Seven Brides for Seven Changelings

by Georg

Chapter 1: Return to Sender - Postage Due

Seven Brides for Seven Changelings
Return to Sender

“Books!” declared Princess Twilight Sparkle at the top of her lungs while bouncing around the front hallway in the Castle of Friendship. “Books! Books! Books! I love books! I adore books! I want to just throw myself down in the middle of them and roll around, and build a book fort, and curl up with them all night! Oh, I love books!”

Spike, who was signing for the massive wooden crate, rolled his eyes and whispered to the delivery pony. “Sorry about that. She's been a little loopy since the library got destroyed. So are these the books—”

“Books!” declared Twilight, bounding up into the air in a flurry of feathers and taking a turn around the huge crystal chandelier.

“Yeah,” muttered Spike. “As I was saying, did the ‘package’ Princess Celestia sent here from Canterlot give you any problems?”

Parcel Post shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno. This one is from the Badlands.”

“Badlands?” Spike took a second look at the crate, taking in the air holes punched in the top and the low, green glow coming from inside. “I don't think we have any branch libraries in the Badlands. What is it?”

“Your problem,” said the delivery pony, closing the signature sheet and tucking it away in her saddlebag. “We just deliver.”

“Right.” Spike lifted an eyebrow ridge as he watched the delivery pegasus fly away, then took extra time to double-check the delivery address. “To Notbright Spackle, Loopy Princess who lives in the big sparkly rock thingie in Ponytown. Well, that sounds legitimate.”

Living with Twilight Sparkle had strengthened Spike's sense of Sarcasm to epic heights.

Deciding that a second approach was wise, and since Twilight was still circling around the Main Hallway while singing paeans of praise to her One⁽*⁾ True Love, Spike peered into one of the holes in the crate.

The hole peered back.

(*) ‘One True Love’ for Twilight Sparkle was defined as the current book she was reading. In polite terms, she was considered a bibliographically promiscuous princess with no attraction for the opposite gender at all, but it was a somewhat incorrect definition. Twilight did have romantic feelings, and if she had ever been introduced to a stallion with pages, they would have become obvious.

* * * *

"You may have guessed why I've called you all here today."

“It’s a party, right, Twilight?” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, pulling out a party cannon crammed to the muzzle with pink confetti.

"Mah guess is it has something to do with the box," said Applejack, pointing to the huge wooden crate in the middle of the Castle of Friendship's main entryway. Massive summoned steel chains bound it to the floor and runes of arcane power surrounded it on all sides, bathing the wooden box in a low purple glow.

"Well. Yes," said Princess Twilight Sparkle, unconsciously straightening her wings while looking over the rest of her friends.

"Do you think it's a creature?" said Fluttershy, hovering over one of the holes in the wooden crate and stroking a hoof across the surface. "It seems awfully large for just one. He must be so uncomfortable in there. Can we let it out?"

"No way!" declared Rainbow Dash. "It's probably some vicious monster we'll have to fight." She paused for a second as the concept soaked in. "On second thought, open it up. I want to see what's in there."

Twilight cleared her throat and glared at Rainbow Dash. "I'm trying to make an announcement here. Anyway, I have reason to believe this box is from Queen Chrysalis!"

"It says so on the Bill of Lading," explained Spike, waving the sheet of paper at the rest of them.

"Spike! Anyway, since we don't know what is inside—"

"Contents: Your doom," said Spike, reading down the page. "Keep out of direct sunlight, do not feed after midnight, hoof-wash in medium warm water, contents may have settled during shipping, yadda, yadda, no deposit, no return."

"I wanted all of you to be here when we opened it up," continued Twilight while grinding her teeth, "so if we need to use the Elements of Harmony on whatever's inside… Yes, Rarity?"

"Pardon me for interrupting, Twilight, but you simply must remember we don't have the Elements of Harmony any more. We left them with the tree," added Rarity, totally unnecessarily.

"Oh." Twilight blinked a few times, as if eyelid motion would somehow promote neural activity. "Well, we beat the changelings in Canterlot, so I'm sure—"

"Actually, Twi," started Applejack, "they kinda beat the stuffings out of us once they got enough of their buggie buddies together."

"It's not that big of a box!" declared Twilight while taking a long look at the wooden crate. "There can't be more than… Hm… Assume a changeling of uniform density and average size in closest hexagonal packing, allowing a minor variance for air, water and toilet facilities—"

"Can you hurry up?" asked a very small voice from inside the crate. "I gotta go."

"You were supposed to go before we left," hissed a second voice.

"I couldn't go with everyling watching," whined the first voice.

“Too late,” whined a third voice.

"Will you idiots shut up and quit whining!" snapped a fourth voice, sounding familiar in a very Royal fashion.

"Queen Chrysalis!" chorused all of the ponies in the castle except Spike, who was still working his way through the packing list.

"Exactly!" crowed Chrysalis from somewhere inside the crate.

“Ah-HA!” declared Twilight Sparkle. “Everypony stand back. We’ve got the changeling queen right where we want her!”

“Actually, Little Miss Purplesmart, I’m using an Orb of Communication while I remain in our hive in an undisclosed location,” cackled Chrysalis’s voice from inside the crate.

“Postal Code BL 405,” explained Spike, “Third Hive From The Left, Badlands, Equestria. You wrote it on the mailing label.”

There was a very long silence from inside the box.

“Anyway,” declared Chrysalis. “I have a foolproof scheme to take you meddling mares and your freaky friendship out of the picture once and for all! Behold, your doom!”

Amidst cackling laughter, there was a series of quiet thuds from the box, and then nothing.

“I said, behold your doom! Behold your doom! DOOM!!”

“It won’t open, Your Majesticness,” said a voice from inside the box. “I think the lever’s stuck.”

“I’ll get it,” said Spike. “Looks like you jammed one of the hinges. I just need to dig my claws in here…”

There was a splintering crash and the side of the crate fell open, followed by a rush of changelings charging forward… to the castle bathroom. The first changeling through the door slammed it behind himself, leaving several outside doing rather stressed dances of hydraulic pressure.

“There’s a mares room down the hallway over there,” started Spike, “and a set of larger ones up the stairs and to the left outside of the meeting room. Make sure to flush!” he called out as the changelings stampeded away.

Nearly an hour later, all of the changelings had been gathered back up, including one of them who found flushing the toilet to be fascinating and most probably would have still been flushing it late into the night if one of his companions had not dragged him away. As an invasion force went, it was a little thin on artillery, heavy weapons, vehicles, supplies, and other such items, and barely had a token force of infantry. Seven changelings sat patiently as Princess Twilight Sparkle used all of her princess authority and a certain amount of implied threats to keep them all inside a glowing chalked line in the middle of the castle entryway floor.

“Anyway, as I was saying…” Twilight Sparkle paused with one hoof in the air. “As I was saying…”

“She’s a little like a stuck record player,” explained Spike while spinning a glass ball on one claw. “I’m on break. Somebody give her a little bump to get her started back up again or we’ll be here all day.”

“Spike! I was going to say…” Twilight Sparkle paused again, looking in the direction all of her friends were pointing.

“Changelings. Right. Spike, is that the crystal orb Queen Chrysalis used to spy on us the last time we fought her?”

“Maybe,” said Spike, still spinning it on one claw. “I found it in the crate. Finders Keepers.”

“Bleargh!” exclaimed the crystal orb. “Stop spinning it, you idiotic lizard! You’re making me nauseous.”

“Okay, but you asked for it.” Spike tossed the sphere up in the air and caught it in his mouth, chewing vigorously. The shards of the sphere gave off one last screech before being silenced, or as much silence as there could be in a room where a dragon was chewing the equivalent of a mouth full of gravel.

“Spike!” Princess Twilight Sparkle huffed in indignation. “Now how are we supposed to find out what her evil scheme was?”

“She made us cue cards,” volunteered one of the changelings, holding up a soggy card which proceeded to drip on the floor. “Mine got a little wet when I was washing my hooves.” The changeling next to him rolled his eyes and shifted a little further away from the damp card.

“Washing your hoovesies is important hygiene,” agreed Pinkie Pie.

“I ate mine,” confessed another changeling.

“Me too,” said a third. “It was a long trip. She shipped us book-rate.”

One changeling slightly taller than the rest put a holey hoof against his forehead and sighed. “The plan wasn’t very complicated. She just grabbed the first changelings she could find in the hive and threw us into the box. We’re supposed to get close to you and engage you in a romantic relationship, therefore turning you against your friends and destroying your friendship-based rainbow weapon thingie.”

“We gave our Elements back to the tree thingie,” said Rainbow Dash.

“A shame, really,” said Rarity, holding the empty golden necklace. “Mine went so well with several of my outfits.”

“You could put a new stone into it,” suggested one of the changelings. “Stones are pretty. Like you.”

“That’s very sweet of… whichever one of you spoke. There you are,” said Rarity, floating a powder-blue ribbon over into the crowd of changelings and tying it around one short horn. “Keep this one, Twilight. You can send the rest back.”

“The dad-gummed shipping company only comes to Ponyville once a week,” said Applejack. “You pulled me out of making fruit boxes for a contract Sweet Apple Acres has with a gift company in Baltimare, an’ if I don’t get my boxes made up by next week, we’ll hafta pay a penalty.”

One holey hoof raised up from the middle of the crowd of changelings and a rather stocky changeling cleared his throat. “I like fruit.”

Applejack lowered her eyebrows and glared. “Nope. Ain’t gonna do it. You done said you’re gonna try to turn us again’ our friends.”

The hefty changeling looked perplexed. “How can you do that with fruit?”

“Ah don’t know!” Applejack turned towards Princess Twilight Sparkle, who was scribbling notes. “Twi! What're you gonna do?”

“Theoretically, you could break up friendships with fruit,” said Twilight, scribbling intently on a complicated mathemagical equation which attempted to draw a correlation between bananas and Princess Celestia.

“Ah mean with these here varmints!” snapped Applejack.

“Ahh…” Twilight finished the line she was writing and put down her quill. “I suppose we can put them all back in the crate until the shipping company comes around again.”

Naturally, Pinkie Pie was first to find a flaw in her logic. “You know you can never get all the chocolates back into a box after you’ve unpacked it, Twilight. You have to sample a few first. Was there a map on the lid to tell which ones are coconut? I love coconuts.”

In the resulting silence, Fluttershy spoke up. “They were all squished together in there, Twilight. I know they’re mean and nasty and steal love, but they’re creatures, just like us, and need to run free in the sunlight.”

“We actually don’t like the sunlight all that much,” said one changeling. “It hurts our eyes.”

“And we’re not really very free back in the hive,” said another.

“Plus we’ll starve to death before next week,” said a third. “We didn’t get anything to eat before Queen Chrysalis shoved us into the box.”

“What?!” Pinkie Pie vaulted up into the air. “Stay right there! I’m going to get a wagonload of cupcakes and be right back.”

“Not food!” said Twilight Sparkle. “They’re talking about love.”

“Stay right there!” commanded Pinkie Pie, still suspended in midair. “I’m going to get a bunch of huggie ponies and be right back.”

“Pinkie!” Twilight Sparkle scowled up at her friend, only to have the changelings all raise one holey hoof. “No, we are not getting you ponies to hug! So put those hooves down!”

The taller of the changelings looked over at the front door to the Castle of Friendship, which was glowing fairly brightly from Twilight Sparkle’s shield spell, as were all of the other doors, windows, and various cracks too small to sneak through. “She’s right, guys. We can’t fool Princess Twilight and escape.”

“Right you are!” Twilight stood up to her full height and smiled vindictively. “I’m in control here, and you’re not getting away.”

The slightly taller changeling nodded. “You win, Princess. We’re just going to have to all stay in whatever small, cramped, dark, underground room you want us imprisoned inside.”

“Oh, no you don’t!” Twilight Sparkle stomped forward and poked a hoof in the taller changeling’s face. “I’m smarter than all of you put together. We’re splitting you up so you can’t plot against us.”

“I’ll take this one!” chirped Pinkie Pie, bounding forward and tying a pink ribbon onto the changeling who had been so insistent about washing his hooves. “I’ll call you Coconut! Come on and let’s get you all full of cupcakes so we can have a Welcome to Ponyville party!” Pinkie stopped at the shimmering mauve force field surrounding the castle door, pulled out a piece of chalk to mark her own door, which she opened and then bounced outside with the changeling in tow.

Rarity stood up and regarded the collection of baffled changelings skeptically. “I suppose if we have to house one, I should select a changeling who respects a well-cut gemstone. You there. Can you change to a more appropriate male shape, say something in a thirty-four long with a fourteen neck, mauve coat and a silver mane, no, make it platinum blonde and cut short across the bangs.”

“Me?” The changeling in question was engulfed in green fire and when he emerged, he matched Rarity’s description nearly perfectly.

“Lovely,” purred Rarity. “Now, come on. Hurry up. I have a lot of work to do today, and I could use a little help with modeling if Twilight would be so kind as to open the door for us.”

The barrier spell in front of the castle doors faded away, and Rarity was gone, along with her disguised changeling.

“I’ll take this one,” said Rainbow Dash. “He’s been watching me the whole time. I’ll call him Audience and he can watch my flying practice. Does that sound good, Audience?”

“Uh. Yeah? Wait up!” The changeling flared with light as Rainbow Dash streaked away, making a grey blur of rapidly-moving feathers flapping along desperately in her wake.

“Ah better be gettin’ along too,” said Applejack. “Come on, you.”

The hefty changeling who Applejack had pointed to perked up. “Are you going to give me a name too? Like a fruit?”

“Nope,” said Applejack. “Come on. We gotta get back to work if we’re going to catch up.”

“I’m Nope,” said the changeling, proudly trotting after Applejack and shifting into a nondescript earth pony form. “Nope, Nope, Nope. I like it. I’ve never had a name before.”

“Queen Chrissy really sent the cream of her crop, didn’t she, Twilight?” Spike shook his head and took a whiff of the huge crate. “Whew, and I don’t think they all were housebroken. We’re going to need to hose this thing out before we send the changelings back home.”

“I’ll get this end,” said one of the changelings in a suspiciously high voice.

“Thanks,” said Spike, hefting the other end of the crate up. “Normally I have to drag this stuff around all by myself.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” called out Twilight as she walked along behind Spike. “We’ve got an extra. And why does that one’s voice sound so high-pitched?”

“No it doesn’t,” said the changeling, shifting its voice into a lower register with obvious effort.

“You’re a mare!” exclaimed Twilight. “Queen Chrysalis sent six male changelings and a mare!”

“I’m a spare. She wasn’t too sure about the blue one,” said the female changeling.

“Me neither,” admitted Spike. “Rainbow Dash really likes hanging around Fluttershy.”

“Hey,” whispered Fluttershy. “I’m still here.” The shy pegasus dithered briefly under the attention she had gathered and ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave. Come on.”

“Me?” asked the last changeling in the circle. “You’re not going to hurt me, are you?”

“No,” whispered Fluttershy. “I would never hurt anypony. Or any buggie either. Particularly one with those beautiful wings.”

The changeling fluttered its iridescent wings. “You like them?”

“Oh, yes. You look just like a butterfly.”

Princess Twilight Sparkle stalked back to her meeting as Fluttershy flew away with her changeling. “Much better,” she declared, marking a check on her list. “Deal with changelings, done! As soon as Spike gets done hosing out the crate, we’ll get a return address label for it and be all ready for next week.”

“I’m on it,” said the taller changeling, scratching away on a form with his quill. “You know, if we could make the crate four percent lighter, it would qualify for reduced price shipping.”

“Really?” Twilight Sparkle looked over his shoulder and checked his math. “You’re right. I wouldn’t feel right putting them on a diet, though. All of you looked awfully skinny.”

“There’s a love shortage at the hive since we got kicked out of the wedding,” said the changeling. “If we broke the shipment up into two boxes, that might work.” He scribbled on some calculations for a while before tossing the sheet of paper away. “No, it would only cost more. How about a weight reduction spell?”

“The form specifies mass, not weight,” said Twilight, pointing to the applicable line. “Ooo, I love filling out forms. According to the chart, the box was a standard size, so reducing the dimensions would be an option.”

“If we don’t breathe,” said the changeling.

“There’s at least four different stasis spells we could use to keep them from using up air during the trip,” mused Twilight. “I’d have to do some research to find out which one would work best.”

“Lead on, Your Highness,” said the tall changeling as Twilight Sparkle began trotting down the corridor. “I can bring books and keep notes until Spike gets done with his chores if you wish.”

“That would be great!” Twilight trotted into her library and began to remove books from the shelves to form a defensible perimeter around her study spot. “I’m so glad the changelings have been dealt with, Mister…”

The changeling shrugged. “You can call me whatever you want. I’ve never actually been outside of the hive before, so I don’t have a name. What do you want to call me?”

“Reshelve,” declared Twilight, floating some of yesterday’s study material over to him. “And here’s your first job as my — wait a minute.” Twilight glared at the changeling over the floating books. “You’re just splitting all of my friends up so you can attack us all individually, aren’t you?”

The changeling blinked for a moment. “That would have been a good plan, I suppose. What would I do next, then?”

“Why, you’d change into some hunky looking stallion and attempt to divert my attention with sexy flirting while the rest of your nefarious crew does the same to my helpless friends.”

“That does sound like a good plan. Can I borrow a quill and some paper? I’d like to write this down. And what kind of sexy stallion would work best? I can do a pretty good Shining Armor.”

“Ick!” declared Twilight, floating over a selection of sharpened quills and a notebook. “He’s my brother for pony’s sake! What makes you think I’d be attracted to him?”

The changeling took a quill in his magic and began scribbling down notes as he talked. “Well, the queen has a bunch of pictures of him all around her room, and—” He cut off abruptly and looked around, continuing in a much lower tone of voice. “She kisses them when she thinks noling is around, so he must be sexually attractive to females. What’s your favorite color for a stallion?”

“Oh, I don’t have one. Color that is. Or stallion. Not that I don’t like stallions. Light blue,” she blurted out. “Maybe with a dark blue mane, and a book for a cutie mark.”

“...a book for a cutie mark,” he echoed as he wrote. He reread what he had written, and his ears perked up in interest as he looked over at Twilight and asked, “You like books too?”

* *

It had taken a long time to get the crate dragged onto the lawn and hosed out, but the spare changeling had been a great help to Spike. After they got the damp crate propped up on the side of the crystal castle to dry, he had to ask her a question.

“So, what’s it like being a changeling?”

The changeling shrugged. “I really don’t know. What’s it like being a dragon?”

“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Spike. “Twilight keeps me hopping all of the time, cleaning and putting things away.”

“She must dirty things and get a lot of things out,” said the changeling. “All I do back at the hive is clean and put things away too.” Green fire swirled around the changeling and when it cleared, there were two little purple dragons, although one of them was walking on all fours. “I must be a dragon too,” she said with a giggle.

Spike chuckled. “Maybe I’m a changeling.”

The other dragon snickered. “Let’s see you turn into one.”

The two of them giggled together as they walked back into the crystal castle, bumping hips and trading quips until they came to the door of the huge castle library. Inside, a purple alicorn and a sky-blue unicorn sat almost nose-to-nose in a set of books, each scribbling away on notes and taking peeks into each other’s research materials.

“What do you think this means, um… What should I call you?” asked Spike. He scratched his head. “This isn’t weird at all.”

“That’s kind of a long name, but you can just call me Al for short, I suppose,” said the changeling. “What do you do when your princess is busy with a stallion?”

“I dunno. It’s never happened before.” Spike looked over his shoulder. “Do you like comic books? Because I’ve got a couple hundred of them back in my room.”

* *

...One week later…

“I’m glad you all agree about sending our changelings back to Queen Chrysalis.” Twilight Sparkle took a moment to sip her glass of cider and smile at the rest of her friends gathered around the dinner table, each with their… that is the changeling who had been assigned to them sitting by their sides. Her smile was the only one at the table, as each of her friends were expressing a varying degree of disappointment in their posture or expression, with Applejack looking the most glum.

Our changelings?” asked Applejack. “Twi, as long as you’re certain about this, ah’ll go along, but it don’t sound much like you’re too excited about it either. Nope has been a big help out in the fields, and Apple Bloom is tutoring him in his numbers so he can catch up with his schooling. Ah really don’t think it’s all that important to send him back just yet.”

“Ah’m learning my numbers,” validated Nope with a brisk nod of his head. “We’re counting apples for the gift boxes. Two yellow ones and three red ones and one orange plus a grapefruit makes seven!” he declared with great enthusiasm. “Next week, Applejack says she’s gonna teach me how to multiply.”

A blush promptly ran up Applejack’s ears. “Not in that way,” she muttered.

“Yeah, Twilight!” said Rainbow Dash, who had already finished her dinner and was eyeing Fluttershy’s plate. “They’re as old as us, but they’ve got some real holes in their education. I’ve been teaching Audience all week about the Wonderbolts stunts and weather management and the best places to nap in town.”

“That’s mah trees,” said Applejack grudgingly.

“The best apples in Equestria,” said the pinstriped ‘pegasus’ next to Rainbow Dash, exchanging a hoof bump with her partner. “And the most comfortable trees too.”

“It’s a lot more comfortable sleeping two in a tree,” admitted Rainbow Dash.

“Wait a minute,” said Twilight Sparkle. “You’re sleeping with him?”

“Well, duh! You said they needed love to survive the week, and the best way we found to keep him fed was snuggles. As long as he doesn’t snore in my ear—”

“And she doesn’t kick in her sleep—” added Audience.

“—everything’s all peachy,” said Rainbow Dash.

“That’s crazy!” said Twilight. “None of the rest of you are sleeping with your… I mean the changeling you took home, right? Rarity, you’re not, are you?”

“Twilight!” Rarity held a hoof to her chest and stole a glance at the handsome blonde ‘unicorn’ stallion to her side. “I cannot believe you would insinuate such a thing about one of your friends! And you went straight to me, as if I would be the first one to just jump in the sack with some strange stallion! You should be ashamed of yourself! Besides,” she added with a slightly guilty glance, “a proper lady does not talk about such things. I mean, a male changeling who can look like anypony you want would be a terrible temptation to a lady’s virtue, and certainly not the subject for idle conversation between friends.”

“So you slept with him,” said Twilight Sparkle in a flat deadpan.

“Only a few times,” admitted Rarity, while Ponyquin had the common sense to blush. “A few wonderful times,” she added totally unnecessarily.

“I can’t believe it!” huffed Twilight Sparkle. “None of the rest of you slept with your changeling, did you?”

“Well, with Coconut, there wasn’t much sleeping involved,” admitted Pinkie Pie. “Until afterwards.”

Fluttershy simply blushed a bright pink, matching the shade of the quiet ‘pegasus’ to her side.

There was a long pause as the six mares all looked at each other and the changelings sitting at their sides.

Then they all looked over at the door where Spike had just entered the dining room. He was carrying the crystal bowls for dessert, while the other purple dragon at his side was carrying the tub of strawberry ice cream on her back.

“No,” said Rarity.

“No way,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Don't be ridiculous,” said Twilight Sparkle.

“You ain’t never gonna get an answer lessen you ask the question,” said Applejack. “Hey, Spike. Is you and Al there sleepin’ together?”

“Sure,” he replied, hefting the tub of ice cream up onto the table. “I thought Twilight’s changeling was going to be sleeping on the couch, so I just scooted over some and let her cuddle up. Is there something wrong?”

“Nooo,” said Rainbow Dash. “Unless he steals your blankets. Or she does.”

“I used to sleep in Twilight’s bed the same way, but she made me sleep in a basket when I got too big. There’s lots of space in the new bed Al helped me buy last week,” said Spike as he dished out the ice cream. “She got one extra-big so we wouldn’t outgrow it when I got older. Why do you ask?”

“No particular reason,” said Rarity with a swift kick under the table which made the changeling to her side close his mouth and wince.

“Wait a gosh-darned minute,” said Applejack. “You said you thought Twilight’s changeling would be sleeping on the couch in the castle. Do you mean he ain’t?”

“Not since the first night,” said Spike.

“Spike!” protested Twilight. “That’s private!”

“I know, I know,” said Spike. “That’s why you lock the door to your bedroom whenever the two of you are in there doing research.”

“Research?” Rarity raised one eyebrow and regarded her rapidly-pinking friend. “Are you planning on publishing this ‘research,’ Twilight?”

“No! I mean… This is exactly why we need to send them back to Queen Chrysalis,” added Twilight Sparkle in a rush. “They’re manipulating our emotions and making us get used to having them around. If this keeps up, they’ll be inseparable from us. Thank you, Reshelve,” she added as the disguised changeling to her side put the bowl of ice cream down in front of her and whisked the dirty plate away to be washed.

“Nope did help me get all of mah fruit boxes put together ahead of time for our Baltimare order, an’ he’s been a lota help around the farm,” said Applejack.

The hefty changeling disguised as a stocky earth pony to her side nodded enthusiastically. “I’m learning all about how things work on a farm from Miss Applejack, like what irrigation techniques to use on the different variants of trees, and how to shampoo her mane and not to tug on her tail when we—”

“NOPE!” Applejack blushed crimson.

“It does seem to be a shame to send them home when they’re not causing any problems,” said Fluttershy. “Diaphanous so loves being with my animal friends.”

“Except for the ones who bite,” volunteered the pink stallion to her side. “I think I may have angered the bear, Mistress Fluttershy. Please don’t be angry at me.”

“Mistress?” chorused the rest of Fluttershy’s friends.

“I’m sorry,” squeaked Fluttershy. “Don’t be angry at me.”

“I’m not angry,” said Twilight while chewing on her quill. “I’m disappointed at all of us, including myself. We should have known any changeling Queen Chrysalis sent to break up our friendship would be devious, cunning, clever—” she glanced at where Nope was proudly counting the peas on his plate one at a time “—heartless, cruel, strong, healthy, sexy, passionate…” Twilight Sparkle trailed off at the looks she was getting from her friends.

“Mistress, she’s saying bad things about me,” sobbed Diaphanous, flinging himself into Fluttershy’s shoulder and sobbing. “Make her stop! Please, make her stop!”

“Now, now. Don’t cry.” Fluttershy patted the sobbing stallion on the back and gave Twilight a sharp glare which could have peeled paint.

“This matter is not up for discussion,” said Twilight just as firmly as she could while cringing away from Fluttershy. “I’ve got the crate set up with a sleeping spell on it so our… so the changelings will sleep all the way home. All we need to do is to load them up tonight and the shipping company will pick them up first thing tomorrow morning.”

* *

As a town, Ponyville’s night life left something to be desired. If it were literally possible for the streets to be rolled up at night, they would, provided the pounded dirt paths would roll. Silent starlight and brilliant moonlight lit the Castle of Friendship with a glittering aura which no pony was awake to see, and made the ‘For Pickup’ sign over the large wooden crate in front of the door easily readable. A peaceful snoring could be heard from the crate, mixed with the night sounds of crickets and distant frogs, as well as the furtive tread of a pony trying to move silently across the gravel of the castle paths (far more modern and cosmoponian than the dirt paths of the rest of the town).

A faint creaking sounded as the hinges of the crate opened and a snoozing changeling was dragged out into the moonlight. Quiet words were exchanged, and possibly a kiss, and a substitute package the same approximate weight of the changeling was stuffed into the crate before two figures slipped away into the night and left the castle once again quiet in the darkness.

Until the next figure slipped up to the crate.

And the next…

* *

“Your Majesticness!” A changeling came scurrying into the queen’s chambers and danced a frantic dance in front of her. “Your Majesticness! There’s a delivery upstairs! It’s a big crate!”

“Well, bring it down here!” snarled Chrysalis. “Do I have to do everything around here!”

“Uhhh… Yes?” said the changeling before being kicked across the room. “I’m sorry,” it babbled from where it had landed in the slime pit. “It’s just that the crate is postage due, and we don’t have any bits.”

Ten minutes later after Chrysalis had dragged her piggy bank upstairs and counted out the seven bits for the overweight charge on the crate, she chortled with glee and rubbed her forehooves together. “At last, my most devious plan is complete! Even if my incompetent drones failed to break up the Elements of Harmony, they will have returned fat and juicy with the love from that pestilent town.”

“Pardon me, Your Majesticness,” said a small drone right next to her, “but who are you talking to?”

“You don’t understand dramatic gloating at all.” She reared back and kicked the unfortunate drone off the edge of the hive entrance, watching as it plummeted towards its death on the rocks below. “You know you can fly, you idiot. Flap your wings. Come on, stupid. Oh, bugger. There goes another one.”

She turned to the crate and pulled the top off, taking a good long look at the contents while the rest of her changelings crawled over it.

“There’s a bag of cupcakes and a bunch of apples here,” called out one of her changelings. “Yummy!”

“I found a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts,” declared another, although after a moment he began to splutter and cough, spitting out what he had been chewing. “That’s not chocolate!”

“Looks like a bunch of books over here,” said another changeling. “A couple bundles of Metaphysics Today magazine, the full collection of Scientology manuals, and some bundles of old newspapers.”

“I found a rock.”

“This looks promising,” said a changeling, dragging a ponyquin out of the mess and sitting it next to the queen. There was a flowing green dress draped across it, with emeralds as accent points and a shimmering green skirt made out of silk with a small tag.

If you’re going to take over the world, do it in style.
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“Where are my changelings?” snapped Chrysalis. “They’re supposed to be in here! Where are my — oh, here’s a note.”

“Dear Queenie,” she read. “We quit. Signed, all of us.” The changeling queen wadded up the note and tossed it over her shoulder. “Oh, well. At least I’ve got my backup plan.”

* *

Princess Luna was still yawning as she stepped out of her front door, only to nearly trip over a huge wooden crate with holes in the lid. “Celly!” she called out. “We’ve got mail!”

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