Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 90

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Chapter 90

I found the letter I was looking for. Yup, eight-hundred bits in a bank note. Dang. Wait... what would the conversion rate be for bits to USD?

“Hey Twilight, what’re bits made of? Is it gold, or some form of alloy?”

“Bits are made of gold, of course! Oh, I just realized, you haven’t had a run-down of the Equestrian economical process! Let me go get my presentation board, notes, and the crate of props I’ll need. Be right back!” Twilight canters off down the stairs, and I decide to make a break for it before her lecture can kill me.

Maybe I should just ask Rarity when she’s back. She’s much less prone to hostage education. I’m walking to the bank mentioned in the letter, though I’m not entirely sure where I’m going, so I approach ponies and ask for directions as I go. Then one pony approaches me.

“H-howdy, mister Anthony. Whatcha l- lookin’ for?” The stallion, a fairly average-sized guy with a brown coat and pale green mane, at least looks friendly. Still, he should see about getting that stutter corrected.

“I’m just looking for the bank. Know where it is?”

“Oh, y- yeah. I was j- j- just there, lemme show ya.” The colt begins moving off, smiling and waving occasionally. “I’m actually j- just movin’ in, mister Anthony.”

“Hey, I don’t have a need for any fancy titles, just Anthony is fine. So what’s your handle, new guy?”

“O-oh, muh- my name? I’m Sm- mooth Blend.” As the pony turns, I see that only his left half is the dark brown, while the other side is a lighter brown. I can’t actually pinpoint the point where the two colors trade off. “I’m a b- b- barista. Or, I w- will be. I’ve heard a l- lotta ‘bout you, though, mister Anthony.”

“Yeah, word about me gets around, though it seems a few newspaper articles get confused between facts and rumors. One of ‘em thinks I’m dating Pinkie Pie.” I roll my eyes.

“Wait, y- y’ aren’t?” The colt looks genuinely surprised. Huh, must’ve believed the papers. “W-wow, that’s weird...” he mutters under his breath, looking confused.

“Sorry, I prefer my girls to be of roughly the same species, just sayin’. Pinkie’s nice and all but Satan’ll be ice-skating to work before I start a relationship with a pony.”

“Uh... a-alright. Suh- so the rumors y- you’re starting a herd w- with the Diarchs is m- made-up, too, right?”

That actually makes me laugh so hard I have to stop walking. “Heck no! Why- why would anyone think I’d get with either of them, let alone both!?” The idea is just so stupid I find it hilarious.

“Eh, suh- something about finding et- ternal solace in the arms of the oh- only one who would understand. Admittedly, it w- was a pretty cheap magazine.”

“Never in a bajillion lifetimes. Man, I cleared that up around Ponyville, guess I have to make those trips a bit sooner, stop the rumors before they start pairing me up with all of the Elements!”

“Oh y- yeah, they live h- here, right?”

“Yup. But I guarantee you, there is absolutely nothing romantic between me and any of ‘em.” I look up, realizing we’ve been stopped for a couple of sentences.

“W- we’re here. This is D- Dirt Poor’s B- Bank of Equestria. This is the f- first branch, from w- what I hear.”

It’s a pretty decently sized building, but there’s nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the town beyond having much nicer stone siding on the front. I’m guessing it’s a facade, considering the building shape is basically the same as the other big buildings in town.

I thank the stallion and walk inside. Once I’ve been run through the proper proceedings with how banks work here in Equestria, I submit my bank note and take out fifty bits, leaving the other seven-hundred fifty in storage, as there’s no savings account set-ups. I suppose with how honest most ponies are, fraud and its related crimes aren’t common enough to warrant much attention to the way the banks are run.

A brief moment of thought tells me all about how I could take serious advantage of this. I shake it off. I’m not going to just take money that isn’t mine. Well... maybe a little, I mean, who’s gonna notice?

I look towards the bank vault, and see that there’s neat rows of boxes, each probably containing hundreds of bits. The only problem is that I can see faintly-glowing red runes along the door, and I can guess they probably aren’t very healthy for intruders.

Eh, I already have plenty of money at the moment anyway. I walk outside and notice that Smooth Blend is still here. Strange. “Hey man, you need something?”

“Uh, yeah... but I k- kinda need to ask you in p- private. Y’know, without the other p- ponies around, mister Anthony.”

“Really? And what’s so important and secretive?”

The colt looks left, then right, the perfect model of suspicious. Then, he looks me dead in the eyes. A flicker of green passes over his eyes, and then he breaks the stare off. Well, fuck, it’s a changeling.

“Ren wants me, I suppose? Eh, fine. Nothing better to do today anyway.” With that we head off to the Everfree Forest. Once we’re a good distance from the outskirts of Ponyville, he removes his disguise and we just walk to the hive. Just as the hive entrance comes into view, the changeling speaks up.

“B- by the way, before we actually g- get there, I w- want you to know what y- you’re getting into.” I look at him, hard, for a moment. “It’s going to be a b- banquet, and y- you’ll be expected to sit at the q- Queen’s side. As her p- protector, of c- course.”

“No problem.”

When we arrive, I walk towards the main chamber, seeing a few changelings here and there. It’s much more than the scant few I’d seen last time I was here. A couple of nymphs scamper past me, one holding aloft a pastry of some kind in its magical grip, a cook shouting and swearing in hot pursuit. Man, dinner and a show? I’m liking this already.

Once we reach a side chamber near the main one, I see that there’s a large, mostly oval banquet table in the middle of it, one end wider than the other. The wide end has a rather more healthy-looking Renaissance sitting at it. She’s still unhealthy-skinny, but she’s got more luster to her carapace.

As I enter the room, the hundred-or-so changelings seated around the table all look in my direction, some of the smiling, others not. A couple of oddly-colored ‘lings sit near the wide end of the table, with an open space between Ren and them.

The queen, as regally as her still-shivery limbs would allow, beckoned me towards the open spot to her right.

“Heya, glad to see you’re getting the hang of things.” I take my seat and just relax. None of these morons would be stupid enough to try anything funny with me right here, so I figure I’ve got no worries and I’m fine with just chatting. “So how’ve you been? Guess it’s been a few months.”

“S- several, actually.” She smiles pleasantly at me, and bobs her head slightly. “I’ve been trying to teach farming to the hive. It’s d- difficult, the pony methods don’t work so w- well with our... crops.” her smile wanes a little, but then comes back full force. “Oh, after dinner I can show y- you the farm! I’m sure you’ll love it.”

“Well I look forward to seeing your progress. I really was hoping that I wouldn’t have to come by and wipe out every changeling in the forest. Frankly that seems like a waste. Glad you’re trying less harmful methods. I think there might be some good you guys could do.”

“Thank you, Anthony, for having faith in us.” Ren smiles a larger smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. She opens her forelegs for a hug which I oblige. She’s not as fluffy as a pony, but the chitin-on-skin isn’t a bad feeling. It’s kinda like soft leather. Changelings just aren’t really made for cuddling I suppose, but they seem to be at least nice to hug.

Ren, laying her head on my shoulder whispers into my ear. “I’m afraid for my life. Please don’t let them kill me.” Then, she pulls back, still smiling as if nothing’s wrong. I just give her a simple nod. I’m still not sure if any of these bugs’d be stupid enough with me right beside her, but then again... these ponies and similarly-related species seem to have just as wide a stupid-streak as people at times.

Ren nods slightly towards the oddly-colored ‘lings to my right, directing my attention their way. I look at them, and Ren makes introductions. “The one closest to you is the eldest of my sisters. They get younger the further they go. Four are attending tonight.”

“I see, well it’s nice to meet you.” I say to the four. Supposedly the most likely assassins are her siblings. And I’m right next to them. They’d have to be desperate or just retarded to try something at this point. Oh well, I guess I’ll keep my guard up anyway.

The food is brought to the table by a few changelings in suits, and it looks delicious. Some kind of meat is present, large something, and greenery of all types imaginable. As well, a series of tiny cages are brought to the table, and set in front of everyone. I look at my cave inquisitively, and see a brown rabbit look up at me. There is a carrot in a small bin attached to the cage.

I turn to Ren. “Appetizer, or entertainment?”

“Actually, the main course.” She levitates the carrot to her own rabbit green-end first, who happily takes it. Ren closes her eyes and inhales deeply, a greenish mist drifting from the rabbit to her mouth. She smiles as the flow stops. The rabbit continues contentedly chewing the carrot. Right, love... of food? Well, I guess if it works...

“Sorry, but I’m afraid I have different tastes...” I pick up the carrot and take a bite out of it. The rabbit looks sadly at me. I sigh and break off one half and I hand it to the furry thing, which it accepts happily. Once it starts munching I just push the cage closer to Ren in an offer. I sure ain’t getting anything from it myself. Then there’s real food.

The food is passed around, but I notice that I’m passed two plates, and Ren isn’t passed any. She doesn’t seem concerned, though. “Uh... what?” Then I think for a moment. “Oh, right.” Poisoned food, a classic. Oh well, no problem. I bet I can handle whatever might be in the stuff if it’s been spiked.

I take a bite of the meat that is placed on one of the plates. It’s nice, flavorful, and slightly spicy. The best poisons for this sort of thing can’t be tasted, but I suppose it’s okay. Just to be sure, I taste the meat on the other plate for comparison.

The meat tastes about the same, and anything different between the two could simply be cooking differences between the pieces. The next thing I try is a sample for the small pile of mashed potatoes with some kind of orange gravy on top.

It’s actually quite good, with a minty aftertaste that really throws off the pleasantness of the potatoes. It’d be better without the mint flavor.

I try a sample from the other plate, and nearly choke on the sudden, vigorous heat of the sauce. Completely different from the minty-tasting one, I’m caught totally unprepared for the spicy assault upon my tongue. Sputtering, I grab for the chalice that had been set in front of me and chug, the liquid within quenching the blaze on my taste buds. Mmm... red wine. Strong cranberry taste.

Gasping for air and blinking the tears from my eyes I turn to Ren. “Jeez, that was spicy! The minty one was kinda tasteless, but at least it doesn’t burn your mouth!”

Ren stares at me. “Wh- which one was minty, did you say?” She’s starting to shiver in her seat.

I narrow my eyes. “I take it the dish is supposed to be spicy, then?” I pick up the plate with the minty potatoes and push it away.

“Ch- changelings can’t taste mint.” Ren says. “We can’t t- taste food unless it’s r- really strong.” Which means that this would be the perfect poison, so subtle to them, it might not even be there... smart, but foolish to try this when there’s a non-changeling to test it. Now I have to decide which of the changelings is the culprit. Most likely one of Ren’s sisters, but there are four of them.

I look at the four sisters, checking for subtle hints like shifty eyes or nervou-

With a growl of frustration, the second protoqueen lunged across the table, shouting ‘Die!’ at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t agree more...

Reaching for her with an arm charged with electricity, I give her a tap that sends about a few thousand volts into her body. An earsplitting KRA-KOW shatters the relative silence of the room, and a bolt of vivid blue-green lightning tears into the charging changeling. I have just the tiniest sliver of moments to see her expression turn from one of murderous intent to shock and fear.

Then, with a squelching POP, the would-be murderess blows like a giant, gross pimple.

That was not what I expected, and now there are lots of tiny squishy wet bits just about everywhere. Even in the food. Great, there goes my appetite.

The eldest sister looks to one of the changelings in suits, who has a chunk of charred meat on its snout. The changeling butler I recognize, and he’s not moving, in spite of the gore.

I turn to him and address the matter that is currently all over the table. “Would you clean up this mess, please?” Next Chapter: Chapter 91 Estimated time remaining: 22 Hours, 8 Minutes

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