Ik'thik the Drone

Nov 5th, 2015
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  1. Ik'thik the drone
  3. >The following is the story of Ik'thik, changeling drone, forward operating scout of the swarm.
  4. >He works alone, infiltrating places no other changeling has infiltrated before, paving the way for others to find a place to feed.
  5. >His missions tend to be long, risky, and involve large amounts of time transformed.
  6. >Among the most elite members of the swarm, he specializes in infiltrating rural communities.
  7. >These communities require a different touch than, say a neighborhood in a big city like Fillydelphia.
  8. >we come upon Ik'thik as he is preparing to move into the small mountain town of Cloudcrop, located in the west of Equestria.
  10. >Be Ik'thik the drone.
  11. >You are preparing to move into a new town, on assignment from the Queen herself.
  12. >You have chosen a cover identity, a unicorn stallion.
  13. >Forest service green coat, dirty blonde mane, and moss green eyes. Cutie mark of a stand of pine trees.
  14. >You think you are going to go by the name Pine Fresh.
  15. >Mission; find employement in town, settle down, and determine best targets for rest of the swarm to move upon in the future.
  16. >Since the town is known for its lumber production, you figure thats a great place to try to fit into with your disguise.
  17. >The town itself is located high in the mountains high above the Palomino desert, where the weather is cool and wet enough to be comfortable to live.
  18. >Plus, trees grow beautifully, so the ponies need for lumber made it a perfect place for a settlement.
  19. >Information collected from Equestrian Gazeteer in Canterlot lets you know the place has a permanent population of around 200 ponies, with the population rising in the summer with extra laborers coming in to work the lumber mills and other forestry operations.
  20. >The particuarly cold winters of the high elevation scare away many ponies that might live there year round otherwise.
  21. >The population is primarily earth ponies, with the high elevations attracting a reasonable population of pegasi, and unicorns being the least populus, but are still around.
  22. >You are currently riding on the train up the mountain on a beautiful spring day.
  24. >Everypony on the train is bursting with a jubilant mood, giving you a nice boost to your own energy... Delicious emotions!
  25. >Looking out the window, you can see the crest of the steep hill you are riding up, and indications that the town sits right at the crest.
  26. >You think to yourself...
  27. This town looks like the views alone will generate lots of pleasant feelings upon which to feed.
  28. I'm suprised its taken so long to pick this place out for scouting.
  29. >Another pony notices you happily looking out the window, up the hill.
  30. >"Hey there, fella. I ain't never seen you up in Cloudcrop before. You new?"
  31. >You are slightly startled by the interruption
  32. Oh, uh, yeah! First time coming up. Heard there were good jobs. Also heard the town was nice, too.
  33. >"Ah, good to hear. This'll be my 4th season working up here. Summer is nice... The winter up here just isn't my speed, though."
  34. Yeah, I've heard a bit about that, but the cold doesn't bother me much. Not sure if I'll stay up here, though. Just a trial run for me this season.
  35. >the other pony nods
  36. >"You have a job lined up yet?"
  37. >you grimace slightly
  38. I... Have not quite worked that out yet. I figured if I got up to town early in the season, I could probalby snag something.
  40. >"No house either?"
  41. Nope. I figure ther'll be places to rent
  42. >"Lots for rent, not all of it is all that nice... If ya can afford it definitely look at the townhomes on the north side o' town. Otherwise, there are plenty of cheap bunk houses you can stay at."
  43. >You think for a moment.
  44. >Bunk houses would have you close to other ponies, perfect for subtle feeding, but you would have an inverse level of privacy.
  45. >The townhomes would have less close contact, but the privacy could be nice if you find some gullible pony to bring home from time to time.
  46. >Your thoughts are interupted by the blowing of the whistle on the train
  47. >"Whelp, looks like we got up to the station right on schedule. Ill see you around... I don't believe I caught yer name. I go by Sawin' Steve around here."
  48. >You look to the earth pony stallion you have been speaking with, light beige coat, dark green mane, and a cutie mark of a saw blade.
  49. Nice to meet you, Sawin' Steve. I am Pine Fresh. I suppose I'll see you around town.
  50. >You step off the train, onto a simple wooden platform.
  51. >As you suspected, the view from the town is quite stunning, even from the ground.
  52. >The rest of the town looks like your average earth pony frontier town. Saloons, various shops, a few assorted restaurants, and suprisingly, a nice upscale hotel, likely for tourists looking to enjoy the weather.
  54. >You see something that looks like an office for a lumber company right in the middle of the high street. "Cloud Lumber Company" a big sign proudly sits over the entry of the building.
  55. >Looks legit.
  56. >You stroll past it, wanting to get a better feel of the town before finding cover employment
  57. >You see the nice townhomes north of the quaint downtown the Steve pony spoke of.
  58. >Looks comfy
  59. >You also see a number of regular pony houses spread on cute little side streets.
  60. >South, you see, and hear, numerous operating lumbermills.
  61. >On the outer edges of town, closer to the trees, you see simple buildings you assume are the bunk houses.
  62. >All about you, the colorful ponies socialize, and happily go about their pony business.
  63. >This place is going to be perfect.
  65. >You return to the Cloud Lumber Company office, and enter.
  66. >A fine looking mare sits before you at a desk, shuffling through paperwork.
  67. >She looks up as you approach.
  68. >"Can I help you?"
  69. Why, yes, I think you can. I am looking for employ in the lumber industry this season, and this looked like the establishment to find it.
  70. >She nods.
  71. >"We are the premeir lumber and forestry company in town. What kind of experience to you have?
  72. >You motion to your taken form's cutie mark
  73. I have mostly worked with regrowing trees before, but I can do whatever.
  74. >She pushes a paper to you, and points you in the direction of a bench to one side of the office.
  75. >"We are good on our forest management, we difinitely need more lumberjacks, and a unicorn like yourself should be very useful. Fill out this form, and we should be able to get you working by this afternoon... I don't believe I caught your name?"
  76. Pine Fresh, at your service.
  77. >you bow slightly, while grabbing the document, and taking it over to the table with your magic.
  79. >Fucking ponies and their fucking paperwork.
  80. >You manage to fill out the inane form, and return it to the mare working the front desk.
  81. >"Done finally? You have any questions?"
  82. You got any places that rent for cheap to your workers?
  83. >"We have 2 of the townhomes ready to rent out... furnished already of course. Those are a bit pricey, with your wages, will leave you little in the way of extra for luxries, like booze and anything more than basic food."
  84. >"If you are wanting to live on the cheap, we got bunkhouses a plenty. Much cheaper, no privacy, but hey, most ponies in your position like to throw their money away at the saloon, and compromise on sleeping arrangements."
  85. >You think
  86. >You will be able to get some extra bits from the swarm if you must, and the privacy afforded by the townhome will definitely be worthwhile.
  87. I'd like the townhome... I enjoy my privacy.
  88. >"Meh, whatever works for you, buddy. We'll take the rent out of your paycheck."
  89. Fine by me.
  90. >"Welcome to the company, newbie. You best go report to the logging camp after dropping your stuff off at your new place. You get number 11. After that, follow out hay street to...."
  92. >Your town home is indeed, pretty sweet.
  93. >plenty of curtains to keep closed so you can rest in your true form.
  94. >nice living room for sweet talking ponies you bring back for sustainance.
  95. >cozy, dark, comfortable bedroom.
  96. >The entire place has delicious positive vibes about it.
  97. >You drop your saddle bag at the foot of the bed, and drop the disguise.
  98. >You bring out your coded emergency instructions and slip them under the mattress of the bed.
  99. Mmmm... Feels good to relax a little bit. Should have a few minutes to unwind before I go out to the woods. This entire assignment should be a piece of cake.
  101. >Be Gusty Leaves, mare in charge of the Cloud Lumber Company camp #4
  102. >It is a nice, pleasant spring afternoon, and the aroma of freshly cut pines fills the air.
  103. >So far, this has been a good season. Good weather, good equipment, good workers... Just good all around.
  104. >You see an unfamiliar pony approaching the camp, from the direction of town.
  105. >A green unicorn.
  106. >You take flight upon your wings, and fly up to greet the newcomer
  108. >Be Ik'thik, changeling drone.
  109. >Be disguised as Pine Fresh, uncorn pony, starting a new cover job in the city you have been assigned to scout for the swarm.
  110. >You approach the location the mare in the company office assigned you to go work at, a short distance outside of town, up a side canyon.
  111. >You see several ponies wandering around, performing various lumberjacking duties.
  112. >One of them appears to notice you, a mint cream pegasus mare, with a fern colored mane, and aquamarine eyes.
  113. >She takes flight, and flies toward you at high speed.
  114. >"Hey fella! Welcome to Cloud Lumber Company camp #4! What brings ya out here?"
  115. >You hold forward a scroll, given to you by the pony in the office
  116. I am Pine Fresh, I just got hired, and was told to come out here and work today.
  118. >a broad smile grows across the pegasus' face.
  119. >"Welcome aboard then! I am Gust Leaves, pony in charge of making sure everything here works out right!"
  120. >She looks around a little bit.
  121. >"It's good you got here. We have been slightly short hoofed so far this season, and..."
  122. >She takes a closer look at you
  123. >"You look like you have a special talent involving trees! Excellent!"
  124. >you shrug.
  125. I have worked before growing trees, but am a bit new to the harvesting side of things.
  126. >"Aww, thats fine. At each camp, we normally have a total of 7 ponies working. You fill up all our spots! Everyone else is around here, somewhere."
  127. >"First, I am in charge of making sure everything flows smoothly, pick the right trees to cut, make sure ponies are doing what they oughta."
  128. >"Next, we have two teams of two ponies bringing the trees down. One pony cuts, the other works to make sure it falls where we want it. You are going to do the latter. Good use of your magic."
  129. >"Lastly, we have the rought cutting and loading team. The rough cutter cuts off extra small branches, and the loading pony uses the heavy lifter to load the wagons with the logs."
  130. >Gusty Leaves nods happily
  131. >"With you here, and our rough cutter also arriving today, we have a full team to make sure we can work hard, and get paid better!"
  133. Good to hear. So what exactly do I do? Use magic to nudge falling trees to the right spot?
  134. >"Pretty much. You are going to be working directly with Lavender August. She is experienced, so you should have an easy time figuring out exaclty what you should do."
  135. Uhh... Where should I go to find her?
  136. >"She should be over that way"
  137. >The mint cream pegasus points to the one side of the camp with one of her wings.
  138. >"Lets go find her, and maybe meet some of the other ponies around!"
  139. >"Oh, and go grab your helmet, googles, and orange vest from the supply wagon. You need that."
  140. >Man, this little mare is just bursting with positive vibes. Sweet, sweet positive vibes.
  141. >And your special scout training lets you feed of these kinds of vibes quite effectively compared to other changelings.
  142. >As you get closer to camp, you recognize one of the other ponies present at the camp.
  143. >The stallion you spoke with on the train ride up, Sawin' Steve.
  144. >As you approach him, working to saw branches off some tree, he looks up, and recognizes you.
  145. >The ash grey earth pony sets his power saw down, lifts his helmet and goggles off his face, revealing his bright blue mane, and he waves at your approach.
  146. >He shouts "Hey, Pine Fresh! Didn't expect to see you out here, buddy."
  147. >"Hmm? You two know each other?" questions Gusty
  148. Indeed. We spoke a little bit on the train ride up the mountain into town.
  149. >"Good to see ya again, Pine. Gotta get back to work cuttin these trees down to a managable size."
  150. >Steve dons his hat and goggles, and continues his work.
  151. >"Well, isn't that just nice. Off to go find Lavender!"
  153. >Walking for a few minutes behind the pegasus, you come upon a pony you assume must be the Lavender August.
  154. >She is an earth pony, with a lavendar coat and a very pale grey mane. Her cutie mark is hidden by a bright orange safety vest.
  155. >As you approach, she is going to town with a chain saw on a reasonably sized pine tree.
  156. >Gusty lets out a suprisingly loud whistle, which gives the lavender pony a slight start that stops her from continuing her work.
  157. >She turns to you, removes her hard hat and goggles, revealing violet eyes.
  158. >"Whats up boss? Finally found me an assistant?"
  159. >Gusty nods
  160. >"Yeah, got us a newbie. Meet Pine Fresh."
  161. >You sense a sudden flow of distaste from Lavender
  162. >"A newbie, eh? Hopefully he's competent.
  163. >She looks you over, much like a changeling commander would look over a squad of hatchlings.
  164. I assure you, I can do whatever is needed to ensure optimum work flow, Miss Lavender.
  165. >"Hmph. Atleast he's polite. Fine, use your unicorn magic to make sure this tree falls over there"
  166. >She points with a hoof, a direction thats open, and away from ponies.
  168. Sounds easy enough. Lets finish up this one you were working on.
  169. >You don your helmet, goggles, and hideously orange vest.
  170. >Lavender picks up her chain saw, and begins to cut further.
  171. >"Alright, newbie get ready with your fancy magic, cause its about to... wait for it..."
  172. >with a mighty crack, the tree begins to fall vaguely in the right direction.
  173. >You power up your magic, and subtly nudge it to an ideal spot.
  174. >Perfect.
  175. >You feel a rush of happy feelings from Lavender
  176. >"Not bad, newbie."
  177. It was nothing. Just direct where you want it to go, and I'll make sure it happens.
  178. >Gusty Leaves nods.
  179. >"Well, Pine, I think you have a good future here if you can keep up precision like that."
  180. >Lavender motions to a nearby tree, marked with a splotch of yellow paint
  181. >"Ok, Pine Fresh, was it? Lets get this one.
  182. >Gusty moves to head back to the main part of the camp, and you step up behind Lavender
  183. Gotcha, Lavender. Is that spot right over there OK?
  184. >You use some of your magical talent to cause a bit of the ground to glow slightly
  185. >"Perfect"
  186. >the only reply you got from Lavender
  187. >You watched her professionally, and quickly cut through the tree.
  188. >As she was nearly through, you heard her give a great shout.
  189. >"Here it comes, Pine!"
  190. >A second or so later, the tree begins to creak, and fall.
  191. >Not quite where she wanted.
  192. >You rectify the issue.
  193. >Again, you feel the positive vibes coming from the mare before you.
  194. >"If you can keep that up, I think we can be good friends. No one out here likes someone who is bad at their job."
  195. >you give a slight smile.
  196. >You are so good at your job, you can pretend to do other jobs like a master.
  197. >Not that any of the ponies here need to know that.
  198. >The rest of your afternoon carries on much in the same manner.
  199. >Trees fall down, right where they need to, and a pony driving a large tractor with a grabbing arm comes by, and carries them back to the main camp.
  201. >As the sun gets low in the sky, you and your work partner return to the main camp, and put your safety equipment onto the storage wagon.
  202. >Sawin' Steve sees you approaching, and comes to speak with you, and Lavender August.
  203. >"So, Lavender, how'd our new buddy do? Does his newness to workin' up here show?"
  204. >She responds.
  205. >"His work is quite adequate, especially for a new person."
  206. >She eyes you an amused look
  207. >"Impressivly so, for a newbie in fact.. What are you, some kinda secret agent?"
  208. >you feel your heart skip a beat
  209. Uhh... Of course not? Why would a secret agent come do heavy physical labor in Cloudcrop?
  210. >You feel some nice positive vibes coming from both the stallion and mare standing near you.
  211. >"Ah, don't sweat it, Pine Fresh. Just giving you a hard time. It's the hazing we ALL went through."
  212. >Sawin' Steve responds.
  213. >"Yeah. We got a pretty good amount of work done. Our pay should be pretty good. You guys want to go hang out at The Bear Track?"
  214. >"Oh, hell yeah. Need a good chance to relax."
  215. >You look at your two pony compatriots
  216. Why would we want to hang around at a bear track?
  217. >Lavender starts laughing, and Steve gives an explanation while chuckling.
  218. >"Oh Piney, you really are something. THe Bear Track is one of the saloons in town. Great place to relax after a day of work."
  219. >Oh. I suppose that makes sense.
  220. >Silly ponies, and their silly naming conventions.
  221. >However, a place like that sounds like a good place to get some delicious emotions.
  222. **
  223. >You soon find yourself in a subdued, dark, comfortable establishment just off the main road in town.
  224. >All your co-workers seem to be quite friendly.
  225. >Gotta love that small town charm... Generally friendly, and guillible.
  226. >You slowly absorb a smattering of emotions the ponies in the room are giving off.
  227. >At the very least, you should be able to subsist for the duration of your assignment from hanging around in a place like this.
  228. >Your personal thoughts are interrupted by Lavender.
  229. >"So, Pine, what did you do before you decided to come up to little ol' Cloudcrop?"
  230. >You are caught slightly off guard.
  231. Well, as you might be able to tell lookin at my flank, I do have some talents with trees.
  232. Before, I've just worked on growing them in gardens and near ponies houses.
  233. >You pause thoughtfully.
  234. Though, the pay up here is a hell of a lot better than working as a glorified gardener.
  235. >You give out a chuckle.
  236. >The other ponies sitting around you nod in agreement.
  237. >"Yeah, the pay up here is pretty good, I'd say."
  238. >Good. Nosey ponies asking too many questions makes your mission that much more challenging.
  239. >You spin small talk with the ponies from work, plus a few others who have joined your table.
  240. >Ponies for every taste here, and all so willing to be close.
  241. >After several hours, you bid the ponies goodbye, and head back to your abode.
  242. >Upon going inside, you drop your disguise, and reach into the bags you brought with you, and pen a note to your contact with the swam.
  243. >Just a simple, generic letter between two friends, should somepony intercept it and read it.
  244. >However, upon finishing up with a regular pen, you use a clear fluid you secrete, and write a few notes about what you have observed today.
  245. >The town is generally quite happy, and the locals are very friendly.
  246. >It is shaping up to be an amazing place, and by next season, you expect a new nest to be established in the area, ready to feast upon the ponies of this town.
  248. Ch. 2
  249. >Several weeks later, you have come to a pretty good rhythym of working, and finding all the little details about town that would be most useful for the swarm.
  250. >You've also gotten on the good side of a few of the local mares... You might be able to bring one home for a huge meal.
  251. >At work, the camp #4 ponies and yourself have gotten a pretty damn good rhythym going on.
  252. >You are the top earning camp so far this season.
  253. >This morning, Gusty Leaves has called a team meeting before the work day starts.
  254. >You arrive just a little bit early, and it appears everyone but Sawin' Steve is there already.
  255. >Beyone Gusty Leaves, your supervisor at this job, and Lavender August, your team partner, and Steve, there are 3 other ponies at camp #4.
  256. >Burnt Oak, the earth pony stallion in charge of driving the heavy equipment that moves the logs.
  257. >Evergreen, pegasus mare, who does the same thing as you; guiding trees down to the right spot.
  258. >A hell of a lot more dangerous for her, but as far as you can tell, she does a damn good job of not getting hurt, and getting the trees in the right spot.
  259. >And finally, Oakey Doke, an earth pony mare. She, much like Lavender, handles the chain saw and cutting of trees.
  260. >There's a little bit of small talk as ponies wait for the last member to arrive.
  261. >Luckily, you don't have to wait long, and Sawin' Steve arrives.
  262. >"Sorry im a little late guys... Got held up a little bit this morning."
  263. >You can feel... Taste...
  264. >That ol' dog.
  265. >He had a quickie this morning with the mare he took home last night from the saloon.
  266. >And the emotions he's putting off are delicious.
  267. >Gusty speaks up.
  268. >"Good, now that everyone is here, we can have our quick meeting before getting started on working today."
  269. >You can feel a little bit of unease from her.
  271. >"Since we are kind of out in the middle of no where, somtimes the weather out here can get a little wild, uncontrolled by my fellow pegasi."
  272. >"We've heard there might be some wild storms floating around today. So becareful out there."
  273. >She nods, and everyone moves to grab equipment, and move out to start their day.
  274. >"Ready for a good, well paying day, Pine Fresh?"
  275. >Your sawing partner wraps her leg around you.
  276. >She has definitely taken a liking to you.
  277. >An efficient worker, not an asshole like so many stallions that end up in jobs like this.
  278. >You can tell, she secretly wants you, though she wouldn't admit it.
  279. Oh, of course, Lavender. Gonna try to get a camp #4 record of trees cut today?
  280. >She smiles.
  281. >"Ya damn right, we are gonna try for that."
  282. >You don your helmet, goggles, and ugly bright orange vest.
  283. >You aren't entirely sure what Gust Leaves was talking about.
  284. >They sky was quite clear, and the temperature most pleasant.
  285. >Perfect day for setting a record, and getting in even better with Lavender.
  286. >Oh what a hearty meal that will be when you get her home and work your magic on her.
  288. >You both reach your assigned area.
  289. >"Record breaking day, here we come."
  290. >Lavender revs up her chainsaw, and goes to town on the marked trees.
  291. >At this point, nudging the trees into the perfect spot is second nature.
  292. >You spend the morning bringing up an impressive number of trees down
  293. >Definitely on the road to a record
  294. >You can feel the confidence within her growing.
  295. >And a few wisps of desire, directed to you.
  296. >Little does she know your true nature, and the sustainance this gives you.
  297. >Around noon, a sharp whistle comes from the heavy machinery.
  298. >Pony lunch time.
  299. >While you do not need to consume regular food like the ponies, not doing so as an undercover scout would make you stick out like a sore thumb.
  300. >So, hay sandwiches with your co-workers it is.
  302. >After some pleasant lunch discussion, and the positive emotions that come with it, you prepare to return to working.
  303. >You see a few big, puffy white clouds coming over the forest.
  304. >Trailing behind Lavender, you think to yourself.
  305. >She is quite the pleasant pony to be around. No nonesense.
  306. >And you can tell she appreciates your own no nonsense method to work.
  307. >Upon reaching where you left off before lunch, you don your goggles and helmet, and position yourself to control tree drops.
  308. >"Alright Piney, you ready to kick this afternoon off? We keep up our pace from this morning, we set a record, AND get our pay increase!"
  309. >You nod.
  310. Kick it off
  311. >The sound of a revving chainsaw fills the forest, and Lavender goes to town upon the marked trees.
  312. >After an hour, you and Lavender have managed to outpace yourselves from the morning.
  313. We got this, Lavender.
  314. >she lets out a loud laugh as she finishes pushing her chainsaw through a tree, and you skillfully guide it to an ideal spot.
  315. >"Ya damn right, we got this, Piney."
  316. >You smile.
  317. >There are more clouds in the sky now than there were before.
  318. >A few are looking a little dark, like there might be rain on its way.
  319. >Maybe there was somthing to what Gusty Leaves said earlier.
  320. We best watch out for some rain, Lavender, the clouds are staring to darken.
  321. >She doesn't bother to look up
  322. >"Well, then we best get cuttin' while the cuttin's good, Piney."
  323. >You shrug.
  324. >There is logic to her words.
  326. >The sun is lowering, but its hard to tell quite how low.
  327. >The sky has become quite overcast as the afternoon has worn on.
  328. >You and Lavender have done a hell of a job cutting down trees. You are only 3 away from the daily record.
  329. Keep it up, Lavender. We got this.
  330. >She laughs maniacially as she takes the chainsaw to a tree
  331. >"Pay increase, here we come!"
  332. >The vigor, the joy coming from her... Its quite satisfying.
  333. >2 from the daily record.
  334. >Lavender jumps up to the next tree.
  335. >Suddenly, the wind begins to pick up, like nothing you have ever seen before.
  336. >The trees around you begin to bend, uncomfortably so.
  337. >A particularly tall tree a few dozen yards off snaps, and comes crashing down to the ground, uncontrolled.
  338. >Lavender had just barely started chainsawing a tree, but jumps back at the tree that came down under the force of the wind.
  339. >You shout
  340. I think we should run back to camp! This doesn't look good!
  341. >She nods and shouts back, and starts moving towards you
  342. >"I agree, damn weather!"
  343. >she cuts the power to her chainsaw, as a terribly strong gust of wind comes out of nowhere.
  344. >Several trees behind her snap, and begin falling.
  345. >Directly at her.
  347. >In the split second you notice this, you focus your entire will into your magic.
  348. >Move the trees away from Lavender.
  349. >With a bright green flash, you see the trees falling at her match the green surrounding yourself.
  350. >They slow down to nearly a stop.
  351. >She turns around at the sound of the cracking trees, and the sight of your magic, and falls stunned upon seeing the trees floating above her.
  352. >You close your eyes, and through sheer force of will, attempt to push the trees off to the side.
  353. >You hear the hurricane force winds whipping around you as you try to focus on the task at hand.
  354. >Several seconds later, you hear the horrified scream of Lavender, and feel a sudden flash of fear coming from the mare you have been working with.
  355. >The wind has died, and you now feel a few sparse rain drops hitting you.
  356. >You open your eyes, and look in Lavender's direction.
  358. >She is alive, perfectly unharmed, and the trees lie strewn to her side.
  359. >Her stare is focused directly on you.
  360. You OK, Lavender?
  361. >You can feel the fear within her growing.
  362. What's wrong?
  363. >You realize your voice sounds different than you have gotten used to hearing recently.
  365. >Oh.
  366. >Fuck.
  367. >You look down at your legs, and they are not the green, furry legs you have been sporting most of the time for the last few weeks.
  368. >You see black, chitinous legs, with a few holes here and there.
  369. >SHIT.
  370. >DEEP SHIT.
  371. >In your magical push, your disguise must have been a casualty.
  372. >You quickly think back to your scout training.
  373. >What did they say about getting your cover blown.
  374. >"Where's Pine Fresh!? Did you do something to him?!"
  375. >Gotta think fast.
  376. Wait, wait, this is just some terrible misunderstanding!
  377. >You managed to pull your Pine Fresh voice back on.
  378. >A good bit of confusion mixes in with the sheer terror eminating from Lavender August.
  379. I can totally explain whats going on!
  380. >You sense an odd emotion coming from the pony.
  381. >An unfamiliar one.
  382. >She gets a strange look in her eyes.
  383. Uhh... You alright?
  385. >Lavender proceeds to fall down, passed out.
  386. >Oh. Thats what that was. Not every day you feel a faint coming on.
  387. >The stream of emotions from her during this little... episode has given you enough power to reform your disguise atleast.
  388. >And from what you can feel, she should be out for a pretty reasonable amount of time.
  389. >You lift her over your back, and carry her back to the main camp.
  391. >As you approach the main camp, you can see stuff looks a little messed up.
  392. >The wind must have gotten pretty bad here.
  393. >Equipment is strewn all over the place, and the other camp ponies are going around trying to salvage what they can.
  394. >Gusty Leaves observes you approaching, and sees Lavender on your back.
  395. >You can feel her worry from here.
  396. >She takes flight and approaches you.
  397. >"OHMIGOSH, what happened?"
  399. >You shrug. Lavender breathes lightly while laying on your back.
  400. She passed out. A tree nearly fell on her, but I was able to keep it from hitting her. I couldn't get her chainsaw, so its sitting back where we were working.
  401. >You see, and feel, the worry leaving Gusty Leaves.
  402. >"That's a relief!"
  403. Oh, and I think with the trees knocked down by the wind... I think we broke the daily record.
  404. >"Thats amazing!"
  405. >You can feel quite a bit of good vibes coming from the mare standing before you.
  406. >"I think our whole team did great day, even with the bad weather! Though, you should take Lavender back to town."
  407. >You pause for a moment.
  408. Yeah, I was going to carry her back to my place, and keep an eye on her till she wakes up.
  409. >"Alright, thats fine! I'll send Steve to get her chainsaw, and any other stuff that might be lying around where you were working."
  410. >"Make sure she is OK, though."
  411. >She smiles, almost knowingly.
  412. >"And please, do be a gentlestallion about the whole thing."
  413. >She gives you a wink.
  414. >Wow. That was way easier than you had thought it would be.
  416. >You loaded Lavender onto a spare wagon at the camp, covered her in a blanket, and carry her home through a rain that has turned into a fine mist.
  417. >You drop the wagon off behind townhouse #11, and carry her inside through your back door.
  418. >You set her on the couch, and replace the damp blanket from the wagon with a fresh one.
  419. >You then proceed to lock your front and back doors, and set chairs in front of them, making it difficult for any pony to enter, and add some slight delay for any pony trying to leave.
  420. >Just in case.
  421. >You retrieve some parchment and a writing utensil, and sit down at the table in your townhouse's small kitchen, facing the couch, watching Lavender rest.
  422. >You pen yet another generic letter in regular ink to your swarm contact.
  423. >After completing it, you subtly ink a secret message about the events of the day.
  424. >You are prepared to bug out depending on how the waking of Lavender August goes down.
  425. >Speaking of that, you feel some emotions flowing from the pony on the couch, and shortly after, you hear her stirring.
  426. >You see her open her eyes, not looking at you, and you feel a sudden jolt of fear from the pony.
  427. I see you have woken up after passing out, Lavender.
  428. >The fear subsides slightly, and she looks over at you.
  429. >You, disguised as a green unicorn pony.
  430. Are you alright?
  431. >You can feel her fear fade slightly.
  432. >"I... what happened?"
  433. The weather went bad. The wind picked up, knocked down some trees that nearly fell on you.
  434. You passed out as I was forcing them away from you with my magic.
  435. >She thinks for a moment, and you sense some confusion.
  436. >"I remember the wind picking up, and the trees behind me snapping and falling, and seeing the aura of your magic completely surround them, and push them away."
  437. >She pauses for a moment to think.
  438. >"Then, when I looked at where you were standing, you weren't there at all! There was some horrible monster!"
  439. >You subtly wince at those words.
  441. >"Then... nothing. I don't remember anything past that, before waking up here in your home."
  442. >You nod at her words.
  443. I don't know what this nonsense about a monster is... You must have had some kind of hallucination.
  444. >"But... It seemed so real."
  445. >She stands up off the couch, comes over to you, and gives you a hug, and begins to sob on your shoulder.
  446. >You reciprocate...
  447. >And remove the chair from in front of the front door using your magic.
  448. >It appears that for now, your cover remains.
  449. >And you are getting a wonderful meal from Lavender.
  450. Its OK, Lavender. Everything will be alright.
  451. >"What I saw, it was so terrifying! It almost looked like... a changeling!"
  452. >You manage to hold your composure at that statement.
  453. Shhh... Its Fine. Everypony knows the changelings were banished from Equestria after the Canterlot incident.
  454. >Not at all true, but hey, thats propaganda for you.
  455. Oh, and by the way, Lavender... With the trees the wind knocked down, I think we broke the record today.
  456. >She perks up at those words.
  457. >"R-really? That's wonderful! Thats a pay increase!"
  458. And I think camp #4 got more than before as a total as well. So double whamey raise.
  459. >She hugs you, tighter.
  460. >"Oh Piney... Thank you for saving me."
  461. >The feelings you are feeling from her are changing in their taste.
  462. >"You are so wonderful."
  463. >Oh, yes.
  464. >Jackpot.
  465. **
  466. >You use your considerable talents as a changeling to obtain one hell of a meal from Lavender.
  467. >Afterwards, she decided to stay at your place.
  468. >Double jackpot.
  469. >Through the night, you get a stream of sweet emotions from Lavender, despite her being quite tired from a rough day at work, and a full on feeding.
  470. >In the morning you get out of bed, well before Lavender.
  471. >You go into the kitchen and prepare some standard pony breakfast food.
  472. >As you are finishing up cooking, Lavender comes out of your bedroom, yawning.
  473. >"Good morning, Piney."
  474. Sleep well, Lavender?
  475. >"Ugh, I'm still a bit tired."
  476. Well, we got work today. So best get perky.
  477. >You pour some coffee and serve the pancakes you prepared.
  478. Best eat a proper lumberjacks breafkast.
  479. >She groggily walks to the table and takes a seat, and digs in.
  480. >You also eat some, despite it not being at all necessary.
  481. >However, you do have a soft spot for pancakes.
  482. >You both finish your food, and put dishes into the sink, and prepare for work.
  483. >You grab the wagon from behind your townhouse, and pull it back to camp to start the day.
  484. >Upon reaching the camp, you are greeted by Gusty Leaves.
  485. >"Congratulations! You two set a record yesterday, even with the bad weather!"
  486. >"And with your record, we also set a total camp record! We got raises for everyone! And a party hosted by the company this weekend!"
  487. >A party.
  488. >Great place to feed upon subtle emotions.
  489. >And scout out and pick up a proper meal.
  490. >Lavender lets out a gleeful yelp.
  491. >"Ya hear that, Piney!? A party!"
  492. Indeed. Gotta love parties.
  493. >You grab your equipment, and move up to your assigned tree cutting location.
  494. >Your day is going on swimmingly, and your assignment is still undiscovered.
  496. >The company party to celebrate your record breaking is taking place at a small pond outside of town, with a small pavillion nearby.
  497. >The vibes you feel as you approach are almost intoxicating.
  498. >Joy, love, contentedness...
  499. >They threw you the perfect party, without even realizing it.
  500. >Lavender choose to meet you before the party, and travel with you to the party site.
  501. >Oakey Doke and Evergreen, the other team at camp #4 to Lavender and yourself, come up to greet the both of you soon after your arrival.
  502. >The jade coated, light brown maned pegasus, approaches you and gives her congratulations.
  503. >"Great job, you two! Set a team record, and pushed with us to have a camp record! Which is also the company record!"
  504. >"What she said!" the grass green earth pony, Oakey Doke exclaimed.
  505. >You feel a lot of joy beaming forth from the other camp for tree cutting team.
  506. >No love... Shame, as it stands neither of them is likely to come home with you any time soon.
  507. >Oh well. Maybe that'll change once ponies start seriously imbibing the cider.
  508. >On the other hand, you still got some pretty damn good vibes flowing from Lavender.
  509. >And her love was delicious when you fed upon it earlier in the week after the incident.
  510. >Monogomy is an odd concept for changelings, but it might work out quite well for you in this assignment.
  511. >You move about the party, making small talk with the various ponies that have to the party.
  512. >They all give you congratulations and well wishing to you and Lavender, who is following you around quite closely.
  513. >The positive feelings are suprisingly nourishing.
  514. >After a while of meeting and greeting, you turn to Lavender.
  515. Lavender, shall we take a stroll around the pond?
  516. >You observe her blush slightly.
  517. >"Y-yes, Piney, that would be quite agreeable."
  519. >You chuckle at her attempt to sound fancy.
  520. Come then, let us enjoy a slight break from the crowd.
  521. >You and Lavender proceed away from the crowd of ponies around the pavillion, and move around the pond as the sun sets, and the sky darkents.
  522. >"Oh, Piney... despite every thing, this week has been wonderful."
  523. >You can feel a powerful, sweet flow of emotions coming to you from Lavender.
  524. >Strong love, specifically directed at you.
  525. >The zenith of meals for a changeling.
  526. >"I've never met another pony quite like you. You are different. And I l... l-love that about you."
  527. >You give a pleasant smile.
  528. I feel much the same way about you, Lavender.
  529. >She blushes, and the stream of emotions flowing to you becomes stronger.
  530. >You continue your promenade around the pond, Lavender spending a lot of time staring at you longingly, you sometimes reciprocating.
  531. **
  532. >After your quiet trip around the lake, yourself and Lavender return to the party at large.
  533. >The sky is now a beautiful deep purple color, and there is just enough light on the horizon to see the shaded outline of the pine trees which surround the small valley you find yourself in.
  534. >Life is good.
  535. >The small town of Cloudcrop is looking to be the perfect place for the swarm to station changelings for collecting emotions.
  536. >The locals are friendly, and are a particularly emotional compared to so many other towns you've scouted.
  537. >A few changelings could just wander around this town, and live quite comfortably off the backround emotions they would pick up.
  538. >And you've managed to find a local who quite likes you.
  539. >And that leads you to get some wonderful, particularly delicious and filling meals.
  540. >Nothing quite beats love directed at you.
  541. >Many of the ponies have now consumed reasonable quantities of the various intoxicating beverages provided at the party, and are getting to be rather raunchy, in a way only small town ponies know.
  542. >Square dancing in the moonlight.
  543. >Drunken loud boasting.
  544. >Others chatting quietly with friends, enjoying the cool summer night.
  545. >You feel sorry for the scouts stuck working in big cities like Las Pegasus and Manehattan.
  546. >After a few hours of pony watching, and some chit chat with a few ponies you've met while working and at the saloon, you turn to Lavender.
  547. Having a good time, Lavender?
  548. >She smiles.
  549. >"I always have a good time when you are around, Piney."
  550. >she is in your pocket, eating out of your hands.
  551. I have had a good time tonight, but I think its about time for me to retire back to my town house.
  552. >Her eyes light up.
  553. >"Oh, you ready to head out then?"
  554. You may join me, if you wish, Lavender.
  555. >You give your farewells to the ponies around you, and proceed back into town, with Lavender walking beside you.
  556. >"Is it OK if I come... spend some time at your place tonight, Pine?
  558. >You shrug casually.
  559. If you want to. I can put on some herbal tea, if you like.
  560. >She smiles, and you can feel the lust growing in her.
  561. >"I don't know if I can ever say it enough, but thank your for saving me the other day. Working out here, cutting trees is dangerous, and sometimes you forget that."
  562. >You can feel some sadness growing in her.
  563. >"I've seen bad things happen to good ponies working out here... Inexperience leads to somepony doing something stupid."
  564. >She stops walking, and you stop slightly ahead of her, and look back to her.
  565. >"Thank you. If I had been working with most any other pony up here in Cloudcrop, I would probably be dead right now."
  566. >You can see tears welling up in her eyes.
  567. >She runs up to you, and embraces you.
  568. >"Oh, Piney, you are my best friend, and I love you so much. How can I ever repay you?"
  569. >You pause, and think for a moment.
  570. Don't worry about it. Friends help friends.
  571. >You return her embrace.
  572. >"Oh... Piney."
  573. >You stand there for a very long moment.
  574. Shall we continue? The air is getting more chilly.
  575. >Lavender shivers a little bit as you say that.
  576. >"You're right, let's continue."
  577. >The sadness from Lavender slowly fades, restoring her love and happiness.
  578. >You and Lavender return to your home uneventfully, and quietly step inside.
  579. >Lavender takes a seat on your couch, as you move to start heating a pot of water for herbal tea.
  580. >After getting the pot started, you take a spot on the couch next to Lavender.
  581. >She leans against you.
  582. >"Only one thing still bothers me since the incident... The strange vision I had."
  583. >"The terrible beast that stood where you were. I've had dreams about it."
  584. >You feel some fear flowing from her.
  585. >Shit. What she saw is still on her mind.
  587. I dunno, must have been some sort of stress related hallucination.
  588. >She sighs.
  589. >"I dunno, it just seeme so... real! Some beast standing in your place!"
  590. It'll be alright, Lavender. I'm here for you.
  591. >You sit quietly with Lavender for a little while, but are distracted by the whistling of the tea pot.
  592. Ah, tea. I will go take care of that.
  593. >The mare watches as you get up, and steep the tea, then pour two glasses, and float them to the coffee table in front of the couch.
  594. There. Mint and blueberry tea.
  595. >You each pick up, and sip upon your tea.
  596. >You continue to discuss random nothings with Lavender as the night continues on.
  597. >Eventually, Lavender stands up, and eyes your bedroom.
  598. >She makes your life easier, initiating the whole thing.
  599. >"So, Piney.. do you wish to retire to the bedroom?"
  600. >You smile, and nod
  601. I think we can work somthing out, Lavender.
  602. >You follow Lavender to your bedroom.
  604. >Once more, you use your considerable changeling talents to grant yourself a meal worthy of the queen from Lavender.
  605. >And leave her as sated as you can
  606. >You might need to be careful... You don't want to over do it and have a horrible mess to deal with, and this pony seems intent on spending time with you.
  607. >She once more elects to spend the night at your place.
  608. >Just like before, you rise before her, and prepare some breakfast.
  609. >Fresh fruit, and cereal today.
  610. >You have been slacking on buying food lately.
  611. >If Lavender is going to spend more time over here, you will probably have to invest in more stocks for future visits.
  612. >As you are finishing your breakfast preparations, you see Lavender stepping out of the bedroom, rubbing her eye while yawning.
  613. Good morning. Got some breakfast ready for you.
  614. >She continues into the kitchen, and takes a seat at the table.
  615. >"Thank you, Piney, the breakfast looks wonderful."
  616. You sleep alright?
  617. >She yawns, then eats a piece of fruit.
  618. >"I feel a little beat this morning... But last night was wonderful."
  619. >You smile.
  620. >You still got the touch.
  621. So, what do you want to do today, Lavender. Remember, no work today.
  622. >she sighs contentedly.
  623. >"A day to just relax will be nice, and having a more private place like your town home to spend it is quite pleasant."
  624. >She smiles, and you can feel some lust rising within her once more.
  625. >Damn, she is the resilient little mare.
  626. Well, if you want to spend some time here, I will probably need to go restock my kitchen... I am mostly out of food.
  627. >She smiles.
  628. >"Well, I suppose we could take care of that early, so we can enjoy the rest of our day without... interruptions."
  629. >You give her a knowing nod, and continue eating.
  630. >After you both finish eating, you clean up, and prepare to visit the general store to get some standard pony food.
  631. >Fruit, veg, some grains.
  632. >You also grab a 6 pack of Buck Beer, and some cider as well.
  634. >Upon returning to your humble abode with supplies, and Lavender, you put on another pot for making tea.
  635. >Lavender was quite happy with the first pot you made, and a love of tea is something you picked up on a previous assignment.
  636. >This time you went for a strawberry hibiscus blend you picked up last time you passed through a big city.
  637. >You sit down with Lavender while the water is heating up.
  638. >"So, Pine Fresh... You haven't told me all that much about what you did before you came up here to Cloudcrop."
  639. >You mentally scowl.
  640. >Talking about your covers backround details can always be a risky proposition
  641. Well, I used to work more in gardening and tree growth rather than cutting them down.
  642. >You give a small shrug.
  643. But, working up here pays better. So I decided to move from working outside a small town, called Ponyville, to work up here in Cloudcrop.
  644. >Lavender looks slightly suprised.
  645. >"Oh wow... Isn't that where Princess Twilight lives!?
  646. >You give a heavy sigh.
  647. Yeah, she does live there. And I've seen her a few times when working.
  648. >You aren't actually lying. You have spent time in Ponyville, and while there, its tough to not eventually run into her and her friends.
  649. >"Ohmygosh, what is she like?"
  650. >You roll your eyes.
  651. I don't really know, I just saw her around. Never spoke with her or anything. I was usually too busy if I was in town.
  652. >Lavender lets out a gleeful squee.
  653. >"She is so cool, I would love to meet her some day."
  654. >You give her a shrug.
  655. From what I saw, she is almost always busy with her official duties, and what free time she does get, is spent with her close friends.
  656. >You feel a slight twinge of sadness in the emotions coming from Lavender.
  657. >"I suppose you are right... Still, it doesn't hurt to dream."
  658. Really though, I didn't spend much time in town. I worked on some of the outlying farms making sure things grew better.
  659. >You both settle down, and enjoy small talk over various topics as the afternoon rode on.
  661. >As the afternoon rides on, you can feel the intensity of the emotions flowing from Lavender increase.
  662. >She sure recovers fast from a feeding...
  663. >In your training you had heard about this. Ponies who seem to recover more quickly after a changeling directly feeds upon them.
  664. >No changeling was quite sure why, though after observing Lavender, you might have some theories.
  665. >You snuggle closer to Lavender, and subtly feed off her good vibes.
  666. >"Oh Piney... I don't know how to say this, but..."
  667. >Your eyes perk up at those words.
  668. >"I love you. You are my special somepony. No matter what happens..."
  669. >You can see a tear form, and watch it roll down her cheek.
  670. >"I will always love you, Pine Fresh."
  671. >Shit. This is outside of your field of experience...
  672. >Your mad skills have put you into a new, unexpected situation.
  673. >On one hoof, this guarantees great meals.
  674. >On the other, being so close to a pony is risky.
  675. >Dangerously risky.
  676. >You've heard stories of other changelings in situations like this, and the endings were never pleasant.
  677. I love you too, Lavender August.
  678. >Hopefully, you can safely manage this.
  679. >You'll probably have to write a note to your contact to request advice on the proper method for moving forward.
  680. >Still, best enjoy this for now.
  681. >Lavender is willingly giving you some of the best meals you've ever experienced.
  682. >You snuggle closer with Lavender, and discuss simple nothings.
  684. Ch. 3
  686. >You spend several weeks performing the pony ritual known as dating, spending a few nights each week, especially over the weekends, with Lavender.
  687. >Strolling around in the forest surrounding town, spendimg time at one of the nicer restaurants in town, and hanging around at your town house.
  688. >You also manage to keep up a very high standard of work at camp #4.
  689. >In fact, it stands that camp #4 is the highest paid of the Cloud Lumber Company's work sites, because of how smoothly you all work.
  690. >And, during these last few weeks, you have found a strange feeling growing in your heart.
  691. >Lavender has repeatedly, and specifically spoken of her unconditional love.
  692. >"No Matter What."
  693. >As a young changeling, you heard stories of changelings and ponies living together peacefully, but as you grew older you thought such stories to be fantasy.
  694. >Now, you see some of the basis of such stories.
  695. >And, as well as you could remember, just as many ended pleasantly, as ended terribly.
  696. >During your time in Cloudcrop, your cover has become a recognized, and well reguarded pony.
  697. >Polite. Friendly. Helpful.
  698. >You seriously consider opening up to Lavender August.
  699. >Surely, she will understand.
  700. >And still love you the same.
  701. >At work this day, your mind is in turmoil.
  702. >You manage to sucessfully push trees to the right locations, but, Lavender notices something is not right.
  703. >"You alright, Piney?"
  704. >You sigh.
  705. Yeah, everything's alright. Just have some things on my mind.
  706. >"Well, you best clear your mind. It ain't safe out here with my guide distracted."
  707. >You quickly shake your head, trying to clear your mind.
  708. >Screwing up, as you very well know, could have significant consequences.
  709. Alright, sorry.
  710. >For the rest of the day, you manage to keep yourself composed.
  711. >And, camp #4 manages to keep up a well above average production rate.
  712. >As the day ends, Lavender walks back to town beside you.
  714. >You are going to do it tonight.
  715. >You will reveal yourself to her.
  716. >Surely, she will understand.
  717. >She loves you.
  718. >And your mission... It'll give you a better cover for staying here, and more opportunities to spend time out of disguise.
  719. >Surely, she will understand.
  720. >You arrive at your residence.
  721. >You enter, and allow Lavender to follow behind, before closing the door with your magic.
  722. >She looks at you oddly.
  723. >She appears to be sensing your own nervousness about the whole situation, based off the emotions she is giving off.
  724. >"Is everything alright, Piney? You look nervous."
  725. >You try to put on a smile.
  726. Yes, Lavender. Let me go put on some herbal tea.
  727. >Lavender moves to her preferred position on the couch as you mess about in the kitchen, putting the water on.
  728. >Should I really do this?
  729. >If it doesn't go well, my cover will be blown, and the whole assignment will be forfeit.
  730. >Well, if it does get blown, atleast we have this town picked as a great target.
  731. >Even if my cover being blown will put everypony on alert for a while.
  732. >As you are continuing to think this through, the kettle begins to whistle.
  733. >You select a cinnamon ginger tea to steep, and you bring the pot to the coffee table, and take your seat next to Lavender.
  734. >She still seems to be picking up on your nervousness.
  735. >Keep it together, Ik'thik.
  736. >You take a deep breath.
  737. Lavender, there is something I wish to discuss with you tonight.
  738. >You look around the room, and ensure all the curtains are drawn shut.
  739. >"What do you mean?"
  740. There is something about myself I wish to talk with you about.
  741. >You pause for a moment.
  743. And, if we do talk about this, I would like you to promise not to tell anypony.
  744. >You can feel a bit of nervousness from the pony sitting next to you.
  745. >"What? Are you some kind of escaped con on the run from the law..."
  746. >You then feel her nervousness melt away, as she lets out a chuckle.
  747. >"Are you a secret agent? Is that why you got a little jumpy on that first day when I called you out?"
  748. Please, promise me, Lavender August, you won't speak to anyone else about what we are about to discuss.
  749. >She rolls her eyes as she speaks to you.
  750. >"Of course, Piney. You can trust me with your confidence."
  751. >You once more take a deep breath.
  752. Well, Lavender, you, being the perceptive pony you are, aren't entirely off in your assessment.
  753. >You look away from her for a moment.
  754. One might say I am a secret agent.
  755. >Lavender lets out a squee.
  756. >"I was right! Ha!"
  757. >You look back to her.
  758. Yes. I am an undercover agent, here in Cloudcrop. If we are to continue this relationship we have going, I want to leave no lies between us.
  759. >"Hmmph. I guess being some kinda secret agent could put a dampener on things."
  760. >She pauses for a moment to think.
  761. >"What else do you have to tell me about you?"
  762. Well, my mission here is more of a general observation thing than what you might picture in your head.
  763. >"So, you are just here to watch this boring little town? No evil villains you are keeping an eye out for?"
  764. Nope, no villains. Just observing.
  765. >"Wait... who are you observing town for? Canterlot? The Saddle Arabians?"
  766. >You look down and think for a moment before you respond.
  767. I will get to that soon enough. I need to show you something first.
  768. >You sigh, and you can feel a bit of worry coming from Lavender.
  769. >"Piney... You seem really nervous. Nothing you show me can change how I feel about you, my sweet."
  770. >You give her a serious look, straight in the eyes.
  771. You promise? Nothing can change how you feel about me?
  772. >She doesn't even give pause to think.
  773. >"Of course, Piney."
  775. Well then, I have something important to show you.
  776. >You stand up, off the couch, and move to the middle of the room.
  777. >With a magical glow, you release your unicorn pony disguise, and revert to your base form.
  778. >Black chitin, blue eyes, translucent wings.
  779. >You can sense an immense amount of fear emminating from the pony sitting on your couch.
  780. I think this will answer a few questions, like who I work for
  781. >Lavender lets out a little squeak, then quietly speaks.
  782. >"So... It wasn't a dream that day..."
  783. Yes. You saw my true form that day. The amount of magic I had to focus for preventing those trees from falling on you... From killing you... made me lose concentration on my magic.
  784. >You pause as Lavender stares at you disbelievingly
  785. However, you did pass out on your own. That was not my doing.
  786. >After a moment of awkward silence, Lavender speaks up.
  787. >She is still quite fearful.
  788. >"S-so... What exactly ARE you? A ch-ch-changeling?"
  789. >Atleast she is remaining somewhat calm, as was her promise.
  790. I am a Changeling. My designation within the swarm is Ik'thik, drone, forward operating scout.
  791. >Her emotional state is currently unchanging.
  792. I was sent to Cloudcrop to observe the town and collect reconissaince.
  793. I have chosen to reveal my true nature to you, because I truely feel for you, and wish to be completely truthful with you.
  794. >Her fear fades slightly.
  796. In doing so, I have taken a great risk to myself, and my family. I am the pony you have been working with, and the pony you have fallen in love with. Just with a different face.
  797. >She stares at you for several moments before speaking.
  798. >"I t-thought the changelings were magically and forcefully pushed out of Equestria after what happened in Canterlot."
  799. >You sigh, and rustle your wings at the mention of the Canterlot Incident.
  800. Yes, the members of the swarm who were in Canterlot were pushed to the edges of Equestria. However, the thought we couldn't simply walk back in is slightly naieve. Not even Celestia has strong enough magic to ward the entire nation from changelings entering.
  801. >You pause for a moment to think.
  802. I was on assignment elsewhere during Canterlot. I was not forced out, and only learned of what happened as it hit the local news paper. I imagine all the talk of the changelings being removed permanently is just propoganda to make the citizenry feel safe.
  803. >You look to Lavender before asking her a question.
  804. Lavender, what exactly do you know about my kind?
  805. >"I-I've heard that changelings are horrible monsters that can take the form of other ponies, and they hurt ponies by feeding on... love. Draining it from their very being."
  806. >You nod at her explanation.
  807. >Not entirely wrong, but not entirely true.
  808. It is true that we can take the form of others.
  809. >You flash your magic and shift through several pony forms you have used in the past, before returning to your base form.
  810. And as to our feeding habits... We feed on emotions of all types, not just love. Love is the most nourishing meal to a changeling.
  811. One reason I am a scout, is I am quite skilled at feeding from ambient emotions. You ponies do not realize just how much free emotions you let fly around you.
  812. Sitting in the saloon, for example, is quite refreshing. People happily socializing, enjoying food and drink, its enough to live comfortably off.
  814. >"S-so, you living here isn't hurting any of these ponies?"
  815. Yes, Lavender. To be honest, the only direct feeding I have done is from you, and only because you so strongly offered it to me, even if you didn't realize it.
  816. >You look to the ground shamefully.
  817. I was as gentle as I could be. Your comments on ponies being hurt are not entirely incorrect. If a changeling feeds too harshly, the being in question can be harmed, sometimes permanently.
  818. >You look back up at Lavender.
  819. In the worst cases... death.
  820. >"So is t-that why I was kind of tired after..."
  821. Yes. You willingly gave, and I consumed. Carefully. But, even the most gentle direct feeding can cause some extra tiredness.
  822. >You both stare at each other.
  823. So, Lavender August. I can trust you, as a friend, to not speak to anypony, EVER, about what you have seen and heard here today.
  824. >You feel a sense of dread growing within her.
  825. >"I won't tell another soul... But I need some time to think and take this all in. Alone. Goodbye, Pine Fresh... Or, should I say Ik'thik."
  826. >You once more don your disguise as Lavender heads to the door.
  827. Remember your promise.
  828. >She nods as she steps out the front door.
  829. >"I will. Good bye."
  830. >You watch her walk down the street, towards her much more simple abode on the other side of town.
  831. >Shit.
  832. >You really hope you made the right decision about all this.
  834. >You move to your bedroom, and prepare your, ironically named, bug out bag, incase things go horribly wrong.
  835. >After ensuring it is prepared, you bring your bag to the living room.
  836. >You dump out the undrank herbal tea, and brew up some caffinated tea.
  837. >Sleeping tonight would be a poor choice, you feel.
  838. >You spend the night sitting on your couch, reading some of the books that came furnished with the townhome.
  839. >Any sound of a pony moving outside makes you jittery...
  840. >What if she doesn't keep her promise?
  841. >What if that is some pony coming to try to capture you.
  842. >What the hell were you thinking.
  843. >After nerviously sitting on the couch all night, you can see the glow of the sun rising through the edges of your closed curtains.
  844. >You prepare another pot of tea.
  845. >Today was going to be rough.
  847. Ch.4
  849. >You stretch yourself out as you walk to camp #4, preparing for a day of work.
  850. >You are still very much worried... Hopefully Lavender hasn't done anything... irrational.
  851. >As you approach the camp, everything looks normal.
  852. >Gusty Leaves nods at you as you don your safety equipment.
  853. >You look around, and you can see Lavender walking up the road.
  854. >You wait at the equipment wagon for her.
  855. >When she arrives, she looks at you flatly, and grabs her equipment.
  856. >With no emotion in her voice, she speaks.
  857. >"Ready to work?"
  858. >You can feel a subtle mix of emotions... You can't quite put your finger on it.
  859. >You move out to your assigned work area for the day, and go about your day as usual, but with no banter, no talking.
  860. >Just, silent working.
  861. >Near the end of the day, as the sun was getting low in the sky, you couldn't stand the silence any longer.
  862. >You shout to Lavender between cutting down trees.
  863. I-I-Is everything alright, Lavender?
  864. >She looks at you with a mix of sadness, and fear.
  866. >"I am not entirely sure."
  867. >YOu feel the fear flowing from her increase.
  868. >"I'm scared, Pine."
  869. >You look down to the ground.
  870. I-i-is there anything I can do to make you feel better?
  871. >"I don't know. I'm scared, worried..."
  872. Do we need to sit down, and talk some more, Lavender?
  873. >"That... might be best. Can we meet up at your place a little after work?"
  874. That's fine.
  875. >"I can't go direclty after work... I need to stop by my place first."
  876. >You nod at her.
  877. That's fine.
  878. >The rest of the day continues without any further discussion.
  879. >You walk back to the main camp, and drop off your equipment.
  880. See you later, Lavender.
  881. >She nods, and begins walking back to town.
  882. >You watch for a moment as she walks away, and Sawin' Steve comes up behind you and asks you a question.
  883. >"What's up with her? She seems out of her element, and you seem kinda off as well."
  884. Honestly, I can't say, Steve. I'll see ya tommorow, I need to head home.
  885. >Steve shrugs.
  886. >"See ya around then, Pine."
  887. >You return to your home, and prepare for Lavender's arrival.
  889. >You make some herbal tea to calm yourself down.
  890. >Lavender seemed worried.
  891. >Understandably so.
  892. >She obviously just wants to talk more.
  893. >She hasn't outed you yet, otherwise you probably would have not had a miserable, depressing day at work.
  894. >Hopefully she didn't change her mind, and she went off to find the local constabulary after work.
  895. >Damn it, why must everything be so complicated.
  896. >You sit down, and pick up another random book that came with your townhouse.
  897. >It is a book aimed at younger ponies about the non-pony creatures who inhabit equestria.
  898. Hmph... I wonder what they have to say about my people.
  899. >You flip through, to find the changeling entry.
  900. >You are greeted by a grotesque cartoon reminiscent of your base form.
  901. >"Changelings are evil beings who can change their form to match any pony they have seen before. Their base form is bug like, with insect like wings, sharp teeth, and a horn."
  902. >"These creatures feed upon love, sapping their pony hosts, leaving them helpless and at great risk of death."
  903. >"Sightings of changelings should be immediately reported to the proper authorities. Changelings are incredibly dangerous, and must be stopped immediately when found out."
  904. >You frown.
  905. >Occasional rogue changelings do stupid shit, get caught, and end up making ponies think all the stuff written here is true.
  906. >They miss out on feeding on things besides emotions.
  907. >They greatly overstate the after effects of feeding. What they describe sounds like a chronic case of some idiot overfeeding.
  908. >The propoganda makes life hard for you, and the swarm, your family.
  909. >Little do the ponies know the changelings are everywhere.
  911. >You are startled by a knock at your front door.
  912. >You jump up, and look through the peephole on the door.
  913. >Its Lavender. By herself.
  914. >You let out a breath you didn't realize you had been holding.
  915. >After unlocking the door, you open it for Lavender, and look outside to see if anypony else was watching.
  916. >You sense very little emotion coming off her after you turn around and secure the door.
  917. >She is working hard to hide whatever she is feeling.
  918. >Lavender sits down on the couch, and pulls a book out of the bag she brought.
  919. >"Pine-... Ik'thik, was it?"
  920. Yes, that is my designation in the swarm.
  921. >"I want you to understand where I am coming from, and the turmoil I feel."
  922. >She pulls open the book... It appears to be a more adult oriented version of the book you were reading just a moment ago.
  923. >"I went to the library this morning. It's why I was a little later than usual. I found this book."
  924. >She flips open to a much more accurate drawing of a changeling than the other book contained.
  925. >It makes you shudder... It looks off. YOu hate to think how it was created... from some poor, dead, changeling, in some unicorn's lab.
  926. >"I read through quite a bit of this book in my youth..."
  927. >You can feel some nostalgia flowing from Lavender.
  928. >"The changeling section always bothered me... Perfect shape shifters, feed on love..."
  929. >You feel a sudden flow of sadness.
  930. >"I never thought I would meet one, or that I would have feelings..."
  931. >Lavender begins to sob.
  933. >Sadness is an unpleasant thing for a changeling to taste...
  934. It's OK, Lavender, let it all out. We can figure this out.
  935. >She continues to sob, but speaks when she can.
  936. >"I love... Pine Fresh... So sweet..."
  937. I *AM* Pine Fresh, Lavender. Contrary to what your texts say about changelings, we can take arbitrary forms.
  938. >You pause for a moment, and sigh.
  939. While we can easily imitate any pony, many changelings, especially those in my line of work, create our own forms.
  940. These forms are reflections of ourselves, of our experiences, our likes, dislikes...
  941. >You pause once more.
  942. There is no other pony in equestria like Pine Fresh. He is not some facsimile of a pony I've met previously. He is I.
  943. >You can feel some of the sadness from Lavender ebbing away.
  944. >"R-r-really? All the stuff I've ever read said you can only copy ponies you've seen before..."
  945. Ponies aren't as in the know on changelings as they might wish to be.
  946. >You once more pause and think for a moment.
  947. Infact, to prove my statements, let's play a little game, Lavender.
  948. >"A game?"
  949. >You can feel the subtle ember of happiness growing within Lavender as she responds.
  950. Describe a pony. Coat color, mane color, hair style, earth, unicorn, pegasus, stallion or mare... And I will show them to you.
  952. >You spend the next half hour assuming various forms at Lavender's request.
  953. >Everything from comic book characters, to gender swapped co-workers.
  954. >The ember of happiness within her has grown into a proper flame, that has burned away the negative emotions she held upon arriving at your home.
  955. >You feel an incredible amount of relief.
  956. >Your show occasionally threw Lavender into fits of laughter, especially your impressions of genderswapped coworkers.
  957. "I'm Sawin' Stephanie! Tee hee! Look at me work these massive logs!"
  958. >After finishing, you sit down on the couch next to Lavender, and revert to your base form.
  959. I love you, Lavender August. I am sorry I had you so worried over the last day. Hopefully what I have shown you has settled what was bothering you today.
  960. >She looks at you, lovingly, but with a twinge of worry.
  961. >"A-a-about how you eat..."
  962. >Here comes another possibly awkward conversation...
  963. >"You said you fed from me, and I didn't even notice it?"
  964. Well, Lavender, thats generally the idea. Changelings trying to stay hidden won't stay long if they are being obvious with such things.
  965. >"Oh... Yeah, that does make sense, doesn't it..."
  966. >You feel a new slight twinge growing under the happiness... The most delicious of emotions.
  967. Like I said, I get some nourishment from the ambient emotions of ponies around me. And, because I am good at what I do, I was able to feed during our... encounter, without you noticing.
  968. >You can almost see a subtle blush coming from Lavender.
  970. >And that little bit of love you felt in Lavender is growing.
  971. >"So... Uhhh... Can you..."
  972. >Your eyes widen.
  973. >Lavender continues to stutter slowly.
  974. You want to see what its like without distraction, am I correct?
  975. >Her subtle blush becomes quite obvious after you say that.
  976. >"...yes."
  977. To minimize possible complications...
  978. >You emit a green glow, and take the shape of Pine Fresh.
  979. You need to strongly feel emotions.
  980. >Lavender pauses for a moment.
  981. >"I love you, Pine Fresh."
  982. >You feel a sudden, strong flow of love, directed at you.
  983. >After feeling that, you lower your head, as Lavender watches you curiously.
  984. >Your mouth opens, and a green mist begins to flow to it from Lavender.
  985. >She winces slightly, but the flow continues without abatement.
  986. >You continue for about 30 seconds, before stopping.
  987. >It wasn't as good of a meal as before, but still very nourishing.
  988. >And, you didn't want to overdo it and hurt Lavender.
  989. >Upon finishing, Lavender slouches down into the couch.
  990. >"So... Thats how it works, and how it feels..."
  991. Do you feel alright?
  992. >"It was... strange... And I am kinda... Tired."
  993. >Lavender finishes up her statement with a yawn.
  994. Do you want to stay the night, my sweet?"
  995. >She smiles, and throws some more positive vibes your way.
  997. >"I would love to... Perhaps, spend every night here, if you get my drift."
  998. >That could be nice... Split rent, more time spent with Lavender...
  999. >Sounds awesome.
  1000. That would be great... I guess we will need to fill out some paperwork with the company people. Im leasing this place through them.
  1001. >"Should be easy enough. I'll have to cut my cheapo little place, which should be a piece of cake. Then just add me on this lease."
  1002. >You give a shrug.
  1003. I honestly wouldn't know for sure. Most of my experiences have been running the course of a lease, then leaving. No changes in the middle.
  1004. >You and Lavender finish up the tea, and, considering how tired the both of you are, you retire to the bedroom.
  1005. >"So... what name would you rather me call you by?"
  1006. That is up to you, Lavender, but I would prefer you call me by Pine Fresh in public... Ik'thik isn't the most pony-like name.
  1007. >This elicits a small giggle from Lavender.
  1008. >"I suppose."
  1009. As another thought... How comfortable are you with me spending time here in the townhouse in my natural form?
  1010. >"I... guess I will have to get used to it. How hard is it for you to do all that changey-stuf anyway?"
  1011. It is itchy, and takes some amount of effort, but I can hold it for very extended periods.
  1012. >You continue your small talk for a while, and eventually Lavender lets out a large yawn.
  1013. >"Good night, Ik'thik... I love you."
  1014. I love you too, Lavender.
  1015. >You too prepare to settle down for your nights rest.
  1016. >Then, a thought crosses your mind.
  1017. >How the fuck are you going to explain all this to the swarm.
  1019. Ch. 5
  1021. >The next morning, you rise before Lavender.
  1022. >You crawl out of bed, and prepare a breakfast of pancakes.
  1023. >As you are finishing cooking them, you see Lavender coming out of the bedroom, yawning, and rubbing her eyes.
  1024. Morning, sleepyhead!
  1025. >She looks over to you, and has a slight start.
  1026. >"Oof... Still not used to seeing you like that... Good morning."
  1027. >You set out two plates of pancakes, and dig in.
  1028. >"How are you feeling this morning, Piney?"
  1029. OK, but I had a thought last night as I was trying to go to bed...
  1030. >She looks at you with a tinge of worry.
  1031. >"Is everything alright?"
  1032. I have no idea how I am going to explain all of this to the swarm... to my family...
  1033. >Lavender looks at you, with a bit of confusion, and her worry growing.
  1034. >"I don't understand...?"
  1035. I am a member of the changeling swarm, sworn to complete loyalty to the Queen.
  1036. Entering into a relationship witha pony is... unusual.
  1037. It's practically the things of changeling fairy tales.
  1038. >"They are family, they should understand..."
  1040. >You sigh.
  1041. It's not that simple, Lavender. We all live to support the Queen, and her leadership of the swarm.
  1042. >You put your head down into your hooves.
  1043. At best, I can hope to get a permanent assignment here in Cloudcrop.
  1044. >You swallow hard.
  1045. I'd... Rather not think of the worst.
  1046. >Your last stataement elicits a sudden jolt of fear from Lavender.
  1047. >She stares at you with sadness.
  1048. >"I am sure we can make everything work out, my love."
  1049. I hope so. Though this does mean at some point, I will probably have to travel back to the swarm and personally meet with the Queen to explain myself.
  1050. >"What is your queen like?"
  1051. Strong, powerful, loving of her subjects. She does everything to ensure the safety and prosperity of the swarm.
  1052. >"That... doesn't sound all th at different than our princesses."
  1053. Because that's what all good leaders strive for, Lavender. She is the head of the family, and she is careful to take no chances when it comes to safety.
  1054. >"Surely, she will understand."
  1055. >Hopefully, she will.
  1057. >You resume your disguise, and head out the door with Lavender, ready for a day of work.
  1058. >Today is a much more pleasant day of work.
  1059. >You return to your more general banter, and comfortable work flow.
  1060. >It's a pleasant sunny day to boot.
  1061. >At the end of the work day, everyone at the camp looks a lot more comfortable.
  1062. >Apperantly yesterday everyone was on edge, seeing how Lavender and yourself were not acting normal.
  1063. >Several of your coworkers ask you and Lavender to spend some time at the saloon, as a nice start to the weekend.
  1064. >You both agree.
  1065. >Lavender can get her drink on, and you can enjoy some nice subtle feeding.
  1066. >You reach the saloon with all the camp #4 ponies, and grab a nice big table where everyone can sit together and chit chat.
  1067. So, who all stays up here in Cloudcrop over the winter? I've heard the winter can be a bit rough up here.
  1068. >Lavender speaks up.
  1069. >"I've spent the last few winters up here... I personally like the snow. Plus, the skiing is nice."
  1070. >Sawin' Steve speaks next.
  1071. >"Well, I figure you know about me, considering we rode up on the train together... It just to darn cold for me."
  1072. >The others have various answers, 2 remaining throughout the winter, 2 moving to warmer places when the snow falls.
  1073. Hmmm... I didn't know there was skiing up here. Not that I've ever gone skiing...
  1074. >Lavender perks up at that.
  1075. >"Oooh, you will have to give it a try! It's so much fun!"
  1076. >You shrug.
  1077. I guess so.
  1078. >You share a pleasant evening, getting a nice mix of emotions from the ponies in the saloon, before retiring to your townhome with Lavender.
  1079. >You probably should write another note to your contact... But you aren't sure what you should include.
  1081. >You pull out your parchment for writing, and a quill, and pen the cover note. Talking about the pleasant weather and other such non-issues.
  1082. >After finishing the cover note, you take out another quill, and begin to write with your undercover ink.
  1083. >Lavender watches you, looking at you oddly.
  1084. >"Uhhh... Why are you writing over that note with the clear stuff?
  1085. >You pause for a moment, and look up at her.
  1086. Writing a letter home.
  1087. >"But, thats just some clear stuff... It doesn't leave anything anypony can see."
  1088. Well, Lavender, that's kind of the point. I can write to other changelings, and no pony looking over the letter would see the message meant for my brothers and sisters.
  1089. >She nods.
  1090. >"I... Guess that makes sense."
  1091. Indeed... As you might know, ponies don't take too kindly to finding changelings.
  1092. >You smirk as you look at Lavender.
  1093. >She gives you a dirty look in return.
  1094. >You continue writing the letter.
  1095. >It includes an update that you are still fine, but that at some point you have news to deliver directly to the Queen herself.
  1096. >Hopefully, she will understand.
  1097. >After finishing up the note, you roll it up, adress the outside, and seal it, leaving it ready to be dropped at the post office tommorow.
  1098. >So, umm... What all did you write in that letter?"
  1099. I wrote that I am fine, and that my assignment is currently going smoothly.
  1100. >You pause for a moment.
  1101. I also put in a request to personally speak with the queen.
  1102. >"You can do that!?"
  1103. >You shrug.
  1104. The queen gladly speaks with her subjects. She likes to hear about the goings on in the world directly from those who see it. And I am one of the best scouts in the swarm.
  1105. I want to speak with her about... us.
  1107. >"How do you think that will work?"
  1108. If the tales I read in my youth are accurate, things should work out in the end. It will likely involve you getting inspected by other changelings, to assure you won't be a risk to the swarm.
  1109. Chrysalis, the Queen herself, may wish to meet you.
  1110. >That statement sent an immediate shiver of fear shooting directly at you from Lavender.
  1111. >"M-m-meet the queen?"
  1112. Yes. If we are to be together... I would either have to completely abandon my family, or you would need to be accepted. And crossing my family isn't the... smartest of ideas.
  1113. >Lavender's eyes widen.
  1114. Changelings in disguise can fool even other changelings. If I got close enough, I might be able to tell, but by then, we are already on top of each other.
  1115. Still, don't worry about it. If my request is granted, I will have to make a weekend trip back to the swarm.
  1116. >"W-w-where is the swarm?"
  1117. It varies. There are many changeling enclaves spread about the land, and the queen moves about them at her leisure.
  1118. >"Where is the nearest of these... enclaves to Cloudcrop?"
  1119. There is one in Las Pegasus. On your average day, there are probably a dozen or so changelings hanging out there.
  1120. >"How can they hide some place in a city like that?"
  1121. Warehouses... Basements... "Clubs"... All make for great hiding and meeting places
  1123. >Lavender shivers.
  1124. >"I've never been a big fan of the big cities and that thought kinda makes me uncomfortable."
  1125. What? Changelings being all over the place? Feeding on ponies' emotions?
  1126. >Lavender nods sheepishly.
  1127. Don't worry too much about it. As you may yourself have noticed, feedings are generally harmless, and there is enoough ambient emotion floating around a big city to keep a changeling... going.
  1128. >"Well, why feed if you can get along on thats just floating around in some place?"
  1129. Honestly? Do you want to eat nothing but the blandest hay every day forever? Probably not.
  1130. That, and less skilled, younger, or elderly changelings might have a hard time spending any time in the places where such ambient emotions are plentyful.
  1131. They can remain hidden, and those of us who CAN spend time there, can take those emotions we have captured and share them with the rest of our family.
  1132. >That statement removed some of the worry from Lavender's face, but you can feel a twinge of it.
  1133. >"So, you collect extra emotions to feed your family members who can't get into the cities... I guess that makes sense."
  1134. That is correct. Like I said, my particular job is finding places for changelings to move into. Figure out possible pitfalls, good places to spend time... That kind of stuff.
  1135. >"Other changelings are gonna move into Cloudcrop?"
  1136. Maybe. This town is quite pleasant, but remote and small. Not big enough to support a changeling enclave. Though I did find a wicked cave that would work as a hideout, though...
  1138. So, at best a few changelings try to fit in here in Cloudcrop because of it's size, despite being an ideal place otherwise.
  1139. >"And they won't hurt anypony?"
  1140. Hurting ponies makes our life hard. Other ponies look into it, and we have to be immensely more careful for an extended period of time in that area. We work our best to take only what we need, and avoid really bothering anypony.
  1141. >"That does make a lot of sense, Ik'thik... I love you, thank you for sharing all this with me. It's quite a bit to take in."
  1142. I understand... So, my love, what shall we do this weekend?
  1143. >Lavender looks at you, and you can feel a certain ember in her heart growing.
  1144. >The most delicious of embers.
  1145. >"Oh, I have some ideas, Piney..."
  1146. >This weekend is going to be perfect.
  1148. Ch.6
  1150. >The summer continued to be quite pleasant.
  1151. >Lavender elected to move into your place, considering it is nicer than the tiny place she had been staying in.
  1152. >You and Lavender have become known around town as the seemingly perfect cute couple.
  1153. >Lavender is the most wonderful pony you have ever met, and she has taken to living on close quarters, knowing your true nature, very well.
  1154. >You are well fed, and life is good.
  1155. >After two months, one morning, Lavender finds a scroll dropped in through your abode's mail slot.
  1156. >"Honey, this letter is adressed to you, Pine Fresh."
  1157. >She brings it to you as you are preparing some breakfast, primarily for her.
  1158. >You look at the seal, and the sender.
  1159. >Your contact to the hive.
  1160. >They have sent a response to your request.
  1161. >You finish up your breakfast preparations, and then open and look over the scroll.
  1162. >Lavender chows down, and watches you as you are reading the scroll.
  1163. >The visible letter is just some simple meaningless drivel, much like the letters you send to your contact.
  1164. >The secret message, visible to changelings only, however, contains the true communication sent to you.
  1165. >Your eyes open wide as you take in what the message says.
  1166. >Lavender notices your change in demenor.
  1167. >"What's wrong Ik'thik? Is everything alright?"
  1169. I... Am not entirely sure what to make of this, Lavender.
  1170. >Nervous, excited, worried... All these emotions are racing through your mind as you try to comprehend the message.
  1171. If I am understanding this message correctly, we are going to have a visitor.
  1172. From the Swarm.
  1173. >Lavender's violet eyes open wide, shocked at this news.
  1174. Tommorow.
  1175. >You feel a sudden surge of fear, and a slight twinge of excitement, from Lavender.
  1176. >"Wh-wh-why would we be getting a visitor from your... family, on such short notice?"
  1177. Umm... Security.
  1178. >"Why would such short notice be secure?"
  1179. Because when itineraries are kept secret until the last minute, it makes one harder to track when you don't want to be tracked.
  1180. >"Who would visit that needs such..."
  1181. >Lavender's jaw drops as the realisation hits her.
  1182. >You stare intently at the letter while you answer Lavender.
  1183. Mom's coming for a visit.
  1185. >"Surely, you don't mean..."
  1186. Chrysalis. Yes. She has decided to allow my request to speak with her privately, and apperantly is coming to me rather than requiring me to visit her.
  1187. >"Tommorow?"
  1188. Yes.
  1189. >Lavender's fear intensifies.
  1190. >"Oh my... Oh dear... I'm not ready to meet your queen..."
  1191. Calm down, Lavender... It'll be alright. She is very understanding.
  1192. >You sigh.
  1193. Surely, she will understand.
  1194. >You then shrug.
  1195. Atleast tommorow is a day off work.
  1196. >"But, with that visit... working today is gonna be tough. Working distracted is always risky."
  1197. Indeed. But, I think we can manage. The townhouse is already nice and clean, so thats something to not worry about.
  1198. >"That isn't what is worrying me. Chrysalis is a major fugitive of Equestrian Law. Coming here!"
  1199. Lavender, that's why she travels secretly, even amongst the swarm. And that whole law thing is... just a big misunderstanding.
  1200. >A misunderstanding from a poorly researched, then horribly botched operation, but still...
  1201. >Lavender rolls her eyes.
  1202. >"Let's not discuss that again."
  1203. >Probably for the best.
  1204. >The Canterlot incident is a touchy topic for both ponies and changelings to speak of.
  1206. >You munch a little bit on some fruit, and Lavender eats some oatmeal.
  1207. >You are loathe to admit it, but you are also incredibly worried about Chrysalis coming to visit you in the field on such short notice.
  1208. >Since you sent your initial letter, you have spent some time thinking how you would talk to your queen about the situation at hand.
  1209. >You still haven't settled on the best approach, so within the next day, you had best figure one out.
  1210. >After a few minutes, Lavender stands up.
  1211. >"Well, anyway, time for work. Let's make it a good one today, Piney."
  1212. >You shake your head, coming out of some deep thinking.
  1213. Yeah, you are right. Let's head out.
  1214. >The both of you grab the random things you need for the day, and head out the door, and walk to camp #4.
  1215. >It's shifted around slightly since the start of the summer, a little further away to keep the heavy equipment closer to where the cutting action is.
  1216. >As you approach, you both nod to your coworkers.
  1217. >They each smile, and nod back.
  1218. >You don your safety equipment, and head out to your assigned spot to begin your tree cutting for the day.
  1220. >Tell Chrysalis immediately, directly...
  1221. >Ease her into talking about Lavender...
  1222. >Make something up and pretend that was what you wished to personally tell her...
  1223. >Fuck.
  1224. >All of those are horrifying in their own way.
  1225. >All these thoughts, and their possible outcomes, fly through your mind between guiding trees safely to the ground.
  1226. >Making something up will likely make you look like a fool.
  1227. >And speaking the truth at all terrifies you.
  1228. >You sigh, and mutter under your breath.
  1229. Surely, she will understand...
  1230. >Your attention is then drawn to the tree about to fall.
  1231. >You snap your magic to it, and make sure it lands in the most ideal spot.
  1232. Gotta keep your head in the game...
  1233. >Lavender allows her chainsaw to rev down, then turns it off.
  1234. >"You OK, Piney? I know you have a lot on your mind, but please, lets not get anypony hurt out here."
  1235. >You let out a sigh.
  1236. Yeah, Lavender, I know, but this whole thing is really throwing me off. It's not how I expected this to be shaping up.
  1237. >"I know, but I'm sure it'll work out. You said your family is loving and understanding, right?"
  1239. Still, our situation is highly unusual. I love my Queen, and she loves each of us, but such an arrangement is... possibly dangerous.
  1240. >Lavender rolls her eyes, but you sense a twinge of worry from her as she restarts her chainsaw.
  1241. >"Everything will be fine."
  1242. >You shake your head, and prepare to continue your job.
  1243. >Unpleasant thoughts still cloud your mind, however.
  1244. >You manage to get to lunch time without anymore work stoppages.
  1245. >Lunch is as usual. Small talk with the rest of the ponies who work at the camp.
  1246. >All of them are ready for the weekend.
  1247. >Lavender and yourself...
  1248. >Not so much.
  1249. >The pony you met on the train up to Cloudcrop, Sawin' Steve, questions you.
  1250. >"So, Pine Fresh, what are you and Lavender planning for this weekend?"
  1251. >Your face twitches a little bit.
  1252. I, uhhh... Have some family coming to visit. Going to be busy with that the whole weekend, I think.
  1253. >"Some family to come meet Lavender, eh?"
  1254. Something like that.
  1255. >"Well, too bad. There was gonna be a nice party at the saloon this weekend."
  1256. >Lavender interjects
  1257. >"Family is important, Steve. Everypony knows that."
  1258. >"Maybe you could bring the family to the saloon." Steve responds
  1259. We'll see.
  1261. >The afternoon proceeds much as the morning.
  1262. >Distractions from thinking upon how to proceed.
  1263. >You manage to finish the work day without getting anyone killed through your innatention.
  1264. >After returning to the camp, and stowing your equipment, you bid farewell to your coworkers, and return to your home, with Lavender.
  1265. I'm still not sure how to handle tommorow, Lavender... I don't want anything to go wrong and mess everything up.
  1266. >"I'm sure whatever you do, everything will work out."
  1267. >You mutter under your breath.
  1268. Surely, she will understand...
  1269. >Lavender throws you a worried look, with a twinge of similar emotion.
  1270. >You both enter the townhouse, and you settle down on the couch, dropping your disguise with a green flash, and putting your head down into your hooves.
  1271. >Lavender sets her things down on the kitchen table, then joins you on the couch.
  1272. >You feel a burst of love, as Lavender snuggles up against you.
  1273. >It calms your heart, but it is good Lavender cannot feel emotions as you can...
  1274. >You are filled with fear, worry, and despair over how tommorow is going to be handled.
  1276. >You put a strong face on, and return Lavender's embrace.
  1277. It has been a while since I have seen my Queen personally.
  1278. >"I can only imagine somepony so important might be difficult to speak with privately. I've only ever seen one of my Princesses in person, and have never spoken with any of them."
  1279. >You shrug.
  1280. I suppose so. I was thinking about tommorow though. I think that at first, it might be best if you spend some time away from the townhouse, so I can inform my Queen of you more gently.
  1281. >You sigh.
  1282. I don't think a situation like our's has happened in a dozen or more generations. I want to be cautious about telling her.
  1283. >"I understand, Ik'thik... I know if you meet any of my family, some of them might be offended on account of you looking like a unicorn..."
  1284. >You nod.
  1285. Yes... I've found ponies can be strange like that, Lavender.
  1286. >You bow your head.
  1287. I hope my Queen will be better than that... understanding this situation we are in.
  1288. >"Everything you've said tells me she is caring and loving of her subjects."
  1289. >"Surely, she will understand, Ikky."
  1290. >She really believes it or is damn good at hiding her emotions.
  1292. >You give Lavender a good snuggle, then stand up and go prepare some food for dinner.
  1293. >The confidence you felt from Lavender improves your mood.
  1294. >She is right.
  1295. >Everything WILL be OK.
  1296. >You prepare some simple food and, set it out on the kitchen table.
  1297. Food, Lavender.
  1298. >She moves from the couch, and takes a seat at the table.
  1299. >"Thanks. I think I might go for a nice walk tomorow morning while... "Mom" comes to visit."
  1300. That's a good way to spend some time... Walking through the parts of the forest that aren't being cut everyday, heh.
  1301. >"Yeah, it'll be nice to get out and enjoy the peak of the summer weather... It should only start getting cooler from here on out, I reckon."
  1302. >You pause to think for a moment.
  1303. >It has never really gotten all that hot up here in the mountains.
  1304. >You chuckle slightly.
  1305. >Maybe thats why Chrysalis wished to come visit you in person, here in Cloudcrop.
  1306. >Probably some of the nicest weather in all of Equestria right now.
  1307. >Even so, having her come here has been hell on your mind since this morning.
  1308. I think I just need to rest, Lavender, I am going to lay down.
  1309. >Lavender looks up from eating.
  1310. >"Alright, hun. I'll probably come to bed soon as well. This has been a pretty rough week for me as well."
  1311. >You crawl into your bed, close your eyes, and enjoy a night of suprisingly restful sleep.
  1313. Ch. 7
  1315. >You awaken, early the next morning.
  1316. >The pale blue-grey light of pre-dawn subtly shines in around the curtains of the window.
  1317. >You crawl out of bed, and stand up.
  1318. >Soon.
  1319. >Soon, Chrysalis your Queen, will be here, to visit you.
  1320. >You quietly move to the kitchen, and put a kettle on the stove.
  1321. >Some herbal tea should help calm your nerves.
  1322. >You sit quietly, going over in your mind how you were going to explain the situation to your Queen.
  1323. >You are broken from your concentration by the sound of the kettle whistling.
  1324. >Using your magic, you remove the kettle from the burner, and turn off the stove.
  1325. >Rising, you fill the tea basket with some herbs, and place it into the kettle to steep.
  1326. >As you are doing this, you hear the sound of Lavender moving around in the bedroom.
  1327. >You think to yourself.
  1328. >After today, everything will be easier.
  1329. >Except...
  1330. >How will you move to new assignments with Lavender?
  1331. >Will your Queen perhaps allow you settle down as the local ranking drone here in Cloudcrop, despite your considerable scouting and infiltration skills?
  1332. >Will you be forced to have Lavender move with you all over Equestria?
  1334. >You stand up to pour yourself a cup of tea, and Lavender steps into the kitchen, rubbing her eye with a hoof, yawning.
  1335. Morning, Lavender.
  1336. >"Good morning, Ikky."
  1337. Fancy some tea, my dear?
  1338. >Her eyes light up slightly, and you feel a pleasant twinge of emotion flow from her to you.
  1339. >"Some tea would be wonderful. What kind did you make this morning?"
  1340. Oh, a special blend to calm my nerves and sharpen my wit.
  1341. >"Sounds nice."
  1342. >Lavender shuffles over to the pantry, and digs around, pulling out an apple.
  1343. >While she is busy doing that, you pour a second cup of tea for Lavender.
  1344. >She takes a seat at the table, and takes a bite out of her apple, then takes a sip of her tea.
  1345. >"So, you got your chat with 'Mom' planned?"
  1346. I think so. I hope it works out...
  1347. >Lavender gives you a look that warms your heart...
  1348. >And slightly sates your hunger.
  1349. >"Everything will be fine."
  1350. >Surely, she will understand.
  1351. >You nod appreciatively to Lavender.
  1352. Thank you so much. I think I feel ready to face today. Hopefully, when you return from your walk, you will be able to meet... Her.
  1354. >Lavender sighs pleasantly.
  1355. >"I... I think I am looking forward to it."
  1356. >From Lavender, you feel the sweet glow of love growing.
  1357. >After finishing her apple and tea, she stands up, and trots over to the front door.
  1358. >"I'll see you a little after lunch, Ik'thik. Best of luck."
  1359. >You nod, and with a flash of green, take the shape of Pine Fresh.
  1360. >Lavender opens the door, waves, and leaves the townhouse.
  1361. >You look around the living room and kitchen.
  1362. >Everything is neat... Organized...
  1363. >You feel ready to take on the day, no matter what happens.
  1364. >You mumble to yourself.
  1365. I guess I'll ready a book while I wait for... her to show up.
  1366. >You pick up a random book from the shelf the townhouse came pre-furnished with.
  1367. >After no more than 15 minutes, you hear a sharp knocking at your front door.
  1368. >Your heart skips a beat.
  1369. >You pause for a moment, before standing up, and moving to the front door.
  1370. >Upon looking through the peephole, you see a fair unicorn mare standing on your front porch...
  1371. >Tall, white body, sky blue hair, orange eyes.
  1372. >That matches the description in your letter of what to expect.
  1373. >You open the door, and greet your visitor.
  1375. Welcome, to my humble abode, M'lady.
  1376. >You bow your head respectfully
  1377. >The mare nods her head in response.
  1378. >"I thank you kindly for your hospitality, my servant."
  1379. >Right on script...
  1380. >Yup, this is Chrysalis, here in Cloudcrop, to speak with you.
  1381. Please, come inside, we have... much to discuss.
  1382. >You step back from the door, and motion for her to move inside.
  1383. >She nods courteously, and follows you inside.
  1384. >Once she has cleared the door, you quickly shut it.
  1385. My Queen... It is a pleasure to have you visit me in the field.
  1386. >With a flash of green, the unicorn before you assumes her true form.
  1387. >Tall, beautiful, the leader of your people, Chrysalis, stands before you.
  1388. >"Ik'thik, my loyal subject, I understand we have much to discuss... Though this home of yours reeks of pony."
  1389. >With a second flash of green, you also return to your true form.
  1390. Indeed, Chrysalis, my Queen... To start with, I am sure you can already feel the energy in this town, even at this hour.
  1392. >She nods.
  1393. >"Yes, my child... it is a quite pleasant place to simply wander around in."
  1394. I have also found a cavern outside of town I do not believe the local ponies are familiar with that would make an ideal hideout and staging area, my Queen.
  1395. >She nods once more.
  1396. >"Excellent. You have done great work scouting out this town. However, would you explain why your... residence reeks of pony."
  1397. >You pause for a moment.
  1398. There is one specific thing which I wished to speak to you about, rather than what I am sure has reached you from my reports.
  1399. >Chrysalis raises one of her eyebrows at your statement.
  1400. >"Yes, you did request a personal audience."
  1401. My Queen, I have quite possibly done something... rash.
  1402. >You continue immediately, despite Chrysalis looking ready to respond.
  1403. The stories of old, Akalon and Sea Shade... Kar'ik and Rosemary... Kil'ruk and Thundercrash...
  1404. I think I have fallen into the same situation as them.
  1405. >Chrysalis stares at you.
  1406. >The kind of stare that might kill you, if it could.
  1408. >Oh crap.
  1409. >"What exactly have you done, Ik'thik, my child."
  1410. A... A local pony, one of the ones I work with at my cover job...
  1411. >"What does she know?"
  1412. >You gulp hard.
  1413. She knows my true nature... She knows that I came here to check out the town.
  1414. >You are on the verge of tears.
  1415. She now knows more than the average pony when it comes to changeling capabilities and habits after spending time with me.
  1416. >"What brought about this... connection. Simply working together?"
  1417. >Her voice was cold, calm, and clear.
  1418. We work on a team together, my Queen... She cuts trees, I guide them safely to the ground with magic. She had taken a liking to me very early on in our working together.
  1419. >You think back for a moment.
  1420. I saved her life one day when a freak storm rolled through. A burst of incredible wind knocked several trees upon her.
  1421. I used my magic to stop them, and push them out of the way. In doing so... I lost my disguise while concentrating on moving the trees.
  1422. >Chrysalis continues staring, but nods at your story.
  1423. She passed out immediately after from the shock, despite nothing touching her. I brought her back here, and was able to convince her she simply had a terrible dreams while passed out.
  1425. Afterwards, she gave herself to me. I was able to feed off her love for me. It was the most delicious of meals.
  1426. >"And?"
  1427. We dated. My feelings for her grew. I thought of the old stories, and determined I would open up to her.
  1428. >"How did she handle that?"
  1429. Well enough, I suppose. We moved in together, I haven't been carted off to some horrible pony research lab or dungeon. She willingly allows me to feed from her.
  1430. >chrysalis' look softens.
  1431. >"I see... Did she know of my arrival today?"
  1432. Yes... I recieved the message yesterday morning. She went for a walk in the woods outside of town, to give me time to speak with you about... All this.
  1433. >Her stern look softens.
  1434. >"Ik'thik, my subject... My child... The old stories you speak of are all true, or at the very least, based upon true events in the past."
  1435. >"Your situation is not new. Uncommon, but not unheard of. The road ahead of you can be wonderful and fulfilling, or it could make a turn for cold lonliness and sadness."
  1436. >Your heart is alight with hope as Chrysalis, your Queen, speaks those words.
  1437. Y-y-you mean you are ok with this?
  1438. >"My child, the happiness of my subjects, my family... Is my primary concern. You appear to have already made the decision, and nothing terrible has happened... yet.
  1439. What of my assignment... future assignments?
  1440. >"If your reports are to be believed, you have made a good impression on this town. I think I may have to leave you on extended assignment here in Cloudcrop at the very least."
  1441. You mean, you want me to set up and run an enclave here?
  1442. >Chrysalis gives a shrug.
  1443. >"If you think that is a good course of action, I would support it, Ik'thik."
  1445. >Upon hearing that, you feel an immense weight leave you.
  1446. >Surely, she will understand.
  1447. >Indeed, she did.
  1448. Lavender August... She will be home a little after lunch. Is there anything around town you wish to see, my Queen?
  1449. >"How far away is this cavern you spoke of?
  1450. Oh, a 15 or 20 minute walk. It was easy enough for me to spot, but the ponies would have a hell of a time trying to even find the entrance.
  1451. >"Let us inspect it, and we can plan and discuss the future placement of changelings here in Cloudcrop."
  1452. >In a flash of green, both yourself and your Queen assume disguises, and head out the front door, you leading the way to the cavern you found.
  1453. >You discuss the "Family Business" while walking out into the woods, and plan how best to manage changelings moving into Cloudcrop, ideas on possible fronts...
  1454. >Upon reaching the cave, you nod to Chrysalis.
  1455. This small opening leads into a moderately sized cave. It's well hidden, and with a bit of magic could easily be expanded. I think this town could, as it stands right now, support maybe... A dozen changelings.
  1456. >You pause for a moment.
  1457. Buuuuut... I understand the population drops significantly in the winter, my Queen. That may challenge things...
  1458. >"Hmmm... That could be an issue. Perhaps further reconissance is needed before truely settling on what we are going to do here."
  1459. I think that would be best, my queen. I understand many who work here in the summer leave, but a smaller number of ponies come up to the high elevations to ski. I will have to investigate this before we settle on anything.
  1460. >"Let us return, Ik'thik. Perhaps, we can meet your... Lavender."
  1461. Yes, my Queen.
  1462. >You walk back into town with your Queen, discussing further business.
  1464. >You arrive back at your townhouse, and open the door, allowing your Queen to enter before you.
  1465. >Lavender does not appear to have returned just yet.
  1466. My Queen... Do you enjoy tea?
  1467. >"I have been known to enjoy a spot of tea from time to time, yes."
  1468. >Upon hearing that, you move to fill you kettle, and put it on the stove.
  1469. I think you might like this blend... I've found it to be quite enjoyable, my lady.
  1470. >She takes a seat at the kitchen table.
  1471. >You prepare the tea basket with your strawberry hibiscus tea.
  1472. >Upon the pot boiling, you remove it from the stove, and steep the tea.
  1473. >Using your magic, you bring the pot, and two coffee mugs to the table.
  1474. Strawberry Hibiscus, my Queen... A pleasant blend, for a nice relaxing afternoon.
  1475. >She picks up her cup with her green magical aura.
  1476. >"Thank you Ik'thik."
  1477. >She takes a sip of the tea, and a smile grows across her face.
  1478. >"This is a very nice blend... You will have to tell me where you get it... I will have to keep it stocked in my personal pantry."
  1479. I found it on one of my previous assignments... You can buy it at Pembrooke Brothers grocers... Those are everywhere.
  1480. >"Indeed, thank you."
  1481. So, my Queen, how long were you planning on staying here in Cloudcrop."
  1482. >"I was planning on staying overnight. I am expected at the next location in a few days."
  1483. I see... the couch pulls out into a bed. Lavender and I can share that. You can take the proper bed, My Queen.
  1484. >"Thank you for your hospitality."
  1485. >You speak with chrysalis for a while, and right around lunch time, Lavender comes in through the front door.
  1487. >Be Lavender August, Lumberjack Pony.
  1488. >You have spent this morning wandering around in the forest outside of the town you reside in, Cloudcrop.
  1489. >Pine Fresh, or rather, Ik'thik, your special somepony, has a special guest coming to visit today, and you decided to give them some time alone to get some... things worked out.
  1490. >Hopefully everything will be OK.
  1491. >It's about time for you to return home, and grab some lunch.
  1492. >You reach your front door, and open to see one familiar face sitting at the kitchen table, along with one not so familiar.
  1493. >Sitting next to your special somepony is another mare...
  1494. >Beautiful by anyone's standard, with an air of regality to her.
  1495. Hey there Piney, and you must be... Mom!
  1496. >You step through the door and shut it behind you.
  1497. >You throw a slightly nervous look to Ik'thik, in his disguise, Pine Fresh.
  1498. >A flash of green fills the room momentaryily, and Ik'thik's disguise is gone.
  1499. >"Lavender, you are correct, this is... my Queen."
  1500. >You throw a look to the mare sitting next to Ik'thik.
  1501. >She returns your look, and another flash of green fills the room.
  1502. >The beautiful unicorn that was sitting before you is replace with a being stunning in a different manner.
  1503. >A larger, slimmer, more... Regal version of your beloved Ik'thik.
  1504. >She speaks to you in a powerful, but strange voice.
  1505. >"Greetings, Lavender August. I am Chrysalis, Queen of the Changelings. I understand you have been... taken by my charming little Ik'thik."
  1507. >You bow down before the changeling Queen.
  1508. Yes, my lady... He is the most wonderful pony... err... being... I've ever met. We just... Operate on the same wavelength.
  1509. >The large changeling standing before you appears to be studying you... Looking you over.
  1510. >She then nods.
  1511. >"Yes, I do believe that is the case."
  1512. >Turning to Ik'thik she speaks to him.
  1513. >"I bless your relationship with Lavender August. I believe she is earnest in her feelings, as are you."
  1514. >She once more turns her attention to you.
  1515. >"You have been granted a great honor, that comes with a great burden, Lavender."
  1516. >Chrysalis sighs.
  1517. >"Our society lives on secrecy and discretion, my little pony. Everything you know, everything you learn, about changelings, you MUST keep secret."
  1518. >"Nopony must know of Ik'thik's true nature. Should he get found out..."
  1519. >A tear wells up in the Queen's eye.
  1520. >"Let's not think about that, or any other of my children who might get discovered should the worst happen."
  1521. >You gulp.
  1522. I won't tell another soul, Chrysalis. I know my own people well enough to imagine what might happen.
  1523. >Chrysalis continues.
  1524. >"On the other side, you may come to meet many more of my own subjects. Changelings coming to work or live in this area will have to be briefed on your situation"
  1525. >"Many of them will be fearful and may shun you, despite being a part of the family."
  1526. >You tilt your head to the side.
  1527. I'm... part of the family now?
  1529. >Chrysalis gives a nod to the affirmative.
  1530. >"With my blessing, you are welcomed into the swarm, Lavender."
  1531. >Your heart feels aflutter.
  1532. >Everything went perfect.
  1533. >Ik'thik's Queen has accepted the both of you being together, and has welcomed you fully into the family... The Swarm.
  1534. >Ik'thik jumps over to you, and gives you a loving embrace.
  1535. >A smile grows on Chrysalis' face.
  1536. >"If you wish, Lavender, you can be given a mark that will identify you to others in the family."
  1537. >"It cannot be seen by ponies, excepting a few magical rituals designed specifically to find such things, but is seen clearly by changelings."
  1538. >Chrysalis lets out a nostalgic sigh.
  1539. >"Nearly 200 years since I have last welcomed a pony into the swarm in this manner. It pleases me when it can happen on its own, and not end in tears."
  1540. >Her face then turns slightly more stern.
  1541. >"I can only hope it continues to be happy. OUtside forces can be... unpredictable."
  1542. >Ik'thik releases you from his embrace.
  1543. >"My Queen... You said all the old stories were true? So Romano and Jul'tak..."
  1544. >"Yes, my child... It happens as the story is told... Please, don't let that happen to you two."
  1545. >You look to Ik'thik nervously.
  1547. >Be Ik'thik, changeling drone.
  1548. >This day has been... perfect.
  1549. >Your Queen has accepted your relationship with a Lavender, and Lavender seems to have taken everything very well too.
  1550. >However, Chrysalis' most recent statement has put a cloud of worry on Lavender.
  1551. >You'll have to talk more with her about what the Queen was speaking about.
  1552. >"So, Lavender. Are you ready for the ritual to give you the mark?"
  1553. >You look to lavender. You can feel the nervous emotions flowing from her.
  1554. >"Y-y-yes, Queen Chrysalis... I am ready."
  1555. >Chrysalis lowers her head, and a powerful bolt of green lightning shooting, and envelops Lavender.
  1556. >The magical aura lifts her up, and on her flank, below her flower cutie mark, a bright green glyph begins to appear and take shape.
  1557. >It is roughly circular, and has the vague shape of a changeling depicted in it.
  1558. >After a few moments, Lavender is set back down on the ground, and the magic aura around her fades away.
  1559. >"It is done. Lavender August, you will now be recognized by changelings as a friend of the swarm."
  1560. >Your eyes widen.
  1561. >"My... My flank feels wierd. It's... Itchy."
  1562. >"Yes, that is an expected side effect, Lavender. That mark will be invisible to you, and any pony, but as I am sure Ik'thik can tell you, It is clear as day to him."
  1564. >Lavender looks to you, and you nod an affirmation.
  1565. Indeed... Its already grown less bright, but it will still be a clear mark for any changeling.
  1566. >"Wh-wh-what's it look like?"
  1567. It's the royal mark of The Swarm. A circular mark, that is a depiction of a changeling curled into a circle.
  1568. >Lavender moves to take a close look at her itchy spot.
  1569. >"Wierd... I really can't see anything... What kind of ritual is needed for a pony to see it?"
  1570. >You look to Chrysalis.
  1571. >"A fairly laborious, difficult, and somewhat painful ritual... Beyond showing glyphs like that, it also makes changelings in disguise glow brightly as well."
  1572. >"Painful?"
  1573. >"Yes, Lavender... As an earth pony, you may not be familiar with a lot of magic and its effects on the caster, but some spells can cause physical discomfort of varying degrees while casting."
  1574. >She shudders.
  1575. >"Atleast I shouldn't have to worry about it once it stops itching then."
  1576. >That news gave a wave of relief from Lavender.
  1577. So... Lunch? I know there is a party at the Bear Track tonight.
  1578. >You turn your eyes to your Queen.
  1579. I think you might enjoy it, my leige. The ambient emotions there are quite pleasant, and filling, especially if there's a party.
  1580. >"I think more tea for lunch sounds wonderful, and a party sounds... magical."
  1581. >You nod to Lavender.
  1582. Feel free to make some of your food for yourself, I will make some more tea for all of us.
  1584. >You spend the afternoon speaking with your Queen, and Lavender.
  1585. >The sheer amount of knowledge Chrysalis was able to share with Lavender about changeling culture was appreciated by both of you.
  1586. >Less work for you in the immediate future.
  1587. >As the sun gets lower in the sky, you inform your fellows that if we want to get to the party, now might be a good time to head out.
  1588. >You also pause to think for a moment.
  1589. My Queen... how do you want to be introduced to the ponies at the party? I informed them I likely wouldn't be there because family was visiting this weekend.
  1590. >"Hmmm... For a party, 'Mother' might be innappropriate. The disguise I've been u sing might also be inappropriate for 'Sister'... How about 'Cousin'."
  1591. That sounds like it could work. Cousin Bahama Breeze?
  1592. >Chrysalis nods.
  1593. >"Yes, that seems appropriate. This should be quite the pleasant evening."
  1594. >In twin flashes of green, both yourself and chrysalis assume your pony disguises.
  1595. Then, it's party time. Lets go to The Bear Track, Lavender August and Bahama Breeze.
  1596. >You smile and step to the door, opening it with your magic.
  1597. >Moving outside, you make the short walk over to the main street, and onto the patio of the saloon.
  1598. This is it, Bahama. The Bear Track.
  1599. >You can see your disguised Queen sniffing the air.
  1600. >"Yesssss... This will do quite well."
  1601. I figured you would like it, cousin Bahama.
  1602. >You walk through the front doors, open to the cool evening air.
  1604. >Inside, you see your co-workers usual table, one of the big circular ones in the middle of the dimly lit room.
  1605. >They see you with Lavender, and wave you over.
  1606. >A few look very suprised when they see Bahama Breeze following behind you.
  1607. So, I did manage to make it tonight. Everyone, this is my cousin who came to visit... Bahama Breeze.
  1608. >The looks your two male co-workers are giving her must be delicious...
  1609. >Burnt Oak, the stallion in charge of running the heavy movement equipment seems particularly taken.
  1610. >You let out a sly smile.
  1611. So, how is everyone doing on this fine evening?
  1612. >You get a wide range of approval from the ponies sitting at the table.
  1613. Sounds good. To celebrate family...
  1614. >You shoot looks to the two you came with.
  1615. Next round's on me!
  1616. >You slam your hoof down on the table, and the ponies let out a triumphant cheer, quickly grabbing the attention of the waiter.
  1617. >"So, what'll you have, Pine Fresh?"
  1618. I'll take a Shiner Buck... Put everyone at this table's next drink on me... Plus whatever these fine mares behind me desire.
  1619. >You take a seat at the table, and are quickly joined by Lavender and the disguised Chrysalis.
  1621. >Everyone is having a good time.
  1622. >And you are sure your Queen is getting a delectable meal.
  1623. >Sawin' Steve brings up a point you hadn't thought about.
  1624. >"So, Pine and Lavender, what are you gonna do this winter? I reckon we only got a month and a half or so of timber season left."
  1625. >What ARE you going to do? You've built up a reasonable savings with your work at the lumber camp, and having Lavender, despite her extra food expenditures, makes it even bigger.
  1626. To be honest, I haven't put much thought into it... I figured I would probably stay up here in Cloudcrop, but I don't know how much there is to do job-wise.
  1627. >Gusty Leaves, your supervisor speaks up.
  1628. >"I know a good chunk of those who stay up in the cold of winter take jobs at the ski resort... Pegasi like myself make sure the snow is perfect, and other ponies do various jobs around the place."
  1629. >Gusty stretches out her wings proudly.
  1630. Ski resort, eh... Can't say I've ever gone skiing before, but that seems like it could be legit.
  1631. >Bahama Breeze gives you a sly look.
  1632. >"Well, Piney, knowing OUR family, you might want to find yourself an indoor job at a place like that."
  1633. Oh, I'm sure I'll be fine either way... Thats what winter jackets are for.
  1634. >"Your choice... Just don't write to me complaining how miserable it makes you."
  1635. >The other ponies around the table chuckle, and mumble to one another about how they feel about winter in Cloudcrop.
  1637. >You look to Lavender.
  1638. What do you normally do during the off months for tree cutting, Lavender?
  1639. >"Odd jobs around town, usually... Splitting logs, small scale tree cutting for firewood..."
  1640. Maybe we can find something more for the both of us to do this winter. Anyway, how about another round for the table!
  1641. >The ponies around you let out a cheer, and you can feel all the good vibes filling the air.
  1642. >Chrysalis, disguised as Bahama Breeze, shoots you a pleased look.
  1643. >"Looks like you are doing pretty good for yourself here, cousin Pine Fresh."
  1644. Indeed. Life is good.
  1645. >Another beer comes out for you, and you savor it.
  1646. >Today went so much better than you had thought possible.
  1647. >Lavender accepted openly by your Queen, given a mark to ensure her safety should she need to interact with other changelings...
  1648. >You've been given an effective promotion, too... You get to build and run the changeling enclave in Cloudcrop as you see fit.
  1649. >Everything looks to be easy sailing from here on out.
  1651. Ch. 8
  1653. >The end of lumber season has come, with the arrival of the autumn rains.
  1654. >The heavy equipment becomes to difficult to operate, and the weather has also become significantly cooler.
  1655. >A good chunk of the ponies have left, or are preparing to leave within the next few days.
  1656. >All of your co-workers have left town outside of Gusty Leaves.
  1657. >And Lavender, of course.
  1658. >Gusty Leaves has told you to expect snow soon...
  1659. >Lavender and yourself have gone to the nearby ski resort, and tried to see what kind of positions you could find.
  1660. >Luckily they had positions for both of you.
  1661. >Being that you look like a unicorn, and have shown competency with levitation, you are assigned to monitor the top of a ski lift, and take care of ponies who mess up the disembark.
  1662. >An 'inside' position, but it mostly is just going to keep you out of the wind.
  1663. >It's still going to be cold, unless you get put on the big lift... That one has a heated control room at the top of the mountain.
  1664. >Hopefully, the ski resort can provide a reasonable supplement to the love Lavender gives you for sustainance.
  1665. >Lavender... She didn't get the same 'cushy' position.
  1666. >She has gotten assigned to operating heavy equipment.
  1667. >Snow blowers to clear paths, chainsaws to clear fallen trees, groomers for keeping the slopes in tip top shape...
  1668. >A little more exposed, but atleast the groomer is enclosed.
  1669. >The resort itself looked reasonable, to someone who had never been skiing.
  1670. >Small hotel for ponies to stay in, lodge to warm up in between runs.
  1672. >With the coming of the cool weather, and snow possibly this evening, you have decided to make use of your townhome's fireplace.
  1673. >Using the little bit of time off since the timber work finished, you and Lavender have taken the time to make an impressive stack of firewood on your back patio for the coming winter.
  1674. >You had little need for the fireplace in the summer, but now that winter is approaching, it is the main source of heat for the townhome.
  1675. >You stack up several larger logs into a cabin like pile, around a small pile of waste paper and small twigs.
  1676. >Using a simple fire spell, you light up the kindling pile.
  1677. >Within a few minutes, you have a pleasing blaze filling the room with warmth and light.
  1678. >You snuggle up with Lavender on the couch.
  1679. >She is already giving you a pleasant flow of emotions.
  1680. How are you feeling today, my sweet?
  1681. >Lavender looks at you, and you feel the love intensify.
  1682. >"I feel wonderful... This winter will be the best... Better job, better lodgings, best companion..."
  1683. I agree, Lavender... This will be a wonderful winter.
  1684. >Chrysalis' visit finished up well, and she has given you her wishes that Cloudcrop might become one of her personal retreats.
  1685. >If you can find a possible business to open up, she can put 'family money' towards building something.
  1686. >Perhaps a nice mountain lodge for the Queen, with space for you and Lavender as well... And any other changelings who come to visit
  1687. >And you are the drone in charge of it all.
  1688. >You have to just think of something first.
  1689. >Otherwise, it might be tough to explain why you have so many family members coming and going.
  1691. >The fireplace does a good job of keeping the place warm.
  1692. >Though, mornings might have to be supplemented with the oven.
  1693. >So, that might put muffins on the menu more often.
  1694. >Which is fine by both you and Lavender.
  1695. >You enjoy snuggles for several hours, and you get up for a moment to put on some herbal tea.
  1696. >Before you return to your seat to await the kettle finishing, you take a peek out the front window.
  1697. >Gusty Leaves was correct...
  1698. >The first snow of the year is leaving a thin dusting of white across the dimly lit town of Cloudcrop.
  1699. Ooooo, look Lavender! It's started snowing.
  1700. >She turns around on the couch, and takes a look out the window as well.
  1701. >"So it is... The first snow is always so... comfy."
  1702. >You nod in agreement.
  1703. Up here will probably have more snow than I've ever seen before... I've only ever seen a foot or so at most.
  1704. >Lavender chuckles.
  1705. >"You'll definitely see more than that up here, Piney... I figure within two weeks, we'll have 3 foot of snow or more."
  1706. >Your eyes widen.
  1707. >You suppose it makes sense... High elevation, and a ski resort...
  1708. >At least you already bough yourself a nice heavy winter parka.
  1709. >Chrysalis might have been right about the cold here.
  1710. Neat... So much snow should be neat.
  1712. >Lavender's prediction was right.
  1713. >Within the week, there was significant snow, enough to open up the ski resort.
  1714. >You and Lavender report for your first proper day of work.
  1715. >Being the new guy, you are assigned to work the top of the smallest, slowest lift.
  1716. >The magic carpet... Its just a big inclined conveyor belt, perfect for little fillies and colts who can't use a regular chair lift.
  1717. >And, at the top, all you got is a wooden box.
  1718. >No windows, just a little wooden box to block atleast some of the wind.
  1719. Well, this kinda sucks...
  1720. >Inside the box, you have an emergency stop button, if you see somepony fall over on the lift, and a radio to talk to the pony down at the base of the lift.
  1721. >There is a stallion you met working the bottom lift.
  1722. >An earth pony who goes by Cloudy Haze.
  1723. >Seemed like a decent enough fellow.
  1724. >"Alright, Pine Fresh, you ready to crank up the magic carpet?"
  1725. >You reply to the voice over the radio.
  1726. Affirmative.
  1727. >You throw a power switch, and assume Cloudy has done the same, as the lift starts moving.
  1728. >"Here come the first ponies."
  1729. >You can look down and see the bottom of the lift, and observe a small line starting to grow on your lift.
  1731. >A minute or so later, the first pony reaches the top of the lift.
  1732. >A cute little filly, covered in a big puffy winter jacket.
  1733. >You get a taste of the pleasant flavor of excitement and joy.
  1734. >This could work out well, if every pony coming by is giving off emotions like this...
  1735. >The filly reaches the top, and skis off to go down the adjacent bunny slope.
  1736. >A few moments later, another pony comes by, giving off similar emotions.
  1737. >Oh yes. You could get used to this.
  1738. >As the day wears on, you get the occasional pony that falls disembarking, and you are able to quickly grab them with your magic, and set them on their way.
  1739. >You are able to pull a pretty decent meal together throughout the day, despite the cold being bitter.
  1740. >You need goggles.
  1741. >And a better hat.
  1742. >You will also need to try skiing yourself...
  1743. >It looks like a good pile of fun, considering the emotions all these ponies are throwing out there.
  1744. >At around noon, you pick at the lunch you packed.
  1745. >Cold muffins, and some juice. Also, very cold.
  1746. >You call down to your co-worker at the bottom of the lift over the radio.
  1748. So, Cloduy, how would you rate this day compared to your average day here at the resort?
  1749. >A few moments later, you hear your co-workers voice crackle over the radio.
  1750. >"Pretty good. Reasonably busy, and the weather's not too cold either."
  1751. >Your heart skips a beat at that.
  1752. >This is a warm day?
  1753. >You are gonna definitely need some better outerwear for this.
  1754. Wow... I'm too used to lower elevation winters, cause I am real cold up here.
  1755. >You hear a chuckle over the radio.
  1756. >"Yeah, the upper stations tend to be more cold... More wind exposure. I'm sure you'll get used to it."
  1757. >You shiver, trying to stay warm.
  1758. >Eventually, the sun lowers, and some large lights turn on, illuminating the mountainside.
  1759. >You can see a few pegasi, including Gusty Leaves, flying overhead with some clouds, dumping some new snow onto the slopes.
  1760. >There is something particularly beautiful about the snow falling under the lights.
  1761. >Before long, your first day working on the slopes is finished, and you walk down the now turned off magic carpet.
  1762. >You nod at Cloudy Haze, and not too far away, you can see Lavender finishing up her work for the day.
  1763. >See sees you approach, and gives a wave as she stows the last of her equipment in a storage shed.
  1764. >You can see the subtle green glow of the mark she was given, on her flank.
  1765. Have a reasonable first day, Lavender?
  1766. >You can feel generally positive vibes coming from her as she responds.
  1767. >"Pretty good... The equipment is all in pretty good order, and none of the stuff is terribly hard to operate. I like it. How about you"
  1768. Overall, not bad... Its do damned cold though.
  1769. >Lavender lets out a chuckle.
  1771. >"I guess cousin Bahama Breeze wasn't entirely off when it comes to how you and your family handle the cold."
  1772. Yeah, yeah... I need some goggles, a hat, and just generally more warm clothes.
  1773. >"Can always check out the proshop here at the resort... They should have stuff to cover your needs. Just don't expect cheap."
  1774. >Money isn't too much of an issue at the moment... You've gotten a kind gift from your family, and not dieing to exposure seems like a good investment.
  1775. >You go inside the lodge, and find the small proshop.
  1776. >Its still open.
  1777. >The pony working the register nods as you enter, and begin looking around.
  1778. >Lavender wasn't joking about the prices...
  1779. >The stuff is all of good quality but wow.
  1780. >Still, you find some stuff that looks like what you need.
  1781. >Goggles, Some nice booties, a cozy warm hat...
  1782. >You take your choices up to the pony at the register.
  1783. I definitely need some more warm clothing if I'm gonna be sitting outside all day.
  1784. >The mare behind the counter nods.
  1785. >"So, you're the new guy on the magic carpet right?
  1786. >You nod in affirmation.
  1787. >"Yeah, its cold out there. This stuff should help though. It'll keep you nice and covered. Nopony will be able to actually see you under all of this.
  1788. >Thats an interesting though... So many clothes could be quite handy if you want to get lazy with your disguise...
  1789. >But no, thats too risky. Best keep it up at work. Always.
  1791. >You return outside, and see Lavender waiting for you.
  1792. >"Got what you needed?"
  1793. Yup.
  1794. >You pull out your new goggles, and put them on.
  1795. >So nice... cutting out the wind blowing in your face.
  1796. >Lavender giggles at your new accessory.
  1797. >"Enjoying that?"
  1798. Yes, Lavender, its quite pleasant... Now, lets head home and get a nice roaring fire going. And some nice tea.
  1799. >Lavender nods in agreement.
  1800. >"Yes, Piney, home would be good."
  1801. >Strolling home, a few scattered snow flakes fall from the sky.
  1802. >The cold may be miserable, but it is beautiful none the less.
  1803. >"I'm so lucky to have you, Piney... You complete me."
  1804. >You nod in response.
  1805. I love you, Lavender. The winter is shaping up to be quite pleasant. All the ponies on the slopes were quite pleased to be there.
  1806. >"A nice meal, eh?"
  1807. Indeed.
  1808. >Lavender smiles, and you can feel the flame of love flickering on the air.
  1809. >You snuggle close to her as you both silently walk back to your home, together.
  1811. >Your new job continues similarly until your first day off.
  1812. >You spoke with Lavender, and decided you should both spend a day off, skiing at the resort.
  1813. >Being that you work there, you get a pretty sweet discount, both on your lift ticket, and on your equipment rental.
  1814. >Lavender is decent on skis, and has decided to give you some lessons in the morning, working mostly on the bunny slope.
  1815. >Time to actually ride the lift you work on every day.
  1816. >Bundled up in all the cold weather gear you own, and skis on your hooves, you get in line for the magic carpet.
  1817. >You are excited yourself, and you can feel the ponies around you are having similar thoughts.
  1818. >Your turn comes, and Lavender nods to you.
  1819. >"Just move forward, and lean forward."
  1820. Got it.
  1821. >You push yourself forward by pushing side to side, and you get your skis onto the rubber surface of the magic carpet.
  1822. >Yes, this is...
  1823. >Oh shit, no...
  1824. >The sudden jerk forward of the ground moving beneath you caught you off guard.
  1825. >You did not lean forward enough.
  1826. >You now find yourself in a crumpled mess, lying on the ground.
  1827. >You aren't hurt, just your pride.
  1828. >The sound of the magic carpet silences as the emergency stop button is hit, and the pony working the booth comes out.
  1829. >Double shit.
  1830. >Cloudy Haze.
  1831. >"You alright there, Pine Fresh?"
  1832. >He chuckles.
  1833. >You use your magic to help lift yourself back into the upright position.
  1834. Uhh... Yeah... No problems... Just caught me off guard, that's all...
  1836. >Cloudy haze laughs again.
  1837. >"Alright, everyopony, lean forward, we are about to start up the lift again.
  1838. >This time, you ensure you are leaning pretty far forward.
  1839. >With a jump, the lift restarts, and you are now moving up the hill.
  1840. >Alright, cool, you got this.
  1841. >As you approach the top of the hill, you have a better idea of what to do.
  1842. >You've spent quite a bit of time walking ponies do this.
  1843. >You stand, you keep your skis parallel, and as you get to the top, you just let yourself slide back onto the snow from the rubber surface of the lift.
  1844. >And, you manage to not fall flat on your ass at the top.
  1845. >Moving forward, you move a few yard past the top of the lift, and wait for Lavender.
  1846. >A few moments later, Lavender reaches the top of the lift, and slides over beside you.
  1847. >"Having fun, Piney?"
  1848. >You respond with a sigh.
  1849. Yeah... I got a hang of getting on and off the lift now hopefully... Now I just need to get used to sliding down the hill on these... things.
  1850. >"Remember, slalom down the hill... turn back and forth to control your speed. And put your skis like this if you really want to slow down."
  1851. >Lavender moves her front legs together, and her back legs slightly apart, creating a wedge with her skis.
  1852. I think I got it... Lets give this a try.
  1853. >You awkwardly turn around, and point yourself downhill.
  1854. >You begin sliding down the slope, and when you reach the far side of the open space, you adjust your legs to turn to go the other way across the slope.
  1855. >Lavender is following you from behind.
  1856. >"Thats it, just keep doing that till you get to the bottom!"
  1857. >You slide back, and turn as you get close to the lift again.
  1858. >Man, no wonder the ponies are so happy, this sliding around is a lot of fun.
  1859. >And this is actually way more exercise than it looks... Keeping you nice and warm.
  1862. >You go back and forth a few more times, and end up back down at the bottom of the lift.
  1863. >Lavender is following behind you closely, and slides into place behind you in line for the magic carpet.
  1864. >"That was pretty good, Piney... you are a natural at this."
  1865. Well, being athletic is kind of important for... my line of work, Lavender.
  1866. >"I suppose so... So, I guess you are down for another run?"
  1867. >You look at the line in front of you.
  1868. Yeah, I think so. Line's moving pretty quick. A few more times, and maybe I can go somewhere else in the resort on one of the big lifts!
  1869. >Lavender lets out a little chuckle.
  1870. >"If you keep it up, that might work out."
  1871. >Your turn comes up, and you mount the lift once more.
  1872. >This time, you manage to do it without making a jackass of yourself.
  1873. >And, upon reaching the top, you dismount, and Lavender is right behind you.
  1874. >You begin your trip down the slope, moving back and forth, faster than last time.
  1875. >You get an amazing rush, even on a little slope like this.
  1876. >The rest of the mountain beckons...
  1877. >When you reach the bottom with Lavender in tow, you slide to a stop, and turn to speak to her.
  1878. I want to go up a bigger slope than this! This is so much fun!
  1879. >"Yeah, I think you can handle it. Lets head on over to the big quadlift."
  1880. >A hundred yards away, you can see the hulking equipment at the base of the quadlift.
  1881. Let's do it!
  1882. >"Ok, so how the quad lift is gonna work, is when our turn comes, we will go to a line on the ground to wait, and when the seat comes by and grabs the ponies in front of us, then we move up to where they stood."
  1883. >You nod in understanding.
  1884. >"Then, the seat will come around behind us, and just pick us up. Simple as that. Getting off, you put your skis on the platform, then let the seat push you until you go down the ramp at the far end of the platform, and the seat will swing above us."
  1885. Sounds easy enough.
  1887. >Suprisingly, the big lift really was as easy to board as Lavender had said.
  1888. >Move to the lines when your times come, and you get whisked up into the air, up the mountain.
  1889. >The very cold, windy air.
  1890. Lavender, you didn't tell me these chair lifts are so *shiver* cold!
  1891. >She shrugs.
  1892. >"Never bothered me much... Yeah, it's probably about as cold as you get on your average day skiing, just waiting to get to the top."
  1893. >You look up the mountain, and you can the top of the lift approaching.
  1894. So uhhh... Just kinda let it push you off?
  1895. >"Yup, the platform will come up, you start sliding on it, then ski off to the side once the ramp comes. Easy as pie."
  1896. >Sounds simple enough... Getting on was easy enough, so getting of should be easy, right?
  1897. >The upper platform arrives, and just as Lavender said, You just kinda put the skis on the ground, and ski forward, out of the way.
  1898. >Really was easy as pie...
  1899. So, which path do we want to take down the mountain?
  1900. >"Well, since this is your first time up here, we should probably take the green... Happy Valley."
  1901. >She motions to a big sign, with a green circle, and the name Happy Valley posted upon it.
  1902. >The slope beyond looks... pretty easy. Some of the other ones have cooler names, and other colors and shapes.
  1903. >But, Lavender knows best.
  1904. Alright, Happy Valley, here we come.
  1905. >You both scoot along on the flat at the top of the mountain to where the slope starts.
  1906. >It looks like this slope kinda loops around the back of the mountain to get a shallower slope.
  1907. >Looks like fun.
  1908. Let's do this!
  1909. >You push yourself forward, and begin the joyous process of smoothly sliding down the mountain.
  1910. >Getting your muscles going again warms you up, and the feel of the breeze is amazing.
  1911. >You might have to reconsider the hat...
  1913. >Part way down the slope, where it becomes less steep, you come to a stop.
  1914. >You take off your hat and stow it into your parka's pocket, and let the mane of your disguise flow freely in the breeze.
  1915. >Lavender slides to a sudden stop near you, and sends some snow flying.
  1916. >"Loosing the hat? I don't blame you. It can get hot with that kinda stuff when you really get going."
  1917. Yeah... Gotta keep the goggles, but the feeling of my mane blowing is... almost intoxicating.
  1918. >The general feel of the various ponies around you is so positive.
  1919. >This entire place is just perfect.
  1920. >You slide back down to the bottom of the mountain, Lavender in tow.
  1921. >Upon coming to a stop, you let out a triumphant cheer.
  1922. So much fun!
  1923. >Lavender comes to a stop next to you.
  1924. >"Want to take it up a notch? I know where there is a little hidden mogul trail... Those make everything more fun."
  1925. What exactly is it?
  1926. >"Oh, just a narrow path thats not too steep, but has lots of big bumps to ride over."
  1927. Sounds different... but fun! Where do we go?
  1928. >"Whelp, we start with taking the quad lift back up the mountain."
  1930. >After reaching the top of the mountain, Lavender leads you to a small opening in the trees, and you can see a few other ponies must have been skiing down it already.
  1931. >"Ok, so, this is the mogul trail. YOu go down it, stay along the path, and you'll do fine... Have some fun, and maybe get a little air if you go fast enough"
  1932. >You nod.
  1933. Looks fun.
  1934. >Overhead, you see Gusty Leaves flying around, with a small cloud, leaving a dusting of snow in her wake.
  1935. >You give her a wave, and she waves back, and Lavender joins in the wave when she sees who you are waving to.
  1936. Alright... Let's go.
  1937. >You push yourself forward, onto the small trail.
  1938. >Quickly jumping up and down, following the bumps of the trail is quite fun, as Lavender advised.
  1939. >You let yourself speed up.
  1940. >This trail reminds you of flying through a forest, only this is something nonflying creatures can experience.
  1941. >You can hear Lavender shouting something at you from behind.
  1942. >You turn your head to reply that you couldn't hear her.
  1943. What was that you sai-
  1944. >Crunch.
  1946. Ch. 9
  1948. >You are Lavender August.
  1949. >You have just witnessed your special somepony violently crash into a tree by missing a slight turn in the trail.
  1950. >He is crumpled on the ground, and some snow has been knocked on top of him from the tree he hit.
  1951. >Sliding off the trail, you come to a stop and check up on Pine Fresh.
  1952. >With a flash of green, and a scream, Pine Fresh reverts from a pony, to a changeling.
  1953. >Your heart skips a beat.
  1954. >Ik'thik's winter wear cover most of his body, so at the moment only his head is exposed, excepting what his goggles cover.
  1955. >You take off your scarf, wrap it around his face, and pull his hat out of his pocket, and pull it over the top of his head.
  1956. >He's reasonably covered now, but still unconcious.
  1957. >A few yards through the trees, you can see a regular run.
  1958. >You remove your skis, and gallop through the snow over to the big open slope.
  1959. >You look for the ski patrol at first, then you look up.
  1960. >Gusty Leaves!
  1961. >You wave your legs in the air to her.
  1962. >She notices you, and comes flying down.
  1963. >"Is everything alright, Lavender?"
  1964. Piney... He had an accident on the mogul trail!
  1965. >"where!?"
  1966. >You point into the trees.
  1967. Follow me, then you can maybe go bring some help!
  1968. >You run back into the trees, and see Ik'thik still sitting there.
  1970. >Still unconcious.
  1971. >"Oh my... I'll be back with the ski patrol, Lavender, you keep an eye on him!"
  1972. >You nod to Gusty Leaves as she flies up through the trees to get some help.
  1973. Wake up... Please, Ik'thik... Wake up...
  1974. >You kneel down into the snow next to Ik'thik, and start carefully removing snow from on top of him.
  1975. >As you are doing so, you can see he is still breathing.
  1976. >Thank Celestia for that.
  1977. >And as it stands, you can't tell he's a changeling... Just a pony shaped body in heavy winter clothing.
  1978. >How are you going to explain this to the ski patrol... to the doctor when you get him to the hospital...
  1979. >A few minutes after Gusty Leaves left, she returns, landing next to you, with a few other pegasi flying above, with lift harnesses.
  1980. He's out of the snow, and breathing!
  1981. >"Alright, Lavender, we are gonna need to put this harness on Piney, and then we can fly him straight to the clinic in town, they should be able to start helping him."
  1982. >You need to get there with him...
  1983. Gusty... do you think you could carry me to the clinic as well? I don't want to leave him alone!
  1984. >You both work to strap the harness onto Ik'thik, and connect it to the ropes being held up by the other pegasi.
  1985. >"I... Think so, Lavender."
  1986. >Gusty looks up, and shouts to the other pegasi.
  1987. >They begin to pull up some of the ropes now supporing Ik'thik, lifting him above the trees, before flying off towards town.
  1988. >"Alright, lets do this quickly, Lavender."
  1989. >She lifts of the ground slightly, and picks you up, then, slower than the other pegasi carrying Ik'thik, flies you into town.
  1991. >You arrive roughly a minute after Ik'thik, and Gusty drops you off.
  1992. >"Keep me informed, I gotta go back and inform the folks at the resort, Lavender."
  1993. >She zips off, significantly faster now, back towards the resort.
  1994. >You can see the doctor coming out, as the other pegasi detach themselves from the harness on him.
  1995. >They dropped him off on a gurney, and after they remove the harness, they help the doctor and his nurse push him into the clinic.
  1996. Wait for me!
  1997. >The doctor turns to you.
  1998. >"Lavender? Is this..."
  1999. Yes, doctor, it's Pine Fresh. He... ran into a tree.
  2000. >"Lets get him inside, and we can check everything out, Lavender."
  2001. >You follow them as they push Ik'thik back into the clinic, into an observation and minor procedure room.
  2002. >The doctor prepares to remove some of Ik'thik's clothing.
  2003. Wait, doctor...
  2004. >He pauses for a moment, the other ponies in the room looking at you oddly.
  2005. >You move up to whisper in his ear.
  2006. C-c-can you please send the other ponies away for a moment, I need to talk to you about Pine Fresh.
  2007. >The doctor looks at you strangely.
  2008. Privately.
  2009. >"Lavender, everything we see is held in doctor-patient confidentiality, and the nurses here are bound by that as well."
  2010. Please... more private, for just a short moment... Please...
  2011. >A tear slides down your cheeck.
  2012. >The fewer ponies who see Ik'thik, the better...
  2014. >The doctor sighs.
  2015. >"Can you please give us a few minutes alone, nurse..."
  2016. >The nurse looks at you oddly, and leaves the room, following the pegasi paramedics back towards the front of the clinic.
  2017. >"Now, Lavender August. I hope you have a good reason for sending my nurse away."
  2018. Pine Fresh... He is different.
  2019. >You remove his hat and your scarf, revealing the knocked out changeling beneath.
  2020. >The doctor gasps, then mutters under his breath.
  2021. >"Pine Fresh... A changeling?"
  2022. >You bow your head down.
  2023. Yes... He is a changeling, and he looks really hurt... He hit his entire body really hard against the tree... Please, help him!
  2024. >The doctor sighs.
  2025. >"I will do what I can... But I've never worked with a changeling before..."
  2026. >He moves towards the door, cracks it open, and calls for the nurse.
  2027. >When the nurse arrives, he mumbles to her.
  2028. >You hear a bit of talking about supplies he needs, but you can't really make all of it out.
  2029. >"Yes, Doctor, I understand. I'll be back as quick as I can with the supplies you need."
  2030. >The doctor closes the door, and begins to remove more of the heavy winter clothing covering Ik'thik.
  2031. >He moves his hoof across Ik'thik's exposed chitin.
  2032. >"Hmmm... I don't see any obvious wounds on the outside... No cracks in his... exoskeleton."
  2033. >The doctor puts his stethoscope up to Ik'thik's chest.
  2034. >"Breathing is... there? I'm not sure how it should be, and there is some kind of heartbeat."
  2035. His breathing is... more shallow than it should be.
  2036. >The doctor sighs in frustration.
  2037. >"I... I don't know anything about changeling physiology... Best I can do is observe, and keep an eye on his vitals."
  2038. >You sit down on a chair in the room, lowering your face into your hooves.
  2040. >A few minutes later, as the doctor attempted to think of something to do, you hear a knocking at the door.
  2041. >Without even looking up, the doctor speaks.
  2042. >"Enter."
  2043. >You look to the door as it opens.
  2044. >Two uniformed ponies enter the room, closing the door behind them.
  2045. >The sheriff, and a deputy.
  2046. >Your heart immediately sinks.
  2047. >The doctor turns to you.
  2048. >"I'm sorry Lavender, but... I had to."
  2049. >You scream at the doctor.
  2051. >The doctor winces at those words.
  2052. >He then sighs.
  2053. >"It... doesn't cover non-ponies."
  2054. >He returns to looking over Ik'thik, monitoring his breathing and heart rate
  2055. >The sheriff steps up to you.
  2056. >"Lavender August, we need to have a little chat about your friend here."
  2058. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  2060. >Your god damn head...
  2061. >You are Ik'thik, changeling drone of the Swarm.
  2062. >Your head hurts like you've never felt it hurt before.
  2063. >You open your eyes.
  2064. >Before you is a sterile white room with no windows.
  2065. >There are assorted medical supplies on some of the cabinets along the wall.
  2066. >Where the hell are you...
  2067. >The last thing you can remember was skiing along the mogul trail, turning to say somthing to Lavender, then...
  2068. >You shake your head lightly.
  2069. >That as a poor choice... It makes your head hurt even more.
  2070. >You look down at yourself.
  2071. >Your heart pauses for a few moments.
  2072. >Your front hooves are laid out before you, in shackles.
  2073. >Not Pine Fresh's hooves... Ik'thik's hooves.
  2074. >Oh.
  2075. >Shit.
  2076. >You are injured, and apperantly in the custody of ponies.
  2077. >Stay calm... What did they teach you about this in scout training...
  2078. >Suddenly, the door to the room clicks, and unseals.
  2080. >A pony, wearing a lab coat walks through, levitating a clipboard.
  2081. >"So, awake are we, now?"
  2082. >You eye the pony cautiously.
  2083. >"What, nothing to say, Ik'thik?"
  2084. >Fuck.
  2085. >He knows your name...
  2086. >How could he...
  2087. Where... Am I? Where's Lavender?
  2088. >A sly smile comes across the lab coat pony's face.
  2089. >"Right now? Far from where you had your little accident. Lavender is... around."
  2090. >The pony sets the clipboard down on one of the benches along the wall.
  2091. >"If you cooperate with us, changeling, your life will be more pleasant, and maybe, just maybe, we'll let you see this Lavender August."
  2092. Define 'us'.
  2093. >The pony cackles.
  2094. >He definitely feels happy, but it makes you feel uncomforable.
  2095. >"I suppose its fair to inform you... I work for the CIA... The Canterlot Intelligence Agency."
  2096. >Your eyes widen.
  2097. >That's not good.
  2098. >"And, you find yourself in our headquarters... Under Canterlot Castle."
  2099. >That's even less good.
  2100. >"So, changeling, cooperate and your life will be easier. Do not cooperate, and we will make you wish you were dead."
  2101. >You nod.
  2103. >"First question, changeling. What were you doing in Cloudcrop?"
  2104. Ik'thik, Forward Operating Scout of the Changeling Swarm.
  2105. >You were trained well for an occasion such as this... Don't answer the ponies.
  2106. >Repeat your designation.
  2107. >"That is not an answer, changeling. What were you doing in Cloudcrop.
  2108. Ik'thik, Forward Operating Scout of the Changeling Swarm.
  2109. >"Going to play this game, are we?"
  2110. >The pony pulls a small device from his pocket.
  2111. >"One more time, changeling."
  2112. >YOu can feel the vitriol in his words as he says changeling.
  2113. >"What. Were you. Doing. In Cloudcrop."
  2114. Ik'thik, Forward Operating Scout of the Ch-
  2115. >You are interrupted by a shock that sends your entire body into spasms
  2116. >Your screaming echoes around the room, and through the open door into the hallway.
  2117. >The shocks stop after a few moments, and you are left short of breath, lying on the hospital bed.
  2118. >"Feeling more cooperative now, changeling?"
  2119. >You stare at the ceiling.
  2120. >What were you doing in Cloudcrop."
  2121. >You respond.
  2122. >"I was skiing on a day off from my job."
  2123. >The pony chuckles.
  2124. >"Smartass..."
  2125. >A much smaller shock shoots through your body.
  2126. >"What was your assignment from the swarm in Cloudcrop."
  2127. Doesn't my title in the swarm tell you what I was doing?
  2128. >"I know EXACTLY what you were doing, changeling. However, I want to hear it from your mouth."
  2130. Why?
  2131. >"Because I want to be sure you will tell me the truth when I ask you questions, changeling."
  2132. >Shit.
  2133. >Lavender must have talked...
  2134. >She hasn't been trained to deal with this.
  2135. So, you know I was sent by my Queen to scout the town for possible changeling inhabitation.
  2136. >The lab coat pony smiles.
  2137. >"Feeling more cooperative, eh?"
  2138. >You close your eyes.
  2139. >You still feel like utter garbage.
  2140. >"Where is the Las Pegasus changeling Enclave?"
  2141. >He really must want to know this... Lavender didn't actually know where its at.
  2142. >However, you will be giving him the silent treatment.
  2143. >"Nothing, changeling?"
  2144. >You maintain your silence.
  2145. >A shock of energy shoots through your body.
  2146. >Screams once more echo around the room.
  2147. >YOu breathe heavily, but maintain your silence.
  2148. >"The Las Pegasus enclave. Where is it."
  2149. >Your eyes closed, and your silence is uninterrupted this time.
  2150. >"We WILL get answers from you, changeling. However, you still look half dead. This will continue later."
  2151. >You hear the sound of the door closing, and locking.
  2152. >Then, you hear an odd hissing.
  2153. >Then you suddenly feel even more tired...
  2155. >You awake once more.
  2156. >This room is different. You are lying on a simple cot. There is a small sink next to a toilet.
  2157. >A prison cell.
  2158. >And not the regular pony kind... the CIA kind.
  2159. >You've heard some rumors of how effective they can be at holding changelings...
  2160. >You attempt to shapeshift, but are unable to.
  2161. >The green magic around begins to take shape, but fizzles out.
  2162. >Crap.
  2163. >There must be some intense magical wards here...
  2164. >You suddenly realise how hungry you are.
  2165. >It must be days since you were last able to feed.
  2166. >You lay on the cot and grumble at your situation.
  2167. >It does not take long for you to hear a stirring at the door.
  2168. >A square section at head level slides open, and you can see a pony face looking through.
  2169. >You can hear a gruff voice come through the door.
  2170. >"Don'cha be trying to use yer magic in there, changeling. Anytime ya try something, we will know. And if ya keep it up, there will be consequences."
  2171. >A small hole in the bottom of the door opens, and a plate of food is slid through.
  2172. >"Ya haven't eaten fer a while, changeling. Eat up. You will need the energy for your... interview."
  2173. >The pony laughs manaiacally as he slips both holes in the door closed, greatly muting his laughter.
  2174. >Interview... Probably that asshole with the lab coat again trying to get more information out of you.
  2175. >You look down at your hooves... still shackled.
  2176. >Getting up, you move across the room, and pick up a few morsels of food off the plate.
  2177. >Its not feeding off emotions, but it will help stay the pain and misery that comes from lacking in that.
  2179. >This cell is incredibly boring.
  2180. >You occasionally hear hoofsteps outside the door walking up and down what must be some hallway.
  2181. >Saving energy, you continue to lay on the cot for an indeterminite amount of time.
  2182. >Eventually, you hear the hoofsteps stop at your door.
  2183. >The face level window slides open.
  2184. >"Up and at em' changeling. Its time for your interview."
  2185. >You look to the door, then lazily roll off the cot.
  2186. >You get a slight taste of sickly joy coming from the pony beyond the door
  2187. >Walking up to the door, it opens inward, and you can see the pony who gave you the food before, flanked by two Equestrian royal guards.
  2188. >"Follow them."
  2189. >The gruff pony motions to the royal guards.
  2190. >"No funny business"
  2191. >You shrug, and follow the ponies equiped with ornate armor and armed with spears.
  2192. >Two more, who were off to the side file in behind you.
  2193. >They lead you down the hall, to a door labeled 'interview room'.
  2194. >Nice euphemism from the ponies...
  2195. >The ponies open the door, and sitting at a table, facing the door is an entirely unexpected face.
  2196. >Not one you had seen before, but you recognized the pony sitting before you.
  2197. >Celestia.
  2199. >A calm, commanding voice speaks.
  2200. >"Ik'thik, Forward Operating Scout of the Changeling Swarm. Please, come take a seat."
  2201. >The aura she gives off is unlike any you have felt.
  2202. >Warm, somewhat pleasant, and even slightly nourishing, despite making you incredibly nervous.
  2203. >This pony... Princess of the land, is going to 'interview' you personally.
  2204. >You step into the room, and take the single seat sitting across the table from the regent of the sun.
  2205. >The guard ponies shut the door behind you, leaving you alone with Celestia.
  2206. >"So, my little changeling. You have an... interesting situation. Magic I haven't seen for centuries..."
  2207. >Lavender's mark...
  2208. >"I want to know more about you. What makes you tick. What kind of risk you pose to my subjects."
  2209. Ma'am, I assure you I wish no harm to your subjects... I, and the rest of my people are simply trying to make our way in the world the only way we know how.
  2210. >A sly smile grows on Celestia's face.
  2211. >"So, is that why your Queen tried to take control of Canterlot and lock all of my subjects up in cocoons?"
  2212. >You pause to think for a moment.
  2213. Everything in the Canterlot Affair resulted from the entire operation being horribly botched... It wasn't meant to happen like that...
  2214. >"How exactly WAS it supposed to go?"
  2215. I am not entirely privy to that information... I wasn't involved, I was working elsewhere in Equestria at the time. I DO know that there was not supposed to be changelings breaking cover, ever.
  2216. >Celestia nods.
  2217. >"If you dont mind me asking, where were you working during the 'Canterlot Affair', as you refer to it?"
  2218. I was undercover in Appleoosa, doing much the same thing there as I was doing in Cloudcrop.
  2220. >"What exactly were you doing in Cloudcrop, if you don't mind me asking."
  2221. As I am sure you are already aware, I was scouting the town as a possible place to have some of my fellow changelings live.
  2222. >"And what conclusion did you come to?"
  2223. >You sigh.
  2224. It was a wonderful place. All the ponies were friendly, helpful, and many changelings could easily live there off the ambient emotions.
  2225. >Celestia looks at you strangely.
  2226. >"Feeding on ambient emotions?"
  2227. You ponies really are naieve about changelings, aren't you? All your books are missing a lot of important facts. Yes, changelings can, and almost the entire swarm is, living on ambient pony emotions.
  2228. >"How exactly does that work?"
  2229. Well, any place where ponies gather, and they feel emotions, some of those emotions end up just kind of floating around in the air.
  2230. And a changeling simply sitting nearby can consume them, subtly. The ponies wouldn't even notice the process happening.
  2231. >"And you have still fed directly from my subjects?"
  2232. >You shrug.
  2233. I have. Even direct feeding won't hurt anypony unless you go overboard. Its like your ponies shearing sheep for wool.
  2234. Its a much more filling and pleasing meal to feed directly, but the ambient emotions can keep a changeling alive.
  2235. In fact, Princess, you have an aura about you that nourishes me, though you may not realise it.
  2236. >You pause for a moment.
  2237. Speaking of your subjects... Where is Lavender? Is she alright?
  2238. >"Lavender August is being held in a less... maximum security portion of the Canterlot dungeons. Though, speaking of her, care to tell me anything about that strange mark on her flank?"
  2240. What, you mean her flower cutie mark?
  2241. >Celestia focuses her eyes on you.
  2242. >"You know the mark I mean. The glyph, below her cutie mark."
  2243. >Shit, she knows about that.
  2244. >You sigh, and explain.
  2245. It is the mark of The Swarm. Generally, only changelings can see it, but I assume you have used some ritual to see it for yourself.
  2246. >Celestia nods.
  2247. It marks her to other changelings as a pony who can be trusted. As a member of the family.
  2248. >"And you gave her this mark?"
  2249. No.
  2250. >Celestia looks suprised at that answer.
  2251. >Shit... Lavender must have lied about something while she was being grilled.
  2252. >"That's not what I was informed about it, Ik'thik. Care to tell me about it."
  2253. I shouldn't say...
  2254. >"Is it a spell only Chrysalis knows?"
  2255. >You look up to Celestia, a look of shock on your face.
  2256. >A sigh leaves your body.
  2257. As far as I know, that is correct. Only the Queen may perform such an act. Honestly, when I informed my Queen of being involved with a pony, I was sure I would be banished... Or worse...
  2258. >You can feel tears growing at the corners of your eyes.
  2259. We had such a good thing going, and now it's all over.
  2260. >Losing control, you lean forward and begin bawling uncontrollably.
  2262. >You can feel pity in the aura flowing forth from the Princess sitting before you.
  2263. >Between sobs you continue talking.
  2264. We were happy... Not hurting anyone... All gone... Can't go back...
  2265. >Celestia continues to watch you for several minutes until your sobs subside.
  2266. >"You have been more cooperative than I expected today, Ik'thik. If you continue, I can ensure your comfort during your... stay here."
  2267. >"I may also be able to arrange a meeting with Lavender."
  2268. >You look up, a feeling of hope welling up within you, and you steel yourself.
  2269. I can tell you many things... But there are many more I cannot. I will not betray the trust, and safety, of my family any more than I already have. Surely, you understand.
  2270. >Celestia frowns.
  2271. >"I am sure we can come to some... compromise over what you can tell us."
  2272. I will not share information that will endanger my people. I would rather die than cause other changelings to come into pony custody.
  2273. My personal abilities, what I learned in Cloudcrop, I can share.
  2274. >You just relise as you are speaking, you've already told her more than you ought to have.
  2275. >There is something about her that put you at ease enough to talk.
  2276. >Shit. That's kind of scary...
  2277. You have a way with beings, don't you Celestia? You've already gotten me to talk more than I would have otherwise.
  2279. >Celestia raises an eyebrow and smiles.
  2280. >"So I've been told. Not many manage to catch on as fast as you, Ik'thik."
  2281. Still. I know you want to know things like, 'where is Chrysalis?' or 'where is the Canterlot Changeling Enclave?', but those are questions I cannot answer.
  2282. >Very truthful...
  2283. >You aren't even sure if there is an enclave in Canterlot, and Chrysalis keeps her movements undercover.
  2284. >Specifically for events such as this.
  2285. >"There are changelings in Canterlot?"
  2286. Honestly, Celestia, I don't know. Honestly, we keep some information segregated within the swarm, just incase *this* happens.
  2287. >You wave your legs, motioning around the room.
  2288. >Celestia shrugs.
  2289. >"Do they know you have been taken into... custody yet?"
  2290. >You think for a moment.
  2291. How long was I out?
  2292. >"It has been four days since you crashed into the tree while skiing."
  2293. >You count the days, and think to when your expected check in letter would have been arriving.
  2294. At this point... Probably not. It's only today they might my contact know something is wrong. And it might take them longer before they find anything out.
  2295. You know, unless my being captured and brought here to Canterlot has been widely published. Then they probably are quite aware.
  2297. >"Interesting. Sparse indirect communication with the swarm?"
  2298. Well, yes. I work in a very vulerable position within the swarm. My contact will likely bug out from their location, and inform the rest of the swarm within a day or so.
  2299. >Celestia chuckles.
  2300. >"Bug out..."
  2301. Anymore questions, Princess?
  2302. >"Do you really love her?"
  2303. ...What?
  2304. >"Do you really love Lavender August."
  2305. Yes. She is special... We have a connection I cannot explain. She still chose to stay with me, even after knowing my true nature. And I do truely love her.
  2306. >Celestia looks at you curiously.
  2307. >"We will have to speak again soon, Ik'thik. You are intriguing..."
  2308. As you wish, Princess... Not that I have much choice, locked up in your dungeon.
  2309. >Celestia stands up and moves up the door.
  2310. >A glow envelops her horn, and the door opens.
  2311. >"I am done speaking with the changeling. Return him to his cell."
  2312. >One of the guards looks in the room.
  2313. >"Come on, prisoner. Time to return to your cell."
  2314. >You move into the hallway, flanked on all sides by ponies in royal guard armor.
  2315. >They guide you back to the cell you were held in earlier.
  2316. >"Get in, prisoner."
  2317. >You step back inside, and the door is sealed behind you.
  2318. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkXbzffVl44
  2320. Ch. 10
  2322. >Your sense of the passage of time in this dungeon is... less than ideal.
  2323. >At best, you have some guess based on the 3 meals they slide under the door, each spread evenly apart, with a much longer break after the third one.
  2324. >If your math is right... You've been locked in here for 7 days... Making it about 11 days since your accident.
  2325. >You feel as though your injuries from running head fucking first into a god damn tree are pretty much healed.
  2326. >Though, considering where it's put you, you doubt your pride will ever be healed.
  2327. >You feel weak, however... You have barely gotten any emotions since your little chat with Celestia.
  2328. >You are also bored out of your mind.
  2329. >Not a fucking good combination.
  2330. >However, shortly after what you assumed is your 'breakfast', the head level window is slid open.
  2331. >"Alright, changeling, time for another visit to the interview room. You have a royal visitor again."
  2332. >So, Celestia wans to harass you for information again...
  2333. >Fine by you, her aura was nourishing, and you are the most hungry you have ever been in your life.
  2334. >With a pop, the door opens, and you are greeted, much like before, by two ponies in royal guard equipment.
  2335. >"Come now, prisoner. To the interview room."
  2336. >You roll your eyes.
  2337. Yeah, yeah, no funny business, just lead the way.
  2338. >You step forward, into the hall, and are once more flanked by 4 royal guards.
  2339. >Calmly, you follow the guards down the hallway to the door labeled 'Interview Room'.
  2340. >One of the guards in front of you opens the door.
  2341. >Sitting across the table this time is not Celestia.
  2343. >Another alicorn.
  2344. >Light purple coat, violet hair with a pink and dark blue streak...
  2345. >This must be that new princess.
  2346. >Twilight Sparkle.
  2347. >She does not have the same nourishing aura as Celestia.
  2348. >Fuck.
  2349. >She picks up a scroll and quill with her magic, then speaks to you.
  2350. >"Please, have a seat... Ik'thik, was it?"
  2351. Yes, Princess Twilight, I assume?
  2352. >"Correct."
  2353. >You get a few weak emotions floating around... Better than being sealed away in your cell, but not by much.
  2354. >"So, Princess Celestia told me you would be willing to discuss the capabilities you have as a changeling."
  2355. Well, I was expecting to speak with her again...
  2356. >"Well, Ik'thik, Celestia is a very busy pony, and I have some personal interest in Changelings, and their abillities."
  2357. If you say so.
  2358. >Twilight scribbles some notes down on her parchment.
  2359. So, Princess, what do you wish to know?
  2360. >"What kinds of forms can you take?"
  2361. Just about any pony you can think of, to be honest. I... don't know if I can show such things off here, right now.
  2362. >"I can control the wards in this room, Ik'thik, if that's what is stopping you."
  2363. That might be some of it. I'm also starving, princess.
  2364. >Twilight raises an eyebrow.
  2365. >"Surely, they are feeding you down here?"
  2366. Pony food, yes... Surely, you know changelings feed off emotions, Princess. Being locked in solitary confinement precludes such things.
  2368. >The princess' face softens momentarily, then becomes serious once more.
  2369. >"I am somewhat familiar with the concept... Your Queen tried to suck my brother completely dry of life once."
  2370. >You groan, and drop your face down into your hooves.
  2371. Can we not talk about the Canterlot Affair... I've already told Celestia what I know of it. I wasn't even involved...
  2372. >"If you insist... How about non-transformation magic?"
  2373. Levitation is easy enough for most changelings, much as it is for unicorns... I personally know a few cantrips beyond levitation, like starting fires.
  2374. Other changelings... Depends on how much they study magic. Learning while disguised is not terribly uncommon.
  2375. >She continues to scribble things on her parchment.
  2376. >"And flight? Is that something all changelings can do?"
  2377. Excepting horrific injuries, yes. Either when taking the form of a pegasus or in our base form.
  2378. >"What about taking the form of an alicorn?"
  2379. >Huh...
  2380. Never tried to be honest. Terrible to try to use as an identity... As you may be familiar with, alicorns stick out in pony society.
  2381. >Twilight shrugs, and continues scribbling.
  2382. >"So, you talked to Celestia about how changelings can live off emotions just floating around in the air? Care to explain further?"
  2383. Can't say much more. Its like breathing. The emotions are there, and you just kinda... take them in.
  2384. >"And this dungeon is devoid of 'free emotions'?
  2385. There's very little, and what there is is the sour, foul taste of things like disgust and hate.
  2386. >Twilight's face softens once more, without the rebound to serious this time.
  2388. I'll likely be dead soon... Death by starvation.
  2389. >You can observe a single tear fall down Twilight's face.
  2390. >Her sorrow fills the room...
  2391. >Barely nourishing, but slightly more paletteable than what little emotions the guards have.
  2392. >"I will see what I can do to assist your conditions here... You may be an enemy agent, but I cannot allow such treatment... I am sorry, Ik'thik."
  2393. >Compassion... This is a pleasing thing to feel...
  2394. I appreciate the sentiment, Twilight. Did you have anything else you wished to ask me, Princess?
  2395. >You spend a reasonable amount of time discussing changeling physiology with Twilight Sparkle.
  2396. >She is an academecian, interested in knowledge for knowledge's sake.
  2397. >The emotion you pick up from her is enough to refresh yourself a little bit.
  2398. >She asks you one final question.
  2399. >"Before I take my leave, is there anything I can do for you, Ik'thik?"
  2400. Lavender.
  2401. >"Excuse me?"
  2402. I want to see Lavender...
  2403. >"Your pony friend from Cloudcrop?"
  2404. Yes... I miss her dearly
  2405. >"I will see what I can do... You seem... Perkier, since we started our meeting, Ik'thik."
  2406. Yes, Princess. You have put some pleasant emotions into the room... They have nourished me, atleast a little bit.
  2407. >"Interesting..."
  2408. >Twilight scribbles a few final notes, before rolling up her parchment, and sticking both it and the quill in a bag she pulls up from the floor.
  2409. >"You are entertaining to speak with Ik'thik... We will have to speak again soon."
  2410. Yeah, Celestia said that a week ago, and then left me locked up. Alone. Not another being to interact with. Just the guards who are disgusted by my very existence.
  2412. >"I'll ensure you get a few... friendly visitors more often Ik'thik. We cannot be so cruel to somepony in our custody. And maybe, when you are feeling better, you can give me a practical demonstration of your capabilities."
  2413. We'll see when that time comes, Princess.
  2414. >Twilight steps up, and leaves the room.
  2415. >"Guards, please return Ik'thik to his... chambers."
  2416. >Twilight proceeds down a different hall than you've ever been down, and the guards move to flank you as you exit the interview room.
  2417. Alright, time to go back to my luxurious room.
  2418. >You steep between the guards, and they lead you back to your cell.
  2419. >Silently, you enter your cell, and the door is sealed behind you.
  2420. Home sweet home...
  2421. >You begin your now traditional activity in your cell.
  2422. >Staring at the ceiling while laying on your cot.
  2423. >Not a terribly long time later, and sooner than expected, the small door through which they shove pony food into the room opens up, and something is shoved through.
  2424. >A book.
  2425. >Sweet, something to do thats not staring at the ceiling.
  2426. >You move to pick it up, and look at the title.
  2427. >'Thornhoof's Brief History of Canterlot'
  2428. >Doesn't sound like the most entertaining thing ever, but by the Queen, you are desperate for any kind of entertainment.
  2429. >You suppose Twilight, being the academic she is, decided to give you something to use your brain on.
  2430. >Picking up the book, you return to your cot, and begin reading.
  2431. >Eventually, your 'lunch' is slipped into the room.
  2432. >And you still have plenty of book to read.
  2434. >By your reckoning, 2 days have passed since Twilight came to speak with you.
  2435. >You have read the Brief History of Canterlot 3 times from cover to cover.
  2436. >It might be time to resume the tried and true pasttime of staring at the ceiling again.
  2437. >Might help keep your mind off how tired and hungry you are.
  2438. >As you begin your ceiling staring, you hear more than normal hoof steps moving down the hallway outside your cell.
  2439. >Shortly after you hear them, they stop infront of your cell door.
  2440. >And the door opens up.
  2441. >As per usual, there are royal guard ponies standing outside the door.
  2442. >And as far as you can tell, its the same four that escorted you last time.
  2443. >One of them, a unicorn, picks up the book in his magic aura, and carries it to his body.
  2444. >"You know the drill, prisoner. To the interview chamber."
  2445. Oh wow, almost talking like we are friends, eh?
  2446. >Your (honestly terrible) joke makes the pony standing to your left rear give off a little emotion, telling you he wishes he could chuckle just a little bit.
  2447. >But, these are highly trained ponies, and they show no outward expression of emotion.
  2448. >As has become fairly routine, they lead you down the hall to the door labeled 'interview room'.
  2449. >One of the ones in the front, pushes the door open, and you see the familiar face of Twilight Sparkle.
  2450. >"Come in, Ik'thik."
  2451. >You enter, and take a seat.
  2452. >The book floats through the door behind you, and is then set down on the table.
  2453. >The guards then proceed to shut the door behind you.
  2454. >Twilight has a more pleasant aura today... She seems somewhat glad to speak with you.
  2455. >Still not as impressive as Celestia's aura, but still, it makes your life more pleasant.
  2456. >"Enjoy the book?"
  2457. It was significantly more pleasurable to read than staring at the ceiling, Princess. Though, three times through was a bit much, to be honest.
  2459. >"Good to hear... That was a bit short notice for that book, so I understand it wasn't the best choice buuuuut..."
  2460. >Twilight's horn glows, and two large bulging sacks appear from behind the other side of the table.
  2461. >"I bought you a wider selection of books so you can select a few to have a little more variety in your reading."
  2462. >You smile and nod.
  2463. It is appreciated. The dungeon is rather boring.
  2464. >"So, I've spoken with Celestia about your request."
  2465. >Your eyes widen in excitement.
  2466. What is her decision?
  2467. >"She hasn't given a decision yet, Ik'thik."
  2468. >You deflate... You won't be seeing Lavender today.
  2469. That's... A shame.
  2470. >You feel a sudden surge of sadness from Twilight.
  2471. >"Sorry... I'll keep pushing for it..."
  2472. >Twilight pauses for a moment.
  2473. >"So... Mind talking about Cloudcrop?"
  2474. If you so desire, Princess... What specifically do you want to know?
  2475. >"What did you think about it?"
  2476. >You shrug.
  2477. It was a nice place... Friendly ponies, reasonable work, nice weather in the summer...
  2478. Winter was a bit colder than I'm used to, but I was slowly getting aclimatized.
  2479. >"I see... Would you go back, given the chance?"
  2480. I couldn't go back now, even if I wanted to. It's a small town, at this point, EVERYPONY in town will know they had a changeling in their midst.
  2481. And they'll know that Lavender knew. We can never go back.
  2482. >"Well, couldn't you go back without Lavender? Take on a new form?"
  2483. >You give Twilight an incredulous look.
  2484. >"...Never mind."
  2486. Going back without Lavender would be painful... And knowing all the ponies, without them knowing me... Just, no.
  2487. Honestly, if I were to be released, I would likely be relegated to hive duty.
  2488. >"Why is that, Ik'thik?"
  2489. Because I got caught. I apperantly am no good at staying undercover.
  2490. >Twilight frowns.
  2491. >"No need to be so negative."
  2492. Says the Princess who isn't locked in solitary confinement in some dark dungeon.
  2493. >You lean your face down into your hooves.
  2494. I know you want to help, Twilight. Boredom and starvation are not the nicest thing to sanity and having any amount of temper.
  2495. >"Sorry... Sorry... You do have reason to be upset."
  2496. >The discussion continues being civil, after that little exchange.
  2497. >You come across the topic of tea, and Twilight promises to bring some for her next visit.
  2498. >Twilight seems to get some joy from speaking with you.
  2499. >The conversation comes slowly to an end.
  2500. >"So, which of these books do you want to borrow, Ik'thik? I will hopefully be back in another few days, ideally with a decision from Celestia."
  2501. >You dig through the large pile of books...
  2502. >A few introductory spell books, some biographies, some novels...
  2503. >You grab an introductory spell book, and what Twilight identified as the first 3 entries in the 'Daring Do' book series.
  2504. >Twilight nods, grabs the remaining books and returns them to their sacks, and moves towards the door.
  2505. >"It was a pleasure discussing things with you again, Ik'thik."
  2506. >She opens the door, and steps through it.
  2507. >"Guards, ensure the books on the table make it to Ik'thik's cell."
  2508. >She walks away, carrying her bags of books.
  2509. >"Come, prisoner. You know how this works."
  2510. >Thats the one who wanted to laugh earlier.
  2511. Yeah, yeah, I understand.
  2512. >You follow the guard's lead back to your chamber, and they seal you in again.
  2513. >Several minutes later, the books you selected are slowly pushed in through the food slot of the door.
  2515. >You decide to start with the novels.
  2516. >They are pretty good... You've seen ponies reading them while working undercover before, and heard other ponies rave about their quality.
  2517. >Definitely better than ceiling staring.
  2518. >They manage to keep your attention for one of your 'days'.
  2519. >The next day, you spend some time reviewing the introductory spell book.
  2520. >'Spell Theory'
  2521. >'Levitation for fun and profit'
  2522. >'Fire; what can't it do?'
  2523. >'Cleaning with magic; how make the earth ponies jealous'
  2524. >'Divination; how to find stuff you lost'
  2525. >Stuff you generally know.
  2526. Oh well... May as well see if they have any nice little tips to improve my technique...
  2527. ~~~~~~~~~
  2528. >Nope. Pretty much all shit you knew.
  2529. >You elect to reread the 3 novels again, rather then engage in studying the ceiling.
  2530. >Part way through reading through the second book, you hear the familiar clop of royal guard hooves in the hallway.
  2531. >Twilight must be back...
  2532. >Hopefully, bearing good news.
  2533. >The door unseals, and you see four familiar faces...
  2534. I know, I know, lead the way, boys.
  2535. >The lead guard rolls their eyes, and they all stand in formation.
  2536. >You step in the middle of them, and follow their lead to the 'interview room'.
  2537. >Upon arriving, the lead guard opens up the door.
  2538. >Inside is an unexpected sight.
  2540. >The aura filling the room is the most nourishing thing you've felt since you were taken into custody.
  2541. >Not one, not two, but three ponies sit across the table from you.
  2542. >Three alicorns, at that.
  2543. >Celestia in the middle, flanked on one side by Twilight, flanked on the other by a dark blue alicorn with a lighter blue mane, seemingly filled with stars.
  2544. >Must be Princess Luna.
  2545. >3 of the 4 Princesses of Equestria are sitting in a room with you.
  2546. >This could be really terrible.
  2547. >On the other hand... There might be something good to come soon.
  2548. >Being that you are considered an 'enemy of the state', decisions involving your incarceration here likely involve all the Princesses.
  2549. >Celestia speaks, as you stand in the doorway.
  2550. >"Please, Ik'thik, take a seat."
  2551. >You nod, and enter the room, taking your seat across the table from the Princesses.
  2552. >"You are familiar with Twilight Sparkle... Let me introduce you to Princess Luna."
  2553. >Celestia motions to the dark blue alicorn next to her.
  2554. >Luna nods to you.
  2555. >"Greetings, Ik'thik."
  2556. >Celestia returns her gaze to you, and speaks again.
  2557. >"The three of us are here to discuss your... Situation."
  2558. >You nod in response to her.
  2559. Thank you... Getting some closure on what is to happen to me in the immediate future will be nice.
  2560. >"To begin with, you have left an... impression on Twilight. She has insisted we do something immediately."
  2561. >"Yes, Celestia... Leaving Ik'thik down here is cruel... He is starving... There are almost no emotions down here, and none that are positive.
  2562. >"Is this true, Ik'thik?"
  2564. Yes, Celestia. I get scraps of hate and anger from the guards... Before Twilight visited me, I was sure I was going to starve to death down here.
  2565. Her first visit had enough positive emotions to atleast keep death at bay... Her next visit was even more pleasant, though still leaving me very weak.
  2566. Your visit today, Celestia, is very pleasant... Your aura is soothing and nourishing. Though I doubt your visit will do little more than keep me just above the brink of starvation.
  2567. >Celestia nods.
  2568. >Luna stares... She looks as though she is trying to figure you out.
  2569. >"Your situation is less than ideal down here then, my little changeling."
  2570. >Celestia looks to Luna, questioningly.
  2571. >Twilight speaks up.
  2572. >"Ik'thik, you have been cooperative, and educational."
  2573. >You shrug in response.
  2574. I have little else to do down here. Talking is atleast somewhat stimulating.
  2575. >Luna looks at you, nods, and speaks to Celestia.
  2576. >"I believe Twilights proposal is acceptable in this case."
  2577. >Twilight's eyes brighten up at Luna's statement.
  2578. >Her joy adds more pleasant emotions to what is already in the room.
  2579. >Celestia nods, then speaks.
  2580. >"So be it. Ik'thik, you are to be moved elsewhere in the castle. Somewhere less... dour."
  2581. >"You have been deemed less of a danger to society than what is usually kept in these deep halls."
  2582. >Your heart brightens at these words.
  2583. Will... I be able to see Lavender again?
  2584. >"Before we discuss that, we must discuss the conditions of your transfer."
  2585. >At those words from Celestia, Twilight magics a set of four metal shackles onto the table.
  2586. >There are no chains between them, like the ones currently connecting your legs together.
  2587. >"Ik'thik, these are magical shackles I have modified from other's we normally use on magical prisoners."
  2588. >Twilight moves them before you as she speaks.
  2589. >"They will dampen most of your magic... But, you should still be able to change form while wearing them."
  2591. >You give twilight an odd look.
  2592. That's... an odd exception to a magical ward? Not that I don't appreciate it... But why?
  2593. >Twilight looks to Celestia.
  2594. >"You are going to be held near the upper portions of the castle, Ik'thik. At times, you may be allowed into public areas."
  2595. >"To prevent fear and outcry, during such trips, you will be asked to take on the form of a pony."
  2596. ...But why?
  2597. >"I wish to keep you around as an advisor, Ik'thik. I cannot free you, but I will make your stay in my custody more comfortable than what is given to you down here."
  2598. >You are going to be involved in court... Bleh
  2599. And what of Lavender?
  2600. >Celestia looks at the other Princesses beside her, and upon their approval, she speaks again.
  2601. >"We have discovered she is quite handy with power equipment. During her... stay elsewhere in the castle, she has taken to working in the equipment shed, under our head groundskeeper."
  2602. >"She has also aired greiveances of wishing to see you as well."
  2603. >Celestia gives off a smile that unleashes some of the most delicious emotions you've felt yet today.
  2604. >"We have arranged for a secure suite for the both of you to live together, in the custody of the royal guards."
  2605. >Your jaw would surely drop to the floor if it could at this news.
  2606. >Apperantly, being pleasant to the Princesses has had a nice outcome for the situation at hand... As good as you could hope, at least.
  2607. I... I don't know what to say... Thank you, Princesses.
  2608. >A magic aura appears around the shackles you are currently wearing, and they are removed.
  2609. >"Alright, Ik'thik, time for the new ones..."
  2610. >Twilight lifts the old shackles out of the way, and the new ones are snapped into place on your legs.
  2611. >"Only myself, or one of the other Princesses can remove these shackles Ik'thik. They are magically bound, and cannot be removed by any other means."
  2612. >They are slightly more bearable than the previous ones... less excess weight from the chains.
  2614. >"When out and about, you will also have to wear this..."
  2615. >Twilight lifts a black jumpsuit with bright orange stripes along the legs from behind the table.
  2616. >"It will mark you to the guards and any otherpony who may be around the castle. It will cover the shackles, however."
  2617. >Celestia speaks up.
  2618. >"Don't think of trying to leave the castle grounds, Ik'thik. The enchantments on the shackles are powerful, and WILL prevent you from doing so."
  2619. >You don the gaudy jumpsuit, as the princesses prepare to leave.
  2620. >Celestia and Luna leave before you.
  2621. >Twilight comes and stands near you.
  2622. >"Ik'thik, I will follow along as the guards lead you to your new abode."
  2623. Thank you, Twilight... For all of this.
  2624. >She smiles, and says nothing.
  2625. >Her emotions tell you enough.
  2626. >Twilight walks behind you and your royal guard entourage, slowly walking up many sets of stairs.
  2627. >After roughtly 5 minutes of winding upward, Twilight commands the guards to stop.
  2628. >"Ik'thik, do you feel as though you are able to use your magic to disguise yourself? We are entering... more public areas of the castle."
  2629. Let's find out...
  2630. >You focus your thought, and your energy to taking on an altered form...
  2631. >Pine Fresh.
  2632. >With a flash of green, you once more assume the pony form you had become so used to in Cloudcrop.
  2633. >Twilight's eyes light up with suprise.
  2634. >"You did it... The enchantment worked! That will make getting to your new digs a piece of cake, then!"
  2635. >The hallways the guards move you through now are extremely ornate compared to the spartan walls of the dungeon depths.
  2636. >You see the occasional non-guard pony moving about their business, giving you odd looks to your escorts and garb.
  2638. >Eventually, you are lead to a plain door, down a relatively narrow side hallway.
  2639. >The door has been fitted with numerous locks, including what appears to be a heavy duty deadbolt only operable from the outside.
  2640. >One of the forward guards unlocks the door, and opens it.
  2641. >Inside, sitting on a small couch, is Lavender.
  2642. >You feel a huge swell of emotions as she looks up, and recognizes you.
  2643. >"Ik'thik!"
  2644. >You run through the door, as she jumps off the couch.
  2645. >The both of you join together in an embrace in the middle of the small room.
  2646. >From beyond the door in the hallway, Twilight Sparkle watches, with a smile on her face.
  2647. I was afraid I would never see you again, Lavender...
  2648. >You observe tears of joy rolling down Lavender's face.
  2649. >"I missed you so much... I was so alone in the prison..."
  2650. >You continue your extended embrace.
  2651. >Twilight interrupts.
  2652. >"This is where you will both be staying. You should already be familiar with your schedule, Lavender."
  2653. >Lavender nods in response.
  2654. >"Yes, Princess..."
  2655. >"Ik'thik. You will be spending much of your time here... You will have atleast 1 hour daily to be escorted around the castle."
  2656. >"This includes visiting the library, gardens, as well as the palace gymnasuim. You will be at the beck and call of the Princesses should they require your... expertise."
  2657. Thank you, Twilight... This is the best outcome I could have expected, outside of complete freedom...
  2658. >"Surely, you must understand our choices, though..."
  2659. I do...
  2660. >"I will leave you two to enjoy your reunion."
  2661. >Twilight steps outside the door, and it is closed, and the sound of several locks being engaged is heard.
  2662. >Lavender stares into your eyes, and you into hers.
  2663. >With a flash of green, you resume your base form.
  2664. >Things could definitely be worse... This is definitely preferable to the deepest dungeons...
  2665. >No being enjoys lacking freedom.
  2666. >But, being a political prisoner with reasonable lodgings, shared with your special somepony is acceptable.
  2668. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9SQzeALyH0
  2670. But through the stormy night
  2671. Behold: a star of glory shines!
  2672. Against a brutal outcry
  2673. Behold: a hymn springs forth!
  2675. A shining star, a ringing song:
  2676. A dream and a prayer for us!
  2678. Hand and hand together
  2679. Across the limitless eternity
  2680. We will no longer be put asunder
  2681. We will no longer be separated!
  2685. I may know the answers.
  2686. Journeys over snow and sand.
  2687. What twist in fate has brought us
  2688. To tread upon this land?
  2690. Blessed by light and the burden of shadows.
  2691. Souls abide to an endless desire.
  2693. I may know the answers,
  2694. Though one question I still hear.
  2695. What twist in fate has brought us
  2696. To roads that run so near?
  2698. Distant worlds together.
  2699. Miracles from realms beyond.
  2700. The life-light burns inside me
  2701. To sing to you this song.
  2703. Bonus Content!
  2704. Because I am a nerd who likes to discuss landforms and geology, have some backround on the real world location Cloudcrop is based upon.
  2705. The actual town that conjured up my vision of Cloudcrop is Cloudcroft, NM. Located in the Sacremento Mountains, high above the city of Alamogordo, NM, it sits at ~8700 ft of elevation, vs the 4400 for Alamogordo.
  2706. As the crow flies, Cloudcroft is only about 11 miles from the basin Alamogordo sits in, so you have a very steep escarpment between the two cities.
  2707. http://i.imgur.com/aFiurZv.jpg
  2708. Once you are up in cloudcroft, you are basically sitting on a large forested slightly tilting plateaum, covered in small hills that are only a few hundred feet high.
  2709. Driving to the east to Artesia, NM, feels almost flat over the 85 miles it takes, though you drop from 8700 ft all the way to around 3300 ft of elevation
  2710. The high elevation brings more rain compared to the very dry plains where Artesia and Alamogordo are located, making Cloudcroft a relatively wet, green place, with lots of pine trees starting to grow at ~7000 ft of elevation.
  2711. Cloudcroft in the winter actually can get quite a bit of snow, and just outside of town is the southernmost ski resort in the US.
  2713. Why is the land shaped like this, you might not ask...
  2714. Well, the big steep escarpment between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft actually is created by a large fault system! The valley which Alamogordo sits in is basically the start of the basin and range province which characterizes a lot of the terrain of the southewestern US.
  2715. The basin and range province is characterized by flat basins, separated by mountain ranges. These are series of fault blocks, with the basins being downthrown blocks, and the ranges being the higher blocks. As the ranges weather, they dump lots of material down into the basins, and over time any rough surface they have are covered by gravel.
  2716. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basin_and_Range_Province#/media/File:Basin_and_Range_Province_Boundaries_and_Landmarks.jpg
  2717. If you ever find yourself in Las Vegas, NV, that is exactly what is going on there. A large, flat basin, with mountains to the east and west of the city. Death Valley, CA is another example people might be familiar with.
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