• 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 34: Legitimacy

Harlequin didn’t tell Silver Smith everything, but she did tell him everything she thought mattered about being a changeling. What she knew about their powers, even those she’d seen from bugs who actually mattered, instead of a little drone like herself. She told him what she’d learned during the last few weeks living without the Swarm, a concept that clearly made no sense to him.

Though Silver’s emotions were faded and washed-out, he clearly wasn’t angry with her anymore, wasn’t afraid. There was something much deeper there, aimed right past her towards concepts that she wouldn’t have understood. It was Charon that he hated, not the ones they had employed.

Why couldn’t you be like this, Codex? We would’ve got along so much better.

“And who are you?” Lord Irongate asked, when she had finally finished explaining everything. Lacework had come to the door several times, asking for confirmation. Apparently the doctor had arrived outside—much too late to make a difference.

“I’m Harlequin,” she answered. “I was… well, I told you why I’m here.”

“A thief,” he supplied. “You were going to steal information from me, but instead you took my… what, exactly? My soul?” He put out one leg in front of him, holding it towards a window. Only a thin line of light penetrated around the curtains, but that didn’t matter. Changeling eyes were very good in the dark, and bugs didn’t typically mind when there was no light at all.

“I don’t know what that is,” she admitted. “But I don’t think so. I took all the… emotional magic. I guess the thing that makes emotions that can be harvested instead of just felt.”

“I was going to say. I assure you, I can feel just fine.” He reached down to the tea-tray between them, lifting the tea again—then knocked the cup over with the edge of his hoof, dumping it out on the wood. “This is the worst glass of tea I’ve ever had. It tastes like somepony mixed this with mud, but I can see I didn’t.”

She nodded. “You can eat pony food forever, and it won’t help you. Unless… it was loved? I don’t quite understand that, I’ve only done it once. But I think if the creator of something loves it, then you can… see it the way they do.”

She whimpered, looking away from him. She now knew how desperately this pony loved his family. What was life and death to him, she had harvested.

He didn’t seem to notice, or maybe he did, and he wanted to spare her the embarrassment. Either way, he went on. “And now we’re left with an interesting question, Harlequin. What I do with you, an invader and a thief… but also the one who saved my life. It certainly is a conundrum.”

“If you wanted to turn me in, you should probably have got me to teach you how to change into a pony first,” she said, grinning weakly. “And then forget about ever lying to another changeling again. We can still feel each other’s emotions, we just can’t use them. I know you aren’t going to turn me in.”

He smiled weakly, removing a stale teacake from the tray. He bit into it, then sighed. “Well, at least I know the fine ponies of Sugercube Corner love their work. As chasers go, could do worse.” He offered the container to her—not in his new magic. But how would he have known how?

Harlequin lifted it in her magic, then took a bite. He was right. But it didn’t matter—a pony who loved these had baked them, and she could taste it. The touch of sweetness to an otherwise firm pastry.

“It makes negotiation unfair,” he said. “Here I am trying to think how I can repay you, seeing as I completely depend on your help not to go deep into Canterlot’s prisons with the rest of you. And… unless I’m mistaken, Charon will be taking over that contract soon. Stars preserve me if I was in a prison they ran. I can’t imagine how bad things will get.”

It was Harlequin’s turn to laugh. She almost said, “that was the whole point,” but finally managed not to do something dumb. “How about…” She stopped suddenly. “The thing I came to steal, it was your expansion plans for EQRail Limited. Make sure you… don’t change them right away. Just know that Charon knows now, and they’re going to be trying to outguess you. You can probably use that.”

Silver reached across the table, settling one leg on her shoulder for a second. “Harlequin, you’re adorable. You just gave me more. I didn’t know what you’d come to steal before, and you just… shared it for free. Do yourself a favor and don’t get into politics. Or business. But… I’m sure your mother must be proud of the upstanding pony you’ve become. Err… do you have one?”

She shook her head without thinking. “Not the way you imagine that word means. There are… I sometimes think that we should. But instead of raising me, Queen Chrysalis raised an army.” It doesn’t hurt to say anymore. Even after the Swarm was gone, she still felt sick. But not anymore. I don’t care what the Queen wants! I don’t care!

“Well, I expect the most sensible thing to do is teach me not to…” He held out one leg. “Look like this? I won’t be able to return Charon it’s kindness if I’m in one of their cells.”

Harlequin’s eyes widened. “You just said… You just called them kind when you actually meant they’re mean!” She got up from the couch, bouncing up and down with excitement. “You can say one thing and mean something else!” She stopped, looking down. “Codex wasn’t as nice as I thought.”

Silver didn’t look away from her. “Sweetheart, err… no, that’s wrong. You’re not my daughter. Harlequin, you can’t be serious. You mean sarcasm? You didn’t know what… If Celestia bucking knew we’d been invaded by foals. I can’t imagine she’d be pleased about what happens in her dungeons.”

“Sarcasm,” she repeated. “Yes. But you’re right, I need to teach you. Never taught before, but… have to figure it out fast. If I don’t get back to Canterlot by the end of the day, the one who sent me will think I failed. Bugs will keep starving. I nee—”

Something banged down the hall, half a dozen hooves moving together. She felt the anger and suspicion that guided them. Silver clearly did as well, because his eyes widened in panic. She’d seen plenty of drones look that way.

Now it was up to her to protect him. “Hide,” she said flatly, turning towards the door.

“I told them you didn’t want to be disturbed—” Lacework called, her voice soon overwhelmed by another speaker on that side.

“Lord Irongate!” called a brusque voice, using a tone Harlequin knew well. That was a Royal Guard, or someone who thought they were one anyway. “I’ve received word from Griffonstone that you were attacked on your way home. My platoon is here to verify your survival on behalf of the royal family.”

“Bucking liar,” whispered a voice from somewhere behind her. Harlequin didn’t even turn around to look. “Charon wants to make sure no one in the household is concealing my death. They want a scandal.”

“Open the door,” the Royal Guard ordered. “Or my stallions will open it for you.”

“There’s no need!” Lacework said, voice sounding far away. “I have a key right here. I’m terribly sorry, Lord Irongate. They just want to see that you’re alright.”

Panic spun in her mind as metal clicked, and the mechanism turned. Then magic took its place.

The door swung open, revealing exactly what she’d expected—half a dozen Royal Guards in gold armor, with the house guard trailing behind them looking frustrated and impotent. She recognized this captain by sight—he’d been at the meeting when she was sworn to the city watch.

The guards froze where they were, staring at her in open astonishment. “Lord Irongate!” The captain stumbled forward, dumbfounded, while the soldiers behind actually bowed. “I was told you were attacked on the road.” He walked into the room, nudging at her underbelly with one leg. “We interrogated your steward, she said you were barely alive when you arrived.”

Harlequin stood up straight, shoving the guard roughly away. She didn’t have earth pony strength, but she had a nearly limitless stockpile of magic from two separate feedings. She could imitate it well enough. “That was precisely what I wished for my servants to think,” she said, walking in a slow circle to show the complete lack of injuries. “I was attacked. But my assassins were less successful than they thought.”

They stumbled back from her, dumbfounded. Finally the captain gestured, and one of his soldiers produced a clipboard covered in scribbled writing. He held it in his magic, walking around the room in a slow circle. Harlequin shuddered at what he might see—but Silver was gone.

“How did you, uh… how did you do it?”

“Fake my injuries?” She raised an eyebrow. “I was covered in blood when I arrived. But that doesn’t mean it was mine.”

He scribbled a few things, then glanced down the open hallway to the study. “What about… I’m told your daughter visited last night. We would like to question her as well.”

Harlequin glowered at him, her expression as harsh as she could make it. “You don’t think I let my daughter stay here on a night when my own life was at such risk, do you? She’s been gone for hours.”

“To where?” The captain latched on to that, taking a few steps down the hall. “I’m told nopony has been seen leaving this property since last night.”

Harlequin did her best impression of the Queen’s scornful laughter. “Then my daughter is more skillful than whoever you had watching for her.”

She watched the pony’s mind, as feelings of suspicion mixed freely with disappointment, annoyance, and fear. He wanted to do much worse to her, but in the end he only turned sharply away. “I’m certain you’ll be hearing from the Guard again in the coming days. For… wasting our resources.”

Harlequin didn’t laugh again. “Yes, I’m sure. Someone else sent you to barge into my house and confirm my untimely accident, but I was healthy instead. A terrible tragedy for Equestria. Now get out of my house.”

She glowered daggers at them as they began to leave. Harlequin lowered her voice as Lacework approached. “Make sure they all leave the manor completely.”

Before she could protest, Harlequin shut the door behind her, locking it.

She waited almost a minute before she finally relaxed, letting the transformation fade. “I can’t believe I made that work. A pony I only saw once, covered in wounds…” I’m getting better at this. She stepped forward into the room, looking around. “But now… where are you? Must have a good hiding spot.”

The wardrobe opened, and Silver emerged from within. Behind the layers of hanging clothes, a wooden pannel had been pushed to the side. A narrow corridor was visible beyond, with stairs leading down. “I always knew I had enemies. Every family of size has plans in place to escape if we must.” He sighed. “Your performance wasn’t terribly accurate. Poor Lacework is probably having a minor breakdown right now. But it got those soldiers to leave. I can hardly ask for more.”

“One thing more,” she said. “I need to try to teach you something that the Swarm taught me. Otherwise you’re going to get caught.”

“Charon would just love that,” he said, lowering his voice to an angry mutter. “Not just killed, but disgraced. Everything I’d ever built would be dismantled, not just given to a daughter who doesn’t know or care how to use them. Don’t worry, I’ll listen. Even if the tea is dreadful, I intend to use this second chance.”

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