Growing Up Dandy
By Bernard Doove © 2014
These stories were first presented on FiMFiction.net
Dandelion is a pegasus filly, firstborn daughter to Cogs and Lavender, and a joy to them both. As a changeling though, Cogs had no experience with raising pony foals, so when a problem arises, he often has to wing it. Sometimes the solutions are more creative than others, and sometimes the problems are unique. After all, how many fillies have a changeling parent?
This is a series of sequels to Change of Life and takes up after chapter 10 (Foals).
Episode 1: To Be Rested
Cogs tried his best not to disturb Lavender as he got out of bed to get ready for work. That night had not been very restful for the poor mare, with their hungry newborn foal demanding to be fed at least twice. Lavender still worked in her shop, so she needed her sleep, but a foal must suckle when she’s hungry.
Cogs freshened up in the bathroom before heading to the kitchen to make breakfast for them both. That used to be a shared chore, but he had insisted that he take it over in order to give his wife as much time to sleep in as possible. Waffles dripping with butter and syrup, a bowl of fruit salad, and most importantly, a mug of steaming hot coffee were ready for Lavender before Cogs judged that it was time for her to get up.
Cogs opened the window blind to let in the morning sunshine, kissed Lavender on the cheek, and said, “Time to get up, love.”
“Mmm – okay. Just five more minutes,” she murmured.
“Your five more minutes were up fifteen minutes ago. Come and get your coffee while it’s hot.”
“Alright. Be there soon.”
Cogs had learned by now that that was Lavender-speak for ‘I’m going back to sleep’. He pulled the blankets off his wife and gently started pulling her off the mattress.
“Okay! Okay! I’m up!” Lavender protested as she reluctantly got onto her hooves and started stumbling sleepily into the bathroom.
Cogs waited until he heard Lavender gasp as she splashed cold water in her face before he was satisfied that she was not going to sneak back into bed again. While she was getting ready, he went over to the cause of his beloved’s tiredness. The creamy-yellow pegasus foal was curled up in her bassinette, peacefully sleeping and totally unaware of the effect that she was having on her mother. Cogs admired his daughter, still captivated by the fact that this beautiful child was his.
While not rushed, Cogs ate his breakfast without wasting time so that he could tidy up the kitchen before he had to leave. Lavender was still finishing off her coffee when he was about ready to go.
“I’ll take tomorrow off from work to help you out and give you a chance to recuperate. I can’t today because I have to complete a job that was started yesterday.”
Lavender nodded. “Thanks, dear, but don’t fret too much. I’m tired, not sick. It’s nothing that every other mother in history hasn’t had to deal with before.”
“You’re not every other mare though; you’re my wife and I want what’s best for you and our foal. If you think of any other way that I can help, let me know. I’m new to all of this, remember.”
“I’ve known non-changelings who were worse fathers, Cogs, so don’t think that you’re doing badly. However, I’ll still think about your offer.”
“Good. Gotta trot now. Love you, hon!” Cogs kissed Lavender long and lovingly before grabbing his toolkit and making haste to Square Deal Renovations.
* * *
When he got home that afternoon, Cogs found Lavender serving a customer, so after a quick peck on the cheek, he went inside to wash up and begin preparations for dinner. He was unsurprised to find his mother-in-law in the living room, with Dandelion asleep in the bassinette beside her.
“Hello, Mauve,” Cogs greeted her with a dutiful hug. “Did Lavender call on you for help?”
“No, but I had nothing to do today except paperwork, and I reckoned that I could do it on your living room table just as well as my desk,” she said as she indicated the piles of documents. “It gives me a chance to spend time with my granddaughter, and take some of the burden off Lavender. I even minded the shop while she fed Dandelion. A novel experience, I must admit.”
Cogs grinned. “Yeah. I still remember my first time. Thanks for helping out so much.”
“You’re welcome, dear.”
“I’m going to start dinner; would you care to join us tonight?”
“Thank you, but no. I have to drop the paperwork off at the office and go home. I don’t trust my husband to feed our son properly in my absence.”
Cogs’ father-in-law was a wonderful stallion, but prone to absent-mindedness, so Cogs understood what Mauve was talking about. “Sometime soon then?”
“Of course,” Mauve said matter-of-factly as she gathered up the documents with her magic, and deposited them into her saddle bags. “I’ll see you later, dear.”
Dinner was almost ready when Lavender shut up shop and washed up. She found Cogs humming away in the in kitchen with Dandelion. The tiny foal’s eyes were wide open and watching her father intently as he worked, and Lavender had to laugh.
“You seem to fascinate our daughter, love,” she said as she gave him a hug and a kiss.
“Yeah, she’s been surprisingly quiet.”
“Maybe she sense that you’re something special?”
“She’s the special one, not me. So how are you feeling this evening?”
“Still tired, but not stressed, thanks to mother.”
“That’s great to hear. Did you think of anything else that I could do to help you out?”
“As a matter of fact, I believe I have., but we can talk about that later. Food first – I’m starving!”
“Coming right up!” Cogs said with a grin. “Hungry mares are always a priority in this kitchen.”
Lavender did not bring up the subject again until they had finished their meal, and then she started with an odd question.
“How accurate are your transformations, Cogs?”
“What exactly do you mean? The illusion type like that manticore I once became to scare off those timber wolves, or the same-mass transformations like my pegasus form?”
“The latter. I suppose I should have asked how complete they are instead.”
“They’re extremely accurate emulations and transformations. Remember that Shining Armor had not been able to tell the difference when Chrysalis replaced Cadence. Plenty of changelings have had relationships with ponies without any of them noticing any discrepancies. For an example of how complete the changes are, you’ve seen me shed feathers occasionally, despite the fact that as a changeling, I have none.”
“So they’re a transformation rather than an illusion?”
“Exactly. Those are real feathers magically transformed out of my mass. So what brought this up again so suddenly?”
She ignored his question and asked, “Could you transform into an accurate copy of me?”
“Yes, I suppose so. What are you getting at?”
“Could you do so for me now, pretty please?” She fluttered her eyes at him.
Cogs gave up asking for an explanation and said, “Okay, if you insist.” He took a moment to concentrate as his natural magical talent scanned Lavender, then in a burst of green fire, he transformed into a perfect duplicate of his wife.
“Well?” Cogs asked in Lavender’s voice.
Lavender walked around Cogs, looking over her doppelganger with a critical eye. Then she reached under Cogs’ belly with a forehoof.
Cogs’ eyes widened in surprise, suddenly realizing what Lavender was up to.
Lavender looked at Cogs with a smirk and said, “Tonight, you get to feed the foal.”
* * *
Cogs mentally added this to the growing list of things that she never dreamed of ever doing, while Dandelion suckled on her teats later that night. “Have I ever got a story to tell you when you’re old enough,” she murmured to her daughter as the foal contentedly fed on her father’s milk, while her mother slept blissfully uninterrupted for the first time since her birth.
Episode 2: Bully For You
No matter how hard you try, sometimes a day just blows up in your face. Cogs had started this particular day with his usual cheerful farewell to his beloved wife, and headed off to what he was sure would be a quick and easy repair job that would take two hours tops. Nine hours later, frustrated and worn out both physically and mentally, he trudged homewards after finally getting the recalcitrant device running. Even that achievement was overshadowed by the fact that he had previously quoted the cost of the repair, and the customer had refused to pay one bit more, and even complained about how much he had been inconvenienced by the delay in fixing it. Cogs had resisted the demands for a discount on the repair bill because he had already lost a great deal of money on the job, and there was no way that he could afford to give away even a meagre extra amount. After all, he had two foals to support, and one had just started school.
The thought of his little Dandelion cheered him up a bit. She was growing up so fast, and seemed so bright and eager to learn. Perhaps she would take after him in more than just being a pegasus? He looked forward to hearing about her first day at school. It had to be a lot different from his experiences, of course, but she was not a changeling like him, and would never know what it was like to grow up in a hive. From what he had learned from Lavender and his colleagues at Square Deal Renovations, school sounded a lot more interesting than his own experiences.
Keeping his thoughts on his daughter allowed Cogs to pick up his hooves and look a lot more upbeat than he really was. He was able to give smiles and pleasant replies to acquaintances whom he passed in the street, which was important because he had built a reputation for friendly and competent service that had served to build up his side of the business. No pony was keen to hire a sour worker. A cheerful smile and a pleasant demeanour had served him well… with a few notable exceptions such as today. He had also vowed never to bring his troubles home, so when he walked into his house, he greeted his wife with a nuzzle and a kiss, and not a hint of what had transpired that day.
Lavender returned the kiss, and then sighed. “Dandelion got into a fight at school.”
Cogs’ hopes of a relaxing evening with a meal and a bit of love-energy sustenance were instantly sunk as he tasted his wife’s emotional distress. As he’d had to do many times over the years, he carefully trod through the unknown territory between his experiences as a changeling, and the world of ponies. “That is not something that normally happens at school, I take it?” he asked tentatively.
Lavender raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you saying that it is normal for changeling schools?”
“Well, not exactly normal, but not unusual either.”
“I see we’re going to have to dispel some more preconceptions,” Lavender said with resignation. Even after several years of marriage, they still kept bumping up against things like this. Sometimes it made her wonder how changelings ever managed to remain hidden for so long when they saw things so differently sometimes. “Anyway, while fights do happen occasionally, they don’t usually start so young or so soon, and they certainly aren’t tolerated by either the school or the parents.”
The emphasis she put on the last word told him that he was expected to ‘do something’, and that something needed to be done immediately. “I guess that you have already had words with her?”
“Yes, but I was unable to get the full story out of her. However, she has always been daddy’s girl, and I think she will talk to you more than me. Just be careful, please. I’ve told her that fighting is unacceptable, and you need to be firm but fair about this and back me up without being too rigid…”
Cogs put his hoof to Lavender’s mouth to stop her talking. “You’re beginning to babble, dear. I get the idea.”
Lavender nodded. “I’ll have dinner on the table soon. I bought fish to celebrate her first day at school, but I don’t want it seem to be a celebration of a fight instead.”
“One way or another, I think we’ll come to an understanding, and maybe your silly hubby can learn a little too at the same time.”
“Thanks, dear,” she replied, and kissed him. Her confidence in him and the little burst of love she gave him bolstered him and he headed off to Dandelion’s room.
They had extended their home after Dandelion had been born. The existing single bedroom was not adequate for raising a family, and two more had been added in anticipation of having another foal after Dandelion. Paying for that had kept money tight for a while, but had been well worth it. Right now though, it would give Cogs and his daughter somewhere private to chat. Even a changeling knew that it was easier to talk one-on-one than to several if the subject evoked strong feelings.
He found Dandelion half-heartedly playing with the erector set that he had given her for her fifth birthday. It had quickly become her favourite toy, reinforcing her parents’ belief that she was inclined to follow in her father’s footsteps. To be so disinterested in it was a sure sign that she was upset about something, and there wasn’t a prize for guessing what. The feathers in her wings looked dishevelled and in great need of preening, and they certainly had not been like that when he had dropped her off at school this morning. Cogs took a deep breath and let it out slowly – time to take the bit in the teeth!
“Hi, Dandy. Your mother tells me that you got into trouble at school today.”
“Wasn’t my fault!” she said with a pout, not looking at her father.
“Care to tell me why then?” he asked as he sat beside her.
Dandelion sulkily said nothing.
Cogs sighed; he had hoped that this would be easier. “Dandelion Dreams, this isn’t a game, but it isn’t the end of the world either. You need to talk to me so that we can sort this out. Your mother is upset, and I might have to be also if you don’t talk to me.”
For a moment, Dandelion looked alarmed. She doted on her father, and hated the thought of him being mad at her. “Pearl Charm was being mean!” she blurted out.
“Who is Pearl Charm, and why was she being mean?”
“She’s a unicorn filly in my class. She says pegasi don’t belong here!”
“Where here? The school?” Cogs thought he might be getting a glimmer of the problem already.
“No, not just school. Here!” she said, throwing out her forelegs in emphasis.
“The whole town?”
Dandelion nodded. “She says I should go home to Cloudsdale.”
Cogs’ fears were confirmed. Whitetail Meadows had been established by unicorns, and was still predominantly populated by them, but had since acquired both pegasus and earth pony residents. Most unicorns were fine with that, but there were some who were decidedly not. Sad to say, they tended to pass their bias onto their children. The fact that most of the pegasi in the town had been born there did not seem to make a difference. ‘Go back to Cloudsdale’ was the common taunt, even for those pegasi who had never been to the cloud city in their lives.
“I suppose that you told her that you were born here, and she didn’t care?” he asked gently.
“So did you ignore her?”
“I tried, Daddy, but she kept being mean.”
“What did she do?”
“She used her horn to pull away my stool when I sat down, and she spilled ink over my drawings.”
“Did you tell the teacher?”
“Yeah, and Miss Chalkboard told her to behave, but she still was mean when we went out to play.”
Cogs was aware of how imaginative young unicorn foals were when they first started being able to use their horns. Some were huge nuisances while he was working on a job, albeit merely mischievous rather than nasty. If the parents could not keep them under control, then only patience would enable him to cope, and patience was not what one could expect from a little filly. “So what happened then?”
“I told her to leave me alone or I would buck her.”
“Let me guess – she didn’t believe your threat, did something else mean, and you bucked her?”
“Yeah!” For a moment Dandelion was defiantly proud of that, until she remembered that she was in trouble for it. “I didn’t buck her too hard,” she added.
“And that’s what started the fight?”
“Yeah.” Under her breath she added, “I should’a bucked her harder.”
Cogs contemplated the facts. If this kind of thing had happened in the hive, it would have been pretty much dismissed as normal squabbling among the young, but this was not the hive, and Dandelion was not a changeling like her father. Between his wife and the years that he had spent living as a pony in this village, he knew that this was unacceptable behaviour, so he could not turn a blind eye to it. On the other hoof, neither could he tell his daughter to just ignore the filly, because bullies did not work that way. Then he recalled something from his days at Cloudsdale, and he realised that perhaps there was a compromise.
“Okay, I understand that Pearl had to dealt with in some way, but starting a fight is not an acceptable method, either for myself, your mother, the teacher, or Pearl’s parents. I suspect that we’ll be getting a visit from some angry unicorns soon, and Mom is going to have to deal with them because they don’t like pegasi like me. You have to realise that what you do won’t affect just you, and that there will be consequences for this kind of thing. You will be punished for starting that fight.”
“But that’s not fair!” Dandelion exclaimed. “What about Pearl?”
“If she continues to be mean, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she does, then we will have to deal with her, but in a much more subtle way.”
“What’s subtle mean?” Dandelion asked apprehensively.
“In this case, it means sneaky,” Cogs reassured her. “There are options other than starting a fight, and I won’t be happy to hear that you have done so again. Do you understand me, young filly?” he asked sternly.
“Yes, Dad, but what about Pearl?”
“For now, just watch out for her tricks, and try to be patient. Your uncle Blue Arc will be visiting this weekend, and he knows a couple of tricks that I think will help you. I think you will like what I have in mind. Now, come on out and apologise to your mother. She’s still very upset with you.”
Dandelion nodded glumly. “Okay, Dad.”
They stepped out to the kitchen, and Lavender silently waited for her daughter to say something.
“I’m sorry for fighting, Mom. I won’t do it again.”
Lavender looked at Cogs questioningly, and he said, “Later, dear.” She nodded and turned back to Dandelion. “Apology accepted. Now get your sister and come to the table. Dinner is ready.”
Cogs laid the table and Lavender served up the meal, consisting of a garden salad, hay fries, and a succulent pan-fried trout.
“Oh wow! Fish for dinner!” Dandelion exclaimed. Like her father, it was one of her favourites.
“Yes, those look wonderful, don’t they?” Cogs replied. Then he picked up his fork and lifted the fish off Dandelion’s plate and put it with the one on his own plate. “And this is the punishment that I promised. No fish for you tonight.”
“Don’t ‘but Dad’ me. Next time you are tempted to do something bad, just remember that there will be consequences. Be thankful that this time it’s only a fish.”
Dandelion nodded sullenly, but Cogs noticed that Lavender was nodding in approval. They ate mostly in silence – Dandelion sulkily, and Cogs happy not to discuss his own rotten day. Two delicious fish were helping to improve his mood quite nicely though.
* * *
Blue Arc, Cogs’ best friend from his days at the Cloudsdale weather factory, had become a regular visitor to Whitetail Meadows since he had been Cogs’ Best Stallion at his marriage ceremony. It had been great for both of them to have that friendship renewed and growing once again. In fact he visited so often that he had become an honorary uncle to Dandelion Dreams, and then later to Sky Fern when they had their second daughter. The pegasus stallion was still unmarried, but you would not have guessed it by how well he got along with the two young fillies. He even helped out with Dandelion’s beginner classes in flying, but today Cogs wanted his help in another completely different matter. As soon as Blue Arc arrived on Saturday, Cogs took him aside to explain what he wanted of him.
“I see. And Lavender is cool with this?” Blue Arc asked after the explanation.
“I didn’t exactly explain what I planned,” Cogs confessed. “That’s why we’re talking while she’s busy with the shop. I think that it’s the way to go though. Dandelion tells me that Pearl is still causing trouble, so something decisive needs to be done, and I don’t think a stern lecture is going to cut it.”
Blue Arc grinned. “You don’t need to convince me any further. After all, I know exactly what that was like. I’m just hoping that Dandy is a lot better at weather magic than you are.”
“No need to rub it in, Arc. You still don’t even know which way to turn a nut to unscrew it,” Cogs retorted.
They glared at each other before bursting into laughter. They had been teasing each other about their fallibilities since they had met at the weather factory, and each had helped the other out with their problems on many occasions. It was one of the foundations on which they had built their friendship over the years, and neither would have it any other way.
Cogs offered his friend a drink, filled a kettle and put it on the stove, and then fetched Dandelion. Sky Fern was with a play group, which conveniently kept her from being under hoof and potentially blabbing to Lavender what they were doing.
Dandelion raced up too give Blue Arc a hug. “Hi, Uncle Blue!” she said enthusiastically.
“Hi, Buttercup!” he replied with a grin and a warm hug.
“I’m not Buttercup,” she said indignantly.
“Sorry, I meant umm… Daffodil,” he replied as if he was struggling to recall her name.
“You’re the daffy one!” she shot back.
“Ooh! Good comeback!” he congratulated her. “How long have you been waiting for me to use that?”
“Months! Why have you never thought of daffodils before?”
“Because I’m daffy. You told me so!”
Dandelion giggled. She loved him because he was almost never serious. “Daddy says you’re going to teach me a trick.”
“Yep, if you can do it. Your daddy was hopeless, but I did it for the first time before I turned five. That’s how I earned my cutie mark.”
“Ooh! What is it?”
The kettle started boiling just then.
“Right on cue!” Blue Arc said. He fetched the kettle from the stove and put it on the table with the spout facing him. “Watch this,” he instructed.
The kettle was billowing steam, and Blue Arc reached out his fore hooves into it. With his weather control magic, he seized the cloud and started condensing it smaller and smaller. When it was only a few inches across and much darker, he held it in one hoof and brought it close to the kettle, and then tapped it firmly with the other hoof. A miniature arc of electricity arced across the gap from the cloud to the metal kettle with a loud snap.
“Cool!” exclaimed Dandelion. “Are we going to zap Pearl with lightning?”
Blue Arc laughed. “Nothing quite that drastic. First I have to teach you the difference between volts and amps – how strong and how much, otherwise you might make more and bigger problems for yourself and your parents, not to mention that poor filly. However, we have to see if you have an aptitude for this before we proceed any further. You’ve shaped clouds for me before – but can you compress one like I just did?”
“Let me try!”
Cogs put the kettle back on the stove again to bring it back to the boil, and for the rest of the morning, Blue Arc tutored Dandelion on the methods of manipulating clouds for the purpose of generating electrical potential.
* * *
Dandelion did not have to wait too long on Monday morning at school for a good excuse to put her newfound skills to work. Pearl Charm seldom let an opportunity pass to harass Dandelion. Being the only pegasus in her age group at that school, Dandelion had Pearl’s undivided attention. On this occasion, the unicorn filly snatched the seat of the swing away a fraction of a second before Dandelion sat upon it, and she landed hard on her rump.
“Ha ha!” Pearl laughed obnoxiously loudly at Dandelion. “Stupid pegasus can’t even use a swing properly!”
Dandelion glared balefully at Pearl. This was a typical trick of hers – impossible to prove unless the teacher witnessed it personally, and Pearl never let that happen. She always made sure that no pony was watching before she pulled a stunt like that. This time though, that was going to backfire on her.
“You better stop doing that to me, or else!” Dandelion warned.
“Or else what? Gonna buck me again?” Pearl taunted, knowing that she could manipulate the situation in her favour. “I don’t think so. Now seeing as you can’t even use a swing properly, I think I’ll show you how it’s done.”
“Yeah, why don’t you do that?” Dandelion agreed with a smirk.
That disconcerted the unicorn filly for a moment, but she still grasped the chains holding the swing seat and started pulling herself onto it.
Dandelion extended her right wing to touch the chain hanging from the tree branch. “Better watch out though, Pearl – that swing bites!” With that, she released the carefully stored static charge that she had reserved for just such an occasion, just as Blue Arc had shown her.
Pearl shrieked as the massive charge surged through her, frizzing her mane and tail, and leaving her in a twitching heap on the ground.
“Oops!” Dandelion said. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She walked away in high satisfaction, wondering only if the bully would give her another chance to get a little more revenge.
* * *
Dandelion had to give Pearl some credit – it took only two more incidents to stop the unicorn harassing her, or at least physically anyway. On the third occasion, Pearl tried something in the classroom in a desperate attempt to make Dandelion look bad in front of the teacher. Blue Arc had anticipated this however because of his own experiences, and he had given Dandelion instructions on how to turn this to her advantage. A wire had been hidden leading from Dandelion’s desk to Pearl’s, and for the third time, Pearl was the recipient of a large but relatively harmless shock. Needless to say, screaming and twitching on the classroom floor did not impress Miss Chalkboard, and with Dandelion obviously out of reach two desks away, it was impossible to try blaming her despite suspicions. From that day forth, Pearl limited her attacks to verbal barbs, but they rarely bothered Dandelion. She knew who had the superior position, and her smug smile in response to the taunts infuriated the helpless bully.
A few months later, a new pegasus filly with tan-coloured fur and a red and yellow-streaked mane joined their class. Dandelion did not have to wait long for Pearl to show her colours and zero in on the shy newcomer, and she was ready to step in as soon as Pearl’s verbal harassment began.
“You don't want to bother her, do you, Pearl?” Dandelion asked, pushing herself between the obnoxious bully and her potential victim. “We pegasi stick up for each other too, y'know?” The look she gave Pearl left the unicorn filly in no doubt of what would happen if she dared try her tricks on the new girl.
“Yeah - dirt sticks to dirt,” Pearl sneered before turning away and leaving the two alone for now.
“Are you okay?” Dandelion asked the relieved filly.
“I'm fine, thanks. What's with her?” she asked, looking at the retreating Pearl.
“Just the class jerk who has a thing against pegasi like us. My name is Dandelion Dreams.”
“I'm Summer Storm,” the filly replied.
“Well, Summer, if she gives you any more problems, just call on me. From now on, we're going to be the best of friends!”
For the first time, Summer smiled. “I think I'd like that.”
* * *
Dandelion reported the success of their ploy to her father one evening as they sat out in the garden together to look at the stars in one of their father-daughter bonding occasions.
Cogs put his foreleg around Dandelion to hug her. “I’m glad that’s settled. No one gets hurt, and your mother won’t have to deal with Pearl’s parents again. There’s only one last thing that I want you to do for me.”
“What’s that, Daddy?”
“Promise me that you will never use that trick maliciously. I don’t want my daughter ever becoming a bully like Pearl.”
Dandelion thought about the pleasure that she had gotten from zapping Pearl, and despite her youth, she realised that she could easily start doing it for the fun of it rather than in self-defence. That would make her father sad though, and the thought of doing that to him made her shudder. “I promise, Daddy.”
“Thank you, Dandy. I love you, hon.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
Cogs reflected on the incident – a crisis averted, a lesson learned, and a daughter’s welfare successfully attended to. He was not naïve enough to think that this would be the only major problem that his daughters would cause over the coming years, but for now everything was perfect, and he lapped up the pure love that she had for him. Whatever came in the future, she was worth it.
Episode 3: Changing Attitudes
“Dandelion, dear, please stop leaning out of the window so far,” Lavender Dreams requested of her over-excited child.
The six year old filly continued to hang out of the train carriage window, oblivious to her worried mother’s request as her mane streamed behind her, the wind of their swift passage in her face and roaring in her ears.
Lavender nudged her husband. “Will you please try to get our daughter to behave?” she asked in exasperation.
Whirring Cogs grinned at her. “What? And spoil the excitement of her first train ride?”
“It’s Sky Fern’s also, and she’s not trying to leap out the window.”
“With your forehoof wrapped around her like that, I doubt that she could even try,” Cogs observed.
Lavender glared at him meaningfully, and Cogs sighed. “Okay! Okay!” Cogs reached out of the window to pull gently but insistently on Dandelion’s shoulder.
Lavender pulled herself back inside and asked, “Yes, Daddy?”
“It’s alright to lean on the window sill and watch the scenery, but don’t lean out of the carriage, hon. It worries your mother.”
“Okay,” she agreed without hesitation, and then went straight back to enjoying the ride.
Lavender shook her head in amused disbelief. “I still can’t get used to how readily that she does as you ask. I mean, she’s not disobedient with me, but she almost never seems to question you.”
“I think it’s because we’re so much alike. In some very important respects, we think and react the same way because of my heritage.”
Lavender nodded. Her soul-mate might look like a pegasus, but he had been born a changeling, and he often had a childlike response to many things too. It might be tempered with an adult’s sense of responsibility, but she knew that this train ride excited him almost as much as their daughter. After all, it was not only his first train ride, but also their first holiday as a family away from Whitetail Meadows. In fact, since Lavender had found him and brought him back to her village, he had left it only on the occasions when he accompanied her on her flower harvesting expeditions, and the two times he had accompanied Twilight Sparkle on her changeling lectures. This was kind of a big deal for all of them.
“I’m excited too, you know? We haven’t had the opportunity to take a family trip until now.”
“Then how about you loosen up and let Fern join her sister? I doubt that she will jump out the window, dear,” Cogs said gently.
Lavender sheepishly loosened her embrace on the unicorn foal, who promptly joined her sister in leaning on the window sill and enjoying the breeze in her face.
Their proud parents watched the children indulgently. They had both worked hard and tried their best to raise the fillies well these past years, and it had been well worth the effort. This holiday was as much a celebration of their family unity as it was a vacation. With both their foals old enough to travel, it was cause enough to take a break from their jobs and indulge themselves for a change.
The locomotive wound its way through Whitetail Woods for about an hour before emerging into open fields for a time, curving around the foothills of a small mountain range for a while before plunging into a long tunnel that finally opened up on the outskirts of Ponyville. They reached the station at Ponyville mid morning, where the family got off and looked around to try to get their bearings.
“Wait here while I get directions,” Cogs said, and he headed off to the stationmaster’s office. He quickly returned and said, “It’s pretty easy. Follow me.” They gathered their luggage and trotted off the platform.
Their destination was within easy sight of the station. The huge tree that dominated the view of the town was their present goal. A sign proclaiming ‘Library’ confirmed that they had reached the correct address. Cogs raised a hoof and tapped on the door.
A dragonling quickly answered the door, and both fillies gasped in delight at seeing him.
“You must be Spike,” Cogs said with a smile.
Spike grinned and said, “At your service! And judging from the descriptions that Twilight gave me, you must be the guests that she’s been expecting. Come on in!”
They followed Spike inside, not knowing what to expect to find inside a princess’ home. Surprisingly, it was exactly what the sign had proclaimed – a library lined with shelves of books. More remarkable was the fact that the inside of the tree was obviously much larger than the outside could possibly hold, evidence of a very strong enchantment. That alone made it an appropriate residence for an alicorn.
“Wait here while I let Twilight know that you have arrived,” Spike instructed. “As usual, she’s engrossed in her research.” He then disappeared up the stairs to the next level.
While he was gone, the two fillies looked around, checking out the artefacts that were on display. Some were rare books, and some seemed unrelated to a library. Of particular interest to them was a picture featuring six ponies.
“Ooh! I know who they are!” exclaimed Dandelion, recognizing Twilight among them. “They’re the Element Bearers!”
“Who?” Sky Fern asked.
“My dearest friends,” came a voice from behind them.
Turning around, they spotted the purple alicorn who had entered the room unnoticed.
“Auntie Twilight!” both fillies exclaimed, rushing up to get hugs and nuzzles.
Princess Twilight Sparkle greeted Dandelion and Fern warmly, happy to see her honorary nieces again. She had followed their lives since conception, at first greatly interested in Cogs and Lavender’s foals because of their unusual father, but she had gotten emotionally invested in them, and often visited them just to socialize.
“Hello, girls! I’m so happy to see you again. I’m pleased that you got to visit me here in Ponyville for the first time.”
Cogs patiently waited until the fillies were done before saying, “So this is what an Equestrian princess’ palace is like. Very homey!”
Twilight grinned. “I have a permanent room in Canterlot Palace whenever I want, but this...” she waved a hoof about the room, “...this is home, and I would not want it any other way.”
Lavender said, “Well I like it. Thanks for inviting us to visit.”
“You know that I’ve wanted you to visit for a long time,” Twilight demurred. “I get to see you too little as it is. Always busy, you know?”
“You don’t have to tell that to parents of two foals,” Lavender replied.
“Yeah – look how long it took us to find the time for a holiday,” Cogs added.
“But sometimes you have to make the time for your friends,” Twilight finished. She then turned her attention back to the fillies. “Speaking of making time, my friend, Pinkie Pie, heard about your visit, and she’s taken the time to arrange a party for you.”
“Wow! What for?” Dandelion asked.
“Because Pinkie,” Twilight explained simply.
“You’ll figure it out,” Twilight said with a knowing smile.
“Oh. Okay. When?”
There was an abrupt squeal of party tooters, and accompanied by streamers and balloons suddenly appearing seemingly from nowhere.
“Right now, of course, silly!” said a high-pitched and excited voice.
“Holy Celestia! What in Tartarus…?” exclaimed Cogs who had almost accidentally lost his pegasus form due to shock.
“Everyone – I’d like you to meet Pinkie Pie – one of my best friends and Aspect of Laughter,” Twilight announced. “Pinkie, these are Whirring Cogs and Lavender Dreams, and their daughters, Dandelion Dreams and Sky Fern.”
Pinkie dashed over, grabbed Cogs’ right hoof, and started shaking it overenthusiastically. “Pleased to meetcha!” she told him, and then repeated it with Lavender. She then reached out and drew the two fillies into a hug. “We’re going to have so much fun! Come on – I’ve got cupcakes!”
Pinkie led away the two slightly overwhelmed fillies, leaving the adults to themselves for the moment.
“That gives us a few minutes of privacy to discuss things before we join them,” Twilight explained. “So, anything new to add to my report on changeling-pony foals?”
“Nothing since the incident with Dandelion’s bully,” Cogs replied. “Dandy has been developing her lightning skills since then, but that doesn’t seem to be related.”
“Sky Fern is showing the first signs of horn use,” Lavender added. “About average for unicorn foals.”
“Even normal results are data,” Twilight replied. “In fact, it would be best for the girls if normal results were all they ever got, and good news for other potential parents.” She scribbled a few notes in a book, and then pulled out another one. “Now I believe that you had a visit from a changeling recently?”
“Two, actually, and you know it,” Cogs replied with a grin. “A little sneaky there, Twilight.”
The alicorn was unabashed. “I never said that there would be just one, did I? After all, that was about gauging reactions to them, and that includes yours. So now that you’re here, tell me about the meeting in your own words.”
“Well, as you know, they first stopped at my shop,” Lavender began. “Of course, when one of the occupants of the cart is an undisguised changeling, that attracts more than a little attention....”
* * *
The traders’ cart drew up in front of the Wild Dreams flower shop, pulled by a very stocky earth pony stallion. Riding up in front of the cart was a unicorn, which was hardly unusual. However, the mare had a companion seated beside her who had attracted a small following among the villagers as it had passed through the town. After all, this was only the second time that most of them had seen a changeling, or at least that they were aware of, and only the first to arrive undisguised.
“Looks like the right place, Brick,” the unicorn announced.
“Yep,” the earth pony acknowledged. “What’s the crowd like, Kershak?”
The changeling replied, “Lots of curiosity, but no overt hostility so far. That’s encouraging.”
“Then we’re good to start unloading, Canny?” Brick asked.
The unicorn nodded. “You two begin unloading while I talk to the proprietor.” The mare climbed off the cart and entered Wild Dreams.
Lavender Dreams greeted the newcomer. “Welcome to Wild Dreams. How may I help you?”
“Hi, my name is Canny Manoeuvre, and we have your shipment of aromatic oils.”
Recognition lit up Lavender’s eyes. “Ah, yes! I have customers to take care of right now,” she said, indicating a couple who were browsing in the herb section. “I’ll get my husband to attend to you.”
Lavender went to the door behind the counter and called back. “Cogs! Our shipment has arrived. Can you help out, please?”
It was Saturday, so Cogs was available, but that was no coincidence. This particular delivery had been arranged weeks ago, and Cogs had been awaiting it with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension. He quickly came out, and Lavender indicated the unicorn. His eyes widened in surprise, but before he could say anything, Canny forestalled him.
“My partners are unloading the goods now. If you could show me where you want them, we’ll have this done in no time.”
Cogs nodded. “Let’s get this done quickly then.” He brought a trolley from behind the counter and followed Canny outside. There he found Brick and Kershak unloading crates and cartons, while an audience of curious ponies watched the changeling from a respectful distance. Canny made introductions and Cogs pretended surprise at having a changeling being part of the team. They then loaded up the trolley and took them to the shop’s storeroom to be unpacked later.
When everything had been stashed away, Cogs said, “Could I offer you three some refreshments?”
“That sounds great,” Canny answered. “It’ll be good to take a break before we set up in the market place.”
“Come on in then, and be welcome.”
Brick and Canny followed Cogs inside. Kershak gave the audience a cheeky wave before following suit, causing a ripple of comment among the ponies.
Cogs said to Lavender, “I’m just going to get some refreshments for these ponies, dear. Please join us when you can.”
Lavender nodded and smiled at their guests. “Welcome to our home.”
Cogs closed the door behind them, and then fixed Canny in his gaze. “Twilight never told me that she was sending two changelings on this mission.”
Canny grinned, and then in a flare of red flame, changed to her natural form. “It was a last-moment decision. Princess Twilight felt that I could be a back-up for Kershak, and take his place if necessary, or be a distraction.”
“Fair enough, I suppose. So who are you all really?”
“Let me do proper introductions. My name is Kerza, but like you, I have taken up a life as a pony.” Red fire flared again as she resumed her unicorn form. “I’ve been Canny Manoeuvre for over a decade now, well before the invasion of Canterlot by Chrysalis. I’ve been a member of the special Changeling Response Squadron since the Princesses set us up to deal with the aftermath of that event. All of us were drafted from our units in the Canterlot Royal Guard after we were identified as being changelings, but fortunately also after Princess Twilight had discovered that Chrysalis was the exception, not the rule, and we were actually loyal to the Equestrian diarchy.” Canny looked bitter for a moment. “We lost two changeling Guards trying to fend off the invasion, and we could not even bury them with the honour that they deserved because their corpses had reverted to natural form, and they had been swept up with the rest of the changeling casualties.”
Cogs felt immensely uncomfortable due to this revelation. He still had not been able to completely put aside his own role in that invasion.
Canny must have picked up his body language, because she immediately added, “Yes, I know of your background, Cogs, but I don’t blame you any more than Princess Twilight does. In fact I was impressed after I heard how you renounced Queen Chrysalis. Until then, I was not aware that it was even possible to completely turn one’s back to the hive.”
“It wasn’t easy, although once I made the break, I knew I was free from the queen forever. Best thing that I ever did. I’ve got a question for you though – how did you not get expelled from Canterlot like we did?”
“We’re not sure of that, although there are plenty of theories. It’s not as if we were totally unaffected – some of us were flung around pretty hard when the shield passed through. However, we were left behind while the invaders continued to be pushed relentlessly.”
“I know exactly how that went,” Cogs said fervently.
“Yes, and our best guess is that the shield was tuned to changelings from your hive, so you were the ones primarily affected. Anyway, I’ve kind of gotten off track here. This is Kershak, and he’s a new addition to the squad. He has no permanent alter-ego as yet, and he volunteered to be our undisguised changeling to judge the current community reaction to us. Brick Wall of course is not a changeling, but he is a sergeant in the Royal Guard, and our heavy-hitter. His primary purpose besides hauling our cart is to try to prevent any dangerous ponies from getting near us. While we hope for the best, we’re prepared for the worst.”
“Obviously I’ll be interested to find out how that works out. You started out in Ponyville, I believe?”
“You can tell me what that was like, but first I promised you all refreshments. What would everyone like?”
Canny was a tea drinker, Kershak preferred apple juice, and Brick was a black coffee stallion. Cogs made himself tea also, plus one for Lavender when she came to join them after briefly closing the store for her morning tea break.
Lavender was surprised to find out that Canny was a changeling also. “I thought that being married to a changeling would help me recognise one when I met them, but it appears that I’m quite wrong.”
Canny said, “I’ve been living as a pony for a long time, and it’s second nature to me now, so really I’m virtually indistinguishable from a natural pony. Kershak might come off as a bit odd because he’s inexperienced, but even then if you’re not actually looking for it, you probably wouldn’t realise that he was a changeling. Our kind spent centuries hidden from ponykind, after all.”
“So having Kershak completely unhidden must be a bit weird for you?”
Canny grinned. “You got that right. I’m not even the one who is exposed, and yet I can feel the stares.”
Kershak laughed. “I think Canny feels worse than I do. She’s used to hiding, while it’s still new to me. I admit that I’m a bit nervous about potential threats, but it’s balanced out a bit by the feeling of freedom of not having to hide out in public. In fact, it’s been fun freaking out some ponies so far.”
Cogs shuddered. “It creeps me out. Even after all those public talks that I did with Twilight, I never got used to being so exposed. Anyway, you were going to tell me how things went in Ponyville.”
Canny nodded. “Yes, we started there for a couple of reasons, mostly due to Princess Twilight Sparkle living there, of course, but also due to it being a modest-sized town that is used to a lot of weird things happening, not to mention that it’s the home town to all the Element Bearers who have protected the townsponies from said weird things.”
“I suppose that might colour the reactions of the ponies?” Cogs asked.
“I reckon so. Kershak got some flak from a handful of ponies, but little fear. I think that they might be too used to having champions on hand to be truly intimidated.”
“I bet none of those ponies were in Canterlot for the invasion. They wouldn’t be so blasé then,” Cogs said fervently.
“True, but that’s why we’ll be touring as many places as we can to gauge reactions from as many types of communities as possible so that we can give a full report to the princesses. We’ll be heading off to Las Pegasus after the market closes. Hopefully we will...”
Canny was interrupted as the back door opened with a bang, and Brick was up on his hooves in an instant and on the defence. He relaxed when he realised that the only invaders were three young fillies.
“Daddy! Mommy! Green Leaf says there's a changeling in our village, and it was seen… ooh.” Dandelion came to an abrupt halt to stare wide-eyed at the changeling in their living room, causing Summer Storm and Sky Fern to almost plough into her rump.
Kershak waved a hoof, gave them a fanged smile, and said, “Hi.”
They all continued to stare raptly at Kershak without replying.
Cogs stepped up to them. “Everypony, these are our daughters, Dandelion Dreams and Sky Fern, and Dandelion’s best friend, Summer Storm. Girls, this is Kershak.”
“Can I touch you?” Dandelion boldly asked.
“Sure!” Kershak replied with amusement in his voice.
Dandelion reached out to stroke Kershak’s carapace, quickly imitated by the others. “You’re so smooth and shiny! Are all changelings like you?”
“Well, there are different colours of crests and wings, but yeah, us drones are pretty much alike.”
“Why do you have holes in your legs?” Summer asked.
“Actually we have cavities throughout our bodies, although you can’t see most of them. They allow us to compress down into smaller forms, or unfold to enlarge ourselves.”
“Why do you have such long pointy teeth?” Dandelion inquired, staring closely at them.
“We’re omnivores, so that means our teeth are adapted to catch prey as well as chew food.”
“Ew! You eat meat like griffins do?” Dandelion pulled a disgusted face before a thought occurred to her. “Wait! Do you like fish?”
“I love fish. Do you?”
“I love fish too! What’s your favourite?”
“I like that, but my favourite is salmon.”
“Really? It’s harder for us to get those.”
“You should buy some while you’re here. Daddy gets some from the fishmonger every couple of weeks when it’s in stock.”
“Thanks, I might just do that.”
“Can you transform into someone for us?” Summer asked.
Kershak glanced at both Cogs and Lavender, who nodded in assent. “Sure! Anyone you would like to see?”
“Can you do Auntie Twilight?” Dandelion blurted out.
Kershak was surprised. “Auntie Twilight? You mean Princess Sparkle?”
“Yeah, Auntie Twilight Sparkle.”
“Okay. I’ve met her, so I know what she looks like.” With a flare of red magic, he transformed into a perfect facsimile of Twilight Sparkle. “Well, girls, how do I look?” Kershak said in Twilight’s voice.
Dandelion looked at Kershak critically and then said, “You look almost perfect.”
“Almost? What have I done wrong?”
“Auntie Twilight would have hugged us both by now.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’m not really your auntie, but would you like a hug from me anyway?”
Sky Fern didn’t wait for Dandelion to answer. She hugged Kershak’s leg, and Dandelion quickly joined her to hug Kershak around the waist.
Kershak smiled in pleasure, lapping up the happiness that the fillies were radiating. He wrapped his wings around them to hug them back.
They soon ended the hug, but Dandelion was not finished asking questions. “So are you really an alicorn now?”
“No, I’m not. I can fly,” Kershak said, flapping wings to lift off the floor a little before settling down again, “but I don’t possess alicorn magic. In fact no matter what my form, I don’t have any magic that is not natural to changelings.”
“Aw, too bad. Can you change into our classmate, Green Leaf?”
“I don’t know what Green Leaf looks like.”
“She’s a unicorn, same age as me, light green fur and dark green mane and tail.”
“A bit vague, but let’s see what I can do.” With the usual flare of magic, Twilight was replaced by a unicorn filly. “How’s this?” Kershak asked in a young filly’s voice.
“Her mane is lighter, but yeah, not bad. You’re pretty good at this, Kershak.”
“Thanks, but I’m not that special.”
“I wanna show you to my friends. Can I?”
Kershak resumed his normal form. “I’m going to be in the market place with my partners. Bring all your friends if you like.”
“I will! Come on, Summer!” The excited pegasus filly and her pegasus friend dashed out the door again, closely followed by her unicorn sister.
“Nice fillies,” Kershak commented. “Is Fern always that quiet?”
Lavender replied, “Yes. She normally lets her sister do most of the talking, but she’s not actually shy.”
Cogs said, “Thanks for indulging them so much. I want to teach them about changelings without giving away the fact that their father is one. I think that it’s important that they get to know something about their heritage.”
“You’re welcome, but it was a pleasure. Besides, one of my tasks for this mission is to try to pass on a positive impression of changelings to the populace, and the fillies and colts are usually the most receptive to the message, and they in turn can influence their parents. So, do you intend to ever tell them you’re one?”
“Yes, although we haven’t decided exactly when yet. We’re thinking maybe when they turn sixteen. They should be old enough and wise enough to be entrusted with that knowledge by then.”
Canny said, “Well I think that they’ll be delighted to learn that secret, judging by their reaction to Kershak. I find myself envying you a little for your foals.”
Lavender put a foreleg around Canny’s shoulder and hugged her. “Don’t be jealous. While you’re doing your tour, you should look around for a potential husband. I can say from experience that the right stallion will make your life that much better. Or a mare if you’re that way inclined. Alternatively, maybe you and Brick could hook up. You’re both in the Royal Guard, after all.”
“Say what?!” the hitherto quiet earth pony blurted out.
Canny laughed. “Thanks, Lavender, but I’m not quite that desperate no offence, Brick. Besides, it’s not as easy for female-oriented changelings.”
“I know, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Lavender pointed in the direction of their departed daughters.
“Good point. However we’re not here about my love life, and we’ve been here for quite a while now, so we had better move along. I’ll try to drop by to let you know the village’s current attitude towards changelings.”
“Thanks, Canny. Good luck with your assignment,” Cogs replied.
* * *
Twilight said, “Their report stated that except for one particular unicorn stallion that they encountered, Kershak was generally met with tolerance. The crowd of children that he attracted at the market were definitely a positive influence on their parents.”
“Yeah, in fact his visit became the subject of town gossip for days. There has been some discussion about what it would be like to have a changeling as a permanent member of the population. A few of the more astute have wondered if there are some already,” Cogs replied.
“The fact that this has not caused any significant concern is encouraging.”
“True, but it won’t all be that easy. That stallion you mentioned was Classy Threads, the father of Pearl Charm, the bully that Lavender dealt with. He’s just one of a few unicorns who have a bias against other pony types in the town, let alone changelings. He made it quite clear that he wanted none of our kind in Whitetail Meadows Village.”
“I would have been surprised if there weren’t a few, but I’m still happy with that result. It’s been a bit more mixed at the team’s other stops.”
“Could I ask you to send me copies of their reports, or at least summaries? Also any new material that you publish on changelings? I want to keep Dandelion and Fern informed about their friend.”
Twilight quickly caught on. “And teach them more about changelings in a way that doesn’t point to you?”
“I’d be happy to do that. In fact that gives me an idea about writing a primer for school children, and I have your family to use as a reference. Where’s my notepad?” Twilight began digging in a pile on the desk.
Just then, Pinkie stuck her head through the door and said, “You’re missing out on all the fun, sillies! I’ve saved you all a cupcake though.”
“Looks like that will have to wait,” Twilight said with a regretful smile. “The Element of Laughter has summoned us.”
Lavender and Cogs had to grin.
Episode 4: Learning Experience
After a couple of hours of entertainment by the premier party pony of Ponyville, both Cogs and Lavender realised that they had to seriously up their game next time they threw a party back home. They did wonder where the pink pony got so much energy though. Cogs was feeling great from all the positive emotional energy that he was able to consume, and if he didn’t know better, he would have sworn Pinkie Pie was doing exactly the same thing. Surely no normal earth pony could be so relentlessly tireless?
However, in the end it did not really matter. Both the foals had thoroughly enjoyed themselves, allowing the adults to do the same. Eventually all good things had to come to an end though, and Spike was the apologetic reminder of that fact.
“The balloon to Cloudsdale leaves in fifteen minutes,” Spike pointed out.
“Oh dear,” Twilight said. “I lost track of the time completely. Good thing that I can rely on my number one assistant.”
Cogs got the fillies’ attention and said, “Time to leave, girls. Go grab your backpacks.”
“Aw!” Pinkie whined. “We were just getting warmed up!”
‘If that’s just a warm-up, I don’t know if I could cope with a complete event,’ Lavender thought. “Just one more thing to do before we leave, Twilight.”
“I haven’t forgotten, Lavender. We’ll do it on the way out,” Twilight reassured her.
“A visit to Cloudsdale would be mighty short for Fern and myself otherwise.”
They gathered at the doorway, and Twilight said, “Just hold Fern still while I cast the cloud-walking spell.”
With practiced ease, Twilight cast the spell on mother and daughter. “There! That’s good for four days at least. Lots longer than you plan to be there.”
“I don’t feel any different,” Lavender said.
“It’s not supposed to, but I assure you that it works well. I’ve used it on my friends, and myself too before I got these wings,” Twilight replied with a flutter of her feathers.
Cogs said with a mischievous smile, “Don’t worry, hon, you know I’d catch you anyway.”
Lavender gave him a dirty look before saying, “Thanks, Twilight. It’s really been wonderful catching up with you here, and we really must do it again soon.”
“Anytime, Lavender. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.”
Pinkie Pie grabbed a filly in each arm and gave them a huge hug. “Don’t forget to write to your Auntie Pinkie!”
“I will,” Dandelion assured her with a hint of discomfort from the overenthusiastic cuddle, “but Fern doesn’t know how yet.”
“Then you can have her hoof stamp yours!”
“Alright everyone, time to make tracks,” Cogs ordered. “Spike, you were going to show us the way?”
“Yep! Follow me, and we’ll be there in a jiffy.”
Twilight managed to give everybody a hug as they left, and then closed the door behind them.
“You sure have some neat friends, Twilight,” Pinkie said brightly. “Who knew changelings could have such great kids? Seeya!”
Pinkie Pie left as precipitously as she had arrived, leaving behind a slightly stunned alicorn.
“But I never told her that Cogs is a changeling,” she said with a perplexed look on her face.
* * *
It was quickly obvious where their destination was. A balloon tends to stick out, even in a town as big as Ponyville. Spike said his farewells and the family approached the balloon pilot. While the fillies looked over the balloon in excitement, Cogs set about purchasing their tickets.
“How much for two adults and two children to go to Cloudsdale?” Cogs asked.
“Pegasi don’t get a discount just because they can fly part of the way,” replied the yellow-maned pink mare pilot with a cherries cutie mark.
“I’m not trying to get a discount. This is a family trip, and I intend to spend the time enjoying the flight with them. Besides, it’s a long way to Cloudsdale, and after we put the foals to bed, I don’t want to be too tired to enjoy time with my wife, if you know what I mean?”
“Ah, yes, right,” replied the slightly embarrassed pilot. She named the cost and Cogs handed over the bits. “You can board any time – we depart in three minutes.”
There were two other passengers, both unicorns, and they politely exchanged greetings, but otherwise kept to themselves. The scheduled time came and no late arrivals held them up. The pilot secured the door to the basket and announced, “Mares and Gentlestallions, we are about to depart. If you are not a pegasus and have not gotten a cloud-walking spell, you will not be allowed to disembark at Cloudsdale. You are reminded to not lean over the edge of the basket while in flight. Snacks may be purchased in flight. In the event of air sickness, please ask for a sick-bag and refrain from puking over the side – it annoys the ponies on the ground underneath. I hope you enjoy the flight.” She then released the mooring ropes, the balloon shot up into the air, and they started drifting in a northerly direction.
“Whee!” Dandelion said, straining to look over the side of the basket to see the scenery, much as she had done so on the train. Lavender lifted Fern onto Cogs’ back so that the little filly could see too.
Cogs had to admit that although he could easily fly this himself, it was so much more tranquil just floating along like this and taking the time to enjoy the view. Best of all, he could share all of it with his family.
They had been travelling for over an hour when Cogs said, “Dandy, it’s time for a flying lesson.”
Dandelion looked over the edge of the basket and gulped. “I… I’ve never been this high before, Daddy.”
“True, but there’s always a first time. It’s also the perfect time to practice some more tricky stuff. If something goes wrong, you won’t crash into the ground because I’ll have plenty of time to correct you and have you flying straight again. You trust me, don’t you?”
“Of course, Daddy!” she replied with barely a tremor in her voice.
“Okay, then let’s go!”
Cogs took off out of the basket. With only a slight hesitation, Dandelion jumped up and followed him. Lavender meanwhile just clenched her teeth and tried not to squeal at the sight of her daughter jumping out of a balloon that was so far above the ground. Needless to say, she had a tight grip upon Fern to prevent her from following her sibling’s example.
Cogs started Dandelion with some simple straight flying to warm up the wing muscles. Then he had her put on some speed for a few sprints. After that, he began teaching her the more serious stuff. While flight magic was a major part of their aerial ability, they were still subject to various aerodynamic forces, and the problems that come with them. Above all, young pegasi had to learn how to cope with stalling and spinning, especially in an emergency situation. An accidental collision with a bird might make a pegasus too dazed to think clearly, but well-drilled manoeuvres would pull them out of a predicament out of sheer reflex. Up here, hundreds of feet from any possibility of a fatal crash, Cogs could give his daughter those vital lessons without having to worry if things went wrong, which they almost inevitably did the first time. By that time, the balloon had gained quite a lead on them, so Lavender could not see when Cogs had to catch their daughter for the second time after failing to pull out of a spin. He took them over to a nearby cloud and set her down before sitting beside her.
This was the first time that Dandelion had been high enough to sit on a real cloud. She had practiced forming small clouds out of steam from the kettle which were barely big enough to support her, but this was so much better. It helped calm her fluttering heart after that last failed attempt.
Cogs let her relax for a moment before he spoke up. “Now think, honey. What did you do wrong then?”
Dandelion tried to think over the exercise and what she might have goofed up. “Oh! Wrong angle on my left wing.”
“That’s right. You tried to make the same correction as you did with the first try, but you were spinning in the other direction. Now, do you think you’re ready to try again?”
“I want to get it right!” she said determinedly.
“That’s my girl! Okay, when you’re ready….”
Once again they started the exercise. Cogs forced her into a spin, and Dandelion fought to correct it. This time she got it right, and she pulled out of the fall by herself.
“I did it!” she cried exultantly.
“Well done!” Cogs said with pride. “Want to practice that some more?”
“Yeah!” she replied confidently.
Cogs repeated the exercise, varying the spins that he put on her. Twice she fell towards the ground, and twice she corrected herself without him having to intervene. He noticed though that she seemed to be tiring.
“That’s enough for today. I think it’s time we rejoined with the others.”
Dandelion looked about and suddenly realised that she couldn’t see the balloon at all. “Oh no! Where are they?”
Cogs grinned. “Don’t worry, Dandy, your old sire knows the way. However, we need to put on some speed to catch up, so get onto my back and hang on.”
Dandelion did as she was instructed, and as soon as he could feel that she had a firm grip on him, Cogs took off like a shot in the direction of the balloon. He let himself stretch the limits of his speed, and soon Dandelion was squealing in joy, enjoying how fast they were going. Before long, the balloon hove into sight, and moments later, they landed back in the basket.
“Where have you been?” demanded Lavender. “You’ve been out of sight for ages!”
“Doing exactly what I said we would be doing, dear,” Cogs said as he gave her a reassuring hug. “I’m afraid you’re just going to have to trust us to behave ourselves while out of your view,” he added with a wink towards Dandelion.
Dandelion grinned and said excitedly, “I learned how to pull out of a spin, Mommy!”
“That’s good, dear. I suppose it’s best that you learn that now, even if I can’t watch out for you.”
Dandelion gave her mother a hug. “It’s alright, Mommy. Daddy catches real good!”
“I should hope so!” Lavender tried to keep sounding annoyed, but it was hard to do when her child was so obviously happy about the events of that session. She sighed, reminding herself that she had always known that there were going to be parts of her daughter’s life that she could not be directly involved with. That was the way of mixed species marriages, and theirs was about as mixed as it could get. For such an abnormal family, things were actually working out pretty well.
The rest of the journey was spent in the balloon basket, and together they watched Cloudsdale approaching. As expected, the fillies were awestruck by the sight, and Lavender had to admit that the cloud city was very impressive. The towers, columns and domes all shone in the sun’s light, and they extended over several banks of snow-white clouds as far as they could see. It was the oldest pegasus city in Equestria, so it strove to live up to its reputation for magnificence, not a little helped by the slightly egotistical tendencies of the pegasi who lived there.
Right on time, thanks to the scheduled winds provided by the weather ponies, the balloon arrived at the Cloudsdale dock. The pilot threw the mooring ropes to a couple of waiting pegasi who secured the basket to the dock. They then waited slightly impatiently for the passengers to get off so that they could start unloading the goods that were the main reason for the regular flights.
Cogs and Dandelion left the basket unhesitatingly. Fern squirmed out of her mother’s grasp and followed suit. Lavender gingerly stepped out onto the dock.
Cogs grinned as he watched his wife. “Honey, the dock is solid. You aren’t even on normal clouds yet. Try stepping over here.” He pointed to Fern who was bouncing excitedly on the springy cloud, rapt in the new experience.
Despite the reassurance, Lavender still very carefully put a hoof down on the cloud. She was startled to feel the tenuous vapour resist, stopping it from sinking more than a little into it. She brought the other forehoof down, then the hind legs. The surface of the cloud supported her completely, and she sighed in relief. She stepped over to the others and said, “This feels like I’m walking on a trampoline.”
Cogs smiled and replied, “Really? I’ve never been on one, so I’ll have to take your word for it. So are you going to stop worrying about falling through the clouds now?”
“I’m counting on you to distract me a lot tonight,” she said slyly.
“Oh, I believe I can manage that,” he replied, his grin broadening.
Lavender looked about at the dock area a bit more, and then asked, “So what makes the dock solid? And what about the buildings? How are they held up?”
“Construction-grade clouds, of course,” Cogs replied.
“Of course,” Lavender repeated with a roll of her eyes. “Care to explain a little more in depth?”
Cogs laughed. “Sorry – standing joke among pegasi to other ponies. They are all compressed clouds reinforced by a special kind of weather magic. Any of those are capable of supporting such things as non-pegasi and structures.”
“What happens if the magic wears off?”
“It doesn’t get the chance. It gets constantly reinforced by the ambient magic of pegasi. It’s made to be self-sustaining that way.”
“Does that mean that if all the pegasi left Cloudsdale, the city would suddenly fall apart?”
“Good grief, no! Even the newest construction-grade clouds would remain intact for months. Older structures have been absorbing pegasus magic for ages and would last for years. The oldest stuff could last for decades before dissipating.”
“Ahoy, ground-pounders!” came a familiar voice.
They looked towards the source of the voice, and spotted Blue Arc winging their way. Dandelion flapped up to meet him.
“Hi, Uncle Blue!” Dandelion said as she met him in a hug that was almost a crash.
“Hi Petunia!” he replied with a grin, bringing them both to a landing in front of the others. “I see you’re right on time. Welcome back to Cloudsdale, Cogs. The foreman told me to tell you that you’re late for your shift.”
Cogs smiled back at his friend. “I’ll have to see him and plead extenuating circumstances.”
“Better make it good. He’s getting a little tired of marking you absent after so many years.”
“It’d take a doozey of an excuse to account for that!”
They laughed at the thought of trying to convince his former boss that his disappearance was a perfectly reasonable thing.
Blue Arc then turned his attention to Lavender. “And what’s your first impression of our fair city?”
“Much better now that I’m sure that I’m not going to fall through it,” she replied drolly.
“You’re going to surprise a few pegasi because you don’t. Cloud-walking spells are rather rare. Or rather, unicorns who can cast such sophisticated spells are rare. Most earth ponies and unicorns have a pegasus agent for dealing with Cloudsdale.”
“Seems to me that the city is missing out on a bit of potential tourism opportunity there.”
“You may be right, but speaking of tourism, it’s time we got you to your hotel so that you can drop off your luggage and enjoy the sights for the remainder of the afternoon.”
Blue Arc helped carry their luggage to the hotel. Because it was a city built by a race who could fly everywhere, there weren’t too many paths built specifically for pedestrians, and certainly no luggage carts. The group did raise a few eyebrows, as predicted, but the pegasus behind the reception desk at the hotel took them all in her stride. After all, a modern 4-star hotel had to cater for all kinds of visitors, even griffins sometimes!
After finally managing to drag the fillies away from bouncing on their cloud beds, the family took the opportunity to look around the city some more. Cogs and Blue Arc would point out various sights, and occasionally acted as air taxis with Cogs carrying his wife, and his friend carrying their youngest daughter. It was an unhurried and fascinating experience for the newcomers, and a pleasure for the two stallions to share it with them.
Stomachs that had only been mollified by in-flight snacks soon demanded attention though, and Blue Arc lead them to a family restaurant.
“My treat,” Blue Arc said. “You’ve fed me often enough on my visits, so it’s my turn for once.”
The fillies had never experienced a big city restaurant quite like this before, and it wasn’t easy keeping their excitement restrained. When the food finally arrived, it was much to the relief of the adults. Full bellies helped slow down the sisters though, and their tiredness started to show. Cogs and Lavender took that as their cue to head back to the hotel. They said their goodnights to Blue Arc, and not long later, they were tucking their children into bed.
With their parental responsibilities completed, Cogs and Lavender at last took some time for themselves. Cogs took a bottle of sparkling wine out onto the balcony, while Lavender brought along a couple of glasses. They made themselves comfortable on the seat there, and Cogs poured some of the wine into their glasses. They snuggled up together and sipped their drinks while watching the moon rise over the city. The soft moonlight gave the scene a magical feel of its own, and set the mood perfectly.
“Happy anniversary, dear,” Cogs said, and gave her a kiss.
Lavender returned it with feeling, and then said, “Thank you for everything, darling. This was a brilliant idea. You’ve made us all very happy today, and when our children are happy, and I’m happy, then you’re doing everything right. I’m proud to be your wife.”
“And I’m proud, delighted and privileged that you have taken this odd changeling as your husband. I never knew how good life could be until you became part of it. I love and adore you, Lavender Dreams.”
Then their drinks were forgotten as they lost themselves in a fervent embrace and a long sensuous kiss.
When they finally parted, they were quiet for a while, just sipping their drinks, admiring the view, and simply enjoying the special moment. Eventually Lavender broke the silence.
“This puts me in the mood for another foal. You know that I’d still like to try to have a colt.”
“Haven’t two fillies been enough of a handful for you?” Cogs asked with a knowing smile.
“Call me a glutton for punishment, but I still want that foal.”
“Well, Silver Heartbreaker is out since the Morningbell twins snared him a few months ago.”
“I know, but I have an even better replacement for him in mind already.”
“Oh? Who would that be?”
“He’s already almost part of the family,” Lavender hinted.
It took Cogs only a brief moment to connect the dots. “You mean Blue Arc?” he asked with surprise.
“Why not? The girls already call him Uncle Blue, he’s a very acceptable stud, and he’s not in any relationship.”
“Yeah, but that would mean that I’d have to make out with my best friend!”
“Surely that’s got to be better than doing it with a near stranger like Silver?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s just so... weird,” Cogs protested lamely.
“Take the time to think about it, darling; you’ll get used to the idea. However, there’s no rush right now. This time is just for the two of us, and honey, I’m horny.”
The half full bottle of wine was completely forgotten after that. Cogs reflected later that his words to the balloon pilot had been very prophetic – he really had needed to save up his energy for that night!
* * *
Although Lavender and Cogs would have preferred sleeping in the next morning, of course their children had other ideas. Dandelion and Fern both woke early and wanted breakfast, and they barely tolerated their parents taking the time to brush their manes and make themselves presentable for the day. A breakfast of oatmeal, apple-cinnamon waffles, and orange juice served to fuel them all up for another big day of touring the cloud city.
A few pamphlets from the hotel foyer helped decide the morning activities. Cogs had to admit that even he did not know all the interesting sights to see in his former home town, but it meant that he was able to enjoy some novel experiences along with the rest of the family. They visited a historical museum that documented Cloudsdale from its inception, took in some pegasus races that were qualifying events for the next Equestria Games, and admired the unique cloud gardens. However, there was one sight that Dandelion in particular was eager to see, and that was the weather factory.
Blue Arc had promised to arrange a tour of the facilities. Due to disruptions caused by previous tours, these were more strictly controlled nowadays, and children especially were restricted from certain areas. However, there were other areas that were always a popular place to visit, such as the rainbow pools. The fillies were delighted by the colourful displays, and Dandelion asked if ponies were allowed to bathe in them.
“No, but you can taste them if you’d like,” Blue Arc replied with a mischievous smile.
Lavender frowned in suspicion. “What are you up to, Arc?”
Cogs said, “Don’t worry, dear – it’s harmless.”
Dandelion barely hesitated before leaning over one pool and lapping up some of the rainbow content. Suddenly her eyes bulged, her face started changing colours, and she breathed fire. “Hot! Hot! HOT!” she cried.
Blue Arc handed her a bottle of water that he had brought along just for the occasion, and Dandelion started gulping down the contents.
“I thought you said that it was harmless?” Lavender said with an accusing glare at Cogs.
Cogs gave her an apologetic grin. “It really is, but the effects are spectacular. It’s a practical joke that gets played on all the ponies coming through on tours, but it also provides a harmless lesson on what not to try in future.”
Just then, Fern decided that she wanted to see if she could change colours also, and took a sip of the rainbow too, with predictable results.
“Or maybe not,” Cogs had to admit as Lavender gave him an ‘I told you so’ look while comforting Fern.
Fortunately the effects of the rainbow tasting wore off quickly, and their tour continued. They saw the rain reservoir, the snowflake design workshop, the weather planning office which sent out the schedules to all the local weather management teams across Equestria, and watched some trainee weather ponies learning their trade.
“Where do you work, Uncle Blue?” Dandelion asked.
Blue Arc smiled at the filly. “I’ve saved that for last. I work in the power generation facility, same as your dad used to do. I’ve told you that I’m a lightning specialist, and that means I get to wrangle the thunderclouds that are used to produce the lightning that we use to heat the boilers and create the steam power that the entire weather factory runs on. However, because it’s also a rather dangerous environment, children aren’t allowed to tour it.”
Dandelion and Fern looked very disappointed.
“However, you’re in luck today because one of the units is shut down at the moment for maintenance and refurbishment, and if you promise to be careful, I have permission to show you around that one today.”
“Yay! We promise, Uncle Blue,” Dandelion said enthusiastically, while Fern nodded her head vigorously in silent agreement.
Blue Arc led the way, while Cogs brought up the rear to keep an eye on everyone. As they entered the complex, he started a running commentary.
“On your left are the boilers that produce the steam. Despite the fact that they have been shut down for two days, their sheer size means that they are still warm. Once restarted, it will take a few hours to get them back up to full operational level. To heat the boilers, we use lightning power, and that is channelled there by these cables that you see above of us. That large drum of cable ahead of us is meant for the new boiler that they have just installed, and while it’s already connected at the boiler end, the cable won’t be connected to the lightning supply until it’s 100% ready for safety reasons.”
Cogs interjected, “If I was still working here, I’d be one of those ponies installing that new boiler.”
Blue Arc nodded. “Actually Cogs is being a bit modest. He would have been in charge of the team because he was lead mechanic, but that job belongs to Mighty Lever now.”
“Mighty Lever? How in Tartarus did he get the job?” Cogs sputtered in outrage. “I was always having to fix his oversights and mistakes.”
“What can I say? He had seniority,” Blue Arc explained with an apologetic shrug.
Cogs fumed silently, and Lavender patted him on the back consolingly, realising how much his professional pride was bruised by that revelation.
“Anyway, to continue – the cables go through the power control board on your right to manage the output of the thunderclouds. And that brings us to my favourite part – the power source and my primary job – the thunderclouds. We’re coming up to the insulated thundercloud storage silo for this unit. Through the observation window, you can see that it contains highly charged thunderclouds. It’s currently completely full at the moment because the boilers aren’t in use, but normally it would be my job to round up new thunderclouds and top up the silos as the others get depleted. It takes a skilled weather pony to handle thunderclouds, because otherwise they might get zapped by the lightning that they’re trying to control.”
The fillies oohed and aahed appropriately, and it was clear that Blue Arc was lapping up the adulation. It caused him to be distracted at a critical moment though.
Dandelion noticed a nearby access hatch to the silo was ajar, and she went over to have a look. Without the insulating properties of the wall and window, her weather sense could now feel the pent-up power of the clouds. She flapped up into the air to get a better look and reached out with her weather magic in the way Blue Arc had taught her.
Just then, Blue Arc noticed what she was up to, and yelled out, “Dandy! Stop!”
The distraction was enough for Dandelion to mishandle her effort, and suddenly a surge of lightning streamers passed through the partially open hatch and struck her on her left side. Her eyes lit up with a glow of power as she started a high-pitched squeal, and then a large bolt of lightning exited her right hind hoof, grounding itself on the nearby drum of coiled cable. As the electricity continued to flow, Cogs launched himself frantically towards her, only to be smashed aside by Blue Arc, who then threw himself into the path of the incoming arcs. Straining his lightning management abilities to the limit, he managed to halt the flow of power. The glow died in Dandelion’s eyes, and she fluttered helplessly to the floor.
Cogs caught Dandelion before she hit, and laid her down carefully. He looked her over worriedly, but she was still breathing, and he couldn’t see any damage to her, not even a singed feather.
Blue Arc landed next to them, looking a little worse for wear. “What were you thinking, Cogs? You could have been killed trying to rescue Dandelion. You’re absolutely useless when it comes to weather magic!”
“My daughter was in peril, Arc – I’d gladly die to save her!” Cogs snapped back.
Duly chastened, Blue Arc asked, “How is she anyway?”
Cogs did not have a chance to answer before Lavender galloped up to grab their daughter in her forelegs and start weeping and wailing in distress.
“Ow! Mommy, will you quit that, please?” complained Dandelion.
“Oh! How are you, Dandelion? Where does it hurt?” the hugely relieved mare asked.
“Where your hoof is digging into my side,” Dandelion answered. “I’m fine; just a little dizzy is all.”
Blue Arc was flabbergasted. “Dandelion actually managed to channel that power by herself? She must have an amazing weather talent! Are you sure she’s your daughter, Cogs?”
“Very funny, Arc,” Cogs said without much fervour. He was just too relieved that his daughter was uninjured.
Just then there was a clatter of metal striking the floor. They looked over to see the drum of cable with several steel objects such as tools and a bucket lying on or near it.
“What happened there?” Lavender asked.
Blue Arc explained, “When electricity passes through cable, it produces magnetism. That coiled cable with that huge lightning surge must have turned that drum into a strong electromagnet briefly to attract all those nearby objects.”
Dandelion got back onto her hooves, saying, “Well I’m not going to do that again in a hurry.”
Her surprised mother pointed at her flank and said, “I’m not so sure about that.”
“Huh? Why?” Dandelion asked, looking at where Lavender was pointing. Her eyes opened wide as she suddenly realised that she was staring at a brand new cutie mark adorning her creamy yellow fur. It consisted of a red bar with a coil around it and lightning going into and out of the ends.
“Looks like electromagnetism is your special talent, Dandy,” Blue Arc said with a grin.
“Ooh! Does that mean I’m going to be doing your job when I grow up?” Dandelion said excitedly.
Blue Arc laughed. “Maybe. Maybe something completely different. A special talent doesn’t define your career, but it could be of big help. Exactly how is up to you to discover.”
Just then they were interrupted by a shout from an approaching pegasus. “Hey! What in Tartarus are you doing here? Are you trying to get us killed with that uncontrolled lightning?”
Cogs scowled at him. “One – the lightning was controlled, apparently. Two – there would not have been any lightning if someone had not left that hatch open. Now who do you think is responsible for that, Mighty Lever?”
“Back off, Whirring Cogs. You’re not lead mechanic here any more,” Mighty Lever replied.
Blue Arc said, “No, you are, and that means you’re responsible for safe working procedures here, and as head lightning wrangler, I want to know why that hatch was not secured.”
“It’s not my job to look after the storage silo.”
“While this facility is being refurbished, everything in it is your responsibility, and if you don’t agree, we’ll just let the factory manager decide. Come on, folks – this tour is almost over. We have just one more stop to make.”
They left the fuming Mighty Lever behind, and the next stop they made was at the weather factory’s offices. There Blue Arc lodged a formal incident report and also a formal complaint against the negligent lead mechanic. The mood was lightened a lot though when Cogs bumped into his former boss, and he jokingly apologised for being a little late for work. The boss had played along and warned him that it would not look good on his next assessment if he was late again. After he was introduced to Lavender and their children, he congratulated Cogs, and they parted on the best of terms.
By the time that they were done at the weather factory, the day was nearing an end. Instead of a restaurant though, Blue Arc had invited the family to his home for dinner. It was only home-delivered food, but the family atmosphere was a lot more enjoyable than the restaurant had been, and they stayed until very late. Lavender and Cogs each carried a very sleepy filly back to their hotel room that evening.
* * *
The family vacation was coming to an end, and the next day saw them all back at the dock for the morning flight to Ponyville. Dandelion showed off her cutie mark to the pilot who congratulated her. Another flying lesson was done, but this one culminated in Cogs and Dandelion flying into Ponyville just a few minutes ahead of the balloon. There was very little time between the arrival of the balloon and the scheduled departure of the train to Whitetail Meadows, but Cogs knew that Twilight would be cross with him if he did not give her a report on the latest development, so he took advantage of those extra minutes to drop around to the library with Dandelion, and let his daughter tell the story herself. Twilight promised to spend extra time with Dandelion on her next visit so that they could explore her talent a bit further. Then they had to rush off, but not without a hug from the alicorn for her honorary niece.
The fillies spent most of the train journey leaning on the window sill once more, except that they were looking at the view on the other side of the tracks this time. Cogs and Lavender were content to hold hooves while watching both their daughters and the scenery. Sometimes the best moments were the ones spent just enjoying each other’s company without having to exchange words. Well, almost without words.
Lavender leaned over to whisper in Cogs’ ear. “Don’t think that I’ve forgotten about wanting a colt.”
Cogs sighed and wondered how he was going to be able to get out of that.
Episode 5: Deadly Deceiver“You never have time to play with us any more!” Dandelion declared peevishly.
Cogs sighed in frustration. “You know that’s not true, Dandy, but a new foal takes up a lot of our free time. Your mother and I still try to spend as much time with you as we can, but today she’s still busy with a lot of customers, and your baby brother needs attention now.”
“Why’d you have to have another foal? Weren’t Fern and me not good enough?” Dandelion asked sullenly.
“Stop that, Dandy! Of course you were good enough, but you know your mother really wanted a colt also, and I think having a little brother will be a good thing for you too when he grows up a bit.”
“But he just sleeps and cries and eats and poops and cries some more. He’s no fun at all!”
“And what do you think you did when you were his age, hmm? Your mommy and I had to put up with all that from you, and Fern too. It’s something parents are willing to do so that they can have wonderful children to share their lives when they grow up a little more. Right now though, you’re not being fair to me or your mother. You’re just going to have to accept that we won’t have as much time for you as we used to until Forest Breeze is old enough. Now why don’t you take your sister and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with some others your age? I promise I’ll have a game of sky disc with you tomorrow.”
“Oh, okay,” Dandelion reluctantly agreed. “C’mon, Fern.”
Cogs’ quiet younger daughter gave her father a sympathetic smile, and followed Dandelion.
Cogs sometimes wondered about Sky Fern; she said so little, but seemed to understand so much more than a six year old filly would be expected to know. It was something he had sometimes pondered while tending to his son. Feeding a hungry foal tended to give him a lot of time to think about such things. The renewed cries were a reminder that this was going to be one of those times.
As usual, Cogs carefully locked the door behind him before transforming. Unlike the very first times that he had become a mare in order to feed a newborn foal, Cogs did not turn into a duplicate of his wife. He had quickly realised that he only needed to emulate certain parts of her anatomy, so now he was still a grey-furred pegasus, but was now a lactating mare instead of a stallion. Of course it would be equally hard to explain to his daughters that daddy was now a mommy too, as compared to having two identical mothers!
* * *
Cogs had hoped that their daughters would tire themselves out from playing, so that they would readily go to bed that evening. Time spent with the girls was not the only thing that was cut down due to the baby; quality time with his wife also suffered. However, he was still surprised at how listless they both were at the dinner table, picking at their food and not talking at all.
Evidently Lavender picked up on that too. “Is something the matter, girls?” she asked with a concerned look.
“Nah, just not hungry, I guess,” Dandelion replied.
Fern nodded in agreement, and pushed her plate away. “Can I go to my room?”
Lavender eyed the remaining food but decided that it was not worth arguing over. “Okay. Take your plate to the sink first, please.”
Fern did as she was asked, and then headed off to her room.
Dandelion ate a little more before she asked if she could do the same. After being given permission, she took her plate, left it with Fern’s, and then left for her room also.
“Do you think they might be sick?” Lavender asked her husband.
Cogs frowned in puzzlement. “I don’t think so. I sense no distress from them – only tiredness. Still, let’s keep a close eye on them. Because tomorrow is Saturday, I’ll be able to check up on them. If it’s an illness, then it will either have cleared up or gotten worse by then. If the latter, I’ll take them to see Soothing Touch.”
Lavender nodded. “Alright, let’s do that.”
After they cleared the table and washed the dishes, they went by their daughters’ rooms to see how they were. They were surprised to find that Fern was already asleep in bed, and Dandelion was at her desk, also asleep, her head lying on the top while she drooled on its surface. Cogs lifted her up as Lavender telekinetically pulled back the bed covers, and then tucked her in after Cogs placed her on the bed. Their daughter never woke up during the move.
After they left the room, Lavender said, “I haven’t seen Dandelion do that in years. She must be exhausted!”
“Yes, but why?”
Neither had an answer for that, and their concern for their daughters would have spoiled their free time together if their son did not do that anyway.
“Your turn, dear,” Cogs said with a hint of regret. He did enjoy cuddling with her though. While she fed the colt, he fed on his wife’s affections and his child’s contentment.
* * *
The next morning, Cogs was very relieved to find that both his daughters seemed to be back to normal. A good night’s rest with a sleep-in due to no school that day apparently had worked wonders, and he put down their listlessness due to a combination of tiredness and a minor illness. As he had promised, he spent a good deal of time with them that day, much of it playing their favourite game – sky disc.
It was a simple enough game involving a throwing disc. Most of the time it involved Cogs positioning himself between Dandelion and Fern while they threw the disc to each other, and he would try to intercept it. Dandelion of course could fly around, and he would have to try to keep one eye on her, and the other on the disc. It was not made any easier for him due to Fern’s adept telekinetic throws. Because her range was limited though, she had to do a great deal of running to get in position to catch Dandelion’s return throws. Her pegasus sister was able to compensate with her greater skills with reading the breeze and curving the throw. Needless to say, they all got an intense workout as well as a lot of fun.
When they needed a rest, they instead threw it to each other while Dandelion and Cogs stayed ground-bound. They strove for fanciest or most accurate toss then. A few hours of these was enough to tire them all out quite thoroughly, and it worked up a big appetite too, so Cogs made a big lunch for everyone. He marvelled at how different it was from the previous night as he watched his ravenous daughters devour their food. He put aside his worries, filing it mentally under ‘one of those unexplained things’.
The incident may well have been completely forgotten if it did not happen again the next day. Cogs and Lavender had both been busy – she with her garden and he with some essential maintenance on the shop, so the two fillies went off to play by themselves that morning. At lunchtime, they were alarmed to see the same listless disinterest and lack of energy in their children, and this time they immediately whisked them off to the doctor.
Soothing Touch was unable to pin down anything specifically wrong with them physically though. He asked the nurse to mind the fillies while he talked to their parents in private.
“My tests show nothing particularly abnormal about them physically,” he explained. “I do note an alarming depletion in their emotional energy. Cogs, have you been feeding excessively on their love lately?” Because he was a changeling also, he was able to sense emotions, but his training made him more aware of their significance.
“What? No! I have never fed on their emotions in any way except passively. In fact I’ve never forcefully consumed anypony’s emotions ever!”
Lavender patted Cogs on the back reassuringly, and added, “Besides, in both instances, they were away from Cogs when it happened.”
Soothing Touch frowned. “That’s still the best fit for the symptoms, but that means that we could be dealing with another changeling in town.”
“But we’re the only two in Whitetail Meadows,” Cogs objected.
“That we know of,” Soothing Touch added.
Cogs frowned. “Princess Twilight’s laws regarding changelings requires newcomers to let the relevant authority know of their intention to stay if they’re in disguise. In the bigger towns, that’s usually the local Guard station which often has one changeling member nowadays. That way they can keep track of the changeling population. In smaller villages like ours though that don’t have a Guard station, they are required to make contact with the local changelings by a discreet posting on the town’s public notice board, and believe me, the way gossip works, the news would have reached Lavender’s shop within hours.”
“Needless to say, I haven’t heard of any such thing,” Lavender added.
“And Twilight made it my responsibility to report newcomers, so I certainly watch out for any notices. In the years since that law went into effect, we’ve only had a few transient changelings, no permanent residents,” Cogs concluded.
“Then we’re probably dealing with a law-breaker, considering what has been done,” Soothing Touch concluded.
“If it is a changeling that we’re dealing with, what can we do about it?” Lavender asked.
“Tell your fillies to avoid strangers. Cogs – you need to actively look for them. If you find any, we need to confront them as soon as possible, because if they’re doing it to your fillies, then they’re doing it to others also. You may just be the first concerned parents whom I’ll be dealing with.”
“You’ll let us know if you get any more patients like this?” Lavender asked.
“Of course. It may either eliminate the changeling theory, or help us track down the culprit.”
Cogs and Lavender took their children home and put off all non-essential work in order to spend time with them. To their relief, after the fillies had taken a nap, they showed signs of recovering. If they were indeed suffering from emotional drain, they were adaptable enough to bounce back fairly quickly. Persistent draining could cause serious problems though, so they did not stop worrying about it happening again. Questioning them about meeting with unfamiliar ponies brought them no answers though. They both insisted that they had not met any unknown ponies recently. Of course, with changelings, that was not a conclusive observation. As Cogs knew all too well, they could reproduce the form of someone familiar extremely accurately.
* * *
The next few days, nothing of consequence happened. Neither Dandelion nor Fern had another episode, and Soothing Touch reported no further incidents. If a changeling had been the problem, then either they had moved on, or they had not taken any other victims more than once as they had the two fillies. Cogs had been unable to spot any other changeling in that time, but he was unable to check out more than a small fraction of the population anyway.
Saturday came around again, but this time Cogs had to attend to the baby. He promised that as soon as he could, he would join Lavender and Fern for their usual games, but they would have to be patient and wait a bit. They were disappointed, of course, but given his promise, Dandelion did not make the same fuss as she had done the previous week. Cogs sent them off with the usual warning of looking out for strange ponies, and then went to feed Forest.
Mauve Dreams arrived about an hour later to foalsit the colt, more than enough time for Cogs to feed him and revert to male form. He left Forest Breeze in the care of the colt’s grandmother, and went to rendezvous with his daughters.
Children seldom have fixed ideas of what to do and where to play, but they did have their favourites, and considering that they anticipated playing sky disc with their father, Cogs guessed that they would likely be found in their usual playing field. Not far from their home at the edge of town, there was parkland before Whitetail Woods began in earnest. This gave them plenty of open playing area, but also trees and shrubs as obstacles to make things interesting. Cogs approached the parkland on a path through some of those trees, and just as he was about to come into the open, he spotted the two sisters sitting quietly next to another familiar figure. It was unusual to see his business partner, Moonlit Haze, without her herdmates, but she did occasionally take the time to be with her godchildren, so it didn’t strike him immediately as being odd. That is until he realised that he could not feel the usual buzz of excitement and other feelings that normally accompanied those meetings.
Cogs hastily backed out of sight before he was spotted, and strained his senses. Nothing. That could not be Moonlit Haze. It had to be a changeling using her form to overcome the foals’ suspicions, and that explained why they never encountered any strangers. He had to break this up, but he could not do so without risking exposing his true nature to his children. Thinking fast, he changed form.
Mystery Mare burst out of the trees and started calling out to the children. “Lavender Dreams! Sky Fern! Your father is looking for you. Go home now, please!” she called out as urgently as possible while trying not to sound alarming.
Dandelion and Fern looked around dazedly. “Daddy says not to talk with strangers,” Dandelion replied.
“I don’t want to talk with you. I just want you to go home. I’m staying right here,” Cogs said, cursing the fact that his words were being turned against him at the worst possible time.
Dandelion seemed to consider this, but eventually she nodded. “OK. Let’s go, Fern.”
The fillies walked off, exhibiting the same listlessness as on the previous occasions. As soon as they were out of earshot, Cogs snarled at the fake Moonlit Haze and growled, “What in Tartarus do you think you’re doing to those poor fillies? Leave them alone! You’ve harmed them enough!”
‘Moonlit’ sneered. “What do I care about what happens to food? In fact, why do you care? We’re both here to harvest emotions for Queen Chrysalis.”
All changelings could tell if another changeling was from their own hive. That fact had been immediately obvious to Cogs as soon as he had gotten close enough to her, and just as obvious to her. She had one basic fact wrong though.
“I renounced allegiance to Chrysalis years ago. I have sworn my loyalty to the alicorn princesses, and I am living here peacefully with the ponies, just as changelings had done for millennia before that mad queen ruined everything. And one more thing – I will protect these ponies from changelings like you!”
‘Moonlit’ looked shocked. “You renounced the Queen? I didn’t think that was possible.”
“It isn’t easy, and doing so gave me nightmares for a while, but I am free from her influence now. What I don’t understand is how an emotion harvester can be so callous. When I was one, we always took emotion energy passively, but you were ripping it from those poor children as crudely as any soldier drone.”
“That’s because I am a soldier! You useless, weak-minded harvesters proved to be such bleeding hearts that the hive was not getting the emotional sustenance that it needed. The queen decreed that we soldiers go out and get it in any fashion necessary, and that’s exactly what I am going to do. And if I have to go through a traitor to do it, then that’s exactly what I’ll do!” With that, the fake Moonlit’s horn lit up with magic.
Cogs suddenly realised that he had made a bad mistake. He had hastily taken on the first disguise that had come to mind, but Mystery Mare was an earth pony, and in that form Cogs could neither fly away nor defend himself magically. He realised that he had to transform to his changeling form, but it was too late to prevent his enemy’s attack. A blast of energy scorched his neck, dazing him. Shaking his head to try to clear his vision, he realised that the ersatz unicorn was lunging at him with her head lowered, intending to skewer him with her horn. He hastily dodged the physical attack, only to be blasted once more. As he started to black out, the last thing that he saw and heard was the grinning mare looming over him, one hoof raised to strike.
“See you in Tartarus, fool!”
* * *
Cogs was very surprised to wake up and discover that he was still alive. Any possible afterlife that he had ever imagined did not involve a great deal of pain, nor a tiny room with bars on the window and door. He soon realised that he was in his natural form, and apparently locked up in the constabulary’s jail. He tried to move, but was greeted by more pain. It was not as bad as when he had crashed into the forest years ago though, and he forced himself to sit up and take stock of himself. As best as he could tell he had energy burns from the two horn blasts, and possibly a concussion. He needed medical treatment, not to mention something to drink.
“Is anypony there?” he croaked as loudly as he could. After he received no reply, he tried again. This time it brought a stallion to the door. The dark blue-furred and yellow-maned unicorn was familiar to Cogs. He recognised the town’s chief of police from previous meetings with him. The officer of course did not recognise him in return, and Cogs had no intention of elucidating him as to that fact.
“Officer, I need a doctor, please,” Cogs asked.
“And why should I get help for a changeling who attacked one of our citizens?” Blue Line asked unsympathetically.
“I did no such thing!” objected Cogs.
“That’s not what witnesses tell me. They say that they saw you fighting with a unicorn mare, and they came to assist her.”
That explained why he was still alive – her coup de grace had been interrupted by some passers-by. “You have it backwards, Officer. That mare was a changeling also, and she has been illegally ripping emotions from her victims, even foals! I caught her in the act and confronted her, but she was a soldier and I’m not, so she was on the verge of killing me.”
“A likely story!” Blue Line scoffed. “Sounds to me like you’re grasping at straws.”
“I can prove it to you. Contact Princess Twilight Sparkle and tell her that Zevan the Changeling requests her help.”
“Do you honestly think that I am going to bother the Princess with some wild story from a bug? I think not.” Blue Line started to walk away.
Cogs desperately played his last trump. “By royal decree of Princess Twilight Sparkle, and ratified by their Highnesses Celestia and Luna, all changelings suspected of causing harm to the citizens of Equestria must be held in lawful confinement. This confinement must take into account the changeling’s possible innocence, and all their needs must be provided until their status is determined by a duly appointed representative of the Royal Guard, or the Princesses themselves.” That law had been written to protect innocent changelings from being victimised, not to mention even more innocent ponies falsely suspected of being changelings. “In other words, Officer, I want some water and a doctor immediately.”
Blue Line had stiffened as the law had been quoted to him. He scowled at Cogs and turned away without a word. Cogs was able to sense that despite his opinion of the changeling, his sense of duty was going to carry the day. He was not a bad cop; just a little narrow-minded.
Blue Line eventually returned with a jug of water and a mug which he left on the tiny shelf on the door. “I’ve sent a messenger for the doctor. He will get here when he’s free.”
“Will you please contact Princess Sparkle as I asked?”
“No. As I said, I won’t bother Her Highness. The regulations require that I contact the Royal Guard and wait for them to send a representative to assess your status. You get to enjoy our hospitality until then.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that there’s a hostile changeling out there threatening the citizens of this village?”
“I have a real changeling in my jail. I am not chasing after figments of your imagination.”
“I’m not lying!” Cogs protested, but he realised that he was talking to the officer’s hindquarters as he left.
Cogs poured himself some water and drank thirstily. He considered his situation, wondering exactly how long he had been unconscious. At the very least, Lavender should be concerned about his whereabouts, especially if the girls told her what Mystery Mare had said. If he was away too long, far more people would start wondering what happened to him, and eventually maybe someone would connect his disappearance with the sudden appearance of a changeling. That could be disastrous.
He had to wait another forty minutes before Blue Line returned with the doctor.
Soothing Touch frowned at the sight of Cogs and said, “You didn’t tell me that my patient was a changeling, Officer.”
“Doesn’t matter, Doctor, it’s your patient now.” Blue Line unlocked the door and then charged up his horn before allowing Soothing Touch to enter. “No funny business, changeling, or else I’m going to give the doctor even more work to do. Get it?”
“Got it,” Cogs replied.
“Who are you, changeling?” Soothing Touch asked. The doctor had never seen Cogs in his natural form before, and had to confirm his suspicions.
“My name is Zevan, Doctor, and you have nothing to fear from me.”
Soothing Touch knew that name and moved in close. “And your other name?” he whispered.
“Cogs,” was the whispered reply.
The doctor busied himself with examining Cogs’ injuries. “How did this happen to you?”
“I discovered a changeling from Chrysalis’ hive ripping emotions from two fillies. We fought, she won.”
Blue Line said, “It’s just looking for sympathy – don’t believe a word it’s saying, doctor.”
Soothing Touch ignored the police officer. He knew that this was the literal truth, and exactly what he and Cogs had feared. As he treated the burns, he murmured, “What do you want me to do?”
“Let Lavender know, and contact Princess Twilight urgently.”
“What are you mumbling?” Blue Line asked suspiciously.
Soothing Touch answered, “He’s complaining that I’m hurting him. Now stop whining, changeling.”
Cogs didn’t say anything more. The important information had been passed on, and the rest was up to the doctor.
* * *
After Soothing Touch had applied salves and bandages to the affected areas, and given Cogs some medicine to relieve his pain, the doctor left the police station and hastened to Lavender’s shop. The mare was not there when he arrived, although he was relieved to see Dandelion and Fern in the care of their grandmother. He was about to leave to look for Lavender when she came back after a fruitless search of her own. After hearing Soothing’s news, she could barely restrain herself from going to the police station and demanding to see Cogs. She made it plain to the doctor that he had better make record time to Ponyville and fetch Princess Sparkle here immediately, or else. He would have laughed at the thought of a common unicorn ordering an alicorn princess to come at once, only he realised that she was deadly serious. He made a mental note to never cross her when she was in this kind of mood.
Soothing Touch changed from his normal unicorn form to that of a pegasus. Unlike Cogs, he was not an avid flyer, and his natural changeling form might have been a tad faster, but it was broad daylight and he could not risk being seen and possibly detained. So he strained himself to fly as swiftly as possible to eastwards towards Ponyville. He had not visited the town before, but he used the railway tracks as a guide. He could make far greater speed than the train though, and did not have to take a winding route around obstacles. The mountain range just before the town had to be flown over, which took a lot of effort from him after exerting himself for more speed, but it rewarded him with a panoramic view of Ponyville which made it easy for him to spot the great tree that was the Golden Oak Library, and home to Equestria’s youngest alicorn princess. He made a heavy landing in front of the library and pounded on the door with his hoof.
“Okay! Okay! I’m coming!” came a muffled voice from inside. The door was flung open to reveal a small but very irritated dragonling. “It’s a public library, y’know? Opening hours are right there!” he said, pointing out the obvious sign.
“No time for niceties – I must see Princess Sparkle immediately. It’s a matter of life or death!”
“Yeah, they all are,” Spike grumbled. “Twilight’s not here. She’s visiting with her friends at the moment.”
“Where can I find her, please?”
“She should be at Sweet Apple Acres for a shindig for Applejack’s sister, I think.”
“And where’s that?”
“You’re obviously not from around here, are you?” Spike pointed in the direction of the farm. “Fly that way. Huge apple orchards with just one farmhouse. Can’t miss it.”
“Thanks! Gotta go!” Soothing Touch’s wings protested at having to go back into action so soon after being able to rest, but he ignored them and raced away in the indicated direction. The dragonling had been right – the farm was impossible to miss. Also obvious was the crowd gathered outside the house – most likely the shindig that Spike had referred to. The difficult part would be finding the princess amongst them. Fortunately, purple alicorns tend to stand out, even without royal regalia, and he made a hasty landing close by, amazed at the fact that there was not a sign of even a single Guard there to contend with. He was able to rush up to the princess without anypony challenging him.
“Your Highness, Whirring Cogs urgently needs your help, and citizens of Whitetail Meadows are at risk from a rogue changeling,” he blurted out.
Twilight was slightly taken aback by the abrupt confrontation. “Do I know you?” she asked.
“I am Doctor Soothing Touch, the successor to Healing Hooves.”
“Oh yes, I remember now. I thought you were a unicorn… oh, right. You said Cogs needed help?”
“Yes, but can we talk in private?” He was uncomfortably aware of the eyes of dozens of ponies all focused on him.
“Certainly. Applejack – can I borrow a room for a few minutes?”
An orange earth pony with blond mane and tail answered. “Sure, Sugarcube. My house is your house. Need any help?”
“I don’t know as yet, but I’ll certainly let you know if I do. Doctor, come with me, please.”
Twilight led Soothing Touch into the farmhouse and into the little office where Applejack worked on the farm’s accounts. Closing the door behind them, she then cast a spell.
“That was a privacy spell; nobody can overhear us now, so I want the entire story.”
Soothing Touch gave Twilight Sparkle every detail that he knew, and emphasised the urgency of dealing with the situation as soon as possible.
“I see,” Twilight said. “Give me a moment to let my friends know that I have to go, and we’ll leave immediately. Wait here.”
It did not take long for Twilight to return. “I suggest that you resume your normal unicorn form, or else you’ll have a lot of explaining to do when we get there,” she advised with a smile.
“Aren’t we going to fly there?” Soothing Touch asked but complied anyway.
“I thought you said we needed to get there in a hurry?” Twilight said with a mischievous grin.
A very short time later, a very nauseous and dizzy doctor was being consoled by Twilight in the middle of Whitetail Meadows. “Teleportation is a bit overwhelming the first time, but it gets easier the more you do it.”
“Yeah, but did you have to do it twice?” Soothing Touch asked miserably.
“Sorry, but while I can make the jump in one go by myself, if I take a passenger, it’s a lot harder, so I needed to do it in two hops.”
“Can’t be helped, but try to give me some warning next time, please. If you need me, I’ll be in my office prescribing myself some anti-nausea medication.”
Twilight spared the changeling unicorn a sympathetic look before she turned to the business at hand.
Chief Blue Line was rather shocked to see an Equestrian princess walk unannounced into his station. Then he grew suspicious. “Who are you?” he demanded.
Twilight was taken aback by the stallion’s rudeness. While she preferred casual interaction with other ponies over the formality of the court, this was going too far. “As should be very obvious, I am Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Magic, and I hear that you have a changeling prisoner. I demand to see him.”
“Or you could be another changeling trying to free her accomplice,” he accused while readying his horn. “You arrive here without notice, and without any of the Royal Guard, so prove to me that you are who you say you are.”
With a combination of exasperation and annoyance, Twilight said, “Very well, you asked for it.” She then teleported him to the edge of town. However, she did not bother incorporating the side spell that reduced the nauseating effects of teleporting. Blue Line promptly puked his guts out.
“That was probably a bit harsh,” Twilight murmured with a touch of remorse. She made her way to the rear of the station to the cells, and found Cogs there. “Hello, Zevan,” she said, using his changeling name even though there was no one around to hear.
Cogs looked up and burst into a smile at seeing her. “Twilight! So Soothing Touch came through. I’m so glad to see you!”
“You sure got yourself into a pickle, didn’t you? Let’s see about getting you out of here. I suppose I should have asked for the key before teleporting that annoying police officer away.” Twilight lowered her horn to the lock.
“They make these jail cells magic-proof, y’know?”
The door was promptly blown open.
Cogs gaped, then said, “But obviously not alicorn-proof.”
“I thought you were in a hurry to get out of here?” Twilight asked with a grin.
“Coming!” Cogs scrambled to join her, wincing a bit from his injuries.
“Are those magic burns?”
“Yeah. Soothing told you what happened?”
“Just that you had a fight with a changeling. Here, let me try to help.” Twilight concentrated, and a glow appeared around Cogs’ wounds. The pain started easing immediately. “That’s about all I can do for now. Magic burns go deep.”
“It’s still a lot better, thanks.”
“Are you up to a teleport? I need to get you home without Zevan being associated with Cogs.”
“I think so, and even if I’m not, I’ll put up with the effects. Lavender must be getting frantic by now.”
“Okay, there still doesn’t seem to be any pony around to witness, so change now and we’ll leave immediately.”
With a huge sigh of relief, Cogs resumed his preferred form, happy to be a pegasus once more.
Twilight wasted no time teleporting them both to his home, arriving in the middle of the living room with which she was quite familiar. Lavender was there and she practically teleported herself into Cogs’ embrace.
“Ow! Ease up, Love!” Cogs complained.
“Oh, sorry Cogs. Soothing Touch told me that you had been injured, but he couldn’t give me many details with the children there.”
“Where are they now?”
“At my parents’ home. I asked them to foalsit for a while.”
“Good – they should be safe there for now. Let me fill you both in on everything that has happened….”
* * *
Krissak was feeling very satisfied with her day’s work. With the exception of the interrupted session with the two fillies, she had gathered much emotional energy without problem, and had dealt with a traitor as well. She would report the latter with much satisfaction when she returned to the hive. She had enough time to find one more victim before she called it a day though, so she checked out her favourite stalking site. The parkland was often used, but provided lots of places to inconspicuously feed on her victims. She was absolutely delighted to see that the two fillies had returned. Apparently they had been too affected by her previous session to coherently convey what had happened earlier. Good! She hated leaving things unfinished.
As she had done previously, she assumed a form familiar to them and sauntered over to insinuate herself into their play. She smiled and said, “Hello again, girls.”
Dandelion and Fern stopped what they were doing to face her with strange looks on their faces.
Krissak suddenly realised that something felt off. Their emotional strength was way too high after the morning’s feeding, and the emotions she was tasting were all wrong.
“What’s wrong, Auntie Moonlit? Ain’t we good enough for you now?” Fern asked in a decidedly un-childlike voice.
Krissak was certain something was wrong now, and decided to abandon this effort. She turned to walk away, but Fern galloped around to block her path.
“Ah don’t reckon you’re goin’ just yet,” the filly told her.
The changeling lunged at her with both front hooves, but Fern dodged with ease and bucked Krissak in the ribs. She screamed as she felt bones crack under the force of the impact. She could not understand how a foal could kick so hard, but she was a soldier, and a little pain was not going to stop her. Her horn flared with power, and a mighty blast of energy shot out at Fern, only to be completely absorbed by a magical shield that shimmered into existence between her and the fillies.
Krissak was only momentarily shocked by the ease with which her killing strike had been stopped, and she knew that it was time to retreat. Green fire flared as she reverted to her natural form, and she launched herself into the air to fly away as fast as her wings could carry her. She had not gone far when a blue streak hurtled out of the sky and slammed her back into the unyielding earth, and her world went black.
“Yeah, not going anywhere, bug!” Rainbow Dash spat contemptuously.
The illusions of Dandelion and Fern faded, revealing Twilight Sparkle and Applejack.
“No need for name-calling, Dash,” Twilight scolded. “Most changelings are perfectly nice, as you well know by now.”
Rainbow Dash sniffed in disdain at the crumpled form at her hooves. “Maybe, but it’s still great to be able to get one of the baddies after the way they pounded us at Canterlot years ago.”
“Gotta agree with Dash, sugar. It felt mighty fine to buck that changeling.”
Twilight gave them a twisted grin. “Okay, I admit that it was a good feeling to take her down, but try not to be so gleeful in front of Cogs, okay? Here he comes now.”
Cogs had been observing his fake daughters at play, and witnessed Krissak being captured. He had cringed when Applejack had bucked the changeling, reminding Cogs how she had done so to him so many years ago at the battle of Canterlot. However he was much relieved that the threat to Fern and Dandelion was over now. He trotted over, stopped in front of the changeling and asked, “Did you kill her?”
“Nah,” Rainbow Dash replied. “Twilight wanted her alive so that we can question her.”
Twilight said, “If there’s one like her, then there’s likely to be hundreds like her spread around the towns and cities. It’s obvious that Chrysalis is building up her strength for another attack, so we need to find to where she has moved her hive. It’s time for Equestria to take the offensive for a change.”
“And what about the harvesters who rebelled against attacking ponies?” Cogs reminded her.
Twilight came over to nuzzle Cogs sympathetically. “I understand how you feel, but going by what you told me that this one said, it sounds like if they haven’t escaped Chrysalis’ clutches like you did, they’re probably dead now. ‘Useless’ is what this one called the harvesters, wasn’t it? Chrysalis has not proven to take kindly to those who hinder her plans.”
Cogs could find no argument to counter this. In his heart, he had suspected as much already.
Twilight lifted Krissak with her telekinesis. “I’m taking this changeling to the police station to lock her up. It’ll give the Chief a genuine prisoner to hold until we can interrogate her. I’ll meet you back at Cogs’ place.” She then took to the air and flew off in the direction of the police station with the changeling in tow.
Cogs said, “Lavender is preparing a special meal tonight in your honour. You can stay for that, I hope?”
“Love to, sugar cube,” Applejack replied.
“Nothing like pummelling a changeling to work up an appetite,” Rainbow said enthusiastically. “Er… no offence, Cogs.”
“None taken, Rainbow Dash. I wanted to pummel her too.”
* * *
After Lavender had been updated, Cogs fetched the children from her parents’ home. Applejack and Rainbow Dash had been advised that the foals had no knowledge of their father’s true species, and were told to keep that a secret. It didn’t stop them from telling the fillies an embellished tale of how they took down the rogue changeling. Fortunately because the emotion-draining had been interrupted, the children had recovered more quickly and were virtually normal again, so they had been able to enjoy the evening with their special guests.
Midway through the evening, a police constable arrived to give Twilight an update on the prisoner.
“Your Highness, the Chief has told me to inform you that the changeling recovered consciousness a short time ago.”
“Good. Tell the Chief that I will come around in a couple of hours to interrogate her.”
The constable looked uncomfortable. “Um, I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
Twilight scowled. “Why not?”
“The prisoner committed suicide as soon as it realised that it could not escape.”
Twilight and the others were all shocked at the news. Applejack was the first to comment.
“Ya told us that she said that she was a soldier, Twi. If she was obsessed with duty, then it ain’t no big surprise that she would suicide rather than betray her queen.”
Twilight nodded reluctantly. “You’re right, Applejack, and that means we’ve got an even more difficult task ahead of us.” She turned to the police pony and said, “Thank you, officer. Tell the Chief that I will come by and collect the corpse later.”
“Yes, Your Highness!” The constable saluted and departed.
The news put a damper on the evening. Although Fern had succumbed to tiredness and had been put to bed, Dandelion had been allowed to stay up longer because of their special guests. She had heard the news too, and it upset her.
“Daddy, aren’t changelings supposed to be nice too?”
“You remember Kershak, honey?” Cogs asked.
“Most changelings are nice like him. But just as there are good ponies and bad ponies, there are also good changelings and bad ones. The one that hurt you was a bad one, a soldier from Queen Chrysalis’ hive. That’s why I have warned you not to talk with strangers, but now you know that you need to watch out for familiar people who are acting strangely too. I know that’s tricky, but I don’t want you to worry about it all the time either. I’ll always be here to protect you, darling.”
“Thanks, daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too, with all my heart, Dandy.” He hugged her tightly.
Not even the cynical Rainbow Dash was unmoved by the sight of father and daughter in loving embrace.
Episode 6: Unforeseen Changes
Dandelion laughed as she did a double roll around Summer Storm.
“Show-off!” Summer said with a grin.
Dandelion just stuck out her tongue cheekily. She was enjoying the day too much to take it seriously. No school, perfect weather, and flying with her best friend – what could top that?
“You’ve been practicing that for long?” Summer asked.
“Yeah. Dad’s been showing me some of the fancier tricks. He made me promise not to try this until I had it perfected. He didn’t want any mid-air accidents.”
“Remind me to thank him later.” Summer made a show of wiping her forehead in relief.
“Oh, knock it off! You know my dad’s a great flyer and just as great a teacher. He’s even raced with Rainbow Dash. Sure, he wasn’t in Dash’s league, but even she was impressed with his ability.”
“I know! I was there too, remember? Sheesh!”
Dandelion blushed a little, realising that her hero-worship of her father sometimes got out of hand. “Sorry,” she said contritely.
“Teach me that, and all is forgiven,” Summer said slyly.
Dandelion brightened again. “Sure thing. Let’s get some altitude so that we don’t bump into any other pegasi accidentally.”
“Not like last time, eh?” Summer said as they proceeded to climb.
“You promised never to bring that up again,” Dandelion said with a pout.
“No, I promised to not rub it in your face on a daily basis. It’s been at least a week since I last mentioned it.”
“Oh, sure, never let me forget it, will you? The mare didn’t even have to go to the hospital.”
“I bet you’ll never forget being grounded for a week either.”
“You want to learn this stunt or not?” Dandelion demanded.
Summer grinned. She loved teasing Dandelion, but knew when enough was enough. “Let’s do this!”
They spent the next half hour going over how to do the trick, and then practicing it. Summer was not nearly as talented as her best friend, but she was determined, and when Dandelion concentrated, she was a competent teacher too. Summer could see how very much like her father that Dandelion was at times like that, and just as Dandelion admired her father, so did Summer admire Dandelion.
Dandelion decided that they had done enough practice for that day, and they started heading down to the township again.
“Want to come over for dinner? Dad said he was going to be making cheese and mushroom pie with eggplant tonight,” Dandelion said.
“Is that a rhetorical question? You know I love mushrooms!”
“Just wanted to be sure that you didn’t have other plans for tonight.”
“I’ll just have to let my parents know as usual.” Summer giggled. “Mom said that I’d soon have to start warning them that I’d be coming home for dinner instead because I spend so many meals at your place.”
“You’re practically one of the family. My parents have given me blanket permission to invite you over for meals, y’know? I just have to give them a bit of warning so that they can prepare to feed an extra mouth.”
“I’d come over more often, but my parents would like to see me at mealtimes occasionally too. You need to come over to my place more often.”
Dandelion nodded. “I know. I like your parents, really, but they’re not exactly the life of the party.”
“No need to tell me, but they’re not bad otherwise. They let me hang around with you, after all,” Summer said drolly.
“For that crack, you’re going to get the smallest slice of the pie!” Dandelion declared with a grin.
“Not if I ask your dad first!” Summer retorted.
Dandelion was about to make a reply when something caught her eye. Pegasus vision is very acute, and even from their current altitude there was no mistaking whom she had spotted.
“Ooh, look! There’s Black Ace!” Dandelion squeed with delight as she pointed out the jet black unicorn colt with the playing card cutie mark.
Summer rolled her eyes and said, “Not this again. Ace is seventeen, and you’re only fourteen. He’s not interested in fillies like us.”
“I turn fifteen next week – that’s not too big an age difference.”
“It’s a huge difference for him. Besides, he has half the eligible mares in the village chasing him already.”
“That just means I need to impress him more than they can,” Dandelion replied defiantly.
“Please, Dandy, don’t be so obsessed with him,” Summer pleaded. “What has he got going for him besides ridiculously good looks?”
“If all those mares want him as a mate, he’s got to have something, and I want a part of it.”
“That’s hormones speaking, not a reason.”
“Are you telling me that you don’t find him attractive too?” Dandelion asked pointedly.
“Of course I do! He’s absolutely gorgeous! However, I don’t know a thing about him other than what he looks like, and neither do you.”
“That’s why I need to get a date with him, so that I can learn more about him,” Dandelion replied smugly.
Summer sighed in defeat. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I won’t. I’m going down there now while you go let your parents know that you’re coming to dinner.”
“Okay. Good luck, Dandy. I mean it.”
“Thanks, Rainy,” Dandelion replied with the nickname that she had given her friend. Then she nosed into a dive. ‘Let's show Ace what a pegasus filly can do that those unicorns can't,’ she thought as she planned her grand arrival.
Summer could hardly bear to watch.
* * *
Dandelion picked morosely at her pie, still on her first piece as Summer started on her second.
“Cheer up, Dandy,” Cogs told his daughter. “It’s not the end of the world.”
“Ace treated me like a foal, Dad!”
“I don’t think buzzing him and knocking over his drink onto him impressed him, Dandy,” Summer said around a mouthful of pie.
“He knocked it over himself!”
“After you startled him badly with that radical entrance,” Summer retorted.
“Better than what those simpering unicorn fillies were doing,” Dandelion replied sullenly.
Lavender said, “Those simpering unicorns probably understand better what Black Ace wants of a mare.”
“Is this about age, Mom? There’s nothing those unicorns can offer that I can’t.”
“Except more maturity. You have to accept that two and a half years make a world of difference at his age.”
“But I can offer him things that they can’t,” Dandelion objected.
“You’re not offering him anything, young filly,” Lavender said sternly. “You’re not even fifteen yet.”
“A week! Only a week and I’ll be fifteen!”
“Only fifteen you mean. Dandelion Dreams, I made a promise to myself that I would not be a busybody mother, but there comes a time that I have to put my hoof down. You’re too young for Black Ace. Accept that fact and look for somepony your own age. Better yet, grow up a bit more first.”
“Yes, Mom,” Dandelion conceded unconvincingly.
“And eat your pie,” Summer added. “It’s delicious!”
Dandelion gave Summer a sour look, but started eating anyway. It really was good, and it did pick up her spirits somewhat. Unfortunately it also revived her determination to find a way to impress Black Ace and prove her mother wrong.
* * *
A couple more futile attempts had rather dashed her optimism only a few days later. “Why can’t I get Black Ace to pay attention to me?” Dandelion whined to her sister.
“Maybe because he’s seventeen and you’re only fourteen?” Fern replied with a grimace of disbelief that she would have to point out the obvious.
“Fifteen! I’ll be fifteen in only three days. That’s not too young for a fillyfriend for him!”
“Face it, sis, he’s not interested in you.”
“How would you know? You’re only twelve! You’re too young to know about more mature things like coltfriends.”
“I’m twelve and a half, but I know what they feel about people, and I know that he’s not interested in you.”
Dandelion glared at Fern. “How could you possibly know that?”
“I can always tell what people are feeling,” Fern replied smugly.
“Nobody can do that!”
“I can too!”
“Okay, then tell me what that mare is feeling,” Dandelion said as she pointed out a random passer-by.
“She’s tired and worried.”
“Worried about what?”
“I said I know what they are feeling, not why they’re feeling that way.”
“You’re making it all up,” Dandelion scoffed.
Fern pouted. “No I’m not. You never listen to me any more!”
“I’m not a child any more!” Dandelion retorted.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Fern mumbled. “I’m going home. You should too.”
“You can go home if you want. I’m going to try talking to Black Ace again.”
Fern rolled her eyes, shook her head, and gave up on trying. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Fern had only been home for about ten minutes when her sister arrived. She glared at Fern, daring her to say something. Fern was not intimidated though.
“So, what happened?”
For a long moment, it seemed that Dandelion was not going to reply, but her expression kept getting darker until she finally spat out, “His friend told me to go away and play games with the other foals and stop bothering him!”
“Told you so.”
“Aargh! I’m not a foal any more!”
Fern was about to make a retort when their father entered the living room, surprising both of them.
“Whoa! You look as if you’re going to blow a gasket, Dandy. What’s bothering you?”
“Why won’t colts treat me like a grown-up?” demanded Dandelion.
Cogs was a little taken aback by her vehement question. “Because you’re only fourteen?” he answered.
“That’s what I said,” Fern interjected.
Dandelion threw up her front hooves in disbelief. “Not you too? I’m almost fifteen! Not much longer and I’ll be a grown mare! You’re no help!” She turned and stomped off to her room.
Cogs watched her leave with his jaw agape, stunned by her reaction. He looked at Fern who only shrugged.
“I think I’m out of my depth here,” Cogs murmured, then sighed and added, “Again.”
* * *
Cogs told Lavender what had happened earlier with Dandelion, adding it to the list of odd things that their daughter had been doing lately.
Lavender gave him a sympathetic nuzzle. “Welcome to the puberty blues, dear. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
“I don’t understand this puberty business,” Cogs complained. “It’s like all logic goes out the window.”
“You really have had no experience with puberty at all?”
“No I haven’t. With changelings, after we pupate, we just grow and learn stuff until we’re full grown and get assigned to the jobs for which we’re best suited. There’s none of these illogical emotional tantrums.”
“You once told me that changelings are sexually undifferentiated and not fully developed unless a queen or one of the fertile males; puberty is all caused by our change from a child to a sexual adult, with all the hormones stirring us up during that phase, so I suppose that your lack of that development spares you the effects of puberty.”
Cogs considered this information and nodded. “Sounds about right to me. Our relationships with ponies are based on our feelings and more logical reasons, and not those hormones.”
“Don’t sound too smug about that, Cogs. Your lack of experience will only make dealing with them with our daughters just a bit harder.”
“Did you go through that phase too?”
“Yes, I had my moments, although my puberty was tempered by my accident. I had to learn to deal with a lot of things about that time.”
“So, any advice?”
“Patience – lots of it. Try to understand her viewpoint, even if it isn’t a very logical one. Put your hoof down if the occasion demands it. Adapt if necessary. Changelings are supposed to be very adaptable, right?” She gave him a sly smile.
“Not that kind of adaptable, and you know it. However, I’ll try.”
“I know you will, love, but you don’t have to do it alone. We’re a team, you and I, and where one of us is less able, it’s the other who takes up the slack. In other words, don’t hesitate to ask me if you get in over your head.”
“Thanks, darling, but I think we both know who’s better equipped for whatever comes.”
Neither had a clue right then that Cogs would prove to be quite wrong about that.
* * *
Over the next few days, Dandelion’s behaviour was a lot more normal, much to Cogs’ relief. They were planning a birthday party for her, and they hoped that there would not be any odd outbursts to spoil the event. As parties go, hers was not unusual. Besides her family, there were a number of her classmates there, and of course, Summer Storm. Her young brother, Forest Breeze, even enthusiastically wished her a happy birthday, but only after being bribed with a promise to let him have a sleepover at a friend’s place that evening so he did not have to hang around ‘those silly fillies’ as he described them.
Lavender and Cogs held a separate family-only party that evening after all the guests had gone home. With just Sky Fern there also, it was a quieter and more intimate celebration, with her favourite foods including the baked salmon that was her special treat. The meal concluded with carrot cake and the gift-giving, but Cogs was saving the best until last. In fact he was pretty excited for himself also because his firstborn had always been so close to his heart.
“Dandelion, I've been very pleased with your school work, and also the aptitude that you've shown with mechanical stuff. If I'm not imagining things, I believe that you'd like to get into my line of work too. How would you like to be my new apprentice?”
Dandelion’s face lit up with joy. “Yes! I'd love that! I want to be just like you!”
Suddenly there was a flare of green fire, and Cogs was left facing a mirror image of himself. His jaw dropped in disbelief.
Dandelion looked down at her legs and their now grey fur, then around at her body and the green-blue tail, her eyes bugging out in shock. She screamed and fainted, reverting to her normal self when she did so.
Fern excitedly exclaimed, “Can I do that too?” oblivious to the consternation of her parents.
Cogs turned to Lavender who was just as stunned as him. She said, “Don't look at me – she's obviously your daughter.”
“Oh boy,” was all Cogs could think of to say right then.
They lifted Dandelion onto the couch and tried to revive her. As she dizzily regained consciousness, they gave her a glass of water and told her to take it easy.
Cogs said, “I know that this comes as a shock to you; it certainly was not something your mother and I expected. However, there’s a reason why that happened, and we had planned to tell you by your sixteenth birthday, but it looks like the cat is out of the bag now.” He looked at his younger daughter. “Especially in regards to Fern. We really weren’t sure when you’d be ready for the news, so we intended to leave it until you were both more mature.”
“You’re a changeling!” Fern blurted out.
Cogs stared at her in shock. “How did you know that?”
“Because I’ve never been able to feel your emotions like other ponies, and the only other ponies who I know that I never could feel were that fake Auntie Moonlit, and Kershak. Oh, and Doctor Soothing Touch. Is he a changeling too?”
“You can taste emotions?” Cogs asked in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Not taste – feel. And I didn’t think it was so unusual.”
Cogs looked at Lavender for her opinion, and she said, “It looks like we’re only now discovering just what traits of yours were passed on to the foals.”
He nodded. “Twilight never said exactly how much would be passed on, just that something definitely would be. I’m guessing that it’s more than any of us suspected.”
“So you really are a changeling?” Dandelion asked incredulously. “Does this mean that you replaced a pony when you came to Whitetail Meadows Village?”
“Sweet Celestia, no!” Cogs denied vehemently. “I thought you learned better than that. Whirring Cogs is, and always has been, me.”
“Then am I a changeling?”
“No, you’re not a changeling. Your Auntie Twilight was very interested in you because you had a changeling sire, so she studied you most thoroughly, and you’re definitely a pegasus. However, a changeling’s ability to transform is a form of natural magic, and now it’s obvious that it’s able to be transferred to ponies too.”
“But if you’re a changeling and Mom isn’t, how did you have foals? I thought that wasn’t possible?”
“It isn’t normally. That’s how Twilight became your honorary auntie. She created a magical artefact that… umm….” Cogs turned to his younger daughter and asked, “How much do you know about… umm… procreation?”
Lavender was heard to snort in amusement as Fern rolled her eyes and replied, “I know where foals come from, Dad. Mom made sure we had sex education.”
Cogs gave a sigh of relief. “Thank Luna for that. However, your conceptions were slightly more complicated than that, and Twilight’s artefact was instrumental in making it possible for you to be my true children. Each of you got a little bit of me in you. We’ve always thought until now that it was just a matter of some minor thing such as Dandelion’s eye colour and Fern’s mane colours, but now it seems that you may have gained far more than that. Fern – you said that you can feel emotions. Changelings actually taste them. It’s because we consume them that it’s related to our sense of taste, but you’re not a changeling, so I suppose the ability works differently for you.”
“But can I transform like Dandelion did?” Fern asked again.
“I… don’t know. If I am to guess though, I’d say no. Twilight said that that some aspect of mine would be transferred, not everything that a changeling could do.”
“How was that supposed to work?” Dandelion asked.
Cogs gestured for Lavender to come close to him, and he put a wing lovingly around her. “Your mother and I very much wanted children. After she found out that I was a changeling, she knew the difficulty of that, but still was determined, and I was prepared to make her happy. We were very fortunate that Twilight Sparkle was able to come up with something that helped us both.” Along with Lavender, Cogs gave their daughters a detailed description of what it took for a male changeling to sire children, leaving out only the identities of the donor stallions. Lavender fetched the magical device that Cogs wore during conception, and they described how it was created and its exact function.* Then they told them about how Twilight studied them, got emotionally involved, and became their godmother and honorary aunt. “So that’s everything that we know for a fact. The rest is speculation, and I’m sure Twilight is going to be super excited about this new development.”
“Okay, if I got your transformation ability, how did I manage to use it? Why didn’t I do it before?”
Lavender said, “Let me take a guess at the latter. It sometimes happens that pony talents manifest during puberty, which is exactly what you’re going through right now. This is just the first time that the conditions were right for your ability to manifest.”
Cogs added, “And as for how you triggered it, remember what you said just before you changed? You said that you wanted to be just like me. You were so focused on me that you triggered the changeling transformation and replicated me.”
“It’s partially instinctive, so I really can’t give you a 100% accurate description, but basically you scan the target and focus on changing to match that pattern.”
“Not very helpful, Dad.”
“Sorry, honey. Perhaps it would be better if you actually try to transform. Let’s try your mother this time. Concentrate on her and make a mental image of her. Then think of being just like her.”
Dandelion stared at Lavender for a long moment, and then closed her eyes to concentrate on putting that image on herself. Abruptly there was a flare of green magic, and Dandelion was replaced by a second Lavender.
“You did it, Dandy. Look at yourself,” Cogs said proudly.
Dandelion opened her eyes and looked at herself. “Oh wow! It worked!” she exclaimed in her mother’s voice.
“Congratulations, Dandelion,” Lavender said. “It’s a bit odd looking at myself this way though.”
“Did I get anything wrong?”
“No, you didn’t,” Cogs reassured her. “The way the ability works, it replicates even the tiniest detail.”
Dandelion walked over to stand side by side with her mother. “Then if you closed your eyes and we shuffled about, could you tell us apart?”
Cogs laughed. “Sorry, hon, but you can’t fool me that way. I can taste emotions, remember? I can instantly tell the difference that way. However, as long as you don’t make a mistake, you could probably fool anypony else.”
“Don’t let me catch you trying though!” Lavender said sternly.
“Yes, Mom,” Dandelion replied meekly, reverting to her normal self. “What about transforming into an original form, like you do with Mystery Mare? How do I do that?”
“That comes with more practice with transformations. Once you have done enough of them, you start learning how to influence them to make something different from the original. With time, you will be able to make a unique identity. When I was able to create my own totally original pegasus identity, I was ready to go out and be an emotion harvester, but I needed to practice for a while before I got it down pat. Now it’s second nature to me.”
“I see. Dad, can I see you in your natural form?”
Cogs was genuinely surprised. “Huh? Dandy, as far as I’m concerned, this is my natural form. I’ve been a pegasus for around half my life. This is my self-image, and how I identify myself. I am a pegasus in all but birth.”
“I understand that, but I would really like to see you as a changeling. It would help me understand my feelings about this.”
Suddenly Cogs realised that he had been tasting her confusion, but misunderstanding its source. It was not the ability to change that was the crux of the problem, but her sense of self-identity that was taking a beating. “Okay, Dandy,” he said gently, and transformed into his changeling form.
Dandelion looked him over intensely. Cogs waited until she was done before he softly asked, “Am I still your father, Dandy?”
Dandelion seemed to come to a decision and hugged him fiercely. “Always, Daddy.”
She was joined by Fern, then Lavender wrapped her forelegs around all three and they shared a long family hug.
When they finally broke apart, Cogs resumed his pegasus form. “Whew! I always feel weird when I’m not like this. My self-identity is too strongly bound with this form now.”
“Sorry to pressure you, Dad.”
“No, don’t apologise, dear. You needed to know and understand, and it’s my job as your father to help you.”
“You’re welcome, Dandy.” Then he noticed Fern staring at him. “What are you doing, Fern?”
“Trying to change like Dandelion did, of course!”
Lavender said, “One shape-changing daughter is enough, thank you! Remember what your father said – it’s unlikely that you can do it too. If you can sense emotions, that will probably be the only thing that you inherit from him.”
“Rats!” Fern replied, disappointment virtually pouring out of her.
“It never bothered you for a moment that I’m a changeling?” Cogs asked her.
“Nope. I think it’s cool. I suppose I can’t tell my friends though?”
“No, it’s something we don’t want to tell anypony. Nowadays changelings are treated pretty decently, but no pony likes to be fooled, and I think that some of them would not appreciate finding out that I’ve been a changeling all this time. Besides, except for my need to consume emotions, love especially, and needing more animal protein in my diet, I’m not really different from a real pegasus. That’s what I am. That’s what I want to be.”
“Except you can’t do weather magic,” Dandelion pointed out. “That’s why Uncle Blue Arc says you’re hopeless at it. I can though, and that proves that I’m not a changeling.”
“Exactly. Changelings can fly and walk on clouds, so I can do those things just like pegasi, but we don’t have weather magic. At best I’m a cloud pusher.”
“But you’re the best mechanic in Equestria, and I’m going to be your apprentice!” Dandelion proudly proclaimed.
“Heh! When you’re right, you’re right,” Cogs agreed with a grin.
* * *
Later that evening as Cogs and Lavender prepared to go to bed, he said, “That was quite a surprise we all had today, but it worked out well in the end.”
“Do you think so?” Lavender replied with a sceptical smile. “Dandelion is satisfied for the moment, but remember that we’re dealing with a pubescent filly who has just discovered that she can do something remarkable. And think how Twilight is going to react to this news. I believe we haven’t even begun to feel the repercussions.”
Cogs sighed and wished that for just once, he could understand all the ramifications of being a pony.
* * *
Cogs sent a telegram to Twilight Sparkle just as soon as the office was open. Because it was Sunday, that was not very early, so he had a chance to have breakfast first. Normally he would not be up that early either, but this latest development had to be addressed as soon as possible. Besides, he knew Twilight would never forgive him if he delayed telling her by even a minute. Heck! He was taking a chance on choosing not to wing it over to Ponyville last night!
He was not sure how long it would take the Ponyville office to get the telegram to Twilight, and even then she probably was sleeping in also. Nevertheless he hastened home and made preparations for her arrival. It came as no surprise whatsoever to him then when she teleported into their living room shortly.
“Cogs! What’s the emergency? What’s happened to Dandelion?” she demanded as soon as she laid eyes on him.
“Calm down, Twilight! I said it was a matter of great urgency, not an emergency.”
Twilight held up a piece of paper and Cogs recognised it as a telegram. He read what it said. ‘ … MATTER OF GREAT EMERGENCY… ’ Cogs sighed. “That old duffer at the office is going deaf. I definitely said ‘urgency’ when I dictated the telegram. Anyway, you probably would have wanted to come immediately if I’d been able to openly tell you what happened last night.”
“So something has happened to my goddaughter? Where is she?” Twilight asked with scarcely lessened concern.
“Yes, something totally unexpected happened while we were having her family birthday party. She’s currently still in bed; it was a big day for her after all.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened, or am I going to have to go ask her myself?”
“She’s a shape-changer.”
Twilight just stood there stunned for several long moments. Eventually she said, “This isn’t some kind of joke on me to make up for not being here for her birthday party, is it?”
“That would be a whole lot more amusing than the real situation, I admit, but no, I’m not joking. Last night, quite unintentionally, she turned into me. After she got over the shock, she deliberately tried to shape-change, and she did so without any real problem. The only answer is that she inherited that ability from me. You said that your amulet would impress some physical trait on the foals, such as eye colour, not something major like this!”
“The amulet was not designed to pass on magical traits, only physical ones. I need to think about this.”
“Would you like some tea and scones while you ponder? I have some ready,” Cogs offered.
“Thanks, yes. I haven’t had any breakfast yet,” Twilight admitted.
Cogs made mugs of tea for both of them, and brought out a plate of scones along with some strawberry jam and whipped cream. “Devonshire tea is served, Your Highness!” Cogs said in a faux snobby voice.
That brought Twilight out of her introspection and she snorted in amusement. “You need a fancy butler outfit to pull that one off, Cogs. This is most appreciated anyway.”
Twilight took a sip of the steaming hot tea before spreading some jam and cream on a scone and consuming it hungrily.
“So, any thoughts yet, Twilight?”
“A couple of hypotheses,” she mumbled around a mouthful. Swallowing first, she continued, “First – the spell on the amulet was far more effective than it was designed for. However, that seems unlikely due to the sophistication of the spell and the specificity of its nature. Second – and this is a quite exciting discovery – your shape-changing ability is not a purely magical trait, but instead a physical one that is only powered by magic. It might sound like the same thing, but makes a world of difference in several areas, including obviously genetic inheritance. Of course this will need testing, but my best guess says that this is the case. Dandelion has inherited the changeling ability to shape-changing, only it’s powered by her natural pegasus magic instead. Do you realise the implications of this?”
“Well, yes, but think what other abilities might be passed on, and how they will affect pony society with regards to changelings.”
“Er… speaking of other abilities, Fern can sense emotions. She says she doesn’t taste them like I do, but feels them instead.”
“And when did you find that out?” Twilight asked with a frown.
“Last night also. It came out when I started explaining how Dandelion could shape-change.”
Twilight pondered the new revelation, then said, “That’s an interesting datum. The fact that she says she doesn’t taste them like changelings do implies that it’s not tied to the ability to consume them to provide vital energy such as you need. However, again it seems to be a physical trait that can be passed on to your children. I wonder what else can be inherited? Has Forest Breeze exhibited any changeling ability yet?”
“Not that we have noticed, or that he’s admitted to having,” Cogs replied. “I suppose we should start looking for anything unusual.”
“That would be a good idea… oh, hi, Lavender.”
Just then, Lavender had walked into the room wearing her night robe, yawning, her mane still dishevelled. Her eyes widened when she realised that they had a guest. “Eep! When I asked Cogs last night to let you know what happened, I did not expect him to do so quite this early.”
“Sorry, Lavender, but I came as soon as I got his message. I didn’t realise that you were still in bed.”
“Not your fault, Twilight. I did say to do so as soon as possible. He’s very literal at times, even after all these years.”
Cogs just kept his mouth closed. He was the designated fall guy to cover up his wife’s embarrassment at being caught out like this, and that was fine by him.
Lavender left to freshen up and comb her bed-mane into order, and Twilight took the opportunity to help herself to some more of the scones. Cogs prepared some breakfast for his wife and had it ready for her when Lavender returned. As she ate, Cogs and Twilight updated her on what had been discussed so far.
“So what’s the next step? And how will this affect Dandelion and Fern?” Lavender asked Twilight.
“First of all, testing to get more data, and then a reappraisal of my aspect transfer spell in light of that data. Maybe then I can make an informed assessment.”
“I meant something more immediate,” Lavender said.
“Oh. I suggest you keep the shape-changing to yourselves for now, but otherwise don’t be concerned. It’s a natural trait, after all, even if acquired unexpectedly. Maybe encourage her to have fun with it? Above all, don’t make Dandelion think that she’s a freak or something silly like that. As for Fern, if she’s only just now bothered to tell you about her ability to sense emotions, I would have to say that she’s already adjusted to it. I’ll be testing her also, but Dandelion will be my priority. I dare say a filly of her age doesn’t need anything more stirring up her life right now.”
Cogs fervently agreed with that.
In the absence of either daughter, there was not much else Twilight could do for the moment, so she took the unexpected visit as an opportunity to socialise and catch up with news. She also passed on an invitation from Applejack to an upcoming event at Sweet Apple Acres. It was not for another hour and a half before Dandelion showed up.
“Auntie Twilight!” Dandelion cried as she rushed up to give the alicorn a hug.
Twilight returned the hug warmly as she said, “How are you doing, Dandelion?”
“Better after a sleep in,” Dandelion replied. “No need to ask why you’re here though.”
Twilight smiled. “You know me – always concerned for my goddaughter, especially when she starts taking after her father.”
“I gotta say that was one heck of a birthday surprise. Two surprises actually. I think I’m more spun out by the fact that Dad’s a changeling than my shape-changing.”
“Oh?” Cogs said with a raised eyebrow. “Which one caused you to scream and faint?”
“Dad! You didn’t have to tell her that!”
Twilight tried to hide a smile before saying, “Well, if it doesn’t bother you, I’d like to see a demonstration – unless you’d rather have your breakfast first, of course.”
“Breakfast can wait a bit. Let me try now.” Dandelion concentrated as she had done so the previous night, and with a flare of green magic, she transformed.
Twilight faced a duplicate of herself. “Good heavens – that’s amazing. You make feel like I’m looking in a mirror.” Then a thought struck her. “I dread to ask this, but does that horn work?”
Dandelion went cross-eyed a little as she tried to focus on her cranial appendage. “I don’t think so. I can feel its weight up there, but nothing else. I never thought about that when I changed into Mom last night. Let me try something….”
Her brow furrowed as she concentrated on a mug on the table, trying to lift it telekinetically as her mother did. There wasn’t even the slightest of glows from the horn. “I guess that answers that question,” Dandelion said with a touch of disappointment.
Twilight sighed in relief. “Thank Celestia for that. I could imagine the howls of outrage from ponies if they learned that pony-changeling hybrids could turn themselves into real alicorns at will. Anyway, it seems that you have the same limitations as do changelings – you can emulate anything, but only really use an ability that you’re born with. So although you look like me, you’re just a winged unicorn, or more accurately a horned pegasus, and not an alicorn.”
“That’s kind of a relief,” Dandelion admitted, changing back to her normal form. “I’m having a hard enough time dealing with this without having to deal with that too, and I don’t think I’m cut out to be a princess either.”
“Tell me about it,” Twilight agreed. “It took me years to get comfortable with my ascension, and I still prefer to restrict royal protocol to official occasions. However, this isn’t about me today. I suggest that you have your breakfast now. We’re going to be busy for a while.”
“More tests?” Dandelion asked.
“How well do you know me, Dandelion?” Twilight asked with a smile.
Dandelion nodded with resignation. “Lots of tests. I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“It might pay to wake up Fern and get her to have breakfast now too. I might as well test them both at the same time,” Twilight told Cogs and Lavender.
“What about Forest?” Lavender asked.
“I’ll want to test him too, but if he still doesn’t know your secret and you don’t want to tell him yet, then it would be simpler to do him later. Without knowing if he even has a special ability inherited from Cogs, it makes it hard to test him anyway. If I learn something significant from the girls, I’ll use that to look at him more closely when I do one of my regular checks on him. That way he won’t be suspicious.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Lavender agreed.
* * *
Twilight ended up teleporting Dandelion and Fern back to her basement laboratory in Ponyville. To make up for the time she spent testing them, she treated them at Sugarcube Corner before returning them home.
“So, do you have anything to report yet, Twilight?” Cogs asked.
“I have a large amount of data to process before I can come to any definite conclusions, but I do have some strong leads. First of all, both Dandelion and Fern’s abilities seem to be true and complete versions of changeling abilities transferred onto the pony genome. Interestingly, it shows how your ability to change is actually a mixture of talents. Dandelion, could you please demonstrate your duplication of Shady Oak for your father?”
Shady Oak was a shire type earth pony mare who had a farm outside of the village. The mare tended to stand out in the market day crowd due to her size, much as Set Square – Cogs’ business partner – compared to Cogs. Dandelion transformed as requested.
Cogs was surprised. “She looks exactly like Shady Oak, except for her size. She’s still the same size as she started.”
“Exactly!” Twilight declared. “It’s what you call a same-mass or same-size transformation. When you do a larger one, the change is bolstered or replaced by illusion. However, Dandelion has no ability to do so as far as I can determine. That shows that the ability to produce an illusion, while working in conjunction with your true shape-changing, is in fact a separate ability.”
Cogs looked thoughtful. “I suppose you’re right. While I don’t usually think consciously about it much when I do a big transformation, I do have to think about two things for it work properly. Anything else you’ve learned?”
“I believe that I seriously underestimated the compatibility quotient between changelings and ponies when I crafted the emulation impression spell for the amulet. That has made it far more effective than I originally intended, or even imagined. That is good news in regards to the eventual crafting of a full compatibility spell for your species, although that will only shorten the development period by a few years, so that’s still a long way off. What it does mean for you right now though is that your children were and are far more likely to gain some less minor trait of yours. Frankly you may have been lucky not to have sired a foal with changeling wings or eyes. As for Forest, keep a close eye on him because I’ll be extremely surprised if he doesn’t end up displaying some sort of changeling trait also.”
“So is it even safe to continue using the amulet?” Cogs wondered.
“Safe? Of course, it’s always been safe. It’s just that the results might be not quite what we originally expected. That’s the trouble with brand new spells – you don’t always find the bugs in them until you’ve used them a few times.” Twilight looked at Cogs quizzically. “Were you planning to have another foal?”
Cogs shook his head. “Not really. Three is enough for us. But just in case Lavender changed her mind, I thought I’d better ask.”
“I might have some better answers for you by then, I hope.”
“What about us, Auntie?” Dandelion asked.
“You two have very special talents, both of which can be misused, but also can be very beneficial. Dandelion, I can’t see why you can’t have some harmless fun with your ability. Maybe you can even figure out some way of using it to further your life goals. You have an amazing future ahead of you.”
“Further my life goals? I think you may be right,” Dandelion replied with a sly smile.
*See the chapter “Foals” in my “Change of Life” story for the full details on Cogs’ magical artefact.
Episode 7: Who Am I?
Several months after Dandelion’s fifteenth birthday surprise, she pulled Fern into her room and said, “I want your opinion. Does this make me look more mature?” With that, she transformed into an older filly with different coloured fur and mane.
“I see you’ve been practicing your unique changes. Not bad!”
“Do you think it’s enough to convince Black Ace that I’m fillyfriend material?”
“You’re not still chasing him?” Fern asked with a long-suffering sigh. “Sure, you look old enough, but you’re not going to convince him to be your coltfriend.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’ve watched those older fillies, and I’ve seen how they wave their manes and shake their plots to get his attention, and now I can do that too!”
“Don’t say that I didn’t warn you,” Fern replied with a resigned look on her face, and left the room.
“Well, I’m just going to have to prove I’m right!” Dandelion said to Fern’s retreating backside.
* * *
Fern was walking past Dandelion’s room later that day when she heard what sounded like crying, and when she focused her empathic sense, she could feel the misery that her sister was feeling. Fern pushed open the door and saw Dandelion lying on her bed, her face buried in the pillow that was muffling the sound of her sobbing. Fern entered the room, closed the door behind her, and went over to sit on the edge of the bed.
“What happened, sis?” she asked gently.
For a long while, Fern wasn’t sure that she was going to get an answer, but eventually the sobbing stopped.
“I did what I said I’d do. I caught Black Ace’s eye just as I said I could. Then it all went wrong.”
“What did he do to you?”
“He called me a child! Told me to go home and play with my toys!” Dandelion yelled in grief-stricken anger.
“Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know! I tried to talk with him, and he seemed to lose interest. The more I talked, the worse it got until he said that to me.”
Fern wished she hadn’t seen this coming because her older sister was genuinely hurting. “I’m sorry, sis, and I really don’t want to rub this in, but he’s right – you are a child, at least relative to him and his interests. You may have looked grown-up, but you’re still just a fifteen year old with a fifteen year old’s experience and interests. Black Ace is eighteen and looking for adult companions. Until you have gained some more years, you aren’t ever going to attract the interest of someone like him.”
“How could you know this? You’re not even thirteen yet! How can you be so sure that it’s all my fault?” Dandelion asked angrily.
“You’re not the only one with a special talent, remember? As long as I can recall, I’ve been able to feel emotions and see how people react. It’s made me think harder before I act, or even speak. That’s how I got my reputation for being a quiet child. I knew this could happen because I’ve felt it happen before in similar fashion. You’re just letting your emotions trample your logic.”
“Do you want to know how sick to death I am of hearing how I am just a pubescent filly with raging hormones? Don’t you think I can be something more despite being only fifteen?”
Fern got up from the bed and started towards the door. She stopped and looked back. “No, I don’t. You’re not ready yet. You’re only hurting yourself by trying, and hurting me by the unhappiness I feel that causes. Oh, and someone else who is very close to you already if you weren’t so blind. Please stop and think of the consequences first before you try anything else.”
Dandelion did not even bother replying.
* * *
For lack of a better idea or opportunity, Dandelion did not try anything with Black Ace again for several months, although she did make trial advances on several other older colts with similar results. While her mood swings continued, she did manage to concentrate enough on the extra studies involved with starting as her father’s apprentice that he was satisfied with her efforts. It did not stop her pining for what she could not get.
Today was typical of many of the recent days, with Dandelion lamenting her woes to Summer Storm. As was so frequently the subject lately, Dandelion was complaining about how older colts like Black Ace would not pay any attention to her, and Summer commiserated with her.
Dandelion and Summer had been enjoying a flight together when they had passed over the parklands and spotted Black Ace with a couple of his fillyfriends enjoying the fine weekend weather also. Dandelion’s good mood had been soured by that sight, and she no longer felt like flying. “Let’s go to my place,” she suggested.
“Sure!” Summer agreed, and followed her down to the Wild Dreams shop where Dandelion’s father could be seen working on his usual Saturday maintenance chores. “Hi, Mister Cogs!” she called out and waved as they set down.
“Hi, Summer,” Cogs replied with a welcoming smile.
Going inside, Summer waved to Dandelion’s mother, but didn’t say anything because Lavender was busy serving a customer at the time. Fern was also busy in her little corner of the shop where she displayed the results of her own passion – herbs. Cogs had built a glasshouse out the back especially for her to pursue her interest in herb growing, and it earned the filly some extra pocket money. Lavender had high hopes that Fern would join her in the business when she got older, just as Dandelion was following in her father’s hoofsteps.
“Hey, Fern, could I have some of your special pick-me-up blend?” Dandelion asked.
“Okay, but if you’re making herb shakes, I want one too,” Fern replied, selecting the requested herbs.
“Sure thing, thanks.”
Dandelion and Summer then went through the rear door to the house proper and headed for the kitchen. There Dandelion made the special herb shakes, giving one to Summer before taking another out to her sister. When she came back, she drank about two thirds of her shake before sighing in satisfaction.
“I needed that,” Dandelion said.
“Me too,” Summer replied. “So what do you want to do now?”
Dandelion snorted in semi-amusement. “What I want to do is go out on a date with Ace.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening unless you’ve thought of a brilliant foolproof plan since the last time he turned you down.”
Dandelion looked glum. “No, I haven’t. I just don’t know what to do to make him interested in me.”
Summer sucked thoughtfully on her shake before replying, “If only we knew how stallions think, or even what their fillyfriends say and do when we’re not around. Then we’d be able to do the same.”
Dandelion’s eyes suddenly widened in realisation. “If only I was a stallion….”
Summer laughed. “Then you wouldn’t be interested in Ace any more.”
‘No, but I’d learn what the older fillies do,’ Dandelion thought to herself. She gave Summer a knowing smile. “Maybe I have a plan after all.”
“Ooh! Tell me!”
“Nope. Can’t tell you this one.”
“Huh? Why not? We don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“Because this isn’t just my secret, so I can’t give it away, but if it works, I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Oh. Okay, I suppose. When are you going to do whatever you’re going to do?”
“Very soon, but first I have to prepare. I have to make sure everything is perfect!”
* * *
Dandelion had spent a lot of time in front of the mirror that evening, trying on different coat and mane patterns. The one thing that they had in common were that they were all on a male’s body. She had taken on the form of an older colt similar to Black Ace, but wanted a look that was distinctively different from his, but at least as handsome. She settled on a dark brownish-red coat with bright orange mane and tail. She designed a setting sun cutie mark and nodded in satisfaction. She had agonised for a while over whether to become a unicorn like him, but decided to remain a pegasus. If race was going to be an issue, she might as well find out straight away rather than be surprised later. Besides, she would look silly if she could not actually use the horn in situations where it would be expected. All that remained was to give her/himself a new name. “Sunset Blaze – yeah, that works,” she murmured. She memorised the final form, repeating the name until she was certain she had the association down pat. She went to bed that night with barely contained excitement for the next day.
The next morning, the first thing that Dandelion did was practice the new transformation. “Sunset Blaze!” she told herself, and with a flare of green magic, he stood there in her place. A grin grew on his face. “Oh yeah, the girls won’t be able to resist me.”
Dandelion resumed her normal form before grooming her fur and heading off to breakfast. She usually spent Sunday morning with her father, and did not really have an excuse to get out of that; not that she wanted to anyway. Her relationship with him was still strong despite the turbulence of puberty. Besides, she was more likely to find her targets after lunch, so she bided her time and enjoyed playing sky disc with her father, sister, and brother.
After lunch though, Dandelion excused herself, and flew off to a secluded spot in the nearby woods. There she transformed into Sunset Blaze and set out to check the most likely hangouts of the older teens. Everything was going to plan, and his confidence grew. The first places that he looked had plenty of mares and fillies, but not the group that he was looking for. They did seem rather attractive to him though, and he toyed with the idea of dallying there with them instead, but he eventually decided to stick to the original plan. The second place was no different, but again the females looked more enticing than usual. After noticing that his gaze was lingering on one particular filly for a while, Sunset was pleased to realise that his sense of perspective seemed to be different in this form, and that could only make his plan more of a success. He could hardly wait to see how it would work out with his target group, and so he moved on to the next likely location.
The Royal Bean was an open-air café that was one of the regular hangouts for teens, serving coffee to those old enough to like it, and shakes and smoothies to those who did not. Although Sunset once again did not find the particular fillies whom he was looking for, he did encounter another familiar face. Summer was there with her parents, apparently having stopped for refreshments during their own family day. Mischievously, he decided to go past their table and catch her eye. When he did so, he gave her an inviting smile and a wink.
Summer was surprised by the unexpected attention, and she blushed a little but returned the smile.
Sunset was surprised to feel a thrill at that. Rather than continuing on his quest, he took a table a little way from hers. Pretending to look at the menu, he occasionally took peeks in her direction. Then their eyes met and locked for a small eternity before he managed to tear his sight away. Then to his consternation, he began to feel a most unfamiliar but very insistent sensation from between his legs. Looking down, he realised with shock that he was getting aroused. He closed his legs in front of him to prevent it being seen, desperately trying not to think about what was happening to him. Inadvertently though, his attempts at concentrating on anything but his body brought his eyes back to Summer’s table.
The filly had watched Sunset react to her smile and was emboldened to return his wink. She smiled as he obviously liked that, and wondered why she had never seen him before.
Sunset groaned as his arousal grew stronger. Why was he reacting this way? He was only attracted to males… no… she was only attracted to males, but he was definitely male. Maybe too male. That had never been taken into consideration when making plans. Too late he realised that perhaps the transformation was much more than skin deep.
Sunset was saved by the arrival of the waitress who coincidentally positioned herself between him and Summer. Fortunately she was an older mare who did not provoke the same reaction as Summer did. He ordered an ice cold drink, and asked her to hurry. In the meantime, Summer’s parents got up from their table, having finished their refreshments. Summer followed with more than a little regret and a last backward glance at the handsome colt.
While waiting for his drink, Sunset did his best to think of the least sexy thoughts that he could. When the refreshment arrived, he drank it fast enough to give him brain freeze. That seemed to finally kill his arousal and, after a couple of minutes, he was able to leave the café and quickly head home.
* * *
Cogs was more than a little surprised when his eldest daughter burst into the room, grabbed him by the hoof, and practically dragged him into her room.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire, Dandy?”
“I really need to talk with you right now, Dad.”
“Should we get your mother too?”
“No! I mean, I’d rather not. This is kind of your specialty.”
Cogs was surprised yet again by the vehemence of the rejection. He knew that it had to be something very serious, and sincerely hoped that she was correct in her appraisal of his ability to help. “What’s bothering you, dear?”
“Let me show you something,” Dandelion said, and transformed back into Sunset Blaze.
Cogs was impressed. “You’ve been practicing hard. I can’t see a single thing wrong with your young stallion form.”
“That’s the problem, Dad,” Sunset replied in a rich masculine voice that further impressed Cogs. “It’s too perfect! I tried it out for the first time just a short while ago, and I… it was… oh sweet Celestia!”
Cogs was puzzled, and encouraged her to continue. “It’s okay. You can tell me whatever the problem is.”
Sunset’s lips quivered as he tried to speak, and he was horrified to realise that the mere memory of the incident was arousing him again. He desperately resumed his natural form. A filly once again, she started to calm down a little, and yet she still felt the lingering effects of the arousal.
Cogs patiently waited until Dandelion was ready to speak.
Finally Dandelion managed to put a sentence together. “Dad, I accidentally met Summer. She didn’t know who I was, but I know her only too well. Everything that I like about her just seemed to be so much more attractive to me then. So attractive that I was getting turned on. Dad, I got an erection!”
Cogs understood how that could be embarrassing in public, but that obviously was not exactly what was bothering her. “That’s hardly surprising, dear. You’re young and full of hormones, and you’re definitely a good match for each other.”
“But I’m female! I like boys! Why was I suddenly so attracted to a filly?”
Suddenly Cogs realised where the problem lay. “No, hon. You’re a filly now, but then you were a colt, and you were feeling perfectly normal reactions for a colt of your age. I know – your mother made sure that I understood what it was like for pony children of both sexes.”
“What are you saying, Dad? Are you telling me that the transformations are more than just a disguise?”
“Yes, Dandy, I’m saying exactly that. They are not illusions or changes to your appearance; they are profound transformations that change your actual physical nature. You did not just change to look like a male, you actually became a male, and you gained everything that male would have, including rampaging male hormones apparently.”
“Oh my goddess! I’m really sexually attracted to my best friend!”
Cogs looked a little perplexed. “Surely you’ve tried a male form before this?”
“Why should I? I’m a female, so I always transformed into other kinds of females. This was my first time trying a male. Not counting when I accidentally transformed into you, that is, and I sure wasn’t thinking about sex then!”
Cogs gave her a reassuring hug. “I’m sorry, Dandy. Once again I’ve made a false assumption. Changelings just don’t think that way. To us, our sex is a matter of convenience. I could never have taken the form of Mystery Mare and acquired the sperm donations if I hadn’t truly been a female in form and feeling. It’s only our gender that is a matter of choice. I have a masculine nature, so I chose to be a male pegasus. Our former doctor, Healing Hooves, had a feminine nature, and chose to be a female unicorn. Now you have the same kind of choice. You can be physically male or female equally, but up here…” He tapped her on the forehead, “…you can be whatever you choose to be.”
“I’ve been female all my life – why would I suddenly choose to be male?”
“Some ponies are born one sex, but identify with the other. You have yet to mature into an adult, and your understanding of your gender is obviously still in flux. What is your heart telling you? You have been the closest of friends with Summer since you were little more than a foal, and I’ve watched your relationship with her grow all that time. One encounter with her as a colt, and you were instantly aroused?”
“Yeah, by those rampaging hormones you mentioned,” Dandelion scoffed.
“Oh? Tell me honestly – was Summer the first filly that you saw as a colt? Or even the first female?”
Dandelion recalled her plan for searching for some ponies, and how many mares and fillies were looked at before encountering Summer. “No, she wasn’t.”
“Then why weren’t you aroused earlier?”
Dandelion replied hesitantly, “Because… male me saw her as a potential mate and not the others?”
“Exactly. My darling daughter, for years before I came to this village, I had always avoided any relationships, but it took less than two weeks for me to realise that your mother was my ideal mate. Don’t ignore the possibility that yours might be another filly because your future happiness could be right there under your muzzle. I’m not saying that a sexual reaction is necessarily a guarantee that she’s the one for you, but it certainly is a good indication that you have stronger feelings for her than the average female that you’ve met so far.”
“Are you encouraging me to be a male?” Dandelion asked incredulously.
“No, honey, I’m encouraging you to learn to know yourself. The fact that you’re so confused and upset shows that you need to understand your masculine responses and how they might relate to Summer.”
“But who am I then? Am I a filly or a colt?”
“Why not both? You are in what might be a unique position – a shape-changing pony who can be a true male or female at will. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one if that’s not your nature.”
“You’re not going to tell me that Mom is going to agree with that?” Dandelion replied incredulously.
Cogs grimaced. “Probably not, at least at first. Your mother is very much the pragmatist though. Once she understands what the situation is, she won’t get in the way. She loves you very much, and wants you to be happy just as much as I do.”
“Dad, I still feel confused. Did you have to go through this too?”
Cogs shook his head. “After we pupate, we are just small versions of our adult selves. We eat, we grow, and we learn, but we don’t have the sexual tensions. Of course we’re basically neuter anyway, except for queens and the handful of fertile breeders. We drones only get interested in sex if we start interacting with beings who are interested in it, and that’s usually ponies. It’s a matter of feeding on the emotions of love and desire that turn us on, instead of hormones.” Suddenly something occurred to him. “Oh, Tartarus! Fern is sensitive to emotions and will be getting hormonal soon also. We might have to find some way of coping with a sex-crazed daughter.”
Suddenly Dandelion’s problems did not seem quite so big when she considered what her sister might be facing in the near future. Nevertheless, it was still daunting. “Dad, if what you said is true and I have feelings for Summer that go beyond friendship, I might have to tell her our secret if I follow your advice.”
“I know, hon. Take your time and think about this. Try to figure out exactly how you feel about Summer, and above all whether it’s reciprocated. It could be a life-changing decision that you make, and it’s not something to be rushed, no matter how you feel right now. When you feel you’re ready, bring her to dinner one night. I’ll tell your mother what to expect. In fact, let me explain this whole situation to her. You’ve got too much to think about already.”
“Thanks. That would be great,” she replied with a surge of gratitude.
Cogs hugged her again and said, “Always remember this, Dandy – I can love my firstborn if they are a son just as much as they are a daughter, and that’s an awful lot.”
“Now you’re getting all mushy, Dad,” Dandelion replied, but there was a small smile on her muzzle and a tear glistening in her eye as she returned the hug.
* * *
Dandelion left the house and took off, looking for a quiet place to think. She spotted a small cloud drifting over the village and headed for that. It was sufficiently high and insignificant for her purposes, and she settled down onto it, laying her head on her forelegs while looking down upon the village.
‘How did I not see how complicated things had gotten,’ she thought to herself. ‘I figured that this ability to shape-change was going to fun and useful, but instead it’s brought me mostly heartache and confusion. One thing’s for sure – nothing is what I’ve thought it was before.’
She spotted Black Ace emerging from a shop, a trio of fillies in tow. Dandelion snorted in bitter amusement. Even now she could feel the tug of desire for the dashing stallion, but unlike all times previously, she acknowledged that it stemmed mostly from teenage lust rather than anything more suitable in terms of a relationship. “What has he going for him besides his exceptionally handsome looks?” she murmured, forcing herself to put aside her desire and look at him objectively. “Athletic? He plays fairly well at unicorn-only sports that require magic. None of those more physical ones that might mar his perfect good looks though. Hardly a sports star. Smarts? He coasted through school, satisfied with scraping through with a passing grade. If he’s more intelligent than that, he certainly doesn’t bother showing it. He hasn’t bothered to pursue any real career since graduation though. Charisma? Cartloads of that, but that wouldn’t get him a job. It would get lots of mares chasing him however. Probably plans on getting a large herd and letting them support him for the rest of his life. A parasite in other words.”
Dandelion sighed and then cursed herself. Even after that assessment, she still wanted to be a member of that herd. She finally realised though that her chances were zero because he was going to pick only those mares that had something to offer him, and she was too young and unexceptional, at least in ways that would interest him.
She turned her thoughts to the fillies. “So, do I have feelings towards females? They’re pretty, and I know some of them would make good mates, but I don’t feel anything strong in particular towards any of them. What if I was a stallion though?” She looked all around to see if she might be observed, then seeing that the coast was clear, changed into Sunset Blaze.
He took another look at the fillies, concentrating on taking them in just as female ponies rather than people, and he felt the swell of desire. “Damn, I’m a horny colt!” he exclaimed with a touch of bitterness. It was all true, it seemed – none of his feelings were anything except hormone-fuelled lust. No matter what sex he was, his teenage desires were all base biological ones rather than anything more substantial. Or maybe not? There was still the question of how she felt about Summer. She had always been his friend since the day they had met. They had both been just five years old, and it would not have mattered if he had been a colt or a filly then, but they weren’t foals any more.
“We’re both fifteen going on sixteen. We’re both on the cusp of becoming adults. Maybe I’m seeing more in Summer than just a friend? She’s smart, supportive, fun to be with, not afraid to tell me things that she thinks I need to know even if I don’t like them… everything Dad saw in Mom. Am I so much like my father that I want a mate who is like my mother?”
He suddenly spotted Summer winging her way in the direction of his home, and he ducked back behind the cloud so that she would not spot him. He realised that this was the time that she normally finished her usual family time on Sundays, and came to meet up with Dandelion after she had done the same. He watched her enter the house and caught himself admiring her rump. “Tartarus! I left out sexy when I assessed her qualities.” He had always admired her red and gold mane and tail, but now she seemed so much more appealing. She was maturing into a beautiful young mare, and he had hardly noticed until now. However, how much of those feelings were stoked by his male hormones?
The cloud was limned with green as Sunset changed back into Dandelion. She knew Summer would come looking for her, and she wanted to reassess her feelings as a female when her friend found her. Summer soon exited the house and took off into the air, gaining height so as to search more effectively. As pegasi were wont to do, she looked in all directions including up, and her keen eyesight quickly spotted Dandelion. She flew up to meet her, stopping to hover in front of her.
“You look pretty glum. What’s wrong?” Summer Storm asked.
“I’ve had some nasty shocks today,” Dandelion admitted.
“Can I join you and we can talk about them?”
“If you can find the room on this little cloud.”
Dandelion shuffled over as best as she could, and Summer landed next to her. Despite the cloud-walking magic of two pegasi, the little cloud darkened as it took the strain of supporting both of them.
“Oops! I hope this doesn’t drizzle on somepony!” Summer exclaimed as she settled down close to Dandelion. It was a little too snug, and their wings were rather squashed together. Summer lifted her wing out of the way and laid it over Dandelion’s torso. “Ah, that’s much better.”
Dandelion was startled by the familiar gesture, although looking back she realised that it was not the first time that Summer had done something similar lately. She just had not paid any attention to them then, but now it seemed she was hyper-aware of everything she did. Dandelion’s wing was still a bit uncomfortable, so she decided to follow suit to see what happened. After wriggling around a bit to manoeuvre her wing in the cramped space, she laid it over Summer’s body and partially around her neck. Dandelion noticed that Summer was also a little startled, but her friend still snuggled in a bit more closely. It felt nice – really nice.
Before Dandelion could comment, Summer said, “So what’s got you feeling so down?”
Dandelion hesitated, wondering just what she could say. She decided to start off with a confession. “You were right, and I’ve been an idiot.”
“Well, yeah, but about what this time?” Summer replied with a teasing grin.
Dandelion let the comment slide. “About chasing after Ace. I have been just hormone-soaked fool.”
Summer was immediately conciliatory. “I’m sorry that you’ve been hurt by that, but at least the worst that has happened is wounded pride and a bit of embarrassment. I won’t rub it in – I just didn’t want you to waste your time and effort over him. Time to move on and perhaps find a coltfriend who is better suited to you.”
“I’m not so sure that I want to do that right now.”
“I understand. What brought about this epiphany of yours anyway?”
“Sorry, Rainy, but I’m not quite ready to talk about that yet.”
“Okay, I won’t push you. Mind if I talk about something that’s related that happened to me though?”
Dandelion could guess what subject she was going to bring up, and she really felt the need to know Summer’s impression of the incident. “Go right ahead. I’m all ears.”
“Today, while I was with my parents, we stopped at The Royal Bean for drinks. While we were there, a handsome young stallion whom I’ve never seen before passes by. He smiled and winked at me, and he stayed to order a drink. I could tell that he only stopped because of me, and when our gazes met, he stared at me as if he’d seen the filly of his dreams.”
“You’re just imagining that!” Dandelion scoffed, knowing that her friend had practically hit the nail on the head. She needed to be sure that Summer was not making the same mistake as she had.
“No, I’m not!” Summer protested. “I mean, yeah, I felt a sexual response when he first winked at me. Who wouldn’t? He was a gorgeous deep reddish brown with a fiery orange mane, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old and a delightful smile. If I hadn’t been there with my parents, I would have gone over and introduced myself, but I settled for having another look. That’s when our eyes met. I could tell that he was just as surprised as me at the attraction. It was as if we already knew so much about each other, but our eyes had just been opened to just how much we liked what we saw.”
Dandelion groaned. Summer had just described exactly how she had felt, and it just added to her quandary. Was she really attracted to Summer, or was it just a male-female thing?
Summer misinterpreted Dandelion’s reaction though. “I’m not just making this up! While you were mooning over Ace, I was practicing a lot of self-control about fantasising over colts. This was different. This was real.”
“Sorry, Rainy, I wasn’t trying to mock you. It just reminded me of the stupid things that I imagined. What happened after that?”
Summer snickered. “He tried to hide it, but he was getting turned on, right there in the café. I have to admit that I was flattered. Also very, very frustrated because my parents wanted to leave right about then, and I had to go.”
“So what are you going to do now?” Dandelion asked, hoping that Summer could not feel the blush that she was experiencing right then.
“Well, after I finished my day out with Dad and Mom, I took a brief flight around the village, hoping that I would spot the stallion before coming over to your place.”
“No luck, I assume?”
Summer shook her head. “Not a sign. He disappeared as quickly as he first appeared. I’ll keep an eye open for him and ask around. Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
“If I see him, I’ll let him know where to find you,” Dandelion promised.
“Thanks. Maybe he’ll like you too? We could share a coltfriend like we share everything else.”
“Are you sure about that, Rainy?”
“You know, I don’t think I could imagine doing anything without you, Dandy,” Summer replied sincerely.
That startled and pleased Dandelion, and she nuzzled Summer gratefully. “Thank you, Rainy. You’ve made me feel a lot better.”
Summer accepted the nuzzle with one of her own before saying, “You’re very welcome, Dandy. Now, who wants to go flying?”
Dandelion stood up and said, “Yeah, I’d like to stretch my wings for a while. How about a race?”
“Only if I get a head start!” Summer said as she took off.
Dandelion was left with a view of her receding rump and, as she took off in pursuit, she wondered if she really wanted to overtake that lovely sight. Then she wondered where that thought came from.
* * *
Dandelion used the afternoon’s normal activities to take her mind off her predicament, but that night as she lay in bed, all the day’s events replayed over and over again in her mind. It all came back to two very important questions – did she actually like being male, and did she have deep-seated feelings for Summer irrespective of her gender? It was still too soon after her wake-up call with regards to Black Ace to have any confidence in the answer to the latter, but at least she could test the former. With a decision made, she was finally able to get to sleep.
The next few days proved too awkward to put her plans into effect, so she settled for becoming Sunset Blaze in the evenings after retiring to her room for the night.
Sunset did not try to do anything in particular that he thought stallions might do, but instead just followed normal routine, trying to let whatever should come naturally happen in its own good time. He was most disconcerted the first time that he needed to go to the toilet to relieve his bladder, and morning wood was very embarrassing despite nobody there to witness it, but other than those, things were fairly normal other than his thoughts dwelling on Summer a bit more than usual. That was all in the controlled environment of his home though, and he knew that he needed to go back out in public soon.
After school on Thursday, Dandelion made an excuse to part ways with Summer, and after finding a secluded spot, changed into Sunset. Then he flew to intercept Summer to ‘accidentally’ encounter her. He caught up to her at the baker’s shop where she had stopped to pick up some buns that she had promised to bring home with her after school. He bumped against her at the counter, murmuring an apology.
Summer turned and started to say, “No problem…” and her jaw dropped. “You… you’re that stallion I saw at the café on Sunday!”
Sunset gave her a cheeky smile. “I remember you. Are you following me around? Please say yes!”
Summer giggled. “If you insist!”
“I hope it’s not too forward of me, but I was hoping that I would see you again,” Sunset said.
“I was hoping that I wasn’t imagining the attraction that you and I shared. Otherwise, I’ll have made a fool of myself in front of my best friend.”
“No, it may have been surprising, but it was real. I’d like to find out if it could be more.”
Summer looked uncertain for a moment. “I’d really like to find out too, but I’m still a filly. I don’t turn sixteen for another two weeks.”
Sunset smiled reassuringly. “Relax – I’m younger than I look too. I just want to hang out with you a bit and see if we could at least be friends for starters.”
“I think I’d like that then. How about tomorrow? I’ll be free after school.”
“Tomorrow sounds great. Where do you want to meet?”
“How about where we first met? I can go there right after class lets out.”
“Good idea. We can re-start where we left off, perhaps?” Sunset said with a waggle of one eyebrow.
Summer giggled again. She could not believe how perfectly things were working out. “I’ll be looking forward to it.” She grabbed her bag of buns and made a hasty exit before her blush became obvious to everyone in the shop.
The pony behind the counter said, “Did you want anything, sir?”
Sunset just smiled and said, “No, thanks. I think I’ve already gotten what I wanted.”
* * *
Summer could hardly wait to tell Dandelion the next day about her meeting with Sunset. It was only then that she realised that she had forgotten to ask what his name was. Nevertheless, her excitement remained undimmed.
“You’ve got to see him, Dandy! I think he’s a couple of years older than us, but he still likes a filly like me. Maybe he’ll like you too.”
“Rainy, I’d sooner roll around in a cactus patch than barge into your date with your mysterious stranger. You go and enjoy yourselves. I’ll hang around out of sight to catch a glimpse of him though, so I’ll know exactly whom you’re gushing over.”
“Are you sure? We usually go catch a movie together on Friday nights. I don’t want to leave you out of things.”
“What? You’re planning to dump me now that you have a coltfriend? Don’t be silly, Rainy – we’ll have plenty of opportunities to hang out as normal. I’ll survive being without you for one evening.”
“Thanks, Dandy. I’m just so excited about this.”
“Believe me, I’m just as excited for you.”
It seemed like the day dragged on longer than normal, but eventually the final bell of the day rang, and school was over for the week. Summer and Dandelion wasted no time in packing away their things in their lockers, and then heading off to The Royal Bean. Dandelion stopped short of the café though.
“I’m going to find a spot around here to watch. After I’ve seen him and things seem to be going okay, I’ll let you two enjoy yourselves. Then I’ll go home and have a meal by myself, and cry bitterly about the unfairness of it all.”
Summer stuck her tongue out at Dandelion. “Too late to play that card, Dandy. Don’t tread in any cacti on the way home!” She then trotted off to her rendezvous.
Dandelion grinned. She loved seeing her best friend so happy and excited about meeting Sunset. If everything worked out, she would feel very happy too. Just as long as everything kept working to plan, maybe she would know herself, or himself, better also. Belatedly, she realised that she had better leave and find a secluded place to change.
A few minutes later, Sunset came to a perfect landing right in front of the table where Summer was waiting.
“I’m sorry if I kept you waiting. I forgot to ask exactly when you got out of school.”
“That’s okay – I forgot to ask you your name. I’ve had to refer to you as ‘that handsome stallion’ all day!”
“I’ve been called worse, but I would prefer it if you call me Sunset Blaze. And what would be the name of ‘that gorgeous filly’, may I ask?”
“I’m Summer Storm.”
“A storm with a silver lining, I see by your cutie mark. Planning to be a weather pony?”
“I’m aiming to be an extreme weather specialist. It looks to be more exciting than general weather work.”
“Funny that you should say that. I’m pretty good at lightning wrangling.”
“My best friend’s uncle is a lightning wrangler. He taught her a lot of tricks of the trade.”
“So you’re saying I have competition?” he asked with a smile.
Summer laughed. “Not for a couple of years, at least, and probably not even then. She’s training as an apprentice mechanic under her father.”
“So I can look forward to maybe teaming up with you one day then?”
“Maybe. Have you moved to Whitetail Meadows Village? I’ve never seen you around before last Sunday.”
“I’m kind of passing through. I’m stopping here for a couple of weeks though. Maybe I’ll stay for a bit longer, if I have the incentive.”
“Maybe I can find it for you.”
“Maybe you can. Tell me more about yourself, Miss Silver Lining.”
Summer giggled at the nickname, but did as she had been asked. She found him incredibly easy to talk to, and far more understanding of what fillies were interested in than she thought any colt would know. He was witty, always smiling, and that incredible sense of comfortable familiarity grew every minute. It came as a shock to her when she realised that the time had gotten away from them, and she was almost overdue to get home. She made a hasty apology to Sunset, promised to see him again soon, and then took off for home.
Sunset watched her go with a mixture of disappointment and elation. He understood why she had to leave, and he needed to get home also, but the evening had been going so well that he had been loathe to let it end. He took wing and headed towards his house, thinking about what he would do the next time they met up.
When he arrived, he realised that he couldn’t change outside. The flare of green magic that accompanied the change would be far too obvious in the twilight. Nor could he go inside first because his brother would likely be there, and he was still not privy to their secret. If he went off somewhere to change, he could be late for curfew, and although he was fairly certain that his parents would be fairly forgiving, he did not want to give them cause to reconsider their fairly lax rules. He looked up towards the tiny balcony that was outside of his room, and realised that he could probably enter through the window there. The lock was notoriously unreliable, and he never remembered to fix it. He flew up and tried the window, and as expected, the lock sprung and he was able to enter, but not without a loud creak as it swung open.
“Yeah, another thing to remember to fix sometime,” he murmured with annoyance.
He drew the blinds, and was finally able to change unobserved. She then made her way downstairs to let her parents know that she was home. Then she had to explain why she had come from upstairs and not in through the door. Oops.
That night as she lay in bed, Dandelion re-ran the evening with Summer in her head, trying to recapture what she had felt as Sunset Blaze. It was proving harder than expected because as she only now was realising, she had lost sight of her goal of studying her reactions as a stallion, and had been engrossed with enjoying the evening with Summer instead. It did seem to reinforce one thing though – she did have feelings for her that extended beyond mere friendship. At least that was true when she was a stallion. Would that still be true in her natural sex? Did she even want it to be true? She still was not sure, but there would be time yet to find out. Sunset Blaze was not going away for a while yet, and both he and she would be looking for answers.
* * *
Over the next couple of weeks, Dandelion divided her time with Summer in both her normal and male forms. Summer was apologetic for not being with Dandelion as much as normal, but Dandelion insisted that she take advantage of Sunset’s presence in the village for as long as it lasted. Seeing that he had continued to point out that he was just passing through, it leant some urgency to their socialising. Of course that was exactly what Dandelion wanted, because while Summer could see it as a temporary thing, she could justify taking some time away from Dandelion, while Dandelion could excuse herself from butting into their relationship without arousing suspicion. That worked fine right up until Summer invited Sunset to her birthday party.
“I turn sixteen this Friday, and I am going to have a birthday party at my place with my closest friends. I would really like you to be there too,” Summer told Sunset with a hopeful look on her face.
Sunset already knew about the party because he would already be going as Dandelion. He could not understand why he had totally overlooked the possibility of Summer wanting Sunset there also, and was left floundering for a response.
Summer was disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm for the invitation. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want to come to my party?”
“Believe me, I do, but I’m not sure that I can be there because of other commitments,” he extemporised.
“You’ve always been so mysterious about these other commitments of yours. You talk with me about so many things, but you won’t talk about that. Are they really more important than spending that time with me?”
“Their importance is relative, but I can’t be in two places at once. I’ve always said that I can’t always be here for you, and you know that.”
“I do, but this is very important to me. Can’t you make an exception this time?” Summer pleaded.
Sunset thought hard. Maybe he could find a way to make it work? “I’ll think about it and let you know tomorrow. Perhaps I can squeeze in a brief appearance.”
Summer hugged him. “Thanks! I know that you’ll do your best.”
The best that Dandelion could come up with though was to ask her father for help, and that was not going to be easy. Although she had told him that she was experimenting with being male for a while, she had not explained that it was by being Summer’s coltfriend. Somehow she suspected that he was not going to be impressed.
“Dad, I need to ask a very, very big favour from you.”
Cogs asked, “And what would that favour be? Don’t say an advance on your allowance.”
“No, nothing like that. I need you to stand in for me briefly at Summer’s birthday party.”
That intrigued Cogs. “Now why would you need me to do that?”
“Because I need to be there as my male alter ego too. Summer just invited Sunset also, and really wants him there.”
Cogs frowned. “Are you telling me that Summer’s coltfriend, Sunset Blaze, has been you all the time? When I told you to find out what it was like to be a stallion, I didn’t mean that you should go out and deceive your best friend.”
“It wasn’t meant to be malicious, Dad! I told you how I felt the first time that I met Summer as a stallion, and I needed to know if there was more to it than just sexual attraction. I just combined my goals.”
“But you used your best friend,” Cogs pointed out.
“I made her happy! She loves having a coltfriend, and I always said that it could only be temporary as I would be moving on. That way, there would be no commitments made that would need to be broken.”
Cogs sighed. “Dandy, relationships don’t work that way. You can’t just schedule a few weeks of being a coltfriend and then expect no repercussions when you break it off. If my sense of how she’s been feeling lately is correct, it’s going to hurt when Sunset Blaze leaves.”
Dandelion looked downcast. “I… never meant to do that. I only wanted to make her happy while sorting out my own confusion about my gender identity.”
Cogs put a foreleg around his daughter and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “I understand – you’re a teenager making a teenager’s mistake. Celestia knows I made a few of my own while trying to be a real pegasus. I can’t see any really good way out of this, so I’m going to do you that favour. However, it’s on one condition.”
“What’s that, Dad?” Dandelion asked with some trepidation.
“I want you to come clean and tell her everything. Not at her party – I won’t have that spoiled, but sometime soon.”
Dandelion thought about it for a couple of minutes while her father patiently waited. She came to a decision. “My birthday is nine days later. I don’t want a party this time. I’d just like to invite Summer over to spend the day with me, and share in the usual family celebration. I’ll tell her everything then. Is that okay?”
“What about Sunset Blaze?”
“He’s going to announce that he’ll be out of town after Summer’s birthday. I won’t say that it’s forever, so she won’t be too unhappy in his absence. Frankly, I don’t want him to go; I’ve come to like my male alter ego.”
“Are you going to be prepared to have your birthday upset by the repercussions of your revelation?” Cogs asked.
“I really don’t know, but I do want this secret to end, and I don’t know if I can really celebrate if I can’t be honest with someone who is so close to me.”
“Then I hope for the best for you two. I’m also grounding you after Summer’s birthday party as punishment for deceiving her. Any objections?”
“No, Dad,” Dandelion replied meekly.
“Good. Now let’s work out the details of your favour.”
* * *
Sunset promised to make an appearance early at Summer’s party, insisting that he needed to leave town soon thereafter for a while. That was enough to satisfy Summer, and on the day, the visit went without a hitch. At one point Dandelion excused herself to go to the bathroom, but instead surreptitiously left the house. It was Cogs in disguise who returned, while she transformed into Sunset and went to the front door to announce his arrival. Cogs did not have to do much to maintain the illusion that both Dandelion and Sunset were present at the same time, although he was amused when Summer introduced him so enthusiastically to ‘her’. For the rest of the time while Sunset was there, much of the focus was on him and Summer, so Cogs was not pressed hard to keep up the pretence of being Dandelion. He also got to observe exactly how Sunset and Summer related to each other, and tasted of their emotions. He wondered if his daughter even realised the depths of her own feelings. Then Sunset regretfully announced that he had to leave, and Cogs slipped out during the distraction to exchange places with Dandelion once again. Cogs went home happy in the knowledge that Summer’s birthday looked like being a very pleasant one, but a lot concerned about his daughter.
Dandelion had more difficulty explaining to Summer why she was being grounded afterwards, passing it off as a private family matter. Her grounding was lifted on Saturday though, on the condition that she spent the day with Summer. That was perfectly fine with Dandelion though. Although she was no longer being Sunset, she still wanted to spend her time with Summer, and it was pleasant to go back to doing some of the old routine with her.
Sunday started just as well. Summer was excused from her normal family day outings for the special occasion, and instead spent all day with Dandelion and her family. In the absence of the usual birthday party for Dandelion, the girls were treated to a special luncheon at a restaurant. Then they were left by themselves to enjoy the rest of the day as they saw fit until it came time for the family dinner.
Summer Storm had often eaten dinner with Dandelion’s family, but never before as part of a private family celebration. Dandelion had been quite insistent though, so naturally she had come. Nevertheless, it was a fairly typical mealtime, with the single exception of Dandelion looking a bit antsy occasionally. When the meal was finished though, Lavender excused herself.
Come along with me, Forest,” Lavender said. “Your sister has something to talk about that doesn’t concern you.”
“Aw! Do I have to?” Forest whined.
“Yes, you do. One day when you’re older, I’ll explain why.”
Lavender took Forest Breeze up to his room, and Summer sensed that for whatever reason she had been invited to this family event, it was going to happen now. She was not disappointed.
Dandelion seemed to brace herself as she took a deep breath, then turned to Summer. “Something happened last year when I turned fifteen – something really big that changed my life in unique and permanent ways. Then a few weeks ago, part of that change manifested in a way that has had my head spinning ever since, and it’s going to affect you also. Probably a lot too, but after tonight, things are going to be very different.”
“Wow! You make it sound so mysterious and thrilling,” Summer said with a small smirk.
Dandelion gave a little chuckle and said, “I suppose I did, but it’s true. Firstly, I’m going to tell you our family secret, and I must ask you to swear to never divulge this to any pony.”
“Come on, Dandy! You know I’d never tell one of your secrets.”
“Yeah, but this is a family secret, and I’m asking on their behalf also.”
Summer shrugged. “Okay. I swear to keep whatever secret that you are about to tell me.”
“Thanks, Rainy. My father is a changeling.” Dandelion just hit her with that and waited for a response.
Summer stared at Dandelion for a long moment, and then said, “Seriously?”
Dandelion nodded. “Honest, he is.”
Cogs nodded, adding, “I really am a changeling.”
“This is too late for an April Foals joke, y’know?”
Dandelion looked at Cogs. “Dad?”
Cogs nodded, and with the usual flare of green magic, transformed into his changeling form and waved one holey leg. “See? One hundred percent genuine changeling.”
Summer gaped in shock. “But… I’ve known you almost all my life, and I never suspected.”
Cogs changed back to his pegasus form and replied, “I think that’s the point of being a changeling. We blend in. We make friends. Sometimes we even fall in love and have a family.”
“But we learned in biology class that you can’t breed with ponies.”
Dandelion answered for Cogs, “Short version – magical intervention by Auntie Twilight. I am definitely his daughter, and I know it because I inherited more than my eye colour from him.”
“You’re a pegasus though, not a changeling too, right?”
“Right. I’m definitely a pegasus, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask Auntie Twilight the next time she’s here. However, it’s an ability that I inherited from him that will affect you.”
“More than finding out that your best friend’s dad is a changeling?” Summer said incredulously.
“Much more, and I only found that out myself when I turned fifteen. I can shape-change too.”
“I intend to.” With that, Dandelion transformed into her mother.
Summer gaped in awe. “Oh, wow!”
“I even sound like Mom when I copy her form,” Dandelion said.
“You do! I can’t tell the difference at all. Can I see more?”
Dandelion transformed into Twilight Sparkle. “Before you ask, no, I’m not a real alicorn. I just look like her.”
“It’s still impressive. What else can you do?”
“I can not only copy other ponies, but I can make original forms also. You may have seen this older filly around occasionally.” Dandelion then transformed into the very first completely unique form that she had ever created. “It took me months to get the hang of making an alter ego that was completely unique rather than a copy of another pony. Remember back when I said I had an idea for finding out what Black Ace liked in fillies?”
Summer nodded. “Yes, I do. You never came back with an answer though.”
“That’s because I found out the hard way that looking eighteen didn’t make me eighteen. I was rather humiliated by the experience.”
“No wonder you didn’t want to talk about it. Hey! If you can do all that, can you do a stallion also?”
Dandelion looked at Summer in jaw-dropping surprise before saying, “It took me many months after that before I even thought of trying out a male form, and you brought it up in minutes.”
Summer shrugged apologetically. “What can I say – I’ve had a certain stallion on my mind lately, and the idea just popped into my head.”
“I see. At this point, I apologise profusely for what I’m going to reveal to you.” Dandelion then changed into Sunset Blaze.
It was Summer’s turn to drop her jaw in surprise. “Oh sweet Celestia! You look just like him. That’s even more incredible. You hardly even met him and yet you’ve copied him perfectly!”
“No, Summer,” he began in his warm male tones, “I haven’t copied Sunset – I am Sunset Blaze.”
Summer’s expression froze, staring in shock at Sunset. “No, it can’t be! It’s been you all this time? Was it all just a huge joke at my expense?”
“No it wasn’t, I swear. When I accidentally first met you at the café, all I intended to do was a little harmless tease, but something totally unexpected happened. You know it too. When our eyes met and we could not turn away, something happened between us. Summer, I don’t just look male, I am male in this form, and every fibre of my being is doing now what it was doing then – screaming at me that this is the pony whom I want to share my life with. Summer Storm, I think I’ve fallen in love with you!”
Even Cogs was a little surprised to hear that admission. For Summer, it was like a bolt out of the blue. Her jaw worked as she tried to form words. Abruptly she turned away and galloped for the door.
“Summer! Come back!” Sunset cried, and then reverted to her natural form to follow, but Cogs stuck out a foreleg and stopped her. “What are you doing, Dad?”
“Let her go, Dandy. Remember how this affected you. Now it’s her turn to work through this revelation. Give her time.”
“She must hate me now! This was all a big mistake.”
For the first time, Fern spoke up. “Trust me, sis – she doesn’t hate you. Listen to Dad and give her time.”
Dandelion slumped to the floor, the feeling of helplessness rendering her weak. She murmured, “Please Celestia, Luna, and even Auntie Twilight, let them be right.”
Summer did not return that evening before everyone headed off to bed. Cogs had recounted the events that had happened after Lavender had left, and he asked her, “What do you think will happen if Summer rejects Dandelion?”
Lavender replied, “I think we would get some world-class moping, and a very depressed daughter for several months, but she’ll recover. At her age, everything seems devastating until a replacement comes along. I agree that Summer would make a fine mate for Dandelion, but if it isn’t to be, then there’s no sense in crying over it.”
Cogs settled down for the night with Lavender, those words still on his mind, keeping him from falling asleep. After a long while, he heard a muffled thump and some other noises that he could not identify. He eased himself out of bed so as not to disturb his wife, and crept quietly through the house in the direction of the sounds. He heard more noises, much more clearly this time, and identified them as window shutters being closed. One slightly sticking shutter squeaked atrociously in the quiet of the night. He made a mental note to fix that. It was what he tasted though that made him relax. Mystery solved. Time to go back to bed. He climbed back under the covers, snuggled contentedly up to Lavender, and was quickly asleep.
* * *
Dandelion had spent over an hour just staring at the ceiling, the turmoil in her head refusing to let her rest. When a thump was heard outside of her window, it barely registered on her consciousness. However, the persistent tapping on the window finally did catch her attention. She got up from her bed, opened the curtains, and found Summer with her hoof raised to the window pane. Dandelion hastily tried to open the window, only to have the dodgy lock jam. Some frantic jiggling later, and the window finally opened, and Summer slipped inside. Dandelion closed the shutters, cursing the dreadfully loud squeak that one made, and then shut the window before turning to face Summer.
Dandelion stood there for a long moment in front of Summer, unsure of what to do next. “I was so afraid that you would leave again before I got that dratted window open,” she finally said.
“Not a chance of that; I went to too much effort to get here tonight,” Summer replied. “I would have been here sooner except that I had to wait for my parents to go to bed before I could sneak out.”
There was another awkward pause before Dandelion finally blurted out, “I’m sorry for deceiving you. I never meant to hurt you. I’m just an idiot!”
“Stop it, Dandy! I realise that you didn’t want to hurt me. The real problem was that you didn’t know your own feelings… and neither did I.”
“I… what?” Dandelion was confused, but desperately wanted to understand.
“Do you want to know what I liked most about Sunset that I had not been able to fully recognise until tonight?”
“I’m guessing it’s not his commitment to total honesty.”
Summer snorted in amusement. “Hardly. No, it’s that he’s a male version of you, and now I understand why. I know now why he was always so able to understand a filly’s point of view, why he liked so many of the same things as I did, and why he made me feel so happy. It’s the same way that I feel when I’m with you.”
“You think of me as a stallion?”
“No, you idiot, I mean that I liked him so much because I was already smitten with you.”
Dandelion was thunderstruck. “But… you said you like stallions.”
“I do like stallions. That doesn’t mean I can’t like mares also. Lots of mares have relationships with other mares, even those married to stallions. You should know that just from your Dad’s business partners. Golden Words and Moonlit Haze love each other just as much as their husband.”
“Then why didn’t you ever say anything to me?”
“Because you had your eyes stuck on Black Ace, or whatever other stallion you were chasing after getting rebuffed by Ace. It was painfully obvious that you wanted a male mate.”
“I’ve already admitted to being a hormone-crazy filly, but you could still have told me how you felt.”
“Yes, I could have, and maybe that was a huge mistake on my part. I chose not to, hoping that you would get over your obsession with boys and turn your attention back to me,” Summer said wistfully.
“Rainy, was I ignoring you? If so, I didn’t intend to. You are my best friend in the world, and now I think you’re even more than that.”
“No, not so much ignoring me, but not paying attention to me the way I wished that you would. Just like you were wishing that the stallions would pay attention to you.”
“So when a stallion who felt just like me started dating you, then you transferred your feelings from me to him?”
“Not quite. I shared those feelings with him, but I never stopped feeling the same way about you. It’s just been so much over so short a time that I haven’t really wrapped my head around things too well, but it’s one reason why I kept wanting you to join with us. I wanted you to be a part of what I was feeling for Sunset for the limited time that he could be here in Whitetail Meadows Village. Of course now I know why he couldn’t stay, or you couldn’t join with us. Wait a moment! You were there with him at my birthday party!”
Dandelion grinned apologetically. “That was Dad doing me a favour. He stood in for me while I was Sunset. He’s also the one who shoved my muzzle in the fact that I should not be deceiving you, and only did it so that your birthday would not be spoiled.”
“Your father is a changeling, but he seems to have had more sense than either of us.”
“To be fair, he’s had over two decades of experience as an adult pegasus. It still makes me ashamed that I didn’t tell you immediately that I was the stallion that you met at the café that day.”
“So why did you go ahead and start dating me as Sunset?” demanded Summer.
“Like I said at dinner, everything changed when our eyes met that day. Sure, it’s possible that being a randy stallion helped kick it off, but nothing would have happened if I didn’t already feel something for you. Dad pointed out to me that I had seen more than a few fillies and mares before encountering you, and none of them made me feel like you did, and I wanted to feel that again.”
“So do you only feel like that when you’re a stallion?”
“I honestly can’t be sure. I created Sunset Blaze to find out what mares wanted from a stallion, and what they would do to get it. Instead I found out that I wasn’t just disguised as a male; I was male, and I didn’t even know how I felt, let alone how others did. I wanted to explore those feelings with you, and I enjoyed every single moment of our being together like that. When I became female again, those good feelings persisted, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of how I enjoyed our dates, or because I still felt the same way about you as a female.”
“Yet you declared at dinner that you were in love with me.”
“I said I think I’m in love with you. I know that I’m attracted to you enormously as Sunset, and I always want to be with you as Dandelion – isn’t that the way love starts? And true love has to be a two-way thing, but I couldn’t be sure how you felt.”
“This relationship of ours has been nothing but uncertainties and secrets, hasn’t it?” Summer asked sadly.
“It wasn’t until I started keeping secrets from you from my fifteenth birthday. Maybe things would have been different if we’d both been more honest with each other.”
Summer nodded thoughtfully, and then came to a decision. “Then let’s do away with all the lies and uncertainties that we can from here on, and I’ll start by saying the most certain truth that I know. I love you, Dandelion. I love you as a mare, and I love you as a stallion, and I’m prepared to wait until you are sure about your own feelings for me.”
Dandelion’s heart started pounding hard at that declaration. She licked her suddenly dry lips before she managed to reply. “I said that I was uncertain if I was in love, but perhaps that was the final lie to myself because I was afraid that you would not accept me because of what I had revealed. But Summer, I’ve never stopped wanting you to be part of my life. I can’t imagine you not being there with me always. If that isn’t love, then I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out.”
Summer threw her forelegs around Dandelion’s neck and drew her into a kiss. Although she was startled, Dandelion barely hesitated to return it in good measure.
When they finally drew apart, Dandelion said with a mischievous smile, “Now that’s something not even Sunset got to do.”
“Want to correct that?” Summer asked coyly.
With a flare of green magic that lit up the bedroom, Dandelion shifted into Sunset Blaze. He tenderly took Summer’s face between his hooves and drew her into a long and heartfelt kiss. The blissful look on Summer’s face when he finished told him that he’d done exactly the right thing. It emboldened him to do one more thing. He got down on his knees, took Summer’s right hoof in his, gazed directly into her eyes and said, “Summer Storm, would you make me the happiest pony in Equestria and promise to be my wife?”
Summer burst into tears, but Sunset was in no doubt that they were of joy. “Yes! I promise to marry you – both of you!”
“That ought to make it an interesting marriage ceremony,” Sunset said as he gathered Summer into a hug and kissed her again.
When she could talk again, Summer replied, “We’ll have plenty of time to figure that out. We’re only sixteen and still have a couple of years of school ahead of us both.”
“I’m not in a hurry. I have what I really want right now.”
They then shared several minutes of just quietly hugging and kissing. Eventually though, they realised that it was late.
“I don’t know about you, but I think I need to get some sleep now,” Summer said.
“Do you have to go?” Sunset asked with disappointment on his face.
“Well, actually, I don’t think I’d be able to sneak back into my house. I kind of forgot to bring my keys.”
“Oh. I think we might wake people up if we try setting up the spare bed now.”
“Who needs a spare bed?” Summer asked with a straight face.
A smile grew on Sunset’s face. “Right. I think I’d better change though.”
Dandelion resumed her female form – she could not think of it as her normal form any more. Although she knew she probably still had much to learn about being male, she knew now that her stallion alter-ego was as much part of her as her birth sex.
Dandelion pulled back the covers of her bed and asked, “How would you like to sleep?”
Summer climbed onto the left side of the bed and settled down with her back to the centre. “Cuddle up to me, please?”
Dandelion climbed into bed, pulled the covers over them, and spooned up to Summer. “Happy engagement night, Rainy.”
“I like it already, Dandy.”
Neither had trouble sleeping thereafter. They did have some very interesting dreams though.
* * *
Next morning, Summer followed Dandelion out of the bedroom, grinning sheepishly at Dandelion's parents and sister seated at the breakfast table.
“Hi. I kind of flew in Dandy’s bedroom window last night. Didn’t want to wake you, but I really needed to speak to her.”
Cogs replied, “It’s okay, Summer. I knew you were there. I trust you two worked things out?”
Dandelion nodded. “Mostly. We know that we still have some growing up to do, and we obviously still need to talk to Summer’s parents, but we’ve reached an understanding.”
“So what did you do last night, if I may ask? As soon as I tasted the feelings in the air, I left to give you privacy.”
Dandelion turned to Summer and said, “See? Changelings are insatiably curious about us regular ponies.”
“Hey! I resemble that remark!” Cogs said in mock outrage as he tasted the humour behind it.
The fillies both giggled before Dandelion said, “Actually, Dad, we talked and cuddled and kissed, then talked and cuddled some more. Then I asked her to marry me.”
“And I said yes,” Summer added.
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Lavender exclaimed. “I told you Summer would make a good mate for Dandelion, didn’t I?” she asked Cogs.
“Hey! I didn’t disagree!” he protested.
Lavender gave her future daughter-in-law a hug, following it up with one for Dandelion. Then she asked her, “Did you have sex?”
“No, Mom. We both realise that we aren’t quite ready for that yet. Soon maybe, but not yet.”
“I raised a smart daughter, it seems. I’m glad the effort has paid off,” she said as she gave Dandelion a hug.
“Told you she didn’t hate you,” Fern said smugly as the fiancées settled down at the breakfast table.
Dandelion said to Summer, “The downside of becoming my mate is that you’ll be getting a smart-ass sister-in-law too.”
“Not quite a deal-breaker, Dandy,” Summer replied with a laugh.
* * *
Dandelion approached her father after school and said, “We’re going to have to tell Summer’s parents the truth, Dad.”
“I know, Dandy. I still don’t particularly want to tell the entire town our secret because of how it might affect your mother and you kids, and I have a responsibility to look out for new changelings, but it would be wrong to hide it from Summer’s parents.”
“I’d like to set up a dinner date for us all for next Saturday, if that’s okay with you?”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll check with Lavender and let you know if there’s a problem.”
The dinner went as planned, and then they disclosed the family secret to Summer’s father and mother. Fortunately they had always been open-minded about changelings, so after the expected initial shock, they handled it quite well. Finding out that their daughter was marrying both a mare and a stallion in one person was a bit harder to swallow. In the end though, there was more debate over whether their daughter should have her wedding with Dandelion or Sunset. Summer, with the support of Dandelion, eventually declared that it would be both. She was in love with a pegasus who had both aspects, so why not two ceremonies? Surprisingly, that went down quite well with them.
When school closed for the summer break, Summer Storm moved into the Cogs’ residence on a permanent basis, and the lovers started a sexual relationship. They both agreed that it was all the better for having waited until the time was right. On Dandelion’s seventeenth birthday, Cogs made her a full-time journeyman apprentice, and she celebrated it by formally announcing the wedding date. Or more accurately, the wedding dates.
Summer Storm and Dandelion Dreams proudly exchanged vows in front of Dandelion’s grandmother, Mauve Prose, who was delighted to be able to officiate the ceremony before she retired from office. Originally Summer’s parents had wanted her to get married to Dandelion’s male alter ego, Sunset Blaze, because of their strong sense of ‘traditional’ marriage, but that would have complicated a lot of things for the newlyweds. Cogs and Lavender had been able to mollify them though by offering them to come to a second marriage ceremony to be held in Ponyville, and officiated by Princess Twilight Sparkle, no less. There the lovers confirmed their vows as husband and wife this time, and Pinkie Pie threw one heck of a wedding reception. The official wedding photo had one very unusual twist though.
“I want my wedding photo to have both my husband and my wife in it,” declared Summer.
“No problem,” Cogs said with a smile. He then transformed into Dandelion wearing a wedding dress.
“I love having a changeling father-in-law!” Summer said with a delighted laugh.
* * *
As the months passed, Dandelion graduated as a full tradespony, specialising in electric motors and electromagnetic control equipment, but able to lend a hoof for any other project that her father wanted her help with. Whitetail Meadows’ growth necessitated more professionals like her, and so did the town’s new weather team where Summer gained a position as a storm-control specialist. Five months after the wedding, Summer became pregnant. Ten months after that, she gave birth to a healthy and much loved son. Or perhaps a filly? Only time would tell for the child of the changeling’s daughter who grew up just Dandy.
Cogs answered a knock at the door, and found an unfamiliar young unicorn mare waiting there.
The mare looked about before saying, “I was told to ask for Zevan.”
“Come into my office,” Cogs said, letting the mare inside. He then led her to his office and closed the door behind them. He then said, “I am Zevan, but from now on you will refer to me by my pony name, Whirring Cogs. Zevan the changeling is only for making contact.”
With a flare of blue fire, the mare transformed into her natural changeling form. “I understand, Mister Cogs. My name is Quazi. I was told that you are the official contact for changelings who wish to make Whitetail Meadows Village their permanent residence, and you could help me with settling in.”
“That is correct, Quazi. What’s your story?”
“I am a new emotion harvester for Queen Lamina’s hive. I’m here to take up a position at the village’s fire department. Besides needing to register with you, I could use a bit of help finding a place to stay until I save enough money for a place of my own.”
“Okay, I just need a few details. Please assume the form that you intend as your permanent pony alter-ego, and tell me the name to go with it.”
Quazi resumed the form of the young mare that she had arrived as – red of coat and yellow of mane, with a fire extinguisher cutie mark. “My name is Fiery Blaze.”
Cogs smiled as he wrote down the names and her hive. “My daughter’s stallion name is Sunset Blaze, y’know?”
“Oh! I didn’t mean to step on your hooves that way. I’ll change it.”
Cogs laughed. “No, don’t worry about it – I won’t mix them up. Although it does remind me of something that might interest you. She and my daughter-in-law are wanting to move out into a place of their own, but money is still a bit tight for a young couple with a foal. However, if you would like to board with them, can tolerate a young foal in the house, and are willing to pay a share of the costs, that would help both them and you. I’d cover your share until you get payed. The added bonus is that they are very deeply in love, and would provide quite a handy source of emotions to aid in your harvesting.”
“That sounds very good, sir. Will they be aware that I’m a changeling?”
“Yes, so there’s no need to worry about that. In fact I think they’re likely to surprise you more than you will surprise them. I’ll introduce you to them after we finish the induction. But first – I need to take a photo for your record. Please keep a neutral expression for the camera.”
When the interview was finished, Cogs led Fiery Blaze out to meet her prospective co-tenants. Behind them, a large cardboard box sitting in the corner of the room faded out of view, revealing a light brown, ten-year old colt with green mane and tail. Forest Breeze giggled at having successfully fooled his father and seen his secret business.
“Now what kind of fun can I have with this?” he wondered as he followed his father out.
Equestria, and other My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic elements are © 2014 Hasbro.
Original characters and story copyright © 2014 Bernard Doove.
All art is © 2014 Kat Miller.
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