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 Changeling In Perspective

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:27 am

Mara's brow furrows as she follows Tea Leaf's look to where Razor is squeezing a glass in anger and then she looks at the painting over her shoulder, then back at Razor again as Tea Leaf excuses himself to go over and calm the thestral down, whereupon her eyerbrows seem to ascend briefly into her hairline at all of this. "I think you are greatly understating things, Tea Leaf," she says to his statement that Razor doesn't have the best of history with Nightmare Moon. "I rather think she has the same reaction to Nightmare Moon than my own mother did--and still does to some extent--to pegasi." Her expression becomes some middle point between compassion and more than a hint of understanding. "Vicious hatred for the one that hurt her, almost as vicious of hatred for anything that reminds her of that one." She looks at the portrait. "I had gotten so used to it that I had nearly forgotten that Equestrians have a rather more personal and painful history with her than myself and mother, and our frequent guests."

"The opposite, really." Belladonna turns and looks down the table at Razor. "Side benefit of being kicked out of Equestria because we look all strange is that Nightmare is a myth out here. Never saw her, never suffered her, never suffered a traumatized ruler because of her. Never worshiped her either; only mares with a crown we worship is the queens and they deserve it."
"Taking the truth we hear of her and inventing stories, and art, and legends, and fanciful mythology, and more..." Corporal Limb's cheeks were momentarily red "...exotic and fanciful work is a popular pasttime."
"You should see Walking Talking Impressionism's more... enthusiastic work on the subject," Belladonna grins, reaching passed the changeling beside her to poke at Limb. "Three words for ya: four-way princest."
Mara promptly whacks Belladonna over the head with one of the serving spoons for the soup, causing the major to fall into her chair visibly counting stars.

"And that is more than enough of that," she says primly. "I apologize for opening old wounds, Miss Back. I would have exchanged the portraits had I been aware that it was a painful subject, but it would take some time to lift this one down and exchange it at the moment. Be assured. I would do so it it was a simpler process.
"Now then." Mara Belle takes a moment to breathe a few breaths and straighten her clothing (not that it was actually knocked askew at any point) before turning a bright and pleasant smile on Tea Leaf. "There isn't nearly as much about myself to tell as you might think. I was born... mmm... I think it was eleven hundred years prior."
"Eleven hundred thirty-eight, Lady Bellle," Coporal Limb offered.
Mara eyes him. "How...?"
"Mother."
"Ah, that makes sense." She frowns briefly. "And is mildly disturbing. At any rate Mister Leaf, I was born at that time of an illicit liason between my mother and a pegasus mare whom myth would come to record as the shining hero who slew the dread gorgon Maredusa. Quite obviously, she was lying her backside off--I'd have hardly been born eleven months later if Mother had been murdered after my conception--and was brought out to the eventual Barrens to be raised. Mother had always had a taste for being cosmopolitan--somewhat soured, I fear, by her bitterness at the strumpet that seduced her being so readily believed--and she passed it on to me. As virtually all houses of fashion and dress shops are built partly of stone on a stone foundation, I have spent my life being an enthusiastic patron of all the wonderful things that the world of high society can offer. The art, the perfumes, the dresses, the parties, all the silly little nouveu riche primping and strutting as if they're the most important thing in the entire world..." She sighs dreamily. "Ah, the times I've had darlings! Especially when some enterprising arcanist devised a means to bind changeling shapeshifting magic to runescripted broaches and let me be part of their meaningless little world."
"And before she gets swept up in a four-hour verbal tour of fashion history, it seems notable that most of the stonework of this grotto is hers," Corporal Limb added.
"Well, yes, a lady simply must have a few little hobbies to pass the time in between attending to gossip columns and seventy different coats of paint on the exact same restaurant serving the exact same poor excuse for food," Mara smiles, her tone of voice when criticizing as cheerful and enthusiastic as when she's gushing about the good things. "Sculpture, architecture, runscription theory, sewing... all good little hobbies for the proper lady of good breeding and noble parentage."

Her eyes brighten a little (as if that's even possible, given how excited she seems about her subject) and she leans down to rest her arms on the table and prop her head up on her eyes, looking Tea Leaf more or less right in the eyes. "So, turnabout is fair play. Now you three can tell me about your selves."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:49 am

Tea Leaf nodded his head. "Understatements seem to have become part of my stock and trade ever since I took a post as Celestia's spymaster; an enemy spy becomes an army here, a botched ritual causing an inferno becomes a forest camping mishap there... as it turns out, Celestia has quite a strong head for deciding what the public needs to know and what it doesn't need to know." Tea Leaf informed them, taking a polite, measured sip from his wine glass. "Razor's reaction is hardly a unique one within Equestria I'm afraid to inform you; what may be mere fantasy and bedtime stories to you has been a living example of the kind of threats that could undo our way of life. Still, thanks to Princess Twilight Sparkle we have reason to believe that Nightmare Moon is now firmly in the past."

"Princess Luna was a firm protector of Equestria in the past and she is now again." Bronze spoke up firmly. "What happened inbetween remains her concern and Celestia's, not ours." Bronze nodded in what she probably thought was a firm, dignified silence, a silence and dignity which were both ultimately shattered as "four way princest" reached her large ears and caused the thestral to do an impressive spit take across the table. Tea Leaf's eyebrows raised at the mention of the term too but Razor's expression split into a wide, almost gleeful grin at the mere mention of that, her mind obviously exploring the possibilities of that relating to her own royalty.

"Sounds to me like however much of that exotic shit there is, there can be more." Razor said with a grin, before her eyes went wide as she looked Mara Belle and Belladonna up and down as she heard the discussion of age between the changeling and the gorgon. "Bugger me sideways, hope I look that good if I get that old." Razor Back remarked and clearly she wasn't alone in being surprised at he longevity of the changelings as Tea Leaf's eyes had gone rather wide despite his neutral, collected expression. "Do you all get looking hot for centuries in the deal or is that just a gorgon thing?"

"Well..." Bronze said, clearing her throat and directing her attention to Belladonna. "I have to commend the stonework to you then; I took a gander before we got some shut eye before and I have to admit, I know Griffon stone masons who would have to really commit to get the same results." She said, giving Belladonna a respectful nod of the head. "Would you mind if I accompany you next time you do any work on it? I'd be fascinated to watch the process."

"Yeah especially if it takes the form of carving a stone statue of that four way princest." Razor chipped in, then swore under her breath as Bronze gave her a quick slap to the back of the head without even turning away from Belladonna.

Tea Leaf however still had his attention on Mara Belle. "Is this an interrogation now? Curse my inability to say no to a pretty mare." Tea Leaf flirted, taking another sip of his drink for a moment. "Well I can't speak for my companions but I am, as they say, an open book my lady; I am Tea Leaf, Celestia's spymaster and more generally we are her eyes and ears around the kingdoms. If Celestia has a concern, we look into it, if it really is a concern, we deal with it."

Tea Leaf hesitated for a moment before he continued speaking, questioning the wisdom of being TOO honest with the gorgon. Deciding that they had already given a lot more by trusting the three of them with their existence in the first place, he ploughed on. "Tell me, Ms Belle, Ms Belladonna; you obviously like your legends and stories, and you clearly keep tabs on the kingdoms to some degree... is the name Hoodwink of any familiarity?" He asked, keeping a perfectly normal tone of curiosity while Bronze and Razor both looked as if they had doubts about if it was wise to touch that particular subject with no guarantee yet that they were in the company of allies yet.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:10 am

"Eh." Corporal Limb shrugged. "We live 'bout as long as any other ponies. Slightly longer span of prime years--maybe about ten more with really strong familial bonds--but no dramatic differences. The royal family tends to have a slightly longer span than the common changeling--fifteen--and the Queen herself will typically get passed a century before there's any real indicators. Queen Chrysalis will probably pass away looking like she stopped aging at thirty, just like Amaryss was said to have." He gestures at Mara Belle. "I think she's staying like this until she dies by violence or something."

"Not quite," Mara says. "Violence, sickness, all the ordinary ways that things die. I will simply never become infirm with age, at least according to what Mother tells me. I age like stone, losing an inch or two every few centuries with dozens to look forward to." She smiles. "It's why I and mother do our tunnels: it is very nearly impossible that we will ever run out of tunnels to make or stone to shape or underground mansions to build." She glances at Bronze. "If you ever feel the need, dear, use the signal tower as much as you like. I'm sure that being unable to see the sky or sail the breeze is uncomfortable for somepony with wings."

Belladonna is clearly still a bit out of it because she looks blearily at him. "Hoodwink, huh?" She groans and leans back against her chair. "Sure feel like I got hoodwinked right there."
"I'm sure your hostess was just hitting you hard enough to make it all the way through your little numb skull, Bella." The voice from behind and above them, approximately in the direction of the balcony they entered on, is accented with a very enunciated Trotsford dictation in a noticeably girlish voice. "We'll have words about your little buck-up later, kiddo but now... oooh, now we have something truly... special."
However quickly Hoodwink and the others turned to look, the most they'd see is the shadows of a tail disappearing into the shadow of one of the support pillars that frame the room, visibly not even long enough to get any idea of its color. "We have the Hoodwink, we do," the voice continued from a pillar to the right and around the pillar leans... Diamond Tip. "Brother." Out the other side of the pillar leans Tea Leaf's father. "Son, such a disappointment." Again the individual switches sides and the shape she wears this time is Celestia. "But so loyal and useful, a real..." another switch, this time to Luna "...legend in his own time. So familiar, such a nice story."
"The clever sneak thief," the voice says, now from the pillar opposite the one she was speaking from before. "Unwanted, rejected, quite alone in the world. Snatched up by a proper little family, some real... cunts." The face that partly leans around the pillar this time is that of Razor, eyes glowing brightly but a brilliant viridian green instead of Razor's actual color. She bares Razor's fangs and gives Tea Leaf a wink, before disappearing back behind the pillar.
"Tea Leaf." With no apparent sign of how she's doing it, she hangs upside down from the chandelier in between the diamonds by her legs, her entire body that of Bronze--but with a visibly horribly mangled arm where her mechanical one now is. The eyes, however, are still the glowing viridian green. "Appropriate, Trottingham slang for 'thief' which you very much are. But the right kind of thief, who steals from the right kind of pony, for the exact mare you ought to. A hero, a folk hero in addition, dashing and handsome, doing good for Equestria, leaving his past behind as fast as he can... however it looms. A den of thieves, the wrong kind of thieves, the wicked kind of thieves, sitting back there in the shadows of the past and the present both." She hoists herself into the chandelier by her legs and disappears.
"Speaking of shadows, though..." The girlish-sounding changeling strolls from behind a pillar behind Mara (who is visibly restraining herself from taking any action, although she doesn't look so much annoyed or angry as wary) in the form of a thestral, one that Razor might dimly recognize as family. "The prodigal child." She slips behind a pillar and emerges as another of Raozr's family. "The get of fanatics, worshipers of Nightmare Moon, her greatest shame, her greatest hatred, the tripwire that brings the beast out." Another pillar, another transformation, another family member. "Disappointment to that family, pride of another, one that she's made for herself." She slips behind the last pillar and emerges as the Nightmare Moon of the portrait, tall, regal, sensuously beautiful, her eyes still those of the changeling but now the voice was that of the shape. "The scion of my worshipers, going her own way, directing her violence at first like a cudgel, increasingly like a surgeon." 'Nightmare' smiles. "Exactly what I would have: the mare chains the animal, the animal does not chain the mare. Not yet free to be who she would be, but soon... soon..." The image disintegrates into fiery ash that smells faintly of charcoal and iron.
"And what of the last, oh best beloved?" Once again the changeling's voice, once again from the balcony behind, but this time in the shape of Tick Tock. "Pride of the forges," she says, leaning over the railing and regarding Bronze. "Pride of the Kingdoms as well. Left behind for destitution, swept into a fathers arms for genius, the apple of his eye, perhaps even the gleaming gear and piston of it too." 'Tick Tock' turns and starts to walk to one side, replaced with the inexperienced worker whose mistake cost Bronze her arm when the pillar momentarily hides her. "Intellect bringing the boiler to full steam, creativity driving the engine down the tracks at breakneck speed. Not even a mangled arm can stop the locomotive; just replace the broken part and move along. Bright of eye, restless in the darkness, meant to fly stop a clanking machine of genius and progress, fixed forward towards the endless frozen skies." She walks, still in the worker's shape, passed another pillar on the peripheries of the room. "A family to replace those lost and those still alive," she continues, emerging in the shape of the slim and beautiful changeling they'd seen in the portrait in the south wing. "A gallant quartet, momentarily bereft of the one full of life and growth, crusading for the best interests of the Dual Thrones and the verdant lands from which we changelings grew... and from which we were cast."

The changeling disappears in another puff of smoke, this one crackling with green electricity and then, from the direction of the table, the voice continues, more calm and soft now, and when Tea Leaf and the rest turn to look, a changeling mare is sitting there calmly, legs crossed and elbows resting on her knees as she regards them. Every single visible part of her is covered in elaborate and colorful tattoos. Her lips are tattooed, as she blinks it's clear that her eyelid are tattooed, her ears and their inside surfaces are tattooed, her fingers are tattooed... every single bit of her is a painted canvas, the designs almost impossible to separate and yet flowing along her attractive curves with clear evidence of careful intent and an artist's unsparing eye. The only part of her that isn't tattooed are her eyes and they are the same brilliant viridian as the ones she'd shown during her rapidly change between many shapes but from much closer they can tell that her irises aren't glowing: viridian power flickers and jumps across the surface of those irises like the lightning of a tesla coil and this close, there's a certain radiance from her like the tingling buzzing around a live electrical dynamo.

She's dressed in a semi-translucent top that displays that the body art covers even places that a decent mare would keep tastefully hidden under clothing (although she at least has enough modesty to mostly cover her breasts in rather minimalist lingerie) and she wears skintight shorts that show off more than they really conceal. But with as much as is on display, a practiced eye would easily pick out that she's lean and well-muscled, and holds herself with the idle tension of a stalking cat ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. "Yes, Tea Leaf, I have heard of Hoodwink," she says, her dictation enunciated and precise and audibly highly refined. "And Razor Back, and Bronze Gasket, and Mentorn. I have heard of you all, and where you've come from, and how you came to be, and maybe even a little of where you're going. I know a great many things, most of which you really wish I didn't know. I have very, very talented agents, and I am the mistress of them all." She leans back until she's sitting up straight and a quartet of glossamer-thin anisopteric wings tremble and flicker at her back. "I so rarely meet a counterpart in my work, and even more rarely a professional; I've certainly never met a hero that is also my peer." She extends a hand to him. "Princess Lepinora das Chrysalis, Mister Tea Leaf. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Mon Jan 22, 2018 4:59 pm

Bronze nodded at Mara's explanation. "Rather like an alicorn then; ageless but not invincible." Bronze surmised simply, taking a bite from her fish. "Mind you even the fact alicorns are immortal is something we just have to take their word on, not like any of us have seen one through a life cycle." Bronze said, her skepticism showing for moment. "And I... apologise for messing with the observation tower. Natural curiosity, such fascinating mechanics at work, but no I won't be needing any air, my days of flying are... well, flying has become less of a luxury and more of an occasional necessity." Bronze explained simply by holding up her metal arm, assuming that Mara could understand the difficulties being off balance would impose on a flying pony.

"Bronze is from the Griffon Kingdoms." Tea Leaf explained to Mara. "They believe that there's only one true immortal and that's the Phoenix Queen, so wh-" Tea Leaf paused, his attention drawn to the voice that distinctly seemed to be of the disembodied variety coming from the balcony. "Another esteemed guest?" Tea Leaf asked, standing politely from his chair and looking up, obviously prepared to greet the newcomer like a proper gentlecolt should, catching only the edge of a tail by the time he had actually turned around while Bronze and Razor missed seeing even that.

"Enigmatic introductions then? Fair enough." Tea Leaf said, a good natured look on his face that vanished so quickly he might very well have shapeshifted as a changeling did himself; in one motion so fast that even to a close observer it would appear blurred, Tea Leaf's pistol was produced from a pocket of his jacket and Razor Back had stood fast enough to knock her chair backwards, fists balled up and ready to fight. Thankfully the two did not have time to attempt a dinner show of murdering Tea Leaf's brother before his adopted father took the place of Diamond Tip, which while no less welcome clearly was confusing enough to make both ponies pause to consider what might be happening.

"What is this?" Bronze demanded firmly as she stood too, watching as Razor clenched her fists hard enough for her knuckles to be white as bone, while Tea Leaf had no lowered his gun from the spot where Diamond Tip had appeared despite the fact their newcomer was long gone; their eyes followed her around the room and their ears caught every word despite the fact they hadn't shifted away from the initially appearance location. Bronze's own eyes went wide as she saw the visage of herself appear from the chandelier, the taller thestral seeming to go rather pale at the sight of the mangled, twisted wreck of an arm she had so long ago parted with.

"I believe this would be someone who does not value privacy." Tea Leaf said; his tone did not carry anger but some of the warmth and charm had vanished from the stallion. "Not that I suppose a spymaster has much business complaining of such things."

The three of them watched as the bizarre pantomime of their lives played out, Razor's ears pricking up as the newcomer mentioned their fourth member. "She knows about Mentorn, how the fu-"

Tea Leaf held a hand up to quiet Razor. The stallion was focused on the show now, his eyes following every move and his ears hanging on every word; it wasn't Mentorn he was concerned about her being aware of, Tea Leaf knew full well the dryad could handle himself if he needed to. The most recent addition to his household however...

The trio watched in awe, no matter how reluctant, as the little display and speech concluded and Lepinora materialised before them, true form out in the open at last. Their expressions were a varied mix of confusion, apprehension and, in Tea Leaf's case, mild relief. The latter fact seemed to help the stallion recover first and finally holster his flintlock, seeming to have accepted that the mare was, no matter how strange and off putting her entrance, not an immediate threat.

"Introductions do seem rather pointless after that." Tea Leaf admitted as he took the offered hand, bending to kiss her hand as he had for Mara before sweeping his hat off and bowing to her too. "I don't remember Ms Belle promising entertainment with the dinner, although I can't say it didn't grab our attention... in many more ways than just one."

Bronze stood on Razor's foot to make her bite down the natural retort to that. "So..." Tea Leaf began, sitting back in his seat across from Lepinora. "If you know so much about us, perhaps you might know a bit more about why we are here? You claim you know a little of 'where we are going'... it would be awfully convenient if that could include an answer to the mystery we were sent to investigate for the Princesses."

"Way too convenient to have any chance of it happening." Razor grumbled as she sat down, her eyes having a hard time not focusing on Lepinora; the thestral's amber eyes seemed to try to trace each tattoo, get lost in the collage that he whole body was and somehow end up making Razor dizzy, so she physically turned her head away. "Anyone mind if I ask why we've got a paint by numbers Princess making a play out of our life stories?"

Bronze regretted her inability to stamp on Razor's foot with any subtlety and settled for giving the other thestral a glare. "We, um... apologise for the, ah, slightly rude reactions, your highness." Bronze said to Lepinora.

"Yeah next time Tea Leaf points a gun at you we'll wait for a written invitation first." Razor snarked from her seat.

Tea Leaf cleared his throat. "If we could... Ms das Chrysalis, have Ms Belle and Ms Belladonna told you the details of why we found ourselves in your abode?"

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:57 pm

"They have not told me anything, and likely did not know I had arrived, but I know nonetheless." Lepinora climbs to her feet, which are bare, and than steps daintily off the table in the direction of a chair, twisting about as she falls so that she lands sitting comfortably in it. She leans towards the trio with her chin cupped in one hand and her elbow on the table, while she idly passes her other hand over her chest, exquisitely fine threads of magic flowing from her outstretched hand and weaving a very flattering and comfortable-looking gown inch by inch over the very skimpy top and shorts. "As to how you find yourself in Mara Belle's home, I'm aware of that as well." She turns her head in the direction of the still-woozy and thoroughly gobsmacked Belladonna. "Thryssa left a vainglorious idiot in charge here. Really Belladonna... not even thinking to send a runner to the next station until they'd been here for a day?"

"They could have been camping."

Lepinora gives her an unamused look. "We'll talk. At the moment I rather think that repeated applications of that spoon to your thick skull might be educational." She turns her attention back to Tea Leaf. "I am aware of your purpose. Those things harmed some of my agents, although they had no way to realize that the agents were not the race of pony that they appeared to be. And they endangered my aunt." Her irises glow intensely. "I work hard to ensure that very bad things happen to those who trifle with my family, Mister Tea Leaf, a sentiment I know you understand."

"Lepinora, take this out of my dining room," Mara said, her wariness seeming to have given way to exasperation. "You're interrupting dinner. Furthermore, you're interrupting dinner with my guests, in my home."
Lepinora looks at Tea Leaf steadily for a moment before she turns to face Mara. "I'm sorry Mare," she says with sincerity. "May I join your dinner, so my presence is proper?"
"On the condition that you stop parading around like a painted mare trying to sell herself."
"Philistine." Lepinora apparently doesn't need to make a show of lighting her horn to use the shapeshifting magic, because a wave of smoky energy sweeps down over her features, replacing them with the velvety black coat and bat wings of a thestral along with the fuzzier ears although she keeps her horn--which looks barely different than the horn of a unicorn--visible. Her multicolored mane and tail are replaced with turquoise and with a tug of magic and a slow sweep of her hand, she hitches it up into a vaguely Neighponese style with gold-and-pearl combs. "Better?"

Mara chuckles. "Show-off."
"You know I cant help myself." She beckons a the large bowl of soup over and serves herself before returning it to where it was before, and turning back to Tea Leaf. "So, back to what I was saying Tea Leaf. Those creatures, whatever they might be, whomever controls them, harmed my agents who are very nearly family, and endangered my auntie who is family and I take that personally. I know, you're not supposed to let personal matters interfere with the business--they cloud the vision and can obscure the bigger picture--but family is the only thing in life that is important. Everything else can fall away--empires, queens, princesses, nations, friends, health, life--but so long as you have that family you'll make it somehow and some way."

She looks to the side, where Bronze and Razor are. "I know that some of the family you've made for yourself enjoys the love and warmth of family, a father than is unspeakably proud of her, parents who loved her enough to let her go. And I know that some of the family you've made for yourself had no one before a dashing thief invited her to be the antithesis of what she left. That was the point of the pageantry, incidentally, to illustrate that I know your family well." She turns her eyes back to him. "And I saw that flintlock come out, and I know that if I'd lingered in that shape and given you cause, you would have done what you had to do. I think we understand each other, Tea Leaf; I too will do what I have to do. My heart might bleed after I do it, but there are worse things than regretting that you didn't do what you must, and lost what you couldn't bear to."

She then turns to eating her potato soup, holding the spoon in exactly the proper way with the negligent ease of a pony who'd had the table manners of the nobility drilled into them all their life. After a moment, the rest of the soldiers dig in with the same enthusiasm they'd shown before Lepi had interrupted while Belladonna gives the changeling princess her very best glare and holds her head where Mara bapped her with one hand while she eats with the other. Mara snaps instantly back to hostess mode and slithers over to the Hoodwink gang. "I'm going back into the kitchens, if I can get you three anything else," she says with a broad smile.
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Wed Jan 24, 2018 10:41 pm

"You know at least as far as I'm aware getting bashed in the head over and over again usually makes you dimmer, not brighter." Razor Back commented dryly, her eyes wandering to watch the gown being formed onto Lepinora piece by piece instead of keeping her attention even remotely on their dinner guests anymore, caring not one jot for the subtlety of her ogling; evidently Razor's distaste for changelings, the ones she knew anyway, didn't extend far enough to stop her eyeing up a very good looking mare wearing not very much, even if she had to restrain her eyes from wandering along the tattoos too much lest she get confused again.

"We were camping actually... just we had to camp as part of our investigation out here in the Wastes." Bronze clarified, trying her best to at least attempt to throw Belladonna a bone. "Oh trust me, Lepinora was it? We all understand full well how it feels to want to protect your family, we wouldn't expect anything less."

"Indeed not." Tea Leaf agreed with a nod, the stallion's mind instantly returning to Purse Cutter sat at home; he hated having to leave her at home at times like this but he could hardly be dragging her along on missions right now, even if she was exceptionally more capable than most would give her credit for. Besides, he had faith in Mentorn to keep her good company. "A healthy amount of parental paranoia doesn't go amiss... or sibling paranoia or whatever it might be in the circumstance." Tea Leaf said, trying not to make it sound as much like he was talking about himself.

The trio looked on as Lepinora transformed before their eyes, the three of them impressed in spite of themselves. Ordinarily a changeling transformation would've been a source of alarm or discomfort given their usual experiences with such magic but there was something graceful, natural about the way Lepinora's transformation gradually unfolded, as if there wasn't even any manipulation or magic to it and it was simply a natural process... which they supposed indeed it was with the changelings they were accustomed to but the harsh, whipping nature of emerald flames consuming the form hardly made it seem that way. When the transformation was complete, Razor was now not the only one staring though she was still the only one utterly failing to hide it; Bronze and Tea Leaf had to admit, her taken form was far from an unpleasant sight.

"I find that business matters very often have an irksome habit of evolving into family matters." Tea Leaf responded to Lepinora's remarks about not letting things get personal. "Especially since, as you say, whatever else a pony can choose to cling to... family is the one thing any decent pony MUST hold to, lest they lose themselves just as much as the people around them."

The stallion and mares didn't need any more than a second to share a stare across the table as Lepinora described them; the three of them were very aware that the bond they had forged between their group, including those who were not there at that instant, was as strong as any blood family bond one could find. The adopted thief, the rejected warrior and the prized engineer... they may have come from different corners of the kingdoms but they had each other now and as far as they were concerned, that was the priority from now on; to never be pulled apart again.

Tea Leaf had the decency to look slightly ashamed to his loss of control. "I wouldn't have shot..." He answered, truthfully he knew but even to him it sounded like an excuse as it came out.

Bronze, seeing the stallion's discomfort, nodded to Mara and waved her over. "Some more of the fish would be amazing if that's at all possible, I have to admit your chefs could teach the factory chefs a thing or too... mind you so could your average food caravan pony I suppose." Bronze smiled, taking another bite from a fillet of cod as she spoke while Razor loudly crunched her way to the core of her seventh apple.

"Well, Ms das Chrysalis." Tea Leaf said, trying to get away from the uncomfortable matter of having nearly shot one of his hosts. "I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to expect from a changeling leader given everything we have already seen proven wrong today... I must also confess, I find myself for once being very happy to have made a vast underestimation." He said, with a suave, flirtatious note slipping into his tone as he met her eye. "I have an eye for treasure and riches, visualising what may come has always been something I do... usually what I imagine is far outstrips the reality. It's refreshing for it to be the other way around for once."

Bronze rolled her eyes slightly at Tea Leaf's obvious flirtations but didn't begrudge him it. She was used to it at this point and it wasn't as if she never made any adventurous comments towards some of the people they had met either.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Thu Jan 25, 2018 4:32 pm

"Not in that particular circumstance, no," Lepinora says, to Tea Leaf's insistence that he wouldn't have shot her. "The need wasn't urgent. You were within reach of several soldiers and a hostess who you knew capable of turning Diamond Tip to stone if he was truly a threat to you. Your surrogate family was at your back, ready to spring to your support at an instant. But if he was a caged animal, desperate, capable of anything? If you were injured or alone, beyond help? If he was a mere twitch of a finger from taking something from you worth the pain of taking a life?" She stops eating her soup to look very directly at him, and he has the distinctive feeling that she isn't talking only about him. "A good pony will do what they must if they really and truly must do it. I think that if you ever have to shoulder that burden, Tea Leaf, you will find yourself equal to it."

In the probably uncomfortable silence that fell in the wake of that, Lepinora goes back to her soup and Mara Belle sweeps out of sight, up some stairs behind the painting of Nightmare Moon, and returns a minute later with a couple of steaming fillets and some more fresh apples for Razor before giving the trio a light bow and returning to her divan at the head of the table where she pours and sips from a pitcher of the tart juice, watching them as they conversed with the changeling princess. Lepinora pauses momentarily when he refers to her as a leader, and then picks up her bowl and drinks the dregs down, levitating a napkin into her hand to dab politely at the corners of her mouth before she looks at Tea Leaf.

"I appreciate the compliment, Tea Leaf, but you have still not met a changeling leader. I serve, happily, eagerly, passionately, but if tragedy struck and I was the only heir to the throne, I could be little more than a placeholder, awaiting a daughter who could be a true queen." She smiles to him. "Espionage is an art at least as much as it is a science, and I am supremely suited to art. To sculpture, to architecture, to music, to dance," she gestures towards the painting of Nightmare Moon and then around generally at the reproductions of famous works, "to painting, to body art, but most especially to theater. The world is a stage, Hoodwink, and I am cast in the role of the spy, watching always, deducing critical truths from the tiniest facts, sowing artful fictions, creating facades behind which to hide the many strands of my web. Some of those strands are quite evil, sadly, of necessity: certain threats cannot be allowed to live, even when they have not yet brought their intentions to full fruition. Sometimes the spider slays her own flies, sometimes she has her little spiders do it for her, but whether through a tool or her own hand, the blood stains the same."

She leans back in her chair, regarding him. "This Lepinora is just the Noblemare Lepinora mask. Sometimes, it's the Impossible Bratty Lepinora mask, sometimes the Dutiful Daughter Lepinora, sometimes the Affectionate Little Sister Lepinora, sometimes the Cold Calculating Lethal Lepinora. But a leader?" She shakes her head. "That is not a mask I can wear. Neither me nor my older sister, the Twilight Sparkle of our family, the boundless intellect with a special talent for all fields of magic, the wide-eyed scholar with an endless hunger for books and knowledge. It's possible you'll meet her soon enough; she got the same news I did and was practically twitching with the desire to grab her favorite chalk and start on a runic circle, so she can frighten the poor staff with more of her inexplicable experiments into moving instantly from one point to another via some high-concept magical theory that Clover the Bearded, or Starswirl the Clever, or whomever she was going on about pioneered. I had to resort to throwing the illuminated 900-year-old Equestrian manuscript one direction and fleeing the other." She grins widely, her eyes twinkling with suppressed mirth. "I am exaggerating only slightly: it was 875 years old."

"But all of that said..." She take a moment to levitate all of her dishes and utensils clear of her place and leans over, propping her chin up on both hands and looking at the three of them. "I'm able to supply any information you might desire just as well as any other in my family. Perhaps not quite so thoroughly in regards to history--Tettidora would be better for that--or in regards to force disposition and composition--that's Thryssa's concern--but I can speak thoroughly on most matters."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Thu Jan 25, 2018 11:42 pm

Tea Leaf simply nodded; the stallion obviously had some reservations about how much this strange changeling seemed to know about himself. True he wasn't exactly combing through archives ripping out any mention of his name (or his alias) but it did mildly concern him that so much of his life and status could be gleamed through mere observation from a distance... assuming these changelings didn't have an insider which he had to admit there wasn't a way to fully rule out that possibility now that he actually stopped to consider it.

"Well allow me to amend that compliment to say you are simply very good looking and if I had expectations they would be shattered." Tea Leaf complimented Lepinora with a suave smile over his glass of wine as he took a sip from a new bottle. "Some fine vintages in here I have to admit... I imagine this has been kept hidden away so long that several winemakers I know would pay through the nose for it."

"And I still say you're better off sticking with beer so you don't have to wait five sodding years til you can drink it." Razor chipped in oh so helpfully from her side of the table, a new apple already having had a large third bitten out of it by the thestral, who seemed particularly partial to the green ones.

"Yes yes but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for." Tea Leaf gently admonished his companion. "How long did it take you to convince that griffon heiress that she and her friend would be well served sharing a room with you?"

"...point taken." Razor smirked across the table at her friend while Bronze simply shook her head with a smile somewhere between amusement and exasperation. "You're just salty because I got there first."

"Not true at all... I got a rather delightful evening with Ms de Lis and Ms Rarity out of it." Tea Leaf reminded her.


"As much as I am sure Lepinora is absolutely delighted to hear about how you two choose to define what it means to be professional and formal at a fundraiser." Bronze interrupted them, her voice dripping with sarcasm, holding up her hand to tell her friends to listen to Lepinora's explanations about her role in the changeling hierarchy.

Tea Leaf couldn't help but nod along to her analogy. "Indeed, we all must don masks from time to time but there are some roles that we cannot pretend to occupy." Tea Leaf took a moment to drink from his wine. "Still, it can be a comforting thought; sometimes we spend so long hiding behind the masks we wear we forget that sometimes the mask is forced upon those who would rather be allowed to be themselves, sometimes those who must wear the most trying and taxing of roles are the ones who most wish to be free of it."

"Yes I'm sure it's very taxing chasing skirts among the nobility all day." Bronze commented.

"I didn't say that the masks couldn't come with perks."

Tea Leaf and Bronze shared a chuckle before Tea Leaf looked back to Lepinora, debating internally whether it was worth taxing his luck like this already; after recent events had seen the stallion able to enjoy less adventurous expeditions of late and with recent incidents between kingdoms being so quiet... well, he had to admit he felt rather overdue some opportunity to be selfish, if he did say so himself.

"There are many matters we will have to discuss of course." Tea Leaf nodded seriously; he spared a glance for a moment to where Razor had stood up and moved, sitting herself down next to the changeling soldier they kept referring to as 'Limb', unless he had heard incorrectly. "And many of them I would be all to happy to discuss in detail... perhaps over a few more of these glasses, in my guest room tonight? After all, we mustn't talk too much at the table, lest we let the excellent work of the chefs go to waste."

Bronze wasn't sure if she was more impressed at Tea Leaf's sheer gall or more gobsmacked at the sheer nerve he had to really try putting the moves on here and now. She shot what she hoped was an apologetic look to Mara Belle up the table, sure that she could see just as well what Tea Leaf was doing.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Fri Jan 26, 2018 5:05 pm

"Not hidden so much as... stored," Mara comments from her end of the table. "When you have centuries to go, you try to invest in your future and since bits aren't a concern when you can sswim through stone like water, you invest in things that will get better as they get older, so that when you are much older, they will be that much better."
"So... you taste like a fine...?"
"If you want to be part of my next art installation, Belladonna, continue," Mara says, still smiling in the direction of Tea Leaf.
"...right then, shutting up."
"Good girl."

"Oh, don't stop them, Miss Gasket," Lepinora tells her with a smile after her explanation. "You'd be surprised how enlightening even the most irrelevant details that seem to be of less than any value at all can fill in a picture." She beckons at the bottle of wine that Tea Leaf has filled from, and puts some in her own glass to sip. "Besides, I have a few fond memories from that gala as well. Learned something new of my Crysta, some silly little thing that would have never occurred to me to even wonder about." Her expression fades into one that's somewhat nostalgic and a little troubled as well. "Sort of... brought something home to me, that I'd never even thought about. It was a wonderful night to be sure--good drink, the best possible company--but the important reason to be there in person was to watch a room full of ponies each wearing a mask, each projecting a particular pretense, and seeing who to connect to, who to watch, who was good, who was evil." She moves her eyes to Tea Leaf. "I'd never actually seen you myself before then, Tea Leaf, but I could tell who you were. Razor Back too; you both stand out quite a bit, even camouflaged."

Lepinora responds to Tea Leaf's advances by slowly raising an eyebrow at him, before giving him a toothy grin. "Sounds like a plan, Tea Leaf. Talking," she puts the gentlest of emphasis on the word, "in your room with a bottle of excellent vintage between us. Maybe even include Bronze in the conversation." She dampens the grin into a smile as she looks at Bronze. "I find that there's no conversation that doesn't benefit from adding more ponies of intelligence to it."
Bronze sees that Mara clearly knows what's happening, and clearly doesn't really care, having started to clear empty serving plates from the table as the changeling soldiers, excluding Belladonna and Corporal Limb, start spreading out among the remaining chairs, a few breaking off to help Mara Bell, the rest pulling out neatly-bound stacks of playing cards and adding to a stack until they have what is probably a complete deck of cards then pull out small pouches and plop them onto the table. Razor, who'd be close enough to see the pouches clearly, would be able to tell from the shape of various bulges that they all contain small gemstones.
Corporal Limb turns to look at Razor as she comes over and sits down next to him. "Razor," he says politely, giving her an acknowledging nod. "Is there something you need? A question I can answer, or assistance render?"
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:30 pm

Bronze chuckled at Myra's explanation. "A mindset I can understand; in Griffhalla an old tradition is to find things that improve with age to bury someone with, wines, potted plants and the like. They believe the predecessors should have some projects to take with them." Bronze said with a fond look on her face as she got to speak of home.

Tea Leaf listened with interest at yet another venue the changelings here had managed to infiltrate... or perhaps they had actually been invited under a guise that they did not know to be a cover? Whatever the case the information was actually something of a reassurance to Tea Leaf rather than unnerving; the grand galloping gala was a place to let manes down as well as inhibitions, and whether they would ever admit to it or not the Royal Guard were never less attentive and more likely to fail to notice an evil plan than on that evening, so if Lepinora had truly been present at such an event and had taken no action against Celestia, it was a sure sign at least to Tea Leaf that she had no ill intentions.

"You make me sound rather bad at my job of being a spy, Ms das Chrysalis." Tea Leaf pointed out with a playful chuckle. "But yes, we have been told before we are a fairly noticeable group. It can be a benefit or a detriment depending on our line of work that given day..." Tea Leaf paused to listen to Lepinora's acceptance of his offer, the stallion's smile widening a little in spite of himself. "...and it would appear today is one of those days where it is a benefit." Tea Leaf said with a definite note of eagerness in his tone though he kept it politely restrained.

"I... think I'll have to pass on that offer. Feel free to enjoy your discussion though... I assure you Tea Leaf can contribute a lot to discussions of that nature." Bronze added, unable to help herself; for once the stallion actually looked surprised at the engineer dropping an innuendo of such a nature although by the time he had turned to look at her the tall thestral had already turned back to Mara Belle.

"Do you mind if I ask, is that a form of geomancy? Your ability to swim through the rocks like a stream I mean, is that an active manipulation of the rock and dirt around your or is it a species trait?" Bronze asked with great interest. "The first time you emerged I have to admit I thought it was some form of illusion aided teleportation but no it really is moving through the physical rock isn't it?"

Tea Leaf decided to move past his companion's rather unexpected compliment of his 'discussion' skills and instead picked a particularly nice looking bottle from the table, a vintage year too if Holiday Road's obsession over dates was accurate. "Hmmm..." He said, nodding his head to the side, suggesting quietly that he and Lepinora retire to his quarters.

Razor Back fished in her back pocket for a while, emptying out a small pile of bottle caps, a length of rope and what looked like a large tooth onto the table before she fished out a small bag of gemstones. "Deal me in? I ain't one to stay at the fine dining and talk politics, I'd rather be down here where the real fun happens, in with the soldiers and the cards." Razor said in a best attempt to be friendly as she plopped down her own bag of gemstones. "What're we playin'?"

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Sat Jan 27, 2018 8:00 am

"Oh no, it's not a criticism Tea Leaf," Lepinora says. "You and your companions are noticeable in the way that Celestia or Luna are: they have a certain energy about them. It's like dropping a pebble into a pond, where you don't see the pebble itself but can find it roughly by the effect it has on the water." She shrugs. "That and the various agents that gathered information on you gave me enough information about the 'taste' of your emotional radiance, for lack of a better term, that I could distinguish it quite easily. Don't ask me to try to describe it; it's something impossible to have any sense of without having been born either changeling or, very rarely, partly changeling." She stands as Tea Leaf does, moving one hand over her head to reshape the combs into a trio of purple scrunchies and then down her form, magically reweaving the flattering evening dress into a Celestia's School for Talented Unicorns t-shirt (just small enough that it emphasizes her chest without being too forward) and a long pair of cargo pants awash in various pockets. As she follows Tea Leaf out of the room, she switches out her thestral form for that of a cream-colored unicorn with slim proportions very much like those of Fleur de Lis although she keeps her mane and chest the same.

The moment Razor puts the large tooth down on the table, Mara Belle does a very overdramatic gasp and snatches it up. "Auntie Razorfang! What has she done to you?"
Corporal Limb eyes her. "...Auntie Razorfang?"
A very, very theatrical sign. "Yes, Corporal, Auntie Razorfang. It is a tragic story, with heroes, and villains and a dramatic plot twist just before the climax, leading to a heroic death scene full of hiherto and alas!"
Limb just looks steadily at her. "Milady Belle, please put the tooth down and stop making fun of Princess Lepinora."
"I'll get you, my pretty, and your scaly mum too!" Lepinora calls from where she's ascended the steps with Tea Leaf on their way out.
"Avast villain! Go ye! Flee with your... your..."
"...debonair hunk of stallion," Limb suggests helpfully.
"...your debonair hunk of stallion!" Mara blinks and then turns a gimlet eye on a very innocent-looking Corporal Limb. "Don't make me destroy you, Lever."
"Wouldn't dream of it, milady."
Mara puts the fang down and gives Corporal Limb narrow-eyed glare before she turns to slither closer to Bronze to facilitate conversation.

One of the soldiers gives Limb a thumbs-up when Mara is safely turned away and leans slightly around the form of Lever Limb. "We're playing 'Scum'," she tells Razor. "Name of the game is, we all get cards and we try to get rid of them by stacking matching cards. Cards match if they're the same number as the first card, or if they match the suite. Aces are one, royals start as eleven at the jack, jokers are whatever suit and number you call when you put it down. You can play as many cards as you can on your turn, unless you switch the number by matching the suit, in which case ya get to just play the one. Player with the most cards left gets to show the hostess a token of appreciation for the great grub. If players are tied, they keep going until there's a loser. Ya stick with the game until you're out of gems."

They then start the game with the soldier that spoke dealing the cards form the deck and then laying down a queen of diamonds as the first card. Mara meanwhile curls herself around one of the chairs so she can sort of sit in it with most of her coils out of the way, looking both awkward and oddly comfortable. "I'm not actually sure if it could be called 'geomancy'," she tells Bronze in answer to the question. "Although the better pony to ask would be Princess Tettidora since she has all kinds of weird and random knowledge bouncing around in her little head. I just know that I and my mother, and presumably all other gorgons of our kind, can manipulate earth and stone like very soft wax and the more completely we're in contact with it, the easier it is to move through it. It has the feel of very soft, fine sand as I move through it, although Mother experiences it as being very light and airy, almost as if it was made of whipped cream--her description, not mine--instead of anything solid. Except when we're 'swimming' in it, we can move it as if pushing aside sand and it stays in place as if frozen where we will it to..."
Just then, one of the players of the Scum game comes away with the highest number of cards (the game going along pretty quickly because there's a lot of players) and picks out a ruby from his bag and tosses it in the direction of Mara Belle. In mid-sentence, with only a moment's pause, Mara turns her head and snatches the ruby out of the air in her mouth then bites down, crunching it and chewing with a look of pleasure.
"...mmm, cherry." She swallows it. "Anyhow, it stays in place as if frozen where we will it to stay. It makes digging very large tunnels and grottos and living areas very easy, and decorating them quite simple as well. With enough practice and hard work, the power can be projected into a tool to make sculpting it easier and producing designs like what you no doubt saw in the tunnel outside." She assumes a more somber look. "The power also allows us to render flesh into stone--the exact type is individual to every gorgon or so Mother tells me--and adhere the life to the stone so that when we reverse it, the being is unsettled but unharmed. As you can imagine, like any power, it can be abused. Mother has told me from time to time of the various exceptionally sadistic uses to which it could be put.
"For instance, say you had a deep hatred for a pony. You could render them to stone, let all who love them perish from the movements of time, and then render them back to flesh having nothing left but cold headstones to grieve at." Her eyes moisten a little, although her voice is as calm and steady as ever. "There was a time that I thought Mother had done it to my sire. As long as I can remember, she has kept a statue of a very fetching pegasus mare in her possession, one with an expression of emotional agony and heartbreak on her face. She has always refused to confess to even me whether or not the statue is a pony rendered to stone but..." She shakes her head. "I believe she keeps it to remind herself and keep her loathing burning brightly, but you can only hate with the intensity that Mother does if your love is equally intense. Too intense to inflict that kind of sadistic cruelty on someone. Tettidora has offered to find out for me--I'm not sure how she could, although I believe she has some way if she wanted to--but... I am a little afraid to know."
She gives Bronze a smile that looks a little forced. "I'm sure that's more than you wanted to hear and would rather have not heard as much as you did, but if you want to know more, I am at your service Miss Gasket."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Sun Jan 28, 2018 11:42 pm

Tea Leaf nodded along, not about to openly reject a compliment when one was offered, though the stallion did feel she might be laying it on a bit generously. He was familiar with flattery himself so he could tell when people were truly being honest with him compared to when they just wished for him to aid their cause and to hear his group compared even passingly to Celestia and Luna without any form of sarcasm of backhandedness was... well, rather jarring to the stallion after spending so much of his life looking at his masked visage taking up space on public menace notice boards and wanted posters.

Tea Leaf raised an eyebrow as he heard Mara Belle exclaim from back in the dining room before turning his gaze back to Lepinora in mid-transformation. "Please don't change on my account; a mare with as appealing a presence as yourself has no need to change anything if you ask me." The stallion flirted, leading her back to the guest chamber he currently occupied. The stallion had already exerted his presence loosely upon the room, as the wardrobe contained two copies of the suit he wore as well as a more ornate looking dinner suit in black with a golden trim, which he had obviously decided to be a bit flamboyant for the evening dinner.

"A glass, Ms das Chrysalis?" He offered, popping the cork on the bottle he had brought, bouncing the cork off the ceiling and right back into an outstretched hand before casually flicking it in the pin without looking in that direction; a needless bit of showmanship he had to admit, but what was a stallion without a flair for theatrics?


Back in the dining room Razor Back had actually whirled around in alarm and gone slightly pale at Mara Belle's exclamation. "Oh fuck my life...." The thestral groaned to herself, wincing and obviously preparing herself to be told exactly who it was she had killed... until she opened one eye and saw the obvious theatrics, breathing a deep sigh of relief as she turned back to the changeling soldiers and listened to the explanation of the card game.


In her seat Bronze Gasket had almost unconsciously produced a notepad from a pocket of her coat, her metal fingers scribbling down notes on what the Gorgon told her as she hung on every word with great interest as the Gorgon explained; the gorgon certainly wasn't shy about sparing the details, which suited the cyborg thestral just fine as she took down seemingly every word that Mara Belle said verbatim.

"Petrification... yes, Griffhalla's law enforcement spent decades perfecting a technology aided form of that form of magic. It's often offered as an alternative to lower level criminals; they can do unpaid labor or they can live off their sentence under the effects of petrification without awareness. It's more efficient for space than having to maintain larger prisons, those who are stone don't exactly need full living accommodation." Bronze rattled off even as she took down Mara's words, her enthusiasm readily apparent. "Oh please Mrs Belle, there's no need to apologise, honestly it's really exciting to get to learn all of this from the horse's mouth, as we say in Griffhalla."

Bronze could see the emotional pain that had surfaced during the story of her mother and tried to move them past it. "So... debonair hunk of stallion?" Bronze asked with a laugh. "Please, his ego doesn't need any more inflating, I'm already surprised he can fit in the tunnel the size it is already." Bronze chuckled in reference to Tea Leaf, while a loud growling curse behind them seemed to indicate Razor not doing altogether too well in her game.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:45 pm

"When you can be literally any pony, why content yourself with any one form?" Lepi smiles to him as they leave the dining room. "Granted, most changelings like to stick with just one guise because it feels the most natural to them; I'm sure you noticed that in grooming, voice, mannerisms, and several other measures Belladonna strongly resembles Scootaloo of Ponyville?" She pauses in what she's saying as they reach Tea Leaf's room and she chuckles and claps when he does his trick with the cork. "I'd love one, thank you," she says in response to his offer of the glass. "Anyway, it happens that Belladonna's favored guise is that of Scootaloo, although she doesn't know it. There's some obvious differences--bust, larger and fuller wings, a different part to her mane, taller--but the resemblance is quite amazing. And if that wasn't enough to be slightly disconcerting, it happens that Belladonna has two friends her own age who she's been running around with since they met each other in school. One of them is a somewhat refined young mare with violet and pink streaks in her mane whose sister is a prominent business owner with a generous disposition. The other comes from a very large multi-generational farming family, she has a fruit-related name, favors a red bow in her mane, and speaks with a distinctive accent." She grins a little and takes a sip of wine. "Belladonna, Sugar Bell, and Pearbloom. Three little hellions, bursting with talent, drove the city entirely up the wall with their cutie mark related antics, and their guises correspond with disquieting accuracy to their counterparts among Scootaloo's two closest friends." She shakes her head. "Surprised the buck out of me when I heard about it, refused to believe it until I had seen it myself with my own eyes. To the best of my knowledge, none of our three are even passingly aware that your three exist, much less that their favorite guises are virtual copies of them." She sips again. "Well... one of them might have become aware of her counterpart recently, but she developed the guise long before she knew."
Lepi chuckles at him. "Tea Leaf, the 'das Chrysalis' is not a family name, or a surname, or even a proper name. It's a supplementary title, like calling the son named after his father 'the second'. It simply means 'daughter of Chrysalis' and the 'du Luc' as in 'Belladonna du Luc' means 'of the Luc' which is her family name. They look the name from where their family estate was originally located, in a region of Equestria with a great many lakes. Sugar Bell is of the Dune family--no prizes for guessing where their family estate was--and Pearbloom's family are an offshoot of the now-gone Sylvi family whose ancestral estates still exist. By far one of the most far-sighted families because they made sure that title to their lands would devolve to non-changeling family they were close to, and it's the only estate of the six noble houses that's still occupied and intact."

The soldiers seem amused at Razor's travails in the game as they go round-robin and get rid of their cards. "Really hope you don't mind losing some of those gems," Limb of them comments as he leans back, having disposed of his last card. "The entire purpose is to combine a bit of fun with showing appreciation to the hostess by giving her some after-dinner sweets. It's not like we gain anything by winning or losing... which is why we don't play poker."
"And you cheat at poker," a female soldier points out dryly.
"I only cheat at strip poker, because some things are worth more than money." Limb grins widely at the soldier, who blushes quite vividly.
"By 'cheat' he means he likes to lose on purpose," another soldier tells Razor. "I think when his mum fixed his horn, she loosened a few screws."
"And the nuts and bolts," Limb says cheerfully. "If you shake me hard enough, you can sort of hear them rattling around."
"It sounds like squeaking bed springs."
All the soldiers turn to look at Belladonna who gives them a very, very smug grin, which nicely diverts attention from Limb blushing as hard as the female soldier had a moment ago.

"That was entirely inadvertent," Mara says with a light blush. "He's handsome, debonair, and dashing of course, but it would be uncouth to say so to him directly. Which is exactly why Limb supplied that particular turn of phrase at that moment. Mother would probably tell me that being uncouth is appropriate in certain situations, but... well... I've also see the statuary that Mother posed for in her youth, the small amount that she managed to appropriate when she moved out into the Barrens." Mara blushes more heavily. "I think the term would be 'free spirit'; I'm not sure there's a word for the sheer variety of her tastes in... um... modeling." She leans back in her chair, enough so that a pony would be falling out of it. "It'll be interesting, living in Equestria. Mother's ambition is to quarry soapstone from near Baltimare and become a prominent sculptor; mine is to be a society mare, as you might guess from the mannerisms I project and my choice of attire. I'm not really sure how I'll be able to go about the large cities like Manehattan and Stalliongrad, much less small villages, but I've got the time for ponies to become used to a friendly gorgon. Mother tells me that gorgons are generally so reclusive that ponies rarely if ever meet one, and they hate their privacy being shattered enough to be violent about it. And I'm sure that there're still legends about Maredusa, and how she was slain by a great pony hero; I think I read one of them, once." She quirks a brow at Bronze. "Ponies have strange imaginations, you know. The idea that a gorgon can turn you to stone if you happen to see her face? What could have given them such an odd idea? From the waist up we look like ponies and even the ugliest pony I've met or seen isn't revolting enough to turn your stomach, much less turn you to stone. Would you like to see how it's really done, Miss Gasket?"
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:50 am

Tea Leaf looked truly fascinated as he poured them each a generous amount of wine, clearly not a novice drinker, and listened to her describe how the appearance resemblance ran far more than what the stallion had assumed was merely his mind making up coincidences that didn't exist; from the way Lepinora was describing both Belladonna and her friends though, the stallion found it increasingly hard to dismiss as his own mind playing tricks of trying to form connections were there weren't any, rather it seemed to him like there was far too coinciding factors to be left up to chance.

"That... suggests many possibilities both insidious and innocuous for those sort of similarities. Seriously, that seems downright eerie." Tea Leaf told her, taking a sip of his own wine and thinking back on the three fillies as he knew them. "Ah... good to know. I would hate to be performing any manner of disrespect, after all; one should address a beautiful woman by her proper name." He smiled flirtatiously but still listened to her describing their history to him, pouring them both a fresh glass. "And here I thought the noble houses of Canterlot were complicated enough... to think, an entire society with such history and resources, flourishing within the kingdom, unseen and unheard... Heh... I suppose it does rather make one question my worth as a spymaster doesn't it?"


"Hey, they ain't my gems anyway, Luna's got enough she won't miss a few." Razor chuckled, taking a bite from another apple as the next set of cards was dealt out. "Besides, she owes me anyways; you'd think a Princess sitting on the Equestrian treasury wouldn't be so cheap but she never pays back her debts you know? She always wants to join the guards on poker night but all we ever get off of her is IOUs that read like an antique writing that should be in a museum."

Razor chuckled herself at the story about strip poker. "Oh strip poker's a right popular pass time with the guard... shame I always have to kick the stallions out when it's my turn to deal in." Razor remarked, looking between the soldiers and Belladonna; already the rough thestral seemed relaxed and casual, as if she was killing time with some of her own troops.

"He's also a right pain in the flank once he thinks he's got a good looking mare wanting to tail after him." Bronze added with an affectionate roll of her eyes; her friends might occasionally make her want to bash the wall in with a hammer but she wouldn't have them any other way. "Mind you, Razor's like that too half the time, the rest of the time she just settles for hitting on anything female with a pulse." Bronze did a slight double take when Mara used the term 'free spirit' to describe her mother; given the Griffon culture Bronze had grown up in, perhaps the words meant something different.

"...I would." Bronze admitted to her curiosity but slowly closed her notebook and tucked it away. "But for my own personal curiosity I think. I have... well, let's just say I don't think that Griffons were meant to have petrification in their claws, and I'd rather not hand them even more detailed instructions than they already have." Bronze said it very quietly, as though she somehow expected a Griffon to overhear this lie of omission to her own people; it clearly took a lot of personal strength to go against the ingrained nature of Griffons to always further their kingdom's capabilities.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:04 am

Lepi smirked a bit at his comment about 'flourishing within the kingdom.' "I hope you'll forgive me for not being really diplomatic--that's what my three sisters are for--and say that when we got kicked out of grassy, growing, well-watered lands into a bucking desert and pretty much left there, we sort of stopped thinking of ourselves as Celestia's subjects, and consider the Wastes to be our Barrens, independent of Equestria. We have our own ruler, our own nobility, our own laws, our own capital, and our own settlements. We chose to strike our own bits because it's the monetary system we're comfortable with and is the easiest way to trade with Equestria--through disguises naturally--and interact in a fiscal way with the rest of the world." She grins. "Who, incidentally, seem to think we appeared out of thin air and were never part of Equestria. Believe it or no, most of my spymaster job focuses on the constant dance of position and timing to ensure that the Equestion diplomatic missions to the world at large somehow never find out that our monarchy maintains a proper embassy to each of the major powers--except Equestria itself, naturally. I think that by now, the various powers are so used to our extremely odd maneuvering that they assume we have a whole slew of bizarre cultural rituals that require the entire mess." She gives a snort of laughter. "According to my aunts, the moment that Mother wrapped her head around the entire absurd stage play, she sort of suffered a ten minute mental shutdown at the sheer power of ridiculous. I enjoy the chaos myself, especially how the diplomatic staff will pretty much do whatever idiot thing I dream up without even questioning it. They've just sort of... accepted the insanity and cling to the notion that somewhere, somehow, in some one's pea brain, it all makes sense."
She accepts a refill from Tea Leaf and sips off about a quarter of it before sighing and looking at him. "The world just isn't a sane place, Tea. It hasn't been for about a thousand years now and sooner or later, it's all going to have to stop. The entire charade, the hiding, the disguises, maintaining hidden bunkers in the middle of bucking nowhere to make sure some courageous and insane pony hasn't come up with a way to get deep into the deserts and maybe realize that it's not a complete empty place, or even mostly empty. Doing things this way is just not natural. Someone working out a way to imitate or even completely copy the thing we're born capable of is... I don't know what it is. Tetti does, because she's a shameless egghead in pigtails and a frankly disturbing quantity of books in her possession at all times, but I'm not her. Sorta wish I could just whistle for her despite my joke about distracting her from tagging along; there's just something about genius that lets a pony brain sideways, backwards, inside-out, and upside-down all at the same time."
She frowns at her glass of wine. "Yeah, I'm starting to get contemplative and maudlin which means I'm done with the drink." Which at this point, is only about three glasses and while the wine is clearly quite fine, Tea Leaf can tell it's not all that strong. "World's pretty bucking unfair, you know," she says as she gulps down the remainder in the glass. "Tetti's even less mass than me, and I've gotta keep any pudge off as a job requirement--she just doesn't do the eat as much as she should." She frowns more heavily. "Doesn't each as much as she... gah, forget it, you know what I'm trying to say. Pretty sure she cheats somehow, but how do you cheat at drinking under a table? She's not casted a spell on herself to keep her head clear--I'm not overwhelmingly powerful but I worked really hard to be able to notice something like that--so I don't know what cheats she does that holds her liquor." Other than the shift to mildly scrambled syntax, Lepi doesn't seem otherwise impaired, not even a slur to her speech or any  other indication of being affected by her light drinking.

"Hey, I'd take something Luna wrote as a prize, just so I had proof that it happened," one of the soldiers chuckled as she sloughs off most of her cards on her first round. "That must be incredible, doing something so completely ordinary with Luna as playing cards."
"Forget run of the mill poker or scum or whatever... strip poker." Limb says with a grin. This sentiment gets him a table full of vigorous nodding. "Win, lose, either way it'd be a treat."
"You'd have better luck trying to wheedle the Four-Legged Tapestry," Belladonna chuckles.
"Yeah, yeah." He shakes his head. "Trust the family wild child who flaunts a lot of really excellent as hard as she can to be the only one who's been going steady for, what, ten years?"
"I hear it's been since elementary."
The soldiers do many variants of shaking their heads or snorting. "Yeah, when you get to that point, there ain't a lick of difference between going steady and already hitched," the first soldier says. "Hell of it is..."
"...ya can't speak a word against it," Bella finishes. "Lady Crysta is one heck of an anchor. Just something about the remains of... of... someone help me out here."
"Du Closs," Limb supplied. "Tempesthaven."
"Yeah, them. Wish I'd inherited the entire 'steel rose' thing instead of the elegance of a sledgehammer to the jewels."
"Sorta glad you didn't, Bellend," Limb tells her. "You'd be sorta scary."

Mara giggles a little at Bronze's concern about the griffons learning more about petrification through her demonstration. "I'm sorry to seem as if I'm making light of your concerns, Bronze," she says. "But knowing how a gorgon works her innate power related to earth to render flesh into stone wouldn't help them at all. They can no more make use of the knowledge than I could wear fashionable shoes." She smiles a little. "Not that I can't--perhaps later I'll explain why I could--but surely you get my point: knowing how to do something with tools you both do not have and will never have doesn't benefit you. So don't worry about the knowledge getting into the talons of the nation that adopted you; it cannot help them. If it could, I wouldn't offer a demonstration for any reason, because the particular magic can be amplified and projected with the correct magical construct, as Princess Tettidora proved to me with some practical experiments once.
"Now then..." Mara grins and looks towards the game. "Oh Belladonna!"
Belladonna gives her a very wary look. "I don't like that predatory gleam, Mara..."
"Too bad, I need a victim." She grins. "And you don't seem to be playing."
"A victim for...?" Bella blinks. "Oh, buck me. Mara, NO."
"Mara, yes." Her grin becomes a little fangy. "Mara always yes."
Belladonna sighs and gets up rubbing her head as she walks clear of the card game, with none of the participants giving her a second glance, as if this sort of thing is so normal that they don't notice what's happening. "Hate you so much."
"Stop whining. I'll fix the head when I bring you back, OK?"
"Hey, payment. The crusade for the well-being and equality of test subjects inches forward." Bella grins and uses both hands to display a two-finger salute in the direction of the gorgon. Mara just rolls her eyes good-naturally at this and reaches up to pull the wide neck of her blouse so that it's clear of her shoulders. Quick as a snake strike, what looks like a cobra's hood of a glossamer-thin membrane that casts kaleidoscopes of rainbows on the table in front of er has risen up to either side of Mara's head, seemingly from her shoulders. A moment later, what looks all the world like the shimmering of the air caused by heat radiating from something flows from Mara to Belladonna and with a visual effect remarkably similar to the one that Lepinora uses when she's shapeshifting, a red marble statue of Belladonna stands where the changeling had, the detail exquisitely lifelike and quite clearly something that would be impossible to do with any kind of tool or magic to ordinary stone.
"However much time passes, it will seem to Belladonna as if no time has transpired at all between when she saw the light and when she's restored to flesh," Mara says. "Any damage rendered to the stone will be reflected on her when she's flesh again, so when we choose to use it, we always take obsessively compulsive levels of care to prevent such damage. One doesn't petrify someone that you want to kill or wound; other methods are far better at it then "
Mara then slithers around the table, the nearly-invisible frill around her head still raised, and reaches up to run her forefingers over the delicate edges before rubbing her hands together, sparkles of light and color seeming to form spontaneously between her rubbing palms. She then makes a gesture like she's sweeping something off the palm of one hand with the other and what appear to be motes of light and dust sweep over Bella and with an effect that looks like dust being blown off of a surface, she's flesh again.
"That is the most bucking strange sensation ever," Belladonna comments. "But hey, no headache. Time for me to get dealt into the fun." She grins and heads back to the game to wait until the current round is done.
Mara smiles at Bronze and gives her a light bow. "As I said, it has nothing to do with seeing the gorgon or any of the other extremely creative hogwash that's been floated over the years.  According to Mother, gorgons much prefer heroes to come after them with mirrored surfaces, the better to lull them into a false state of security and depend too much on the gimmick. And I'm confident that no matter how thoroughly you described what you saw, the griffons couldn't profit by you having seen it. It would require very intricate and thorough magical studies, and the only two living ponies I know of that can do it would refuse on a matter of principle."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Tue Feb 06, 2018 5:39 pm

Tea Leaf decided that a delicate touch was needed with this one; it was not his place, nor in any sense his wish, to start debating about whose land belonged to who with Lepinora considering the amount of grief that they had already faced in recent years from the Griffons over the status of Trottingham's trade routes. "Well we definitely aren't going to be shocked to know they've been keeping a few secrets from us, I wouldn't be surprised at this point if they've been making a game out of what they think they can keep hidden from us... but something on this scale, something this united in knowledge, it's unlike them." Tea Leaf  took a sip of his wine as he watched the drink seeming to have an effect on Lepinora; he frowned at how the drink was already somehow affecting her speech and took a subtle sniff of her drink and his own, just to ensure there was nothing different about it.

"Are you feeling alright, Ms Lepinora?" He asked, gently taking their glasses and placing them aside. "Do you think, perhaps, you should sit down?" He offered. He had to admit that despite his lack of understanding of the majority of these changelings' culture as of yet, he felt a certain kinship with Lepinora when she described her frustrations with her role compared to this Tetti's given his own issues over the years, both within his old family and his new one, with the different standards he had been held to compared to his fellows. "I agree the world is an insane place, but there is beauty to be found in the chaos; I've tried to live in a sensible world and in the end I found more wisdom in the madness than the sanity."

"You'd be surprised." Razor smirked, her sharp teeth all exposed. "The old moon lover isn't opposed to a bit of strip poker. Just all the guards let her win when she gets involved in a game of that because they're worried she'll turn around and make them marry her or chop their head off for seeing her bare or something." Razor laughed, a sharp shout of laughter that was almost like a bark.

"Hey, don't leave us in suspense, and by us I mean me. If there's a family wild child, I wanna know about her and where she lingers." Razor told the troopers, throwing a few more gemstones from her bag into the center of the table as a further bet. "You lot wanna check out the Equestrian royal family some time, that Cadance..." Razor Back gave a low wolf whistle as she checked her cards and cursed again.


Bronze nodded with a relieved expression before she looked a little concerned at the offer to demonstrate. "Really, it's okay; I promise there's no need for-" Bronze felt her voice fade away as Bellladonna responded to Mara's call over, the thestral's assurance that she didn't require a demonstration dying away just as her voice did as she recognised that even if she continued to speak up this was probably happening anyway, Mara seemed to be enjoying it far too much not to.

"Spirits above..." Bronze hissed low as she observed the process, her eyes widening as she watched the cobra hood like construct came up around Mara and the changeling soldier was, in mere moments, changed from a creature of chitin and blood to a red marble statue before her eyes, causing the thestral to actually stand in alarm until Mara began to explain the process in more detail; the thestral had been thinking with worry of the petrification process used on criminals, not wanting Belladonna to be rooted to the spot and aware of it purely because of her own curiosity.

"This is... truly unreal." Bronze remarked, stepping out of the way as Mara restored Belladonna to her normal self, watching Razor curse as Belladonna rejoined the table. "Indeed it seems a hard thing to recreate which is just as well, I cannot think of any of the Griffon Kingdoms I would wish to- wait. Mara Belle, you say you know of ponies who would be capable of recreating this? But I thought you lived in secrecy, seclusion... you mean to tell us that there are actually ponies you have contact with? Citizens of Equestria, or do they reside elsewhere?" Bronze asked as she returned to her seat.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:56 am

"Griffons are depressingly good at spite," Lepinora agrees. "And dragons are greed so they like to keep shiny objects, like secrets. That's the two we guess at; the others we not bucking know." She gives him a wan smile as he asks after her well-being. "Feeling maudlin and best not-bad." She frowns. "And great, not best not-bad. I'm... fine Tea Leaf. I have a strange and severe reaction to alcohol, even small amounts. Never... really investigated why, never really cared, didn't think some matter not important." She sighs. "It's not normal inebriation, it's just... my head wants my mouth to say the wrong words even when I know what the right words are. Um... like... like a compulsion, or a..." She visibly searches her memory. "Like... I think it's called Toilet... no, no, Tourette, not Toilet. Except instead of random compulsive streams of... nonsense, it's mostly-coherent strings of normal language that gets blended up into not sensible. Normally when I'm... around booze, I keep away from it or my Crysta confiscates out out of my hand and... replaces it with responsibility. But at worst, scrambled syntax will amuse you where in normal... public functions, it would... have severe consequences because it's... almost uniquely rare and not something that ponies would see more than once or maybe... twice in a lifetime. Multiple ponies with the same bizarre.... syndome would be an instant identifier no matter what I looked like.
"Then again," she grins a little. "It seems to go away with... normal drunkenness. Go figure, right? Tetti has a maximum brain theory about why but I just... simplify it as the booze clubbing my brain... till it stops trying to make my mouth do randomness and just slurs in what I'm told is a weirdly coherent way." She takes in a breath and sighs it out. "Yes, very insane place. Makes no bucking sense at times, at other times it would be nice if it'd... stop making sense because that logic line doesn't always go to a nice place. But there is beauty." She smiles, her eyes becoming distant. "The things Maredusa makes when she's in the mood, the things she brought when she came into the deserts with her... daughter. Scarabi itself, and the view from the observatory Tetti added her legacy to." Her smile becomes even broader and happier for a moment. "Crysta." And then back to the nostalgia. "And the Du Closs estate on the easternmost coast, that they call 'Tempesthaven'." She chuckles. "The entire bucking insane lot of them thought it made perfect sense to map out their old manor literally brick by brick, take it apart, and reassemble it a thousand miles away. Incredible coastal estate, practically a small city because as mentioned a moment ago, the entire family has something... broken in their heads. I mean, one of them thought a walking talking tattoo canvas was a prize catch, so you... know the lot of them are dotty... as a dice factory."

The various soldiers look at one another. "Uh, you just met her Razor," Lever points out. "The very blatant mare with head-to-toe tattoos. She's the one Belli here keeps using creative names for, referencing all that body art."
"Maybe we need to reintroduce her so it sticks this time?" Another soldier suggest brightly.
"Yeah, but she'd probably chew her way out of the ribbon and berzerkergang like a bat out of Tartarus." One of the female soldiers gets a thoughtful look. "Then again, that has some possibilities. I hear that violent and blood-soaked is a top-tier weird fetish."
"In other words, yours."
"You can't prove anything."
"I think that Mara would treat stripping a guest and using her as the centerpiece of a bizarre BDSM arrangement as an offense punishable by stoning," Belladonna says dryly. "And having just been used as a demonstration piece, I think I'm against that."
"You looked awfully good in red marble, boss."
"Buck off, Limb."
"Bucking off, boss."
There's a minute where the game goes on and no one says anything, the stack of "donated" gems in off to a side steadily growing into an impressive collection of after-dinner sweets for the hostess.
"You know, something occurs to me Major," another of the female soldiers says, the one that had said she wouldn't mind taking one of Luna's IOUs as a prize.
"And what is that?"
"The cute batpony is brimming over with sex and violence, yeah?"
"I... suppose?"
"Do you suppose that the fact that we're now talking about her as if she's not there might incline her to switch on the violence and thrash us for fun?"
"...this is possible..."
"Oh, OK, just wanted to make sure." The soldier give Razor a sheepish look before putting down a couple of her cards.

Mara looks at Bronze for several moments, blinking a few times as she does. "Um..." she finally says, looking more than a little awkward before she leans in close and lowers her voice. "Um... yes, there are ponies I have contact with. You... just ate dinner with about a dozen of them." She gives her a little smile that's partly embarrassed, partly sheepish, and partly sympathetic as it's quite probable that with the changeling soldiers just at the other end of the table, Bronze's question was quite audible to them although none of them look up or visibly react.
"I can only suppose that the false changelings that you came this way seeking information about are something other than ponies," she continues, circling slightly so that she can scoot a few chairs into an arrangement that lets her drape her coils over the arms and seats of them while she talks to Bronze. "And so you concluded that the changeling race of pony were the same as those. A completely honest and innocent mistake, but I think you'd be best served not to ask too many questions on the matter unless you're talking to one of the royal family, such as Lepinora or her intellectual sister Tettidora, or perhaps one of the du Dune family who tend to be extraordinarily tolerant. But for most, the insinuation that they might not be ponies leans hard on an old and still somewhat raw wound.
"Now, you asked about ponies that I knew who'd be capable of recreating my particular way of rendering flesh to stone," she says, her manner becoming more relaxed again. "Without question, Twilight Sparkle. She's the Element of Magic, a dedicated intellectual, and has the passion for understanding to be carried that direction from curiosity. But I think that she would restrain herself, realizing what could come of it if she demonstrated that it could be done.
"The other that I know for certain is Princess Tettidora das Chrysalis, Lepinora's older sister and Queen Chrysalis' third daughter. She has an extremely mechanical mind where magic is concerned, thinking of it as a material that can be manipulated and turned to practical purposes according to a set of physical principles, much in the way that metal can be. It's a mindset that limits her immediate flexibility but..." Mara smiles and gestures at Bronze's arm "as you prove with the machine attached to your shoulder, talent, time, and experimentation allows the creation of immense mechanical sophistication. As far as I can tell, Tettidora can solve any problem by devising a 'machine' formed of magical energy that can act as the key for whatever lock might vex her." Her expression becomes more solemn. "Tettidora knows how it can be done, and has done it although she used a fish that was destined for the banquet table. It rendered to stone and fell to the bottom of the bucket, where a fin was cracked. She rendered it back to flesh and it bled as if a statue I'd made had been damaged. And then it bumped against the bucket it was in and rendered the metal to stone as well, and she decided that no good could come of continuing.
"Outside of those two, I have only theories. There are a great many brilliant minds in the world, and there is nothing new under the sun. With the latent god-like power Celestia and Luna have, they might achieve it by brute force; adored by her people, Chrysalis might be able to do the same. And the glorious thrones of the Sun and the Moon have buried many terrible things with the will and the power to duplicate my form of petrification--and then smash the helpless stone. Any one of those things might return and decide to indulge themselves." She smiles. "But that's why the world has good and powerful ponies like Celestia, Luna, and Chrysalis, and good ponies like the Elements and those drawn to someone like your friend Tea Leaf."
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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Wed Feb 14, 2018 3:56 pm

"I think most of it us would call that being drunk." Tea Leaf replied in a rather deadpan tone to her describing the unusual effects being brought forth by the alcohol... though he had to admit that her comment about "mostly-coherent strings of normal language that gets blended up into not sensible" had finally provided the stallion with an adequate way to sum up most of what Princess Luna said whenever she lost her temper and slipped back into a more archaic form of speech, usually at a volume loud enough to rattle the nearest windows in their frames which was distinctly unhelpful when it was already hard to interpret her meaning in such instances as it was.

Tea Leaf looked at her in the middle of attempting to remove the wine bottle from them. "Well..." The stallion seemed a bit uncertain but decided to top her glass, arguing with himself that at worst she would simply be getting rather drunk which was something he could handle much better than his strange marriage of multiple tenses and syntaxes that she was going through.

"Tempesthaven?" Tea Leaf asked curiously, guiding Lepinora to sit on the bed with him now just in case she happened to fall over in her inebriated state. "Well... I don't know if you have to be 'dotty' to find attraction in unusual places." Tea Leaf said with a smile to Lepinora that was equal parts reassuring and mildly flirtatious. "Nothing crazy about finding the one who makes you happy, the prize catch as it were."



"Your idea of a top tier weird fetish ain't got much imagination." Razor Back remarked dryly as she claimed a few winnings from the current game; from the look of her pile of gemstones the thestral had managed to at least break even thus far. "You forgot the three cloves of garlic and the Manticore for it to be a top tier weird fetish." Razor added calmly as she listened to the changeling soldier's bantering; it was strange, the thestral had a rule in life that trusting changelings was about as wise as trying to play catch with the sun and yet sitting here at the card table with them... as much as she didn't want to admit it, she felt relaxed around them, as if she was just back in the barracks with her own guards.

"Oh don't worry, the thestral who feeds off violence and sex is just quietly observing all of your fetishes for later." Razor Back promised them in the least reassuring tone possible, letting herself sport a downright psychotic looking grin for a moment. "I can think of more fun things to do to all of you than beat you up... well, I can think of fun things to do with you that could include being beat up, if you're into that." She added, pressing her luck a little perhaps.


Bronze looked distinctly mortified as she realised exactly how prejudiced what she had just said must have sounded considering that she had, effectively, dismissed the changelings out of hand as not even being ponies. She wasn't even sure if the changelings they knew of even were considered ponies, now that she thought of it... it wasn't exactly a common topic of discussion in Griffhalla, where changelings were so rarely seen, and to think she had dismissed them however accidentally right to the face of one of their prominent figures.

"I, will take that into account." Bronze said rather sheepishly as Mara Belle advised her to not go making such mistakes; it felt rather like she was a little filly again being told not to let people make fun of her wings. "You really believe Princess Twilight Sparkle could recreate such an effect?" Bronze asked, looking a little doubtful; she knew the Princess of Friendship was an exceptionally accomplished sorcerer but even for her it seemed that recreating a form of magic that even Princess Luna struggled to bring forth would be a tall order. Still, the tall thestral tried to hide the fact that her attention had immediately been snatched by mention of this Tettidora who might share similar interests to herself... tried being the operative word, as the thestral's downcast, embarassed look immediately turned to a wide eyed expression of great interest, her eyes seeming to gleam a little as they always did whenever anyone referred to her prosthetic in a complimentary way rather than being put off by it.

Bronze nodded in agreement with her assessment of Celestia and Luna. Ancestors they weren't but Bronze had nothing but respect for the two rulers; when Mara Belle included their group however, the tall thestral again looked down and mumbled rather than her usual confident tone.

"The Elements, you mean." She corrected quietly. "Me, Tea Leaf, Razor... we aren't special like that. We're just the maintenance, the Princesses, the Griffon Kings, the Elements, they're the heroes. We just do the grunt work." She assured Mara Belle, smiling despite her words. "It's what we were brought up to do in Griffhalla. I know my place, I have no wrongful ideas of being some great kingdom saving hero... can't say for sure that the same goes for Razor and Tea Leaf though." She admitted with a fond chuckle as Razor slammed her fist down in annoyance at her newest hand of cards.

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PostSubject: Re: Changeling In Perspective   Thu Feb 15, 2018 9:36 am

Offered more wine, despite earlier admitting that she'd probably had enough, Lepinora immediately starts drinking it again. "Ah, but they are. Used to... call Sarissa du Closs 'the looming that walked' because she was so willful that she seemed to loom over other ponies, even ones taller than her. Many-greats... grandmother of one of my second-oldest sister's bodyguards, who is walking, talking hugs. My sister, not her... bodyguard, though now that you mention it--not that you did--he tends towards the overly-friendly side of things too." She sips again. "Du Closs family legend puts the entire... take the manor apart and walk it across the continent and reassemble it idea in her head, but I'm sure the rest supported her with enthusiasm."
Sips again. "So, Tempesthaven. Six-story manor constructed mostly of Baltimare soap... stone with four of the floors being below the main because in both places, it's built on top of an oceanside cliff, and one of the subfloors being... underwater. Not ordinary sane underwater, but offset from the rest... and with the ceiling and most walls... being heavily reinforced glass so you can tell... you're underwater by just looking around and up." Sips. "Apparently they did a lot of diving to... discover a place where the underwater was scenic. Either by calculation or outstanding fortune they have sharks that like to... farm near the observation glass." Sips. "Yes I said farm. Bloody giant things, no teeth at all, just cruise around with their jaws agape and Tetti says that's how they get food, swimming around with open mouths. Bloody terrifying, apparently pretty friendly, as much as a critter with an open mouth large enough to fit six of you in can be friendly."
She finishes the glass off and with a gentle pull of her horn, takes the bottle from Tea Leaf and gives herself a refill, then she sips. "Nearly hit Crysta for that. Go out skinny-dipping, fin 'bout as tall as me comes rushing over, 'bout croaked. So'd she, trying to swim and laugh at the same time, inhaled a bunch of seawater. Mouth-to-mouth was definitely required." She smiles nostalgically and sips. "Good times. But yes, Tempesthaven... family home of a bunch of nobles that're all mad as March hares. 's where we keep all the mementos of a good past, displayed in a series of outbuildings along the coast, under th' aegis of the mad Du Closs family." Takes a long draw. "Old things... banners, weapons... old flagpoles with honors on them... gathering dust in safe, cool, dark places instead of being where they should be, where they need to be."
She finishes off the glass and sits there for several moments, staring at nothing, her eyes becoming a little moist-looking. "Just like us, far from home, in a nice safe dark place gathering dust. Should be out there, fighting for the Dual Thrones like we always used to, but ain't cuz... stupid bitch. Stupid, cruel, charismatic, supremecist bitch couldn't just... deal with a few... unkind words sometimes. Gotta get even... stupid bitch."  She looks at Tea Leaf with a very serious expression. " 's why Mother's plan's important. The way to go back, all safe, all secure... legal an' everything. No one gets hurt no more. Mebbe rebuild the Du Luc estate in the lakelands... would be... awful beautiful place again." She tries to refill her glass again, finds the bottle spent, and sighs. "Who knows... maybe you lot are a faster way to get it done. Can't turn away from that, golden opportunity, soon as we figger the strange buglings... an' who's tellin' them around."

The soldiers all stop playing and look at Razor for a moment. "You know, if we weren't in the middle of something, I'd say 'let the beatings begin' and get stoned as buck later," Belladonna comments. "Not much later, mind you, because Mara there is awfully quick on the stone trigger..."
There was sudden silence and the soldiers all looked at each other as if all coming to a roughly similar conclusion at the same time. "...no, boss," Limb says. "We would never live it down."
"But immortality!"
"That is a fate worse than death."
"Immortality is?"
"No, Lady Mara catching the precise instant where the brawl flips to orgy or something and thieving a camera so she can take pictures of the mass sculpture from every angle." Limb gives her a severe look. "Mother would kill me. Then she'd bring me back, and kill me again. Rinse and repeat."
"Nurse Ratchet is a somewhat scary mare, at times," one of the soldiers told Razor.
"Doctor Ratchet." Limb sighs. "I blame Bell-end here for increasing her twitch factor, calling her 'nurse' when she's been an MD since before I was born. I'm not sure why she didn't use you for prosthetics experiments."
"Sugar is good at sweet-talking her."
Limb reaches over and baps her. "That was bad, and you should feel bad."
"Yeah, Sugar used to tell me the same thing a few times a day."
"Only a few?"
"I was on my best behavior around her. She was a pretty cute little thing. Now she's a pretty cutely lethal little thing, courtesy of Modern Art Project."
"Noblisse oblige with a hidden blade," a soldier says, emptying his cards into the pile."Gotta love the desert bugs."
"I always found a bit more affinity with du Sylvi," Bella says, putting a couple cards down. "Down to earth."
"I hear they have ancestors in common with the Apples, Pears, and Carrots."
"Three quarters of all ponies have ancestors in common with those three," a female soldier smirked, drawing a card as she appeared to have nothing to add to the pile. "Giant farming families get pretty giant."
"Speaking of giant..." Another of the females grinned at her. "Bosc, am I right?"
"Oh." She giggles with a light blush on her cheeks. "Oh yes, Bosc. Something to be said for genuine corn-fed muscle and lots of hard, hard... work."
"I have this feeling that I need to warn Pearbloom that her brother is in danger of being stalked in cooperative packs..." Belladonna looks like she's seriously considering this. "Naw. I'll be able to milk laughs out of this for months."
"I'm surprised they haven't hogtied Rangpur and hauled him off to the barn for a rodeo..."
"Mmmm..." yet another female soldier tilted her hand back and forth in a so-so gesture. "Cute as buck but a bit too arts and crafts. Doesn't look like he's got it where it counts, yanno?"
"Ain't he the guy who likes dioramas?" A male soldier this time, who puts down a trio of cards, tapping the one he has left against the edge of the table.
"Like I said, arts and crafts."
"Those aren't dioramas, ta doof," another snorts. "Architectural models. Like, for foundries."
"Don't let the cutie with the steam arm hear you talk about that," the first female said with a chuckle. "She's totally kidnap him or something and take him back to her lair."
Limb eyed her. "Lair?"
"Yeah! Mechanical-minded pony, replaced her arm with experimental machines... couldn't ask for a better villain setup for a Daring Do novel," she says. "And we all know that villains need lairs."
"Dunno..." One of the male soldiers disposed of his cards and eyed Bronze, who's turned away from him, appreciatively. "I have a stronger 'hug' impulse there than 'defeat in epic duel with an idiot ball' vibe."
"What about the one 'bout an inch away from my corporal?"
All the soldiers looked to Razor at once. "Fight," they say collectively.
"Fight?"
"Cage match." A male grins. "Two go in, she comes out. Two go in, she comes out. You could totes sell tickets."
"What, you think she can thrash you all?"
"I think I know a beast when I see her, boss," the same one said. "Ain't no one at this table with a bigger fight in 'em." He nods in the direction of Mara Belle. "'Cept her, maybe, but picking that fight ends fast and one way."

"I've lived over a thousand years, Bronze, and its convinced me that there is no limit to what you can do with a combination of intellect, resources, and a compulsion to experiment even when it may not be wise." Mara looks seriously at Bronze. "Lepinora told me about the accident with the ancient spell that directly preceded Twilight ascending to become an alicorn, and distinctly recall at least one occasion when her drive to do what she believed was required of her led to her suffering a massive fugue state, and unleashing an overpowering compulsion spell on Ponyville so she could have a problem to solve. She is a good pony, but she has fractures that the right circumstances could break open, and has both immense personal power and the prism of the Element of Magic to focus that power through. If she wanted to petrify in the way I do, I'm sure she could.
"And yes, I mean the Elements." Mara smiled. "I know they're heroic figures to Equestria but the only thing that distinguishes them--besides the obvious fact of Twilight Sparkle being an alicorn--is that they have a bit of really special magic they can sometimes use when there is great need." She shifts herself and moves closer to Bronze, putting a gentle hand on her head and looking down at her with kind eyes. "You talk about them the way that changelings often talk about the Royal Family, as if they're something above all the ordinary ponies. You talk about them as if they were born and someone put them in a box labeled 'hero' and put you in a box labeled 'common' and stand ready to punish you if you dare to leave your box."
She shakes her head. "The power to do good things resides where ponies believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and any pony can cast as large a shadow as any other pony. A hero is a common pony that answers the call to be more than they are. She is a farmer, a baker, a seamstress, a veterinarian, librarian, weather pony with big dreams, or even a talented machinist that steps forward when others stepped back. She can be a strong warrior running from the long shadow of a grim past, or a thief who puts the crust of bread he stole from the opulent in the mouth of the impoverished. She can be born to a long noble line and cling to a dream of making a grave wrong right again, or someone seen as a monster who gives succor to strangers..." Mara takes in a breath and swallows. "...and she can be a girl whose duty requires her to sacrifice everything to save everyone.
There are no commoners, Bronze," she says, her voice tight with emotion now. "There are just heroes, and ponies who can choose to become heroes, and heroes who can turn away from the glory of song and legend so they can embrace what truly matters. Being bound to a forge, growing hard and grey in plodding service, is something you can have if you want it and no one will gainsay you. But you're traveling with a mare who will never bow her head to a tyrant however it is demanded of her, a thief who stands in the shadows of the Dual Thrones speaking secrets into the ears of the Princesses, and a spirit of life and verdant greenery who invests himself in a mere mortal's cause." She chuckles softly and grins widely. "I think that if you want to be an unimportant face in the crowd, you really need to get new friends. But if you don't end up doing that, I rather think I detected a spark in your eye when I talked about Tettidora, and I rather think you want to meet her."
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