Chapter IV - The Welcome Wagon
Shell lied on his bed, unable to sleep as the moon rose higher into the starry sky. "These ponies... how can i fight them? They had done nothing wrong beyond defending themselves..." They told him that ponies weren't worth more than the emotions they so casually used. "They... No. Her. The queen." She filled his head with these feelings of disgust. But could everything he knew... be wrong? "No. One pony doesn't change them all. She's a runt in the litter. An outcast. An outcast..."
He sighed and threw off the covers, and walked out to the balcony. He heard the nye silent flap of wings, and looked up to see the Princess of the night, Luna, descending towards him. "Most of our subjects are asleep at this hour, but not thou. Why?" He backed up as
she landed on the balcony.
"That isn't your business to know..."
The tall blue mare smiled and surprised him with her simple reply. "A fair enough answer. I do hope i'm not intruding then?" He shook his head, and leaned on the railing to look over the Canterlot castle courtyard. "Other than our royal guards, we haven't many to speak with. Few of our subjects employ the services of the night court. What is thy name, night prowler?" She sat down next to him, and he tensed a bit.
"My name is Iron Shell. Don't get used to it. I won't be here long."
Luna simply turned to the moon. "A shame, Iron Shell. But thy heart seems to differ on thy teachings. Tell us, how hast thy queen fared these many moons? We dare say it has been to long since We've held an audience with her." Shell turned to her with surprise.
"You know the queen?"
She smiled and tapped his snout with her hoof. "Of course. But it has been more then a millennia since we've enjoyed each other's company. Not since the beginning of the feud of our races, We should think. But now we must depart to survey the night, and thou should at least attempt some rest. With the castle in its current state, Thou willst have a busy day on the morrow."
With that, Luna stepped off the balcony and spread her large wings before swooping down and out of sight. Shell stepped back inside, and lied in his bed with a sigh. He pulled the covers over his head and slowly drifted to sleep. The next morning, he woke to the sound of the door opening. He sat up as a tray was put on his bed carrying a sandwich of hay and daisies. Before he could comment the guard left and shut the door behind him. He looked down to the sandwich, his stomach churning. He lifted it, and took a small bite, before spitting it out.
Disgusting. Had these ponies learned nothing from the invasion? Had they any idea why they were there? He needed love or compassion, even joy would do. But this... He picked up the tray, and carried it out to the balcony. He looked down to see the gardens of the castle. He dumped the tray, and watched as it landed behind a large bush. He set the tray by the door, and sat on his bed.
He extended his wings, and felt a sting of pain in his right wing. He sighed. "You just had to injure your wing..." He growled at himself. Restricting anything with wings to the ground was torture enough. But making escape so easy to achieve, yet just out of reach? The princesses truly were cruel, just as his queen had told him. He paced the room, the many noises of Canterlot flowing in through his window. It was going to be a long day.
Shell had spent much of the day looking over Canterlot, remembering the swarms of his brethren as they stormed the streets and terrorized the high class ponies. In every building's shadow or manhole he would see blue eyes or hear the buzz of wings, but further study proved it was only his imagination. He sat back in the chair by the desk beside the door, and saw a quill and ink pot. He grabbed the quill, and placed the the tip on his snout. Leaning back, and after several failed attempts, he'd succeeded in balancing the sharply tipped feather on his snout. He lost his balance and tipped back, hitting the back of his head on the foot of his bed when a bubbly pink mare bounced through the door in a cloud of confetti. As he sat up he saw a chest on four wheels roll in behind her and open to reveal waving flags, trumpets, a miniature oven and a large bronze cannon. The pink mare bounced around the room, playing bugle horns and drums as she sang:
"Welcome, welcome, welcome! A fine welcome to you!"
Shell watched as the pony danced and bounced around the room. His expression was shared by the guard outside peeking in through the eye hole of the door. The pink pony slapped a tall black hat over his head and continued with her song:
"Welcome, welcome, welcome! I say how do you do!"
She took out a large bugle horn and blew it in his ear, the horn going into one of his ears and out the other. Before he could wonder how she did it, though, she was circling the room with a large bass drum, the pounding making his sensitive ears flatten as she sang another verse:
"Welcome, welcome, welcome! I say hip hip hooray!"
When he removed the hat, Shell saw the pony dancing back towards the wheeled, flag waving music box, finishing with a power slide and singing:
"Welcome, welcome, welcome to Ponyville todaaaaaay!"
Her face stopped mere inches from his, and she smiled. "Wait for it..." With a loud bang, confetti shot from the bronze cannon and the miniature oven dinged, opening to reveal a yellow and pink cake displaying the words 'Welcome to Canterlot.' She bounced to her feet and helped Shell up. "Hya! I'm Pinkie Pie! I came by to say hi because we didn't talk at ALL yesterday! And if we didn't talk that means I don't know you and that means you must be new because I know EVERY pony in Ponyville and you were in Ponyville when Applejack and Rainbow Dash and Twilight and Fluttershy found you which is why the cake said Ponyville but I had to change it super quick to Canterlot because you were taken here before I could-"
Shell placed a hoof over her mouth. The words came out of the pink mare's mouth so fast he wondered how long she could speak on a single breath. "Um... Hello... Pinkie Pie." He removed his hoof and she looked on with a wide smile. "Oh, my name's, uh, Iron Shell." She must have been the element of laughter.
"Soooooo, I guess we can't really throw you a big 'welcome to Ponyville Pinkie Pie' party. But that's okay! You can still eat your cake! I made it myself! There's nothing like a Sugar Cube Corner banana bread cake to cheer you up!" She set a small circular cake on the desk, pushing aside several quills and bottles. Shell poked at the cake with a fork, wondering whether it had some truth serum or was set to blow. Pinkie giggled. "You eat it, silly filly!" Shell scooped a small bite from the cake with the fork, and reluctantly put it in his mouth. His eyes widened, and he smiled without realizing. "See? I told you it was good!" Shell regained his composure and slightly nodded, shoveling another bite of cake in his mouth. Pinkie set a rectangular paper wrapped present on the bed, and hooked herself up to the 'welcome wagon'. "Well, it was good to meet you, friend!" Shell stopped eating when she said the last word. Pinkie trotted out, and the door shut behind the wagon.
"Friend." He repeated. He had a friend? Not a comrade, not an underling, but a genuine friend. He allowed a small smile to cross his lips. He finished the last few bites of his cake, and set the plate atop the tray of his 'breakfast'. He sat back, and glanced over toward the bed. He stood and investigated the parcel. Unwrapping the rectangular package, he saw an old book with an old brown leather cover. Across the front read, "Equestrian Nursery Rhymes. Written by Star Bright, head scholar for the Canterlot Preservation Society." Flipping to the preview page, he saw a written note:
'To my new friend,
This book helped me through thick and thin. And think it'll do the same for you. Just don't go searching for any of the rhymes you read in here, okay?
-Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle'
Shell flipped through the aged yellow book, and found a nursery rhyme that drew his attention. "The legend of the Mirror Pond..." He moved out to the balcony, and sat in a lounger in the sun, reading intently.
Shell lifted another sheet of paper with magic, folded it into an origami pegasus, and tossed it off the balcony. After reading through the nursery rhyme book, he needed something to occupy his idle hooves. But the origami pegasus stopped mid flight, and floated past him, covered by a purple aura. "Where did you learn to do that?" He heard a voice behind him. He turned to see a purple unicorn holding the paper craft. She had a dark purple mane with a pink streak and a saddle bag containing what appeared to be quills and parchment.
"Not many ponies can sneak up on a changeling. Why are you here?"
"One of these landed at my window sill, and from the wind and angle I knew it could only have flown from Canterlot. Specifically the western tower. But I don't know any ponies who are good at origami. How did you learn to do this?" Shell pointed to an origami instructional book he had checked out. "Oh, you requested those books?" He nodded.
"Did you think me a monster at first sight? I do educate myself when I can." She looked around the room, seeing confetti covering every piece of furniture, and then back to him.
"It looks like Pinkie Pie's been through here."
"It was quite a spectacle."
"Well... I do apologize for yesterday's rough treatment. My name is Twilight Sparkle." She spoke with confidence.
"I've read about you in the newspapers the guards sent me earlier. Defeating an Ursa is quite a feat."
"Oh, that. It was only an Ursa Minor." She was very humble for a Canterlot pony. He relaxed a bit.
"My name is Iron Shell. Was there something you needed, Twilight Sparkle?"
"Well, I wanted to ask you a few questions and maybe take some notes. It's such a rare occasion to speak with a changeling and-"
He stopped her with a chuckle. "I was wondering what your angle was. The apprentice of Celestia and bearer of the element of magic wants to study me as you would any en-caged creature." She reared back.
"Shell, I don't mean it like that. Knowledge could lead to a better understanding, maybe even a truce between our races. Don't you want that?" He sighed, lowering his gaze.
"Sorry. I can't say i'm in the best of moods after a day of solitary confinement. Go ahead and do what you need to, Twilight Sparkle." He watched as she began looking him over, a quill and paper constantly writing. She flashed a light in his eyes and ears like a doctor.
"Hmm... There seems to be a pupil but it's a lighter color, most likely an adaption to living in caves..." He rolled his eyes.
"They're not caves, they're tunnels. Like an ant hill."
He watched her scratch the back of her head. The quill scratched a few words out. "Sorry. Can you open your mouth?" He did, and she inspected his teeth. "Hmm... there are only three molars on the side of each fang, along with teeth between the fangs to signify a herbivorous diet. But the fangs promote the possibility of eating meat..." He grumbled. She looked over his holed hooves, as he commented.
"We are capable of eating either, but we gain a fraction of the nutrients."
She nodded, and continued her study. "What's this yellow-green crust over your shell?"
"It's a goo we produce that seals and mends our shells. We can also use it to create cocoons."
"How do you think we hide you ponies when we impersonate you?"
Twilight opened her mouth to comment, but shrugged and wrote down several more notes. "Your ribs stick out as if you're malnourished. Is this from a lack of food, or do you look like this regardless?"
"I can't say, but every changeling I know has looked like this."
She scribbled down on her paper, and paused. She bit her lip, a look of reluctance growing on her face. At last she spoke out slowly, "What about magic?" He backed up in shock. He looked to the door, and lit his horn. A green transparent screen coated the door, then disappeared.
"That's to keep others from eavesdropping. Twilight, it would be the highest of treasons among the swarm to reveal our secrets. Even you would have difficulty changing your form." He thought for a few seconds. "Twilight, the only reason I'm even considering this is because of your element. Twilight... if I teach you, will you Pinkie Pie promise never to tell anyling?"
She raised an eyebrow. "How do you know about the pinkie pie promise?"
"I've... been in Ponyville before. But that's another story. Do you pinkie promise?"
To his relief he left his explanation alone. "I promise. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
He smiled. "Thank you. Now the first thing to know about changeling magic is how we use telepathy..." And so he began to tutor the pony in their many forms of magic, from hypnosis and telepathy, which to his surprise she mastered quickly. He taught her about the stance required to change and full bodily spread of magic. "So, you place your feet a shoulder length's apart, and bend your knees slightly, like so. You charge your spell, and..." Finally when he tried to demonstrate, an invisible blow slammed into his temples, making him collapse with pain. As his vision cleared, he sat up against the wall to see Twilight putting a wet rag to his forehead.
"Are you okay? You blacked out and ran a fever. You've got some nasty cracks on your temples, though. Do you want me to-" He shook his head, feeling her caring emotions emanate from her touch. He lifted his hooves to his temples, feeling slight jagged cracks slightly oozing with a pale green blood. He spat a green slime onto his hooves, and coated the cracks with the substance. Twilight recoiled, and he caught her staring. "Are you sure that's sanitary?" He cackled slightly.
"Trust me, Twilight. We changelings don't need bandages and kisses for our wounds. Now-"
"Twilight, don't get to close! It might hurt itself more!"
He heard a laughing voice, and turned to the balcony to see Rainbow Dash sitting on a cloud. He growled.