Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 59

Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Chapter 59

After an hour of vigorous politics, low deals and careful sabotage of all opponents, Scootaloo stands triumphant as the victor, having managed to get both me and Pinkie indicted and thrown permanently into the dungeons and stripped of our money. My brain is still a little rattled by how vicious that little filly can be.

I lean back and look at the board, covered in ownership markers in Scootaloo’s House Colors. Damn.

“So... I have another game, Othello. At least, that’s what I call it. Hmm...” I think of how to demonstrate. “Hey Pinkie, got a piece of paper?”

Pinkie nods, reaching into her mane with a look of concentration, finally pulling out a piece of lined paper and a Bic ballpoint pen. “Huh? How’d those get in there?” Pinkie looks down at the materials with an expression of confusion, stuffing them back into her mane. I stare dumbstruck at her as she pulls out, instead, a normal piece of parchment and a quill and stoppered inkpot.

“Uh... huh. Well, I don’t want to waste ink, so I’ll just do this...” I pull out the rest of my coal and do my little coal writing trick. I use the ink to make a square board with a bunch of smaller squares, then I use coal in pucks or rings, indicating white pieces and black pieces.

“So what you do is you place your pieces and when you surround some pieces of another color with yours on either end of the line...”

I demonstrate by moving the pucks and rings, setting them up. “And when you do-”

“Ooh!” Pinkie interrupts. “I know this game, it’s called Gryphon Chess!” she leans over backwards in her chair - are her bones rubber? - and sits back up with a box showing an Othello board with the name ‘Gryphon Chess’ on the front, the tagline stating that it’s ‘a game of careful strategy and hard tactics!’

“Yep, that’s what we call Othello.” I turn to Scoots. “So what do ya think? Double-or-Nothing on Gryphon Chess?”

Scootaloo smiles and nods. “Yeah! I think we’re a good match!” She’s going poofy again. Jeez, does she have an allergic reaction to her shampoo or something?

“Alright, pick your color, and let’s start!”

She picks white, taking the first-turn advantage. The two of us go back and forth, taking and ceding lines of battle. she’s the first to take a corner, but I snag two of the others before she can properly counter. Finally, she takes the other corner, but it’s too late. A grinding battle of attrition leads to me winning, a scant three pieces more than her.

“Well played, Scootaloo. I’m impressed, that’s a good job for your first time.” I grin and ruffle her mane. “See? You don’t have to win, it’s all about how well you play the game.”

Once again, Scootaloo does her koosh-ball impression. Seriously, I’m beginning to worry about this kid. At least she acts perfectly healthy...

Chuckling at the thought, I sit back. I’ve spent around an hour and a half on the games, and I kind of want to stretch my legs again, possibly out on the dance floor. I’ve got an idea for a good song to end on, but I want to mull that over, and moving helps me think. I leave Pinkie playing another game of ‘Gryphon Chess’ with Scootaloo.

I walk out onto the floor, and I notice that Octavia and Vinyl are doing a sort of duet. Odd, given their playstyles being so different, but it’s not bad at all. I just start dancing a bit. Not going crazy, just feeling the music go through my mind. Looking around at the other partygoers, I see that it’s pretty much unanimous. Music is strange, but very well done. I wonder, do they practice this often?

I see Pinkie hop through the crowd, passing out still more hors d’oeuvres. Wait, if Pinkie’s there, did she stop playing with Scootaloo? I turn to look over the crowd, thanking my relative height as I do. No, she’s playing a game with Scootaloo, who is staring at the game with a serious expression. I turn back to the serving pony, who can’t be Pinkie. Except...

The first word in my head is ‘Changeling’ and I feel my eye twitch. Stay calm for now. I walk up to the serving Pinkie. “Hey Pinkie, could I borrow you for a moment?”

“Sure, Anthony! Lemme just get this settled.” She tucked the now-empty platter onto her back, and trotted beside me as I led her towards the game area.

I figured I should do something before this Pinkie caught on, so I had to do it fast. Luckily, that’s one of my specialties. I grab the Pinkie beside me by the tail, and, pulling her with me, I do the same to the Pinkie playing with Scootaloo. I hold both of them up so they are upside-down looking me in the eyes. “Explanation. Now. And make it good!”

To emphasize further, I enter my Heat form and ignite every part of my body except for my hands. I imagine tails are rather flammable, and I don’t want to roast the real Pinkie. “Well?” I demand.

The one that had been serving covers her eyes with her hooves, visibly frightened. The other Pinkie, on the other hand, looks worried. “Wait, Anthony, I hired them!”

“Yeah, sure. How about some proof?”

She curls up, somehow using her tail to do so. She puts both hooves on my shoulder and whispers in my ear, “Because I know that you’re happier if I’m just your friend.”

She drops back down, hanging from my grip. With a sigh, I set her down on the ground, as well as the Changeling, but I’m still not letting it go that easily. “I thought you agreed not to do any more shapeshifting or I’d kill you all. Was I not clear?”

“W-what?” The changeling is so startled, she drops her disguise, revealing a changeling. But not like the ones I’d seen in the hive. For one, this one is emaciated, thin enough I can count all eight ribs on the one side of it facing towards me. As well, it’s got a brittle, red-orange shell instead of green.

“Oh come on, I know I met one of you around the Everfree, and I warned your little scout that if I found any Changelings around, I’d burn your hive to the ground!”

“B-but I‘m not an Everfree changeling! How would I hear about this?” It’s curled up on the ground, hooves held defensively over its chest. I sigh again. “Fine, let’s hear your story, but if I find out you lied or bent the truth even a little, your people are gonna end up missing a few thousand numbers.”

The changeling nodded. “I- I’m just a harvester of a traveling cluster. There’s eight of us, and six of us were hired by the Element of Laughter to help with the party. It’s what changelings do to survive. I just want my nymphs to be healthy.”

“Last I was aware, changelings infiltrated towns, and posed as other ponies, draining the love out of their loved ones. Actually, I know this for a fact from first-hand experience.” I give the orange-black insect at my feet a hard glare, my flames not dying for a second.

“B-but what kind of morons would ruin things so badly? We may not announce ourselves, but we replace our clients so they can have more free time! I swear, we’ve never taken anyone without their express permission.” It looks up at me, its orangey eyes flat and emotionless like all changeling eyes.

I decide to give it one more test. I pick it up by it’s throat, and stare at it’s pupiless eyes with the bright specks of light that replace mine. I then increase my heat until I can see heat waves coming off of my hand, even if they aren’t flaming. Then I speak, holding it close enough I could hear it’s ragged breathing.

Are you lying?”

“N-no! Please let me live!”

“Alright, fine.” I Power down completely and set the changeling back on the ground. It massages its throat warily.

“Now, Pinkie, we’re going to have a little talk.” I turn to the crowd, now all staring at me. “Party’s over. Go home.”

My next plan of action is to get everyone together, specifically the Elements, the Princesses, and these orange changelings, for a discussion. I relay this to the changeling, Pinkie, and Twilight, who has made her way towards us.

“So, how soon can we set up this meeting?”

Twilight looks around, the building almost completely empty and six rail-thin changelings with orangey carapaces standing or sitting nearby. Another pony walks towards us, and for a moment I’m ready to ask what she wants. then, in a burst of muddy orange fire, she turns into a changeling. The filly who steps out from behind her does the same, but into a smaller, slightly less starved-looking changeling. I recognized them, though, before they changed back. It’s the mother and child from earlier, and the foal had asked for a hug.

“So. Back to my question. Assuming that this is every Changeling who participated?”

The changelings nodded, except for the little one who was just sitting on the floor and staring at me.

“Alright. So, we’ll get a letter sent to the princesses, and we’ll all have a little discussion. Frankly, part of me wants to burn you all alive right now... but I’m not gonna.”

The changelings all look relieved at this, again, minus the little one. It’s still just staring at me.

“And what do you want, uh... I don’t know what to call you. Filly? Kid? Rugrat?”

The little one stares at me, but one of the adults answers. “Uh, young changelings are ‘nymphs’.”

“Okay, well what do you want... nymph?”

The nymph keeps staring at me for a few more moments, before answering slowly. “Can I have a hug?”

“Now why would I do that? You managed to get one already, and that’s because I didn’t know you were just using me as a food source. Seriously, I’m more pissed at you than any of the others!”

The nymph’s expression falls, and the little thing begins to cry, bawling on the floor. The ‘mother’ glares hard at me and begins trying to console the little leech.

“That’s exactly what Chrysalis tried, to screw with my mind, make me into a living battery until I wasn’t useful anymore. That’s why I squashed her. I’m not food, for anyone.”

Twilight and Pinkie’s jaws are nearly touching the floor, and the changelings all stared at me, minus the nymph, who was still crying. One of them spoke up. “Y- you slew the tyrant queen?”

“Yes. Yes I did. And I don’t want to see any other changelings around. I know exactly what they do. That’s why I don’t trust changelings, since I was abducted by them.”

The changelings appear to have stopped paying attention once I’d confirmed the kill. They begin to speak amongst themselves. It’s mildly annoying, getting ignored. That said, Pinkie and Twilight are looking up at me. they have looks of shock on their faces, and worry, and pity.

“There will be time to talk amongst yourselves and explain things once we’re all together. Now, let’s go. And I want a separate train car for the changelings and myself. If they try anything they will not be getting off the train...”

Twilight clears her throat. “Actually, I had Spike send a letter to Princess Celestia as soon as things started happening. She should be coming here, and probably Princess Luna, as well.”

As if to confirm the statement, a large ball of purest white flashes into existence in the middle of the room, near the dance floor. The orb resolves into the shapes of Celestia and Luna, each in full regalia.

Celestia speaks, her voice commanding and her expression dark. “Tell me what is going on. Now.” Next Chapter: Chapter 60 Estimated time remaining: 26 Hours, 58 Minutes

Return to Story Description


Login with