A Novel Tale

Novel Tale is an author that's been living in Canterlot for about ten years now. That's a pretty good track record for a changeling. He's even included a changeling character in his latest book, and his fans have been loving his take on such an obscure mythological creature, especially his biggest fan, Twilight Sparkle. Things are looking up!
Then an army of changelings from another hive attacks Canterlot.
Now all of ponykind knows that changelings are real, and his readers are sure to realize that the changeling in his book was too similar to the real thing to have just been based on a myth...

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/87718/a-novel-tale

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12. Bonus Chapter: Sparkle's Notes: Changeling Disguises

...Changeling disguises were, for me, the most fascinating part of my study of changelings. How is it that they are able to magically create disguises perfect enough to fool detailed, physical examination, and maintain these disguises for weeks at a time, all with very little conscious thought or effort on their part?

When I posed this question to my primary changeling contact, he was unfortunately unable to assist me. It turns out that using and maintaining these disguises is a completely instinctual and subconscious process for them. So, just as most ponies would be unable to describe the act of breathing in any more detail than ‘inhale, exhale, repeat’, he was unable to give me any detailed information on how their disguises worked. The only information that he was able to give me was that brand new disguises take a not insignificant amount of mental concentration in order to properly visualize everything the first time. This is in opposition to disguises that have been used in the past, or simply copying the form of another pony, both of which can be done with but a thought. This information, while interesting, wasn’t of much use in my search to find out how the disguises worked...

...My first thought was, of course, illusionary magic. Illusionary spells exist that can be maintained for extended periods of time with little upkeep. However, there was a major problem with illusionary magic. While illusions can easily fool sight, sound, smell, and even taste, touch is another matter entirely. Ponies are very tactile creatures, and even the best of illusions would be hard pressed to survive the amount of physical contact experienced by an average pony on a typical day, to make no mention of the amount of physical contact that would be experienced by changelings that feed on emotions like love or lust. Because of this, I was forced to discard illusionary magic as the source of their disguises...

...Transformation magic was another field that seemed promising. If they actually physically transformed themselves into a pony, then that would certainly explain how their disguises could be so foolproof. However, this line of thinking had a few major problems as well. Transformation spells, especially full body transformations, are horrendously complicated and dangerous spells. The slightest of mistakes could result in fatal outcomes like the lungs or heart not properly forming or reforming. On top of this, full body transformations take a tremendous amount of magical energy to cast and maintain. Even the Princesses themselves would be hard pressed to maintain a full body transformation for more than a few days. For these reasons, I also scrapped the notion that transformations magics were responsible...

...Having run myself ragged trying to find what school of magic could be responsible, I had my first major breakthrough thanks to an offhanded comment from my assistant. This whole time, I had been needlessly limiting myself in assuming that it was only a single school of magic being used to create the disguises. Who was to say that it wasn’t two or more schools of magic acting in concert to create them? This thought in mind, I plunged back into my research with renewed vigor. I was confident that illusion magics were at least a part of the answer...

...As it turns out, the missing piece of the puzzle is hard light shell projected around the changeling’s body. This bit of magic is very similar to the shield spell favored by unicorns of the Royal Guard, and that is the specialty of the Captain of the Royal Guard, Shining Armor. It was only thanks to this similarity, and a comment one of my changeling contacts had made about their disguise ‘shattering’, that I was able to make this discovery. There are some significant difference between the two spells, however. Most notably, the changeling's shell is much softer and less rigid than a shield spell, the better to properly imitate the skin of a pony. This makes it nearly useless for defensive purposes.

This led to another interesting discovery. I was unsure how they could effortlessly maintain such a system of magic across their entire body using only a single focal point, their horn. However, now that I knew what to look for, some quick tests revealed that their horn is actually not used at all in the creation of their disguises. As it turns out, their entire carapace is a magically conductive substance. The magics that make up their disguise are channeled directly through their carapace, in much the same way that pegasi channel their innate weather manipulating magics through their hooves. This method of using their entire body instead of just a single focal point gives their disguises an amazing amount of stability and durability. It is still possible for this shell, and thus the rest of the changeling’s disguise, to break due to physical trauma. But unless they fall unconscious or take some type of blow to the head, the disguises are able to withstand a surprising amount of abuse before completely failing. As far as I have been able to tell, their disguise is the only magic that they are able to channel in this manner; all other magics must pass through the horn.

As for the second half of the puzzle, the illusionary magics that make up their disguises are amazingly advanced and are capable of astounding levels of fidelity. They are capable of simulating sweat when physically active, blushing when emotionally aroused, and even bleeding and bruising when injured. And all of this is on a completely instinctual, subconscious level. While this does seem amazing, it is important to remember just how old changelings are as a species. They have been using and refining these magics since before the original reign of Discord, long before illusions were even a recognized school of magic amongst ponies!

Now, as to how these two puzzle pieces actually fit together. As already suggested, the hard light shell comes first, forming the ‘skin’ of their pony form. This shell extends anywhere from being right on top of to a few inches away from the carapace, to account for different builds of ponies. This gives them that tactile component that illusions themselves are simply unable to provide. Then, their illusion magic is layered over this shell to create the rest of their disguise, making them look, sound, and smell like a pony. This entire process happens in the blink of an eye. The hard light shell and the illusion magics are inextricably linked to each other on a subconscious level; it is not possible for a changeling to utilize one without the other.

There are some important implication to be drawn from this discovery of how their disguises work.

First off, changelings are unable to take a form that is smaller than they are. Their actual changeling body very much still exists underneath their disguise. Attempting to take a form smaller than they are would only result in parts of their changeling body sticking out from the hard light shell. Nopony will ever have to wonder about the identity of young fillies and colts. This led to another small discovery when, curious, I asked my primary changeling contact what happens to their horns when they take earth pony or pegasi forms. As it turns out, changeling horns are actually capable of folding back against their head. This is a completely autonomic process tied into their disguises; they have no conscious control over it.

This raises the small question of how Queen Chrysalis was able to take the form of Princess Cadance despite being taller than her. My best guess is that Chrysalis knew something of transformation magics. Unlike full body transformations discussed earlier, size changing transformation spells are much simpler, though still well beyond the capabilities of all but the most magically adept unicorns. The changeling queen I am in contact with agreed that this could be a possibility. As Queen Chrysalis' location is still unknown, it is possible that we will never truly know the answer to this question.

Another implication is that it is theoretically possible for a changeling to take a form much larger than a pony. All they would have to do is extend their hard light shell further out from their body. They could possibly take the form of a griffon, or even a manticore. However, after running this idea past all my changeling contact, including a changeling queen, I have found that this is not realistically possible. As has been mentioned previously, their disguises are an almost completely instinctual process. Attempting to subvert this process to take any form that is not a pony is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, for the average changeling. Furthermore, even if they did possess the extreme levels of mental discipline needed to wrest control of this system from their subconscious, it would still be completely impractical due to energy constraints. The changeling queen informed me that the amount of energy needed to maintain their disguises, while negligible at pony sizes, increases exponentially with how far the hard light shell is extended from their body. Even if a changeling were able to take the form of a manticore, they would be unable to maintain it for any significant period of time without a constant flow of emotional energy to sustain it.

Even then, these restrictions still leave some intriguing possibilities regarding changelings interacting with non-ponies. Changelings taking the form of donkeys is a possibility, as are buffalos, although that would be stretching things given their relatively large size. The most promising prospect is actually zebras. Zebras tend to be more or less the same size and shape as ponies, and so such a form would not require undue amounts of energy for a changeling to maintain. Upon discussing this matter with a zebra I am good friends with, I found that there are some obscure legends back in Zebrica about shape shifting creatures that feed on emotions, although the term ‘changeling’ was never mentioned. Bringing this up with the changeling queen who is assisting me with my research, she claimed that while such a thing would certainly be possible, she has never heard anything of changelings that live outside of Equestria. Given how helpful she has been with the rest of my research, I am inclined to believe her. It is possible, though unlikely, that a splinter group of changelings and their queen may have left Equestria for Zebrica so far in the past that the event is no longer remembered, thus explaining these seemingly conflicting claims. Unfortunately, a trip to Zebrica in order to investigate further is outside the scope of this current study. As I do not wish to make any claims based only on speculation, this matter will have to remain unresolved for the time being.

 
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