• Published 25th Feb 2013
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Winds of Change - Masterweaver


Rainbow Dash is a changeling. Who knew?

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Chapter Three: Identity Torture

Celestia looked upon the assembled ponies, sipping her tea calmly and maintaining a relaxed facade. True, her horn was still burnt from her duel with the changeling queen, and she felt pings of pain whenever she used her magic, but Equestria and, more importantly, the ponies right here needed an unwavering leader to look up to. After all, Twilight and her friends had just discovered that one of their own was not who they thought she was, Cadance had only just been returned form her imprisonment, and Shining Armor was still coping with the fact he had nearly married a mind-warping shapeshifter.

Only Luna, sitting on Celestia's right, made any move to comfort the princess. An azure wing wrapped around her sister's shoulder, a quiet reminder that she did not have to face fate alone. Celestia gave her a thankful smile.

Then she cleared her throat. "Now then. I believe you all understand why I have gathered you here today?"

Twilight nodded. "The changeling that replaced Rainbow Dash. We need to find out where she is."

The only pegasus at the table took a breath before nodding. "I... I understand that she, or, um, he, was probably just acting under orders but.... I would really like to find Rainbow again. As soon as we can. If that's, um, possible..."

"Rest assured, Fluttershy, the retrieval of our dear friend is of utmost priority." Luna nodded. "Not only do we have much to thank her for personally, but from a purely strategic viewpoint losing the bearer of the element of loyalty is something that cannot be allowed. Captain? Do you have any progress to report regarding the interrogation?"

Shining Armor put a hoof to his brow with a sigh. After a moment of contemplation, he looked up to the other ponies sitting across the table. "Princess, I... I would like to request I be pulled from this assignment."

The diarch of the sun raised a brow at this proclamation. "May I inquire as to why?"

"I feel I am... too emotionally connected to the subject matter to be an impartial and fair questioner. I... allowed myself to physically handle the prisoner in response to her actions."

Cadance brought a hoof to her mouth, gently hugging her fiancee with a wing. "Oh, Shiny..."

"Would you care to elaborate?"

The captain couldn't meet Celestia's eyes. "I.... After she riled me up by insisting she was in a coma dream, I... slapped her."

There was a moment of dead silence.

Luna cleared her throat. "...Allow me to see if I understand this situation. You are a captain of the guard."

"Yes, your majesty."

"Your prisoner was being problematic."

"...Yes, your majesty."

"You... slapped her, presumably not causing any permanent damage?"

"Not that... I am aware of, your majesty."

Luna took a breath. "Am I to understand, then... by the laws of this era, slapping is considered a form of torture?"

Celestia sighed, bringing a hoof to her brow gently. "No, sister. It is the emotional intent and context of a slap that is being addressed here. Specifically that it is demeaning and unfair to the prisoner in question."

"I thought that was the definition of torture in this era," the night princess said, uncomprehending. "Certainly the rack is demeaning and unfair."

"Technically, torture nowadays refers to inflicting pain," Twilight clarified.

"But then slapping would be considered a form of sadism--"

"More, ah, intense pain," the unicorn added. "Not just bruises and bumps. Usually involving whips."

Even more confusion formed on Luna's face. "But... what of the shop on Platinum road? I noticed a lot of late-night customers purchasing what could be constituted as dungeon equipment but when I investigated they assured me that it was not considered against the law--"

Rarity blushed. "Ah, if you are referring to, well, the Crop... those items are usually used intimately."

"Oh. So, the Saddle Arabian methods no longer qualify as torture?"

"Only if all participants are willing," Celestia explained with a sigh. "There's a fairly large subculture, actually..."

"Really? Well I must say I am impressed! The fact that so many ponies are willing to agree to--"

"Ah think we're getten' off-topic!" Applejack interrupted, managing to keep her face from going entirely red. "What Ah want to know is how we plan ta get that changeling ta tell us where Dash is!"

"Apparently slapping is out of the question," Luna grumbled. "I"m still not sure why."

"Why don't we just ask her?" Pinkie offered brightly.

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Darling, I doubt an espionage agent is simply going to answer questions."

"Why not? It's not like she can pretend to be Rainbow Dash anymore. We just promise her a lifelong supply of cupcakes and she'll answer anything!" Pinkie tapped her chin. "Unless she doesn't like cupcakes. She could be a muffin sort of Changeling. Or maybe scones."

"Offering leniency in return for cooperation..." Celestia nodded. "I believe you have a point there. Most ponies respond better to kindness than to threats."

"That thang ain't no pony," Applejack pointed out.

"She's not a thing either," Fluttershy replied. "She's a person.... I mean, she did something very mean but we can't just disrespect her." She rubbed her hoof awkwardly. "Rainbow... Rainbow is my oldest friend. But I don't think even she would want us to treat something that could talk like an animal."

The farmer let her head fall. "Ah'm just sayen'... them Changelings are natural born liars."

"Which is why we will not fall to their level," Luna stated calmly. "I have learned from my own mistakes; I will not let ponykind reduce itself out of fear."

"Well said." Celestia nodded, giving her sister a thankful smile. "I do not suggest releasing her, but... attempting to befriend this infiltrator would be better in the long run. We literally know next to nothing about her people; one invasion cannot be allowed to sour our relationship with an entire race. Especially one that so expertly subdued Canterlot."

Shining Armor sighed. "In all honesty, Princess... that invasion had me almost become the personal pet and toy of their leader. I don't think I could possibly befriend any changeling."

The alicorn considered his words. "...Captain. You have had the most experience with changelings to date. I cannot in good conscience remove you entirely from this effort; you are far too valuable."

"I... understand."

Celestia smiled gently. "For that reason I insist that you choose the pony who will be in charge of interrogations of the prisoner from now on."

***

Silence.

Whispers in the leaves.

And then....

"....tch...."

Her eyes opened.

"...hng. Hff." She rose on three unsteady legs, keeping the fourth in the air. Her gaze drifted beyond the canopy, to the white city on the mountain.

"Hmmm."

A green fire enveloped the form. They knew now. Nothing was left to her but vengeance.

***

Twilight Sparkle opened the dungeon door cautiously, levitating a clipboard and quill as she peered into the cell. Her eyes widened at what she saw; the changeling had simply curled up on the floor, back to the unicorn.

"...um. Hello."

The changeling's ears perked for a second. It was the only motion she made, before returning to inactivity.

"...My name is Twilight Sparkle. What's yours? Or, um, do you even have a name?"

"I don't know." The changeling's voice was unusually like Rainbow's, but with an odd flanging effect. She laid absolutely still as she spoke.

"You don't know?" Twilight began scribbling notes on her clipboard. "Is it because of some... cultural thing? You haven't earned your name yet?"

"I don't know."

The unicorn shook her head. This wasn't as easy as she had thought it would be... actually, she'd expected some sort of reaction. "I've... been told that your previous int--questioner raised his hoof against you. Are you hurt?"

"...I don't think so. It doesn't hurt much, anyway." The changeling finally moved, brushing her cheek with a hoof. "It's more like a bruise than anything."

"I... apologize for that."

"He had every right. His bride was replaced by a bug who sabotaged his relationship with his sister and then brainwashed him."

Twilight blinked. She hadn't expected the changeling to forgive her brother so quickly... or to even justify it. In fact, that the changeling understood the situation at all was a bit alarming... although, being briefed on the situation before being inserted made sense.

"...soooo, I understand you changelings need to eat love. How does that work?"

"I don't know."

And back to the non-responsiveness. The scholar jotted down a note at this behavior, trying to conceive of a reason for it. "Well, I hope we become good enough friends that you don't starve, anyway."

"No you don't."

The sheer despairing confidence in that reply was enough to raise the hairs on Twilight's neck. "Of... of course I do! I mean, there's so much we could learn from--"

"We both know the real reason you're here, Twilight. So go on. Ask me."

Silence filled the cell for a long minute.

"....where is Rainbow Dash?"

"...I d...don't know." The changeling curled up tighter, her wings pressed flat against her carapace.

Twilight Sparkle put down her clipboard. "Come on. You replaced her, you've go to have some idea."

"...I... I d-don't..." A strange sound came from the creature in the cell as she started to shake.

"Are you..." The unicorn stepped forward cautiously. "Are you alright?"

"...I...."

Slowly, Twilight reached out, putting a purple hoof on the changeling's shoulder. "Look, if... if you don't want to answer right now, I guess that's fine--"

"I THOUGHT I WAS HER!"

The unicorn snapped back as the Changeling whirled to face her, black face wet with tears. "Right up until I woke up in this cell, I thought I was Rainbow Dash! I don't even know when I replaced her! I want to tell you where she is, because you deserve the real Rainbow, but I just don't know! I don't know anything about what that bug planned, I don't know anything about being a changeling, I don't even know who I am! I JUST! DON'T! KNOW!"

She curled up again. "I just... d-d-don't... know...."

Twilight Sparkle stared at her as she sobbed, silently stroking her tail. This... this was cruelty on a level she could not comprehend. To rob anypony... anybody of their identity just so they could play a part in some grander scheme sickened her.

After a moment, she stepped forward. "Listen... maybe you don't know. But... I promise, I'll help you."

"Of course you will..." The Changeling managed to laugh mirthlessly through her tears. "You want Rainbow Dash back."

"More than that, I want to find out who did this to you and why. You... know how good I am at research," Twilight admitted reluctantly. "Let's find out who you are... let's find out together, okay?"

The changeling was silent for a moment.

Then she took a deep breath and raised her head. "...okay. Together."

Author's Note:

If you are reading this story, prepare to be recruited. Recruited, that is, into this group. While it has potential it lacks... a certain, shall we say, polish. YOUR TASK! Is to go through all of FIMfic, find stories that have anypony becoming or secretly being a changeling, and sort the them into the appropriate files.

DON'T DISAPPOINT ME.