• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 1,950 Views, 163 Comments

Norrath, Earth, Equestria. A Construct's Journey - Nimnul

A strange construct, or fancy golem, is displaced to Equestria. But Landshark is no servant, no mere automaton. She claims to be a renegade Bellikos. What and Who is she, and why does she just want to settle down quietly now?

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Probably a Bad Influence.

Twilight was an alicorn, and her special talent was magic, so of course she had simply teleported the two wounded changelings, Landshark and herself to Ponyville General in quick succession. She'd worry about the resulting headache later.

It had taken longer than she would have liked to calm the medical professionals and arrange care for the changelings before she had time to interrogate Landshark in an empty waiting room. "I never thought I'd see you just be pointlessly cruel. To a regular being, I mean." She thought she knew Landshark well enough by now to add the qualifier.

Landshark nodded. "It wasn't pointless. Will you allow me to explain?" She was playing for time now. She would explain the whole thing, but if she got to the important bits too early, Twilight would be enough of a busybody to get involved where she wasn't wanted.

"Sure, but this better be good!" Twilight appeared frazzled. She was starting to worry whether Landshark was save around ponies after all. The Princess of Friendship had a real knack for worrying.

"Right. My changeling employee, No-Toes, and I, we had a deal. He wouldn't bring any other changelings without letting me know ahead of time. And we had code phrases. So today he shows up with his wife and botches one of the phrases. Multi-factor authentication, and he only got one out of three after all these flawless weeks." Landshark opened her coat a bit to show the holster at her side. "Gunned him down. Two infiltrators against two civilians without magic? Wouldn't take the risk." Someone else might have claimed they couldn't have taken the risk. Landshark had chosen not to take it. "No changelings in this town would have been dumb enough to play a prank on me."

Twilight covered her mouth with a hoof and looked faintly appalled. "You just shot him? What if he just wanted to deliver a message or something, like a ransom demand?"

Landshark shrugged. "Well, the other changeling was a fake too. Took a bit more doing to capture. Anyway, you checked their house. They're probably being taken to the nearest changeling outpost outside the borders, although according to NT that's a long march unless they don't care about being conspicious."

Twilight nodded slowly. Equestrian intelligence had been aware of a few such minor bases. Besides, no changeling refugee got to settle in Equestria without a thorough debriefing. Landshark didn't know anything that Equestrian authorities didn't. "Okay, but why the horn? That's just wrong!"

"Yeah yeah. Since they felt the need to send changelings to my workplace, obviously they wanted to delay anyone finding out that the originals were gone. I would have checked his house if he hadn't shown up to work anyway. Since that weird hive telepathy is range-limited, they likely had more changelings in town. I took a risk there, if they had been less professional, they might have come swarming my place just to bail their pal out. I made it obvious I knew that they had abducted folk."

Twilight shivered a bit as Landshark explained her plan. She motioned for the construct to continue.

"Now if that changeling had actually said anything useful, I'm sure those additional changelings would have torn out of here at best possible speed to catch up to the group with the abductees, at least close enough for telepathy, and warned that group that there would be pursuit sooner than expected. They'd start force-marching, cutting your window of time. Instead, once you confirmed to me that NT and his family were gone, I smashed her horn. Instant unconsciousness and separation from the hive mind until the body adapts to work with what's left of the horn. Every nearby hostile changeling would assume her to have died without talking. They'd leave, but in less of a hurry."

Landshark crossed her arms. "Even if I had failed to spook any other changelings, well, that would have been alright too, I guess. The rest is up to you anyway. And to the group that took my people, no news will be good news, they'll assume all local changelings are still embedded."

"No news? How do you figure that out?" Twilight was trying to puzzle it out, but she had a bit of a blind spot. In any case, Landshark hadn't actually been able to see any results of the horn-mutilation she had performed on the captive changeling.

"I had observers in place, of course. Since they haven't contacted me, and I told them to assume you might zap us here or to your castle, they did in fact spot a suspicious group of alleged ponies leaving town in the suspected direction. And there were not so many of them to make them decide to report back immediately and get help." She paused, snapping her jaw. "So with those changelings taken care of, the important group won't get any news."

Twilight was afraid to ask who Landshark had working for her, but she had a strong suspicion. "So who did you send after those supposed changelings?" She was quite cross with Landshark for likely endangering ponies.

"Bon Bon is worth like three or four of any other regular earth ponies I met. She still holds a grudge about the bridesmaids thing, too. When Berry heard that enemy changelings had infiltrated her community and taken away foals, she got real mad. She's gonna be driving bugs into the ground horn-first, and no mistake. Doesn't matter to her that the foals are changelings too. You mess with kids, Berry's gonna come for you Las Pegasus style. Whatever that even means, I didn't think to ask. Plus, they got Lyra and Ditzy for back-up, it's cool."

Twilight narrowed her eyes. "Cool? It's not cool! You somehow convinced a handful of ponies under my protection to go take on changelings! How could you?"

Landshark shrugged. "By treating them like adults with worth and purpose instead of coddling them? They can handle themselves. I wouldn't have done it if Bon Bon hadn't confirmed that for me." Landshark had been about 90% sure that Bon Bon and Lyra would have been enough for anything less than six changelings, certainly Rainbow Dash had been happy enough to brag about beating up a great many of them, but Berry Punch had been very insisted about coming along, and Ditzy would have gotten help if the task had been botched. "Bon Bon would have done it regardless. Lyra would support her always. But Berry is still in some ways trying to live her way into a new way of thinking. Feeling out her sober Self. If that includes charging out there to wreck some people who threaten her home, I'll not stand in the way."

Twilight didn't look convinced, but at that time, a quartet of mares stumbled into the waiting area of the hospital. To be fair, Bon Bon and Berry both seemed somewhat banged up. Berry was carrying a short-handled hammer in her mouth and sported a burn across the ribs on her left flank. Ditzy and Lyra had managed to stay out of harm's way, it appeared. Some leaves and twigs in Ditzy's mane spoke of a close encounter with a tree or shrub, but that wasn't anything new or unusual for the mailmare. With them they dragged three changelings, bound, gagged, and horns damaged.

"Shark." Bon Bon sketched a sloppy salute, as she'd seen the fillies do towards the construct, and smiled grimly. "Complete success. They didn't know what hit them."

"Yeah!" Lyra exclaimed. "No way they got word out. We caught 'em still pretty close to town. Only home-made solutions." She nodded towards Landshark, trying to imply that she hadn't used the gun she had been given.

Twilight was inspecting the captured changelings with a frown. She winced in sympathy, seeing the damaged horns and grimaced at the ruined stump of a wing one of them had been left with. Only one of them seemed mostly unharmed apart from the damaged horn. She turned to the other ponies with an accusing stare.

Berry Punch spat out her hammer. After a moment's pause, she shrugged. "They grow back, right?"

Berry had been ready for the aerial attack. She supposed that her attacker had been looking away when the flash bangs went off, or was just foolhardy enough to fly half-blind. She dodged his forehooves easily enough, lending credence to the half-blind theory. She jumped and bit down on a passing hind leg, feeling strange plating crack between her teeth. Maybe this lot were trained infiltrators, but only the greenest of pegasi would have let this happen to them.

A properly trained pegasus might have been able to keep flying despite the pain and lopsided extra weight. The changeling was roughly plowed into the ground with a quick motion of Berry's neck and head. She let go of the leg and took a bite out of the wing. The wing was flimsy, and she spat out the insect-like material. "Maybe if you were a Las Pegasus copper you woulda had me. That was just weak."

Landshark offered her jaw-twitch smile. She was more proud than she could say. She knelt down in front of each mare in turn for a quick hug. Ditzy was most appreciative, for the other three it seemed a tad sappy. "So glad you're all alright. How many of them where there, total?"

"Five," Bon Bon explained. "Two of them didn't make it." She was sharing the information calmly. If she was upset, she didn't show it. Landshark judged that being surrounded by battle buddies granted Bon Bon a measure of stability in social situations, particularly necessary in the presence of a princess. Although perhaps the construct was projecting a bit.

Berry grunted. "The horns were my idea," she admitted. "Figured we didn't want them plotting under our nose."

"Yeah, of course then you had to carry them. Until they woke up." Ditzy smiled. She almost always did, after all. She moved between her friends and stroked their manes with her wing tips in a display of almost motherly tenderness. She wasn't a real fighter, never would be. And she knew Lyra and Berry, although willing to fight, weren't used to it. Well, Berry apparently was merely out of practice. She didn't know what to say, and the presence of Princess Twilight made her too nervous to try. But her friends did seem steadied by the gesture, and it was enough for her to feel as part of the team.

Landshark looked at her friends. By the looks, it seemed obvious to her that Bon Bon had been responsible for the dead changelings, by choice or in the heat of the moment. She knew very well that the difference between Bon Bon and the other mares was more than training. There was an instant ruthlessness one acquired only through real action.

Bon Bon had been moving faster than Berry and was the first to get to grips with the changelings as they were shaking off the effects of the flash bangs. Landshark had cautioned them that they likely wouldn't be as good as the real thing, but Bon Bon thought they had worked well enough, and really, they probably would have been fine without them. One of the changelings had barely finished getting back onto his feet from a prone position when the earth pony plowed into him like a battering ram. She felt the flimsy bug's neck break under her hooves, which was really just bad fortune on the bug's part.

His friends weren't as slow as that one, and Bon Bon was forced to dodge wads of changeling resin. At least it gave her a moment to watch Berry ground her first target as Bon Bon spun around and kicked out with enough force to buck another changeling straight into unconsciousness. Her last target, alone and rattled, surrendered. The cream colored mare clearly didn't care to go easy, and he certainly didn't want to get maimed by the pink one either.

It was a fond wish that didn't keep Berry from taking a hammer to his horn.

Bon Bon's second target had expired as well, which was unexpected. Bon Bon didn't take the risk of calculating how hard to hit a target to keep it just alive when in a real crisis, you just hit them as hard as possible to stop the threat, but she didn't think she was that strong. Maybe they hadn't been feeding enough out of paranoia and weakened themselves? Rainbow Dash had been bragging about beating up a lot of them, and Bon Bon doubted the pegasus would do that if she'd killed any of those. She tried not to think about it. They'd won, none of her friends were seriously hurt, that mattered most. She wasn't going to risk losing anypony close to her by going easy.

Of course, Bon Bon only described the engagement in the vaguest terms, leaving out her ruminations about killing changelings, or near enough. She had little use for the judgements of those who could just shoot magic at their problems and wasn't going to have a heart to heart with Twilight about guilt. "Things happen. Everyone takes risks."

Twilight did not feel in control of the situation. If anything, knowing that ponies had killed changelings seemed to upset her more than finding Landshark deliberately causing pain to one. "Landshark. I stuck up for you all along, but what have you been teaching our ponies? Two dead changelings and three mutilated ones? This is horrible! Look at this one! He's got a broken jaw!"

Lyra looked embarrassed and perhaps the tiniest bit guilty. Displeasing a princess seemed to affect her the most. "I helped with that."

Ditzy had lowered the cloud once the earth ponies had engaged the changelings, and Lyra had been glad to be back on solid ground. She saw Berry easily ground one of the changelings before another one hit her in the side with a blast of magic. Berry cursed loudly. Her fur seemed to be smoldering.

Lyra grabbed the offending changeling with her magic, flipping him over and immediately releasing him. The strain was worse than Lyra had expected. You didn't just casually pick up fully grown ponies, however briefly "Berry! Tent peg!"

Despite her pain, Berry approached the target as it was about to get up again, hit him in the face with all the force she could muster, breaking the changeling's jaw, then aimed another kick at his head, breaking his horn off and silencing his screams. The display made Lyra slightly nauseous. Unconsciousness from horn trauma was a mercy for that one, although her own horn was still painfully pulsing its protests into her skull. Berry immediately dropped onto her side to smother her smoldering fur in wet grass and slush.

"And that's why I need something for this headache," Lyra concluded.

"Guess that one isn't eating solids for a while," Berry scoffed before deadpanning. "Oh wait." She nodded at Landshark. "That's how we shut up unicorns in the old neighborhood."

Bon Bon scowled and got up in Twilight's face. "You listen here, Princess. We may be your subjects, but we're HER friends. She didn't teach us except that we're not alone."

Twilight wasn't particularly used to random citizens getting on her case like that and tried to regain her composure. "We should be better than that!"

Bon Bon started jabbing the princess in the chest with a hoof. "Someone stole away people that Shark feels responsible for and we went and did something about it, and we did it right. Was it the best possible plan? Maybe in two days a smarter plan turns up, but get over yourself and stop second-guessing the agent on the ground." She continued to stare at Twilight. "We bought time for a real response. It's on you now."

Lyra cut in, looking upset. "They're Ponyville citizens. They got taken away. You should protect them, but instead you're standing here telling us we're not acting right. I won't put up with you trying to shame my friends." Lyra, despite a reputation for eccentricity, was perhaps the most in awe of the princesses of Landshark's friends. However, that didn't seem to matter now. "Not everyone can be perfect and nice. Don't act like we don't regret things went this way. I'd do it again in the same place."

Landshark crossed her arms and gazed at Twilight. "You and your friends are heroes. These folk wanted to be your subjects." The construct squatted down. Her knee creaked. "If I don't see a plausible plan in action by tonight, I'll arm up, and I'll start moving. I won't be fast, but I don't rest. I'll catch up." She wasn't really sure her knee would be up to it, but she'd certainly try. She snapped her jaws. "So if you don't care for our methods, then get to work."

"Enough!" Twilight stomped her hoof. "It won't be necessary! We'll deal with this our way. I've already made arrangements before coming to your smithy. You're not the only one who talked to local changelings. We'll get your worker back, Landshark, and Canterlot is aware of other cases like this. It's out of your hooves. But this isn't over."

Landshark snickered briefly. "You gonna ask me to turn in my badge and my gun, Chief?" Despite the glib words, the construct thought it would be best not to mention that she had given one of her guns to Lyra.

Twilight glowered. "Don't tempt me, Landshark." She shook her head. "We think Chrysalis might be going after changelings that settle in too well. Steady job, raising their foals Equestrian. Sends a message to refugees and rekindles fears among ponies. The proper authorities are working to address that, no need for vigilantes."

Berry Punch sniffed. She looked unsure, so she shot a quick glance at the captured changelings, which seemed to renew her conviction. "Princess Twilight. We are handing over to you now changelings, which we discovered disguised, who had no identification papers on them. That's a seizable offense. We planned to turn them over to the nearest authority, of course. Instead of coming with us quietly, they attacked us, and we were forced to defend ourselves." She trembled a little, but she often did, these days. It didn't seem to bother her. The obvious lie in the face of authority had come easily enough. They had, after all, struck first.

Bon Bon, Lyra and Ditzy looked impressed, and perhaps a little confused. Landshark was impressed also, but did not have much to work with in terms of facial impressions.

Berry smiled, faintly amused. "What? I read that in a magazine after the Royal Wedding."

Twilight groaned in annoyance. "Are you seriously going to call this a citizen's arrest? I was there, I talked to Landshark. It was her plan!"

"Well," Lyra reasoned. "Landshark demonstrably has no powers of coercion, nor is she in a position of authority over us that would give her the power to make us do that. She shouldn't be more at fault than old ponies going 'someone ought to do something' while shaking their walker. We had a perfectly understandable reaction to learning that hostile changelings were in the community."

Bon Bon also nodded, but with less certainty. "I guess that sounds plausible enough. Of course, Shark, you're on your own if you get in trouble for the way you fought off that home invasion and ensured they couldn't use magic on you or call for help."

Berry spoke up again. "If you can't use magic and get assaulted by a unicorn, the courts are generally pretty lenient when it ends up involving horn damage." She looked slightly embarrassed. "You seen the type of mook I used to go pub crawling with. I had worse company before having Pinchy. It came up enough. Anyway, changeling horn damage, if anything, might be even more understandable."

Ditzy started giggling. "Shark would be out of luck, but us four could probably get the Patriotic Equestrians to, to pay our lawyers if we get in trouble over ... over beating up changelings."

Coming from the mailmare, the idea seemed almost shockingly shrewd, if somewhat optimistic. Landshark doubted that ponies known to be close friends to the construct could expect much help from the PE regardless of circumstance. Still, she was unhappy. She wished she had come up with a plan that did not expose her friends to the risk of legal action.

"Look, Princess. You do what you think you should. We all made our choices, and we all know to stand and take the consequences. But in ten years I haven't let down anyone I was responsible for, and I wasn't going to start." Landshark stood back up and crossed her arms. "You accused me of being cruel. I disagree. I took no pleasure in my actions, and I regret that lives were lost. But I decided that it would be necessary to flush out other infiltrators and I did what was logically required without factoring in compassion. It was ruthless. You can't shame me, I know too well what I am."

Landshark turned to her friends and her tone softened. "I'm so happy you trusted me enough to help me."

Twilight seemed to be deeply unhappy. "I won't ... I won't get you in legal trouble, I suppose. Princess Luna told me how you think, but I didn't have any real context for it." Twilight closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. The entire solution thus far felt wrong to her. Aside from the ideological issue she had, it could all have gone very poorly for the ponies involved. She wasn't totally sure if that protective instinct wasn't partially misplaced, however.

"I do have that context now." She turned to the ponies. "I suppose arguing for your safety would, would deny you your agency. And I know you are aware of the risks, if only because Landshark always tells ponies to be aware of consequences. You're not children. But please consider escalating such problems to the proper authorities in the future." She was a little unbalanced by the fact that at least the earth ponies in front of her had previously been violent without Landshark's influence. It went against her assumptions.

Berry sat down heavily. "Shark, could you go and let someone who actually works here know that we have more changelings and some ponies that need to be patched up?" She frowned. "I think one of those guys knocked some teeth loose too." She gestured towards the burn on her side. "And, well, y'know."

Landshark nodded and walked off to find someone to talk to. "Sure. Back in a few."

Berry eyed Twilight. "Princess. Look at me. Really look at me. I used to split my time between being a thug and a lush. I had no self-control and it was easier to get mad than to be ashamed. Then I had my daughter and ... I couldn't have that chip on my shoulder, raising her. So I drank more to numb myself, and got more ashamed. People talked." Berry squared her shoulders and continued. "I still get mad sometimes. Just ask these guys. But with Shark it ... it was okay to just be who I am. I didn't have to be honest or kind or generous or loyal or whatever. I could just be whoever I am. And sure, we nearly botched it when she tried to help me sober up by offering a job, but we got there." Berry looked down at her forelegs. "Sure, some days I couldn't color inside the lines to save my life, but that's okay too. And my daughter doesn't have to be ashamed anymore either."

Lyra sat down next to Berry and nodded, putting on a manic smile that unsettled even Twilight. "Yeah. Shark's just awesome or maybe really oblivious. Laughs at most of my jokes, never even noticed that I'm a bit of a weirdo according to other ponies. Yes, she can talk too much, once she opens up, but I mean hey, she's endlessly patient with us, she likes my music ... look, she didn't change my life, okay? I just like being her friend." She paused. "Also, we make a pretty good team in a bar fight."

"Landshark isn't like a pony," Ditzy stated. She began to stammer a little bit when everyone looked at her to see if there would be a less obvious follow-up. "I mean, she ... she." The mailmare was growing flustered and started tapping her forehead with a hoof. "Stupid ..."

Berry got closer to Ditzy and gently reached out to stop the pegasus from hitting herself. "Shh ... take a deep breath. Slow down. Close your eyes and pretend it's just us."

Ditzy did as instructed. With eyes closed, she started over. "That's another thing. She got me together with more friends who ... who won't make fun of me. They're patient when my words derail, or when I mess up something." She paused, mulling over the next part. "Real friends ... not just ponies who happen to not be mean to me. And what I wanted to say first ... Landshark wasn't raised to be nice. She just wants to BE nice. She told Dinky that ... that she should always be honest, even if it costs her."

Ditzy began to smile. "And you think...that's obvious. But then she was like 'if you're always honest, Agent, even when it pays to cheat, then people remember that. Then when you have to lie to help a friend, no one expects it.' Something like that anyway. She just ... says these things that are true, but ponies don't ... don't normally say. Of course many ponies would, would consider being a little less than perfect if a friend is ... in real bad trouble. We just don't say it. Always be good. Always be honest. But nopony's perfect."

Bon Bon, for her part, gave Twilight a hard stare. She certainly wasn't planning to have a moment here with a princess. Instead she averted her eyes and looked over at Berry and Ditzy in turn. "You're good mothers, and you're raising great fillies. But you're at risk of sheltering them too much, so they don't have to deal with as much nonsense as you did. Shark's a good contrast to that as a mentor figure. She tells the kids that the world can be awful, but that we just have to suck it up and deal. That we CAN deal. That we don't have to let it run us over. I think they'll grow up better ponies that way, with Shark around and maybe a couple weird aunts, right, Lyra?"

"Right!" Lyra nodded hard. "Shark just showed up at the right time and brought us together because she couldn't see a reason not to. So now we all have a bunch of real friends and we're better to each other than we ever were as just casual acquaintances. Shark brought in a new perspective. She takes everyone seriously. Any pony could have done the same but ... everyone just got too used to Bonny being grumpy, me being weird, and Ditzy and Berry possibly being bad mothers for different reasons." The unicorn shrugged. "And I guess a lot of ponies still think that, maybe. But it matters less."

To Twilight's surprise, Berry and Ditzy simply nodded, although eventually, Berry spoke up again. "You're right, of course. It helps the fillies to see their mothers have real friends, and hanging around with you is good for them, too." She addressed Twilight again. "Even if you got rid of Shark now, we wouldn't go back to the way we were. She gave us, uh, resilience. Yeah, that's a good word."

Twilight sighed. Her headache was worsening. "Look, we're not 'getting rid' of Landshark. I just think she could have handled the situation better, and I'm not sure the other princesses would be comfortable with her teaching ponies how to fight." Maybe she could have said more, but she remembered that she had in the past been too quick to assume that Celestia would mete out punishment for failures Twilight had as often as not merely imagined. Apparently this wasn't unique to her.

"That was me," Bon Bon stated flatly. "Landshark didn't know the first thing about fighting equines when she got here." She paused. "Well, hand to hoof. Her gun doesn't care."

"Well then how did YOU know how to train ponies to fight?" Twilight looked at Bon Bon like one might watch a snake behind a pane of glass. Lyra bristled when she noticed, but said nothing.

"Classified. Royal Secrets Act. You're not senior enough to know." Probably the first time in her life that Bon Bon had said that with real satisfaction.

"Besides," Berry added. "I always knew how to handle myself. I was just getting out of shape." She turned an intense stare on Twilight. "Get those foals back."

Bon Bon was tempted to disagree, but decided against it. Berry was formidable in her own way, despite the lack of formal training. Getting mad and fighting dirty had served well enough today, even if Berry had been hurt in the process. Bon Bon now suspected that Berry would force herself to function under literally any condition short of death when children were at risk. The surviving changelings had likely been lucky that their targets hadn't been ones Berry had a personal connection to.

That particular exchange ended when the four friends and their captive changelings were admitted for medical treatment, although at least none of the mares were too badly wounded. Berry might very well carry a scar on her rib cage however.

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