail around trying to find something to grab on to stop you slipping out the main gate, your head dips in and out of the rushing water as you gasp for air.
  1859. >Eventually you feel yourself falling amongst the water.
  1860. >You scream as you plunge through the air only to be cut short by the feeling of hooves under your arms.
  1861. >”Jack! I can’t hold you!” You her Forest as she buzzes her wings as hard as she can “My wings are wet.”
  1862. >She tries as much as possible to slow your descent into the river below, all you could do is watch the water surface grow beneath you. You brace for impact.
  1864. >You couldn’t remember blacking out, but you find yourself underneath the water being carried away by the river current. You break the surface gasping.
  1865. “Forest!” You call out.
  1866. >You frantically search for her in the river.
  1867. “Forest!” You start to panic.
  1868. >You eyes land on a black mass floating in the river, it’s Forest. Her wings are torn and she’s face down in the water.
  1869. >You swim towards her and scoop her under your arm. Doing a half doggy paddle, you swim to the snowy riverbank.
  1870. >You have your friend onto the bank and pull yourself up. Ignoring your shivering you roll her onto her back and push down on her chest.
  1871. “Forest! Come on!” You desperately push the water from her lungs.
  1872. >Nothing.
  1873. “Forest! No, please!” You turn her head to the side and push harder again.
  1874. >Still nothing.
  1876. >You keep pushing on her chest, there’s no way you are giving up on her.
  1877. >She’s your only friend here, someone you can really relate to.
  1878. >Eventually Forest sputters and coughs as water spills from her mouth. You lift her head and tilt it to clear her airways.
  1879. “F-Forest c-can you hear me?”  You shiver out the words, the cold is starting to set into your bones.
  1880. >The changeling gives no reply, but she is still breathing at least.
  1881. >Struggling to your feet you pick her up and hold her close. You can feel her cold chitin through your clothes.
  1882. >You feel the weight on your feet, every step is like wearing lead shoes as you stop through the snow.
  1883. >The chilling wind slaps across the exposed skin of your face and hands. Your clothes ices as fresh snow lands on the fabric. You must find somewhere warm.
  1884. >You look around, for any building or sanctuary from the icy wind. Maybe walking back to Vanhoover would increase your odds of survival. Glancing back upriver you see the mighty dam surrounded by tree covered hills.
  1885. >Your shoulders sink when you realise what a task that will be, you decide to follow the river downstream, where the land is flat.
  1886. >Tucking Forests body under your jacket in hopes of giving her some heat, you start your journey, your body screams in iced pain as you stumble through the snow.
  1887. >Heading downstream, you see Forest’s saddlebags caught on a fallen branch at the side of the riverbank. You carefully edge down the shallow part of the bank and scoop it out with your foot.
  1888. >Holding Forest in one hand you throw it over your shoulder. You shudder as the freezing water drips down your back.
  1890. >After only a few hundred yards your legs give in and you collapse in the snow peppered ground, sending Forest a couple of feet away from you.
  1891. “S-shit. I can’t do this, forest...” You mutter knowing you won’t get a reply. “I’m out of m-my l-league here, I’m not a-s-survivalist.” Your body shivers uncontrollably. “I-I S-shouldn’t even bb-be here…”
  1892. >In the distance you see some smoke being carried by the wind, you watch it for a few moments as the hunger for warmth grows inside you.
  1893. >If there’s smoke there must be fire. You didn’t care if it was a campfire or a bush fire. You just wanted the heat.
  1894. >With renewed motivation you push yourself up and crawl to Forest.
  1895. >Scooping her back in your arms you stumble back onto your feet. Your legs protest as an iced pain shoots through your muscles.  Your grit your teeth and start to move forward, one step at a time.
  1896. >It seems like it has been an eternity walking to your goal, eventually a large wooden lodge comes into view, you can see the smoke billowing out of its chimney. At this moment you couldn’t think of anything cosier than a blanket and a fireplace.  
  1897. >As you approach you see a wooden sign blow in the wind, you couldn’t read the sign, but by the symbols, you guess it’s a resort of some kind.
  1899. >You open the double doors and stumble in from the cold. You hobble to the reception desk where a shocked yellow earth pony mare looks up at you.
  1900. “N-need help.” That’s all you could voice as the warm air starts to burn your cold throat.
  1901. >”I-is that a-a changeling!?” The mare looks at Forest in alarm.
  1902. “S-she’s my friend. Please…” You croak out. “I-I got b-bits.”
  1903. >”I’m sorry but I cannot let her stay.”
  1904. “D-don’t do this, she will die!” You clutch Forest tightly.
  1905. >You hear hoof steps clack on the floor behind you as a new voice chimes in.
  1906. >”I say, turning away guests that are clearly in need, I do question the hospitality this place prides itself.”
  1907. >You glance around to find a white suited unicorn with a blue mane. He frowns and shakes his head at the receptionist.
  1908. >”I’m sorry it’s company policy.” The yellow mare replies to the unicorn.
  1909. >”Well, I wish to have a refund. Can I speak to your manager?”
  1910. >”S-sure I’ll get him.” The mare trots off to the back room.
  1911. >You give the new unicorn a confused look, he simply gives you a wink.
  1912. >”Ah Mr Fancy Pants. Is there a problem?” Another stallion walks out of the back room.
  1913. >”I wish to have a refund, good sir. Sending two out into the cold to perish because of company policy is something I cannot stand for.”
  1914. >”Oh, I see,” The stallion frowns as he looks over at you and Forest's sorry state. “As you can see, we have a strict guess policy for your protection Mr Pants. A changeling is a dangerous creature.”
  1915. >”Regardless, I wish for a refund and take my business somewhere else. This will be a story to tell amongst dinner with the other Canterlot nobles that two beings died after being rejected for help.”
  1916. >”H-hey don’t be so hasty Mr Pants.” The manager holds up his hooves. “I was only stating the policy. Of course, I cannot send them both out in their condition.” He turns around and calls through the door, “Smile Service? Take the human and the bu- changeling to room Seventeen.”
  1917. >The yellow mare returns with a set of keys in her  mouth and drops them on the reception desk. “Here’s you keys and follow me.”
  1918. >You pick up the keys and slowly follow the mare through the foyer and down a small corridor. She leads you to a room right at the back of the lodge.
  1919. >”This is your room.” She mentions before turning around and trots off without another word.
  1921. >You shrug off the mare's abruptness and place the key into the lock and turn. The door clicks open and you push.
  1922. >The room is definitely small;  you guess it’s the budget room for this place. But you didn’t care, you are out of the damn cold.
  1923. >You place Forest on the single bed and proceed to remove your chilled damp clothes. You find a towel tucked in the airing cupboard and dry off your skin.
  1924. >Tying the towel around your waist you grab another and start to dry off Forest.
  1925. >As you dry off her last leg she grumbles as she stirs. She laps her lips as if she is eating something delicious. You quickly flinch back as you feel something pull on your very being. It didn’t hurt or make you feel uncomfortable. The sensation was just odd, unexplainable.
  1926. >Shrugging the lingering sensation off you climb into the bed and pull Forest onto your chest and hold her tight.
  1927. >You ease your grip as you feel Forest weakly raise her head and look around the room. “Where are we?”
  1928. “In a hotel, right out in the styx.”
  1929. >”Are we dead?” Her teal bug like eyes widen.
  1930. “What no, why would you think that?”
  1931. >”You said Styx, that's the river in Tartarus.” She replies sounding still dazed.
  1932. “It’s an expression from where I’m from, means middle of nowhere.” You lightly laugh at her confusion.
  1933. >”Oh..” She shuffles on your chest to get comfy. “I’m guessing you saved me then?”
  1934. “Scared the crap out of me more.” You pull her back into a hug.
  1935. >”Thanks Jack,” She nuzzles into the crook of your neck and breathes in with a smile.
  1936. “It’s fine, I honestly thought I lost you for a moment.” You run your fingers down her withers and between her wings. You feel them twitch under the thick bed sheets.  
  1937. >”I thought I was done for as well. Jack...” She pauses, pulls back and looks right at you. “I’m glad I met you.”
  1938. “Likewise.”
  1940. >Be Princess Luna
  1941. >You’re a little bit more irritable lately, the little sleep you have gotten is starting to wear you thin.
  1942. >Walking through the halls of Canterlot Castle to get ready to raise your glorious moon, you watch your guards change over from the Solar Guards for the evening change over.
  1943. >Taking a sharp turn, you ascend a flight of stairs towards the royal balcony where you do the daily and nightly rituals.
  1944. >”Good evening Lulu.” Your solar sister pipes up as you reach the balcony. Her horn glows as the sun starts to set. You cast your magic and start to raise the moon.
  1945. “Good evening dear sister.”
  1946. >”With that look on your face, your evening can be anything else but good.” She finishes off lowering the sun, before giving you a concerned expression.
  1947. “Indeed. We fear the well being of a certain two.” You say solemnly as you watch your moon rise.
  1948. >”Still no news on their location?” Celestia tilts her head upon the question.
  1949. “Nay, after the incident at the Hooverdam, the search proves fruitless.”
  1950. >”That is worrying, I hope there is some silver lining that your agent Crescent Glow has been found.”
  1951. “She has, she ended up in a pod at the inn where she was stationed.”
  1952. >Celestia’s face grows with a hint of worry, it’s subtle but you know her long enough to see through her royal façade.
  1953. >”With these new Changelings, I do fear the outcome regarding their actions.”
  1954. “We already defeated one hive dear sister. We believe Equestria can do it again.”
  1955. >”I’m certain we could, but with humans in the mix, I fear it’ll end in bloodshed.” Your sister replies looking up to the fresh night sky.
  1956. “We fought wars in the past.” You state the fact.
  1957. >”We have Lulu. But It’s the possible actions of the humans that worries me.”
  1958. “You think they would betray us?”
  1959. >”No, not that.” She slowly shakes her head. “I read their history and we both know it’s full of violence, a history we try and hide from our ponies.” Your sister turns to you. “These humans can be the nicest, kindest beings that we are blessed ever know but start hurting them and their families or Faust forbid hurt their young, they’ll become the most hateful, Taratarus bent monsters to ever walk these lands.”
  1960. >Your sister's words lay heavy on you. Human history proved time and time again how far humans will go to protect something they love.
  1961. >Celestia speaks up again ”You see Luna, if these changeling attacks become bolder and more cunning, it’ll be a matter of time that the humans will arm themselves against them.”
  1962.  “Then they will prove their worth in battle sister.”
  1963. >Celestia sighs, “No Luna. Humans were once hunted by predators once; they weren’t always at the top of the food chain. Do you know how they got to the top?”
  1964. >You shake your head.
  1965. >”They killed them off, that’s their mindset. If it’s a threat, kill it.”
  1966. “That is the basics of war sister.”
  1967. >”I know, but how would our ponies react if they saw that side of humanity?”
  1968. >You both sit in silence for a while until a scroll pops into existence next to your sister. She opens the scroll and quickly reads it over before it vanishes with her magic.
  1969. >”It seems our two are alive and well Lulu.”
  1970. >Your ears perk up at the news.
  1971. “That’s good to know sister. May we ask who found them?”
  1972. >”Smiles newest recruits.”
  1973. “If my memory serves us right, you disbanded them.”
  1974. >Celestia giggles. “They believe that they reformed by themselves and gone rogue with an anonymous benefactor.” She smiles at you.
  1975. >You frown at that; this is the side of your sister that always unsettles you. She can be devious as discord and Chrysalis combined sometimes.
  1977. >Be Forest.
  1978. >Finding paper for a letter was made a task due to the unhelpful mare at the reception. Luckily you found some in the onsite library.  You needed to notify Hay Barn that you are safe, you guess news wouldn’t take long to spread to what happened at the dam.
  1979. >Tucking the enchanted gem back in your bag, you look over to Jack who is laying in bed quietly snoring away. He rolls over with one arm searching for something.
  1980. >You couldn’t help but giggle at the fact he always searches for something when he wakes up.
  1981. >Jack groans as he wakes up. “What time is it?”
  1982. “Sun went down not long ago.”
  1983. >”Well shit, I was hoping it was morning already.” He replies rolling onto his back and stares at the ceiling. “How long have you been awake?”
  1984. “Few hours now. Had to look for some paper for a letter for Hay Barn.”
  1985. >Jack smiles, “Glad to see you recovered so quickly. My body is hurting all over.”
  1986. “I had plenty of love and care.”
  1987. >”So that’s what you were doing while you were passed out.” He sits up and looks over to you.
  1988. “What was I doing?” You ask nervously.
  1989. >”You were eating something, I couldn’t see what, but I could feel something pull on me inside.” He rubs the back of his head. “Well that’s the best way to describe it.”
  1990. >You gasp as a sudden pang of guilt and dread hits you.
  1991. “Jack I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to!”
  1992. >”Hey, it’s fine” He waves off your worry. “It didn’t hurt one bit, it was just...odd.”
  1993. “But love draining has adverse effects on ponies! They normally faint only to become delirious to the point of actively hurting others!”
  1994. >”I’m not a pony.” Jack states.
  1995. “Maybe you aren’t but it could still have an effect on you!” Your black ears flatten against your head. “I should have known I did something like that, being that I recovered so fast.”
  1996. >”Have you considered that I don’t really care? You're alive and well, that is all that matters.”
  1997. “But!”
  1998. >”But what? I’m a bit sore but fine, and you're well.”
  1999. “You care for me that much?”
  2000. >Jack laughs a little followed by a smirk. “If you were a human, I’ll be hitting on you like there’s no tomorrow.”
  2001. >If you were human… those words hit deep within you. Once again you feel hurt. You slouch a little as you sit on the floor. Why does it hurt when he says stuff like that!
  2002. >It’s not fair, you’ve seen humans and ponies get along fine thanks to the matching of the Crystal Heart…
  2003. >Your eyes widen on the last thought.
  2004. >It's been less than a week, no real meaningful relationship can happen this fast, on top of that you weren’t really looking for one, you just wanted a supply of food.
  2005. >But now you can no longer deny you are falling for him.
  2006. >Could it be that you both have been matched?
  2007. >All those times you felt love from him. Has it always been for you?
  2008. “Jack…” You finally speak up as you climb onto the bed.
  2009. >”Yeah?” He replies as you place a hoof on his chest.
  2010. “Liar.”
  2011. >”What you-“
  2012. >You cut him off by placing your lips onto his. You feel your body fill with pure love as it washes over you.
  2013. >Pulling back, you see him halfway between bewilderment and shock.
  2014. “Don’t just see me as a bug, Jack.”
  2015. >He lets out a slow breath, “I never really did.” He awkwardly shifts on the spot. “I was making excuses for myself.”
  2016. “Why?”
  2017. >”I’m in a different world, universe maybe. I’m surrounded by magic and talking equines, on the run because somehow we’ve been caught up in some conspiracy.” He huffs before a small smile betrays his lips. “And now I’m falling for a lovebug.”
  2018. >You cuddle into him upon hearing the last bit. You’ve heard that term before, but it's kind of cute when he says it.
  2019. “And you want to go home? that’s why you made excuses?”
  2020. >His small smile fades. ”Yeah, didn’t have much back on Earth but it was familiar you know?”
  2021. “I know, I lost my home also. But I guess you can still go back.”
  2022. >”I think making that choice has gotten a lot harder.” He playfully prods you on the nose.
  2025. >Be Cadance.
  2026. >After putting your tired filly to bed, you drag your hooves out of the nursery and to your own quarters. With an exhausted breath you fall face first into your bed.
  2027. >You’ve been caught in a legal battle with Celestia and Luna to allow jurisdiction for your guards to cross the border to apprehend the human and the changeling. You are nothing but confused why Celestia will deny such a request, you even asked Twilight to pull some strings.
  2028. >You roll over and spread out on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
  2029. >The report of Hoover Dam has slowly been coming in filling you with more worry. Equestria and the Empire both already in crisis due to the gender imbalance. Now there’s changelings once again causing strife.
  2030. >”Still awake?” You hear Shining enter the bedroom.
  2031. “Hello Honey,” You try and sound happier than you feel.
  2032. >”You’re stressed.” Your husband replies as he hops onto the royal bed.
  2033. “Can you tell?” You sarcastically answer back before sighing, “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
  2034. >Shining cuddles into yours and uses his magic to pull over the covers. ”A problem is halved when shared.” He says softly.
  2035. “It’s those changelings, and that human impostor.”
  2036. >”Right, I guess we were denied jurisdiction?”
  2037. “Yes! Why would Celestia and Luna do that! Never once have they denied it.”
  2038. >”They must have their reasons.”
  2039. “What reasons! That human is a changeling equivalent, instead of stealing love he steals bits!”
  2040. >”So, a common thief?”
  2041. “No! Much worse than that, he doesn’t even have to leave his house to do it! He doesn’t even have to be near you; he just needs a name and a few details!”
  2042. >”Are you sure those aren’t just hearsay and rumors?”
  2043. “I wish they were hun, but I’ve had a few Initiative Agents to do some digging on him. He’s something called a Black Hat. No idea why, but he’s a wanted felon.”
  2044. >”Then we hope Celestia or Luna catches him.”
  2045. “That’s another issue, he’s wanted for the real Jack Tanners disappearance. He’s the main suspect.”
  2046. >”But he’s here with the real Forest Leaves.”
  2047. “Precisely, if we send the impostor back, he’ll go down for a crime he didn’t commit.” You rub your head and groan, “But he can’t stay here either.”
  2048. >”I’m sure their Justice Department will see he’s innocent.”
  2049. “How Shining? The impostor invaded Tanners house a few days before he came here. It’ll have suspicion written all over it.”
  2050. >”I see, if we arrest him now, we could only imprison him for minor crimes, like theft and low-level fraud. Once his time is up, we have to do something with him.”
  2051. “Unless we don’t send him home, there are plenty of other places on Earth we can send him. It’s not like anyone would miss him.”
  2052. >Shining recoils back from you, “Cadance…” He looks at you shocked, “We cannot just do that!”
  2053. “Everybody will win then Shining, he doesn’t go down for a crime he didn’t commit on top of that he goes free so we can dust our hooves with him. It’s a good deal as I can see”
  2054. >”I know you just overtired sweet, but we cannot do that, the law forbids it.”
  2055. “We can legally expel changelings from our lands, the law doesn’t say the distance, just states it has to be a hospitable location.”
  2056. >”He’s not a changeling,”
  2057. “He might as well be. We can use that law to send him to another country on Earth.”
  2058. >”Try and get some sleep love, we’ll come up with a better plan tomorrow.”
  2059. “You’re right, sorry,” You turn your head and plant a quick kiss on his lips, “I don’t want those changelings ruining everything like they almost did at our wedding.”
  2060. >”They won't, I’ve placed extra guards with changeling detection spells around the city. It’ll be fine. This time we will be prepare for whatever they throw at us.”
  2061. You feel a yawn sneak up on you just before you open your mouth to speak, “I hope so Shining, I really hope so.”
  2064. >Be Jack
  2065. >You lay on a grassy hill looking over the city, the grey concrete monoliths stand tall, contrast to the bright blue sky, even at a distance you still can hear the hustle and bustle of the streets.
  2066. >”Are you excited for the party tonight?” Your girlfriend speaks up as she leans over you placing a hand on your chest.
  2067. “I guess,” You smile up at her as your gaze in her green eyes.
  2068. >She brushes he black hair from her face revealing a devious smirk, “Did you get the drink?”
  2069. “Fresh from mothers cupboard,” You reply, deep down you know your mother is going to beat you black and blue for this. But fuck it; you want a good time.
  2070. >”Good!” She exclaims before flopping down next to you and holds your hand. “So, how’s your computer course going?”
  2071. “Boring, already know everything they throw at me. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a waste of time.”
  2072. >”But it gets you out of the house,”
  2073. “True, it does.” You rub your eyes.
  2074. >Pulling back your hands you are at the party, the music is blaring, and people are dancing and drinking. You look down to find a bottle in your hand. Looking around confused you spot a few familiar faces.
  2075. “Hey Mike! Mike!” You call out to your best friend who was dancing with some chick.
  2076. >”Fuck man you finally woke up.” Mike grins at you. “It’s barely midnight and you passed out man.”
  2077. “Where’s Lucy?”
  2078. >”Ah, shit sorry man, she ditched your ass and went upstairs with some geezer.” He thumbs towards the stairs.
  2079. You feel your heart shatter, “What the fuck!” You scramble to your feet only to be pulled back by Mike.
  2080. >”I’m fucking with you. She’s upstairs spewing her guts up; your mom's special brew is nasty stuff man.”
  2081. >You close your eyes and take in a deep breath; you feel hot smoky air burn your lungs. You cough and sputter, opening your eyes again. You see the room is aflame with flames licking the ceiling, Mike has disappeared, people run past you screaming while others hollered for help.
  2082. >Remembering Lucy, you dart towards the stairs.
  2083. “Lucy!” You shout climbing the stairs.
  2084. >You gasp for air as the heat starts to burn your skin.
  2085. “Lucy!”
  2086. >You check the bathroom, it's empty. Making along the corridor you stumble over some legs.
  2087. >You quickly remove your jacket and run it under the tap and place it over your nose for protection from the thickening smoke.
  2088. “Lucy!” You call out muffled by your makeshift mask.
  2089. >Looking down you see her, she’s badly burnt, but still trying to breathe.
  2090. >You scoop her up and throw her over your shoulder and make haste down the stairs.
  2091. >You feel something grab your leg causing you to trip. Looking back around you see Mike, his face is badly burned, between the peeling skin you can see his anguish.
  2092. “Dude, help me.”
  2093. >You look towards the exit then to Lucy and back to him.
  2094. “I’ll be right back!”
  2095. >”I’m dying! Don’t let me die!” He screams as he pulls on your leg.
  2096. >Regrettably you kicked his already burning arm away and made a dash for Lucy. The guilt of what you just did already start to eat at your insides.
  2097. >You freeze as you see Lucy as nothing but charred remains, her skin blackened with her black hair burned to her scalp. You feel the vomit start to brew in your stomach.
  2098. >You go to spew only to find nothing is coming from your mouth. Looking back up you find yourself in a black void.
  2100. >You start to sweat as fear grips you, you can't see anything.
  2101. >”That will do for one night don’t you think?” A familiar voice echoes in the abyss.
  2102. “Luna?” The name automatically calls from your mouth.
  2103. >”You are correct.” The blue alicorn steps into the source-less light. “It’s always humans who seem to have the worst nightmares,”
  2104. “That was more of a memory.” You coldly reply, as the fire replays in your mind.
  2105. >Luna uses her magic to do the flames around you, “Be careful Jack we are in your dreamscape. What you think may appear once more.”
  2106. “Sorry,” You half half-heartedly reply. “I didn’t want to go through that again; wish you were able to drop by and stop it sooner.”
  2107. >”We’ve been here the whole time.” She states.
  2108. You feel some anger brew up inside of you. “Then why didn’t you stop it!”
  2109. >”We wished to see what kind of person you are. Extreme situations can bring out the worst or best in pon- excuse me – people.”
  2110. “I did try,” Tears start to trickle down your cheeks. “I tried, I tried saving them both. The heat was too much, I had to leave.”
  2111. >”We see, then you never did find this Lucy,”
  2112. “That dream was different like always when I have it.” You choke out your words. “I never found Lucy, Mike… He was already dead when I found him. He was trampled before the fire got to him.”
  2113. >”We are sorry to hear that. Lucy, did you love her?”
  2114. “I did, she was wild and carefree. It was us versus the world, maybe because we were young, but we felt invincible when we were together.”
  2115. >”Something tells us that deep down you’re a good person Jack. We fear life made you what you are.”
  2116. You force a smile, “A glorified thief?”
  2117. >”Maybe, tell us, why did you tell your changeling friend to save those humans?” Luna asks as she flips through your memories with great speed.
  2118. “It was the right thing to do. I care little for people's possessions, but their life? I couldn’t just leave them there.” You wipe away your reminding tears.
  2119. >”And saving Forest?”
  2120. You flinch in surprise at Luna using Forests fake name for the first time. “I- well the same reason, changeling, pony, human pretty anything that can talk I consider a person.”
  2121. >”Let us rephrase the question, you didn’t want a similar thing to happen again didn’t you.”
  2122. “Well obviously. I wish no one to die.”
  2123. >”We feel you are not getting the question Jack,” Luna horn lights up and displays an image from your memory of you and Forest locked in a kiss.
  2124. “Why are you asking this? I’ll always protect her!” You almost fully yell at the alicorn.
  2125. >”Always…hmm, it seems our questions have been answered.”
  2126. “What are you planning?” You fold your arms and give her a skeptic glance.
  2127. >”At this moment in time, learning, You see Jack there is a reason you haven’t been swarmed by guards yet. There are others who have a keen eye on you and Forest.” She turns away from you, “Some benevolent, some malicious.”
  2128. >She pauses and looks back at you. “Crescent Glow sends her regards, and apologies by the way. Not sure why she wanted us to tell you as she was with you at sunrise.”
  2129. “Sunrise? I was under the impression she was nocturnal.”
  2130. >”She is on day guard duty as punishment. If she wasn’t a close friend of mine, she’ll be court martialed by now.” She turns towards the void, “We bid you good morning Jack, you’ll be walking soon.”
  2132. >Your eye’s flutter open, a smile creeps across your face as you see Forest staring softly at you.
  2133. ”Morning.”
  2134. >“Morning.” She replies as she shuffles to comfort back into you. You felt the same, you didn’t want to get back up either. “Did you sleep well?”
  2135. “Not really, had Luna visit again.”
  2136. >”Maybe she prefers you more than me,” She playfully smirks, “Looks like I got competition.”
  2137. “I’ll take a bug any day.”
  2138. >”Any old bug? Jack, I'm hurt.” She presses a hoof against her chest as she feigns.
  2139. “Yeah, I’m more of a ladybird type of guy. Sorry.”
  2140. >”I was going to say I’m more of a chimp kind of ‘ling but I already got one.”
  2141. “Do we really look like monkeys that much to you?”
  2142. >”Who had a fight with some shavers, then yes.”
  2143. You laugh and shake your head. “Yeah that's a good description.”
  2144. >You wrap an arm around her, it’s almost become habitual to run your hand down Forests’ back when she cuddles not you.  You can’t but help smile when you run your fingers down her back, she gives a slight moan as she snuggles deeper into you.
  2145. >”Hmmm... I’m so happy that my gamble paid off last night.” Forest Speaks up, in her moment of bliss.
  2146. “Gamble?” You ask pausing your hand that was trailing down her back.
  2147. >She gives a wriggle for you to continue smoothing her back. “Kissing you.”
  2148. “You know it's normally you confess your love then kiss right?” You mention in the playful tone.
  2149. >”Hey! I had to confirm a theory I had.”
  2150. “So, I’m a science experiment?”
  2151. >”What?” Forest Frowns,  “No, I got a feeling we’ve been matched.”
  2152. You look down at her, “Meaning?”
  2153. >”The Crystal Heart back where we first met.” Forest shuffles up from your chest and places her head on the pillow next to you. “It matches humans and ponies together for the Initiative. I think we’ve been matched.”
  2154. “How could it? We’re both impostors. I just signed that letter with some guy's name thinking it’ll be funny.”
  2155. >”So did I, Jack. But those letters were imbued with love magic. It’s not about what the name you sign it with. The magic casted on the paper can’t read, it takes an imprint of your soul when you sign it.”
  2156. “Then we’re soul mates?”
  2157. >A green blush grows across her muzzle. “Y-yes, I think so.” She moves closer to you to the point where her muzzle barely touches your nose. “Put it this way, how long does it feel like you known me for?”
  2158. “Years, I guess. It’s weird I’ve known you for less than a week.”
  2159. >”Same here, that’s love magic at play.”
  2160. >You feel unsettled at that. Is it mind control? If that’s the case, are you really falling for Forest?
  2161. “That sounds like mind control; you can’t force two people to love each other.”
  2162. >Forest sighs and shakes her head. “No Jack, there are spells that do that, but that’s not what’s a play here. The love magic at play here just matches soul mates- as you put it.”
  2163. “You seem to know a lot about this love magic.”
  2164. >”Of course, I do, I’m a changeling.”
  2165. You smile, “Then I’m just a free meal?”
  2166. >Forest bug like eyes widen with worry to match the rest of her face. “No no no, you’re not, well you were but now…You see. That um. I-”
  2167. >You pinch the Changelings muzzle shut with your finger and thumb.
  2168. “Forest. I’m messing with you.”
  2169. >”I’m sorry Jack. Everything clicked together last night and it's only now dawning on me that I’m heading into a relationship, a real one.”
  2170. “You never been in one?” You ask quite surprised.
  2171. >”No, us Changelings don’t have relationships. We pretend for food and that’s how far it’ll go.”
  2172. “ If it makes you feel better, I never dated a bug before.”
  2173. >Forest chuckles. “And I never dated a monkey.”
  2174. >After a small moment Forest's smile fades as she tries to read your expression. You cannot help but think this is the right thing to do. You know now that you couldn’t abandon Forest if you tried, on top of that the more time you spend with her the less alien she becomes.
  2175. >As long as you could remember you took what you wanted or needed. A part of you wants Forest, but you’re not sure why you are so hesitant.
  2176. >She has taken a gamble with you with a kiss. Maybe you can meet her halfway.
  2177. >”Jack?”
  2178. “Sorry, lost in thought.” You run a hand down her back and pull her in close. “Besides you stole something from me.”
  2179. >”If you say your heart, I’ll buck you out of this bed. Cringe has the worst flavour ever.”
  2180. “Pfft. No, I’m not that poetic. You stole a kiss.” You roll over onto her.  “And I want it back.”
  2181. >You place a hand on her cheek and cradle her jaw line with your thumb, giving her a soft smile, you go in for a kiss. You feel her hooves loosely wrap around your neck as she moans. Slowly you pull back nipping her lower lip.
  2182. >She looks at you with her eyes filled with half lidded wonder. “Still tasted some cringe there.” She playfully smirks, clicking and tutting as she purrs.
  2183. “Liar.” You reply, as you roll back over bringing her back onto your chest.
  2185. >Still Be Jack.
  2186. >A loud knock raps on the door, making you and the forest jump to attention.
  2187. >”Really! I knew that receptionist would have called the guards on us!”
  2188. >You quickly darted out of bed and slipped on your still slightly damp jeans. If it was the authorities they would have burst in shortly after the knock, as previous experiences with them proved.
  2189. Leaning against the door you speak up, “Can I help you?”
  2190. >”Jack? It’s Crescent Glow, the bat pony.”
  2191. >You breathe a sigh of relief, you go to open the door only to be interrupted by Forest's hoof on your arm.
  2192. >”Careful she could be another Changeling.”
  2193. >She’s right, it could be another trap, you not getting tricked twice in two days. It been shear dumb luck that saved both of you yesterday.
  2194. “What did you tell Luna to tell me last night?”
  2195. >”To say I’m sorry, I really am though.” Glow answers back through the door.
  2196. “Why are you awake? I thought you were nocturnal.” You ask another question to be certain it’s her.
  2197. >”It’s a punishment from Luna. Honestly you don’t know how close I was getting my flank chewed by the court.”
  2198. >Everything she says checks out, you slowly open the door a crack and glance though at Glow who was wearing her armour and carrying heavy saddle bags.
  2199. >”Can I come in?” Glow asks peering up at you.
  2200. >You nod and open the door wider. The thestral trots in and stops dead upon seeing Forest in her changeling form.
  2201. >She looks back at you, “Well now I didn’t expect this.”
  2202. “Yeah, Forest slipped up when we ended up at the dam after the ball.”
  2203. >Forest gives a nervous chuckle as she pushes herself back up against the wall to give distance from the thestral.
  2204. >”I guess it gave you a fright,” Glow asks.
  2205. “Not really, almost had it worked out. I was mostly playing along.” You turn to sit on the bed, “So why did Luna send you back to us?”
  2206. >”I’m not one to question orders - mostly.  But you both have caught the attention of all four princesses at this moment in time. So Luna has sent me to guard you both.”
  2207. “Why? It’s clear Luna can find us whenever we fall asleep, why don’t they just have us arrested.”
  2208. >”Well from what I can tell, there’s one who wants you gone, one probably would use you for study and  experiments,” Glow smirks at the last bit, “And the other more than likely has already set plans for you, and Luna, well I’m not sure. A keen interest I suppose.”
  2209. “…And you are not going to tell me which one is which.”
  2210. >”Nope,” Glow shakes her head, “Already told you too much, take it as an apologetic gift for me to you.”
  2211. “Of course,” You mutter under your breath.
  2212. >”Hey, come on now, at least I can update you on the bug situation.” She replies before turning towards Forest. “No offence.”
  2213. >”N-none taken.” Forest replies as she tries and slips away from Glow's predatory gaze.
  2214. >”Good.” She grins revealing her fangs, “It seems like the Changelings have retreated from Vanhoover for now and smaller outposts in the surrounding area have been neutralised. And well done for stopping the disaster at the dam, I never thought they would go so far to do something like that.”
  2215. “Is there news why they flooded the dam?”
  2216. >Glow thinks for a bit before replying, “I guess I can tell you. It seems that their goal was to cause a disaster and cause blame on you humans.”
  2217. “Why would they do that?”
  2218. >Forest chimes in before Glow, “Makes sense, it’ll turn ponies against humans. They would have blamed it on those workers we saved.”
  2219. >”Precisely.”  Glow nods.
  2220. “Still not understanding why though.”
  2221. >Forest Speaks up ”Love, Jack, if ponies start to mistrust humans then they wouldn’t be so defensive over them. It’ll be easy pickings.”
  2222. “Surely it would have been an accident or something.”
  2223. >”Maybe, but it was you who actually flooded it” Glow states, “If that dam ruptured jack many lives would be lost even this place would’ve been underwater by now. And who to blame? Someone who’s been constantly over the newspapers for the last few days? Why the human changeling of course.”  
  2224. >Your heart sinks into your stomach. She’s right, if you didn’t open the gates…
  2225. >A shudder rips down your spine as you sit there in silence.
  2226. >A hole filled leg rests on your knee. “I wouldn’t worry about what could have been Jack.”
  2227. >Forest’s reassurance does little, as your stomach tightens as a nauseating feeling bubbles and churns inside of you.
  2228. >”You alright their big guy?” Glow speaks up sounding concerned.
  2229. “Yeah, just feel a little sick,” You mumble. “Just give me a minute, I need fresh air.”
  2230. >You get up and put on your shoes, t-shirt and jacket then proceed to head out the door.
  2232. >Be Forest.
  2233. >You stand there dumbfounded about Jack's sudden exit. You look around to the thestral and suddenly flinch upon realising he left you with Glow.
  2234. >”Is this normal for him?” She asks, still looking at the door.
  2235. “N-no, it’s the first time I’ve seen him like this.” You reply slightly unnerved about your situation.  
  2236. >Glow rolls her eyes at you, “Relax bug, I’ve been ordered to guard you and Jack,”
  2237. >You feel your tension ease a little, she didn’t seem to be lying.
  2238. “Sure, it’s just your fangs just rub me the wrong way, um, sorry but it does.”
  2239. >”You do realise you have them too, right?” She scratches behind her ear with a hoof.
  2240. “Yeah, I know.”
  2241. >”Your one weird bug, you know that?” The thestral sighs and swings open the door with one leathery wing, “Come on. You find Jack, I’m going to book us in for a few nights, hopefully there will be somepony at the reception this time.”
  2242. “Wait,” You hold out a hoof to stop Glow from leaving. “How did you know what room we were in?”
  2243. >”Luna, poor Jack, she has been going through his memories like a gossip magazine.”
  2244. You can feel a blush form on your face. “Does that mean-”
  2245. >”Yep, now go find lover boy, the weather pegasi said a blizzard is due shortly.”
  2246. >You slowly nod and change into your disguise before following Glow out the door.
  2247. >Glows armor clanks as she trots up to the reception. “Talk about bad service.” She mutters as she looks around for the receptionist mare.
  2248. >You turn towards the lobby door to find Jack closing the door behind him and dust off the fresh snow on his shoulders.  Smiling, you trot up to him and pull him into a waist high hug.
  2249. >”Thanks for giving me some time to think, Forest, even though the heavy snow cut that short.” He says with a half-smile. “And sorry for leaving you in there with Glow, I forgot she gives you the creeps.”
  2250. “It's fine Jack. Honestly she’s not bad for a thestral.” You mention as you pull away from him, “Hey, I know you like your privacy, but if you need to talk. I’m here.”
  2251. >Jack crouches down to your eye level and prods you on the nose, “Do you just know the right thing to say, are you generally concerned?”
  2252. >From the taste of Jack's residual emotions, you can tell he’s wrapping up how he truly feels with a joke. You’ve met his type many times before, read between the lines and you can guess what they are thinking. Currently, you figure that he’s not sure who to trust.
  2253. >From the love you still feel from him, he just needs reassurance.
  2254. “Both,” You decide to humour him, as you together share a small laugh, “But I do mean it.”
  2256. >The attention between you snaps to Glow who is ringing the desk bell furiously.
  2257. >”Hey! Hello! Is there any pony here!?” The bat pony shouts as she abuses the desk bell with a furious hoof. “Sweet Luna… This place is supposed to be a four star.” Glow trots over to you both.
  2258. ”It’s still early, maybe the receptionist shift hasn’t started?” You shrug.
  2259. >”I don’t think so,” Glows ears twitch and swivel.
  2260. >You all hear hoof steps sprint into the lobby followed by a call for help. It’s the yellow receptionist mare. Tears are streaming down her face and she’s visibly panicked.
  2261. >”Are you ok?” Jack is the first to speak up.
  2262. >”No no, My human! He’s not responding and barely breathing!” She looks at all three of you before settling her eyes on Glow.
  2263. >She gasps and shuffles back a little.
  2264. >Glow tuts and shakes her head, “I’m a royal guard. I’m no threat to you, now what is the issue?”
  2265. >The mare struggles to form her words, “I-I need help, my h-human please, guard go and get help.” She shudders.
  2266. >”We can help, what room is he in?” Glow asks in a professional manner.
  2267. >The receptionist mares panic increases, “I need you to go and get help!”
  2268. >”Room number!” Glow orders sharply, stamping her hoof on the floor.
  2269. >”T-Twenty-five, he’s in twenty five,”
  2270. >Glow runs past the mare and follows the room numbers along the corridor.
  2271. >Jack quickly follows her.
  2272. >You watch the mare hesitate as she stares at the exit before glancing down the corridor. Muttering something under her breath she sprints back to room twenty-five.
  2274. >Be Jack.
  2275. >You glance around the door to find another guy draped over the bed haphazardly. His skin greyed from whatever happened to him. You shuffle back round the door into the hallway and lean against the wall.
  2276. >You take a deep breath to steady yourself.
  2277. “It’s okay, she said he’s still breathing. It’s not a dead body.” You say to yourself, trying to pluck the courage to enter.
  2278. >Glow has already entered the room as you peer back in.
  2279. >”He’s still breathing,” She hovers her cheek over his mouth, “What in Tartars happened here?” She looks around; the room has been trashed. The bed sheets have been torn and slightly scorched. Clothes and other belongings have been scattered over the floor.  
  2280. >Upon closer inspection you see dents in the wall, where something or multiple objects have been thrown.
  2281. >You step in and feel a gravely crunch under your shoe. You kneel on one knee for a closer look. Dipping your finger in the white granules you sniff the powder before tasting it.
  2282. >Salt.
  2283.  >Salt has been laid across the bottom of the door. To confirm your suspicions, you head to the window to find more across the base of the sill.
  2284. >You’ve watched many horror films that have this trope. It's commonly used to stop ghosts or demons from entering the room. Almost like a salt protection circle.
  2285. “Glow, is this common in Equestria?” You ask pointing at the salt.
  2286. >”Used to be, it comes from an old mare's tale, ponies used to believe the night contained evil spirits. So, they used to put salt along their doorways and windows at night to stave them off. Sadly, it was the final that broke the horses back with Luna.”
  2287. “With Luna? Why what happened?”
  2288. >”Right, you're new here. I’ll tell you another time but first we need to get this guy some help,” She peers out of the window and groans, “Horse apples! Looks like the blizzard is blowing full force out there. Getting him to the nearest hospital in Vanhoover will do more harm than good.”
  2289. >The clopping of hooves directs your attention towards the door as a guilt-stricken receptionist slowly steps in.
  2290. >”I didn’t do this…”
  2292. >Glow turns and stomps over to the receptionist halting a mere few inches away from her muzzle. “Out with it. What happened here?”
  2293. >The mare takes in a breath and swallows, “He’s been drained.”
  2294. >In an instant Glow grabs the mare  and flips her onto the ground, placing a hoof on her head she pushes down hard. The mare erupts in an orange flame as she clutches her horn hissing in pain.
  2295. >Placing a hoof on the changeling's chest, Glow snarls as she bares down on her, “You have a lot of nerve to follow us back to this room.”
  2296. >”Wait you don’t understand!” The bug squirms under the pressure of Glows hoof. “Something else did this to him!” She looks up at the thestral with dull pleading eyes.
  2297. >”She’s a disceverare” Forest stands in the doorway.
  2298. “Discev-what-now?” You ask.
  2299. >”Disceverare, she’s been severed from her hivemind,” Forest replies, taking a good look over the changeling. “See her eyes? They hardly have any color.”
  2300. >”I-I am, Queen Plagiaria severed me and I've-been here for just under a year.”
  2301. >Glow pushes down harder on the pinned changelings chitin, “Then tell me, how have you survived this long?”
  2302. >”Mainly the manager here, plus the residual emotions left by ponies that pass through here.”
  2303. >Forest seems to be disgusted at the thought.
  2304. >”Does he know?” The thestral questions.
  2305. >”N-no he doesn’t, please don’t tell him, I got a good set up here!” The dull eyed bug pleas with Glow once more.
  2306. >Glow grunts as she lifts her hoof off the changeling, “Tell me bug, what’s happened with the human here?”
  2307. >”I heard some commotion coming from this room earlier, the human was calling for help so I grabbed the spare keys and opened the door, and well, I found him like this.”
  2308. >”I see, you said he’s been drained. From what I’m aware the only two capable of doing that are you and Forest here,” She nods towards the disguised changeling at the door.
  2309. “I can say that Forest has been with me all night and this morning.” You chime in for the defence of Forest.
  2310. >”That may be Jack, but she’s still maybe suspect at this moment.” Glow pushes past you, “Besides, this human still needs help.”
  2312. >You watch Glow open the window and open her mouth in a soundless yell. You notice the two changelings cover their ears and wince in discomfort. You lean closer to try and hear what they were hearing.
  2313. “What are you doing?”
  2314. >”It’s a distress call, hopefully there will be some guards on the day shift nearby.” Glow looks around from the window.
  2315. >You were going to ask why you couldn’t hear it, but a spear tapping on the window interrupts you.
  2316. >”Corporal Solemn Nights reporting ma’am.” The corporal spoke in a gruff yet feminine voice holding a hoof just above her eye.
  2317. >You look round to Forest who is still inspecting the human.
  2318. >She's going to freak out with more thestrals showing up.
  2319. >Glow lifts herself up to the window, “Corporal? Where’s your Sergeant?”
  2320. >”He’s been honourably discharged ma’am, damn bugs drained him good back at Vanhoover.”
  2321. >”The stars strike me down,” Glow grumbles, “Have your unit at least got a medic?”
  2322. >”Affirmative, Got Private Second Chance. Transfer from the Solar Guard ma’am” Solemn finishes her reply with a nod.
  2323. >”Better than nothing, come around to us, this is room twenty-five. Through the lobby and along the corridor.”
  2324. >”Yes ma’am,” Solemn salutes once more and takes off with great speed.
  2326. >In no time at all, you hear hoof steps and the clanking of armor as spears come from the corridor.
  2327. >Two more armored thestral mares file in through the door followed by a white male Pegasus who towers over them.  
  2328. >In a split second Forest and the receptionist changeling are held at spear point securing them against the wall followed by the pegasus putting his just under your chin.
  2329. >”At ease,” Glow orders, the guards lower their spears slightly. “The human changeling and his companion are under my guard; you shall not bring them harm.”
  2330. >Thankfully the spear retracts from under your chin.
  2331. >”Medic sees the human in the bed, apparently he’s been drained. I prefer he be moved out of here pronto. You two,” She points a hoof at the other two lunar guards, “Stand guard at the door, no civilians are not to enter. Are we clear?”
  2332. >”Yes ma’am!” They all bark in a well drilled fashion.
  2333. >”Jack, Forest. With me,” Glow signals towards the door, she pauses next to the other changeling, scrunching her muzzle as she thinks, “You, also with me. I’m detaining you under the Equestrian Changeling Expulsion Act”
  2334. >”No please! If you return me, they’ll kill me.” The bug begs as the other guards put on a metal ring on her horn and cuff her front hooves with just enough slack so she can walk. Finally, they wrap a clamp around her wings.
  2335. >”Save it for the court.” Glow says sternly before ordering you and the others to follow.
  2337. >You follow her though the lobby into what seems to be the bar area to her relief it was closed. Trotting up to a table she orders you all to sit down.
  2338. >”Right, bug, your name.” She asks while she digs around her armor before pulling out a notepad and pen.
  2339. >You squint at the pen logo printed on the side, that pen is from Earth. It is surprising to see something so trivial such as a Parker pen in possession of an alien being.
  2340. >”I don’t really have a name, I used to be referred to as Drone Five-Three-Four-Four-Five-Seven-One back at the hive.”
  2341. >Glow uses her teeth to pick up the pen and scribble down the notes before sliding it to the corners of her mouth to ask another question. “Any alias?”
  2342. >” Smile Service.” She replies as she fidgets in her bindings.
  2343. >”Queen?”
  2344. >”None,” Smiles frowns.
  2345. >”Ex-Queen?” Glow quickly rephrases the question.
  2346. >”Plagiaria”
  2347. >”Thank you,” She scribbles down some more notes before tucking the notepad and pen away.
  2349. >”Excuse me, guard. Have you seen Smile Service? The reception mare?” a voice came from the other side of the bar.
  2350. >You recognise the voice; it must be the manager of this place. Confirming your suspicions, a well-dressed stallion trots over to the table before gasping at the sight of two changelings.
  2351. >”You're looking at her,” Glow points towards Smile, “A changeling has been right under your nose for over a year now…apparently.”
  2352. >The cuffed changeling sinks in her chair, trying not to make eye contact with the manager.
  2353. >”What have you done with Smile Service!?” The stallion almost yells.
  2354. >She nods, “It’s me. There’s never been a Smile Service. It’s been me all along for the last year.”
  2355. >”But we…” The manager looks horrified, “Your lying you dirty bug! I bet you're in cohorts with the other one that came in with this human” He finishes pointing at you.
  2356. >”These are just circumstances! She’s from a completely different hive!” Forest snaps at him.
  2357. >”Ah! she's here all the long! I want you all out of my hotel, now!”
  2358. >”No can do. This place is now a crime scene.” Glow stands up from her chair and pushes her muzzle inches away from his face. “If you have a problem take it up with Princess Luna, I think she would appreciate why you like to interrupt Lunar guard operations.”
  2359. >The manager shrinks back in cowardness and falls silent from his outburst.
  2360. >Glow continues in a less sharp tone. ”Now, there’s a human in a serious condition in one of your rooms, without Smiles Service he may be dead by now.”  
  2361. >”Well obviously the other changeling that this human foolishly brought in.”
  2362. “I have a name you know,” You decide to break your silence.
  2363. >”Enough!” Glow stomps the ground. “As I was saying, Forest here, has an alibi. She has been with Jack all last night and with me for most of the morning. And Smiles, she’s the one who alerted me.” The thestral huffs before turning to Smiles. “Now Smile’s I need to know who you are disguised as.”
  2364. >”I’ve been dead masking.” Smiles replies not looking proud of herself.
  2365. >Once again, Forest turns to her in disgust, this time Smiles notices.
  2366. >”I was desperate! I needed love and with not many ponies out here, I had to make do with what I could find.”
  2367. “What’s Dead masking?” You ask mostly Forest, by her face she has a strong opinion on the matter.
  2368. >”It’s when a changeling takes the disguise of a dead pony.” Forest says flatly.
  2369. >You look around to all the others who are sharing a similar expression to Forest.
  2370. >”I had no choice! I found this mare dead out in the woodlands a few miles from here, I was already low on my love reserves, I used the disguise with a bunch of travellers who were passing through.”
  2371. >You watch Forests face soften into some sympathy for her kin, “I’m like a Disceverare too, I wonder if I would done the same if I didn’t meet Jack.” She looks at you from across the table and back to Smiles.
  2372. >”This dead mare, did you know how she died?” Glow asks.
  2373. >”I’m not sure, looks like she bled out, she had deep cuts across her cutie marks, so a timber wolf maybe?”
  2374. >”What were her cutiemark?”
  2375. >”Some corn maybe? I’m not sure, I had to improvise giving myself one to complete the disguise. It’s kind of amazing what you can do with a focused quiet mind.”
  2376. >Forest looks at her in absolute surprise. She goes to speak but something changes her mind.
  2377. >”Great, bugs who can think up disguises, this is more than Equestria needs right now.” Glow groans.
  2378. >Glow Smile and the Manager speak among themselves about the situation.
  2379. >Catching Forests attention from across the table you point to another table a fair few feet away.
  2380. >She nods and follows you to the empty table.
  2382. >Be Forest.
  2383. >You sit down opposite Jack who quickly waves to Glow to imply you are just talking privately.
  2384. >”It looks like we’re not going to catch a break here.” Jack mumbles, placing his elbow on the table and resting his cheek in his hand, his eyes flicking up at you, you can see he’s deep in thought, “Why is Dead masking so looked down upon with changelings? It would be a perfect disguise as long as you keep away from their relatives.”
  2385. You slowly shake your head, “We used to do it, but not now. We…” You nervously rub your hooves together, “At one point when our race was facing extinction, we sometimes killed the ponies for their disguise.” You look up at Jack who didn’t seem fazed at all.
  2386. >”You get crazy shit like that in the news back on Earth from time to time.”
  2387. “Jack, I do wonder what world you come from sometimes.”
  2388. >He laughs and shakes his head, “It's not an absolute hell. We get by.”
  2389. “Do you think Smiles drained that human?” You quietly whisper.
  2390. >”I think she is innocent in this, I’ve found salt on the doors and windows. Does salt repel changelings or something?”
  2391. “No, we’re not Tartarus bound.” You smile at the absurdity of it.
  2392. >”Thought so, that guy must have done it to protect himself from something. One top of that he had to know basic occult lore or practises depending on his outlook.”
  2393. You lean in, “Are you saying black magic is at play here?”
  2394. >”Does it exist here?”
  2395. You nod. “That’s something we should never mess with Jack. It can corrupt the purest of hearts.”
  2396. >Jack rubs the back of his head, “Look, I only know of it due to reading horror stories and movies. It might be nothing. The guy in there could have salted the room as something spooked him.”
  2397. >You watch your companion smile as he thinks for a while.
  2398. “Your enjoying this Jack.”
  2399. >”Maybe, I love a good mystery, they’re like massive puzzles to solve.”
  2400. “Do you want to take a look around?”
  2401. >”Maybe,” He smiles from ear to ear. Slowly it fades quickly as it appears as he looks over to the other table, “Whatever drained the guy, might still be here. Forest, what happens to ponies when they are completely drained?”
  2402. His question takes you by surprise, “They die if all their love was taken forcibly. Majority would just knock them out for a few days.”
  2403. >”Damn, and humans?”
  2404. “Why do you think I freak out when you told me that I tried draining your love?”
  2405. >”Right,” He quietly mutters before falling silent.
  2406. “I promise I will never do it Jack, never.”
  2407. >”I hope not, it’ll just go straight to your hips,” He replies with a grin sliding onto his face.
  2408. “Hey! Your love is very nutritious. Thank you very much.” Your fold your forelegs and pout.
  2409. >”So, you have been having a snack on me.” Jack pretends to look horrified.
  2410. “Put it this way, this morning alone will do me until tomorrow.”
  2411. >”But I didn’t feel any of that weird pulling.”
  2412. “Because you’re directing it at me. I just need to absorb it.”
  2413. >”Let’s go, just sitting here is driving me mad.”
  2414. “Do you think Glow will allow that?”
  2415. >”Not sure.” He turns to Glow, “Hey Glow, can we go?”
  2416. >The thestral turns around, “Where?”
  2417. >”Just around the hotel.”
  2418. >Glow looks over to Smile then back to you. “Stay on the grounds. Do not leave the building, I’ll find you once I’m finished up here.”
  2420. >Still be Forest.
  2421. >You both leave the bar and start walking pretty much aimlessly around the hotel.
  2422. “What now?” You look up at him.
  2423. >Jack thinks for a moment before answering, “We could start questioning the staff and guests here.”
  2424. “I’m still not sure why you wish to help, the guards and investigators will be here soon.”
  2425. >Jack pauses and stares off down the corridor, “Like I said, it’s a puzzle.”
  2426. “A puzzle, nothing more?”
  2427. >”I don’t know, seeing the guys drained like that,” He lets out a heavy sigh, “It’s something I feel compelled to do. You know what I mean?”
  2428. “Sorry, I don’t” You slowly shake your head.
  2429. >”Put it this way, would you help a changeling if they are in trouble?”
  2430. “I’m not sure, depends on the Queen's orders.”
  2431. >You’re not sure if it's disgust or suprise, but Jack seems disappointed with your answer.
  2432. >”What about your family?”
  2433. “The hive is my family, technically the Queen is my mother.”
  2434. >His brow furrowed in confusion, “Wait, so you're like ants?”
  2435. You change into your disguise just to roll your eyes, “A bit, we’re a bit more complex than an ants nest.”
  2436. >”You said you're like a Dis-disa you know that getting cut from the hivemind thing.”
  2437. “Disceverare, It’s not that hard to say Jack,” You give him a soft smirk before letting it fall, “Yeah, I did,” You carry on walking with Jack beside, you decide to at least give him a run down, “I’m the last of my hive, my Queen is nowhere to be found and I’m practically alone inside of my head.”
  2438. >”I’m sorry to hear that,”
  2439. “It’s fine, but hey, I got you.” Just remembering that fact brings a smile to your face.
  2440. >”What happened to your hive?”
  2441. “Can we leave it for now?”
  2442. >”Sure...Sorry,” Jack says quietly. Putting his hands in his pockets he clicks his teeth in thought. “...Do changelings lay eggs?”
  2443. “For the hives sake Jack!” You couldn’t help chuckle at his sudden change in attitude. “Yes, but only queens ca-”
  2444. >Jack quickly catches your shoulder pulling you to a stop. “What’s he up to?”
  2445. >You spot to see a well-dressed blue main unicorn holding some device in his magic.
  2446. >”That’s the unicorn who convinced the receptionist and the manager to let us in.”
  2447. “We should really thank him.”
  2448. >”Or ask him what he’s up to,” Jack replies with some suspicion in his voice.
  2449. >You follow Jack up to the unicorn who smiles as you approach.
  2450. >”Why isn’t it the human changeling and his companion, good morning to you both. Or afternoon, you have to forgive me. It seems I’ve lost track of time.” The unicorn speaks up as he continues to wave a small clicking metal box around.
  2451. “It seems we have as well, so good morning to you, I think.” You reply before some suspicion starts to infect you also, “How do you know who we are?”
  2452.  >”News papers, the press has been going wild about you two. Anyway, where’s my manners, I haven't formally introduced myself yet,” He graciously gives you a nod before holding out a hoof to Jack who shakes it, “I’m Fancy Pants, Cantorlot Noble.”
  2453. >”Jack,”
  2454. “Forest.”
  2455. >”Indeed,” He smiles at both of you, “Now if you excuse me, there are some matters that need attending.”
  2456. >”Wait,” Jack holds up his hand, “That box thing, what is it?”
  2457. >”This piece of equipment? It’s a residual mana energy detector, or an emf scanner if this ends up in your world.”
  2458. >”Sorry, I’m the curious type, so I’m going to have to ask.” Jack shrugs his shoulders.
  2459. >”If you must know, I’m looking for residual magical energies.”
  2460. “But wont your magic interfere with it?”
  2461. >The unicorn shakes his head, “No no, it's been calibrated for my magic.”
  2462. >”Are you a ghost hunter?” Jack asks, “Back on earth people used emf for ‘research’.” He finishes off his sentence with air quotes.
  2463. >”You're in a world of magic Mr Jack, I wouldn’t dismiss the paranormal if I were you, as it’s just normal for many of us.”
  2464. A tingling chill washes over your body, “Are you saying there are ghosts?”
  2465. >”No, never really found one either. I’m trying to figure out what's going on here..”
  2466. >”You mean the other guy?”
  2467. >”Yes, I heard the commotion early this morning. I hope the chap is alright,”
  2468. >Jack grimaces and shakes his head, “Not really, something drained him good.”
  2469. >You half expected the unicorn to glare at you, instead he tucks his devices in his jacket pocket and sits.
  2470. >”Is there anything else you know?”
  2471. >”Strangely, he put salt along his door and window as if he was protecting himself from something supernatural,”
  2472. >”Hmm, supernatural indeed,” He taps his chin in thought, “Say, Jack. Do you know if the man's mare is around?”
  2473. >”Can’t say, haven't seen any distrest loved ones either, maybe he’s single.”
  2474. >”Unlikely, but still possible,” Fancy replies as he starts to make his way to the lobby, “Maybe asking that ‘kind’ receptionist would clear some matters,”
  2475. “No use, she’s already been outed as a changeling by the guard. They got her locked up in the bar.” You speak up causing Fancy to stop in his tracks.
  2476. >”Isn’t that something, the bar you say?”
  2477. “Yeah,” You reply.
  2478. >”Then I’ll be off, I bid you both farewell and good afternoon,”
  2479. >”Oh and thanks for yesterday,”
  2480. >”My pleasure,” Fancy nods before walking away.
  2482. “Well he was charmingly odd.” You look around at Jack.
  2483. >”He’s someone worth keeping an eye on. Come on, let's keep looking.”
  2484. >You once again follow Jack around the hotel. You couldn’t help but walk closer to his side as other females, being it hotel staff or guests.
  2485. >You pass a rusty red female pegasus as you both approach the doors to the spa and pool.
  2486. >You couldn’t help but notice the way she takes a long hungry stare at Jack. As if on instinct you pull back your lips to bare your fangs. Of course, being disguised had a little effect on the mare who just smirks and fluffs her wings.
  2487. >Flicking her flowing brown mane from her shoulder she turns and leaves, switching glances between you and Jack.
  2488. >”Are you ok Forest?” Jack asks, holding the door open.
  2489. “Yeah, just caught up in my own thoughts,” You reply, brushing off the unspoken conflict with the red mare.
  2490. >Jack shrugs, before entering the spa. “Damn this is fancy!” He follows his announcement with a small whistle. “Didn’t know they had this here.”
  2491. “It says spa and pool area above the door-” You stop yourself from finishing, “Right... you can’t read Equestrian.”
  2492. >”Sure can’t, it’s all a bunch of runes to me,”
  2493. “I probably would say the same with your writings.”
  2494. >”Probably,”
  2495. >Jack strolls over to the spa’s reception desk and dings the bell.
  2496. >”I’ll be a few minutes! Just seeing a client!” A female voice calls from one of the relaxation rooms.
  2497. >”Sure, we’ll wait.” Jack replies while he picks up a price sheet and scans through it. He catches you giving him a confused look before he speaks up again in a hushed voice, “Seeing how much for a happy ending -Ow!”
  2498. You give him a quick jab in the thigh. “Behave!” You scorn him quietly.
  2499. >Your human companion grins as he gives a mischievous chuckle before throwing the price sheet back on the table.
  2500. >“So, do changelings have their own language?” He changes the subject somewhat to your relief.
  2501. You nod, “We do, you want to hear it?”
  2502. >”Sure.” He shrugs.
  2503. >You start speaking in your mother tongue, giving soft clicks mixed in a flowing melodic rhythm.
  2504. >”That sounded, well awesome. No idea what you said though.”
  2505. You brush back your fringe before giggling behind a hoof, “I said that you're a funny human.”
  2506. >”Really?” He raises an eyebrow.
  2507. “Yep!” You smile up at him.
  2508. >“Liar...”
  2510. >Just before you could reply, a light purple mare trots up to the desk, “Hello, and welcome to the spa and pool, can I be of assistance?”
  2511. >”Yes, you can. I want to ask if there’s been anything odd going on at this hotel?” Jack asks as he leans his hip against the desk and folds his arms.
  2512. >”You mean about the other human?”
  2513. >”Yeah, know much about him?”
  2514. >The mare scrunches up her muzzle “Are you two detectives or something?”
  2515. >”Think of us more like agents.” Jack replies thinking quickly on his feet.
  2516. >The mare looks side to side before whispering. “So it is true, SMILE actually exists?”
  2517. “That’s just a conspiracy ma’am,” You cut in, you heard the rumors so in a way you're telling the truth. “Can you answer our questions please,” You add a bit more authority to your voice or how you imagine an agent would speak, just to play on her assumptions.  
  2518. >The mare nods and thinks back tapping a hoof on the desk, “From what I can recall he’s been here for just over a week. He’s a nice fellow, but he’s always alone.”
  2519. “Have you ever talked to him?” You chime in.
  2520. >”Once, he came in here a few days ago saying he’s stressed to his teeth.  Come to think of it, I did offer a two for one deal as I assumed then he was with his special somepony.”
  2521. >”Did he ever mention her during his massage?” Jack asks.
  2522. >”He did,”
  2523. “What did he say?”
  2524. >”How much he loved her. Kind of sweet really.”
  2525. >Jack glances at you before returning his attention to the spa mare.
  2526. >You heard it too.
  2527. >Loved.
  2528. >From what you read in the initiatives magazine the crystal is never wrong. So far, any mismatches are unheard of.
  2529. >Unless…
  2530. “You said ‘loved’. Did their relationship end?”
  2531. >”He did mention he would do anything to see her again. So, maybe?” The spa mare shrugs.
  2532. >”One more question, have you seen anything odd in the hotel prior?”
  2533. >The mare hesitates.
  2534. >”Any information would help at this moment. So anything, no matter how little.” Jack encourages her.
  2535. >”Well, I now it sounds stupid, but at night when I start closing up I feel like I’m being watched.”
  2536. >”Do you have the feeling here, or is it around the hotel.”
  2537. >”Mostly around here, more so when I take the used towels down to the basement for cleaning.”  
  2538. “Have you seen anything?” You ask.
  2539. >”I’m not sure, I did see a weird flash of light down the basement a few nights ago.”
  2540. Alarm bells start ringing in your mind, “I know it sounds weird but what color was the flash?”
  2541. >”Red or orange, can’t really remember, I ran once I saw it.”
  2542. >”Can we see this basement?” Jack asks.
  2543. >”I guess, let me show you.”
  2545. >Be Jack.
  2546. >You and Forest follow the mare around the spa pools and past the saunas and down a flight of stairs.
  2547. >You can feel the atmosphere and mood change, unlike above, the basement could be called a juxtaposition. Where the spa is clean and colored for relaxation, underneath is cold damp with a heavy air to it.
  2548. >”Well this is it.” The spa pony speaks up, looking slightly unnerved from being here.
  2549. >Looking around you see piles of towels either waiting to be washed or hung to dry. You take a few steps down the basement and run your hand along the shelving that stores odds and ends for the spa upstairs.
  2550. >You inspect your hand to find it covered in dust.
  2551. >It’s clearly that the staff here doesn't spend too much time down here.
  2552. >You notice an old wooden door at the far end of the basement.
  2553. “What's in there?” You point towards the door.
  2554. >”Not sure really. We never open it, there’s a silly legend shared among the staff here that if you open the door you will see your own death.”
  2555. >”And do you believe it?” Forest asks.
  2556. >”No it’s a stupid story that we tell new staff when they join.” The mare shifts unsteadily on her hooves.
  2557. “So you won't mind if I open it?” You ask, walking towards the door.
  2558. >”It’s fine, I think it’s just an old cupboard or something.” She replies sounding more unsure.
  2559. >Grabbing the door handle you attempt to pull the door open. Giving the handle a rattle you first assume it's just locked.
  2560. >Checking around the old wooden door, you fail to see any locks or latches.
  2561. >Once again you grab the handle and give a few big tugs before the door grinds and creaks but fails to open.
  2562. >You kneel down to see if you and peek under the door, under your hands you feel something familiar, looking at your palm, specks of salt cling to your skin.
  2564. >Be Forest.
  2565. >You watch Jack dust off his hands on his trousers before standing back up.
  2566. “Found anything?” You ask.
  2567. >”More salt by the looks of things. Whoever placed it there was trying to keep something in.”
  2568. >”Or out” The spa mare chimes in.
  2569. >Jack shakes his head, “Whoever placed it done it from this side of the door.” He mentions as he pulls on the door handle once more. “Still, there’s no locks as I can see.” He once again glances through the gaps in the door frame.
  2570. “Maybe it’s locked by magic.” You throw in your two bits.
  2571. >”Can you find out?” Jack asks, turning back to you.
  2572. You nod, “Not as well as an unicorn.”
  2573. >You walk up to the door and place a hoof on it and close your eyes.
  2574. >You can feel the magical aura enveloping the door, it wasn’t changeling magic nor pony. You continue to run your hoof along the door until something dark and dread shoots through your being. Gasping you pull back as terror rips through you.
  2575. >”Forest!” Jack grabs you and pulls you away from the door.
  2576. “I’m fine,” You pant, “I’m fine…” the feeling of dread slowly disples from your body.
  2577. >”What happened?”
  2578. “That magic, it isn’t natural Jack.”
  2579. >Jack looks at the spa worker, “Have you experienced anything like this with the door?”
  2580. >The mare shakes her head, “No we don’t touch it, you know, with the legend and all.”
  2581. >”Then there could be more truth to it then we thought.” Jack replies, he places his hand on your withers, “Are you okay?”
  2582. You nod, “I’m alright now, maybe we should tell Glow about this door.”
  2583. >”I was thinking the same thing.”
  2585. >Saying thanks and bye to the helpful spa mare you both head back to the bar, you find Glow,  a still undesiguesed Smile Service and two thestral guards.
  2586. >You notice the unicorn from earlier, Fancy Pants, talking to Glow.
  2587. >”I’m telling you, there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.” Fancy says calmly.
  2588. >”And I’m telling you, we gathered enough evidence for the courts to decide.”
  2589. >”Then have an innocent changeling locked up for a crime she didn’t commit.” The well dressed unicorn retorts as he nods towards Smile who is starting to look very anxious.
  2590. >”Actually, Forest and I discovered something of interest.” Jack interrupts.
  2591. >”Oh, didn’t see you two come in.” Glow replies, “What did you find?”
  2592. “A door sealed with dark magic.” You state.
  2593. >”And more salt, like in that guys room,” Jack adds.
  2594. >”Where to?” Glow stands up visibly alarmed by the news.
  2595. “The spa’s basement.”
  2596. >”Show me,” The Thestal demands before turning to the other Lunar Guards “You two stay here, keep an eye on the changeling.”
  2598. >Back in the spas basement, Glow continues to argue with Fancy who decided to follow against her wishes.
  2599. >”Mr Pant’s you are overstepping my authority, for you safety I will have you forcibly escorted out of this hotel.”
  2600. >”Then it’ll be your job on the line.”
  2601. >”Listen here, do not pull your canterlot snobbery on me, I do not care for what contact yo-” Glow stops abruptly mid rant as she stares at a badge hovering in front of her. “Your agency disbanded years ago…” She trails off.
  2602. >”We decided to have a reunion. Now Miss Glow, Can I please do my Job?”
  2603. >Glow grumbles under her breath and steps away from the door in question.
  2604. >Fancys horn lights up as he scans the door. His face grimaces before dispeling his magic. “Has anyone here touched the door?”
  2605. You glance up to Jack in worry why the unicorn would ask that, “Me and Jack has,”
  2606. >Without the moment notice you and Jack are blinded from Fancys magic.
  2607. >”Purification spell,” He says flatly, “The magic on the door is indeed dark,”
  2608. >Jack stares at the door in confusion, “I touched the door multiple times, I didn’t feel anything, not like how you or Forest reacted.”
  2609. >”Human magical resistance Jack, still be on your guard, dark magic is very powerful, luckily the magic on this door is weak.”
  2610. >”But Forest used magic on me before and it worked,”
  2611. “Did I?” You ask.
  2612. >”You pulled me onto the train,”
  2613. “I was pumped with love magic due to being near the Crystal Heart. I sapped all my magic when I pulled you in.”
  2614. >”Is that why you were a little grumpy?”
  2615. “Trust me, if I did it farther away from the Crystal City, then I would have probably died from magic exhaustion.”
  2616. >”Oh,” Jack recoils, “Sorry…”
  2617. “It’s fine…”
  2618. >As you were talking Fancy pulled the door open with a loud creak.
  2619. >You all peer into the small room, being largely empty bar from a couple of old crates and boxes, what seems to be a memorial is placed around a chalk circle with weird symbols.
  2620. >”Do you smell that?” Glow says quietly.
  2621. >”Indeed I do,” Fancy replies as he inspects the symbols.
  2622. >”Smells like rotten eggs. Has something gone off in those boxes?” Jacks asks.
  2623. >”No, it’s sulphur.” The Fancy answers. “Smells like Tartarus in here.”
  2624. >You slowly enter the room with the rest and spot a photograph of a yellow mare with a human.
  2625. >Jack crouches down behind you still looking over your shoulder, “Is that?”
  2626. “I think it is, hey... Glow.”
  2627. >”Hmm?” Glow turns around and looks at the photo. “Well it confirms that the human has more to play than being the victim here.”
  2628. >Jack points to the yellow mare in the image ”That mare, with her mane shorter. Does it look like Smiles Services disguise?”
  2629. Your eyes widen ”It does! Didn't she say when she found the dead mare that she thought her cutie mark was some corn?”
  2630. >”She did...” Glow replies.
  2631. >”This sigal,” Fancy interrupts pointing at the chalk symbols with his hoof, “being done by an amature, I would say someone tried summoning,” He circles around the room, looking at the memorial in perticaler. “I’d say that someone tried seeing a loved one once more.”
  2632. >”Are you saying the human did this?” Glow asks.
  2633. >”It seems to be, I go sent here to investigate weird sightings by guests and staff.” Fancy sighs, “So much for an easy case.”
  2634. >”It still doesn’t add up,” Jack speaks up, “Us humans can't use magic, hell, in our world magic doesn’t even exist.”
  2635. >”Yet, you have a word for it and understand the concept,” The blue mained unicorn replies, “You also said ‘hell’ I believe that's your Tartarus?”
  2636. >”Yeah… It is,”
  2637. >”Then how would ‘you’ summon a spirit?”
  2638. >”I don’t know, Ouija Board, séance?” Jack shrugs, “It’s all from fiction.”
  2639. >”Okay, so in your stories Jack, do the people cast spells to use an Ouija or conduct a seance?”
  2640. >”No, not really. Where are you going with this?”
  2641. >”I’m saying it's still possible for a human to use runes, sigals and other magical artifacts. They do not need to be able to channel magic, it’s the object and a conscious will that does it.” Fancy motions towards the door, “Besides, everyone out, I need to purify the room, to clear any lingering dark magic.”
  2642. >Without any argument, you all leave the small room.
  2643. >Once more a blinding light shines out of the door frame, followed by Fancy looking satisfied with his work.
  2644. “Is it done?”
  2645. >”It is, but I fear something has been summoned, I advise everyone to stick together and do not go alone anywhere.”
  2646. >”Not that I like taking orders from ponies outside the Guard, but your right,” Glow says, “Jack, Forest, do not leave my sight.”
  2648. >Be Jack.
  2649. >You should have known that Glow would demand everyone to stay in the bar. To your surprise, she ordered the bar not to serve alcohol until this mess is over with.
  2650. >With a glass of soda in front of you you listen in to Glow's questioning of Smiles.
  2651. >”So this human, he seemed to know that pony you were disguising as.”
  2652. >”That explains when he first checked in he almost had a heart attack…” Smiles half replied to Glow, mostly confirming it to herself.
  2653. >”What happened when he first saw you?”
  2654. >”We’ll come in through the door, I greeted him and he went pale and started to call me Autumn Harvest, I assured him I was not her, I even showed him my cutie mark.”
  2655. >”Then what happened after that.”
  2656. >”Nothing really, he apologised before saying I looked like someone he used to know.”
  2657. >”Why didn’t you tell us this before?”
  2658. >”Because I…” Smiles pauses and looks away from Glow, “I’m scared, I didn’t want to become more suspect than I already am. Please miss, don’t let courts send me back!”
  2659. >Glow waves down her worries with a hoof, “I can see you have no contact with your hive or their operations.”
  2660. >”Thank yo-”
  2661. >”But,” Glow interrupts, “You are an illegal immigrant so you are being detained in this hotel until further notice.”
  2662. >Smiles deflates in her chair, “You’re kidding right?”
  2663. >”No I’m not,” Glow stretches her wings and neck, “It’s that or the Changeling Expulsion Act .”
  2664. “I would take it,” You chime in, “The feds in my world would never go this easy.”
  2665. >”Maybe to you Jack, I’ve seen the list of crimes you wanted back on Earth. By the moon, you're wanted in five other countries and two on this planet.” Glow states as a smile slowly forms on her face. “Quite a track record if I see one.”
  2666. “Two?” You ask, from what you're aware it’s only the crystal empire that wants your head.
  2667. >”You're an illegal immigrant too Jack. Plus…” Glow stops and pulls out a coin purse from under her armor and throws it on the table, “Stealing from a Guard.”
  2668. “False accusation,” You fold your arms, “I demand a solicitor.”
  2669. >Glow chuckles and shakes her head, “Too bad you’re an asset of Celestia and Luna, I’ll be more and happy to shut you in the slammer to that old trick.”
  2670. “Asset?”
  2671. >”Why do you think I’m guarding you?”
  2672. “To stop me being naughty?” You shrug.
  2673. >”You idiot, you're a political pawn and a vigilante hero in the eyes of the public. If we arrest you now then it’ll look bad for the Crown's image.”
  2674. “So you were going to arrest me?”
  2675. >”After you fulfilled your use, yes.” She gives you her best poker face.
  2676. “Damn, you cops are all the same, no matter where.” You lean back in your chair. “Even worse I can't tell if your bullshitting your not,”
  2677. >”I’ll take that as a compliment coming from the human changeling.”
  2678. >”He’s lying,” Forest appears beside you and places a drink on the table, “He knows you are,”
  2679. >”What took so long at the bar?” Glow changes the subject.
  2680. >”Talking to the hotel manager,” Forest shrugs, “Not a bad pony once he cools his temper,” She finishes by taking a sip of her drink.
  2681. “Has he talked to you other than earlier, Smiles?” You ask the other changeling.
  2682. >She shakes her head, “No, he keeps looking this way, probably thinking of more horrible things to say,”
  2683. >”Actually, he's still speaking highly of you, he’s more annoyed that it’ll be hard to find somepony to replace you,” says Forest.
  2684. >”Really?” Smiles perks up, “So he doesn’t really hate me?”
  2685. >”Doesn’t sound like it, he sounded guilty about lashing out at you,”
  2686. >Smiles looks to Glow, “Can I?” She nods towards the manager behind the bar.
  2687. >”Go ahead, go anywhere else and I’ll hoofcuff you to the table,” The thestal guard replies flicking her hoof for Smiles to go.
  2688. >As smiles leaves, a Lunar Guard from earlier approaches the table and saluts, “Ma’am, Second Chance has deemed the human stable enough to be taken to Van-Hoover Hospital, awaiting orders…”
  2689. >”Proceed with the medical evac, you are to return here once you give the orders to Second Chance.”
  2690. >”Yes ma’am,” The Guard saluts again and returns back to the human and the medic.
  2692. >Be Forest.
  2693. >You watch the Guard turn the corner out of the bar area, you spot the rusty red coated mare from before, she stops mid step and grins at you. Giving a small wink she takes pursuit of the Guard.
  2694. ”Hey! Where is she going!?” You alert the others, by pointing a hoof where she once stood.
  2695. >”You mean my Guard?” Glow replies.
  2696. “No that red mare!” You feel a sensation inside of you, something doesn’t seem right at all.
  2697. >”There was no one else there Forest,” Jack mentions, “I watched the Guard leave, no one else followed.”
  2698. >”So did I, are you alright Forest?” Glow asks.
  2699. >You glance around the bar, to see if anyone else has seen her. It seems even the two guards haven't noticed…
  2700. >Two Guards...
  2701. “How many guards do you have here?”
  2702. >”Three, including the medic.” She answers as she looks around the bar spotting the other two talking at the bar. “Oh for Luna’s sake!” She yells getting up from her chair. “Solemn Nights, Blessed Stars! On me.”
  2703. You get up from your seat and sprint out of the  bar doors, “HEY!” You feel somepony shove past you.
  2704. >”Sorry miss!” Fancy replies bolting through the open doors in a hurry, “Stay where you are!”
  2705. >Ignoring Fancy’s, Jacks and Glows calls to return, you follow Him into the lobby.
  2706. You slow down to a trot as Fancy is nowhere to be seen. “Fancy!?” you call out.
  2707. >The lobby felt heavy with a deathly silence that lingered throughout and into the corridors.
  2708. “Fancy!” You call out again.
  2709. >What are you doing?
  2710. >It feels like you are using Fancy’s sudden disappearance as an excuse to venture through the empty corridors.
  2711. >Something is pulling you, not curiosity, nor worry for another, you need to be alone.
  2712. >You stop at a door leading into a room, you care not who is in there, you just have to go in.
  2713. >You push down the handle and with a click it unlocks and the door swings open.
  2714. >You slowly enter, with the door clicking close behind you.
  2715. >A sense of dread erupts within your body, upon realising what you just did.
  2716. >You knew it too well.
  2717. >Mind control.
  2718. >You slowly scan the room and your eyes lock on a tall slender figure.
  2719. >”Drone, you have disappointed me,” A familiar voice echoes in the room.
  2720. “My Queen?” You take a small step closer.
  2721. >”Disobeying orders and abandoning a drones duty.” The Queen changeling states, with her familiar authority.
  2722. You shake your head and resist any mind magic that has been cast on you. “You're not my Queen!” You drop your disguise and bare your fangs, “And you’ll never get to Jack without going through me!”
  2723. >”Jack? You mean that human? Falling in love with food, are we dear drone?”
  2724. “I’ve seen you look at him, I know who you are! You're not going anywhere near him!”
  2725. >The room flashes orange multiple times as duplicates of Chrysalis appear and bares down on you.
  2726. >The smell of sulphur is overpowering as the tainted air fills your tracheae.
  2727. >”Then tell me, why have you abandoned your love source?”
  2728. “Mind control, please, I know mind magic when I see it,”
  2729. >”Do you now?” The other speaks.
  2730. ”And I know you are both fakes!” You fire a hoof at them, “I’m still connected to the hivemind,” You tap your horn.
  2731. >One of the fake Queens sighs as her voice changes ”Changelings...always a fickle…” Her face twists into what you could describe as pure malice, “Kill her, I’ve got a meal waiting for me across the hall.
  2732. >As on cue you hear Jack from the otherside of the door calling your name.
  2733. “JACK! RUN!” You turn and thump on the door, “DO NOT GO IN THE ROOM! JACK!” You try and yank the door open in a frenzied panic.
  2734. >The room flashes orange once again, you turn to notice one less Queen present.
  2735. You stumble back on your hind legs and press your back against the wall in terror as the multiple queens make their way towards you, horns glowing.
  2736. >Out of options, you slump to the floor and cower with your hoofs covering your face.
  2737. >Peering behind a hoof you watch your impending death edge towards you.
  2738. >A Queen tuts, “Absolutely pathetic,” The last bit of her sentence flows within your mind “[I thought I raised you better than that.]”
  2739. >A green flash lights up the room filling it with a sudden intense heat. The door gives way, sending you out into the corridor.
  2741. >Be Forest.
  2742. >You feel a nudge to your side stirring you awake.
  2743. >”Get up.” A familiar voice calls you.
  2744. >You groan as you try and open your heavy eyes.
  2745. >”I said get up drone.”
  2746. >That voice...your eyes dart open to see your Queen standing over you.
  2747. “My Que-” You pause, this could be still a trick from that...thing.
  2748. >”I’m finding that you’re unable to recognize your own queen, disconcerting.” Chrysalis green eyes bore down on you.
  2749. Wide eyed, you shrink back, as your heart thumps in your chest. “My Queen, please forgiv-”
  2750. >”Silence.” She snaps with authority. “Your temporary dissidence will be overlooked, due to your steadfast allegiance to me.”
  2751. >You look around it seems your Queen has brought your down into the spa’s basement.
  2752. “My Queen, what deems this place worthy of your presence?”
  2753. >”If you're referring to the hotel then I was planning to snatch a human for myself. The amount of love these things produce will allow me to cast my revenge on Twilight Sparkle herself.” She grins before huffing, “I would’ve been flowing in love by now, if that damned human didn’t open a portal to tartarus!”
  2754. >You were just about to ask another question, but a regal hoof stops you.
  2755. >”You see the drone, he was perfect, no mare to contend with. He even slipped through the Initiative’s hooves, they didn’t even know his plight.” Chrystilst snarls, baring her fangs. “Then that demon shows up and goes and ruins everything.”
  2756. “...and you seek revenge on it too?”
  2757. >The Queen snaps her head at you, her eye’s pierces through your very being. “Yes.” She states. “A good changeling always keeps score.” She turns and opens the door to the small room. “Now, if that demon has any sense it’ll be returning here. The portal may be close, but like a fresh wound it can be reopened easily.”
  2758. “You mean you're going to fight it?”
  2759. >”We are. She still has one wraith left, I’ve already dealt with the others. Let it know this is our feeding grounds.” She finishes by scanning the room, waiting to pounce on any sudden movements.
  2760. >Having your Queen nearby is making you feel more confident, but deep down you still feel terrified. Why would the demon show you such a thing…
  2761. >Jack.
  2762. >You gasp, before slowly turning you head to the Queen.
  2763. >”[Have you already forgotten about the hivemind drone? Or shall I say Forest?]” Chrysalis' voice rings out in your head as she stares at you silently. “[Please save me the drama, I already know everything between you and the human changeling.]”
  2764. >You remain silent, not even a peep in your thoughts.
  2765. >”[I have a plan for him.]
  2766. >Those words send a shiver across your chitin.
  2767. >You try and drown out your fears of Chrysalis taking Jack from you.
  2768. >”[Do not fret drone, I have no intention of taking him for myself, who am I to snatch love away from my own children?]
  2769. >You couldn’t help but to think of Thorax’s confrontation with your Queen before the fall of the hive.
  2770. >The Queen's face saddens, “[He pushed me too far, I ran that day because of the guilt of what I did, not because I was outnumbered.]”
  2771. >You look up at her in shock, she never admits things like that.
  2772. Chrysalis sits down on her haunches, “[Now, drone...Forest. Keep him close, Start a hive.]
  2773. “A hive? My Queen! I’m a mere drone! Surely you can lay more eggs!” You blurt out, this time vocally.
  2774. >”Tell me, when have you seen another changeling breeding male from another hive?” She asks, “Think about it, why would Plagaria be so desperate to obtain so many humans?”
  2775. “But that just due to the lack of males you can still-”
  2776. >Once again you're cut off by your Queen, “When was the last time I birthed a new generation?”
  2777. >That question hit you deep.
  2778. “I-” Your ears flatten, after you and thorax’s generation the Queen never laid any new eggs. The nurseries have always been bare, as far back you can remember.
  2779. >For the first time, you see Chrysalis lower her head in regret. “You’re the last generation, I tried my best to give all my children the best life, Invading Canterlot was to supply you enough love till the end.”
  2780. “My Queen are you?”
  2781. >”Dying?” She raises her head, to your surprise, with a smirk “No I still have a fair few decades left in me, but it means my reign has passed.”
  2782. “I- can you expect a drone to become queen?”
  2783. >”Leave that to me.” She curtly answers.“Now shush,” Her eyes flash with green magic, “It’s here.”
  2785. >The room fills with that rotten stench again, no matter how you hold your breath it still seeps into your senses.
  2786. >A red flame bursts into reality, revealing a red mare with leathery wings.
  2787. >”Well done, well done indeed bug queen. Draining my wraiths and snatching my dinner like a dirty thief.” The demon says while she starts to circle you both.
  2788. >”Please, I’m not the one for cheap meals. Or cheap talk for that matter.” Chrysalis retorts, before casting a green bolt at the demon mare.
  2789. >You watch as red and green flashes light up the room and out and back into the spa basement.
  2790. >Even with the Queen by your side you wish Jack was here.
  2792. >A shadowy figure catching the corner of your eye. You slowly turn to find the mare that was in the photo, standing above the now broken signel, chanting some twisted language.
  2793. “Hey!” You yell trying to distract her from reopening the portal.
  2794. >The wraith ignores you and continues to chant.
  2795. >With that failing, your horn lights up as you cast a magic bolt at her, striking her in the side.
  2796. >Unfazed she moves her boney body and faces you with soulless eyes.
  2797. >Oh buck, now you're terrified, once again you hear your heart pounding.
  2798. >You look around to find the queens battle has moved upstairs in the spa.
  2799. >Loud crashes and bangs come from upstairs.
  2800. >Bringing your attention back to the abomination you find her inches from your face, her presence makes your stomach churn either from sheer terror or  the stench of rot and sulphur.
  2801. >It bares its decaying teeth ready to strike.
  2802. >Half expecting to meet your demise, your ears are pierced with a shriek, the wraith in front of you bursts into flames, consuming the walking corpses.
  2803. >A bright white a light blinds you momentarily, before you realise you are now sat alone.
  2804. >Either you are lucky, or this is another trick.
  2805. >You cautiously look out the door into the basement.
  2806. >Nothing.
  2807. >Even the battle upstairs has quieted down.
  2808. >Still on edge you make your way up the stairs to find the spa completely trashed, but no Queen or demon in sight.
  2810. >”Forest!” A voice calls out as footsteps run towards you.
  2811. “Jack?” You ask in somewhat disbelief. “Is that you?”
  2812. >”It is.” He replies as he picks you up into a hug.
  2813. >He’s love assures you it’s really him. After everything it’s all you really wanted.
  2814. >”So what the hell happened here?” He pulls away from you and glances around.
  2815. “Fought a demon…” You reply, “Had some help though,” you couldn’t completely lie to him.
  2816. >”Help?” He looks back at Glow who is checking the spa, “Who helped?”
  2817. You shrug, “Not sure, somepony had some grief with the demon thing and they went off fighting.”
  2818. >”Right…” Jack looks at you with suspicion, eventually he sighs, “That's it, I’m done for today, I’m having a drink.”
  2819. >Still holding you in his arms you both make your way to the bar.
  2821. >Be Jack.
  2822. >To your joy the bar is serving actual drinks. Actual alcohol.
  2823. >You take a well earned swig of your beer.
  2824. >Fancy is talking to the manager at the bar along with Glow, you thought he was going to blow his top upon hearing the damages done to his hotel.
  2825. >Luckily Fancy returned and told him that his organization will cover the costs, that seemed to calm him down.
  2826. >”Hey Jack…” Forest yawns, “We’re not staying up too late are we?”
  2827. “No, I’m only having one.” You reply almost yawning yourself.
  2828. >You feel so exhausted from today.
  2829. >An actual run in with the supernatural has made that you’re in a different world weigh heavier on you. With everything that happened so far, you need a break to process everything.
  2830. >You can feel yourself breaking on the inside, you need rest.
  2831. >”Are you okay?” Forest asks with concern.
  2832. “I’m fine, it’s been a long day. With everything we’ve been through I need a rest Forest.” You finish looking at her with tired eyes.
  2833. >”I’m feeling the same way too,”
  2834. >”Hey you two.” Glow chimes in placing her glass on the table, “Been talking to the manager, he agreed to let you two stay here until the snow lightens up.”
  2835. “That’s some good news,”
  2836. >”What about Smile Service?”
  2837. >”Her? She’ll be heading to Canterlot to plea for asylum in the morning.” Glow replies, “Hopefully she can convince the courts.”
  2838. “Hope she does,” Finally you yawn.
  2839. >Downing the rest of your beer, you stand up upon tired legs.
  2840. “I’m off to bed, coming Forest?”
  2841. >Forest nods.
  2842. “Night, I’ll see you in the morning Glow.”
  2843. >”Good night Jack, Forest.”
  2844. >Passing through the lobby you spot Forest stop and smile out of the window.
  2845. “What are you looking at?”
  2846. >”Nothing, just glad we all made it out okay.”
  2847. >You feel that reply is more cryptic than it should be. Shrugging you return to your room.
  2849. >You feel Forest cold chitin press against your chest as you lazily run your fingers up and down her back.
  2850. “Tomorrow we are going fuck all,” you say, mostly as a statement to yourself.
  2851.  >”I like that idea,” Forest hums.
  2852. “What a day.. Well almost a week actually.” You mutter.
  2853. >”Has been hectic.”
  2854. “That’s an understatement. I feel exhausted every way possible.”
  2855. >”Well at least some good things happened right?” Forest pushes herself up a little and smiles down at you.
  2856. “I caught a bug?”
  2857. >Forest prods your nose with a hoof. “You know what I mean.” She coo’s
  2858. >You lean up and kiss her.
  2859. >Pulling away you gently nip her lip.
  2860. >She blushes as she rests her head back on your chest fully content with your answer.
  2861. >”I thought I lost you today, Jack.” Your changeling speaks up after a few moments of silence.
  2862. “I thought the same, I thought I lost you when we first got here as well,” You pause and frown, “This hasn't become a habit has it?”
  2863.  >Forest laughs, “I hope not,”
  2864. >You smirk and continue running your fingers up and down her back. Without realising it you continue down a little further than usual. You feel her flanks rise as you run your fingers down the middle of her back and over her dock.
  2865. >”Feeling brave are we?” Forest says with one eye open with a blush reforming across her face.
  2866. “Huh?” You release how far your hand has drifted. “Ah crap, sorry Forest, it's just so smooth.”
  2867. >”Thanks...I think.” Forest replies before nuzzling into the crook of your neck.
  2868. >Her tail flicks under the covers and she chitters.
  2869. “It’s so cute when you purr.”
  2870. >”Changelings don't purr!” Her words muffled your neck.
  2871. >You laugh at her reaction and push her over on her back.
  2872. >You catch her looking bewildered before planting another kiss on her lips.
  2873. “I’m really falling for you.” You whisper in her ear.
  2874. >”Me too Jack, after seeing first hoof how far humans will go for their lovers, I’ll be a fool to let you go.”
  2875. “Yeah,” The thought of the guy losing his lover, only to attempt to summon her breaks the mood. You roll back over onto your pillow. “He must have loved her.”
  2876. >”I think he did,” Forest replies, before rolling over to face you. “Jack…”
  2877. “Yeah?”
  2878. >”How far would you go for someone you love?”
  2880. >Be Twilight.
  2881. >It’s the early hours and you could not sleep. Seeing Candance being in such a state over one human plays on your mind as you pour over the candle lit words of a human folklore book.
  2882. >Little footsteps tap behind you as another coffee is placed on your desk “I don’t see why Candance is making such a fuss over one human” The voice of your number one assistant pipes up.
  2883. “He’s something else Spike. Something of a trickster…” You trail off as a word in the books glossary sends shivers down your spine. “Changeling. A Child surreptitiously or unintentionally substituted for another...” You read out.
  2884. >”That could be just a coincidence.”
  2885. “No Spike. There are changelings in the human world too.”
  2886. >”In Folklore” Spike points at the title of the book.
  2887. You stare at him surprised “When did you learn to read English?”
  2888. >”I didn’t, you have a habit of reading the books titles when you pick them up.” Spike shrugs as you feel a blush on your cheeks.
  2889. “I guess I do.” You chuckle a little. “But still, don't you think it’s strange that humans knew about dragons, unicorns and pegasi before even coming here?”
  2890. >”They are an imaginative bunch.” The young dragon replies as he flips through a random book. “Have you tried asking another human about the ‘human changeling’?”
  2891. You pause reading before a moment before darting towards Spike in excitement, almost knocking the piping hot coffee off your desk “That’s it! I can just get the information from the source! Quickly Spike we-”
  2892. >You feel a claw pull on your tail, “Twilight, it’s like four AM, I think most humans are asleep by now. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”
  2893. Another blush forms on your cheeks, accompanied by a sheepish grin, “You’re right Spike. We will ask one tomorrow.”
  2894. >Spike gives a yawn to match yours. “But I think we should get some sleep too.”
  2895. “Yeah, it’s been a long day...Spike take a letter...”
  2896. >”Twilight…”
  2897. “Right, sleep. Sorry…”
  2899. >Be Jack
  2900. >You stand among charred wreckage of a home, you recognize it, but this time there are no horrors that you’ve become familiar with. An eerie silence casts over the smoky atmosphere. A pin drop could have been heard from miles away from the lack of noise.
  2901. “I’m dreaming again.” You mutter, kicking the ashed debri.
  2902. >”That you are.” A familiar voice echoes through the building. Matched by approaching hoofsteps.
  2903. “Luna.”
  2904. >”We will forgive the lack of title when addressing me.” Luna spoke sternly yet with a soft undertone.
  2905. “You’re not my monarch.”
  2906. >”True.” She replies more interested in your dream “This isn’t your world either Jack.”
  2907. “True.” You mutter back.
  2908. >The circling princess steps around you taking a mental note of whatever piqued her interest. ”Would you like to go back? Back to Earth?” Luna asks as she flips over a burnt photo frame only to find a blank image.
  2909. You didn’t answer, you are not  sure what to say, at this moment you didn’t even feel like yourself.
  2910. >”We asked you a question Jack.”
  2911. “I’m just lost.” The words leave your mouth, mirroring how you truly feel.
  2912. >”It seems that way, your nightmares are getting worse. Lost in another world and lost in your own mind.” Luna stops in front of you. Her eye’s piece into your soul almost picking apart your very being. “What about her.”
  2913. “Who?”
  2914. >Luna's face flashes a subtle hint of disappointment. “Forest...”
  2915. “What about her?”
  2916. >”She reminds you of someone.”
  2917. A part of you wanted to yell at the princess for evading your memories, but even in your dreams you’re just as mentally exhausted. “She does.” With your head hung low, you couldn’t help but answer like a scolded child who was caught raiding the cookie jar.
  2918. >”And losing her terrifies you, doesn’t it.”
  2919. “It does.” You look up at the alicorn, “Why does this matter.”
  2920. >”Like you we are also stuck between a rock and hard place, thanks to our print and press, you’re held as a hero to some and a villain to others. The same goes for Forest.”
  2921. “But that doesn’t explain why losing Forest matters to you.”
  2922. >”To cut a long story short, Princess Cadance has plans on sending you back, and relocating Forest to a distant land. If ponies see her tear apart true love then the whole initiative will fall part. Even worse, she will taint her claim to be the princess of love.”
  2923. You mull over Luna’s words for a while, before realising what she said, “True love?”
  2924. >”You love her, do you not?”
  2925. “She's growing on me.” You shrug.
  2926. >”Stallions, all the same with your feelings. No matter where they came from.” Luna sighs. “It’s a simple yes or no answer Jack.”
  2927. “Fine, I do.” You fold your arms as you try and not make eye contact with the princess of the night.
  2928. >”Then this complicates matters. The Crystal Heart has matched you.”
  2929. “Forest and I already discussed that theory.”
  2930. >Luna stares at you long and hard searching for any hint of lie. Eventually her gaze softens and she turns away.”Very well Jack. I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
  2931. “Are you going?”
  2932. >”We have our own subjects to attend to, human,” Luna replies, walking off into the distant void. “...Oh, use this break wisely, we fear for your mental health.”
  2933. >Before you could reply the dreamscape around you collapses and you are returned to reality.
  2935. >You jolt awake startling Forest who returned to laying on top of you during the night.
  2936. >”Are you alright?” Forest asks as you stare back at her with blurry vision.
  2937. “I’m fine...Just, well it was Luna again.”
  2938. >Forest huffs, “What did she want this time?”
  2939. “Asking questions about me and you.”
  2940. >”What questions.”
  2941. “Mostly about how I feel about you.”
  2942. >”Oh, what did you say?” Forest muzzle inches closer to your face.
  2943. You feel a smirk form on your face. “That this hotel needs to do something about these bed bugs!” You flip over the bedsheets over Forest’s back and roll her into a comfy cocoon.
  2944. >“Jack!” Forest shouts as she tries to wriggle out the sheets. “I’m being serious.”
  2945. “She asked me if I love you.”
  2946. >”And what did you say?”
  2947. “Can’t remember.” You grin.
  2948. >”Jack! Come on!” The changeling snug bug pouts at you.
  2949. You pull the trapped bug over to you, letting your grin fall “Just let me sort things out in my head first okay?”
  2950. >”Alright…It's not if I can feel it anyhow.”
  2951. You pull and sheet tighter to Forests dismay. “I’m going for breakfast.” You exclaim before jumping out of bed.
  2952. >”Hey!” Forest wiggles desperately. “Not funny Jack! What’s with you this morning?”
  2953. “Now that’s adorable.” You ignore her question, as you pull up your jeans before scouting for your socks. “You look like a worm,”
  2954. >”I’m not a worm!”
  2955. “I guess the bed sheets are too white for you to be a worm. You look like a…”
  2956. >”Jack.”
  2957. “No no, its ugh, it’s on the tip of my tongue.” You scratch your chin in thought, partly reminding you that you need a shave.
  2958. >”Don’t say it.”
  2959. “Starts with L…” You continue putting on your clothes while you mull over the missing word.
  2960. >Forest stops wriggling and stares at you.
  2961. You click your fingers, “Larva. You know like a grub…”
  2962. >Forest eyes widen as she gasps in shock. “Are you calling me a baby!”
  2963. “What? No...Well kind of, if I think about it.”
  2964. >”...I was a larva once…” Forest states as all emotion falls from her voice and face.
  2965. You pause with a sock half on your foot and look towards the bed bug “Were you?”
  2966. >”Of course, all changelings go through the larval stage. We -are- bugs.”
  2967. You could not help but stare at Forest in a new light, “I didn’t realise you were that insect-like. So you were a white little wriggly thing?”
  2968. >”Yeah, a bit like the one I saw in the bathtub a few days ago...”
  2969. Her reply stops your trail of thought dead, “Okay.” You point a finger at her, “That’s a low blow.”
  2970. >Forest sniggers before breaking in a full giggle while protected in her bed sheet cocoon.
  2971. >Feigning being emotionally hurt you, sulk towards the door.
  2972. >”Jack I’m joking...Jack? Come on...”
  2973. You open the door and grin at her, “I'm going for breakfast. Coming?”
  2974. >”Yeah” Forest nods before struggling to escape from the sheets “A little help here?”
  2975. You shrug. Turning on your heel you walk over and pick her up under your arm.
  2977. >Be Forest.
  2978. >You are being carried along the corridor, trapped under the arm of Jack still wrapped in the bedsheets. Struggling has proved futile, so you simply half accepted your comfy fate.
  2979. “Can you please let me go.”
  2980. >”No.” Jack playfully replies as he carries you into the hotel lobby.
  2981. >The manager has replaced the disguised mare from yesterday, his tired eyes greet you both with a smile.
  2982. >”I hope you both slept well? I never got to thank you both for yesterday. I have a feeling things could have gotten a lot worse if you weren’t here.” The manager says as he flips through his paperwork.
  2983. >”Think nothing of it,” Jack shrugs. “Besides I got a complaint to make.”
  2984. >”Complaint?” The manager looks up from his desk. “A complaint about what?”
  2985. >”Bedbugs.”
  2986. >”Bedbugs? I assure you this establish-” The manager pauses as he looks at you wrapped up in the bedsheet. A small smile forms on his lips, “Alright you got me. While I do like you having your changeling under control, I feel that is a bit much.”
  2987. “He’s angry because I said his peni-Hmmph!” You are cut off by the sheet being pulled over your head.
  2988. >”Is breakfast still going?” Jack quickly changes the subject.
  2989. >”It is, if you make your way to the restaurant I’m sure one of the waiters will serve you. Have it on the house”
  2991. >After a short journey Jack finally decided to free you from the bedsheets as you both passed a laundry bin that was being towed by one of the staff.
  2992. >You both make it to the restaurant where a waitress quickly took your orders after you were seated. Like before you weren’t too hungry to actually eat food. Jack's love gave you a fill this morning. Even when he’s playing around and teasing you his love still tastes ever so sweet.
  2993. >Yet it seems he’s hiding how he truly feels with a joke again.
  2994. ”You would tell me if somethings wrong, right?” You ask in the most delicate way you can.
  2995. >Jack looks up from his coffee. “Yeah why?”
  2996. “You’re lying.”
  2997. >”...Like I said I’m sorting stuff out.”
  2998. You sigh and decide to drop the subject and try to be a bit humorous. “Yesterday was something wasn’t it? You had to joke about haunted places.”
  2999. >I didn’t know ghosts and stuff were real here.” He replies before taking a sip of his coffee.
  3000. ”You don’t know much about Equestria do you?”
  3001. >“Practically clueless.”
  3002. ”What about your world? Actually what about you? What did you do back on Earth?” You ask, come to think of it you didn’t really know much about him as he never talks about himself.
  3003. >“Earth is well, Earthy. Like Equestria, more science less magic. And ponies don’t talk either...I guess back on Earth I lived my life how I do now, on the run and being a pain for law enforcement.”
  3004. ”So you were a criminal? What did you do?” The ponies not talking was interesting but anything more about Jack's history trumps it.
  3005. >“I stole, conned, and blackmailed mostly. Headed town to town state to state, taking what I want.” He answers, not really sounding proud of his past actions.
  3006. ”You got family? Anyone that misses you back home?”
  3007. >“Not anymore. In regards to family, it was just me and my mother, and trust me I couldn’t wait to escape her clutches.”
  3008. You decide not to push any further on his mother, as he mentions her you could taste the bitter taste of hatred. “Who are you Jack?”
  3009. >Jack smirks and shakes his head, “Who are you?”
  3010. “At this point, I’m not sure either.” You mutter.

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