“You’ve got to tell me, Green Streak!” insisted Pinkie. “What exactly did Numeric Essence say she was doing?”

“Other than maybe killing earth ponies?”

“Unless I miss my guess,” said Pinkie, “she’s up to more than that! They’re all up to something, but Percale Pleb will outfox ‘em! Now tell me again. What did she want to do when she wasn’t killing ponies for fun?”

Northern Spy frowned. “What?”

“I said…”

“I never said she was killing ponies for fun!” insisted Northern Spy. “Nobody ever said it was fun! If you’re not gonna play nice I’m gonna leave like Rock did. Stop being dumb, Pinkie Pie!”

“PONKA…” screeched Pinkie, and then stopped, trembling. The smile she forced was genuinely horrible. “I’m sorry, Green Streak. I can handle it. Everything is super okay. Don’t leave.” Her teeth grated quietly against each other.

“Shyeah right!” complained Spy. “Everything’s really stupid! We have to find whatever bad thing was freaking out the Kirin. Do you think Big Macintosh made her feel better?”

“Vigorously,” said Pinkie, and gave a twitch.

“So are you gonna take it back, and admit Numeric Essence doesn’t want to kill ponies for fun?”

“Maaaaybe…” said Pinkie, and glared back at Spy. “If you tell me exactly what she’s doing! It’s vitally important to my plans!”

“Whaddya mean ‘your’ plans?” challenged Spy.

“Okay, our plans,” conceded Pinkie Pie. “I can’t stress this enough. Everything depends on the report you, Green Streak, deliver about the activities of Pony X!”

“Pony X?”

“I just made it up to be cooler,” explained Pinkie. “Really I mean Numeric Essence. The last I saw her, she was working for us! She was going to make a beacon that would target the big evil, and all of a sudden you tell me she’s talking about killing ponies? Come on, Streak! We’re depending on you and your information!”

Northern Spy nodded seriously. Pinkie was acting extra stupid, she thought, but on the other hand the drama of the situation was very appealing, and of course everything depended on her information: that sounded exactly right. Mollified, she began to explain.

“You remember about how Numeric Essence was making a spell to help us, right? It was a magical beacon. Well, after you left, she started talking about how it worked, and Apple Bloom got real mad! It sounded like, when Essie casts the spell on earth ponies, it’s gonna just kill them, boom, like that!”

Pinkie gazed seriously at her. “That is a very effective way of making sure the big evil thing doesn’t kill the earth ponies, while also being totally backwards,” she said.

“I know, right?” said Spy. “Apple Bloom told her to get lost! She said we’re getting killed enough without her help! I don’t think she cast the spell on a single earth pony!”

Pinkie twitched, again. “She didn’t, she doesn’t, not even one,” she said, her eyes unfocused. “Do you think she can cast it on other things? Like rocks, not my Rock but like real actual rock rocks, or trees? We might need to follow that beacon!”

“I dunno,” said Spy. “I’m not sure she can help us at all. She’s not like the Kirin, she’s not scared, but she’s really weird and I sure don’t want her testing dangerous pony-killing magic on me.”

“How’s she going to test it?” said Pinkie. “I mean, how did she want to test it when it was a thing?”

Northern Spy frowned again. “I remember that part. She says, first she has to cast the spell, which maybe kills you. Then to test it, you let the big bad evil monster kill you, and if the beacon goes off, it worked.”

“Has she ever considered going into computer network data security?” asked Pinkie Pie, twitching.

Northern Spy stamped her hoof. “You’re talking gibberish again, Potato Poo! Focus!”

“I’m sorry!” squeaked Pinkie, her mane frizzing out and disheveled, her eyes rolling. All around, she felt the pounding of nonexistent jungle drums, the crackle of terrible fires. “They say her methods are… unsound…”

“Whose?” demanded Spy.

“Huh?” said Pinkie, fighting off visions from entirely other movies. “I mean, nothing! No unsound methods here! You have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary…”

“Oh yeah? How about a hoof to the face?” suggested Northern Spy.

“Huh?” said Pinkie, blinking and caught even more off balance.

“A hoof to the face!” said Spy. “That’s what’s necessary! You know… pow! Bam! Screw you, evil monsters! Hah!”

Pinkie stared at the pale green filly with hair the color of Rainbow Dash’s flank, and all the visions floated around her like double images, multiple choice, a story that could go anywhere.

And then, suddenly… resolution.

Pinkie Pie smiled, almost not insanely. “I know what to do.”

“You do?” said Spy, uncertainly. “So… you like the hoof to the face idea?”

“I have an even better idea,” said Pinkie. “Rock would like it. It’d help him do what he’s already doing.”

“Being a big stinker and not playing with us?” said Spy.

“Shh. Sh,” said Pinkie. “I need your help with something. Do you know anything about schoolyard rhymes?”

“I’m not going to school yet,” said Northern Spy bashfully. “It’s s’posed to be really hard. I dunno if I wanna go, but Rock says I should.”

“Stand on that rock over there,” ordered Pinkie.

Spy hesitated, then complied. It seemed a confident and focussed Pinkie could be even more unsettling than a raving, wacky one. The mane was still floofy, though, floofier than ever. Spy wrinkled her brow, looking at her companion. This was a new Pinkie, self-assured and… different.

“Stick out your butt,” ordered Pinkie.

Northern Spy shied away. “Nuh-uh. Mom told me sometimes I should yell out, I need an adult!”

“I am an adult!” retorted Pinkie Pie. “Which Mom? Rainbow Dash?”

“Naw, Applejack,” said Spy.

“Steady, Green Streak! Now stick out your butt. I’m going to create something amazing with it!”


“I dare you!” said Pinkie Pie, and stared at the filly. “You’re being foalish and worse… chicken! What do you think I’m gonna do, anyway? You don’t even know what you’re scared of!”

Spy bit her lip. “I… um…”

“It’s important. The whole ending of the book depends on it.”

Spy gulped. Her lip quivered. “Fine!” she said, and stuck her little green butt out. “But I’m gonna tell Mom if you do wrong stuff!”

Pinkie Pie’s eyes lit up, but not in carnal delight at the still-neuter cooter. She bounced over, and demanded, “Repeat after me! Bump, Bump…”

Spy’s eyes were huge. “Uh, bump, bump…”

“Sugarlump RUMP!” cried Pinkie delightedly.

“Sugarlump rump… hey! What was that for?” demanded Spy. Pinkie had crammed her butt up against Spy’s, but not in some weird sensual manner. Instead, she showed off her cutie mark, against Spy’s complete lack of a cutie mark and far tinier rump.

“Shh!” demanded Pinkie, and began to concentrate fiercely.

“No really, what was that about?” pressed Spy. “I’m telling!”

Pinkie ignored her. Something was forming in midair between them. The air seethed, almost as intensely as Pinkie’s burning blue eyes. Her mane seemed to refloof itself to unheard-of floofiness…

It was a small box, a small metal box. On it was a big red button. It clunked to the ground, and Pinkie pounced and picked it up, and held it before Northern Spy, crowing “You see?”

Written below the big red button were the words ‘This Way To The Egress’.

Spy furrowed her brow. “What the pony hell is that thing?”

“It’s the answer to my problems,” said Pinkie Pie. “It’s the way I’m going to go into the big scene. When I push this button, the only ones that can go closer are me and… I guess we should say the Big Bad. I know who it is, I’m sure she’s gonna be there, and I set it up so the world ends with us two. Just like,” she said, and gulped, “the world began with us. ‘Cos this world really did begin with her, like in the very first scene long before you were born, and it’s only right it should end that way too.”

Her mane threatened to fall lank and straight across her neck. Northern Spy glared.

“I SAID, what is it? What is that box and why did you have to bump my rump with your rump and sing a little song about rumps? Pinkieee!”

Pinkie quivered, on the brink of tragedy as she thought about who she was setting out to kill. She pondered the device she’d made which would block off the final death scene, leaving only herself and Fluttershy to battle it out, nopony else able to approach the zone of Big Evil. Especially not Rock. Please, not Rock! Pinkie gulped, knowing it was the only way, hoping someday Rock would understand why she had to do it, but wishing he never had to reach such a bitter enlightenment… and then, the madness crept back into her eyes, and her mane floofed back out again, and she turned a gaze and smile upon Northern Spy that made the filly back up five paces.

“Why? Because it’s… a PLOT DEVICE!” proclaimed Pinkie Pie.

Northern Spy stared in dismay and disbelief at the older pink mare who laughed and laughed, laughed until she couldn’t stand and fell right over, laughed until it sounded like weeping and then wrapped around to laughing again, or to some place where the two were the same. And, all the while, the box waited patiently for its big moment, and the fluffy pink mane never lost its fluff, no matter what. Forever!

Northern Spy sulked, lay down with her chin on her crossed forehooves, pouted, and proceeded to wait it out.

Chicken, she wasn’t.

The abandoned house was quiet as death. Occasionally, it creaked in the wind, the decrepit walls threatening to collapse, but time wasn’t ready to claim it yet. It might well burn down, thought Snowy Hocks, but all the same he’d had sense enough to get a fire going in the fireplace, and to stay the hell away from it. Ironic: it was a deadly danger to him, but he was terribly cold and welcomed the warmth that could never truly reach him again. It was total shit against the chill of death, but it was better than nothing and it was far from the worst danger he faced.

Snowy Hocks thought, with the little zebragasus colt on his lap. He scratched the kid’s ear, not really paying attention, and tried to work out his plan.

Pinkie Pie had to be counted the biggest threat. Oh, Fluttershy had power, but she hadn’t fed on any pony souls and that gave him an opportunity. He knew he could handle the power better than idiot Hollyhock, but souls he must have: it would give him power to stand against Fluttershy. There would be no way she could prevail against him if he’d been eating souls and she hadn’t, and he was ready to bet she’d never do such a thing.

Rainbow Dash appeared dangerous, but there was a catch: she had to close on him to do damage. And he was undead: if he didn’t panic, there was nothing she could do to him that would stop him, and all he needed was eye contact or one bite to take her. He wasn’t sure whether he’d rather turn her to a thrall, or just eat her soul, but he was warming to the latter. The trouble with a thrall Dash was that she’d run amok in his defense at the first sign of trouble. That was why he doubted she’d come with fire: she didn’t think ahead enough. A thrall Dash would just terrorize Ponyville and bring trouble down onto him, and he’d laid a lot of careful groundwork for stepping into control of the town effectively.

That required making thralls of sensible, respected ponies who’d do as they were told. Mayor Mare, for instance. Possibly Applejack, if losing Dash didn’t just break her completely. Granny Smith would be a useful capture, for she was both influential and unthreatening.

Snowy continued to scratch the delighted foal’s ear, and little Dursaa cooed.

Rarity might be a useful thrall, thought Snowy. She had incredible self-control, and her years of living a secret kinky double life proved she could keep secrets and play a role. It might be necessary to eat her kid Sweetie Belle: there had been times when she’d looked at him and seemed to be trying to guess his secret. Snowy hadn’t liked that one bit. All that time grooming Hollyhock and putting the plan in motion, and to have some little unicorn filly studying him as if she was reading him a little too deeply: not nice, not nice at all. She’d have to go, just on suspicion of being too clever. She seemed like a pegasus-crazed teen hormone monster when she was with Scootaloo, but that didn’t preclude her being observant in inconvenient ways.

Scootaloo would probably sign up for thralldom if Rainbow Dash did it. Of course, Dash had to be eaten, but interestingly, that desire to please might make Scootaloo the thrall that Dash could never be. Scootaloo did stop and think, sometimes. When you were a thrall, that was the whole problem with you: you couldn’t think outside the box of your sire. Scootaloo would be a fine thrall. Probably a decent lay, too, for an old immortal vampire who’d missed out on a lot of pleasures.

It was possible Dash had to be temporarily thralled to catch Northern Spy. Then he could thrall them both, put them in separate rooms, and eat their souls separately. There was no sense in risking trouble. He didn’t think you could even break out of thralldom with that much provocation, but he would take no chances. Or… could he bite them both, one fang to each, and eat both their souls simultaneously? They’d probably love that. No, that was crazy… plus, maintaining multiple thralls was going to be a serious problem. He’d gained some insight into that while he served Hollyhock. It was easy to imagine the heights of jealousy he’d have experienced if there had been another thrall serving Hollyhock. Snowy frowned, considering ways to manage that situation. Thrall Dash just to get Scootaloo, turn on Dash immediately before the two could destroy each other competing for him, fuck and use Scootaloo until she brought in a better class of thrall and then eat her soul? She was so small he’d probably be hungry an hour later.

Was that a sound? No. He was miles away from Ponyville.

The really tricky part would be putting up a good front for when Twilight Sparkle and her uni-slut Trixie came back to Ponyville. There was no telling when that’d happen, for they were off on some vacation, and even when they were around they spent a lot of time hob-nobbing with the Princesses in Canterlot. It would take careful handling, to get those clever unicorns thralled. Everything had to be just right and he’d also have to be working with other thralls to distract them, and he’d absolutely have to get them separately, and he had a suspicion that thralling one would make the other more wary. They might be able to communicate via magic. Certainly if they tried to mage-meld, the game would be up. Ideally, he’d thrall one and then keep her in sight of the other, acting normally, while he got ready to pounce the second unicorn.

But he’d need both, because he needed Trixie as lookout while he made thrall Twilight sit on the face of his next victim, distracting her sight, scent and hearing through layers of soft lavender unicorn rump long enough for him to get fangs into the throat of Princess Celestia…

There was a rapping at the door. Snowy Hocks jumped up, flinging little Dursaa out of his lap.

“Who’s there?” he called, fretfully. Steady, he thought. Opportunity, as well as danger, knocks unexpectedly.

“Don’t be frightened!” came the voice. “I’m Numeric Essence. I need to ask for your help with something…”

Secret Agent Sweetie Drops skulked through the darkened bushes. Rather well, she thought: since being caught by Rainbow Dash, she’d left the Portable Disguise home, and concentrated on the sneaking part, and her sneak factor was improving. She’d snuck up to Rarity without detection, and had even remained hidden in bushes while Pinkie Pie and some kids had come through playing a game of some kind. Perhaps not, for Pinkie had been in bad shape, a real mess. Sweetie Drops made a mental note to mention the incident in her next report to Princess Celestia: Pinkie Pie was becoming very unhappy and upset, which didn’t bode well for the town, or even the basic fabric of reality.

She shook off the passing frown and fretfulness, because Pinkie Pie wasn’t here, and she had a job to do. Sweetie Drops was nothing if not faithful, and in her judgement as a secret agent Pinkie was a constant disruptive factor but not hostile. A hidden changeling operating inside Ponyville, on the other hand: that was dangerous.

She wondered for the hundredth time what it disguised itself as, and whether it had to be a pony foal to match its mass. And, for the two hundredth time, she wondered why it had come to peek at her just when she was emerging from her secret agent basement. Was it spying on her as much as she was spying on it? Why hadn’t it been disguised?

These were big questions for a little pony (and, furthermore, an intrinsically sweet and kind little pony) to tackle, so Sweetie Drops shrugged and dismissed them again. She would report to Princess Celestia when she had more information, and the Princess would know what to do. That was what Princesses were for.

She continued to practice what she was for, and snuck further into the outskirts of the Everfree Forest.

Sweetie Drops was working from a theory she’d had. When she’d seen the changeling child, the shock had been almost too great to register clues. The operative word there was ‘almost’. Though she’d been staring into its uncanny eyes, part of her peripheral vision had been picking up a glint of color, that off-purple-brown also known as ‘puce’, lower to the ground. When it fled, she thought the clue was lost, but there was the tiniest scrap of peculiar material. At first, Sweetie Drops thought it was some gross changeling bodily secretion, but then she remembered where she’d seen that color before. There was a kind of mushroom that grew only at certain spots in the Everfree Forest. The changeling had brushed up against one such mushroom, and a bit of mushroom had scraped off into one of the holes on its legs, and that’s what she had seen in her peripheral vision.

And so, Sweetie Drops had been staking out that area. To make things more difficult, there were several spots where these mushrooms grew, and she had limited time to stake out the Everfree Forest in the first place: Mayor Mare had been worrying about her, fretting when she came home late, and Sweetie Drops struggled to get in her Secret Agent time and had to spy on each spot in turn, looking for other clues.

They stubbornly refused to show themselves, but Secret Agent Sweetie Drops was a stubborn mare herself, and didn’t give up easily. Not when justice and the safety of Ponyville was at stake. So she’d taken to slipping out in the middle of the night just to get her sneak on, and searching the Everfree by moonlight. Her eyes were very good, but they had to be. It stretched her secret agent training to the limits, and yet she made some progress.

Nose to the ground, she crept along, in uncanny silence. It was slow going, but every hoof had to be placed with care for good sneaking, and her intent study of the forest floor also helped her quiet progress. She avoided stepping on sticks or leaves, but she wasn’t searching mainly for those things. She searched for hoofprints.

Not just any hoofprints, either. Sweetie Drops had another theory. She’d seen certain marks in the forest that might be another clue. They resembled the hoofprints of a pony child, but there was one curious thing about them: there was a sharply defined edge to the hoof, a crispness to the toe as it transitioned to the outer wall, as if a farrier had carved it to a razor’s edge.

And no pony could maintain such a hoof for long while trotting over dirt and cobble and gravel and things… but the chitinous unnatural hoof of a changeling might well stay sharp and crisp despite the natural wear of the ground. She hadn’t time to study the young changeling’s hooves when it stared at her, for she could only look into its eyes in horror.

Still, here and there across the Everfree, she’d seen the tracks of that subtly different hoof and she’d studied the indentations in the earth, and had become sure of what she’d seen. Somewhere out there was a creature like a small pony that had a hoof with sharp, chiseled edges, and Sweetie Drops was ready to bet that it matched her quarry.

As she began to make her way around an enormous tree, she heard a curious noise just in front of her, and she froze instantly, not even taking a breath. It was an odd little dry chitinous noise… not unlike the rustle of an insectile wing against a carapace.

She was silent, utterly silent. There was another rustle. Sweetie Drops was no fool. Not for her, a random heedless pouncing. She didn’t even have her Portable Disguise on! Instead, just as silently, she began to back away around the tree. She’d lull it into a sense of security, and trail it back to its lair.

As she was slinking backwards without a sound, her full attention extended out before her and around the expanse of stolid treetrunk toward her lurking quarry… Sweetie Drops bonked her butt into the changeling child’s butt, for it had attempted to do the exact same thing in hopes of taking HER by surprise. And they’d met in the moonlit dark, each sneaking backwards around the same tree.

The changeling let out a screech and Sweetie Drops squealed ‘EEEE!’ as they both whirled to look at each other, shocked. Quick as a wink, the changeling spread its iridescent wings and made to leap into the air and flee her presence.

But the thing about Secret Agents, especially ones named Sweetie Drops, is that they can be quicker than a wink when it really, really counts.

Sweetie leapt and tackled the creature to the ground, pinning it with forehooves against its wing shanks, and arching her neck way back in case it bit at her vulnerable throat, and she held it down as it struggled.

“I am Secret Agent Sweetie Drops, Celestial Security,” she declared, “and you are under arrest! Don’t try to get away or it will be the worse for you!”

She bared her teeth, bracing herself for a fierce attack and wondering how she was going to get a savage changeling back to Ponyville. Where would you even put it? Obviously Rarity’s pleasure dungeon, she thought dismissively, but how do you get it there without anypony seeing it? And how do you disguise lacerations of the forelegs and pretend nothing’s happened?

Sweetie Drops was gritting her teeth and trying not to look at the carnage so hard, that it took her a moment to notice the total lack of carnage. She opened one eye, confused, and looked down at her prisoner.

The little changeling gazed up at her with a quivering lip that pouted up against the scary fangs, its luminous pale-blue eyes glistening…


Sweetie Drops stared down, her ears splayed back in a look of disconcerted amazement, as the terrible monster bawled like a baby.

“No, really,” she said, more gently. “I really am a secret agent and you really are under arrest. Don’t cry, the Princess is merciful and ponies aren’t so angry. I mean, unless you’ve been eating them. Have you been eating up ponies?”

The creature shook its head frantically, tears flying this way and that.

“Well, good!” said Sweetie Drops encouragingly. “See? It’s not so bad. Being under arrest, I mean. It’s a nice arrest, with ponies! Well, one pony, anyway: me, Secret Agent Sweetie Drops! I’m a very good secret agent, too! We’re not going to hurt you, we just have to ask you some questions.” She blinked. “Wait. Before I say that, I can’t help but notice I’m pinning you down by standing on your wings. Does that hurt?”

The little changeling nodded desperately, its lip quivering against the little fangs.

Sweetie Drops gasped. “Oh no! I’m sorry, I was just capturing you! I’ll stop it right a… now wait a second,” she said, catching herself. There were times she had to resist being her kindly Sweetie Drops self, and be a Secret Agent instead. She frowned at the changeling. “Do you promise that if I let your wings go, you’ll be good? I captured you fair and square and you’re under arrest. That means you have to do as I say, or you get thrown in pony jail!”

The changeling nodded again, its weird glowing eyes pleading with her for mercy.

Sweetie Drops sighed in relief. “Yay! Now remember, you promised.”

She shifted her weight back, and released the changeling’s wings, with part of her well trained secret-agent mind suggesting that she was doing a silly, neigh, a very silly thing. But innate nature was tough to resist, and before she knew it she was standing over the little creature, gazing into its eyes and saying, “There, is that better?”

The little changeling responded by not biting her nearest leg off, followed by not even slightly tearing out her throat, and topped it off with an amazing performance of not running away.

Instead, it pouted, trying to rub its wing bases with one chitinous, hole-pocked hoof.

“Awww!” cried Sweetie Drops, and reached out. The changeling made an odd trilling noise and shut its eyes as she rubbed the hurt wings with a gentle hoof. “Poor little thing!” she cooed. “I… now wait a minute! Are you doing that to try and eat love from me?”

The glowing blue eyes flew wide, guiltily, and then the little creature pouted fiercely and shook its head, crouching a little lower like a scolded foal.

“Good,” said Sweetie Drops. “Unless you’re going to starve or something—that probably doesn’t count and we can’t blame you for that. You don’t look that skinny for a changeling, though. I’m almost sure you eating love is bad behavior for a prisoner. Maybe not for a baby prisoner? Oh well. Princess Celestia will know what to do.”

The little changeling gulped, but still didn’t try to flee. It seemed to consider itself a prisoner too, and seemed resigned to its fate. It sighed a gentle sigh as Sweetie Drops carefully rubbed its little wings again, to be sure it hadn’t taken any lasting harm.

“Thank you for being a good prisoner,” Sweetie Drops informed it. “I’m sure that will help when the Princess decides what to do with you.”

The little changeling nodded sadly, and looked up to her, awaiting further instructions.

“We’ll start by questioning you,” said Sweetie Drops. “Can you talk? Nothing difficult or scary, we just have to know if there are any other changelings in Ponyville to catch.”

“…gack!” said the little changeling. Its voice was noticeably raspy, but still unmistakably cute and foalish.

Sweetie Drops bounced excitedly. “Gak, you say? So you can talk! I need names and cutie marks and the outline of your whole organization! This could be an amazing breakthrough, the Princess will be so proud! Good baby, good changeling! Sooo… what’s the pony name of this Gak you speak of?”

The changeling clamped its mouth tightly shut, and gave her a dirty look.

Sweetie Drops frowned. “Don’t look at me like that. You’re my prisoner, it’s only fair that I get to ask you questions. You don’t like those questions, huh? Maybe there’s some pony in Ponyville that’s a little weird, different from other ponies, because he or she IS different from other ponies because he’s a changeling too! Or she. Is that why you’re protecting them?”

The little changeling’s lip was quivering again, but it still refused to speak.

“Gak, huh?” said Sweetie Drops. “Oh well, no accounting for stupid names. Maybe it sounds nicer if you’re a changeling. I warn you, you’re under arrest, and it would be ever so much nicer if you’d just answer my questions! We’re not going to hurt your confederate, I promise. So who is it? Should we be looking for a pony who’s really unimportant, like the flower ponies? Or a ordinary sort of pony like Caramel? Or is it a really strong dependable pony… like Applejack? Oh goodness, Rainbow Dash would be so upset. Or… is it Pinkie Pie you’re trying to protect? Pinkie Pie, who’s always been a bit strange?”

No expression crossed the face of the little changeling. It looked away, studying the treetops as if they were truly fascinating.

Sweetie Drops stared fiercely at her little prisoner, who ignored her.

“A hard case, huh?” she said, and it crouched a bit lower in alarm, but Sweetie Drops was already thinking beyond the remark. She had no backup, out here. It would be a while before she could turn to Princess Celestia for aid, and for the time being she had a recalcitrant but nonviolent changeling prisoner who wouldn’t talk but seemed otherwise compliant. What to do?

Firstly, Princess Celestia would never be happy with her for terrorizing the little creature. She felt pretty sure the Princess wouldn’t be cross about her pinning it down by its wings, but now that it was cooperating she couldn’t justify bullying it, even to get information. It just wasn’t a ponylike thing to do… or at least, it wasn’t a Princess Celestia thing to do, which worked out the same if you lived in Ponyville. Being a meanie was out. She had no wish to be that way anyhow.

Thinking harder, Sweetie Drops hit upon bribery. Not with money, no, but the Princess always did say that she, Sweetie Drops, was a wonderfully loving and sweet pony. That was most of the challenge with living as ‘Bon Bon’; concealing her true loving nature. Well… why not use that on the prisoner? Surely her Sweetie Drops nature meant her love was like irresistible candy, more delicious than anypony’s! She squinted at the little changeling. It definitely wasn’t a starving baby changeling. Something was feeding it, or it was feeding on something. Pinkie Pie, maybe? That might explain both a chubby changeling and Pinkie’s recent downturn. She frowned at her prisoner, trying to work out its secret.

Sensing her change in mood, it peered up at her with extra pout and a bit of lipquiver and the big glisteny eyes, plainly frightened.

Sweetie Drops put her plan into action.

“Awww!” she cooed. “Don’t be that way, Agent Sweetie was just thinking about something. Don’t worry. It’s time to feed the prisoner! Won’t that be nice? We’ll give you some extra yummy love until you feel all better, and then we can talk about things once we’re friends… wait, what? Oh sweet Celestia, now what?”

The little changeling was shaking its head with great determination.

“Oh come on,” protested Sweetie Drops, “what’s the matter with that? We’re just feeding the prisoner. You’re supposed to eat love, that’s what you do! What, do you think I’m going to run out? Don’t be silly! Now come on. What cute eyes you’ve got, and you’re being so nice and cooperative, and such pretty wings. Here comes the choo choo train! Mmmmm… mm?”

The changeling had crossed its little forelegs. It turned up its nose, looked away, pouted, and in every way put across the idea of ‘I’m not hungry, and even if I was I wouldn’t eat from YOU’ without using words.

“Hmmm,” said Sweetie Drops.

She studied her prisoner. It looked sad, but determined. Almost noble? For whatever reason, she now had a little changeling child (assuming they didn’t just come in all sizes) on a hunger strike.

“It surely can’t be right to hurt you,” said Sweetie Drops. “Princess Celestia would never want that. And you’re being super nice.”

The changeling seemed to shrink in upon itself at the mention of hurting, but still kept silent and didn’t try to leave.

“We have to check things out,” said Sweetie Drops apologetically, “because changelings can be evil! You know, hurting ponies, pretending to be ponies in order to eat love, taking over countries. You do understand that? We’re allowed to be concerned about it, honey, we’re just taking care of ourselves!”

The little changeling reached, then exceeded, maximum overpout.

“You won’t talk,” mused Sweetie Drops. “You won’t eat. But other than that you’re cooperating. Are you sure you have a confederate named Gak? Or maybe I’m not being fair and that was just a changeling baby noise?”

The little changeling did not respond in any way, and had no more pout to give for its country.

“You’re not evil,” said Sweetie Drops.


“If you’re evil, then Celestia’s a donkey,” said Sweetie Drops. “I swear she’ll agree with me as soon as she sees you. What are you doing that’s evil, anyway? Even if you’re eating pony love, I bet we can find a better way for you to do it, and you’re just a baby. You’re NOT evil, whatever you are.”

The little changeling peered up at her, uncertainly.

“You’re still under arrest. Can you walk?” said Sweetie Drops, looking hectically around for possible observers.

The changeling blinked.

“We’re going to a special place,” said Sweetie Drops. “You’ll see. Thank goodness it’s deep in the middle of the night, I’m not sure how I’m going to get you through Ponyville. It helps that you’re so dark. Can you make your eyes not glow?”

The changeling pouted again, and obediently narrrowed its eyes to slits.

“Okay, creepy,” said Sweetie Drops, “just saying…”

The luminous blue orbs flew open again, then filled with tears.

“No no! It’s okay!” soothed Sweetie Drops. “Try it again. I’m sorry! That was just right. Or you could close your eyes completely, and I’ll guide you by that little, uh, fin on your head?”

The changeling sniffled, and the next thing Sweetie knew, it had done exactly that. Its eyes were shut tight, and it stood and inclined its little head toward her, waiting to be dragged about by the headfin… or to stumble blindly in whatever direction she liked, completely trusting her guidance.

Sweetie Drops took a deep breath.

“I’m gonna get you home safe, little changeling child,” she vowed, “and by that I mean: we’re going to my house. We’re going to sneak past my marefriend before she wakes up, she mustn’t see you. We’re going to go down into my secret agent special basement, which is the coolest place ever, you’ll love it…”

She gave the little creature a hug, and shook it gently.

“And once I have you down there,” she said, “I swear that no pony is going to hurt you, no matter who you’ve been snacking on. I’m going to call in Princess Celestia, and we’re going to figure out some way I can keep you. It won’t be the first secret I keep, I promise you that.”

The luminous eyes opened, and looked up at her questioningly.

“Trust me, it won’t be hard to feed you,” said Sweetie Drops, with a playful nudge. She gulped. “The part that worries me is, how I’m gonna hide you, and how we’re gonna get you safely into my basement without anypony discovering what I’ve done…”

Snowy Hocks stared warily at Numeric Essence, his mouth tightly shut.

She stood in the doorway. “May I come in? I fear this door is in some disrepair. I have a more important thing to talk about, though…”

“Mm,” said Snowy. He gulped. He, too, had an important thing to try, and the time had suddenly come. It was going to be crucial to learn whether he could exert mild hypnosis without it being noticed.

This was the perfect test case, though it was tougher than he’d have liked. This pony, Numeric Essence, was a fearsomely clever winged unicorn, who’d nearly turned into an alicorn through sheer unicorn cleverness. If he could fool her, he could fool anypony.

The task was simple: don’t let her see the fangs, and talk normally.

Snowy stepped back a pace, but not too far. He glanced quickly at the little zebragasus foal, but the kid was still dazed from the more powerful Stare he’d applied. He looked back at Numeric Essence, bracing himself.

“Fine,” he said, while his mind thrummed ‘DON’T SEE THE FANGS’ at her, and he waited, waited to see if he’d have to kill her then and there. She couldn’t get away and tell anypony about him, so it was success or death. Or, for him, success AND death, both at once.

Numeric Essence frowned for a moment, as if she’d forgotten something… and then stepped into his makeshift lair, trustingly.

Snowy smiled so hard his face hurt. Things were going to plan.

“Thank you,” said Essence. “I must ask a favor. Or, er, not a favor exactly… it’s to help you. Well, not specifically you. But if this works…”

“What’s the matter, Numeric Essence?” asked Snowy, prudently avoiding words that’d show his fangs again. “Not me?”

Essence brightened. “Well, that depends on how you frame things. Contextualizing things is so important! That’s really the problem I faced with the townsponies. If they could just understand that there needs to be a first earth pony before I can consider the spell properly tested… oh, did I explain that? I think you fled before my formal proposal.”

“What proposal?”

“To enchant every pony in Ponyville with a special spell, a beacon spell! Oh, I’m no good at explaining this, but I must try. I’m almost sure it won’t kill an earth pony immediately upon casting, but there has to be an earth pony test subject before I can be sure of that. It’s for a good purpose. Did I mention the good purpose?”

Snowy had a pretty good idea of her purpose, had no idea how her beacon spell would work if its first trial was on an actual vampire, and had no intention of finding out. “No way! A spell? No spells!”

Essence’s ears were back in dismay. “Oh, please! It’s a statistical matter. I understand you can’t picture this beacon spell as helping you, because there’s the danger of a first casting on a previously untested type of pony, and then even if it works you can’t benefit from it because it only activates if the evil monster kills you. It’s possible that the rocks exemption, the ‘rocks fall and everypony dies’ exemption is making it more dangerous but I really don’t think it is. They were very clear in their brief about the spell parameters they needed! There hasn’t been any problem before, so please, will you be my first earth pony target?”

“What’s a rocks exemption?” asked Snowy, still directing a steady stream of low-level ‘NO FANGS HERE’ thought into her mind as best he could.

“That’s not important,” protested Numeric Essence, “it’s not something I can redesign for now, that would involve restructuring all the networks of forces! It’s more about avoiding false positives than anything else. But don’t you see? This spell might not seem like it can protect you, but if you serve as my very first test subject, I can get other earth ponies to undergo the procedure! With you as an example, maybe I could persuade all the earth ponies to carry this spell, and if that becomes known we could have something akin to herd immunity! Or what you might call ‘detente’, a state where the evil monster knows the chances of sounding the alarm are very high. Does that make sense? Please say it does!”

Snowy shook his head, glowering. “Nope! No spells here!”

Essence tried once more to convince him. “I understand it’s frightening to you earth ponies. But it’s so very important! If I can convince you and then other earth ponies to carry this spell then all ponydom might be protected by this magic alarm from predation by evil monsters! Again, if they know a beacon will go off, they won’t feel safe attacking. It’s much easier to convince unicorns of this sort of thing as we are at home with magic…”

“Which ones?” demanded Snowy, staring hard at her, tight-lipped.

“I’m sorry?” said Essence.

“Which unicorns did you do?” repeated Snowy, who didn’t feel at all safe at the prospect of random ponies carrying a beacon spell that would betray his attacks.

Numeric Essence blinked. “Well, that’s the frustrating part because I would have to say none of them. It’s a categorization error, as I’ve been trying to explain…”

“Pegasi,” demanded Snowy, stepping closer. “How many?”

Essence took a step back, and bit her lip. “Well, none. There’s a reason I’m targeting earth ponies first, Snowy. I’ve just got to get your cooperation, because you can serve as an example to others. Earth ponies in Ponyville outnumber the other types so I can make more headway when I start by doing the earth ponies, which is why…”

Snowy Hocks stamped the rickety floor, with a loud bang of his hoof against the floorboards. “How many? How many earth ponies have you done, and which ones?”

Numeric Essence’s gaze pleaded with him. “You’ll be the first, Snowy Hocks. Please. For the sake of ponykind and the protection of Ponyville.”

He dropped his head, limp with relief. “Heh! Heh. I’ll be th’ first, she says. Heh!”

“So can I…”

“NO!” barked Snowy, and she froze.

“I’m sorry,” said Essence carefully. Something felt wrong, but she couldn’t pin it down. She’d have it in a moment, she thought. “I didn’t mean to offend you. All I can do is ask, and I’ll remind you again of the concept of herd immunity: though it doesn’t map perfectly to this situation, nevertheless I see a parallel. One earth pony with this spell doesn’t help himself. But a whole Ponyville entirely filled with earth ponies and pegasi and unicorns all of whom carry the beacon spell, surely you must see how different that would be. No evil monster could survive in that environment, and we need a volunteer to show the earth ponies it’s safe to use on them, and please can that be you?”

She trembled with yearning and a strange, uncanny fear, as Snowy Hocks glowered at the ground.

Except… he was laughing, shaking his head, still looking down at his own hooves.

“You’ll never find an earth pony to go along with that pointy-head unicorn crap,” he stated.

Essence scuffed the floor with a forehoof. “On the contrary,” she said, “the emergency is great and I think I’ll eventually persuade one and hoped it would be you…”

“No, you don’t understand,“ he said, and his head snapped up, and suddenly she found herself unable to look away from the burning, hypnotic eyes.

He smiled, and fangs glinted. Oh, she thought, and could not move. Another category error.

“I mean that literally,” said Snowy Hocks, or what had been Snowy Hocks. “You’ll never find an earth pony for the brief rest of your life. And you’ve not found one now, for I am no longer an earth pony. Goodbye, Numeric Essence.”

He walked sedately over to her, staring deep into her eyes and compelling her to be still and unresisting, and that creepy mouth opened again, the fangs glinting in the weak light of his crappy fire.

“Thank you for telling me you’ve completely failed. I appreciate that. You’re right, it would put a real damper on my plans if I had to run the risk of biting some stupid enchanted pony. I’ll bet it wouldn’t have triggered if I made everypony thralls… or maybe it would have, and that would’ve been funny. Vampire Rainbow Dash, zooming around with a big beacon stuck to her, and then getting burned alive. Ha! But some ponies make good thralls and some… well, a vampire’s gotta eat.”

She couldn’t move, or speak, as he came closer and closer, staring right into her eyes.

“Did you think it was going to work?” said Snowy. “I wonder if I’m going to become even smarter, from eating the soul of such an intelligent unicorn. I’m quite looking forward to that. You’re probably the smartest unicorn in Ponyville, aren’t you?”

With an enormous effort, Numeric Essence struggled to respond, and Snowy’s vampire senses picked up on her desperate will.

“Famous last words?” he suggested, playfully… and then, though she still couldn’t move or even twitch a feather on her incongruous unicorn wings, she could speak.

She gulped.

“The definition of…”

“Oh, SHUT up!” said Snowy, and bit deeply into her throat, draining volition, blood, and soul with ravenous gluttony.

Little Dursaa watched dully, still hypnotized, at the tableau, the soft gulping noises, the grinding of Essence’s teeth as she felt her life-force brutally ripped out of her.

It wasn’t taking very long, but it was a purely unforeseen agony. Physical pain was one thing, mental suffering held its own terrors for Numeric Essence, but this was somehow worse. It felt like evisceration but of the spirit—evisceration of hope. There was a horrible finality to it, a sensation like one’s flesh was converting to rot or dust. No new force came in to animate the standing corpse that was more and more of Numeric Essence. She balanced on pillars of meat, held up by the willpower of her devourer, and as he drained her of everything she was, he played one final grisly trick.

Snowy Hocks released Essence’s lungs and throat and voice, the better to hear her reaction as he devoured the lifeforce of her treasured brain and unicorn horn. And for fun he released her largely useless wings that had never developed enough to grant her flight away from her tormentor.

The wings thrashed, bristled… the lungs heaved in a great panicky breath… and Numeric Essence screamed. She screamed a wild, whinnying cry of horror as the vampire drained the life and spirit from her horn and then her mind, a speck of awareness trapped inside a rapidly shrivelling pony brain, life being replaced by necrosis and void. And Snowy Hocks savored the strength and intelligence flooding into him, savored it so much that he couldn’t torture the winged unicorn any longer, and his fangs and dark magic gulped down the last shreds of Numeric Essence’s mind even as her wings flailed helplessly.

Snowy Hocks panted, his fangs still sunk deeply into her throat as she stood a brainless hulk, swaying gently on pure reflex action and the residual life of her body… and then he exerted his vampireness and took all the rest of her from lungs to wings to guts to hooves. And Numeric Essence, neither an earth pony nor a unicorn nor a pegasus since her magic had begun to strive for greatness… died.

And, as she did, a radiant beam of light burst from her heart skyward, showing their location to everyone in Ponyville.

She’d bravely cast it on herself first of all, and had remained unharmed despite the dangerousness of the spell, but of course a sample size of one was almost useless…


Snowy’s face fell. Little Dursaa peered dully up at him, as the corpse of Numeric Essence crumpled to the floor.

“Bitch,” said Snowy, knowing full well he could have asked her. She’d been about to fucking tell him. ‘Definition’, indeed.

He wouldn’t run yet. They’d be arriving at staggered intervals depending on how quick they were, and that was another opportunity. Time to feed again, and not let anything get away alive that could identify him. The plan could still be salvaged. It was just moving faster than anticipated. Time to pick off some more ponies, one by one. Each in their own special ways… and some ways would have to be very special indeed.

One way even involved the zebragasus colt. Snowy gathered his little hostage to him with a glance. It was a hell of a gamble, but then wasn’t everything?

Tensely, the newly empowered Snowy Hocks waited. He was pretty sure which pony in Ponyville was quickest, and it wasn’t a pony with wings.

Not that far away, two pony faces turned toward the shaft of sparkling illumination.

“That’s it! That’s the beacon! Numeric Essence did it!” cried Northern Spy, thrilled.

“Good,” said Pinkie. “I thought she might. And I thought this day might come, too.” She sighed one last sigh, carefully, not wanting to lose her best weapons to grief.

“Now, now, we gotta go now, hurry!” screamed Northern Spy, jumping up and down.

“In a moment!” cautioned Pinkie Pie, and Spy hesitated, and Pinkie pounced on that little box she’d made.

Her hoof slammed down on the red button labelled ‘This Way To The Egress’, and the whole world shuddered… and then, while the beacon still lit up the pre-dawn sky, Northern Spy couldn’t move one inch toward it no matter how hard she tried. She could only move across and away. She stared, betrayed, at Puzzle Plot and that eerie little smug smile, at the only pony in Ponyville who was able to walk towards the danger. Her… and one other. And no intruders, not even superheroes. Pinkie’s powers had arranged for that, and Spy had helped her do it, only to be outwitted in the end.

Then, Pinkie Pie began to walk calmly off to meet her doom, while the Green Streak raged behind her.