• Published 28th Jun 2014
  • 8,930 Views, 196 Comments

For Whom We Are Hungry - Cold in Gardez



You didn't want to come here, but fate cares nothing for insects. The story of a changeling in Ponyville.

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 8,930

Given, not Stolen

The weeks pass, and spring advances into summer. You relish the gradual warming of the world and leave your scarf at home when you venture outside.

Ponies are also creatures of the summer, you've learned. Their foals, especially, abandon their homes as soon as the first light of dawn breaks over the east, and it takes all of their parents' cunning, skill, and sometimes sheer strength to drag them inside at night. The simple joy of summer fills the air with a unique scent, like strawberries and fresh grass. You snack on it from time to time, and it helps ease the ache of your hunger.

Yesterday was the last market day of June, and with the advent of summer the market became a crowded place indeed. Your wares sell briskly now, and more ponies wave or smile as you approach. You thought it might be carelessness, but soon that cautionary note faded, and now you try to enjoy the day without succumbing to the old fear.

That was yesterday. Today is another day in the Everfree, and you meet Saw Dust at the edge of the forest.

“It's dangerous,” you say. You always say it, a short ceremony before you begin.

“I know,” he says. Before you can reply, he is already bouncing away with all the energy of youth, into the shadows beyond.

You catch up quickly, and together you venture into the woods. Hours pass with only the occasional word, as you point out subtle dangers or items of interest. You've long since given up hope that he will see reason and stay in Ponyville, where it is safe.

And truth be told, you don't mind the company. Changelings were never meant to be solitary creatures.

Eventually you reach a open area, wide and rocky, cut through by streams that shape the land into a mix of ridges and gullies. The deepest are nearly canyons, and you stop at the edge of one, Saw Dust by your side.

“What are we looking for?”

“Fossils,” you say. “This land used to be a sea, once upon a time. The bones and shells of the creatures that swam in it sank to the bottom, and now they are entombed in these rocks.” You kick an outcropping with your hoof, breaking away a chunk of white limestone. Within the fracture are dozens of tiny shells, long and spindly or wide as coins. Saw Dust lets out a quiet hum of interest, and then kicks at the rocks as well.

You want the bigger ones, and you spend the next hour walking Saw Dust through the ravines, where water has carved open the stone for you. You don't even need to pick at the walls, here; enough rocks have fallen as talus to pick through for decades. You find a trilobite and an ancient nautilus shell, and then you set him loose to hunt.

By the time lunch rolls around you both have saddlebags full of ancient fish bones and fern prints and sand dollars and petrified wood and a colorful red stone that Saw Dust insists is a ruby but is probably just a nice carnelian. You let him keep it anyway.

You settle beneath a spindly locust tree to rest, and Saw Dust produces a pair of golden delicious apples. He passes you one, and you accept it to be polite.

When his apple is nothing but a memory, he wipes his sticky chin with his hoof, and looks up at you. “Hey, Gin?”

You raise an eyebrow.

“What's your real name?”

Ah. You take a bite of the apple before answering. “Instar. I was still dazed when I met the first pony here, and they heard it as Gin Star. I've been using it ever since.”

“Oh.” Saw Dust looks down at his sticky hooves. “Uh, do you want me to call you that?”

“Gin is fine. It's a pony name, even if it's a bit odd.”

“Okay.” He lapses back into silence, but you notice he keeps glancing at the half-eaten apple between your legs. You pass it over, and he devours it in a few bites.

“Don't you ever get hungry?” he asks, his mouth still full of apple mush.

Always. Every moment of the day, you want to say. Instead you shake your head. “Changelings don't need food. We're psychophageous. We subsist on thoughts, especially emotions. The stronger, the better.”

“Oh.” You can tell he doesn't understand, but that's for the best. He chews his mouthful a few more times and swallows. “Who are these fossils for? I've never seen anypony at the market with them.”

“They're not for the market. The librarian studies them, and she pays well for good specimens.”

“Cool.” He bounces back to his feet, and you slowly stand as well. “Do we need any more?”

You give his saddlebags a critical glance, then your own. It's already heavy on your shoulders, and you suspect that inside are at least two or three specimens the librarian will want. With any luck, Saw Dust will have one or two as well.

“I think we're done,” you say. “Let's head home.”

For a moment his smile fades, and the taste of satisfaction that surrounds him is replaced with a sharp tang. Just as quickly it is gone, and you are left wondering if you ever tasted it at all.

All the way back to Ponyville he is silent, except for the rattle of stones in his packs. He is not upset – you would taste that – but apparently he has no desire to talk. That's fine. You can understand that.

The sun is low in the sky by the time you reach the edge of the forest. Ahead, foals still shout as they flee from their parents, and the town slowly winds down for another evening. You stop, and after a few steps Saw Dust does as well. He turns back toward you.

“Is Saw Dust your real name?” you ask.

He nods. “Uh huh.” There is no taste of guile, or any other emotion for that matter. After a moment, you nod, and the two of you continue the rest of the way into town. As you reach the first road, you bid goodbye to Saw Dust, and head toward your cabin.

You are not an expert on pony names, but you know a thing or two. You know they say something about who a pony is, or what parents must think of them.

You ponder that long into the evening.

* * *

It is autumn, and already the trees have caught aflame. Even the Everfree, which stands outside so many of nature's laws, is not immune to the turning of the seasons. Above you, the foliage is blood and gold and sunsets.

It is beautiful. You could spend hours just watching the leaves flutter in the wind. Sadly, Saw Dust is not so patient.

“Come oooon!” You can taste the frustration in his voice, like wet sand. “This is boring. Let's go!”

“In a moment,” you say. The mornings are cool now, and every minute you wait is another minute for the sun to warm the world a bit more. Soon enough you'll be wearing your scarf again.

Saw Dust huffs at your response but settles down by your side nevertheless. He leans against you, and eventually the taste of his frustration fades.

Nearly an hour passes before you finally stand. Saw Dust jerks back awake and yawns so wide his jaw cracks. “About time,” he mumbles.

“Patience is a virtue,” you say. “We're going deeper in today. I need you to be careful. Do you understand?”

He is suddenly alert, the annoyed look on his face replaced by the seriousness you remember from your first meeting. “Uh huh. What are we looking for?”

“Dragon scales.” Before he recovers from his shock, you are already walking into the woods.

The hours pass quietly. Saw Dust is as comfortable in the Everfree as you, now, and he navigates its various hazards with ease and skill. You realized, some months ago, that you were probably breaking some law or other by constantly bringing a foal into such a dangerous place, but then, you're not exactly a legal resident of Ponyville to begin with. Besides, Saw Dust gave you no choice in the matter – the very least you can do is teach him to be safe.

Dragon scales come from dragons, you explain as you walk. He apparently knows that, to judge from the way his eyes roll at your pronouncement, but you continue with your explanation.

“It's not safe to try and take the scales from the dragon itself,” you say. “Instead, we wait for two dragons to fight, and then pick up the pieces.”

“Oh.” Saw Dust trots alongside you as he considers this. “How do we know when they fight?”

“Fall is mating seasons for dragons. The males will fight over females. We just have to find where they've fought, and the rest is easy.”

Sadly, that first part is not easy. Hours pass as you wander through the Everfree, your eyes and ears and nose all attuned to the sounds and taste of combat.

Nothing. You come to a stop near a low mountain, one of the foothills that lead into the Everfree's heart. You could have sworn there would be dragons all over the place. Instead you find only the Everfree's usual collection of unusual beasts, most of which retreat at the sound of two ponies. Even in this, the center of the whirlpool, monsters are wise enough to leave ponies alone.

“Are you sure there's even dragons in here?” Saw Dust asks.

Not anymore, you aren't. You sigh and turn around, heading down the slope back the way you came. “Perhaps not. Maybe next week, then.” You can taste his disappointment at your words, but there's nothing to be done for it. Not every visit to the Everfree is a success.

Time passes, and the sun sinks lower in the sky. Shadows lengthen, and the silence of the forest slowly fades, replaced by the buzz of cicadas and the call of birds. You look up at the trees and smile.

“Hey, uh, Gin?”

You turn and see Saw Dust looking up at you. You can taste his exhaustion, and after a moment's thought you kneel, letting him climb onto your back.

“Thanks,” he whispers in your ear.

The miles pass quickly. The canopy is thinner now, even in the deep forest, and you can track the sun's progress all the way home. When finally it nears the horizon, you can just make out the spires of Ponyville's tallest houses in the far distance.

“Gin?”

You turn your head. “Yes?”

“What are changelings like?”

Huh. You've never been one for introspection, so the question catches you off guard. “Like me, I suppose. The hive shares its thoughts. We're never alone, but we're not much different from each other, either. All except Chrysalis.”

“Who?”

“Chrysalis. Our Queen.” You close your eyes and try to remember her brilliance, her magnificence. “She was our mother and our god. I can't tell you how wonderful she was.”

But you somehow do. All the way back to Ponyville you regale Saw Dust with tales of your mother, how she loved you, how you all loved her, how she was strong and beautiful and brilliant and kind and wise and patient and all the things a mother must be. How you ached to be with her when you were apart, how you begged to do her bidding when you were near. All the way home you talk, more words than you have ever said in your life it feels like, all about her. All about your mother.

“...and that's why we loved her,” you finish some time later, finally at the edge of town. Saw Dust is curled up on your back, his hooves tangled tight in your mane. It stings a bit, but you don't mind.

“Oh,” is all he says, his voice soft and lost. You taste some strange emotion, one you've never encountered. It is faint, and tart, and it stings your nose but not in an unpleasant way.

How odd. You stop and consider it for a few moments. You are still musing when Saw Dust speaks again.

“Gin?”

“Hm?”

“It's kind of dark,” he says. It's not quite true – there's still a fair amount of light, even thought the sun has just fallen beneath the horizon. “Can I... can I stay with you?”

You ponder that. “Would you like me to walk you home?” You're not even sure where his home is.

Silence. Eventually, he shakes his head.

“Well, I guess it won't hurt,” you say. “Do you mind sleeping on a couch?”

He snorts, and an odd taste floods your mouth. He is amused. “No, that's okay.”

Well, then. You shelve your reservations and trot the rest of the way to your cabin. He is fighting to stay awake by the time you arrive, and you set him down gently on the couch. It is nearly large enough to serve as a real bed.

“Thanks,” he mumbles. He is losing the fight, you see.

“Of course,” you say. You start to turn away, but something nags at the back of your mind. You puzzle at it, standing beside the couch, and then finally ask the question that has been bothering you for some time.

“Saw Dust?”

“Muh?” he says. He blinks at you with bleary eyes.

“Tell me about your parents.”

His eyes suddenly clear, and he stares up at you. The seconds tick by in silence before he rolls away.

“I can’t. I don’t remember them.”

Ah. You wait to see if he has anything else, but eventually his breathing slows, and you can taste no more emotions from him. You pull a blanket over his shoulders and head to your own bed.

Sawdust. A byproduct. Something unwanted and brushed away. You ponder the ways ponies name their young in the hours before sleep claims you as well.

* * *

You dislike winter.

So do most ponies, but for you winter is a dangerous time. You are warm blooded, but not hot blooded like they are. If an earth pony falls asleep in a snowbank, they wake up a bit chilly. A pegasus wouldn't even notice the cold. You'd be lucky to wake up at all.

But still you go into the Everfree, every week after market day. Saw Dust won't let you stay home. So you bundle up, with several scarves and boots and a wool hat, and you trudge through the snow on the forest's margins.

It's his first time leading the hunt. “Find a pine, and plum, and bamboo, all growing together,” you tell him. “These three friends of winter have their own special magic. Even at winter's zenith, they remain green and alive. Be careful, and good luck.” With that you settle down on a boulder in the sun, and wait.

He is cautious at first, barely venturing out of your sight for the first hour. But as the sun grows higher in the sky, he rangers further afield, until the trees hide him from your view, and only the crystal clear air of winter lets you hear him. In time, even that fades, and you are left alone.

Hours pass. You counsel yourself to patience. For nine months he has roamed the Everfree with you. More than any pony in Ponyville, he knows its dangers. He will be safe.

But even so, images bedevil you. You see him slip on an unseen patch of ice and shatter his leg. You see a cockatrice, for some reason awake when it should be in hibernation, catching him unaware. You see him gorging on poisonous fruits. You see him wandering into a dragon's cave.

You see all these things, and it takes all your willpower to ignore them. You close your eyes, and let the sun warm your coat.

Eventually, as the sun begins its early descent, you hear the crunch of snow beneath small hooves. You open your eyes, and a few minutes later Saw Dust trots out from the trees, a sprig of plum leaves, a bough of pine needles, and a shaft of bamboo all sprouting from his saddlebags.

You smile at him. “Congratulations.”

“Eh, it wasn't that hard,” he says. He is panting, and his legs are covered with small scratches, and his coat is filthy with dirt and slush. But he is grinning as well. “Will they sell for much?”

“Oh, a few bits, I think. But that's not what I meant.” You pull off one of your boots with your teeth, and point at his flank behind the saddlebag.

He frowns and follows your gaze. There, emblazoned on his sand coat, is the image of a forked branch, shaped like a Y, with two short ends and one long. A divining rod. A tool, magical in its power, for finding all that is lost.

He stares at it in silence. His jaw hangs open, and when he turns back to you, his eyes are full of tears. There is so much joy it nearly chokes you, and you want to laugh.

He bounds forward and wraps his legs around your chest. You return his embrace, and for a little while at least, the cold no longer bothers you.

* * *

Later, hours later, the sun has set and darkness reclaims the world. You put away the last of the dishes and trot into the living room. Saw Dust is already passed out on the couch. He is still smiling.

You smile as well.

You head to your bedroom and climb under the covers. There are still months left of winter, and gathering supplies from the Everfree is difficult when snow covers the ground, but you are hopeful. How could you not be, after such a day?

You hear a creak from your bedroom door, followed by the patter of small hooves on the wood floor. You peer over the side of the bed to see Saw Dust looking up.

“Uh, it's kind of cold,” he says. It's a lie, like rotten fruit in the sun. “Can I... can I stay with you?”

Wordlessly, you pull aside the blankets. He hops up onto the bed and curls into a ball, nestled against your side. He mumbles something into your coat, and after a few minutes he is asleep.

Once, you viewed an ocean of love from a desert. You lapped at the meanest trickle of it, desperate for even a drop. You stole it. It sustained you, this theft, but only just. It kept you from death.

Now, as this foal huddles against your side, taking refuge from the dark, you are in a river of love. You are drowning in it. It flows through you, untameable, carrying you away in its current. This is love, freely given. It fills you.

You are not hungry, not any more. You can never be hungry, not after this.

You have love now. Given, not stolen. Yours. You can give it back if you want, and it doubles, and thus the ocean replenishes itself.

Before, you survived. Now, you can live.

Author's Note:

Special thanks to Ferret, Ponydora, Corejo, Cynewulf and especially Filler for their superb editing help.

Comments ( 156 )

This is beautifully written. Bonus for me that you gave it the ending I was hoping for. :twilightsmile:

I love how you painted the atmosphere of this story, not just in the description of the environment, but of Gin Star's emotions. It really offset the typical feel of a 2nd person fic. It was a little difficult for me to get past all of the "you" at the beginning of the story, but at the same time much of what would have felt as being "telly" if written in 3rd person was easily neutralized by that.

I knew you'd pull this off; obviously there's a good reason 2nd person fics fail, and for me at least it's because they often destroy immersion by their nature. But I was happy to see that you truly made this work.

EDIT: Removed errata

Whoops! I didn't catch the foot thing, CiG. I cry your pardon a thousand times, sai ;_;


Otherwise, Excellent! Still love it, still think that this little thing is phenomenal.

heartwarming.

I can't say much more. I'm drunk, so I'd merely type words without meaning. It was... right.

Frankly, I'm tempted to give this a chance... but the 2nd person perspective really, really, REALLY prevent me from getting in it. It... no, it just drives me off. And that's too bad because it sounds interesting but I just cannot stand the 2nd perspective narrative.

I'm enjoying this.

What are these wet things leaking from my eyes?

CURSE YOU GARDEZ YOU PUNCTURED MY FEELS! :rainbowlaugh:

Wow, that was so engaging I didn't even consciously recognize it was a second person fic until I read the comments at the end. Apparently I had already forgotten since yesterday that you had one of these incoming.

10/10 would read again.

Touching and evocative, though I think partway through I lost sight of the second person viewpoint and mostly thought of it in terms of third person. Either way, quite enjoyable.

I can't help but feel that "For Whom We Hunger" would be a less clunky title...

In any case, you have worked wonders here. This is some fantastic worldbuilding for changelings, from sensory details like color perception and emotional gustation to physical differences compared to ponies like temperature tolerance and copper-based blood. (Well, probably copper.)

But the best differences are the psychological ones. Instar is a stranger in a strange land, an alien with a truly alien mindset. That kind of thing is incredibly difficult to capture, but you pulled it off to great effect. He's just close enough to the usual mentality that we can understand and sympathize with him while still enjoying the different perspective. And his continuing confusion regarding pony genetics was fantastic. You're not the only one trying to figure that one out, pal.

Even his name was well selected. This is indeed a story of metamorphosis, of the awkward time spent between two stages of life. Seeing the transition was heartwarming. In all, a magnificent story from start to finish, and the various Everfree flora were just icing on the cake. I'd wish you good luck in the contest, but you clearly don't need it. Thank you for this story. :twilightsmile:

That was brilliant! You completely immersed me in Gin's world and perceptions with a masterful use of the second person. The plot was simple and quite predictable, but Gin's emotional voyage wasn't that straightforward, which made it very poignant for me. Very solid story, Cold.:yay:

4614188
I'll second everything this fine gentleman said. I loved the attention you gave to the little details, and you did a fine job making the second person perspective work well for the story. Overall, one of the better stories I've had the pleasure of reading in a good while. Thank you for making this and sharing it with us all. :eeyup:

Nicely done. The only part I didn't like was the Ponies crushing the skulls of helpless Changelings. That's going into Ponies Worse Than Humans territory, and I don't cotton with that.

Another brilliant dip into this complex canon you've woven, complete with a fresh spin on changelings and their inner workings.

Now don't get me wrong, you've gotten a like from me on this one, but I must say, the process of the little orphan foal warming the heart of the wary fugitive - although well crafted and evocative - seemed...somewhat less fresh to me. Tired, almost. But, like I said, it was presented very well, so I still consider this a successful endeavor, Cold. :pinkiehappy:

This is a beautiful work of art portraying a unique (at least as far as I know) take on the changeling society, psychology and the aftermath of the invasion. I would eagerly read a sequel if you ever decide to write one.

10/10 will read again :)

Great, now I want a sequel... Great story :P

Amazing, an overall great story...

...BUT WE NEED A SEQUEL!

~Crystalline Electrostatic~

Sounds tasty.
Will read later.

4617585 i think the word the author was thinking of might have been incoherent

4617964 The two words can have somewhat similar meanings, but within the context, inchoate is a much better fit.

Brilliant work, Gardez. Like Lost Cities, a very atmospheric piece that I found myself utterly absorbed in throughout. A rare case, I think, of second-person style actually working to enhance immersion rather than break it. I get that not everyone will feel comfortable stepping into the protagonist's shoes, as some people do carry an unstated expectation for second-person stories to literally be about them, but I've never really had any trouble stepping into the role of a character. Call it a carryover from my days in drama. Call it a result of playing so many video games. Point is, this worked for me in a big way, and I applaud that.

I think it also helped that the subject matter of the fic is something that second-person style works well for. As another commenter put it, in any other style this would feel substantially more tell-y. But given that it's about changelings, a lot of the emotions that other characters are feeling do need to be outright stated, because our perspective character is one who doesn't rely on subtle cues to tell emotions like we do. To him, it is obvious and in his face, and the second-person style actually helps greatly. We can truly see the world how he does through it. That's clever, and a good example of turning your limitations into strengths.

As well, it's also just some very well-done worldbuilding, both for the changelings and the Everfree, and that's always something that I can appreciate.

This story is the most beautiful collection of words to grace the fimfic feature box in a long, long time. I am at a complete loss to describe how impossibly amazing this is. Nothing I could possibly say would do justice to the wonder that flows from the diction of these chapters.

Awesome is what describes this story very well. Very well. And not only because of the fact that I am a changeling lover, but also because I believe this is a work of art, and an inspiration.

This was a terrific idea and spectacularly executed. The pacing was right on the money, exposition-wise, and the atmosphere you created using a fairly monotone narrator was excellent.

It’s a long time since I have read a Changling-story. And your story is a nice one. :pinkiehappy:
The "you"s didn’t brother me, the story was more a third-person-one for me.
I wish you luck for the contest!

Comment posted by H3lios deleted Jun 30th, 2014
Comment posted by H3lios deleted Jun 30th, 2014

Loved it but I cant help but feel there could have been a lot more. I also like that you didn't do what so many other changeling fics do and contradict the comic cannon. At least not directly as it is conceivable that any changeling that didn't regroup with Chryssalis would be cut off.

I miss Instar and Saw Dust already.

This is one of the most fantastically written pieces I've ever seen. Bravo good Sir/Madam. Bravo

4617585

I need to have you read these things before I publish them.

Marked for correction. Thanks!

this was great I was half expecting him to have his name changed to red fern or something
it would have been nice symbolism

Second person? Op, I have a question for you...

Are you a fucking retard?

4621037
Have you even read the damn thing? And if you have, why is second person an inherently bad thing? Why couldn't a story written in the second person be good (as, I would claim, this story is)?

4621448

Because second person is the equivalent of fluffed greentext. If the story's worth writing, then it's worth writing in first or third.

Beautiful. Nothing less. :pinkiesad2:

Such a nicely refreshing perspective to, rare to see the alien hive mind not as some malevolent side of a bug hunt.

4621742

Man, Neo is getting so good at dodging bullets. He might as well just start calling bullets "ballets".

Why is there always that one guy in the comments section who can't pose their dislike of a story's style with tact or common decency?:facehoof:

4622083
Because he's a no life troll who can only eke out the will to keep on living by pissing on other people.

Well done, CiG. I'm not sure you've beaten Georg, but you are definitely in second place.

4621465
Could you explain? A) I am not certain what exactly you mean by greentext, and B) in so far as much as I do know what that refers to, I don't see how second person would make something "fluffed greentext."

This is amongst the best second PoV stories I have ever read. It's emotional and touching and immensely fun to read.

Keep up the good work, man.

I'm liking it thus far! :pinkiehappy:

I'm deeply enjoying this story. Just the right amount of plot elements and mystery for this to be a good read.

4622083
Statistics.

There are a pile of jerks in every fandom.

Although, I think this guy's problem is that he thinks he is more clever than he actually is. Oc's and second person perspective may indeed have a poorer reputation. But he seams to have incorrectly misapplied the suspect quality of a few stories to the whole style. Then he feels clever for "knowing" things and "informing" us. Or he really is just a jerk.

Normally, I avoid second person fics. They just don't seem to turn out very well the majority of the time. This, however, has changed my opinion on them. I'm glad I gave it a chance, as it is now one of my absolute favorite stories on the site.

Please don't leave it there. I would die of happiness if you made a sequel to this story.

On second thought, I would live long enough to read it first. Then I would die from happiness.

[My entry in the "Most Dangerous Game" contest."

There is a bracket in the beginning and a quotation mark at the end. I don't know if you did that on purpose and it's just some sort of stylistic choice that is beyond the level of comprehension of noobs like me, or if it's a typo.

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