Princess Cadence (formally, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza of the Crystal Empire) thoroughly enjoyed the rare moments of freedom from her duties. She was neither a reluctant leader nor poor at her tasks, but the burden of the crown often wore heavily upon her brow. Being a Princess with a domain of one’s own was not nearly as exciting as she’d dreamed about back when she was a little filly.
Fortunately, today provided a nice distraction. One of the guards monitoring the area around the city-state had reported activity in the mountains nearby. Cadence wasn’t a fan of the snowy weather which surrounded her kingdom’s magical shield, but the trip would serve as a welcome respite from other, more boring responsibilities. Her husband Shining Armor was fully capable of handling the throne in her absence. With her yellow and violet mane tucked firmly into a well-fitting snowsuit, the Princess set out quietly in early morning to investigate the guard’s report.
The weather was quite mild today, making for a short trip through the snow. The outer limits of her kingdom were surprisingly beautiful despite the harsh climate, provided you had the horse sense to view them through snowblind goggles. The Princess approached a rocky outcropping near the base of the mountains, where the guard had first noticed strange footprints in the snow. After a few steps around the rocky perimiter, she noticed a small opening in the stone. Cadence stepped carefully into what appeared to be a well-hidden cavern entrance, and she pulled back the hood of her suit. As she brushed loose snow from her pink cheeks with a fetlock, a strange chemical scent drifted into her nostrils: a pungent form of lamp oil, perhaps? Her mind snapped to attention as she realized the peril she’d carelessly walked into, but before she could react, her vision faded to black. The last thing she remembered was an all too-familiar hissing and buzzing sound.
Princess Cadence awoke to nausea and blurred vision, and took a moment or two to focus. Her clothing and even her crown were still on her. Her legs felt like they’d been scraped or dragged recently, though the cold dulled the pain substantially. As she came to her senses, her fears were confirmed: before her, two small changelings cackled from the other side of a prison door set into a wall composed of iron bars.
"I should have known," she sighed, standing up and taking in her surroundings. The small nook in the cavern made an excellent cell, though magic must have been used to set the bars into place. Cadence immediately tried to pick up the nearest changeling with her magic, but the bars of her cell responded by glowing instead.
"Sssss. Magical bars keep ssstupid horses in place," hissed one of the changelings, and the other one cackled happily.
"I hope you realize," the Princess said, "that you have no chance of fooling anyone in the Crystal Kingdom if you try to take my form." While she neglected to elucidate, this was a true statement. Several security protocols had been instituted to ensure that changelings wouldn’t get very far if they ever decided to attack the kingdom.
The other changeling narrowed its eyes. “Yesss, we know thisss. We wait for queen inssstead,” he explained.
The Princess’s heart sunk, but she wasn’t about to give up without a fight. If there were any traits which defined changelings, hubris and stupidity topped the list. She paused a moment in thought, and then smiled serenely as the idea came to her.
"Hay!" one of the changelings announced, flying upward to look at his prisoner eye to eye through the bars. "What are you ssso happy about, filthy mule?"
Cadence decided to overlook that bit of racism. “Oh, nothing,” she said sweetly.
"No, tell usss!" the other changeling buzzed, getting frustrated.
The Princess paused again, just long enough to irritate her captors. “Well, I just realized that you’ve locked yourselves out, rather than me,” she explained.
The changelings looked perplexed, then one of the chuckled. “That is sssilly!” he said. “You are in the sssmall cell, and we are outside it.”
"I don’t think so," smirked the pony. "Small or not, this cell is clearly the outside. You’ve foolishly trapped yourselves inside the bars, where you can’t get to me." Cadence calmly sat down and adjusted her coat.
"Thisss is not possible," hissed one changeling.
"But if she is on the other side of the barsss, and we are trapped on this ssside?" panicked the other. Quickly, the changelings fiddled with the door mechanism.
"Wait! What are you doing?" said Cadence, maintaining the ruse as the little changelings grabbed her and forcibly ejected her from the cell. The two changelings cackled with glee, pulling the door shut and locking themselves inside.
"You cannot fool usss!" said one of them, quite self-assured.
Cadence supressed the urge to gloat, and secured her clothing for the cold outside. “You may have won this time, but this isn’t over,” she scowled, and walked out of the cave, smiling as she listened to the dissonant laughter behind her.
Back in the cell, the changelings sat for a moment, thinking. Finally, one broke the silence. “Do you think we may have done something very ssstupid?”
"Shut up," said the other one. "Let’sss just enjoy the moment for once, okay?"
As the Princess began the snowy march back home, she briefly wondered if she was on the outside after all, but then realized: perhaps her cell had no outside or inside to begin with.