Growing Up Dandy

This story is a sequel to Change of Life
Dandelion is a pegasus filly, Cogs and Lavender's firstborn daughter, and a joy to them both. As a changeling though, Cogs had no experience with raising pony foals, so when a crisis 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 stories that are sequels to "Change of Life" and takes up after chapter 10 (Foals).


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 realized 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 favorite 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 Dandelion 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 favorites, 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 realized 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. “Dandelion 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 realized 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 realized 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 realized 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 realized 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 recognized the town’s chief of police from previous meetings with him. The officer of course did not recognize 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 victimized, 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 realized 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 realized 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 crystal tree castle that was home to Equestria’s youngest alicorn princess. He made a heavy landing in front of the castle and pounded on the doors 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 not locked, y’know? Visiting 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 among 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, sugar cube. 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 emphasized 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 Frriendship, 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 sub-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 favorite 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 realized 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. “You know how I feel about changelings, and most 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 Chrysalis' baddies after what they've done.”

“Gotta agree with Dash, sugar. It felt mighty fine to buck that changeling.”

Twilight gave them a lopsided grin. “Okay, I admit that it was a good feeling to take down a rogue changeling, 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 honor. You can stay for that, I hope?”

“Love to, sugar cube,” Applejack replied.

“Nothing like pummeling a changeling to work up an appetite,” Rainbow said enthusiastically before hesitating as she realized who she was talking to. “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 realized 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.

Dandelion nodded.

“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.

* * *

Author's Note:

It took me a long time to nail down this episode's theme, and due to an extremely busy week at work, I got quite a late start on writing it up. I not only wanted Dandelion to experience some of the darker side of changelings, but also give a hint of what Chrysalis might be getting up to in the interim.

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