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...



6. Chapter 5: On The Way To The Hive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author's Note:

Polistae is derived from Polistes dominula, more commonly known as the European Paper Wasp. You know, those wasps that make the little hexagonal chambered clumps hanging under the eaves of buildings. You've probably seen them before, they can be found just about everywhere.

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