• 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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Making Connections

Landshark entered a small cottage housing a handful of changeling refugees. She idly wondered how handfuls compared to hooffuls. She was also curious if she'd encountered any during her time in Ponyville, but remembered that changelings were generally encouraged to stay in their true shape. All she knew that a pair of small houses on the Everfree side of town represented temporary lodgings for refugees or expatriates. That wasn't the sort of vocabulary she had ever had to think about before, and she wasn't invested enough in getting it right to check a dictionary.

In looking for workers, the construct had hit upon the idea to try and hire other newcomers to Equestria. Ponyville's population of migrants was rather minuscule, which probably set pony minds at ease. It would be good to get to know other sapient species, and Landshark did feel sympathy for people who left behind much of what they had known. She was also pragmatic enough to recognize that she'd likely be able to pay them a little less than the average, although that sort of thinking felt alien to her. bellikos were not, after all, built for free enterprise.

Most of the changelings appeared to shy away after a momentary pause, perhaps surprised to sense emotions from an inorganic being. Landshark thought changelings such as these were worth a great deal of respect, if they really had betrayed their queen to try and live with the ponies. She noted that the changelings seemed to recover their poise to a degree and assumed that they could feel her generally positive default stance towards them. Still, most of them seemed just a bit uneasy. She approached one who seemed more centered than the others. She couldn't read emotions and certainly had no idea how to read a changeling's expression, but she thought one of them had flinched less and recovered quicker.

"You there," she pointed at the changeling of unknown gender, which did make them flinch for real now. "Do you understand the local language?"

"Yes. Us non-infiltrators are being taught when we arrive here." The changeling tilted its head. "How can we help you, stranger?"

Changelings shuffled uncomfortably as Landshark swept her inanimate gaze slowly over their number. "I'm Landshark. New in Equestria. Planning to set up a smithy. Any of you got any experience working metal?"

There was general head-shaking in the room. "Hmm. Anyone here used to hard physical labor?"

The changeling she'd picked out before spoke up this time. "I used to work with the tunneling teams." He/she looked like they might regret having drawn attention again.

"Very good. You want to be an apprentice, then? There's still a living to be made out here away from the big foundries and factories, I think. What's your name, then?"

The changeling appeared somewhat embarrassed. "I haven't picked a name yet." They paused before adding, "Sorry."

"Hmpf. Now a name might just be a cloak of letters but it's a nice convenience. I'll have you know my sisters and I are all identical. Identifiers are good. Tell me who you are, then." The construct regarded the changeling evenly.

"Well, I just told you I don't have a name..."

"Not what I meant." The changeling began feeling like an insect pinned to a cork now, although there hadn't been a detectable change in the construct's expression. "Tell me about your Self."

The changeling took a few calming breaths. He could feel genuine curiosity, along with traces of respect for the changelings in the room as a whole, and generally all the various tiny traces of emotion of a normal mind that accumulated in the course of a day. Behind it all laid a dull lump of shackled emotion that he was too worried to take a closer feel of. He suddenly and very badly wanted to give a satisfying answer.

"I excavated tunnels for the hive until the queen threw us all at Canterlot. My mate and I both managed to survive the aftermath, but ... we didn't want to raise children ruled by the mad queen. Lives are too cheap to her. Of course the attack on Canterlot made it a lot harder for refugees like us to be accepted, but we had to take the chance."

Despite the emotional toll speaking ill of the queen continued to take even now, the changeling straightened. "The queen lied. The alicorns aren't our enemies. Ask any refugee who has had the good fortune of getting within a few hundred steps of Princess Celestia. Sure, everyone knows there's enough ponies with repulsive personalities too, but I've seen grown changelings weep and curse the queen for making us attack the Princess and her ponies after they experienced how Princess Celestia cares for the people under her protection."

The changelings collectively recoiled as if physically struck as a wave of cold loathing radiated off the construct. Fury so focused and intense and yet so bizarrely grey and dead that it barely even seemed real. The thing in front of them hated with everything that she was, the emotion a dull, ashen expanse that her more visceral emotions seemed to get lost in.

"Your story makes me very angry," Landshark calmly pointed out. She tried to focus on her sympathy for these people instead. "But please, carry on."

The changeling sighed and tried to stop shivering. He wasn't sure he'd ever get that chill out of his bones. "We made it here. My mate got pregnant. There were complications. Anywhere else in the world, I'd have lost her, the children, or both, but in Equestria, at Ponyville General, they saved them. I owe everything to Equestria. Let the Patriotic Equestrians hold up their signs and yell about cultural infiltration or whatever, they're not the real Equestria. The real Equestria are the ponies at the hospital who'll try and treat anyone in need, or the nice ponies donating bits and goods, letting us work or helping us learn."

Landshark had listened closely and now nodded. "I'm a sucker for a happy ending with children. Hit me right in the weak spot." There suddenly was real warmth again. "I like you. You have a Self to be proud of." The construct offered her hand. The changeling extended a hoof to shake.

"I'll do my best to earn my keep, Miss Landshark, you'll see. I'm good for more than digging!"

Landshark squatted down to be closer to the changeling's face and nodded severely. "I'll do my best to be a good boss. If you or your family ever need help with anything, you go right on and tell me and I'll figure out a way to help. Or who to ask for competent help." She snapped her jaws and the changeling was assaulted by another wave of frigid emotion. "Help with anything at all."

The changeling shivered. Nothing had been said explicitly, but he was suddenly sure that the construct could be the kind of friend who helped you move bodies. Bury them in the woods, maybe.

"What is wrong with you? How aren't you dead or exiled, carrying around a grudge that size?" It was a changeling kind of question. Any changeling with a chip on their shoulder of that severity wasn't likely to stay a useful cog in the machine for long. Or so the reasoning went, in any case. Obviously the queen was an exception.

"Maybe I'll tell the story to you sometime. I just get angry at beings who abuse authority and trust. Your story about your queen struck close to home. I'll never forgive things like that, but I won't endanger people around me with my issues. Besides, it's not like I have the means to back up my anger, hah." Landshark shook her head and stood up straight again. "I hope that answer was good enough. I'd sooner die than let such beings harm regular folks like you while you're working for me."

The changeling was glad that the alien fury he'd felt didn't appear to be powering any kind of magic ability, although he suspected Landshark would be inventive in compensating for that lack. "Well, you can't fool a changeling, and you do mean it. I just had to know. My family would be upset if I signed on with the wrong boss."

"I understand completely. I'll be in touch. Might be a week or two for construction to finish and all the tools to arrive. Come up with some name ideas in the meantime. Maybe your family will help. Otherwise bring some options along and I'll pick one to use at work." She waved a quick goodbye before leaving the changelings to themselves. She'd seen another potential employee she wanted to talk to.

She walked up to her target, seated behind the building, appearing to be reading some kind of textbook.

"So what's your story, friend?" Landshark found herself face to face with the largest minotaur she had ever seen. He wasn't taller than her, but he appeared so thick with slabs of muscle that he almost seemed deformed – not the idealized type of muscular, but the sort she associated with ogres and trolls...or in this case, probably endless physical labor.

The minotaur snorted. "Greywack. Not exciting story like changelings. Work quarry for twenty years. Hard work, pay okay. Then quarry closes. Money problems. Wife's grandparents getting old, need support in a few years."

The minotaur shook his head, describing an impressive arc with his horns. Landshark stopped herself from taking a step back. "Son, daughter, they want to quit school, work, make money for us, grandparents. Big fight about it. I put hoof down. After twenty years in quarry, kids could just try to shift mountain, work as good. Now, work small jobs here. Bad pay in Equestria goes far in old country. I send money home, wife can afford pretty things, kids finish school, maybe learn smart trade. But hope better pay comes before wife's parents too old to work. Or kids talk about quitting school again."

Landshark listened quietly. She didn't technically need another employee, but she still had some wiggle room in the short term budget and figured she'd do him a good turn. Landshark was amused at herself. She could be described as confident to the point of arrogance, by people with power and authority. But on her mental hierarchy of respect, she'd always reserved the highest spots for the ordinary people, for whom providing for their family was heroic struggle enough in this world.

"Alright, Greywack. I'm Landshark. I'm looking to get set up as a blacksmith. I could use another assistant. I don't know if the other guy is tough enough for the job and I need a striker. Even if I run us into the ground, I got funds for two months of wages so worst case you'd still have some stability for the next couple weeks. Sound fair?"

"Sound fair enough," the minotaur agreed. "Maybe too old to learn fast, but learn. When?"

"Well," Landshark admitted, "I purchased a vacant plot but not everything has arrived or been built yet. Might be another week. Two, if I'm unlucky."

"Ok. Need any help before, say so." Greywack smiled a bit ruefully. "Time for language class. Sorry to cut short." With that, he walked off briskly.

Landshark left as well. She had promised to spend time with Dinky Do, one of Ruby Pinch's little friends, as a favor to Ditzy. The filly had taken a shine to her, she thought. Perhaps Ruby Pinch had been singing the construct's praises to her friends. But she couldn't help but worry. She had been vaguely aware of changelings, but hearing first hand about the queen had been bad. She hadn't felt so angry in a very long time, never in the human world, certainly, and it reminded her too much that she was a very different kind of being from humans or ponies, and that this nation was, after all, ruled by the very sort of beings she was built to undermine.

Landshark rested on the grass on Ponyville's park, watching the clouds. She was listening intently to Dinky Do talking about magic tutoring under Princess Twilight. The construct understood little of it, but it was enough to know that Dinky seemed happy with the lessons and whatever progress she was making.

"You know, if Twilight ever gets around to figuring out how to properly enchant steel, and I get my business set up, you could have a go at it. Putting magic into metal, I mean."

Dinky stepped onto Landshark's chest to better come face to face with her and smiled. "Could I? If it's not too hard, I'll do it. Maybe you can make magic shoes for mom!"

Landshark scratched the filly behind her ears with one hand. The weight on her chest didn't bother her. Her joints might be fragile, but her torso was reinforced. The construct smiled, in her usual way, as Dinky echoed an idea she'd had herself. "Exactly. She'd love that." She paused. "Love is kinda like a horseshoe, I guess."

"You're going to have to explain that." Dinky tried to sound patiently indulgent, which didn't quite work. In any case, the filly was getting used to Landshark's occasional rambling. Usually it at least seemed sensible.

"Well," Landshark reasoned while touching her index fingers to the filly's forehooves. "If you go walk somewhere rough, the metal keeps the ground from wearing down your hooves, right?"

"Yes," Dinky agreed with a hint of 'no, duh' in her voice. She nodded for Landshark to continue.

Landshark poked Dinky in the chest, making her giggle. "Well, if life or other ponies treat you rough, it's remembering your loved ones that keeps you from being worn down. That's why your mother is always so happy, you know. Because she has you."

Dinky nodded slowly and smiled sweetly. "Okay. That works both ways, then." She paused. "I guess now that you explained it it's a lot less silly than it sounds. A lot!"

Landshark chuckled. "I'm glad you approve, Agent." The construct took note of two young earth ponies approaching. "Friends of yours?"

Dinky flattened her ears. "Oh no, not them." She considered trying to hide, but she had clearly already been seen.

Landshark assumed that she was looking at the local bullies she'd heard about. Glasses on one, tiara on the other. Definitely them.

The one with the glasses seemed to look at Landshark with interest, but the one with the tiara seemed to act deliberately aloof or uninterested and turned to Dinky. "Hey blank flank. We heard your mother is working extra shifts again. Did she break something expensive again or is she just too stupid to keep her money together?"

"Mom isn't stupid!" Dinky all but yelled. Perhaps there was more she had wanted to say, but Diamond Tiara wasn't done yet.

"It's sad, really. I guess Ruby Pinch's mother could technically stop being the town drunk, but yours is always going to be a wall-eyed idiot. And no one can even tell us what her cutie mark means."

"Yeah," the filly with the glasses added. "Yours is going to be just as useless, I bet."

Landshark was beginning to feel faintly insulted. She thought that probably, these kids wouldn't be talking like that in front of an adult pony. Her person-hood was being implicitly denied, which wasn't new or even particularly upsetting. It just seemed more petty than usual when it was done to harass another filly. Perhaps she was simply still too new in town for everyone to realize that she was a person. She laughed, deliberately drawing attention to herself.

"Useless cutie mark? That's funny coming from you, girl. I can come up with two or three ideas about Ditzy Do's cutie mark that all have merit, but what do you have going there? Silver Spoon? Is your talent getting rich by someone else's work? Or was your talent 'having rich parents'? That's kind of a one-shot, isn't it?" She turned to the other one. "Is your special talent wearing that specific thing on your head? That's kind of useless, isn't it. At least most ponies find some way to contribute to society. Or maybe your talent is being insufferably stuck up?"

Making fun of two young fillies wasn't exactly a proud moment for Landshark, but she shrugged off the thought. It didn't seem as if the two bullies were particularly impressed anyway. Well, the one with the glasses seemed at least a little chastened. Or just insecure, it was not easy to tell.

"You can't talk to us like that," Diamond Tiara insisted. "My father owns half this town, so if you're not nice to me, you're not going to have a good time around here."

"Huh," Landshark tilted her head. "I see how it is. But I have a letter of recommendation from Princess Celestia herself. That's something you can't buy with money, little filly. Ask the Mayor or Princess Twilight if you want to see a copy." Still, she filed that tidbit away, it seemed useful to know if she was to succeed in business around here. The thought still seemed alien.

"Tch." Diamond Tiara was only moderately impressed. "Everyone knows Princesses don't deal with little disputes. That wouldn't be fair. If you want to be anyone outside Canterlot you have to know the right people in business, not royalty. Who do you know? Poor people and losers, that's who."

Landshark was pretty sure this little filly qualified as a huge jerk. A brat. Landshark hadn't had that much occasion to think critically about the behavior of children. The one with the glasses seemed mostly to be a toady. A yes-mare. The term seemed funny in her head. But Landshark was also sure that Diamond Tiara either didn't see the construct as any kind of adult authority, or just didn't respect anyone except her father and maybe the teacher. That, or her father was one of those xenophobes. That didn't seem a smart move for business so it seemed unlikely to Landshark.

Dinky was really upset now. She'd been so happy to see her mother gain multiple new friends recently. "They're not losers! They're great. They're nice to mom and me and..and..."

Landshark gently picked Dinky off her chest, stood up, then surprised the filly by slinging her across her neck, front legs over one shoulder, hind legs over the other. She stared down at the two bullies.

"You know, most ponies can't say they made a real difference somewhere. But you did it. Congratulations. You made a difference in my life. I was thinking, 'maybe I should do something with my life. Maybe, just maybe, I should reach out, try to make someone feel like they belong in this world.' I was thinking of all the differences I could make in this world with just a little bit of my time."

Landshark snapped her jaws and ground out the words. "But then I had to listen to you and the wheels just came off and I realized how pointless it'd be to try. I'd fail to make a difference, because you've been in town too long. I imagine every time you talk to someone, they get just a little bit more bitter, have just a little bit more contempt for other ponies. Sure, some other time, some other town, maybe they'd let it go if they get shortchanged at the market, or someone bumps into them and they drop something. But not now. Not in Ponyville. Here, they'll have lost hope in other ponies. They'll decide revenge is the answer. Today, the other pony will pay. Because for all anyone knows, they might be just as petty and spiteful as you."

She turned and strode away, carrying Dinky home, leaving angrily sputtering earth fillies behind. It had been a petty indulgence for Landshark to lay into the fillies like that, and she didn't expect it to do anything except possibly lower the opinion their parents had of the construct, but she still didn't think much of her ability to comfort sad children like Dinky, so plan B had been to go on the offense, then make an exit.

Eventually, Dinky spoke up shakily. "Please don't turn nasty just because of those bullies, Agent Shark. Mom always said we can't stop being nice to ponies just because of a couple bad ones." She paused. "I know that seems hard sometimes."

Landshark stopped in her tracks and gently lowered Dinky to the ground as they were nearing Ditzy's house. "I promise I won't, Agent Double-Down. On my oath. I was just messing with those two, because maybe I'm petty and childish too." She patted the filly on the head carefully. "I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry. I know I'm very good at sounding pretend-serious."

Dinky recovered quickly and smiled. She had been a little worried, but apparently the construct was just really good at acting. "Pretty sure we call that fibbing around here, Ma'am."

Landshark emitted a chuckle. "Are you suggesting your superior officer is anything but completely honorable at all times, Agent?"

Dinky seemed to think this over. "Sure. I think you're only, uh, honorable as long as that helps you look after your friends?"

"You really are just as smart as your mother always tells me." She paused. "You're right. I'm not always as good as I could be, but I'll always be there to look out for you. Or you know, as long as you live near me. I can't leave town just to follow around one of my friends."

"I'm not stupid, Ma'am. I thought of that myself." The reprimand was gentle. "Thanks for being mom's friend. She doesn't always mean it when she smiles. Except for me, that's always real. But she means it for other people a lot more often now. I don't know all the adult things but I think ponies need friends even when they're older."

Landshark briefly wondered if Dinky said 'people' occasionally because the construct was so lax in picking up Equestrian nuance of expression. It seemed a little early for Landshark to already be rubbing off on her, but maybe Dinky and Ruby Pinch had needed a secondary role model of some kind. Or perhaps they treated it as one of the peculiarities of being a (pretend-)monster hunter.

"Glad to hear that. Your mother is a good pony, and no mistake. She should be happy, and if me being around makes her happier, that's great." Landshark started walking again. "I doubt I'll be much help with your bullies, though. Not much I can, or would, do to kids, really."

Although Dinky had been close to tears earlier, she nodded gravely and tried to look brave. "Sometimes you just have to trust the agent on the ground to handle their own problems, Ma'am."

Settling down in the same town one of the mighty alicorns called home still seemed like a pretty stupid plan to Landshark. She knew her own nature, had only recently been reminded, in fact. Most of her friends would understand if she changed her mind, but she'd deeply disappoint the two fillies who had taken a liking to her, and that cost never seemed as great as in moments like this.

"I know words can hurt a lot. It's okay to come to your family or friends if you have to cry." She looked down at the filly. "I know you'd like to be tough, but trust me. It's better to talk about it if it hurts. We monster hunters have seen some scary things, and being too scared or too upset means you can't help the team as much as you should. So it's your responsibility to your people to keep your heart in good health too, even when mean ponies want to see you unhappy and ashamed."

Landshark supposed she could always pull up stakes and move away twenty years down the line. She didn't age, after all. But the thought didn't feel real, she was too used to living in the moment. She wondered if her sisters had been similarly bad at long term planning. Perhaps, the construct mused, those few bellikos who stayed loyal to the hated First were all too aware that the First was the only being who could create more of their people.

But Landshark had learned that the future tended to have fewer of her friends in it than the present. She could, after all, only grieve for people she actually lost, but the could worry about anything that might happen. During the last decade it hadn't often seemed particularly appealing to worry about the future.

"I understand, I'll keep that in mind." Dinky started cantering ahead to her home. "Mom won't be home yet but we can draw pictures or play games!"

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