• Published 10th Jun 2016
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In Sheep's Clothing - Kydois

An unfortunate decision by Nymph plants her in the role of an infiltrator, dealing with the worst terror of all. Ponies.

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Chapter 2 — Tastes Like Nostalgia




I shifted around as I tried to block out the light working its way through my eyelids. Why was it so bright? Someling must have turned the light on. Why else it would be so bright down in the sleeping chamber?

And why did my bed feel so… soft? Perhaps not really soft. It’s like sleeping on what I’d imagine to be firm foam. The blanket was a tad thin too, but as a Royal Guard living mostly in the barracks, I was fairly used to crappy blankets. Maybe I just—

I froze. I haven’t been in Canterlot before. Well, I had, apparently. I remember living there, but at the same time, I know I haven’t set hoof in there before.

Breathe in. Breathe out. I blanked out my mind before trying to bring up my most recent memories. Snippets of that night filtered through my rapidly awakening mind. The Everfree. The manticore. The… the pony. The pony’s companions must have arrived, or I would still be bleeding out on the forest floor. The question now was where exactly I was sleeping.

My eyes slowly opened, having adjusted to the light more, and I checked my forelegs. Charcoal colored, but they were full and furred, so I let out a sigh of relief. My disguise managed to hold through my unconsciousness, and judging by the clean, tight bandage wrapped firmly around my neck and chest area, my hastily constructed plan worked as I had hoped. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check on the state of my wound with the wrappings. The area above my shoulder was sore and aching and I could barely move or lift my left foreleg, but for such a dire wound, it was surprising that it hurt as little as it did.

I turned my attention away from myself and to my surroundings. The room itself was a decent size, enough to fit two more beds on my left, though I couldn’t see them with the curtain in the way. The wallpaper was a dark blue, trending towards navy, with light cloud-like swirls across it. The bed itself was fairly large for my size, but nothing special: wooden with a purple blanket across it. To my right was the offending window, the sunlight casting its glow directly over my bed.

I finally turned to the last little part of my new world, one that I had been trying to avoid acknowledging. To my left was a pony pegasus, the stallion who was part of the same scouting party that I was in. He was asleep, his head buried in a little nook created by his forelegs, and one of his wings was wrapped in a bandage. I would consider seeing if I could get up and escape if it didn’t mean disturbing Steelie.

I blinked. There it was again. Seeing Steel Blade at my side was confusing, to say the least. On one hoof, this was a pony, one who I knew little about and felt even less comfortable staying near. I was a ranger, trained to hold at most one disguise for a short amount of time. I shouldn’t even be this close to a pony to begin with.

And yet, I couldn’t help but feel comfortable in his presence. It was even heartwarming to see him here, but…

It’s one thing interacting with ponies, but quite another to want that interaction. My mind was telling me to get away and go back into hiding, into seclusion, but my gut was telling me something entirely different.

By the sands he moved he moved he moved do something do something don’tjustsitthere

He groaned, stretching out and letting out a yawn before he finally turned to me. “Oh, you’re awake!” Steel Blade was uncomfortably cheerful as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Even after all that, you’re still the earliest to rise. You alright? How’re you feeling?”

“I errr… I’m… d-doing okay, I think,” I managed to get out.

I flinched involuntarily when he raised an eyebrow at me. “Something wrong? You look like a cornered rabbit. You sure you’re alright?” He raised a hoof to my forehead, which my good foreleg swat away before I noticed.

“Oh, don’t worry so much about me, Steelie,” I found myself saying. “And I was a cornered rabbit, remember. I nearly got mauled by a manticore, but I’m still alive, right?” My eyes narrowed at him. “Right?

He snorted, but did break into a smile afterwards. “That sounds more like the Overwatch I know, but you’re probably remembering something different from what I’m remembering, ’cause you weren’t nearly mauled. You were absolutely one hundred percent mauled by a manticore. And exploded.”

My eyes rolled. “It couldn’t have been that bad. My bandage isn’t even wet.” The words came out naturally.

“Actually, it was much worse than he’s making it sound.”

I turned to the source of the voice, a young unicorn nurse with a white coat and a pink mane tied up in a bun. She smiled at me as she picked up the medical chart hanging on the end of my bed and walked over to stand beside Steel Blade. “Morning, Ms. Overwatch. I am Nurse Redheart. I was one of the nurses responsible for keeping you alive.”

Another pony standing too close to me. “N-nice to meet you,” I said hesitantly, rubbing at my left foreleg with a hoof. “Err, you said it was much worse. How… how bad was it, actually?”

“For one, miss, your blood was green.”

I made a ‘hurk’ noise as I gagged on my own breath, staring with wide eyes as I tried to scoot back further into the bed. How could I have been so dumb? I should’ve tried to change the color of my blood with an open wound, and now they’re going to figure out that I’m a—

The nurse seemed just as surprised at my sudden reaction, because she raised her hooves and tried to calm me down. “Miss, i-i-it was definitely unexpected, but with how little we know about the Everfree, there could’ve definitely been some sort of magic in there producing that symptom.”

I stopped. They… they didn’t suspect anything? I did relax my posture a bit, but I still watched the two ponies warily.

Nurse Redheart cleared her throat, backing off now that I didn’t seem like I was seizing. She turned to the chart in her magic, flipping a few pages back and skimming the notes. “That was the biggest thing we noticed, but there were other pressing concerns. Whatever your blood looked like, you were bleeding profusely from the three deep lacerations across your neck, almost certainly close to a major artery, if not right on top of one. We also suspected you had a few broken ribs and a concussion from the burnt spots across your coat and mane. We tried to keep your neck as straight as we could in case you had a spinal injury.

“But, of course, your neck. The medical team suspected your greenish blue blood was some sort of illusion you acquired from the forest, but without knowing exactly what it was, our options were limited. Before anything, though, we needed to make sure that you didn’t bleed out, so we decided on a plasma pack to replenish your fluids, but…

Her mouth twisted into a frown, and she let out a short hum. “Hmm… the bandage around your neck now? That’s only the second one.” She leaned in to examine the wrapping around my neck and chest. “We put the first one on to try and stem the flow of blood, and it was drenched when we took it off, but in the time it took for me to find a plasma packet, your wound had closed.”

I stared at her blankly. “I… see?”

She let out a sigh. “Alright, if you can, please sit up a bit while I remove your bandage.” After a moment of hesitation, I complied, and she began using her magic to unwrap the gauze around my neck. “I’m not sure you understand how miraculous your recovery was. When you came in, your neck wounds were at least three centimeters deep. On most other ponies, that would be a death sentence, but to stop bleeding within moments of arriving? On something that would need stitches and at least a month to recover from?”

She shook her head as she completely removed the stainless bandage, revealing three dark brownish-red scabs where the manticore had raked its claws across me. “I’d say it was impossible if it didn’t just happen.”

Redheart spun the bandage up into a little roll as she trotted back to the end of my bed and hung the chart up. “Your wound and the skin around it weren’t green, but we weren’t going to try and get blood from you just to see if your blood was back to normal. It looked like you were recovering, despite everything, so we just monitored you for a few days.”

“A few days?” I blurted out. “How long was I out?”

“Three days, but you’ve been getting better throughout, so there’s no need to worry. You might be here for a while longer as we monitor for any side effects or complications, but at the rate you’re recovering, you might be out of here in a day or two.”

Redheart gave a short bow. “I need to check up on my other patients, but thank you for your patience, and don’t be afraid to call us if you need anything.”

She trotted out the door, leaving me alone with Steel Blade again. I smiled hesitantly at him, and there was an awkward silence before I finally cleared my throat and said, “S-so… I-I guess we can only wait now.”

“Ehhh…” he said uncommittedly. “Not as much as you might think. I already got word back from dad.”

“Oh? What’d he say?” I said simply. Inwardly, however, I was dearly hoping whatever he said wouldn’t prevent me from finding my hivemates quickly and getting myself out of this disguise.

He shrugged. “Nothing much. With your injury, he’s decided to postpone this whole scouting assignment for later. They’re really busy with the Summer Sun Celebration over in Canterlot, and they want everypony they can to help.” He paused for a moment, before he added, “Well, just me and Vice. You’re getting a few days off on medical leave, so you get to enjoy the celebration from the other side. We’re due to leave as soon as you get cleared here.”

I straightened up instantly. “Th-that soon?”

“Hello, sir?” A pair of nurses, one stallion and one mare, peeked their heads around the curtain. “Sir, we’re going to have to ask you to wait outside for a moment. We’re going to perform some tests the doctor ordered, but it shouldn’t take very long at all.”

Steel Blade moved his forelegs from the bed to the ground and stood up out of his chair. “Don’t worry. It’s fine. I just have one last thing to do.”

He turned to me, and my eyes widened when he brought up my scarf from under his wing. “Here! I know how much this means to you, so I made sure to get it back after they washed it out,” he said, depositing the bundle into my hooves. “I can start packing everything back up for when we return to Canterlot. See you soon, and I’ll be sure to give Vice the good news!”

He rounded the corner, out of sight behind the curtain, and my entire body stiffened when the door clicked shut behind him. My hoof held the heavy scarf tightly to my chest as the two nurses approached me from both sides.

I tried to breathe again. It was just a pony test.

Where they might draw my blood.

My changeling blood.

I chuckled nervously, giving them a horribly awkward smile. “So, about these tests…”

One of the nurses, the stallion on my left, checked around the curtain before nodding silently to the other one. The other nurse, a mare, simply smiled at me. “Don’t worry, these are basic exams. We just need to verify a few things,” she said, moving my foreleg closer to her as she took out a syringe filled with a clear liquid.

In an instant, she drew much closer to me, her eyes narrowed into a scowl as she bared her teeth. “Like which hive you came from.”

I let out a tiny squeak, but before I could try to pull my hoof back, she continued again, holding the syringe menacingly pointed at it. “Don’t be so surprised that we found you out. Bleeding green? It wasn’t hard to figure it out from there, so speak, and speak truthfully before we force it out of you.”

I stammered out a few more words, my eyes darting between my two sudden captors as I tried to wriggle my hoof out of her magical grip. “I umm.. Err… It’s just—”

The one on my left rolled his eyes. “Figures it’s just some new untrained drone. Can’t even hold composure.” He sat down in the chair that Steel Blade left, looking calmly at me. “Just give your queen’s name. That’s all we want.”

“Well, I mean…” I took in a deep breath, steadying myself before I began hyperventilating. “C-Chrysalis. Queen Chrysalis.”

The two nurses exchanged a look, but they seemed to visibly calm down. “Alright,” the stallion on my left said. “Broodmother?”

“Broodmother Chorion.” I continued to look between their two expressions. Now that I had calmed down enough to use my empathy sense, I could get a rough sense of their emotions. There was still some sour suspicion, but for the most part, they seemed to be much more comfortable around me.

The mare still glared at me, but it was clear it was just a front. “Prove it. Ping. Stop concealing your link.”

So I did. I opened up my emotional sense and sent out a weak ping through the hivemind so that only those closest to me could sense it. If they were asking for me to ping, they had to have been in my hive to feel it. It would have been impossible for a hostile hive to gain access to the link without dangerous magic.

Both of them loosened up as soon as they felt it, and my foreleg was released from the mare’s magical grip.

The mare put away the syringe and turned to the stallion. “Alright, he’s good. I didn’t expect the Chorion drones to be here already.”

“Chorion drones?” I asked, ignoring the fact that I was referred to as a male. “What brood are you two from?”

“Baltimare,” the stallion answered. “You’re a ranger, right? That explains why we couldn’t detect you on our empathy sense, but I thought the rangers were gone with the last generation. Your ping was distinctly a ranger’s ping.”

I nodded. “Yes, I am. I was told by the queen to watch over the pony scouts in the Everfree.”

“But you botched it,” the mare said, smirking. “You were just supposed to make sure the other hive kept their dirty hooves away, but you ended up getting screwed over by a manticore and impersonating a pony.”

The stallion hissed at his partner. “Enough of that. We gave him enough magic to recover because we bet that he was one of ours, and we were right. We should be thankful enough we could save one of our drones,” he said, before turning to me. “Still, I expected another. If I remember correctly, rangers worked in pairs, so where’s your partner?”

“Partner?” I blinked. “I came alone. The queen specifically ordered just me.”

The stallion’s brow furrowed. “That doesn’t seem right. Why would the queen send only one ranger?”

I let out an exasperated snort. “Look, does it really matter? In the end, the other changelings failed to achieve their goal, and now I’m stuck doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Could one of you please get me out of this situation?”

“We probably could, but I doubt we could impersonate Overwatch very well without her memories,” the stallion said. “It’d be a post that lasts at most a month. We’d be better off going for the other two.”

“B-but I have her memories!” I blurted out desperately. “Please, I don’t want to be here right now!”

The mare narrowed her eyes at me again, staring at me suspiciously. “Impossible. There’s no way you cast the memory spell.”

“But I did! I have them! You can just take them from my own memories, right?” My breathing had started to pick up again, and I looked to the stallion for support.

He let out a low hum. “You… cast the spell by yourself, didn’t you.”

“Yes!” I let out a sigh of relief. “Yes, I managed to get her memories just before she died, so could you two please let me get out of here?”

“You’re not supposed to cast it alone.” The mare’s voice was flat. “There’s a reason every single changeling infiltrator group operates in groups, and it’s because the spell was never meant to be cast alone.”

“I-I…” I looked between them restlessly, fidgeting with my hooves. “I… don’t quite understand. Why?”

The stallion let out a sigh, dropping his head into his hooves before straightening up and addressing me directly. “Right, so… imagine that everyling’s head is like a bookshelf. The books on this bookshelf are the things we remember and can directly access.

“As we said earlier, this spell wasn’t supposed to be cast alone. There should be three different subjects, one being the pony we are taking the memories from, the changeling receiving the memories, and the caster. Normally, three things happen when the caster casts the spell. One is that the mind of the receiving changeling shuts down so they are more receptive to the new memories. The caster then creates a division in the receiving ling’s mind, to separate their memories from the new ones. Only then will there be actual copying of information from the pony’s mind to the ling’s. Think of it like copying words into a journal and putting them onto the ling’s shelf.”

He took in a sharp breath, staring closely at me. “When you’re the only one involved, you’re responsible for both moving the information and for receiving it, and since the receiver’s mind shuts down as the spell is cast…”

The mare let out a huff. “You’re taking too long. What happens is that when you cast the spell, you turn into a vegetable, and what happens when you get a vegetable to sort bookshelves? You get the giant, jumbled, unsorted pile of crap you call your brain. You, as you existed before the spell, are dead, and all we have left is spaghetti.”

“W-w-what?” I looked between them in shock, my mouth agape. “But no ling told me not to cast it alone!”

The stallion rolled his eyes. “Well, it sounds like you were lucky enough to survive the spell at all. A lot of dangerous things can happen when you link minds for the memory transfer, but at least you’re cognizant enough to carry out a conversation. Still, how have you not been warned against casting it?” His brow furrowed together again. “How old are you anyways? Usually only the older infiltrators are even taught the spell in the first place, and you’re a ranger.”

I stared down at my sheets, avoiding eye contact as I mumbled, “F-fourteen.”

The mare stared at me, before breaking down into laughter. “Oh, by the sands, he’s barely more than a hatchling! Oh this is great. Just fantastic. Now we’re stuck with a stupid drone who can’t even think straight anymore.”

“Hey, what do you mean ‘stuck with’?” I snapped, bristling. “Can’t you just memory swap me so I can leave?”

“Nnnope! Not anymore!” the mare snarled. “Didn’t you hear me earlier? I said—”

“Sinister, be quiet,” the stallion said evenly. “Don’t make this worse.”

The mare, Sinister, threw up her hooves and trotted out. “Fine. Whatever. You deal with it.”

The stallion let out a sigh, rubbing at his forehead. “Right, so,” he said, turning to me again. “So no, we can’t exactly use the spell to transfer the pony’s memories over.”

“But why?” I replied, still agitated. “All I keep hearing is how badly I screwed up and no ling is telling me what’s going on.”

“Yeah, Sinister’ll do that. His frustration can leave an entire room tasting salty, and there’s not much you can do to stop it,” he said with a shrug. “But anyways, going back to the analogy I used earlier, Sinister was right about one thing. Your head”—he prodded my forehead with a hoof—“Is a giant mess of changeling and pony memories. It’d be borderline impossible to unravel whatever you have in there because we won’t be able to tell what’s yours and what’s not.”

He sighed deeply. “In terms of infiltration, you might just be the most qualified changeling in all of Equestria to act as a replacement for… Overwatch.”

What? No no no nonononono.” I shook my head feverishly. “There’s no way I’m qualified. I’m a ranger! I don’t know the first thing about interacting with ponies or collecting information or whatever you lings do!”

“Yes, but we can train that, or just tell you what to look for. You still have the pony’s memories, even if it’s jumbled with your own, and you might have picked up a few mannerisms,” he said, gesturing at me with a hoof. “You used a nickname when you were talking with that pegasus earlier. ‘Steelie’, was it?”

I nodded silently, burying myself in my scarf. This was definitely going the direction I didn’t want it to go.

“Now, a lot of this is guesswork, but I’m going to say you adopted a bit more than just the pony’s memories when you cast your spell. Some habits you suddenly develop might interfere greatly with your ranger habits depending on the pony, but as for mingling with ponies?”

He paused, as if thinking of the best way to phrase it. “You probably just passed the best 101 course on how to blend into Equestria. With honors.”

A low groan found its way out my throat. “So what, I’m stuck as an untrained, mentally unstable infiltrator now? How am I any more fit to be a spy? Everything you two just said makes me sound unpredictable, untrustworthy, and insane!”

“Perfect! You’ll fit right in, then. Welcome to the infiltrators!” he said with a chuckle and a warm smile. “Don’t worry so much. Just act naturally, and you’ll get along fine.”

He stood up, pausing next to the edge of the curtain. “Anyways, I need to go find Sinister and figure out how the rest of our mission was supposed to go.”

“H-hold up,” I called out quickly, before he could leave. “What were you two doing here anyways?”

“Ahh, I suppose we never really told you, have we,” he mused. “We were actually here to figure out how to replace one of the ponies you’re currently replacing, but our orders were to wait until the Chorion drones got the other hive out of the way before we acted.”

“Ahh, about that…” I sheepishly rubbed the back of my neck with my good hoof. “I haven’t dealt with them. They were all somewhere deeper in the Everfree, so no pony or ling got close enough to see them.”

The stallion chuckled lightheartedly. “Looks like we both managed to complete our mission then. We needed a changeling to replace a pony, and you needed to keep the ponies away from the other hive. Good on us, eh?”

He made to leave, but seemed to remember something else, because he turned back to me. “Oh, and keep your link open so we can find you again. My name’s Dexter, and here’s my ping,” he said, before sending me a subtle signal through the hivemind, like a water droplet creating a tiny ripple. “I’ll make sure to tell Sinister to ping you too so we can identify ourselves quickly. We’ll probably be working together for a while, so get used to them. Stay here and recover, and we’ll keep the doctors away from you until we can all get back to Canterlot.”

He disappeared behind the curtain, and I slumped back in my bed with a groan. So that was it then? From ranger to some blended pony-changeling thing in the blink of an eye? Get forcibly booted to another occupation because I wasn’t aware of one little caveat in my spellcasting?

A scowl found its way to my face again, an increasingly common occurrence. There were apparently many things that I was not aware of, and now I had plenty of time to sit and brood on where they’ve led me, in between figuring what exactly the memory spell did to me and worrying about Steelie and Vice.

I looked at the bundle of scarf in my hooves, bringing it up to my muzzle and taking a deep breath. It was a bit flowery, but it smelled comfortingly familiar, like the tantalizing light sweetness of nostalgia.

“Yes, we’re done. You can go in now.”

Dexter’s voice floated in from the hallway, and one of my ears flicked over to listen closer as I draped the scarf around my neck. I tasted a bit of nervousness in the air, trepidation maybe, but with a little savory resolve bolstering the flavor.

I jumped a bit when a young filly rounded the curtain with a squeaky cart. She wore a blue shirt announcing that she was a proud volunteer of the Ponyville General Hospital, but she wasn’t the focus of my attention. My eyes were instantly drawn to the cart, for this was no ordinary cart.

It was a book cart.

“Umm,” the little pony asked. “Hello, would you like to borrow a book to pass your time?”

I’d already levitated the first new novel I hadn’t heard of from its shelves before the filly could even finish her rote response, clutching it close to my chest with my good foreleg as I tried to glare her away. It seemed to work, because she quickly scampered off with a quick thank you, also clearly rehearsed.

A part of me felt bad about making such a poor first impression, probably some silly thing I picked up off of Overwatch, but it was quickly overpowered by my excitement at the new novel in my hooves. Night Watch, by Tarry Prat’trot.

I positively gushed. It was part of a series I hadn’t heard of yet. While I was by no means a book lover, it was impossible for me not to show an interest in a new story. I tried snuggling into the hospital bed, flipping open to the first page with an elated grin on my face. If it weren’t for the occasional twinge and the weakness in my left foreleg, it was almost like I was reading back at the hive.

My smile slipped. Almost.

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