• Published 20th Oct 2015
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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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In Which Landshark is Impressed by An Alicorn

Twilight had, of course, been true to her word. The group of changelings transporting the abductees had been intercepted successfully, with no further deaths on either side. Twilight had the good sense not to point out how much more harmonious their encounter had been than what Landshark's group of friends had managed. After all, the changeling Landshark had shot three times also hadn't made it. She didn't regret having made the choice to shoot. The death was nonetheless regrettable.

Unfortunately, Landshark had been notified that No-Toes and his family would be relocated as a precaution. Still, she was just happy her worker and his family were alive and free. Free-ish, anyway. Presumably they were about to have very limited control over the location of their next residence.

"You can't be serious." Landshark was going for sullen annoyance in her tone as she looked at Princesses Twilight and Celestia. "I would have stayed home if I'd known. We tried this 'two princesses' thing before."

Landshark had grudgingly accepted another invitation to Twilight's palace, expecting to hear more complaints about her handling of the changeling situation. Instead she'd apparently been tricked into meeting Princess Celestia. "I do have a whole lot of work to do, you know."

This disrespect towards her mentor left Twilight flustered of course, but Celestia seemed nothing but amused. "Well, I hope you'll excuse the imposition, but I was feeling left out after you met all the other Princesses here. My sister also pointed out to me, quite rightly, that I failed to properly respond to your letter, all those weeks ago."

Landshark crossed her arms and stared. "I don't really buy it. Just get to the point, please. Is this about the changelings?"

Celestia didn't seem to be deterred from making this a simple social call. "How have you been settling in, then?" She smiled, patiently. Twilight made pleading faces at Landshark.

"Pretty alright, I suppose. I've got work, most of the community is pretty okay with me now, I've got a couple of great friends, and my only real enemies barely bother me." Landshark was listing points without much feeling. "Could see myself living here for a while. At least until my friends' fillies grow up."

Celestia lowered her head minutely. "I'm sorry some of my ponies refuse to accept you, still. I hope they'll come around one day."

Landshark shrugged. "Frankly I doubt it it, Princess. I mean, the way I do things barely sits right with some ponies who do accept me, what chance do the reactionary ones have? Besides, they've been mostly harmless." She glanced at Twilight before continuing. "But there's no need to apologize. If anything I should feel sorry for you."

The Princess of the Sun raised an eyebrow. "Sorry for me? Do tell us about that."

Landshark started pacing. It wasn't precisely courteous behavior, but at least she could do the princesses the courtesy of engaging in her various habitual behaviors she used to seem relatable. "Well, they're doing a bit of a disservice to you, not so?" She gestured vaguely.

"Some people have a really active disapproval gland I guess, so they can't imagine you, who they worship because it's expected of them, to be more accepting than they are, because they think being overly accepting is bad." Landshark snapped her jaws. "I'm sorry, but they really create for themselves a terribly petty and small-minded Celestia. It is common for thinking beings to develop a sort of lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than others. It is unfortunate that they think you would make this error as well."

"Why, if I didn't know better, I would think you were coming around on the topic of, well, me." Celestia allowed herself a small laugh before becoming serious. "Keenly observed, though. I do not let it touch me, but it is unfortunate that this way of thinking persists." She turned her gaze on Twilight. "Of course, as long as they do not hurt you again, we shall let them be. I imagine you would actually resent us if we attempted to curtail their freedom to be enemies to you."

It was Landshark's turn to bark a short laugh. "Hah, it's almost like you're starting to figure me out. Yeah, they don't bug me. Honestly they probably helped me out by making the other citizens feel bad for me. They're likely more of a problem for the sort of immigrant who actually needs to find employment and buy food." She paused in her pacing and fell back into lifelessness. "They better not bug my friends though. There's a line I draw."

That was Celestia's cue to finally get to the point. "You killed a sapient being for the first time since settling down here. How are you feeling?" Her tone spoke of concern rather than condemnation.

Landshark shook her head. "I don't have a real visceral emotional response. Damning, I'm sure, but I suppose I wish things had been different. But decisions made by their Queen, by that changeling himself, and by me led us to that point, and to those consequences. I didn't kill him for being a changeling. I had just learned that something happened to my employee, and had to assume it was two changelings against me and a civilian. I wouldn't risk hesitation."

The construct shrugged. "I don't hold that belief that some lives are worth less. He was a mother's son, I'm sure." She paused and clenched her fists. "They say that opinions can be argued, but convictions are best shot, but I'm only angry at the Queen, not changelings in general. Not even the fanatics. But," she added with regret, "the loathsome part of my machine heart enjoys the idea that I hurt fanatical followers of someone as powerful as Chrysalis."

Celestia nodded thoughtfully. "It seems to me that you do experience guilt, since you feel bad about your actions to a limited extend, but you won't let it grow into shame, where you would start to feel bad about your Self." She smiled a little. "How did I do?"

"Yeah yeah, pretty good." The construct emitted a loud sigh. "But it's getting old being analyzed by alicorns. I am what and who I am."

Twilight interjected at this point. "Shouldn't we worry more about which ponies killed those changelings during the supposed arrest? I'm sure they're going to need support!"

Landshark swiveled her head to look Twilight in the eye. "Don't think I didn't catch you being all disapproving of my friends last time. I'll remember that, Princess. Bon Bon has support. I'm sure it was her. Killing is unfortunate, but they were a hostile force that predominantly targets civilian populations. And she probably just had to remind herself that it's the same faction that brainwashed Lyra during that wedding."

Twilight shrank slightly under the the look the construct was giving her. The tone Landshark had used made it sound like whatever her misstep was would be engraved on a monolith somewhere for all eternity. She recovered quickly though. This was her throne room, after all. "Look, I had some valid concerns about their behavior, and it seemed reasonable at the time that it was because of their association with you." She paused. "Granted, apparently Bon Bon and Berry Punch already knew how to fight, but still!"

"I'll grant you all that, Princess." The words came like the cuts of a powered saw. "But you're a princess. Your words MATTER to ponies. I've worked with some troubled people in the past. And you know what? Their biggest problems weren't money or drugs or their criminal record, their biggest problems were disgrace and shame. It's a toxic shame, that global sense of failure of the whole Self. The toxicity gets so internalized that people can hardly believe you could possibly take an interest in them." The construct's words turned monotonous again. "I got Berry out of that hole. Lyra did it for Bon Bon. I'll thank you to watch your tone around my friends."

Twilight didn't say anything. She briefly recalled her ruminations of how her thoughtlessness had cost Moondancer years during which she hid away, convinced that friendship just wasn't for her. Princesses couldn't afford that sort of thoughtless behavior.

Landshark paused, then focused on Celestia. "Perhaps my friends live their lives imperfectly, in the shadow of this fancy palace. But they do not need success, they needed kinship. Some of them have been deeply wounded, and they carry burdens they shouldn't have to bear. I showed them they can at least be friends worth having. Are they subjects worth caring about? Are they?"

Celestia nodded and smiled sadly. "I'm glad you came into the lives of my little ponies. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we should stand in awe of the burdens the least of our ponies have to bear, not in judgement of how they carry them. There is much to be admired in ponies for whom the impossible is not made easy through power and skill alone, after all."

"I want to hear you say it," Landshark insisted, the old hostility flaring up. "You know I don't care what you think about me but I want to be able to go out there and remind them that you're okay with them just the way they are whenever they feel down. Like it or not, they grew up seeing you as something like a god."

Celestia lowered her head slighty, continuing to smile. "Allow me to indulge you, then, Landshark. I'm not a god, and I'm not infallible. But I do care about everyone, not just every pony, under my protection, including your friends."

Celestia took on her most regal demeanor. "There is Berry Punch, who has learned only too well that the self cannot survive without love, and starved of love, it dies. The absence of self-love is shame, which is just as cold as the absence of warmth. She has carried on only for her daughter. Thank you for showing her that she is worthy of kinship."

Something had changed. Celestia wasn't just making conversation now. The alicorn was choosing her tone just as carefully as Landshark normally did to avoid sounding like an automaton. Likely more carefully. The construct recognized deliberate use of speechcraft when she heard it, but at least in this case, it did nothing to diminish the effect. Landshark could not bring herself to doubt that Celestia meant every word she said.

Believing so strongly in the words of an immortal was fundamentally uncomfortable for a renegade, but considering the topic, Landshark even welcomed the feeling as another way to spite her creator.

Although having been a lesser bellikos compared to her older sisters, she considered herself to be reasonably skilled at making grand prouncements imbued with finality, but even the construct suddenly felt fleeting and impermanent, listening to Celestia talk. As a bellikos, she knew all too well of the power of the spoken word. After all, words had been the first tool of the bellikos. But she didn't think that she would ever be able to convey to anyone the love in Celestia's voice, or the imperishable strength of her devotion to her subjects. It was oratory excellence on a level quite beyond that of the construct.

Landshark scoffed at power, even power as great as that of an alicorn. Talking seemed like such a simple thing, compared to the ability to move the sun across the sky. And yet it had been words that had turned souls against their god and creator – people so devout in life that they had earned eternal happiness in the Underfoot. Words and ideas had plunged that realm into chaos, not magic. The construct began to suspect that even without her powers, Celestia would be able to move entire populations in any way she wanted.

The alicorn would probably have been able to talk Delth into abstaining from the uprising against the hated First Creation. Delth had been centuries old when Landshark was crafted. She had instructed generations of lesser bellikos, and ultimately reformed the Cult of Self. As difficult to fathom Delth's age had been to comparatively young Landshark, she now found herself comparing the leader she owed her freedom to with the solar diarch. How much more time had Celestia had to hone her craft? The question called to mind the vast gulf of millenia between herself and the alicorn.

For the first time since the rebellion, the renegade bellikos stood in awe of an immortal. Talking. Such a simple thing.

The Princess of the Sun closed her eyes. "Bon Bon, who has been gravely wronged by us in the past, will not want my love. You were not the one to repair her broken spirit, but you do help her carry the burden we placed on her ... and left her alone with. Nothing I can say will undo this, but I am sorry." Celestia turned her head to face Twilight. "Bon Bon is not yours or mine to judge. You were still a filly when she was trained to protect our ponies."

Celestia turned her gaze back on Landshark, smiling again. "Ditzy Do. I doubt she thinks of me often, but in her own quiet way, she seems to understand better than most ponies that all I ask of them is tenderness. Every act of love is an offering in my name. Every kind thought is a blessing. She does not need either of us, I think. But you've helped her make more friends and given her strength. May it let her stay who she is, and raise a daughter just as kind."

"Lyra Heartstrings, who has given up much of her future for love, and by that love, helped Bon Bon survive. She stood with one of the least likely to succeed, and offered kinship and an understanding that poor behavior is sometimes the vocabulary of, as you say, the deeply wounded and those whose burdens are more than they can bear. It is no wonder you became friends, for all your other differences."

Landshark had been humbled at her own game. She knew, of course, that all of her friends had their faults. But for the first time, she allowed herself to hope that maybe Celestia really was too busy loving her subjects to raise a disapproving eyebrow at them. She didn't really think the alicorns remembered all of their subjects, but the reassurance was real. She felt an incredible sense of relief that Celestia seemed to have understood. Still, it did leave a question open.

"How many letters about me and my friends did you write to her, Twilight?" Landshark shook her head, then lowered it. "It's almost enough to make me regret what I am. Thank you, Princess Celestia. I was crafted among beings that were either created specifically for their tasks, or literally living out their afterlife reward. Both make for a strong Self and clear sense of belonging, I assure you. But when I worked for the humans, we recruited many of the most marginalized. It was rank opportunism, of course, to recruit those who saw no other option, but to me, it seemed that the day would never come that I would be more noble, or have more courage than them."

Landshark stuck her hands into her coat pockets. "Before living among mortals I had no conception that a Self could become such a weak, pitiful thing, and no idea that it was possible to continue struggling despite that." She chuckled. "Made me feel a bit undeservedly privileged to be immutable, I suppose. But it also showed me how powerful it can be to know that someone accepts you as you are, and will back you up unconditionally. That is what I'm giving my friends here as well."

Celestia nodded. "I'm thankful for that. I know part of you will never truly believe I could care about all my little ponies, and of course I am not omniscient, or omnipresent." She sighed. "And perhaps it will mean nothing to you now, but I accept you as you are as well."

"Right now, that part of me could go straight to Hell for all I care. Tartarus, whatever." Landshark laughed, then pointed one of her usual smiles at Twilight, speaking with fondness as she continued. "I'm finally sold. Celestia is alright in my book. Better class of immortal than anything I ran into so far, certainly."

The construct looked away from the alicorns. "I always wanted to tell you that your only job should be to love your people, that you should let them struggle, or fail, or die, that the best thing you could do was to make sure that you never let them think you're judging them. There's enough judgement in the courts, in public opinion, and in their own hearts." She paused to collect herself. The idea of godlike being judging mortals for their mistakes had always been quite upsetting. "That's already pretty close to the truth of things, isn't it? You could shape this nation however you wanted, but you don't – not really. You just protect it, for the most part."

Twilight had listened with interest – after all, watching Celestia at work was still full of potential learning experiences for a faithful student and still recently ascended princess. Now, she frowned slightly. "Princess Celestia would never abuse her powers like that!"

"I wasn't thinking about powers." Landshark sounded amused. "Skills, maybe."

Celestia turned to face Twilight again, chiding her former student gently. "Please, Twilight. There is nothing either one of us could say to diminish the other. You don't need to moderate. Landshark is close to the truth. Ponies know that I have been old when their grandparents were still young. They know I have ruled for longer than they can imagine, and that I control the life-giving sun. My every word and gesture must be measured carefully with that in mind, lest I do harm to them. I would need none of my alicorn powers to convince ponies to twist Equestria into something unrecognizable." She smiled. "The younger ponies still meet us earnestly, and with a sense of wonder, but they can't escape the culture in which they grow up."

Twilight looked a little chastened. "I'm sorry. Maybe I should consider myself lucky to be new enough at this that some ponies will still speak up against me."

"Indeed, Twilight." Celestia grinned in amusement. "Maybe after enough exposure to Landshark, some of my little ponies will have enough confidence to give me sass, as well. I'm afraid right now it's largely pushy nobles or uncomfortably submissive citizens." She turned serious again. "Landshark, where do you see yourself in the future?"

"I'm not sure," Landshark admitted. "I have close friends here, and Twilight generally gives me space, so I no longer worry too much about living in the same town as an alicorn. I'm not really ambitious, so I suppose I'll just keep working my job and make new friends, if I live long enough."

Celestia nodded in understanding. "I have heard that you only have one apprentice remaining, with Berry working closer to her cutie mark again, and the unfortunately necessary relocation of your changeling worker and his family?"

Landshark made a non-committal grunt. "I never really needed three, so I didn't mind losing Berry except for how she helped with the budget, but losing No-Toes will mean a lot more work for me and Grey." She shrugged. "But we'll muddle along, since for the time being I'm only paying one salary."

"I know you only need one or perhaps two additional workers, but would you mind terribly if I asked you to work with the Equestrian Rehabilitation and Re-integration service in finding new apprentices?" Celestia tilted her head. "You mentioned working with such troubled beings in the past."

Landshark snapped her jaws, then smiled in her usual way. "Ex-cons? Sure, that's exactly what I was talking about earlier. Now, unless the Mayor and Twilight complain too loudly, I'm okay with getting real hardcases. Your Rehab guys are hopefully smart enough to not saddle me with the badly Antisocial headcases. I'm good at making former gangsters feel like they're worth people's time, but I'm not qualified to deal with really deeply disturbed minds." She chuckled. "And don't worry, we won't teach them to fight, Twilight."

"I'm glad," Celestia admitted. "Ponyville is idyllic, and Canterlot is at least good at covering up its darker sides as the eccentricities of nobles, but cities like Manehatten, Baltimare and Las Pegasus have plenty of broken homes, poor neighborhoods and youths without much perspective to produce the kind of broken Selves that prefer anger to shame and turn to violent crime." She lowered her head. "And there are never enough of my little ponies willing to take the chance to help re-integrate them after their sentences are served."

Landshark nodded evenly. "It'd be my privilege to do my part, Princess. My means and my time are limited, but if your people find two potential hires for me, I'll see what I can do. But they must want it too." Landshark was happy that Celestia seemed to understand and appreciate what the construct could offer ponies. "If they're willing, I'll teach them real resilience, not bluster and violence. And they'll know that there are still ponies who think them valuable." She paused, then sounded thoughtful. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the rate of re-offending is greater than zero even with the kindest treatment. But anything worth doing is worth failing at."

Princess Celestia lowered her head slightly. "I know. But even the populations in our jails and prisons consist of my little ponies, or changelings, or gryphons." She turned to Twilight. "I know this is hard, but we must approach our citizens with a certain degree of 'no matter what'. No matter what, they are our people. No matter what, we care for them. And no matter what, we see potential for good in them." She chuckled briefly. "Or to use Landshark's charming term, keep your disapproval gland in check. Too many ponies already imagine me as stern and condemning."

Twilight looked briefly doubtful, but then nodded. "I'll make sure to prepare the Mayor, since she might field complaints from concerned neighbors ... again."

Landshark spoke up again. "Princess, No-Toes enjoyed his work and showed promise. Is there any chance he could find the opportunity to continue learning the trade?"

Celestia nodded. "Of course. I will make sure to inform the proper ponies. We will appeal to the Metalworkers and Farriers Guild to allow him to finish his apprenticeship somewhere."

Landshark rubbed her chin. "Oh right. I have to get squared away with those people myself one of these days. Now they don't mind so much having a dilettante sell her creations, and since Grey's an immigrant they'll probably test and certify him once he's good enough to pass." She sounded amused. "But obviously, things are a little more stringently managed in case I ever want to start nailing bits of metal to ponies, as Rarity once reminded me. They kind of expect to see some certification. Completely slipped my mind."

She turned and left without further comment or consideration. It was a good compromise, she thought. The calculated insult was good for her own mood and she expected that Celestia would primarily be amused about the insolence, since the Princess of the Sun seemed to appreciate it when people didn't bow and scrape.

Having such a high opinion of an alicorn was deeply uncomfortable and in fact quite alarming to parts of the construct's personality, but she was so happy about the way Celestia had talked about her friends, Landshark found her own instincts easy to ignore for the moment.

Author's Note:

Landshark is impressed by oratory skills.

Celestia is ancient, yet has very little trouble with modern vernacular (she might sound fancy, but not outdated like Luna sometimes sounds). I extrapolated that she is really good at talking.

Better than I am at writing anyway :pinkiecrazy:

For the longest time I wondered what to do with this chapter's appearance of Celestia. I didn't want to go with one of those cynical portrayals where she is secretly controlling or runs a real nanny state and tries to coddle ponies at all costs. Sure, that sort of thing probably won't make me stop reading a story I already like, but writing something like that didn't feel right.

For example, http://www.fimfiction.net/story/235864/not-every-mark-is-cute is a story I enjoy reading, but it has a Celestia I don't really appreciate. It's necessary for the story and that's fine and won't make me stop reading.

I guess I just imagine that my story's Celestia really is extremely wise and kind, but Equestria itself is flawed in some ways because even Celly doesn't have all the answers, is still ultimately fallible and if she actively imposes order too much, the ponies won't grow as a people. There's a line to watch between being a leader and protector or stifling tyranny.

Also took a while to come up with a way for Landshark to actually come out of there with a positive impression of an alicorn, instead of just resigned acceptance, considering most of her hang-ups are rather petty.

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