The Majestic Tale of a Noble Hunter

by Carapace

Chapter 1: ... And His Slightly-Less-Noble (but Still Pretty Cool Friends) Prey

Incognito’s gaze was transfixed on his targets. His long, serpentine tongue ran over his lips. He crept forward through the bushes, leaves caressed his polished black carapace. A branch snagged at one of the holes in his foreleg, drawing a scowl and a slight baring of his fangs.

He snuck a quick peek through the leaves, his breath hitched in his throat as he prayed to the First Hive Mother that his friends prey hadn’t heard him.

The three fillies chattered away, completely unaware. Bright smiles graced their muzzles, Scootaloo buzzed her wings and leaned in to whisper in Sweetie and Apple Bloom’s ears. Their laughter floated through the air to tickle his ears.

Good. They hadn’t heard him. Incognito grinned and suppressed a happy chitter. The hunt is still on.

While the specifics of the veritable mountain of paperwork the great Queen signed along with the four Princesses of Equestria were a bit … well, too pony for his taste. There was too much time spent on being as overly wordy as possible when they could simply outline what each group was allowed to do in plain terms.

Bureaucracy, his parents called it, usually while his father was polishing the new, metallic gold armor he wore as the lone changeling representative in Princess Twilight Sparkle’s House Guard—one of the many provisions of the treaty. The ponies weren’t satisfied unless they’d combed through every last detail to ensure things were “fair” and “clear” with no room for gray area.

That simply wasn’t fun at all. Why did they have to spend so many words outlining what “acceptable mischief and use of shapeshifting” were when they could just say “do not do anything threatening or permanently scarring, and do not take another pony’s form with the intent of replacing them”?

Ponies were so very silly about such things.

Incognito, much like the other nymphs who’d relocated to Ponyville, found the whole thing boring. Except for the part where they were allowed to prank, shapeshift, and hunt “within reason.” Which brought his focus straight back to present.

The trio of fillies before him had become his closest friends since moving to the tiny town on the edge of the wild Everfree Forest. They were the first to approach him and the first in line to volunteer to be Love Donors prey for the other nymphs living in Ponyville.

Which, of course, meant they were his very favorite donors prey as well. Their love was sweet. Oh, by the First Hive Mother, was their love sweet! And filling, too!

Incognito licked his lips again. His hunt would yield great results today.

Sweetie would be saved for last, of course. Her love lived up to her name—sweet and more filling than any other, his very favorite meal. Three fillies full of love for the price of one—a three course meal, actually. All it would take was a well-timed pounce, and he could catch all of them and crow over their giggling helpless forms and let all know that the mighty changeling had claimed victory before he politely asked permission for a generous sip fed upon their delicious love.

So long as they didn’t use that again.

A shudder ran down his back. Why, oh why, did that blasted mare have to ruin his hunt and discover the Hive’s most well-guarded secret? Whether she was one of the select few ponies to formerly hold the title Respected and Feared Enemy of the Hive or not, Pinkie Pie had made a mess of things. She turned everything on end! And in the middle of town square, of all places!

A phantom tickle on the edge of his snout made Incognito reflexively bring a hoof up to bat it away. Stupid weakness. Stupid tickly nerve cluster!

“Stupid Pinkie Pie!” he muttered under his breath before he could stop himself. Incognito clapped his hooves over his mouth, but too late. Oh, crack my carapace! He let his ears droop, his heart skipped a beat as he watched the fillies continue their conversation, waiting for any signs they’d heard him.


Incognito let out the breath he’d been holding. “Thank the First Mother,” he whispered to himself.

“Yeah, you said it!” a mare’s voice whispered to his left. “They almost heard you, ‘Nito! You know you gotta be careful sneaking around like this! Think of what your mom would say!”

He nodded along with her. “Yeah, good point. Mom would scold me and then make me relearn proper hunting—wait a minute.” Incognito turned to his left and came nose to nose with the very same grinning, bright-eyed baker he’d been cursing just a few short seconds ago. He let out a startled hiss and recoiled. “Pinkie Pie!”

Pinkie beamed. “Hi, ‘Nito! Hope you don’t mind, but I saw you hunting the girls and thought I’d drop by and check in on you crazy kids! Oh, also! I’ve got something for you!” Her grin stretched from ear to ear, she reached out with her hoof, slowly drawing toward his nose.

Incognito yelped and dashed out of the bushes, his chest heaved as he clapped his hooves protectively over his poor nose.

The sun’s warmth fell upon his carapace. Incognito blinked, his ears slowly drooped as he realized what he’d just done. He ducked his head and pasted a crooked smile upon his face, his eyes flitted about to each of the fillies in turn. From Apple Bloom’s smug smile, to the broad grin stretching across Scootaloo’s face, to the wicked smirk, as dangerous and intimidating as Queen Chrysalis herself, playing upon Sweetie Belle’s lips.

Uh oh. Incognito gave a tiny wave of his hoof. “H-Hi, girls!”

Their eyes gleamed with mischievous intent. “Heya, ‘Nito!” they chorused in reply.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Incognito couldn’t help but note how wrong this was—he was supposed to be the mighty hunter crowing over his captured friends prey, not the other way around. Yet, here they were, grinning and circling him like a trio of sharks.

He swallowed a lump in his throat. How could he get out of this one? Shapeshifting was a no go since, well, they were all around him and looking straight at him. He’d have to try some sort of distraction.

Talking! That would work! Ponies just loved to talk about every little thing!

Incognito rubbed his headfin and chuckled. “N-Nice weather today, isn’t it?” he began. “Rainbow Dash and the weather team really went all out clearing the sky.”

Scootaloo fluffed her feathers. “She sure did. Ten seconds flat, just like always.” Her smile broadened, that gleam in her eyes persisted. “Great weather, wouldn’t you say, Apple Bloom?”

“Perfect weather for the crops,” Apple Bloom replied almost coyly. “And maybe somethin’ else, I reckon. What do you think, Sweetie?”

Sweetie Belle’s emerald green eyes seemed to shine with mirth, so very much like one of Incognito’s kin as they readied to enact one of their brilliant schemes to prank an unsuspecting pony. “Definitely,” she said. “But I think ‘Nito had other reasons in mind.” She took a step closer, Incognito flinched as she stepped within hoof’s reach. Her smirk was practically changeling, even without the fangs. “A perfect day for one of your hunts, ‘Nito?”

Oh, by the First Mother’s Egg, I’m doomed! Incognito felt his smile strain. “Uh, well, that is, I mean—”

“Well?” she pressed, coming dangerously close. Her nose brushed against his, her warm, eggshell white coat tickled his carapace.

His mouth felt dry. Incognito leaned back just enough to lick his lips in vain attempt to wet them. “Uh … kinda?” he offered.

Never in his wildest dreams did he think a pony could smile so smugly. He was wrong. So very wrong.

Sweetie Belle’s smile was positively devilish. Queen Chrysalis herself would have been proud, perhaps taken her as some sort of protégé in the art of cunning schemes even before the treaty. The filly raised a hoof slowly, almost ominously.

A bead of sweat ran down Incognito’s cheek. “So! I, uh, well, you caught me! So, how about we, um, go to Sugarcube Corner or something?” He forced a wide, toothy grin.

Her smile grew. “Sure. But first, this.” Quick as a flash, her hoof darted toward his face, faster than Incognito could even blink. A startled chitter sounded from the back of his throat as he felt it press against his nose.

All at once, his eyes crossed and a strange, ticklish sensation shot through his snout. He wrinkled his snout involuntarily, his tongue tingled as though cotton candy was dissolving on it. Incognito flailed, batting her hoof away and clapping his hooves over his poor, assaulted nose with a strangled cry. “Gah!

The fillies tittered, Sweetie’s eyes practically sparkled with unrestrained glee at his misfortune. She, like all of her fellow foals, so delighted in exploiting his race’s weakness each and every time he hunted.

“Got you again, ‘Nito!” she teased. She turned with a merry swish of her tail and bumped her hip against his side.

Scootaloo buzzed her wings and leaned against Apple Bloom’s side. “Looks like our mighty hunter will have to rethink his strategy if he ever wants a big sip of our love again, girls!”

“If he can,” Apple Bloom drawled. She gave a playful wink. “Poor boy’s been havin’ a mite o’ trouble now that Pinkie’s helped us level the field!”

A fit of giggles sounded from the bushes. Once again, Incognito had to bite back a curse, instead favoring to give silent promises to slip something unpleasant into Pinkie’s next batch of cupcakes.

All this while he found his eyes transfixed on Sweetie Belle. She gave her mane a little toss, then said, “A little evening of the playing field, for sure.” Waggling her ears, she added, “And he looks so adorable all scrunched up like that!”

Incognito leapt to his hooves with an indignant hiss. How dare she? “I am not adorable! I am a changeling! A proud, noble hunter and a trickster! And you will remember tha—Ack! What the frick-frack-cadoodle-snack! Stop that!”

Sweetie gave a bell-like laugh. “You might be a mighty hunter, ‘Nito, but you’re still our adorable changeling friend, no matter how hard you try to deny it!”

That did it! Whether he suffered the indignity of their wicked nose boops or not, Incognito would claim victory over the Crusaders.

He would wipe that smug, wicked smirk off Sweetie Belle’s face and make her admit that he was most certainly not adorable! She would respect his hunting prowess this day!

With a low growl, Incognito buzzed his wings and hovered in the air. He loomed over Sweetie Belle, his lips peeled back into a predatory grin, baring the full length of his fangs. “I’ll show you!” he vowed. “You’ll get yours for booping my nose, and I will enjoy every sip of love I get!”

Sweetie simply swished her curly tail. “We’ll see, ‘Nito! Or, maybe, just maybe, you’ll ask nicely after you’ve found these fillies are ready to best the so-called ‘mighty hunter’ this time around!”

A challenge? Oh, by the First Mother, she was in for it.

Incognito gave one last hiss, then buzzed off down the street. The wheels in his chitinous head began to turn, a wicked, fanged grin spread from ear to ear. He threw back his head and gave a chittering cackle. They will rue the day they challenged me! Soon, they’ll remember just who sits atop the food chain!

His laughter paused for a split second. Incognito brought a hoof to his chin. “I should probably go get bits to buy them something for after they let me feed. Something sweet should help.”

Incognito altered course, making a beeline for the glimmering crystal castle sticking out among the straw rooftops like a sore hoof, bound for the nearby guards’ homes. Hopefully he still had a few bits saved up from his allowance.

His hunt would be on a brief pause.

Incognito crept along the faux gingerbread wall, wincing at each clink of bits within the bag whenever it thumped against his side. Carrying money around was hardly conducive to sneaking about, but, these days, it was necessary. He had to give something back to make up for the love he fed on, so a snack for a snack seemed fitting.

But that was for later. Until his hunt was over, Incognito was the hunter and they were prey.

He peered through the glass, his eyes locked on the three fillies who so delighted in teasing him—really, if they stopped crooning over how “adorable” he was when he squirmed, he might just think they were changelings themselves—were seated around a table, each with her own milkshake. But they weren’t alone. Another of Incognito’s friends had joined them.

Rumble, a young colt of grey-blue coat and navy mane, was standing next to Scootaloo with a big smile on his face. His wings were fluffed, he waggled his ears and leaned against the table, chatting animatedly with the flightless filly.

The closer Rumble got, Scootaloo seemed to tense up. Her cheeks tinged a dusty pink. Incognito couldn’t help but roll his eyes.

Why were ponies so silly about their “crushes”? He could practically taste their affections each time they met up at Sugarcube Corner or bumped into each other in town. Sure, it was appetizing in much the same way as drooling over fresh baked cookies. And, well, Sweetie and Apple Bloom would call it cute whenever Scootaloo was out of earshot. Still, though, there was dancing around the issue, and then there was being completely oblivious.

Incognito, in his expert changeling opinion, was quite certain they just needed to out and out tell one another. Or at least allow him to advise them on proper courtship rituals, since their current dance was moving slower than cold slime down a wall. Again, though, something for later consideration.

Either way, Rumble’s presence gave Incognito an idea. Quickly checking around the dining room, he didn’t see Pipsqueak anywhere. Perfect.

If he took Pipsqueak’s form for a little bit, no pony would question him when he walked up and started chatting. They wouldn’t know until he chose to pounce upon them, and by then it would be far too late. He would claim victory over his love donors prey and enjoy the love they offered feed upon their delicious love in front of a full audience of ponies.

In a flash of green fire, Incognito shapeshifted and shrunk himself down to Pip’s height. He checked over his reflection in the glass, testing out the small, close-lipped smile Pip gave. All the brown splotches in his coat were in proper place, he had the smile down, now all he had to do was sell the act to the others.

Their love would be his for sure this time! No manner of cheating through boops would save them now!

Incognito pushed open the door and trotted in, matching Pip’s light hoofsteps. He paused just long enough to give a half-wave to Mrs. Cake and greet her with a merry “‘Ello!” before he made his way over to the fillies’ table.

Rumble’s ears twitched, he turned to face Incognito and grinned. “Hey, Pip! I was wondering where you wandered off to!”

Had they met up earlier? That complicated things.

Thinking quickly, Incognito gave a short, awkward laugh. “Sorry, mate, I forgot my bit pouch at home, so I had to scarper off to get it. Then when I got there, mum gave me an earful ‘coz I didn’t make my bed this morning.” He bit his lip. Come on, let that one work!

Rumble snorted and shook his head. “Geez, Pip, you keep having your little whoopsie-daisy moments like that and she’s gonna beat your tail.”

Maybe his, but not mine! Incognito had to fight back a smirk. Instead, he splayed his ears back and ran a hoof through his mane. “No joke on that, mate,” he replied. “Mum’s been awful titchy ‘bout me forgettin’ things ‘ere and there lately. Says I need to get my ‘ead out of the clouds.”

“Ha! With how spacey you’ve been, all we need is to just get you a pair of wings and I bet you’d make a good pegasus!” Rumble rustled his feathers and nudged his shoulder against Scootaloo. “Eh, Scoots?”

The blush coloring her cheeks spread. Scootaloo gave a wobbly smile and tried to fake a laugh. “Yeah. Right. Definitely.”

Grinning, Rumble turned his attention to Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. “So, where’d ‘Nito get to? Thought I saw him skulking about on one of his hunts earlier. Didn’t jump out at me, so I can only guess he was looking for you three.”

Sweetie Belle tittered into her hoof. “He sure tried,” she said, her eyes danced with mirth. “But he gave himself away a little too early, so I got his nose again.”

It took every fiber of Incognito’s self-control to swallow a hiss and force a chuckle instead. “Poor bloke. You know he’s gonna get you for that, luv,” he managed to grind out through gritted teeth.

“I’m sure he will,” Sweetie replied with a knowing smirk. “But that’s half the fun. What’s that he loves to say? Changelings love mischief?” She waggled her ears, then added, “Well, a little taste of pony mischief will do him some good.”

Incognito blinked, his anger abated for a moment. Pony mischief? Were they trying to match a key part of changelings’ sacred hunting method as their way of countering it? Some sort of little game?


But then, Sweetie’s smirk grew to a full, toothy grin. “Plus, he just looks so adorable when he gets all flustered like that! Mighty hunter my cutie mark! He’s as cuddly as a teddy bear if you know what buttons to push!”

“Namely,” Apple Bloom chipped in, “his nose!”

A round of giggles swept through the pony quartet. Though he seethed internally and vowed to make both fillies regret their slander, Incognito forced out a chuckle of his own. Idly, he wondered how much trouble he’d get in with Princess Twilight if he stuck his friends inside a couple cocoons and let them dangle upside down for a little while just to teach them a lesson.

Probably more than it would be worth seeing the looks on their faces. But only just.

Either way, he’d made his decision. For her slander and the way she took such changeling pleasure in his weakness, Sweetie Belle would be pounced here and now. The look of shock that always flashed across her face—her jaw dropping low and those vibrant green eyes going as wide as dinner plates as she flailed and tried to ward him off—would be delicious. The perfect appetizer.

Incognito crouched low, ready to leap across the table, shed his disguise, and pin her to the floor. He would savor every bit of her surprise, and then a decent helping of love.

Then, a familiar voice made his blood run cold, “Er, excuse me … um … me?

Noooooooooooooooo! A whine sounded from the back of Incognito’s throat. He turned slowly, the cold grip of dread crept into his chest as he found himself face to brown splotched face with the very colt he was imitating.

Pipsqueak stood with a milkshake in hoof, tilting his head as he regarded his double. His brows furrowed in concentration, he leaned in close. Then his eyes widened as comprehension dawned on him, a bright smile spread across his muzzle. “Cor! Is that you, ‘Nito?” He threw back his head and laughed. “Blimey, what’re you doing looking like me? You ‘avin’ a laugh?”

Incognito winced, his eyes darted from Pip to each of the fillies and Rumble in turn. A cold lump sank into the pit of his stomach when he noticed the gleam that shone in each of their eyes. Acting quickly, he pointed at Pip and cried, “Real funny, ‘Nito! Tryina have us on like that!” He flicked his tail and scoffed. “Didn’t even get the right shade of brown in me coat, ya tosser!”

“Oy! Who you callin’ a tosser, ya tosser! And I’m the real me!”

Too easy. “No you’re not!”

“Yes I am!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Incognito caught his friends looking back and forth between the pair like they were watching a tennis match. Perfect. Confusion was a changeling’s ally, it went hoof in hoof with deception.

Rumble coughed. “You know, there’s an easy way to figure out who’s who,” he said, his lips tugging into a wide smile. He took a step closer to Incognito, waggling his ears as he raised a hoof. “Hold still, Pips.”

Incognito took a hasty step back and stood beside Pip, his eyes locked on Rumble’s hoof. “N-Now, ‘old on there, Rumble. Don’t you think that’s a little unnecessary?”

“Oh, no, by all means!” The real Pip drawled. He even leaned forward, fixing Incognito with a sidelong look. “Go right ahead, mate!”

All eyes turned upon Incognito. He forced a smile, his ears splayed back against his scalp. The proud nymph bit back a curse, how was he supposed to get out of this one?

The door! Know when best to linger or flee to feed another day was an old changeling proverb, one of the oldest, in fact. There was nothing wrong with bailing when deception failed.

He licked his lips and took another step back, edging toward the door as casually as he could. “W-Well, er, I think I may ‘ave forgotten something and I really don’t want to give mum more reason to be cross—so, uh, why don’t we pick this up some other time? So, uh, bye!” Before Rumble could move, Incognito turned on his hind hooves and made for the door.

But Apple Bloom was quicker.

Incognito only got about four steps in before he had to come skidding to a halt, lest he bowl her over.

She smiled brightly, tilting her head to the side as she reached out and pressed a hoof against his nose. “Boop!” she chirped, just to add insult to injury. “Got ya, ‘Nito!”

Incognito scrunched his snout and clapped his hooves over his poor nose once again. In a flash of green fire, he was back in natural form. He gave an indignant hiss, turning to try to escape the other way, only to run straight into an all-too-familiar eggshell white hoof.

He scrunched up again and batted Sweetie’s hoof away. The strange tingling on his tongue returned, along with a sugary taste. But his focus was elsewhere, namely the smug filly who’d just assaulted his nose. “Friggin’ frick! Why?” he whined.

“Why?” she parroted, waggling her ears. “What a question to ask after a certain somepony just took another friend’s form so he could sneak up and try pouncing us!” Sweetie stepped closer, she rubbed their shoulders together, then leaned in. The scent of vanilla and chocolate tickled his nose, her favorite perfume. She drew near to whisper in his ear, “Looks like our mighty hunter is having a little trouble with his prey now that they know his weakness. I guess he’ll have to either come up with a new strategy or surrender and ask nicely!”

His nostrils flared. Incognito drew back and bared his fangs at her. “Oooooh, you’re going to pay for that!” he hissed. “I’m going to scare you good for that one, just you wait!”

“Been waiting since you fell out of the bushes, ‘Nito. Still haven’t been scared, pounced, and defeated by our resident hunter!”

Incognito stomped his hoof. “You suck!” he snapped, turning away from his friends.

Laughing, Rumble trotted up and laid a hoof on his shoulder. “Aw, c’mon, ‘Nito! Don’t be like that! Stick around, we can all have ice cream—or, heck, you can have a little love if you’re that hungry and we’ll have ice cream. Call it a day on this hunt, eh?” He nudged Incognito with an elbow and dropped his voice. “Save it for next time so she forgets and isn’t waiting for it, if you know what I mean.”

Incognito sucked in his lips. He could certainly abandon his hunt for now and just wait it out, right until Sweetie was least expecting it. Revenge, after all, was a dish best served cold.

But that meant admitting defeat today and suffering that smug little smirk and the way her eyes danced each time she was able to outwit him. No matter how delightfully changeling she might look whenever that happened, he wasn’t going to allow it.

Not today.

Not after she dared gloat about countering his hunting skills, let alone assaulting his poor, innocent nose with her wicked boops three times in one day.

Oh no. Sweetie Belle would get hers. Today. Damn letting things cool down, she was going to learn firsthoof what happened when she dared to mock a changeling!

With an angry growl, he shook his head and turned away from Rumble. “No way,” he said. “I’m not giving her the satisfaction of me calling it quits today. Or any other day, for that matter!”

“She is sitting right here, listening to every word you say,” Sweetie chipped in.

“Sh-Shut up!” Incognito sputtered. “You’ll get yours soon enough! Mark my words!”

She laughed. “You just keep telling me to wait, but I’m starting to even up the score, ‘Nito. I think your pouncing days are numbered.”

Were they?

Perhaps. But Incognito wasn’t going to let her end it this way. Wheels upon wheels were in motion within his chitinous head to pay her back for all the mouthing off she’d done today.

If I could just make sure she couldn’t touch my nose, this would be so much easier … Incognito’s ears perked up, a wide grin spread across his muzzle. That’s it! Incognito fixed Sweetie Belle with a sidelong look, his young mind racing to formulate the perfect ambush plan to couple with his … more unorthodox manner of protecting himself.

Without another word, he zipped off to go put his plan into motion. If the First Mother’s blessing was with him, Rainbow Dash would be willing to loan out a piece or two of her winter sporting gear for a few hours. In exchange for enough bits for an extra large milkshake, of course.


It didn’t take much to convince Rainbow Dash to go along with his little scheme. Despite formerly bearing the honored title of Respected and Feared Enemy of the Hive alongside the rest of her friends, the speedy pegasus loved to cause mischief herself.

When he explained his plight, she cackled and happily agreed to part with a bit of her gear for a small fee. “Use it well, dude! Go get her!” she’d said, before rocketing off through the sky, her laughter fading away into the distance.

Incognito hid himself in the boughs of a rather leafy tree overlooking the path Sweetie Belle always took on her way home. He reached up to touch the scuffed plastic mask that sat atop his head. Having tried it on for a moment or two, it felt a bit weird, and made breathing a bit of a challenge, but it covered his face like he needed.

There would be no boops this time around. His nose would be safe from Sweetie Belle’s wicked hoof and, more importantly, he would be back in his rightful place at the top of the food chain.

He peered through the foliage, narrowing his sky blue eyes as he saw her familiar white coat and two-toned violet and powder pink mane. The little filly practically pranced her way down the street, her tail swishing happily as she sang to herself.

Sweetie had such a lovely voice, he had to admit. And she shared it so infrequently thanks to her blasted stage fright. Though, truth be told, Incognito could sympathize there—prior to the treaty, being caught in the act by a big crowd was a very real fear for his kind. To some, it still held.

Sadly, her song would have to be cut short this time around. With a rueful sigh, Incognito slid the mask over his face and adjusted it to his liking. A wicked grin made its way across his muzzle as he began to count down in his head, his muscles tensed, ready to spring into action.

His predatory instincts kicked in. It was the perfect ambush spot, his target didn’t even have the faintest hint he was lurking in the leafy tree branches hanging overhead. Incognito waited until Sweetie Belle stepped beneath his branch, then swooped down upon her, his hooves outstretched to wrap around her barrel. His aim was true.

Sweetie Belle let out a startled squeak as they fell over in a tangle of limbs. Her hooves flailed wildly, Incognito blocked a swipe at his head and quickly pinned her shoulder to the ground. Her free hoof lashed out and pressed against his snout. For a moment, Incognito froze, waiting for the familiar tickle and involuntary scrunch.

It never came! The mask worked!

With a victorious chitter, he brushed her hoof aside and pinned it against the ground. “Ha! Got you this time!” he crowed. Or, at least, that’s what he meant to say. The mask muffled his voice to the point it sounded like he was trying to talk through the solid part of his leg. No matter. He’d won! He finally got her!

Her ears perked up at the sound of his voice. She looked up at him in slack-jawed awe—no doubt surprised that he’d managed to outwit her so thoroughly and finally claim victory.

Then a smile spread across her muzzle, her cheeks puffed up. “Wh-What in the name of Equestria are you wearing?” she said, her voice tinged with poorly restrained mirth.

Why was she amused? She was pinned, trapped, defeated by the mighty hunter! Sweetie was supposed to be frustrated and dismayed, not amused! She was doing it wrong! Again!

“It’s a hockey mask I’ve repurposed to become an anti-boop device!” he boasted. “You won’t be booping my poor nose this time, Sweetie Belle! Now, I claim victory and my rightful place atop the food chain! Your love is—”

“What?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. Her smile faded into a confused frown.

Incognito blinked. “I … I said I won. And that I’m a good hunter. And that—”

Sweetie shook her head. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying through that thing.”

Rolling his eyes, Incognito grumbled under his breath. Why was he not surprised? The way his hunts had been going lately, it just figured the key to his victory would disrupt the time-old tradition of boasting.

He heaved a long-suffering sigh and brought his left hoof up to push the mask back to rest atop his head. “I said that I claim victory and my rightful place atop the food chain, and that your love is now—”

Quick as a flash, Sweetie reached up and pressed a hoof against his nose. Her eyes danced with glee. “Boop!”

Incognito fell backwards off her, clapping his hooves over his poor nose yet again. The familiar tickle ran down his snout, he could even feel the tingling sweetness of cotton candy dissolving on his tongue. Gahfrigginfrickfrack—come on!” He sat bolt upright, his eyes flashed an angry green. “Stop cheating, dang it!”

“Cheating?” Sweetie giggled and sat up. “How is this cheating?”

“You keep ruining my hunts!”

“You know you can just ask for a sip, silly!”

“That’s not how it works! I need to deceive and pounce and gloat! It’s part of what makes me a changeling! And you. Keep. Ruining. It. With. Your. Cheating!”

Sweetie Belle gave a bell like laugh. “I’m sorry, ‘Nito, but you just look so cute when we get you like that, and it’s kind of fun. Like how you think it’s fun to jump out at us from the bushes or pretend to be somepony else and then surprise us.”

“Yeah, well—” Incognito stopped short. She had a point with that one, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. “Okay, fine! But it’s still cheating on a hunt!”

“Is it?” Her laughter stopped. She gave a small smile. “Isn’t it normal for ‘prey’ to try to resist the ‘mighty predator’ hunting it?”

Incognito stayed silent. Again, she had a point he couldn’t refute. Though he never went out on a hunting mission to enchant and bring back a pony or two before the treaty, his parents had taken him fishing at night. He remembered all too well how it felt to hold a wriggling salmon in his mouth, how its body spasmed as it tried to fight against his powerful jaws and piercing fangs, and the inevitable paralysis that his venom brought with it.

Even if it couldn’t escape, the salmon would always try. And even before Pinkie went and told everypony that changelings seized up if you booped their nose just right—much to every changelings’ chagrin when a few of the more inquisitive townsponies (and a certain over enthusiastic princess and friendship student) decided to test it out—the ponies who signed up to act as love donors still squirmed and tried to run away when the changelings in town hunted them, even though they knew it was part of the deal when they signed up as volunteers. Though, a small part of him did wonder if they ran to play up the act for their new neighbors.

So … was she a cheater? Any more than he was when he disguised himself as one of the other foals so he could sneak up and catch them unawares?

“I … guess it makes sense,” he said, pulling a face as though he tasted something rotten. “Can you just … please not do it too much? At least not every day?”

Sweetie frowned. “Does it bother you and the other nymphs when we do?”

Incognito nodded once.

“Then I’ll talk to the other foals. Maybe we can all sit down together and see if the other nymphs are okay with it being a part of the ‘hunt’ thing.” She paused, then added, “You’re okay with that at least, right?”

He sighed. “I don’t like it, but I can’t argue against it either. It’s as fair as shapeshifting or spitting resin to stick your legs to the ground.”

Sweetie wrinkled her snout. “Yeah, that’s kind of ew. So, we’re okay?”

Incognito ducked his head and looked away, his ears drooped. After all that work, he still lost thanks to stupid boops. His lot in life. “Yeah,” he grumbled. “We’re fine.”

“Good.” She scooted closer to him, her shoulder brushed against him. “Hungry?”

Confused, he turned to fix her with a quizzical stare. “Huh?”

She beamed. “You caught me, silly. Do you really think I’m not going to let you have a sip after all the effort you put in?”

His ears perked up. Incognito sat up straight and swished his stubby tail. “Really?”

“Sure.” Sweetie cast him a playful wink and smirk, a hint of mischief shone in those brilliant green eyes. “I think the mighty hunter deserves a snack since he endured all his prey’s teasing and managed to adapt and outwit her in the end.”

Incognito allowed himself a happy chitter, a grin spread across his chitinous muzzle. “You’re the best!”

Sweetie tossed her mane and waggled her ears. “Flattery will get you everywhere. Now, drink up.”

Licking his lips, he leaned in close and parted his lips, stopping with his nose just a hair’s breadth from hers. Maybe he didn’t get the three course meal he wanted, but he could at least savor the most filling and tastiest of them all.

But Sweetie had other ideas. She darted forward before he could blink or even think to draw on her love, her lips pressed against his.

Incognito froze. Everything around him seemed meaningless. His heart hammered in his chest, his brain seemed to skip a few steps as all thought processes crashed.

A tingling sensation reached his tongue, like cotton candy or pop rocks dissolving on it, so very sweet.


Her emerald green eyes danced with glee. Then, slowly, they closed as she tilted her head to the side and pressed deeper into the kiss. Purely on instinct, Incognito dared to sip at her love, and nearly went cross-eyed.

So sweet! He was floating on a cloud, lost in a world of bliss and utter delight. Had he ever tasted something so wonderful? Had he ever been this full before?

No. Never. This was perfect. It was just … everything. No words. Just the taste of sweet, innocent, and pure love, and the incomparable high that came with it. And it was all for him!

He felt her pull away. His lips felt cold again, but Incognito couldn’t help but smile. His long, serpentine tongue lolled out of his mouth then slowly ran along his lips, a happy purr sounded from the back of his throat. He wasn’t certain which he liked better: the aftertaste of her love, or the lingering taste of her soft lips playing on his.

A musical giggle tickled his ears. “Is the mighty predator full?” she whispered teasingly in his ear.

Incognito tried to speak, his words slurring beyond even his own comprehension. He forced his eyes open to meet her gaze and nodded, a goofy smile spread across his muzzle.

“Good.” Sweetie stood and brushed the dirt off her coat. “I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘Nito. If I’m not home soon, Rarity will probably turn Ponyville upside down looking for me. Again.”

“Huh?” Her voice jolted him out of his stupor. Incognito shook his head to clear the cobwebs, the taste of love still lingered on his tongue, along with something else. Something he found irritating until now.

It tingled. Like cotton candy or pop rocks. The same as when she booped him.

His ears stood up. “W-Wait!” He held out a hoof, his heart skipped a beat. “Can you, uh, y’know …”

Sweetie raised a brow. “Can I what?” she asked.

Incognito fidgeted in place, a rueful grin tugged at his lips. “Could you boop me again?”

Snorting, she arched her brow higher. “All that complaining about how it was cheating, and now you want me to boop you?” Sweetie cocked her head to one side. “Are you okay there, ‘Nito?”

“Just do it!” he babbled. The tastes were too similar to be coincidence. And there was nothing—nothing—that compared to the taste of pure love, no matter how much Pinkie Pie tried to say otherwise.

Sweetie shrugged. “Alright then.” As requested, she reached forward and pressed her hoof against his nose.

Incognito scrunched and seized up, but he pushed it aside, just this once. His focus was entirely on the tingling sensation dancing upon his tongue. The very same as her love.

His eyes lit up, Incognito let out a long, happy purr. He had to be sure though. Hiding the goofy grin that tugged at his lips, he asked, “C-Can you kiss me again, too?”

This time,, Sweetie simply laughed. “Boops are free, but kisses definitely aren’t.” She waggled her ears and gave her tail a merry swish. “You’ll have to wait for another of those!”

“You can’t just—” Incognito stopped himself short. What was that he was supposed to ask when he wanted love now? That silly pony word? “Please?” he asked. “I’m … curious about something.”

A wry look crossed her face. Sweetie Belle opened her mouth to speak, but thought better and closed it with an audible click of her teeth. Humming, she shrugged her shoulders. “Alright,” she said, her smirk returning in full force. “But you have to close your eyes.”

“Why? You didn’t care before.”

“Either close your eyes, or no kiss.” Waggling her ears, Sweetie leaned down to brush their noses together. “Take it or leave it, ‘Nito,” she whispered.

He didn’t need to be told twice. Incognito bobbed his head happily, clenching his eyes shut and waiting decidedly impatiently. The little nymph was almost bouncing in place, eager to see if his hunch was—

Soft lips pressed against his nose. Incognito tensed up, scrunching his snout. A chittering laugh bubbled from the back of his throat as he felt the tingle teasing his tongue.

“See you in class tomorrow, ‘Nito,” she whispered, her breath washing over his snout.

He blinked owlishly, gazing up at her bleary eyed. The winning smirk and gleam in her eyes made his heart skip a beat. He watched with rapt attention as she turned away, flicking her tail across his snout to make him sneeze and scrunch up again. “Good luck on your next hunt!”

Without another word, she scampered off down the road to Carousel Boutique, her musical giggling faded into the distance.

Incognito sat still for a few moments longer. He released a shaky breath, the goofy grin still stuck on his face as he reached up to rub at his nose. It was the same taste the entire time. Every time she booped his nose, there was always a hint of sweetness and tingling, just like when she let him feed. He felt … amazing! More full and energetic than ever before!

As far as his family and fellow changelings would ever know, he was simply reaping the benefits of his friends’ generous donation a successful hunt. Between Sweetie Belle and himself, on the other hoof …

Maybe boops aren’t so bad after all …

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