Raindrop gave a faint groan as she rolled over onto her hooves, and then straightened slowly, stretching, her ears splaying against her skull and her entire form quivering. She felt strange. It was as though she had run a marathon, but without any of the associated muscle aches and pains to accompany the sensation. It was still dark, obviously very early morning.
Snorting to herself, Raindrop crawled off the bed, and stumbled over to the floor-to-ceiling mirror set into the wall beside the bed. She lifted a hoof to rest beside it and steady herself as she leaned in to stare into her own reflection in the gloom. A mousy-maned pegasus stared back at her, pink eyes tired, with bags under her eyes. It was impossible to tell that a changeling hid under her eyes. Hid inside her.
But Raindrop was starting to come to terms with it all. She was a changeling. No amount of bitching or feeling sorry for herself was going to change that. She had the ability to change that, and she would stop at nothing for the chance to be rid of her changeling blood. And she was starting to realise certain things about her ‘powers’.
She was using love energy.
Changelings used the energy to exist. They used it for sustenance like a pegasus used food. But Raindrop didn’t need love energy for sustenance, as food performed that duty for her. So the energy she had taken from Shine, it had been kept in her. And she was using that to change. That was the only explanation that Raindrop could come up with. And she had exhausted that energy, and so now, any kinds of changes she attempted were trying to draw from energy she simply didn’t have. And that was making her drunk.
The last bit needed some polish. But the rest of it made sense!
Raindrop sighed and shook her head, moving over to the bed and scooping the key off the covers, inserting it into the door and twisting it. It was certainly easier now than it had been. The previous night it had seemed like there was three different keyholes, all of them rotating around one-another.
The door clicked, and the pegasus pulled it open, taking the key and slipping it into the crook of her folded wing. So long as she didn’t need to fly anywhere, she wouldn’t lose it.
Not paying attention, she bumped straight into Sentinel, who was standing outside her door. Strangely, he hadn’t been facing the door, but rather, facing outward, standing guard.
Raindrop snorted, and then pushed the guard with both of her hooves, sending him tumbling onto his side clumsily, coming up after a moment, shaking his head and trying to rub a hoof against his face past his helmet, making a confused sound.
Raising a brow, Raindrop leaned in close and peered at him, before snorting again and shaking her head. He had been asleep, or dozing, at least.
“If you’re going to guard me, you’re not allowed to fall asleep,” she stated flatly.
“Sorry ma’am,” Sentinel replied groggily, saluting in her general direction and then moving to stand by the door again.
Raindrop gave a derisive snort. “You’re not even properly awake yet, are you?”
“No ma’am,” Sentinel replied instantly, completely truthfully.
Raindrop rolled her eyes, and then lifted a hoof, bringing it crashing down on the top of his helmet, making the entire metal covering vibrate with the force of the blow. The guard stiffened slightly, his eyes widening, wincing at ringing so loud in his ears, and then turning his head to look the female up and down for a moment, wrinkling his nose.
“Ugh, you look even worse in the morning,” he stated.
Raindrop scowled, self-consciously rubbing a hoof through her spiked mane. “Shut up. Now go to bed, stupid pony. If you’re going to be hounding my steps tomorrow, I’d rather you not slow me down.”
Sentinel lifted a hoof, and then pressed it under his helmet, rubbing at his forehead, before looking up at her and stating, “But I must guard you.”
“And whoever will protect me tomorrow when you’re asleep?” Raindrop asked, stepping closer to him, poking her nose against his own, raising her brows.
“I have not thought that far into the future,” Sentinel stated, shaking his head once.
“Don’t worry baby, thinking obviously isn’t your strong suit,” Raindrop said, gently rubbing a hoof against his cheek, and then shoving him sideways into the wall. “Now go get sleep, Sentinel. The adult pegasus is going to go do grown-up things.”
Sentinel scowled after Raindrop as she sauntered down the hallway, rubbing a hoof against his temple.
Raindrop poked her tongue at him over her shoulder before descending the stairs and entering the bar room of the inn, pulling herself up onto a chair and looking about. The entire place was deserted; no patrons, no innkeeper. Raindrop assumed that this was one of the inns that didn’t have 24 hour service. Many of the inns kept their bars open right through the night. There was a bell on the counter, but she figured that that was for late arrivals seeking a room for the night.
Scowling to herself, Raindrop ascended the stairs to her room. Sentinel was no longer in the hallway, obviously having retired to his room for the night. Raindrop transferred the key from her wing, to a hoof, lifting it to insert it into the door. But something made her pause.
The young pegasus looked slowly down the hallway. At the end of the hallway, a cloaked figure stood, watching her, head lowered, features hidden in the shadows cast by their clothing.
“Can I help you?” Raindrop asked, canting her head a little bit to one side. Her heart was starting to beat faster, and she was trying her best to appear nonplussed.
There was no response from the hooded figure, as it began to advance down the hallway towards her.
Raindrop bit her bottom lip for a moment, and then began to fumble with the key to get it into the slot, trying to watch the hooded figure out of the corner of an eye. The key kept slipped from its mark as she fumbled it, and Raindrop scowled, eyes narrowing. She paused, took a deep, calming breath, inserted the key neatly, and then twisted it.
As she lifted a hoof to push the door open, she looked down the hallway again, blinking once. It was empty. The hooded figure was gone.
Confused, Raindrop stepped into her room, and then poked her head out of the doorway, looking down the hallway, frowning. Maybe the figure had gone into one of the rooms and that was their intent the entire time?
Shaking her head slightly, Raindrop withdrew and closed the door behind her, locking it and withdrawing the key, turning around to sprawl on the bed.
The first strike caught her completely unaware. One moment, she was about to collapse into bed, the next, there was a hoof suddenly filling her vision. It caught her across the cheek and eye, a neat blow that rocked her back on her haunches.
The hooded figure stepped in and delivered another rapid blow from his other hoof, sending the pegasus reeling backwards until she overbalanced and sprawled clumsily on her back, seeing stars, blinking rapidly as she tried to assimilate what was happening.
Her ears were ringing, and the room was spinning just slightly at the corners. She tried to roll over, but a heavy hoof landed on her chest, forcing the air from her lungs. The hooded figure stood over her, leaning in with a dark smile, eyes narrowing.
“Weak pegasus,” the figure said with obvious amusement. “I almost forgot how easy it was to crush your kind.”
Raindrop wheezed for a moment, lifted her hooves to try and remove the hoof from her chest, but her opponent just pressed down harder, squeezing the air from her lungs. Scrabbling at the hoof on her chest, Raindrop cast her gaze around desperately for something she could use to try and smash her opponent over the head with. The nearest thing she found was the key, but it was too small to do anything but annoy the stronger opponent.
Black spots were starting to form in Raindrop’s vision, and there was a burning in her compressed lungs, as she tried vainly to suck in air. And the figure was watching her the entire time, enjoying her suffering. Her gaze cast to the door, closed and locked. It might as well have been a mile away, for all the good it, or anyone outside it could do.
Raindrop’s wings fluttered weakly as she began to lose consciousness, and the young pegasus squirmed slightly back and forth in an attempt to get out from underneath the crushing weight compressing her chest. the figures entire weight must have been resting on single hoof, pressing down on her so hard.
The young pegasus gave a breathy snarl of anger, and on instinct, went into offense mode. She had wrestled with other pegasus her entire life. It was part of growing up in such a physical society. And if she was going to die, she was going to make sure it was as hard as possible.
Instead of pushing at the hoof, Raindrop wrapped her own around it to hold it steady, and then twisted slightly, curling and using her wings to push off the ground a little bit, allowing her to bring her hindlegs up, hooking them around her opponents chest and neck. Using the last of her strength, she twisted with her hooves, pushed with her wings, and brought her hindlegs back down to their original position, which overbalanced the pony atop her. With Raindrop holding his hoof, he couldn’t put out any limbs to arrest his fall, and slammed down hard on his side.
Raindrop rolled away from her opponent and thudded into the wall clumsily as glorious air flooded her lungs. She immediately began coughing, panting hard and trying to get her breath back, her eyes wide as she took in huge, grateful gasps of air.
The hooded figure rose, and then neatly twisted his hood off completely, revealing a dark-furred body and shiny blue-grey armour covering his form.
Raindrop took a deep, steadying breath, and then turned to face the figure, her eyes narrowing. It was an earth pony. So she wouldn’t have to contend with magic, at least, and if she could get enough separation, she could smash her way through one of the windows and fly off while her opponent would be unable to follow.
She didn’t have much time for thought though, as her opponent was on her again in a flash, launching across the distance between them with a hard thrust of a hoof.
Raindrop ducked out of the way of the blow rather easily, but wasn’t ready for the sudden twist and kick from a hindleg, catching her right in the ribs, sending her limping away for a moment, winded. She leaned against the bed, gasping for air, a hoof holding her side, while her opponent slowly turned, grinning cockily.
The pegasus watched him with narrowed eyes. She wanted to wipe that smug expression off his face, and for the first time, she found herself wishing she could change; wishing that she could increase her strength and mop the floor with her opponent.
The earth pony lunged again, but raindrop was ready for him this time. She ducked under the hoof strike he leveled at her head, and then slammed her own hoof into his hindleg when he tried to catch her with it, managing to get it just above the joint in that one perfect spot.
Her opponent limped backwards, away from her, getting enough distance that he could pause and check his hindleg, attempting to put weight on it and wincing. His eyes narrowed as he glared at her, and he snorted a moment. “Touche.”
“You got some nice hits yourself,” Raindrop panted, nodding her head towards her opponent in respect. “But I’ve got a royal guard in the room next door, and he’s gonna beat the crap out of you, if he ever wakes up!”
Raindrop called the last words out loudly, to try and catch Sentinel’s attention.
“No matter. This’ll be over soon,” her opponent stated, as he reached a hoof down to his chestplate, and then drew a long, wicked-looking dagger from inside it.
Raindrop’s eyes widened, and she backed away a little bit, to put the bed between them. “Uncool man, totally uncool.”
The pony just licked his lips, eyes narrowing at her. He stepped up onto the bed calmly, and began to walk across its surface towards her. “Scream if you want, pegasus. I think I’ll enjoy that.”
Raindrop backed up against the wall, and then began to slide along it, away from the dagger-wielding pony obviously out for her blood.
“U-uhm, Sentinel!” she called loudly as she began to bound towards the locked door. “Now might be the time to do some of that guard stuff!”
The figure on the bed grinned, and then lunged after her, swiping with the dagger and catching Raindrop across the flank, drawing a deep, but superficial wound across her haunch, just forward of her cutie mark.
Raindrop snarled in pain, twisting to face the other pony and limping slightly, grimacing as she felt a trickle of blood beginning to dribble down her leg.
“No screaming?” the pony asked, seeming disappointed.
“I’m gonna make you scream,” Raindrop stated, deadpan.
The figure snorted derisively, and then lunged at her again, dagger scything towards Raindrop’s face with deadly intent. The pegasus ducked out of the way, weaving away from the blow, and then dropping down onto her chest as her opponent tried to side-swipe her across her face with the blade when his first strike missed.
The dagger came within an inch of Raindrop’s face, and she watched with wide eyes as a large portion of her fringe mane just fell to the floor in front of her, neatly cut.
Grinning, the pony took a step towards her, smug in his confidence that the dagger gave him an edge over the pegasus. He gave a half-hearted swipe at her again, forcing her to back up further.
Raindrop’s eyes darted left and right, and she picked up a lamp to throw at her opponent. The pony merely ducked his head and let the thin porcelain shatter across his helmet-covered forehead, protecting him from harm.
He gave another swipe, and another at the pegasus, not even really trying to hit her. Raindrop was just starting to cotton on that there was something wrong with her opponents striking pattern when her rump hit the far wall.
A moment later, the other pony was on, bringing the dagger down in a great overhead stab.
Raindrop reared up and quickly made a motion with a hoof, catching her opponents hoof in mid-strike to try and deflect it. She was off-balance though, pressed up against the wall, and instead of deflected it entirely, she merely managed to alter its trajectory. Instead of ending up in her chest, the dagger went left, the tip catching at the edge of her shoulder and driving in.
Raindrop screamed in pain as the dagger found its mark, digging through flesh and muscle until nearly an inch of it was buried in her shoulder.
The other pony grinned, and brought his nose up to her own, eyes staring into hers as he whispered, “Scream for me.”
Raindrop did scream as pressure was exerted on the dagger, beginning to sink deeper and deeper into her shoulder, a white-hot lance of pain edging into her form.
The door to the room burst open in a shower of splinters as a heavy form hit it from the other side.
First through was Sentinel, launching himself into the room in full splendor, dressed in his entire set of armour and eyes looking around wildly for a target. Next through was the inkeeper, and then a patron of the inn, a large unicorn, obviously come to help when he heard the screaming.
“Get him off me!” Raindrop screeched, trying to push at her opponent with her hindhooves.
The pony atop her tried to retrieve his dagger, to pull it out of Raindrop’s shoulder so he could use it on the intruders who had come to break up his fun little game, but Raindrop stopped him. Blood-streaked hooves pushed at his own hooves, and she rolled to the side to keep him away from the dagger.
In the space of time it took Raindrop’s attacker to realise that he couldn’t get his dagger back, Sentinel was on him. And the ensuing fight was all one-way traffic.
Sentinel opened with a heavy blow to the back of the ponies neck, right when the armour joined, deforming the thinner armour there and giving the earth pony a blow that he would feel even through the armour. By the time he had finished that blow, he was already swinging himself around the ponies front, and delivering a harsh strike to his chin with a hooked hindleg, smashing his head upwards and sending him reeling backwards, stunned.
This placed Sentinel between Raindrop and her attacker, and he turned to look her over, making sure she wasn’t in mortal danger before facing her attacker again.
Sentinel launched himself across the short distance between them, wings flapping once to give him extra speed and, conversely, more impact, his hoof coming down hard on the helmeted head of his opponent. He transformed the strike into another, a simple conversion of momentum. As he brought his hoof down, he turned around entirely, facing away from the earth pony, and then leaped into the air, wings flaring, and then snapping closed, angled just right to send him into a full backwards somersault. It was an impressive technique that a lot of pegasus managed to master in their younger years; but this technique ended with both of Sentinel’s hind-hooves smashing down over his opponent’s skull.
Before his hindlegs even touched the ground, Sentinel’s forehooves planted to the floor, and he arched and then lashed out with both hindhooves with all the strength in his form, catching the other pony in the chest, with enough force to pick him up and send him skidding into the far wall with a heavy thud. In an instant, the innkeeper, and the patron were on the pony, pinning him to the floor and stretching out his hooves so he couldn’t move. But it hardly mattered; Sentinel’s double-hindhoof smash had knocked him unconscious.
Deeming the threat dealt with, Sentinel rushed to Raindrop’s side.
Raindrop was staring at him, open-mouthed, her eyes slightly fogged with pain and a hoof weakly holding the dagger buried in her shoulder.
“You kicked his ass,” Raindrop muttered weakly, her tone awed.
“And you got yours handed to you,” Sentinel stated flatly, leaning down to inspect the embedded dagger with a look of worry.
“Hurts,” Raindrop stated unhelpfully.
Sentinel snorted, and then looked from the dagger, to her. “Are you okay? Can you feel your hoof?”
“No I’m not okay!” Raindrop said indignantly, frowning down at the dagger in her shoulder, and then tossing her mane. “Did you see what he did to my mane? This’ll take weeks to grow back!”
“All we need now is for you to hit me and I’ll know you’re perfectly fine,” Sentinel stated sardonically.
A ringing blow caught Sentinel across the cheek, and Raindrop winced slightly as it stretched her hurt shoulder. The pegasus scowled, and then hissed between clenched teeth, “That’s for getting here so damned late.”
“You!” Sentinel said, pointing over his shoulder at the patron, “Find a pegasus. Knock on doors until you find one. Send them to Canterlot and tell them to bring a detachment of the Royal Guard, fast fliers. And tell them to send down a combat medic!”
“Combat medic?” Raindrop asked, confused, rubbing at her eyes with her good hoof.
“He’ll be able to get this dagger out of you,” Sentinel explained, frowning at her.
“And here I was just going to leave it in there,” Raindrop stated, giving a weary sigh. “This hurts, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Sentinel said soothingly, gently stroking at her foreleg. “Just a few minutes and we can get this out of you.”
“Hit me,” Raindrop stated.
“...What?” Sentinel asked, blinking once.
“I don’t need to be awake for this, hit me,” Raindrop stated, waving a hoof. “Knock me unconscious. Then this thing stops hurting.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise,” the guard replied helplessly.
“Celestia help me, if you don’t hit me, I’m going to pull this dagger out and shove it so far up-”
Raindrop was cut off by neat strike from the guards hoof to the back of her neck, right at the base of her skull, sending her into blissful, painless unconsciousness.