• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 1,969 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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Cult of Self

Twilight had graciously allowed Landshark the temporary use of one of the many private rooms of her castle after the construct explained that she was planning on clearing the air between herself and Berry Punch, who still appeared to be affected by the fact that she had been unable to help Landshark in a moment of need.

Landshark was, in a way, flying blind. She hadn't spoken a lot about the Cult of Self in many years, except in a dry, academic way for Twilight's benefit, and she certainly hadn't done any preaching in a very long time. It hadn't been her primary task for most of her life. She'd been a drudge. She knew also that Berry Punch was a wholly different being than the cult's original target audience. But Berry Punch needed confidence now more than ever, and Landshark could at least offer another approach to the problem.

Berry had been escorted into the room by Spike (Number One Assistant) moments before and settled onto a chair. "Hey Shark." She didn't meet the construct's eyes. "Why're we meeting here?"

"Showmanship." Landshark wasn't very consistent when it came to 'equestrifying' her language. Not when talking to her friends, anyway. "And privacy. We're guests to Princess Twilight, which is pretty respectable, and no nosy neighbors to listen in. I just want to talk to you."

Berry seemingly shrank in her seat, apparently expecting Landshark to finally confront her about what a bad friend she had been. "Okay. Go ahead."

"This might seem a little random at first, but just follow along as best as you can, alright?" The construct paused to allow Berry to nod. "Do you love Princess Celestia?"

"Sure," Berry Punch allowed, sounding confused. "What does that have to do with...with anything?"

"Do you love your daughter?" The construct pressed on, ignoring the question.

"Of course!" Berry Punch met Landshark's eyes now, appearing offended by the mere question.

Landshark stared back. "Pick one." It was clumsy and lacking in subtlety, but on some level, she really was curious. The construct idly wondered whether she had become too prone to go right for the throat of a problem.

"Pinchy." Berry Punch answered without thinking, then covered her mouth with her hooves and looked around nervously, as if expecting to be ejected from the castle instantaneously. Then she started to stammer and grasp for an explanation.

"Stop." Landshark's voice could have struck sparks from steel. Berry froze. "Don't you dare make excuses for being honest. Your daughter is the most precious thing in the world to you. Never apologize. Celestia can get along without you. Your daughter needs you. If anything in the following conversation hurts you, just remember. Your daughter comes first."

Landshark stood up and walked over to a window overlooking Ponyville. She was glad that most ponies weren't true fanatics for the alicorns. "Berry. Tell me what you want. Not your immediate impulses or old dreams you had for your life. Tell me what you want out of the life you're living."

Berry recovered her limited poise. As she pondered the question, she noted to herself that Landshark hadn't been displaying those little mannerisms she normally affected to seem more real. "Financial stability. For Ruby to have good grades so she can later pursue whatever she wants without worries. To be a parent she can be proud of. Or at least less ashamed. Plus the usual comfortable living stuff, you know. Good friends and to deserve them too. Not getting murdered by monsters from the Everfree."

The construct turned to face Berry again, betraying no emotion. "What about right now? Short term. Be honest."

Berry Punch fidgeted. "I really want to stop having to think about it, or to feel bad about it. I want to go home."

Landshark just stood there like a statue, lifeless eyes aimed at Berry Punch.

"I want a drink, okay? Maybe five." Berry looked defeated.

"How is that going to help with your actual goals? Part of me would like to punch an alicorn, but that's not helpful either." There wasn't any pity or judgement in Landshark's voice. Nor warmth, for that matter. To Berry, the construct had never seemed less alive, or more detached and alien, than at this moment. Somehow, that did make it easier to admit things.

Berry shook her head. "Not really. It just makes failure hurt less. Maybe Pinchy will learn what not to do." She sighed.

"Ruby Pinch or your negative impulses," Landshark demanded. "Pick one."

Berry found herself starting to tear up. It just wasn't that easy. The construct couldn't possibly understand. "I'm so scared, Shark. I'll screw it up and make things even worse."

Landshark approached slowly. Suddenly she seemed normal again – alive, slightly awkward in manner. She placed a hand on Berry's head. Although the construct seemed physically flimsy to the earth pony, there'd always been a comforting solidity to her. Now, though, that just made Berry Punch feel weaker and more useless in contrast.

"People should be free to chose what they want. Addiction prevents this. Often it ends in jail or death. Your options are limited. Keep drinking, or fight for control. I don't know if you have to give up alcohol all the way or if you can learn to limit yourself. I'm not a professional on pony health."

Landshark paused. "So, keep drinking, or fight. Two options. You have to accept one, and learn to like the result."

Berry Punch couldn't help but snort. "That sounds like nonsense. Booze is ruining my life, and ... and fighting the addiction just leads to anxiety and failure. What's there to like?"

"Ask Ditzy sometime what's to like about her job. It'll boil down to the ability to provide for her daughter. Berry, think of your daughter. You've been making her unhappy. Isn't changing that a good cause?" Landshark's voice was calm, almost soothing now.

"Y-yes, of course." Berry sniffled.

"Then fight!" Landshark's voice boomed, startling Berry."You have to own the struggle. Make it your own. Make it part of who you are. What do people think when they look at you?"

"An idiot without impulse control. Everyone has a drink every so often, but I managed to do it wrong. A bad mother." Berry sighed. She was rarely so smashed that she didn't notice the way people looked at her, but it was worst when she was sober and seen with her daughter. That's when the looks changed from pity for her as a drunk to disgust for her as a terrible mother.

"Sure. And what do people think when they see me? They see a fool who actively participated in what lead to the assured extinction of her people. Or a bizarre, dangerous stranger. Or an automaton pretending to be a person." Landshark shrugged. "Ponies are petty and judgmental. I know what's true about me. You don't know what's true about you. Or maybe you do and you hate it."

Berry hung her head. "I don't know," she admitted. "Maybe I would hate it if I knew."

Landshark abruptly stood up again. She walked over to the window again and turned her back on it to face Berry Punch. "Remember. Your first choice was your daughter. Hold onto that. I'll tell you about my faith."

Landshark wound up to deliver a sermon. "You have to learn to accept your Self. You already know what you want and who you love. It will be hard. But there is a choice to be made about your Self. Will you continue to drown your sorrows and hide from your duties, accepting a ball and chain in the place where your soul's wings should be? Or will you stand up and let life's hardships temper you into something greater than you are?"

Landshark continued, with real zeal. "You don't know how to trust yourself yet. You see the worst in every situation. Fine. Your Self is a sad, shriveled little thing. But I've spoken to your friends. You have never done anything less than your duty to your daughter, even at your worst. Trust us to know your best, and to cheer every step of the way when you try to become better yet."

"Maybe this isn't something you just fix. Maybe this is going to be something you have to be holding together at all times, never letting your guard down. Learn to love the fight, Berry, because it will make you a better pony than you ever dreamed of being. You'll go out with your friends. You'll enjoy yourself. If anyone offers you a drink, you'll look them right in the eye and tell them 'Thank you, but I'm a recovering alcoholic.' without a hint of shame. You will not be ashamed because you will know that you have set your mistakes right and that you are stronger for it! And your daughter will be even prouder of you than she already is." The construct spoke with absolute conviction, imbuing the words with the same immutability that Landshark thought she herself had.

Berry listened. She could not help but be moved by the speech. Landshark had delivered it in a way that seemed to leave no doubt that she would die for her beliefs ... and all she'd done was talk about what Berry's friends saw in her, and how she might beat her addiction. Berry felt herself cry again.

"I don't think I can be that pony, Shark." She choked back a sob. "I'm not unbreakable like you. I can't be that strong. You're setting yourself up for disappointment."

Landshark approached Berry again and embraced her in a hug. The construct was neither soft, nor warm, but Berry allowed the sentiment to comfort her a little as Landshark spoke quietly. "You are a great mare. Trust a renegade on that. Don't confuse greatness with perfection, though. You can be great anyway. It's worth more that way."

"I can't pretend it'll be easy," Landshark granted, "but I promise that one day you will have learned to like the struggle, because it is what turned your life around, made you a better pony and mother, and perhaps eventually a funny grandma instead of a bitter one no one wants to visit. You'll hold your head a little higher and step a little lighter. Once you're at that point, I'll tell anyone who asks: 'Berry Punch made a lot of mistakes, but she beat them all without being dragged down. Put Berry where you will, there she stands.' Besides, it only takes a little bit of my confidence to make a fool of yourself at parties while perfectly sober!"

Berry had never heard Landshark use that phrase to describe anyone but herself or her people. She knew she would never be unconquerable, as the construct claimed to be. She was sure should could be driven to a point where she would crumple and give up, but oddly, she actually found herself wanting to be worthy of the praise in her own small way. To stand tall no matter the adversity. At least while her daughter still needed her. Intellectually she knew that her problem must seem rather petty compared to what Landshark had lived through, but emotionally they might as well be the same thing. Evil god, alcoholism, Same difference.

"But Berry, I'm not a doctor or a therapist. We'll be with you every step of the way to build you up, but you need professional help more than you need a preacher. There's no shame in it. This is a disease, not a moral failing."

Landshark paused briefly. "If I find out along the way that anyone has tried to make you feel ashamed, I would be ever so upset with them." There was a chill in her voice.

Berry cried harder. "I'll do it! I-I swear I'll give it my best shot. For Pinchy. For you guys." The mare started shaking. "This thing ... part of me, has been trying to get between me and Pinchy for long enough. I'll beat it. I'll get help and...and I'll get a grip on it!"

They remained like that for a few minutes as Berry composed herself again. Landshark knew that a good pep talk wasn't going to solve a problem such as this, but she was cautiously optimistic that she had given Berry Punch the boost she needed to really get stuck in and at least make a start. With the support of her daughter and friends, she would hopefully retain the momentum.

Eventually Landshark stood up and broke out one of her recently regrown teeth. Sure, she could have offered Berry one of the ones that had been bucked out of her face recently, but this way seemed more personal and sincere. She held the tooth up to Berry. "Take some of my construct strength when you feel yourself struggling. It is not much to an earth pony, but it is inexhaustible. It's not easy, becoming what you want to be, instead of what you hate. I should know."

Berry accepted the token with a small smile and stored it in her saddlebags. "Thank you. I'll be leaning on you guys a lot."

The two of them prepared to leave the castle, although they figured they should say their goodbyes to their host first. Landshark, following a sudden impulse, leant down to whisper something in Berry's ear as they approached Princess Twilight's study.

Twilight had apparently been reorganizing the room with Spike's help, although to what end or by what system wasn't clear to either Landshark or Berry. The construct spoke up first. "Princess, we were about to leave. Thanks again for letting us have a room."

Twilight turned to face her guests with a smile while continuing to levitate books everywhere. She noticed that Berry Punch had been crying, just as the mare made eye contact with Twilight and stepped forward. "Yes, thanks." Berry briefly struggled with herself. "Twilight. I've got to run and pick up Pinchy from a friend's place. Do you have any self-help books for...for alcoholics trying to quit that I could pick up sometime?" Berry had managing to steel herself upon mentioning her daughter. Nothing and nopony was more important.

"Sure!" Twilight nodded. "That's a good idea, Berry. I'll just have Spike..."

She was interrupted by Berry. "That's great thanks I'llbebackforthemTwilight." Then the earth pony was gone, much to Twilight's confusion.

Landshark chuckled audibly before calling after Berry. "I'll drop them off at your place!" Then she turned back to Twilight, twitching her jaw to indicate a smile.

Spike glowered a little from his place on top of a ladder. "That was pretty rude, you know."

"Spike," Twilight admonished. "Berry Punch is going through some difficulties, so be reasonable. How'd that go, Landshark, were you able to help her?" Twilight had in fact been extremely tempted to eavesdrop, just to share the construct's possibly alien insights, but she'd been able to restrain herself.

Landshark shrugged, but at least sounded optimistic. "I don't know much about the severity of her alcohol problem, to be honest. But I can see she doesn't particularly like or trust her Self, which would be a pretty big hindrance to dealing with any severe substance abuse issue. If it's bad, she's going to be fixing that for the rest of her life, and she absolutely needs to trust herself. I think I nudged her in the right direction." The construct briefly looked up to Spike. "She will seek professional help. In the meantime she'll try to be, or create a Self that her daughter can be proud of. I guess bowing and scraping to the Princess here isn't on that list. One can't just think about change, you know. You have to live yourself into a new way of thinking, not the other way around."

"Well," Twilight countered with a smile, "or maybe you're just rubbing off on your friends. What was it? 'No gods, no masters'? That's alright. I wish more ponies would still treat me as their neighbor the librarian."

Spike was climbing down the ladder now. "Fair enough. I don't envy her. Although it sounds a little bit like dragon greed. You always have to keep the lid on, all the time. It doesn't go away. Tell you what, I'll track down those books and deliver them later."

"Well Princess, it's hard to remember the librarian when you're living in a castle this sparkly, I imagine." Landshark had sounded amused, now she leaned down to stage-whisper in a conspiratory manner. "Just as a thought experiment, I made her chose between Celestia or her daughter. I'd barely finished and she'd picked her daughter."

Twilight just rolled her eyes. "That's just stupid. She's never going to have to make a choice like that. What's the point of that?"

Landshark straightened and tilted her head. "C'mon. Don't let your worship override your smarts. It's easy to figure out."

Spike was holding up his hand while Twilight bit her lip. "Oh, pick me, pick me!" When the construct nodded at Spike, he ventured, "so she knows that even when the impossible happens and she has no time to think, she has her priorities straight?"

"Substantially correct. Any other answer and she would not have been worthy of either one." Landshark crossed her arms. "Berry doesn't need Celestia and Celestia doesn't need Berry. But she and her daughter need each other. In this thought experiment, imagine if Berry lost Ruby Pinch but stayed faithful to Celestia. She'd never see the sun again, or marvel at the power of the alicorns. She'd just know that Celestia flips a big stupid light switch so ponies don't bump into things. There'd be no magic in her life then. Sure, none of this is going to happen, but just knowing that she still has the right instincts should, in a small way, help her puzzle her confidence back together."

Sometimes Twilight thought that Landshark was intentionally needling her with all this irreverence towards Princess Celestia, but it seemed pretty much the default stance of the construct. She had to admit it was rankling her. Still, she nodded slowly. "I can see what you were going for, I suppose."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that. But, I was hoping to ask another thing of you. If I'm going to run a smithy, I'm going to need enchanted steel. How hard is that to do and, more importantly, to learn?"

Twilight looked slightly puzzled. "Enchanted to do what, exactly?" She mentally ran down a checklist of potentially useful volumes.

"It doesn't need to do anything," Landshark explained. "It just needs to hold a magical charge for the crafter to tease out with the proper techniques. So I need to know if there's a spell that a unicorn can use to put some magic into steel. That seems like something ponies might have invented before so pegasi or earth ponies could craft magic gear without a unicorn having to be present, so I thought I'd ask."

"Interesting. I assume this is from your original home? I always knew enchanting as spells placed on finished items, or during the crafting process. Are you implying that if the magic is stored in the materials, a crafter who can't otherwise do magic can still manipulate it enough to create desired effects in the finished work?" Twilight was scribbling down notes again. Spike excused himself to find those books for Berry Punch, which he judged to be the more important thing to do. "Sure Spike, you go on ahead. Thanks."

"Yep. There's lots of fancy material with magic potential you can find naturally in small quantities, but if you want magic out of more basic materials like steel you are normally going to need to find an Enchanter to do it." Landshark thought for a while. "Enchanters are kind of utility casters, in a way. They can disguise themselves with illusions, increase their own charisma, mesmerize people for short periods, allow other magic users to recover their focus quicker. And enchant some materials."

"Huh. Kind of reminds me of a showmare I know. Well, I'll have to do some research, but it shouldn't be too difficult, since apparently the secret is in the crafting process. What kind of effects are we talking about here?" Twilight decided that getting to learn about alien forging techniques was an adequate peace offering by the construct.

"Too bad I don't have anything to let you analyze as an example. This is a bit less advanced than my own creation, and there's a limit what you can do with enchanted steel anyway. The big practical ones are enhanced durability, a limited ability to adjust dimensions to fit the wearer or wielder, within reason, and for weapons, the ability to damage and destroy monsters that are immune to regular weapons, like certain undead or magical beings."

She idly rubbed her chin. "Durability is probably a big deal if I'm going to be crafting tools. Generally wearing magical equipment might also make you a little stronger, faster or tougher, but honestly with steel the effects are not going to be too noticeable. And I admit that it will take experimenting to adjust my techniques to some of these mundane items. I made arms and armor in the past. That was it."

Twilight nodded eagerly. "Fascinating. Not as flashy as I thought, but it sounds very useful. So if you had some kind of material that holds a lot more potential, you could craft things of greater power?" Royal Guard armor was generally enchanted after crafting, she seemed to remember, Canterlot had no shortage of capable unicorns after all, but the approach Landshark described seemed very convenient for a world were magic wasn't available to a sizable portion of the civilian population.

"Maybe," Landshark allowed before cautioning, "but I'm not a master or anything. Most of the really flashy stuff was either ancient artifacts or blessed by gods or otherwise real one of a kind works. I'm just looking to craft tools, not make another set of Elements."

After a moment of hesitation, Landshark continued. "I was sort of hoping that enchanting steel would be easy to do for unicorns. Imagine if I could make horseshoes or something for Berry and Ditzy that their daughters helped zap a little bit of magic into. Be a nice gesture. Heard you were tutoring them a bit."

Twilight smiled. "Those two and some others. They just treat me as a teacher instead of a princess, which is nice, even if they don't necessarily treat me nicely as a teacher. But that's a very sweet idea. I'm sure Lyra would love something like that for Bon Bon as well. I'll get on this as soon as I can!"

"You do that, Twilight. I'll be looking into hiring some apprentices soon. Or at least pick them out now and then employ them once the smithy is standing." Landshark waved and turned to leave – she could tell that Twilight really wanted to be running out of the room right now, presumably to head to another room full of books.

"Sounds good. See you soon!" Twilight was switching into research mode, Princess of Friendship business would have to wait. Although she did appreciate that for the first time, Landshark had simply called her Twilight instead of by her title. She smiled as she worked.

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