• Published 8th Nov 2014
  • 7,979 Views, 623 Comments

An Affliction of the Heart: Volume Five - Anonymous Pegasus

A newly christened Queen attempts to reign in the changeling race and inegrate them into pony society. Even though there are those who would prefer such an effort fail...

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The End of the Beginning

“First: Do no harm.

“Second: Prevent harm from befalling yourself.

“Third: Prevent harm from befalling others. These are our tenets,” Kuno said coolly, before dropping her hoof.

A rustle and buzz of wings affirmed her proclamation.

“These are the tenets of our existence,” Kuno said, waving her hoof for effect. “They are not laws, but they are our beliefs. They are the rules that will make us a place in the pony society, and keep us there. Take them, memorise them, make them part of yourself. They are your life now.”

A rustle of wings answered her.

“Before I step down as your Queen… we need to talk about individuality,” Kuno said carefully, looking from one face, to the next. “I know that Chrysalis beat your individuality out of you to make you all better soldiers, but that is no longer acceptable. When I cease being Queen, I will sever the hive link. You will be forced to be individuals. For now… you will need to find an identifier! This can be anything you can think of. Something individual and unique. Like my collar,” Kuno said, holding a hoof up to her new collar with a thin smile. “This is what makes me, me. You will find something similar, and bring it back here.”

One of the changelings stepped forwards.

“Yes, Speaker?” Kuno asked.

“Excuse me, Q—Kuno, but how are we to acquire an ‘identifier’?”

Kuno raised an eyebrow. “By offering services in exchange for the item you desire. I’m sure you can work something out. This is your first test, my little changelings. You are to find something you want, and offer a means to get it. Remember the three rules. You cannot harm anypony to get these items. This is a trade. Offer to paint their home, offer to do jobs, ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Find a way. Succeed! Show me that you can live with ponies! Show me that you can work for your food!”

The sound of a hundred changelings all straightening and saluting at once echoed over the courtyard, and Kuno gave a thin-lipped smile.

“Make me proud.”

“No. No. No. No. No!” Kuno scowled, facehoofing repeatedly.

Her changelings stood in front of her, nearly every single one of them holding collars. Red collars. With bells.

“This… I… No!” Kuno said, stamping the ground with a hoof.

Warden was in the background, rolling back and forth on the grass in quiet, hysterical laughter.

“Ugh… look! You’re supposed to be doing this to be individuals, not to be just like me!” Kuno whined, stamping her hoof and beginning to pace back and forth. “How did you get your collars?”

“We traded!” chimed several of the changelings as one.

“I traded an hour at the orchard collecting fruit so that the pet store owner would get a free lesson on lassoing,” one changeling said.

“I painted the interior walls!”

“I painted the exterior walls!”

“I built a new wall as part of an extension to the side.”

“I had sex with him!”

Kuno blanched. “What?”

“I had sex with him,” the changeling repeatedly.

“I did, too.”

“And me!” another changeling interjected.

Kuno grimaced. “Well, at least you know the quickest way to a pony’s heart.”

“The sternum?” Speaker asked blankly.

Kuno giggled darkly. “You all take after your queen. Speaker, is that you?”

“It is me,” Speaker said, nodding once.

Kuno looked her over, raising an eyebrow. “What’s that on your ear?”

“This?” Speaker asked, turning her head to show the gold ankh on her ear. “This is some ‘hermlogriff’. It means ‘life’. I thought it was fitting, seeing as we’re starting a new life.”

“You see? This is individuality!” Kuno said, pointing with a hoof at the gold ankh. “And as a reward… you get to choose your name first.”

The changeling blinked, scratching at her ear nervously. “I… Uh… What should I call myself?”

“That’s for you to decide,” Kuno said simply.

The changeling frowned slightly at that, brow furrowing. “Uh… uhm… Chitin. I like Chitin.”

“Very well, you will be henceforth known as ‘Chitin’,” Kuno said, waving her hoof with finality. “Welcome to Equestria, Chitin.”

The newly-christened changeling nodded, her wings giving an anxious buss. “What… what do I do now?”

“Whatever you want to do,” Kuno said, trying to sound reassuring. “Your future is your own.”

The changeling nodded, and then moved away.

Kuno’s eyes narrowed on her crowd of changeling, picking out one that had acquired a brooch of some kind. “You, with the brooch,” she spied someone with a black collar with silver studs… close enough. “And you, with the collar. Step forwards.”

The two changelings stepped forwards, standing side-by-side. “What would you two like to be called?”

Kuno gave a soft groan, leaning heavily against the dining room table, resting her chin on it.

“Exhausted?” Warden asked sympathetically.

“It’s just so… draining…” Kuno rasped, her voice a little breathy and hoarse from overuse. “That took so long. Sweet Celestia at the end there when Conifer wanted to name himself ‘twig’, I swear, I just wanted to look him in the eyes, smile, and say ‘that’s a perfect name!’ and let him keep that name!”

Warden snickered faintly at that. “Well, they can always change their names at a later date, right?”

“I’m hoping some of them will,” Kuno said, sounding slightly worried. “Some of the names they chose are pretty… lame.”

“None of us got to choose our names,” Warden said with a faint sigh. “Me, for example.”

“I chose mine,” Kuno said, tapping her chest proudly.

“And you chose ‘agony’. How very fitting,” Warden said, expression blank.

Kuno’s eyes narrowed slowly. “I was an emo teen.”

“I can tell,” Warden chuckled, leaning over to kiss her nose. “So, since they all have names now. What next?”

“Gotta find them some jobs,” Kuno said with a heavy sigh. “Until we can get the Consortium on its hooves, so to speak, they’re going to need income to keep us all going. They’ll need beds, chairs, a communal bathing place to be built somewhere on the grounds, as well as an actual clan hall where ponies can come and go to hire the services of changelings.”

“We probably need to talk to them all sometime too, about personal space,” Warden said with a wise nod. “I’ve noticed they’re very… unaware on that front.”

“How do you mean?” Kuno asked blankly.

“I walked past a room this morning where a male changeling was… err… admiring himself in the mirror with the door wide open,” Warden said, pursing his lips.

“Were you jealous?” Kuno asked with a soft giggle.

Warden’s expression darkened. “I don’t think I can win a measuring contest with someone that can change their size at will.”

Kuno giggled again, giving a faint smile. “That is very true. I’ve noticed that myself, though…”

“The lack of personal space awareness?” Warden asked.

Kuno shook her head. “No, after being given names, they sort of… chose a gender.”

“That’s normal, right?” Warden asked, confused.

Kuno shrugged helplessly. “I guess? When I was cut off from my old hive, I knew I was female. I preferred to imitate female ponies. But… before that, when I was under the influence of the hivemind, I didn’t care one way or the other. I just… was. It didn’t matter to me if I was a male or female that I was imitating. Now, if I try to imitate a male, it’s just… weird.”

“You changelings are weird,” Warden said with a smile, kissing her nose again.

“I know,” Kuno admitted, wrinkling her nose slightly and then nosing past him to chew at his neck with a faint sigh. “There’s so much to do…”

“You asked for the job,” Warden said, resting his chin against her shoulder.

Kuno nodded, stroking a hoof over one of his wings, making it twitch slightly. “I know, I know. I had just hoped it was more rousing speeches and eating grapes from the hooves of my adoring changelings than the whole… work, thing.”

Warden rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure. You know you love having all these changelings dependant on you.”

“Celestia help me, I do,” Kuno admitted with a slight smile. “It feels good to help them.”

Warden opened his mouth to respond, but a changeling cut him off.

“My Queen, we have a visitor,” the changeling cut across. “It’s Princess Celestia.”

Kuno stiffened slightly, eyes widening. “What does she want?”

“She didn’t say,” the changeling said with a shake of their head. “She is waiting in front.”

Kuno gave an apprehensive sigh, rising to her hooves. “A queen’s work is never over, I guess.”

Kuno tapped a hoof nervously against the floor, before cautiously opening the front door. Princess Celestia was waiting patiently just to the side of the entrance, flanked by a pair of royal guards.

“Good afternoon, Kuno. May I enter?” Celestia asked warmly.

Kuno nodded nervously. “Yes, yes, come in.” She stepped backwards, opening the door, leaving it wide for the princess and her guard to enter.

The three ponies stepped inside, and Celestia turned towards Kuno again. “I have begun organizing a… kinda of job fair, for your changelings.”

“A… job fair?” Kuno asked, blinking once.

“A job fair,” Celestia repeated, smiling. “I trust this is not a problem?”

“It’s no problem, but… I don’t understand,” Kuno admitted, scratching the side of her head with a hoof.

Celestia nodded knowingly. “It is merely a place and time when ponies will come and showcase their careers to your changelings. So that your changelings may choose a career path that appeals to them.”

Kuno blinked once, and then gave a sigh of relief. “You have no idea how much that will help!”

“I thought it might,” Celestia said with a slightly smug smile. “I have also contracted a woodworker and two seamstresses to work pro-bono on building beds for your changelings, as long as they can provide the ponypower.”

Kuno gave a low groan of delight. “That… that’s amazing!” she said, bouncing eagerly in place. “This will solve so many problems! When is it?!”

Celestia smiled at Kuno’s exuberance. “Tomorrow morning, if you like.”

Kuno clapped her hooves together. “Perfect! I was wracking my brain trying to think of a way to keep them from becoming despondent without anything to do!”

“I am glad that it works for you,” Celestia said with a smile and a slight bow. “Would your front lawn suffice for the fair?”

Kuno blinked once at that, wings giving an anxious buzz. “Well… I don’t see why not.”

“Very good,” Celestia responded, making a motion with a hoof. “I must return and make the arrangements. Sunrise tomorrow, acceptable?”

Kuno nodded. “That’s perfect!”

Celestia smiled and bowed politely. “Until tomorrow, Kuno.”

Kuno frowned down at her hooves, wings buzzing anxiously. “Can you talk me out of this?”

Warden shook his head firmly. “It was your idea, and I agree.”

“I know they need it gone for their mental well-being and to be individuals, but… it still feels weird,” Kuno admitted, frowning deeper and shuffling back and forth. “Can I just make this decision for them?”

“Yes, you can,” Warden said, waving a hoof firmly. “You are their queen. And if you don’t do this, they’re going to be needing a queen for the rest of their lives.”

“Fine, fine,” Kuno sulked. She scratched at the dirt for a long moment, inhaling deeply, and then slowly exhaling. “I still can’t believe I’m doing this… This goes against everything a changeling knows.”

“It’s time to step into the unknown then,” Warden said with a faint smile.

Kuno nodded. Her new, longer spire of a horn lit up with green magic, pulsing with energy. She tossed her head back, and a vibrant series of green ‘threads’ lit up in the air, before seeming to shatter.

“...That was it?” Warden asked blankly.

“That was it,” Kuno said forlornly. “The hivemind has been terminated.”

Kuno nervously stepped back and forth, while the bell in the square tolled over and over again, summoning her changelings to the square. It was much less orderly this time. There was much less cohesion to their movements, and instead of lining up perfectly, they just stood and lounged around the courtyard in a haphazard mass. There was no more military precision, but it seemed somehow… more intimate, a grouping of individuals, rather than a neat procession of units.

Kuno tapped the ground with her hoof. “Attention!”

The sudden silence was almost deafening. Kuno hadn’t even realised that the changelings had been conversing amongst themselves, just like ponies would, but without said hubbub in the background, the silence was quite loud.

Kuno looked towards Celestia, and the princess nodded.

Kuno cleared her throat. “Princess Celestia has organized a…” she paused a moment, chewing on her tongue. “A job fair. Out in the front of the estate, employers of various types have gathered so that you can query them and decide for yourselves what area of the workforce you would enjoy most.”

The changelings gave a confused buzz of whispers and exchanged words at that.

“You need not choose this morning, or today...” Kuno said quickly, trying to calm some of the anxiousness she felt rising from the crowd. “But it would be wise to weigh your options. The Consortium will go nowhere without funds, and we can only tolerate so many free agents. Just as with ponies, if you do not work, you cannot live in luxury.”

Kuno watched the crowd carefully, to see how it was all being taken in. She didn’t want to foist on them the realities of the world so quickly, but it was fast becoming unavoidable.

Celestia stepped forwards, and Kuno quickly stepped back, grateful for the reprieve.

“Equestria is committed to welcoming our new members to the fold. To that end, I have struck a… deal of sorts with the woodworkers and clothmakers of Canterlot. We have the raw materials, and now we just need volunteers to complete the work on a furnished bed piece for each and every changeling here.”

Kuno stepped forwards again. “We’re going to need twenty volunteers for wookworking, and ten more for the seammaking. You will be learning a trade, and proving that changelings can work alongside ponies. If you are willing to volunteer for the woodworking, please, come form a line at the front of the courtyard.”

Kuno could feel every beat of her heart as she waited for the changelings to respond.

Thankfully enough, the changeling formerly known as ‘Speaker’, now ‘Chitin’, was the first to take the initiate, moving to stand at the front of the courtyard. And very quickly in her wake came dozens more, forming a polite, but disorderly queue.

Kuno breathed a sigh of releif.

“I see we won’t be short of volunteers,” Celestia said with a warm smile. And Kuno was certain she heard a note of satisfaction in the princess’s tone.

Kuno gave a low groan, not even bothering sitting at the table and just dropping bodily onto the carpet and sprawling.

“Rough time?” Warden asked, looking down at his wife.

Kuno opened a single eye to peer up at him, upside-down. “Urgh.”

“It looks pretty busy out there,” Warden admitted with a faint smile. Out the window, the front lawn of the estate was awash with hundreds of ponies, all showing their careers, hoping to tempt a changeling to come and join them. “It seems to be going well, though.”

“I’m just glad the local ‘pleasure mares’ haven’t gotten in their mind to come over,” Kuno admitted with a long sigh.

“They know that changelings would put them out of business in the first week,” Warden said with a wise nod.

Kuno snuffed a giggle. “That they would.”

“How many have… you know, actually found a job?” Warden queried.

Kuno made a noncommittal sound. “At least a dozen have tentative positions in various places. The petshop owner was very eager to have a changeling working under him.”

“I can imagine,” Warden said dryly.

Kuno gave a long sigh. “I have to sit down and have ‘the talk’ with them. It’s like they’re teenages. A hundred crazy, love-starved teenagers who will screw anything that moves and push anything that doesn’t.”

“Sounds like you,” Warden teased.

Kuno’s eyes flashed angrily. “This is serious, Warden. If I don’t curb this behavior quickly, then that will be what changelings are known for.”

“There are worse things to be known for,” Warden said with a wise nod.

Kuno blanched. “Did you… did you really just say that?” she asked, staring up at him. “Are you one of my changelings come to subvert my wishes?”

“No, I’m me,” Warden said with a faint smile. “Just… you want changelings and ponies to be more friendly… there are worse ways to go about it.”

Kuno sighed, rubbing her face with a hoof. “Ponies are such prudes though. The stuffy upper crust ponies would cause problems if we dared to garner such a reputation.”

“They’d badmouth you all while secretly wanting some changeling booty themselves,” Warden said with a playful grin.

Kuno nodded. “But of course. It wouldn’t stop them from getting all self-righteous about it.”

“Well teach them to be discreet,” Warden corrected. “And teach them to use it for their own gains.”

“You’re telling me to teach them to use sex to attain their goals? That’s a dangerous path, Warden,” Kuno said bluntly.

Warden nodded, sitting down and beginning to brush at his wing with a hoof. “I know, but… you’re not going to be able to stop them, are you?”

“Not in a million years,” Kuno said with a shake of her head. “Changelings will do whatever they want to do.”

“Well, just make sure they’re not being taken advantage of… and teach them about love,” Warden said with a firm nod. “Fooling around is part of every teenagers life, or at least, it’s supposed to be. And… they’re acting a lot like teenagers.”

“They’re so naive,” Kuno groaned, pushing her face into her hooves. “They don’t understand the value of sex yet. They don’t understand the emotional bond it forms whether you want it to or not. Not to mention most ponies can’t differentiate between love and lust.”

“It’s going to cause a lot of problems,” Warden said with a wise nod. “But I think… I think that telling them that it’s a bad thing, or to keep in reserve for that ‘special somepony’, or whatever, will damage them more than help them. Especially since they’re all going to need love to live on…”

“You are absolutely correct,” Kuno said with a long sigh. “Even though it feels… kind of weird to even think of.”

“I had a decent amount of time to think it over,” Warden said. His expression turned sly, “Plus, I totally saw two of you making out this morning and that might have prodded me in one direction or another.”

Kuno blinked once. “You… saw two changelings kissing?”

“Well… yeah,” Warden admitted, rubbing a hoof through his mane. “And I just insinuated that I fantasized it was two of you. Naughty comeback? Nothing?”

“Two changelings…” Kuno said, trailing off, blinking slowly. “How very… bizarre.”

“Bizarre?” Warden asked blankly.

“Bizarre,” Kuno reaffirmed. “That’s… never been done before. Not that I know of. It’s also dangerous.”

“Dangerous how?” Warden asked.

Kuno made a circular motion with a hoof. “It’s a closed system of love. There’s no new love being generated. It’s like… using one crystal to charge another crystal and then charging the first crystal with the second crystal, and then repeating that over and over again. There’s no extra energy going in to the system.”

“I just saw them making out, I didn’t say they were in love,” Warden said, giving a helpless flutter of his wings. “They might have just been practising.”

“No… the fact that they were even thinking of doing that together…” Kuno trailed off, frowning deeply. “There are… a lot of things I need to talk to my changelings about.”

“A whole lot,” Warden said with a weary smile. “You want a cup of tea?”

“With about twelve sugars in it, please,” Kuno said, raising a hoof in confirmation.

Warden nodded, heading for the door, banging his hoof against a chair on the way out and hissing in pain. “Stupid bucking chairs. Teach your changelings to push the chairs in when they’re done with them, too!”

Kuno waved a hoof noncommittally.

Warden returned to the kitchen with a pair of cups, one for him, and one for Kuno. He placed his cup on the table, and then sat Kuno’s down next to her on the floor. She still hadn’t moved. She was staring up at the ceiling, frowning thoughtfully.

“Something on your mind?” Warden asked.

Kuno opened her mouth to respond, but before she could, Swarm came wandering into the dining room, rubbing at her head firmly. “Mooom.”

“Yes dear?” Kuno asked, shifting into a half-seated position, supporting herself on a hoof.

“It’s too quiet,” Swarm said, rubbing a hoof anxiously through her mane. “I think I’m going deaf!”

“Quiet?” Kuno asked, perplexed, ears perking. “Whatever do you mean?”

“It’s too quiet!” Swarm huffed, stamping a hoof. “The silence is… really loud!”

Kuno gave a bewildered stare. “Well… we’ll schedule you a doctor’s appointment, okay?”

Swarm nodded emphatically. “Good!” she said, moving over to the cookie jar, taking off the top and fishing around inside for a cookie. She came up with a chocolate chip cookie, and then replaced the lid before leaving as abruptly as she had arrived.

“That happened,” Warden said, blinking once.

Kuno rounded on him, rising to her hooves and advancing on him.

Warden gave her a wary glance. “What are you doing?”

“This,” Kuno said, and punched him, hard, in the shoulder.

“Ow!” Warden said, recoiling, lifting a hoof to fend her off.

Kuno giggled, and hit him again, just as hard.

Ow!” Warden hissed, teeth baring.

Kuno went to hit again, but Warden blocked it entirely this time, scowling. She lifted her hoof, moving for his other shoulder, and the moment he changed his stance, she hit him again, right over the same spot.

Warden recoiled, limping back a step and baring his teeth. “Always in the same bloody spot!” he growled, whining faintly. “Stop hitting me!”

“Why?” Kuno asked simply, hoof raised.

“Because it hu—” Warden paused, mouth open, stopping mid-word.

Kuno lowered her hoof, arching a brow with a smile that showed off each one of her fangs. “What now, Warden? It… what?”

“It… hurts…” Warden said, dumbfounded. He pinched his free hoof, eyes wide, wings giving a slow flex. “I can… I can feel things…”

“You stubbed your hoof on the way out of the room,” Kuno said smugly. “And when I thought back really hard, I remember that you yelped when one of my changelings touched you by accident the other night…”

“This is a problem,” Warden said, his expression turning grim. “The aurora must be stopping… it must not be working as well on me. I must be building a resistance to it… shocker there…”

“But you felt that,” Kuno said earnestly. “You’re not in pain, are you?”

Warden arched a brow, still holding his shoulder.

Kuno giggled, shaking her head. “Other than the shoulder. You’re not in pain?”

Warden gave a shrug. “Not any more than usual?”

Kuno’s eyes narrowed slowly, and a wide smile spread across her muzzle. “Me. You. The bath in the basement. Now.”

Warden’s eyes widened a little bit, and he looked back and forth. “Nopony is go—”

Kuno laid a hoof over his mouth, eyes narrowing. “Now. No arguments!”

Warden gave a tired groan, splaying out heavily against the edge of the tub. Kuno was sprawled over his front, a thoroughly satisfied, wet, shiny black lump of changeling flesh.

“I forgot how much I needed that,” Warden murmured, lifting a hoof to slowly stroke down one of her shiny wings.

Kuno gave a tired, breathy giggle, nodding earnestly against his neck. “I’ve been waiting so long for that!”

“And it didn’t even require any drugs!” Warden said with a faint laugh, curling around slightly to kiss her nose. “I really do need to see the doctors though… once I become more resistant to aurora… I’ll be back to being in constant pain… I’m already at three times the dosage a normal pony would need...”

Kuno gave a sad nod, nosing lightly into his neck. “I know, I know… But I wanted to enjoy at least one evening with my husband before you go back to being a sickly wreck.”

“Hey, you brought me back from the dead,” Warden reminded with a smile. “‘In sickness and in health’ is a real bitch, isn’t it?”

Kuno gave a nod, leaning up to kiss him warmly. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, though…”

Warden gave a happy sigh, squeezing his wife firmly. “I’m glad we got to spend some ‘quality’ time together, though.”

“Yes, it was good,” Kuno purred, lipping at his neck lightly. “So… when are you going to have the ‘talk’ with your daughter? About colts?”

“In about two decades,” Warden said instantly.

Kuno giggled faintly, nosing at his neck. “Good, at least I know it really is you in there. All that talk about allowing changelings to fool around with ponies… I was beginning to think you were an imposter.”

“Changelings fooling around with ponies is basically why we’re here,” Warden said with a sweeping motion of a hoof. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“And you had better not. I’ve had a lot of time to think up creative punishments,” Kuno purred, kissing him again.


Kuno grumbled something incoherent.

Warden stirred beside her, lifting his head. “What’s happening?”

A changeling, flanked by two royal guards, stood in their bedroom.

“What happened?” Kuno asked wearily, looking up towards the changeling and the royal guards. “What mess do I have to clean up now?”

One of the royal guards pursed his lips, and took a short step forwards. “I suggest you rouse your house, Miss Kuno. There’s been a murder on your estate.”

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