• Published 12th Dec 2018
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Child of the Invasion - Starscribe



The changeling army has taken control of Canterlot. While their queen secures her grip over this newly captured territory, what happens to the drones who made up her army?

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Chapter 29: Blueblood

At least I’m with a pony who spends almost as much time pretending as I do, Harlequin thought, as she made her way into the single unmarked door between two fancy shops. On either side ponies moved—one sold food, with a line running out onto the streets filled with eager ponies.

How easy would it be for her to slip off into that group, change into somepony else, and vanish completely? She could be free of this entire world forever—leave Canterlot, not look back.

She didn’t feel the same loyalty to Hydrus as she had to the queen. But even so, there was something to stop her—Codex, trapped underground. He deserved better than to be left behind. And if she screwed this up, he might suffer.

So she went where she was told, keeping her head down.

Through the door was a series of thick metal locks, which Blueblood began to open one after another with his magic. “You can’t imagine the worth of what is before you, Dewdrop. Can’t imagine the opportunity you’ve been given with this contact between us.”

“You’re right,” she admitted. “I don’t know. Hydrus didn’t tell me… much of anything. Just that I’d be going with you.”

“That’s part of the test,” Blueblood said, his voice conversational. The closest thing to normal he’d sounded like since she met him. “I didn’t want to see what a pony he’d carefully trained would be like. I already know you can imitate a pony of culture, just as well as the rest of Equestria. But I don’t require you to pretend to be an Alicorn, or anything like one.”

She nodded weakly. “I’m a… that’s good. I’m not as good as Hydrus. I only recently learned how to transform.”

“Really?” He turned; eyebrow raised. “You seemed competent enough to me. But no matter, that only serves our purpose.” The final door opened—a heavy metal one, which squeaked as it permitted them inside.

Through the gloom was a set of shelves, each one packed with identical little boxes filling every inch of available space. They were packed in tight—a storage room of some kind. But why would she be brought here?

Blueblood strode forward between them, ignoring the shelves, ignoring her even. “Do you know why you failed to take Canterlot, insect?”

He’s not afraid of being overheard in here. Not now that we’ve got all those locked gates behind us.

“I, uh… no.”

“Well, at least you’re honest.” He passed through an opening between the shelves, into a tiny open space. There was a mirror on the wall, some bright lights, and a few mannequins standing to one side. They held… was that a suit? A suit with a sword and little gemstones encrusting everything. Blueblood removed his robe, then began to dress in front of her.

“It’s because you lacked vision,” he went on. “We didn’t. My family could see what value you might really have. It was obvious you made terrible rulers. But there are other purposes you could serve. Purposes that every family needs.”

“I don’t need to feed,” she said, mostly by reflex. Would it stop him even if she said it?

The stallion in front of her was already wearing his trousers. He froze, levitating the jacket beside him. Then he laughed. “I don’t think you know me very well if you thought you needed to say that. I’ve no interest in junk food.”

He meant it, she realized. She could feel his emotions perfectly—and she didn’t sense a drop of attraction. None of the hunger she’d felt from the guard, resulting in such a terrible time for her. He was thinking about her, but in a way that was far more calculating. He saw her not as a pony at all, but as a tool. Whatever he was going to gain from her, it would be indirectly.

“Oh.”

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” he said. “I’m sure you get enough of that working in that pit, don’t you? That is what you do.”

“No,” she said, more definitively than she’d said anything in her life. “I hate being used to harvest love.”

The words were as shocking to her as her first denial of the Queen—but they were just as true.

Blueblood didn’t seem to notice. “Well you’re here to be used, insect. That’s why you’ve been given to me. Used for an experiment. You don’t even know what that experiment is, because it would compromise the test. But you’re about to, and I think it’s going to be very interesting.”

He was now properly dressed—jacket, belt, sword and all. In his own way, he was a pony just as frightening as any changeling with war paint on their shell and rage in their eyes. Maybe moreso, since there was no swarm for him to tell her what he was thinking.

And though Blueblood’s pony emotions were open before her, the message she saw still confused her. He wanted something from her very much, but not her the way the guard had.

Then he turned, removing a photograph from beside the mirror and showing her. There was a mare there—an earth pony mare, with curled hair and a fancy dress.

“I have a purpose for you,” he said. “If you succeed, then my family will do as your Hydrus has asked. If you fail, then… well, you’ll be dead, and Hydrus will be out of luck. Do you care what happens to your imprisoned brothers and sisters? I don’t, but…” He watched her. “Yes, you do. You don’t want them to suffer, do you?”

She winced, avoiding his eyes. How do you know what I’m thinking without me saying anything? You’re not a changeling.

Be her,” he ordered. “That’s your first assignment. Do it now.”

She stared at the photo, taking in its every detail. A few weeks ago, she would’ve been amazed by its simple existence. Ponies could create such amazing things, including perfect recreations of the real world frozen on flat sheets.

But now there was no time for amazement, only fear.

Harlequin blinked, staring down and trying to concentrate with everything she had. It was no easy task, but… yes, it wasn’t that complicated. Just an earth pony, she only had to remove some of the stuff she was used to. A few subtle adjustments to match her dark splotched coat, and she was finished.

“H-how’s… this, uh…” She winced again. “What am I supposed to call you? You told Hydrus not to use your name.”

“And you were listening. Points for that, I wasn’t sure you could. I suppose for the sake of this business, you should just call me ‘Uncle.’ Master would be more correct, but also a little too obvious for the streets of Equestria. Ponies would get the wrong idea.”

He levitated the picture in the air beside her, comparing it with a frown. “Hmm. You haven’t done a perfect job with her face. I have a few more images, perhaps these will help. You aren’t going to be fooling her father, but you will need to convince the servants of one of her households. That job simply won’t do.”

She looked at the other photos, then up at the mirror. It seemed like it was here more for Blueblood’s needs than for her own, but she could use it. Her reflection was enough help to see what she should be doing.

She changed over a dozen times before she finally settled on something Blueblood liked. Each transformation burned a little more of her magic, eating through the reserve of what she’d harvested that day and into her earlier supply. It’s okay. I can get more if I need it. She hated Hydrus’s system, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t eat if that was the only love she could find.

“That will do,” Blueblood said. There was little approval in his voice—she wasn’t sure he even could demonstrate a positive trait like that. “Now your assignment, come here.”

He gestured to a stack of papers, lifting one from the bottom and spreading it on top for her to see. “House Irongate has a small manor located just outside the town of Ponyville. Know it? Never mind, I don’t care. The real Lady Irongate has suffered a bit of an accident. She’s going to be out for a few more days, and when she returns, she won’t remember where she’s been. In the meantime, you are going to take her place. That property is one she rarely visits, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to fool them.

“You will take the train from Canterlot to Ponyville, rent a carriage to the house, then enter it. Your ‘father’ is on business in Griffonstone, and shouldn’t present any difficulty to you. Go inside his study, and obtain or memorize his map of future expansion for EQRail Limited.”

Blueblood stepped in front of her, eyes harsh. It wasn’t unlike what Hydrus had done, only there wasn’t even a trace of concern for her. “Repeat the mission I just gave you in exactness, now.”

She did, as best as she could remember. She might not be smart, not be a trained infiltrator, but Harlequin could still copy like a pro.

“Well, the wording wasn’t perfect, but I’ll accept that.” He looked away. Still nothing like an emotion she could harvest. Was Blueblood even capable of showing her compassion? “Now, understand that the involvement of my house is contingent upon your success. The changelings locked up in Canterlot Castle will keep rotting where they are without me.”

“I understand,” she muttered, looking away from him. Everything she had learned during her brief time with Apple Cinnamon, now she was unlearning it.

“And not just that,” he went on. “Your kind are known as infiltrators and kidnappers all over Equestria. That is what makes you such a perfect scapegoat for this adventure. Should you be detected, I will do nothing to protect you. So long as you do not mention my name to the authorities, I will leave the other changelings alone. If you do forget your discretion suddenly, then expect swift retaliation for your kind. And worse, you can be assured that nopony will believe you. There are no traceable connections between my house and you. If you are caught, the smartest thing for you to do is die quietly. Understand?”

She gulped, then nodded again.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Y-yes Uncle.”

He grunted, levitating another mannequin out of the shadows and depositing it in front of her. It modeled an expensive dress, though nothing like what Blueblood himself wore. There were no gemstones, but it still looked like something that a pony had loved. That made it worth something, right?

“Wear this now. When you are finished, you may exit down that hallway.” He pointed with one leg. “You will find it leads several streets over, then connects to an unmarked apartment building’s service stairwell. Take those stairs to the first floor, then travel to the railway.”

He dropped a bag of metal pieces on the counter next to her, undoing the ribbon so she could see inside. He evidently expected her to be impressed, so she made a show of backing away, eyes wide. Hydrus had taught her that much.

“That will be more than enough for you to travel in luxury. I would rather send you in a fruit-crate befitting your stature, but alas. Lady Irongate must be seen as a young mare of distinction. If she suddenly appeared without traveling the path between, then our espionage will become obvious to later investigators.”

She started getting dressed. Harlequin had never worn a fancy dress before, but she could see the holes, and by now her copy of the pony’s body was pretty good. The dress fit snugly once it was on, and somehow she felt… taller? Was that possible? How could just changing her outfit make her hold her back straighter, and look Blueblood in the eye a little more.

“One more thing,” he said. “You didn’t ask about where to go when you were finished. You are to take a train back to Canterlot. I will have a stallion join you. If he gives you a rose, then you trade him the information. If you aren’t able to make the return trip in disguise, then I will obtain the information from Hydrus after you return to the hive. Which you will do, or else I will consider your mission a failure, and your bugs will rot. Are we clear?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

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