Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 201

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Chapter 201

It takes a while to remember the way, but I get us to Twilight’s house. Rainbow Dash doesn’t waste time and just flies through the front doors. Had the doors been locked, they’d be broken into splinters rather than just pushed open with immense force. And noise. Everyone else walks in at a moderately quick pace but the butler stops me. “I’m sorry, but Miss Sparkle has asked that I prevent you from entering the house until her daughter has recovered. You must stay out here, and I am to make absolutely certain you do not get inside.”

“Yeah, I kinda saw this coming. Can’t blame Stars really. Guess it’s just you and me for a while then.” I sit down. I could just phase through the wall but it wouldn’t really help any. “So... how’s the hive? Ren doin’ alright?”

A short flicker of emerald-green magic later and a bubble that muffles the sounds of the outside world forms around us.

“The queen is quite alright, sir,” the butler informs me.

“Good. Hoping everything’s cool. I assume she hasn’t had any more problems with ah, mating has she?”

“Not as such, though your friend was able to provide more detailed and effective instruction on the matter.”

“Okay. So does the family know about you? I’m pretty sure Twilight doesn’t because she’d be freaking out but...”

“My duty is to be unobtrusive. I abide by that duty.”

“Alright then. So what exactly does a changeling do to eat if they have a disguise? I mean, Stars and Night seem pretty happily married but you don’t, like, bottle that up on the fly or anything, so how do you eat?”

“A butler who does their job well is much beloved.”

“I suppose, but come on, not every changeling is going to be a butler. What about a locksmith or something?”

“It is not my place to monitor the others.”

“Well whatever. But one thing kinda irks me. You guys bottle up love and mix it with that queen-jelly stuff... but how do you eat love? I mean, it’s obvious it can be eaten ‘raw’ in a sense, so how do you do it?”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a scientist.”

“Hey, it’s worth a try. So how long you been working for the Sparkles?”

“Thirty-three years.”

“Huh. So d’you think they’d freak out if they knew or what? I mean, they know by now you wouldn’t do anything like what Chryssi made the changelings do, why keep the disguise? Doesn’t it tire you out after a bit or have some kind of time limit and need to be refreshed every once in a while?”

“A guise, once spun, is minimal to maintain.”

“Huh. And you can just create a guise at random or do you need a ‘template’ to copy?”

“I was trained as an infiltrator; I am able to weave a guise of parts that I have seen. Most, however, require something to copy directly.”

“Wait, trained? So you’re taught what your position is and you aren’t just... born for your specific role like ants? I know I’m putting a ton of emphasis on the whole ‘insectoid’ thing but... just curious.”

“Some things are specified by aging before birth, but skills must be trained, as with any other being.”

“Yeah so... exactly how are you related to ponies? I mean, your general shape looks pretty much exactly like them, but you aren’t actually ponies. What’s the deal with that? Why not griffons or something?”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a taxonomist.”

“Fine, fine... So do you guys have some sort of... way to tell a changeling in disguise? Like, some sort of indicator only another changeling can pick up? How can you tell a normal pony from a changeling that has copied them?”

“Changeling eyes pierce changeling guise.”

“So... you can see through disguises? Like x-ray vision or something? Or do you just see a pony unless you’re looking for a changeling? Not being able to see a changeling’s disguise would cause a bit of problems.”

“A guise appears around the changeling, but the changeling is visible, too. They are both visible to the same degree.”

“Oh, so it’s basically like giving a Changeling a reskinned texture, but setting it to 50% opacity?”

“... I don’t understand anything you just said, other than that is sounded like skinning a changeling, which I do not think you meant.”

I sigh. “Uh, it’s like... it’s a slang term. Like if you took an object like a... a chair and reupholstered it, but instead of replacing the fabric, you just sewed it onto the surface. You change the outward appearance of it by a lot, but you didn’t really change the chair itself outside of its appearance. Making it half-opaque, in other words, only half visible, would let you see the new fabric and the original design underneath it.”

“... no, that does not sound accurate. They are both fully visible, in the same place.”

“Oh, you got some kind of ‘double sight’ thing going on. Neat. So you’ve been around for a while, do you think the Everfree hive could integrate with pony society without needing disguises? I mean, it’s happened once or twice in Ponyville but... this is the capital and if this place is cool with ‘em then everywhere else shouldn’t take much convincing. You think changelings could make it in Canterlot without much trouble? I mean you already have the right attitude down pat or you wouldn’t be very good at what you do.”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a sociologist.”

“But you’ve been doing this ‘be a pony’ thing for thirty years, you’re clearly doing something right, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I’ve been a butler.”

“Fine, fine... So since knowing this family is pretty much your entire job... Any ideas of what I could do to get back on Stars’ good side?”

“The first thought which comes to mind involves time magic, and the second involves a great deal more chocolate than is immediately available in Canterlot. After that, the only suggestion I have is ‘don’t have her upset with you in the first place’.”

I sigh. “Lovely. So how long do you think Twilight will take to bounce back from this? I mean, I know you don’t see her that often but... rough estimate.”

“That would likely be a poor estimate, as her previous time actually living here involved her being under the age of eight, and refusing to develop friendships that could have this form of impact on her.”

“Right.” I have really stepped in it this time. “So what do changelings usually do when not on the job? Even at the hive I’ve only seen one ‘ling go off duty for about ten minutes.”

“Most of my kind simply don’t go ‘off duty’. We live to work; our work is what defines, shapes, and guides us.”

“So if your job training involved military combat... Well, you’ve probably already heard the plan about using changelings to help fight off the demons. As a fairly ‘normal’ changeling, what do you think are the chances of that working out?”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a strategist.”

“Whatever. I’m just trying to get a bit of insight from the common man so to speak. Ren’s nice and all, but I figure being a drone is not exactly comparable to being a queen.”

“Everypony has their roles to play, even in the hive.”

“So what’s your name? I mean, as a pony. Ponies have names, what’d you pick?”

“Precise Manner, sir, at your service.”

“Clever. But doesn’t that get a bit odd? I mean, as a changeling you aren’t supposed to have a name unless you’re royal, right? But if you don’t have a name, ponies would get a bit suspicious. So how do you have a name but also not have one?”

“That is not quite accurate, sir. Any changeling that must be able to work with other species is given a name, as is any changeling that has earned the favor of the ruler of the hive.”

“So how does one ‘earn favor’? By bringing in a lot of food or something?” This is one he has to know, otherwise he wouldn’t exactly be where he is.

“A fully-developed changeling who performs enough services of an outstanding quality will oft be given a name. Any infiltrator will be given a name. An otherwise-unformed changeling who shows signs of being singularly capable will be named and deconstructed into a pattern from which a new ‘breed’ will be formed. Being the queen’s lover for an extended period will sometimes result in a name. There are other methods, but that is a largely-inclusive list.”

“Huh... So what did you do?”

“I am an infiltrator.”

“And that seems to have done you well.” Something catches my attention, something I overlooked. “You say you’ve been here for thirty years, but Chryssi wasn’t mashed until three years ago. Did you escape her or what? If changelings can see other changelings, why not just send out a bunch of troops for a massive recall and then brainwashing session?”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a pacifist.”

“Wait... you joined the others... where did you tell Night and Stars about where you ‘went’ then?”

“You mistake me, sir. Part of a butler’s chores is taking out the trash, compacted if bulky, and setting it on the curb for collection. That particular batch was gooey and not very intelligent before I cleaned up.”

“Heh, action butler, neat. So you just stayed here and beat the crap out of any changelings that came by during the invasion?”

“As the Sparkle residence is not very close to the city center, it wasn’t on the invasion path. I was referring to the ‘recruiters’.”

“Weren’t very convincing, I take it?”

“I’m a butler, sir, not a moron. I only needed to hear the old queen’s plan, to know it was going to fail.”

“From what I hear, she had her minion ‘lings stationed outside a giant bubble to zerg-rush the city when she was ready or something. Not much of a plan as a form of assault that involved secrecy.”

“Her plan was to foalnap, starve, and beat the embodiment of love, impersonate her, and drain her husband-to-be, and take down the city from within, without any fighting at all.”

“Sounds like her plan was a little too complex for her to actually carry out. I mean, she makes mind-slaves, but doesn’t know how to tell them exactly what to do, and she plans a coup while leaving the one who could prove without a doubt that she was a fake alive, just locked up. Big mistake there. She has the tyrant part down, but she clearly wasn’t an evil genius if you ask me. She mainly got taken down by her own ego and assumptions.”

“That and she was never trained for nor showed any talent at infiltration. The queen before her was originally going to just make a new one, but the old queen made a move before then. It was truly a pity.”

“Some of these great villains that this place deals with seem like total morons. I mean, in the event that I did end up king of the changelings, things would be a lot different. I think I’d make a better big bad than anyone else here.”

“More effective, perhaps, but most villains who threaten ponykind wish to enslave them or use them as some form of livestock. It’s easiest to rule a pile of dust and ash, but I doubt it is very stimulating or rewarding.”

“Eh, before coming here, ponies were livestock to me anyways. These are just smaller, brighter colored, and can talk if I’m being totally honest.”

The butler doesn’t reply.

“That said, I like the place, it’s just a little weird to me. Sometimes it seems a little too nice.”

The butler doesn’t look like he’s going to reply to this either. A few more minutes later, the Element Bearers exit the house and the butler removes the muffle-bubble.

“So how was she?”

The seven look amongst each other a bit worried, trying to decide who should talk. In an odd display, Fluttershy speaks first. “She... didn’t say anything. She just laid there in her bed.”

“Wouldn’ even look at us. She seemed a real mess.” Applejack explains.

“I can say for sure that laying in that dark room and hardly eating is bound to cause some serious health problems for her if this goes on for much longer. I tried opening the curtain, but she just kept closing them.” Rarity muses. “Spikey said he’d already tried convincing her to eat without any luck.  I fear she may not recover from this painlessly.”

“Why’d ya do it, man? I mean, yeah Twi isn’t perfect or anything but... you really screwed her up big time.” Rainbow complains

“I did it for her, eventual, own good. If she doesn’t get past her social issues, this could have happened later and been even worse. I was harsh, but she needed to be shocked out of her comfort zone or she wouldn’t have realized that I wasn’t merely venting or insulting her.”



I expect the third Pinkie to finish the piece started by the first and second, but she stays silent.

I ask for a bit of clarity of what they actually did while with Twilight, “You at least told her that you still care and want her to be better, right?”

“Of course! I mean, yeah she’s got issues but... you really couldn’t find an easier way to do this?”

I sigh, then continue, “Sorry Dash, but when you start casting physically-altering magic against someone’s wishes and somehow still think doing so would help them and do it anyway, then think it was perfectly okay that you did it... That’s dangerous. Hurting someone when you think you are helping them is the main defining feature of real, and I mean real insanity. I don’t think Twilight is that bad, but if left unchecked, she might be treated as such. Her anxiety and questionable tendencies make her well and truly dangerous to those around her. She needs a psychological readjustment and that’s that.”

“And exactly why would you think you know what’s best for my daughter?” Stars says, from the doorway. “If you think I’m going to toss her an asylum with those foaming animals, you can think again.”

“I’m not saying lock her up, I’m saying she needs help. Very precise and specific help. In fact, an asylum would just make her problem even worse. If being anti-social is her main problem, being put in solitary confinement or roomed with others who are not exactly the best people to learn from... no. You need to get a professional psychiatrist if she can’t snap out of this herself.”

“She needs no such thing! I can’t believe you are insinuating that she’s dangerous!”

I sigh. “If what I heard about the ‘Want it need it’ spell fiasco in Ponyville is true, she is very dangerous, and I’m trying to make her realize that the path she was on was just going to make it worse. Now that she knows what her problems are she can work on fixing them.”

“My daughter is practically a vegetable because of you.” Stars seethes through clenched teeth. “If you think you’re helping...” Stars hisses at me, teeth grinding and not managing to finish her statement.

“Listen, I’m not going to try and convince you that Twilight is fine the way she is right now, she isn’t, far from it, but the fact remains that literally no other method worked. If you choose to get her a psychiatrist or just let her get through this on her own, that’s your choice, but you don’t seem to understand that I want Twilight out of this funk just as much as you do. As much crap as she’s put me through, I’ve thrown just as much dirt her way. Despite all our arguing and her severe mental problems, she’s still my friend and I still care. If I didn’t care, I’d have let that vampire tear her neck open before killing him. Anyway, I should probably get going. If a noble comes by and sees nobody on the throne, there’s probably going to be some big issues.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 202 Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours

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