An Affliction of the Heart: Volume Five

by Anonymous Pegasus

No Rest For The Wicked

Kuno sighed, putting down her quill and then rubbing a hoof against her forehead slowly. Her wings were drooping almost as much as her eyes, and dusk was just starting to fall outside.

A ledger filled with the names of various changelings and their identifying marks sat in a state of progress in front of her. A thick sheaf of papers with hastily-scribbled and unordered information sat to the left of it, waiting for her attention. She was trying her very best to get everything sorted out before the investigator arrived, but there was just too much to do and not enough time.

“Miss Kuno?” a changeling with a small shield pendant around his neck spoke from the doorway.

“Yes?” Kuno asked wearily.

“The investigator is here,” the changeling said stiffly.

“Show him in,” Kuno said, heaving a tired smile.

The changeling guard nodded once, and then withdrew. There was a wait of a minute or two, and then the investigator stepped through the doorway.

Kuno looked him up and down once, taking in his appearance. Rather than a pony, he was a batpony, a little bit smaller than most stallions. A pair of dark circular glasses rested on the end of his nose, and his mane was done up in a spiky style reminiscent of the Wonderbolts. He looked like a businesspony had been caught at a punk concert and dressed up against his will.

“Good evening, I’m Kuno,” Kuno said, resting her chin on the edge of the desk.

“I am Spectre,” the batpony said with a slight incline of his head. He hefted a saddlepack with a hoof, arching an eyebrow. “You have the information I need?”

“Kind of,” Kuno said with a weak smile. “I’m still trying to get it all written down in a neat… format. But I haven’t had enough time to finish it,” she said, making a motion towards the ledger and the sheaf of papers.

“I see,” Spectre said, pushing his glasses up a little higher on his nose. “Where can I set up?”

“I’ve set aside this entire room for your use and made it off-limits to my changelings,” Kuno explained, making a motion with a hoof. “So just pick a spot.”

“Are you going to personally help me with the investigation?” Spectre asked dubiously.

Kuno shook her head, giving a sigh of relief. “No, no. Chitin will help you.”

“A changeling?” Spectre asked, his tone a little short.

Kuno frowned slightly. “Yes, a changeling. She has an alibi.”

“Your kind can have an alibi for anything with anypony,” Spectre stated bluntly.

Kuno rolled her eyes and gave a long-suffering sigh. “She was busy screwing a carpenter. You can’t have a changeling fake that kind of alibi.”

Spectre frowned deeply, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “I will need to verify the story with this carpenter… and his immediate family.”

Another long sigh left the new Changeling Queen. “Very well, I understand. I asked her to be here. She shouldn’t be long. I will send for her…”

“Partner?” Spectre offered, arching an eyebrow.

“Partner,” Kuno said with a firm nod. “Every other word I thought of weren’t appropriate for polite conversation.”

“Very well, I will await… her?” Spectre said carefully.

“She identifies as female, yes,” Kuno assured, lifting herself tiredly to her hooves. “I am going to go collapse into bed. If you need help, just scream. Somepony will come running.”

“How utterly reassuring,” Spectre said dryly, while Kuno staggered past him towards the door.

Warden rolled over when he heard the door open, ears perking upwards slowly.

Kuno staggered towards the bed, collapsing onto it next to her husband.

Warden bounced a little bit with the weight of the Changeling Queen landing on the springs next to him, wings flaring in reflex. “What’s happening?” he asked, far more subdued than usual.

“Tired,” Kuno muttered, sprawling out flat on her stomach.

Warden nodded, crawling up underneath one of her large, translucent wings, nuzzling up against her side and nestling there warmly. “Are you relegating the investigation?”

“Chitin and Spectre...” Kuno muttered, trailing off with a mumbled something as she dozed off.

Warden nodded gently, stroking a hoof soothingly up and over her wings, kneading carefully between the base of them. “Just sleep, Kuno. I’ll make sure nobody bothers you.”

Kuno gave a noncommittal sound.

“Miss Kuno?”

Kuno stirred faintly, giving a low groan. “Go away.”

“I can’t, Miss Kuno. You have a visitor,” the changeling insisted, slightly anxiously.

Kuno gave a soft whine. “Go awaaay…”

“Miss Kuno, she seemed impat—”

“I’ll just show myself in,” Celestia stated calmly from the doorway.

Kuno groaned, lifting her head, heavy eyelids barely opening. “I’m too tired for this bullshit.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to wake up,” Celestia retorted bluntly. “We must discuss the details of this murder and the consequences.”

“You already sent Spectre over,” Kuno argued, a whine obvious in her tone.

Celestia nodded gently. “That is for the investigation. This is about the ramifications of the event itself.”

“Can you come back later?” Kuno asked plaintively.

“Are you really going to blow off the Princess of Equestria?” Celestia asked delicately.

“I’m trying to!” Kuno whimpered, almost sounding like she wanted to cry. “Why can’t I just sleep?”

“A Queen’s duties are never done,” Celestia said calmly. “I will have some coffee brewed for us. Meet us in the conference room when you’re ready.”

Kuno whined faintly, waving a hoof in the air in hazy affirmation.

“You, where’s Warden?” Kuno asked, scowling.

“In the secondary conference room, bothering Chiting and Spectre,” the changeling said, stiffening to attention.

Kuno grumbled. “Go get him. Bring him to the conference room. Drag him in by the ear, preferably.”

Kuno pushed the double doors open, finding a veritable explosion of colour waiting for her. After the dark blues and blacks of the changelings, regular ponies were a riot of flamboyance.

Each element bearer was seated around the table, with Celestia at the head, all flanked by four royal guards.

Rainbow Dash and Rarity were quietly discussing something, eating from a plate of cookies. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie were on the other side of Celestia, whispering among themselves, while Twilight Sparkle in her demi-alicorn status was seated next to Celestia, sitting at stiff attention, waiting.

“Please, sit down,” Celestia said, motioning towards an empty seat.

Kuno grumbled at that, drawing herself up onto the chair, very aware of all seen pairs of eyes on her.

“Brought extra security?” Kuno asked bluntly, placing her forehooves on the table.

“Bringing the bearers of the Elements of Harmony was… merely prudence,” Celestia said carefully. She turned to the ponies. “Would one of you please pour our guest a drink.”

Fluttershy and Rarity both recoiled at the suggestion, but Rainbow Dash puffed up her chest. She picked up a kettle from the middle of the table, carrying it over to Kuno and pouring a measure of coffee out into it.

Kuno arched an eyebrow slowly.

Rainbow Dash stared at her for a moment, before withdrawing quickly to the other side of the table again, setting down the kettle triumphantly.

“Now, we need to discuss your changelings,” Celestia stated carefully.

Kuo sighed, hanging her head. “What specifically about them?”

“I have to insist on your changelings being subjected to confinement to the estate until the investigation is over,” Celestia said candidly.

Kuno tilted her head to the side, confused. “I thought that was already a thing.”

“For the duration of the initial questioning and investigation,” Celestia explained.

“And you want to expand that period of confinement until... when?” Kuno asked, an edge entering her tone.

“Until the investigation is over,” Celestia said carefully.

“You mean, when the killer is caught?” Kuno asked dangerously.

Celestia nodded gently. “Yes.”

“That is so bucking vague!” Kuno growled, slamming her hooves on the table, making the cups and plates rattle. Fluttershy squeaked and hid behind her chair.

Kuno growled faintly. “So you want me to confine my changeling to the estate for an indeterminate amount of time dependent entirely on your investigation finding and catching a killer that we have no idea what species the killer even is?!”

Celestia frowned. “Well, when you say it like that…”

“You mean when I say it truthfully?!” Kuno almost snarled. “I became the Queen of this hive so that I could keep them from falling into the same traps of the past. If you imprison us here, then it’s exactly the same as it was before! Why don’t you just put up a sign up at the front gate and charge entry to see the changeling zoo?”

“That is hardly what I meant,” Celestia scoffed. “Your kind can change at will. Catching the killer will be impossible if they are allowed to escape the estate and move at will.”

“Oh, so you’re just assuming that it was a changeling?” Kuno asked, incensed.

Celestia arched an eyebrow slowly.

Kuno growled, her wings giving an irritated flutter, before laying back flat against her side. “Understandable, I guess.”

“If it was a changeling, and I believe it was, there will be no way to track them down should we find evidence,” Celestia said with a sigh and a shake of her head “And if the victim truly was your friend, you will want to find the killer most of all.”

“I do…” Kuno said quietly. “But I can’t… I can’t ruin the future of my entire race in an attempt to find one killer.”

“Are you saying we should ignore what happened?” Celestia asked candidly.

Kuno growled. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what do you mean?” Celestia pressed. “Because it sounds like you want to give a free pass to the killer.”

Kuno growled, slamming her hoof on the table again. “Would you subject every pony in Ponyville to house arrest because somepony got murdered?”

Celestia frowned. “Of course not. But ponies do not have the ability to turn into other ponies.”

“You can’t condemn my entire race based on what we can do!” Kuno growled, slamming the tale with a hoof again.

Everyone in the room froze as a voice came from the other side of the door.

“Ow ow ow ow OW! STOP!” Warden whimpered.

A changeling backed into the room, tugging Warden after him with a firm grip of teeth on the pegasus’ ear.

“The comedic relief is here!” Pinkie Pie squeaked enthusiastically.

Kuno turned, giving a long-suffering sigh. “I didn’t mean literally by his ear.”

The changeling paused, blinking once, and then relinquishing Warden’s ears, giving a sheepish smile. “Uh… Just following orders.”

“He just about ripped it off!” Warden protested, rubbing at his ear with a hoof and whining faintly.

Celestia arched an eyebrow.

Kuno sighed, turning back to the princess. “I cannot allow you to condemn my entire race for the actions of one or two. I will not allow this precedent to be set.”

Warden looked back and forth between Queen and Princess, and then his eyes wandered over to Applejack. He frowned for a moment.

Applejack looked back at him, a flash of recognition passing over her features.

They both pointedly looked elsewhere.

Celestia frowned deeply. “I see where you’re coming from, Kuno, but you must understand my position. Until the killer is caught, all changelings are suspect.”

Kuno sighed, hanging her head. “I know. I know that anything that goes wrong will be blamed on us. But if you want us to be equal to ponies, I can’t roll over and let you treat us like wild animals. We are individuals. The guilt of one individual does not transfer to the rest of us. Innocent until proven guilty is a tenet of your—of our—legal system. I will not allow you to violate the core tenet of our justice system the first time something goes wrong!”

‘Then what do you suggest?” Celestia asked bluntly. “Every changeling will be suspect until the killer is caught. And not by me, my guards, or the pony government, but by the general pony population.”

“I can keep my changelings confined as a whole until these tracking devices you requested are put in place,” Kuno said firmly.

“I trust that all of your changelings have chosen a suitable artifact?” Celestia asked.

Kuno nodded. “I made them all go and pick something. and I expect the registration and the enchantment of the devices to be expedited. No dawdling. No delays. Get it done.”

“Is there anything else?” Celestia asked blankly.

“Any changeling that can provide a solid alibi, as decided by unbiased committee, is free to come and go as they please once they have the tracking device,” Kuno stated firmly.

Celestia thought about that for a long moment, before nodding gracefully. “That is… acceptable.”

“And one of my changelings is going to be part of our investigation. Not just helping. Actively part of the investigation,” Kuno stated.

Celestia frowned deeply.  “If they have an alibi… I do not see why that would be a problem.”

“Good, now if you’re done harassing us, this meeting is over,” Kuno said challengingly.

Celestia nodded, making a motion with a hoof. “Thank you, Kuno. This conversation has been… enlightening.”

“Good,” Kuno said, pushing away from the table and stalking through the door.

Warden cast a single glance back over his shoulder at the assembled ponies, before meekly following after his wife.

“Where were you this morning?” Kuno asked accusingly, as she dumped four teaspoons of coffee into a cup.

“I was with one of your changelings and that edgy batpony guy with the stupid name,” Warden said defensively.

“Why?” Kuno asked flatly, dumping tablespoons of sugar into the cup and then haphazardly adding boiling water.

“Because I have an interest in who the killer is? And that guy is the investigator,” Warden said with a shrug. “He leads me to the killer. I kill the killer.”

“You become the killer, and the circle of life is complete,” Kuno said dryly.

Warden frowned deeply. “Eye for an eye.”

“Leaves everyone blind?” Kuno asked smugly.

“Leaves everyone with limited depth perception,” Warden said grimly. “And leaves whoever killed Green Hoof with something sharp and pointy in their eye socket.”

“You’re serious about this?” Kuno asked quietly. “You’ll kill them?”

“I’ll kill them,” Warden said seriously. “And I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.”

“What if it was me?” Kuno asked wryly.

“I would kill you and then kill myself, I guess,” Warden said with a shrug. “But you’d seduce me before I could even try.”

Kuno giggled darkly, leaning down to kiss his cheek. “I fear I’m becoming a bad influence on you.”

“Hey, I’m going to kill them, not torture and destroy them first,” Warden protested.

“So not too much of an influence, then?” Kuno asked sweetly.

“I’m seriously considering locking you in a room with them for an hour or two before I kill them,” Warden said blankly.

Kuno gave another smile, picking up her cup and taking a deep swig of the potent coffee. “You’d be violating the Geneva Convention for that.”

“They deserve it,” Warden said quietly.

“They do,” Kuno agreed. “But first, I have to go gather my changelings up and get them all sorted out so they can be registered.”

“A Queen’s work is never done,” Warden chimed.

“And her sleep is never undisturbed,” Kuno growled, downing the rest of her coffee and then turning on her hooves, stalking towards the courtyard.