• Published 14th Feb 2020
  • 1,418 Views, 117 Comments

Imperial Revision - The Sound of Loneliness

What would you do if you already had everything? Or everything you wanted. Her Majesty Nightmare Moon has recently discovered there is more to life than war, intrigues and edicts. Luna is trying to be helpful. She has no choice.

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
As Snug As Pair Bugs In a Rug

Spike wiped soot and ash from his face.
He swallowed nervously, taking a look over the localized inferno he had created and, eventually, put down. Spike never thought he would regret Twilight not reshuffling her books every day.
One good thing that came from her doing it was that the books didn’t have any time to collect dust, dust was very bad for lungs and made ponies—and dragons—sneeze. And of course, when dragons sneezed, they usually sneezed fire.
Fire and paper don’t mix.

Spike slumped over hopelessly,
“Twilight will kill me,” he complained to Shadow, who was just as filthy from the unexpected firefighting duty as he was.
“Sir Spike, I believe, Princess Twilight will understand enough to refrain from doing that,” the ever imperturbable Shadow readily contradicted. It did little to calm him.
Spike knew Shadow probably just didn’t understand why some books were such a big deal, he still couldn’t help but feel abashed when she didn’t know when or what she was supposed to say. It was as if she’d never talked to anypony in her life.

Well, Twilight said she was a changeling spy for Nightmare Moon, so it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if she hadn’t really. At least, not as herself. Whenever she posed as anypony else, she spoke fluently and neatly.

The very first rule Spike made with his new friend was not to use disguises inside of the Castle. Shadow mostly obeyed, but still insisted on hiding herself from strangers, to which Spike failed to find objections. Shadow was terrible in communicating when she was in her natural form, which, combined with changelings not being the most popular creatures around, could get them both in a lot of trouble with the local police.
This weird etiquette of hers too. Spike tried to make her stop calling him ‘Sir’ and not use Twilight’s title all the time, but the changeling couldn’t do it. It was like she didn’t know how to word a sentence without it.

Spike had already seriously considered teaching her to talk but, ultimately, decided against it. Whether he liked it or not, this was Shadow and it was not for him to decide what’s right or wrong with her.

If he was to stop paying attention to how weird she was, the changeling was kinda nice. She was always ready to help him with whatever he was doing, all he had to do was ask. She never caused him any trouble whatsoever, she always was polite and… surprisingly, had a sense of humor. At least, Pinkie seemed to be certain of it.
Shadow herself never laughed, but, according to Pinkie, she was hysterically good at telling jokes. Evidently, though, Shadow had no idea what Pinkie was on about.
Well, Pinkie’s sense of humor had become quite weird in recent years.

Overall, Shadow didn’t feel…right to Spike. There was something very wrong with her, like she didn’t have something vital everypony else had. She was… alien.
Not necessarily unpleasant, just incomprehensible. Almost all of her habits made no sense, often even were outright ridiculous. It wasn't all harmless either. Spike learned very quickly that with Shadow it's better not to dig, for your own good.
Once, he caught the changeling in Twilight's room going through her things. After much bickering, Spike managed to pry from her that she was taking pony scent upon herself. Yuck... Just like that, nightmares were guaranteed.
He never told Twilight, of course, and Shadow never went there again, but on that night Spike learned that it was better not to ask unnecessary questions.

The only thing Spike could really understand about her was that she enjoyed books. The changeling proved to be a very avid reader, almost rivaling Twilight at that.
Again, asking her about anything wasn’t much use; but judging by her choices, her favourites were history, detective novels—not surprisingly—and memoirs. Huh.

Almost all of her other habits made no sense, often even were outright ridiculous. It wasn't all harmless either. Spike learned very quickly that with Shadow it's better not to dig, for your own good.
Once, he caught the changeling in Twilight's room going through her things. After much bickering, Spike managed to pry from her that she was taking pony scent on herself. Yuck... He never told Twilight and Shadow never went there again, but on that night Spike learned how much better it was not to ask unnecessary questions.

Still, the changeling was weirdly forgetful. Sometimes she forgot something small, like to clean the shelves or get something from the market. "Once she had turned on the gas in the kitchen, but forgot to light it, and didn’t notice until Spike smelled it halfway across the Castle. Talk about what really doesn't mix with fire.

With a sigh, he remembered she was standing right there, by his side, this whole time without saying a word or moving an inch. Another score for the team weird.

“Shadow, you think you can go get us some brooms? We need to start clearing this mess up,” Spike made a wide gesture, then scratched the back of his head sheepishly. Though they did need to clean up, he asked more to get her to move rather than for any other reason.

“Of course, Sir Spike,” Shadow dutifully started her way to the nearest closet. It would be a little while before she came back, allowing Spike a little more time to think.

Thinking about it now, Spike believed he had finally realized something important about her. Shadow was a changeling, meaning she had to constantly lie and pretend to have her food.
Actually, he really needed to get her to tell him where she was getting her love doses. Better if he could just feed her himself, rather than having her result to stealing from others. It couldn't possibly be pleasant, but it wasn’t her fault that she needed it.

Discovering himself drifting away from his original thought, Spike quickly refocused.
So, Shadow must have evolved to quickly grasp the behaviour and speaking patterns of other creatures, but as a result, developing her own personality offered no benefit.
Made sense. Kinda.
Spike really needed to study some other changelings to either prove or discard this rather fascinating hypothesis.

The Changeling came back quicker than Spike expected, carrying the requested brooms and dustpans together with a bucket. Spike mumbled his thanks and trudged over to her to get his tools, but stopped short when he noticed Shadow was breathing heavily. Taking notice of his attention, she tried to ease out her breathing, but even she couldn’t conceal her body’s natural demand for air. She also was surprisingly clean, had she ran to the bathroom?

Spike crossed his arms and stared curiously at Shadow, trying to guess what she was just doing and what was going on in her heard. It seemed the primary way of communicating with her was non-verbal, so he had to learn to understand her without words. Her face was calm, as always, but her eyes… Spike saw… fright? Spike shook his head and grabbed the tools.

“Thank you, Shadow,” he said as casually as he could and started sweeping the ashes of the floor. Spike knew from experience that secrets usually existed for a good reason. Especially when spies are concerned.

Shadow swiftly joined him in the clearing effort. The changeling immediately dove into the work with full focus, looking happy for being spared. Spike noted to himself, with a measure of satisfaction, that he managed to, somewhat, read her emotions.

Maybe she wasn’t so alien after all, just wired differently. Everyone was weird sometimes, especially when doing something completely new. Spike knew full well from experience that every other dragon would see him as weird and even repugnant in some cases, and they at least were the same species.
Just give it some time.

Thorax opened the window to ventilate the room he shared with his half-sister. Thorax didn’t have the time to clean up yet, so he let the window open to the chilly air to keep the smell of ash from rooting in the room. It wasn’t comfortable, but that’s how it needed to be.
Lying to Sir Spike didn’t sit right with him, but this is what Shadow needed him to do; that way Thorax could cover her in front of Sir Spike when she was out on one her sweeps.
The door suddenly screeched open, Thorax turned to find Shadow already inside and closing the the door, he quickened to her.

“I am alright, Thorax,” she answered before Thorax could even ask the question and closed the door behind her.

“And… M-mother?” Thorax’s voice quivered, “You broke away, right?” Shadow’s silence was telling.

“Shadow, Her Majesty ordered us to keep quiet. Why did you have to...” Thorax tried to find a mild word, Shadow would never violate an order from Her Majesty.

Shadow didn’t wait for him to finish and walked around him heading towards the cupboard a the side from her bed. There she opened the upper drawer. Thorax looked over his sister’s shoulder at the few things she took with her from the palace. A long, pointed dagger and a vial with a turbid, brownish liquid, already one-third empty.

Shadow took the weapon out of the scabbard and examined the point, then touched the blade to her hoof; a thick drop trickled down the length of steel.
“You aren’t going to kill her, are you?” Thorax asked, slowly starting to panic. Shadow returned the dagger back to the scabbard and proceeded to routinely strap it to her waist.
“The Empress ordered us to stay quiet, Shadow! If she released Mother from the dungeon, it means she has to have a plan… right?”

“I don’t know anymore, Thorax,” Shadow confessed, continuing to stare at the closed drawer.

“…Just put it back inside. The Que—” Thorax wisely stopped before saying the trigger word “— Mother won’t try to harm us now. Her Majesty will not let her.”
He had tried, and failed, to make a convincing argument…he still knew next to nothing about how the Empress operated.

Shadow sighed deeply and turned around to look her brother in the eye,
“Thorax, this isn’t for Her Majesty. Mother and I have something we need to settle. I'll be back in a few hours. Can you just make sure Sir Spike doesn’t notice anything?”

“You are going to kill her, aren’t you?” Thorax asked hopelessly, knowing the answer.

“Thorax, I failed my Empress,”
Thorax immediately opened his mouth to object, but Shadow was quicker. “I failed Her and she sent me away. This is an exile, Thorax!”

“Shadow, it’s not--”

“I deserved this and I will bear my penance now. But there’s still one thing I can do.” She looked at him with sudden determination, “She is our Mother, Thorax. This is our responsibility. I will not allow her to harm a single other pony!”
Shadow’s tone was enough of an indication: there was no point in arguing. Thorax had nothing more to say, so he simply nodded and lowered his eyes. Shadow gave him a grateful tap on the shoulder and slipped out of the room.
Leaving Thorax alone again.
Did he just fail the Empress too? This was so utterly hopeless! He was supposed to see to it that Shadow won't get in trouble, but what could he do? Stop her? Shadow was a trained assassin!

“Creee!” a sharp sound drew Thorax’s attention to the open window. There sat a bird with vibrant, orange feathers, so bright it looked like they were glowing. The bird looking at him as if it expected something.

“Ehhh… Hello?” Thorax carefully stepped closer. “What are you doing here, friend? I have nothing to give you.”

“Creee!” the bird called again, now sounding indignant.

The bird took off from the sill and flew over the bewildered changeling’s head, proceeding to land again at the door.

“Creee!” it chirped again, giving him an impatient look.
“You want me to open it?” the still-confused Thorax asked. The bird creaked again, this time approvingly.

“Okay...” Thorax turned the handle, pushing open the door. The bird immediately slipped out of the room.

“Creee!” it called for him again from the corridor.
Thorax had pinch himself to make sure this wasn’t a dream.

PreviousChapters Next