Isolation: A Changeling's Heart

Infiltration 101: The final exam.

Pliskin and I stood at attention as our instructor paced back and forth, examining each and every one of his pupils. At the time, there was only five of us there, myself, someling named Jack, and Pliskin and his two brothers. We were regarded as the best of the best, the top trainees under Captain Tskari’s watchful gaze.

After a few minutes of tense silence, he spoke, “So… As you may already know, today will be your final exam. I cannot stress how important this is to the Hive. Should you pass, you will obtain the rank of infiltrator and will be sent on missions, often alone and far from home. This is what you were born for…”

I nod slightly, as if reaffirming my desires to pass. He gave a small smirk as he glanced back at me before saying, “And should you fail, you’ll be demoted to Scout.”

A Scout? I wasn’t told about this. It could have been worse, but falling short of your birth calling is like being branded. It is a great dishonor. I wouldn’t want that… And I’m certain my father wouldn’t have wanted that. Tskari continued, “I hope you understand the situation. Here is your briefing.”

We smiled, orders, the best news we can hear in our lives. We understood that once we are out in the field, they might be few and far between, but the feeling we get when we receive them, it’s exhilarating.

“You will go through the eastern forest and infiltrate Baltimare. Unlike normal infiltrations, you will each need to create a disguise from scratch. This will be difficult, but you’ve all had the training to clear your minds enough to form an image. You just need to bring it to the surface.”

And Image… A persona. I took a seat and took a deep breath; I had to think, long and hard. The use of Magic would be great in a pinch… Baltimare, that place is by the sea, so maybe blue? I liked the color of my Chitin, so I decided to make the blue a bit darker. But, I don’t recall many ponies being of a darker coat, so I may want a lighter mane, something that will stand out, and yet, not look out of place. Perhaps I could use a contrasting color? I could go with orange, but all solid colors seemed pretty boring at the time, and while boring is inconspicuous, an infiltrator that can’t make any ‘friends’ is a failure. Then it hit me, why not go for a two-tone hairstyle, a nice vibrant gold and a bright red would be perfect. After all, red and gold… Err… Yellow, make orange.

That was it, my mind was set on an appearance, but this disguise was only skin deep. I would also need a background, a talent, and a cutie mark to go with it. From what I remember, a Cutie mark is symbolic of a ponies’ talent, and could vary well be a part of their destiny. I wanted to make sure mine would be solid. This was crucial, if my story would falter, I would certainly be found out and would need to leave town. Not that that would be a bad thing, I may find myself on the road often… Traveling…

A Traveling Pony…

That’s it! Why didn’t I think of that sooner? I may not be the best at stealth, but I did make up for that with flawless disguises. I even once walked around as the Queen for one day… I almost got away with it too, but then I ran in to her. Had I been someone else, I would have no doubt been thrown in the dungeon. Having Tskari vouch for me helped too, but I digress. With a smile, I used my transformation ability to take on my new form. Green flames danced across my body, ‘burning away’ who I was and revealing a new me. My cutie mark was a black and white drama mask. Two faced, a smile and a frown adorning its features.

It was odd just how much this new body felt. The Cave felt warm, warmer then usual, and damper. I would need to get used to this, I could only imagine what being in the city would be like. I looked at my colleagues and was quite surprised, while I was busy thinking they had already transformed. Had I really taken that long to come up with a disguise?

Regardless, Tskari was about to speak once more, only to be caught of by a quiet chuckle, a feminine one. We all knew that chuckle, we all knew the voice, and they belong our Queen. We all turned towards her and knelt down as she stepped in from the shadows, gracing us with her presence. Her glorious green eyes examined each of us before settling on Tskari

“So, Captain. Perhaps your speeches of the worth of individuals have some truth to them. A Promotion may be in order…”

The Captain stifled a gasp before saying calmly, “Thank you my Queen.”

She smiled with a toothy grin, “Arise. As you were Captain.”

Tskari gave a short nod and rose to his hooves and turned back to us and said, “You all were able to change. This is exceptional, but being able to make a baseless form change is only the beginning. For the next part, I will need to test your creativity one last time before you leave for Baltimare. I shall act as your target for now. Be wary, I will not go easy on you.”

He motioned for Pliskin to step forward as he too took on a new form. He was now a dark teal Pony with a dark brown mane and a long spiraling horn. The mane was sloppy, hanging off the back of his head. I wondered why he took that form, but then I noticed the petrified form of Pliskin.

Tskari looked like a larger, more adult form of him, though Pliskin was of a lighter coat and their cutie marks were similar, but many features were quite different. Tskari’s was a snake, coiled and ready to strike, while Pliskin’s was a snake baring its fangs as it comes out of some kind of square, as if it were hiding in it just before it struck. It was odd, but not nearly as odd as the strange suit that Tskari was wearing… It wasn’t a full body suit, it was more like the upper half of one, and it was lined with numerous pockets.

“Fa-Father?”

Tskari gave a mischievous smirk as he rushed forward, pulling Pliskin into what appears to be a sleeper hold, gently squeezing his neck before pulling a knife out of one of the pockets on his strange suit with his magic and pointed it at Pliskin’s neck, “I trained you better. Now talk, who are you?”

Pliskin appeared to calm as Tskari spoke in a voice that was clearly not his own, soon giving a smirk of his own, “My name is…”

Pliskin bucked Tskari’s right leg as he reached up to his neck to take hold of his suit at the shoulder and twisted it. Had I blinked, I would have missed it, Pliskin flipped Tskari over him after grappling over the knife with his own magic, literally throwing him away. Tskari slid on the ground and righted himself just as fast as he landed, taking and offensive stance as Pliskin likewise did the same, “My name is David. I am David Snakeinabox.”

The Queen laughed, sure the name was silly, sure, but that wasn’t what she found funny. ‘David’ paid her no mind as he stared down Tskari. I didn’t understand, why that name, and who was Tskari pretending to be, and then it hit me. Before I could ask for confirmation, the Queen spoke, “Looks like we have a keeper, eh ‘John?’ It’s a shame his real father isn’t around to see this... He would have loved it.”

‘David’ flinched, the Queen knew… Of course she knew. Pliskin’s father, ‘John’, was one of her Infiltrators. At the time, I didn’t know that Pliskin’s father shared his memories with him before he died, everything he would need to know to be him… No, everything he would need to know to be his son. It was clever; Pliskin wasn’t truly baseless after all.

‘John’ smiled and returned the knife to a pocket, but remained in his stance, “Alright, David. What do you do for a living? Do you have a job?”

David nodded slightly, “I was released from my duties as a royal guard after a mission went south. My whole team was wiped out… I didn’t want to leave, but orders were orders. I didn’t want to waste my talents, so I became a freelance Bodyguard.”

‘John’ seemed satisfied and turned back to the rest of us as David returned to the line up. He then looked at me. With a curt wink to the Queen, he turned into her. No… It was worse. He smelled different; ‘she’ wasn’t our Queen… ‘She’ was our Mother!

It was a startling revelation; he was turning into the Changelings we looked up to the most before they died. With this in mind, I looked up at her and smiled, but my smile met by a deep scowl, “What are you smiling at, don’t you know where you are, little Pony?

I was taken aback by her contempt. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was simply Tskari in a disguise, but those eyes pierced my very being. I couldn’t stand it. I was scared… It was pitiful. I held back tears as I muttered, “The… The Hive…”

She smirked mischievously and looked down upon me, “Correct… Tell me Pony, any last words? Some kind of introduction, a sales pitch perhaps? Something stupid?”

I blinked, what should I do, what can I do? It completely caught me off guard. Tskari snorted and shouted, “Guards, take him away.”

I stammered, “Wait! I…”

I took a breath to center myself before saying, “I would like to offer you my services, in exchange for my life.”

“Offer? What could you possibly offer me?”

I needed to be bold. I may not be in any real danger, but If I do nothing, I risk failing, if I haven’t already done so. I straightened myself and said, “My name is Façade Nightshifter and I’m a performer, and entertainer. My illusions are known to mystify and Surly someone of your stature needs entertainment.”

She curtly smiled and said, “Hmmm, entertain me then.”

Thinking on my feet, I jumped up and pulled ‘David’ over to me with a wink and with a flourish, turned into his father in pony form. He was surprised at first, but I think he got my idea when I said, “S-Son?”

David blinked in surprise and pulled me into a mock sleeper hold. We were recreating the scene that had transpired mere minutes before, but this time the roles were reversed, leading to a hilarious ending where I accidently threw Pliskin into Jack. I chuckled nervously and said, “Oops… I guess I don’t know my own strength… Sorry Son!”

Pliskin groaned, “I’ll get you for this.”

I bowed to the ‘Queen’ and Queen, both of whom were chuckling, clopping their hooves together in a gentle applause. Tskari reverted to his normal form as did I before saying, “Nice recovery.”

Our Queen nodded as Pliskin and Jack rose up once more, “Indeed. An interesting performance, now you know how the average drone feels about seeing and imposter Queen. Don’t do it again…”

I grinned nervously at her comment. That explains why I was let off the hook so easily back then. Did they plan this?

Tskari continued to go down the line one by one before telling us what our true objective is at Baltimare. He sent a message through the Hive mind to a contact in Baltimare with the Queen’s aid. We are to find him and receive our ID tags and papers that were being forged. Regardless whether we pass or fail, we will need them to be ‘citizens’ of Equestria, something all scouts and infiltrators need in case we are noticed. With those in hand, we are to seek out any pony in the city and befriend them, then return to the hive within a week, and report everything that we learned about them.

From here, it would take about two days to reach Baltimare, and another two for the return trip, so that would leave us with two to three days maximum to complete. It was certainly doable, but we had to be sure to keep track of time. With our orders, we all set out together, flying from the badlands to the forest and beyond. At the other end of the forest, we all donned our disguises and went our separate ways, not wanting to arouse suspicion.

At first, the sights and sounds of the city dazzled me. The smell of salt water could be smelt in the distance. This was certainly the place… The Sign outside the city was a big help too. Our Contact in the city had left bags filled with our things in dead drops all over the place. He left mine inside of a café. It was certainly a wonderful sight. The delightful smell of coffee and pastries still linger on my mind as I walk through a busy street. I had a serious problem through, everyone was too busy to stop and talk to me. Perhaps I needed to try a different tactic, or go to one of the major hotspots where ponies just stand around and… Hang out?

I examined the map of Baltimare that was in my bag. There had to be some place nearby… My search was interrupted by what sounded like a scuffle. And then I heard it, “No! Please, stop!”

It was obviously not an everyday occurrence, so I decided to investigate. It was pretty strange, no one else went to investigate, I wonder way. I went down a few alleyways to see a group of earth pony stallions and a unicorn standing over a young mare. She, like the other I couldn’t exactly tell what they were doing to her, but from the broken basket, torn satchel, and flowers strewn about, it had to be some kind of robbery.

My luck had turned for the better. From the looks of things, they haven’t noticed me yet… They will now!

As I approached the group from behind, I shouted, “Hey! What is going on here?”

The two earth ponies spun around almost instantly, while the Unicorn crouched lower to the ground, pinning the Mare down on the ground with his body weight as she visibly squirmed in protest. He looked back at me slightly and waved me away, “I’m just having a little dispute with my marefriend, and this doesn’t concern you.”

The Fear of the Mare tasted overwhelmingly tart. I hated it; it was one of my least favorite emotions. I was feeling nauseous and it was too late to get away, I had to silence it.

Unafraid, I snorted as I stepped closer. The two earth ponies got between myself and the Unicorn as I spoke, “A Dispute, huh? You see… I have a large family, a closely-knit family. I have seen disputes, and I have seen brutality…”

One of the two ponies held out a hoof to stop me, “Can you guess which one this is?”

I took the earth pony’s hoof and pulled him towards me, pressing my back up against him. At first he was confused, and then shocked as I flipped him over my shoulder and flattened him on his back. I grinned, despite being in this weaker pony body, I can still fight. I placed a hoof on the base of his shoulder and looked down at the bewildered fool. With a swift tug and twist, I dislocated his right foreleg.

I felt anger spike in the remaining two ponies as their comrade curled up in a ball because of the pain. The Unicorn got off the Mare to face, a scowl chiseled on his face. His captive began to calm slightly, so I was on the right track. Ander, I preferred that to fear any day. I enjoy a little spice.

The other earth pony turned around and reared up to buck me. I smiled with glee after sidestepping his attack, he had left himself wide open for a counter that Pliskin had shown me back when we first started out training. I aimed for the back of his left knee and struck.

To his shock, his leg went limp in mid air, nearly making him fall over in surprise when it landed on the ground. I shook the pain from my hoof, Tskari wasn’t kidding when he said earth ponies were thick in the muscle department, but technique trumps strength. Before he could recover to strike at me, I bucked him in the jaw in a similar fashion to what he was planning on doing to me, knocking him out.

I smirked, but was caught off guard by an offensive spell by the Unicorn. I don’t know what it was, but there was a lot of smoke afterwards. I could feel his confidence growing. My real blue eyes shone through the smoke, startling him, “What… What are you, some kind of monster?”

The Smoke cleared, revealing my true form to him. I took a step forward and allowed my real voice to resonate with my fake one when I said, “I’m only the Monster you made me… RUN…”

He immediately panicked, running away with his tail between his legs, “I’ll remember this your freak!”

“Wait for us boss!”

The two earth ponies scrambled to their feet and ran after him. More like limp… I turned my attention to the Mare as he fear once again returned. She was staring at me wide-eyed. I smirked and put my disguise back on with a flourish and a torrent of green flames, “Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”

I held a hoof out to her and said, “Call me Façade, actor, performer, and comedian, at your service. You’d be surprised how many hecklers I had to deal with…”

She rolled off her back slowly, enabling me to see all of her features. She had a coat of hot pink fur and brown mane, all matted with dirt and mud. It covered up most of the bruises, but I could tell they were new, because of their purple hue. I glanced at the cutie mark on her flank; it was a bouquet of pink Camellia flowers. She caught me staring, so she quickly took my hoof to get my attention. It worked; I looked into her bright green eyes and helped her to her feet. She gazed at the broken flowers around her and sighed.

I can guess by her cutie mark and her lost look that she sold flowers, and that Unicorn and his thugs had stole her livelihood. I pitied her.

She started to lean on me… She was banged up pretty bad, so I doubt she could get vary far without assistance. I help her remain standing as I felt gratitude radiate off of her. Gratitude, another preferred emotion, it was a pleasant combination of sweet and tangy. Perhaps I could get more? I would need it after I expended energy to heal after the Unicorn’s attack.

I asked, “If you won’t say anything, I will. Do you need help getting home?”

She blushed slightly before shaking her head, “Uh… No. I’ll be fine. Thank you. I can still walk.”

She got off me and tried taking a few steps before she nearly collapsed. I had to catch her. I smiled slightly before asking, “Are you sure?”

She blushed even more now as she looked up at me, “N-no… Can you… Please…”

My smiled widened as I helped her up once more and allowed her to lean on me as we walked, “As long as you give me the directions… I’m new here.”

She nodded slightly as we walked through the busy streets I was on before finding her. After a few moments, she muttered, “Camille…”

I looked at her and asked, “What was that?”

“My name… It’s Camille.”

I nodded, “A Pleasure to meet you.”

We eventually reached a small apartment on the edge of the city with a small garden out front. I wondered how she could possibly make a living off of such a small garden, but I didn’t want to pry on that subject, not after the alley. She opened the door as I helped her get to her bed and helped her lie down. It was then that I looked around. The one room apartment was fairly sparse; the only thins that was around was a few pictures on the wall and on the nightstand beside the bed. There was also a bag of luggage. It looked like it was packed, so I assumed someone is moving out, most likely her. Not sure how she can move in this condition…

I looked at the picture beside the bed and asked, “Hmmm… I see you, but who is this other pony?”

I felt a hint of bitter sadness. She started to cry, “He’s… My father.”

I probably shouldn’t have, but I pressed this subject, “I something wrong with him?”

She nodded slightly, “He’s really sick. I moved here from Manehattan to try to raise enough money for his operation… But Business is slow.”

Curious, I asked, “You sold flowers right? I didn’t see that many during my stay here.”

She nodded once more, “I tried growing them in my yard, but the soil here is so hard, it wouldn’t work. But then I found a beautiful meadow just outside the city. It’s only a ten-minute walk from here. It’s where I get my flowers for all my arrangements.”

I smiled as I looked around once more; at least something was going her way, but then I saw a picture of the Unicorn from earlier. Walking over to it, I asked, “Who was that guy back there… In the Alley?”

She glanced at the photo before laying her head back down, “He’s… He was my coltfriend. He used to be such a good friend… But then he got mixed up in that stupid Green Heart gang… He grew obsessed with money and power…”

I expected there to be gangs in Equestria, that was natural, but a gang of ponies? That was absurd!

She continued her explanation, drawing my attention back to her, “At first, I thought it was just some kind of phase, but then I caught him trying to steal the money I was saving. I tried to confront him about it, but he hit me, saying that I didn’t deserve it until I wasn’t so weak anymore. I… I couldn’t do anything… I tried going to the guards, but they didn’t believe me.”

He was probably bribing the guards… She sniffled before continuing once more, “He kept doing it, and I wasn’t able to pay my rent… I only have a week left on my notice, so I decided to spend my time raising money so I can get a ticket to a ferry to Manehattan. I was so excited when I got one that I told my friends about it… But…”

“Let me guess, he found out?”

She nodded slowly as tears began to well up in her eyes, barely contained, “He found me today as I was trying to sell flowers. He looked worried; saying that one of his friends was hurt. I was skeptical, but he begged me to help, so I did… He led me to that alley where his goons jumped me. He stole the ticket from my bag and burned it, saying that I was his, and that I never would leave the city… They started beating me… If you didn’t save me when you did, he’d…”

By then, she was sobbing incoherently. I didn’t know much about healing a pony’s broken feelings, but I didn’t know that they value hugs. As gently as I could, I hugged her, and too my surprise, she hugged me back. The relief was almost instantaneous as I patted her on the back as she fell asleep, crying into my shoulder.

She is definitely the one, and I found her in record time. I could leave and be done with the exam now, but, and Infiltrator’s second objective is to find and fill up on love and other edible emotions and bring them back to the Hive, the more, the better, and I had an idea on how to do just that, after all, I had plenty of time to spare.

I did my best to write her a note, telling her that I would be back later to check up on her. My hoof writing wasn’t the best… I probably should have used my magic to write, but oh well.

Seeing as I was a ‘performer’, I showed off my talents in an attempt to earn some bits for a surprise for Camille. The first day went well, and I made sure to avoid dark alleys. I did return to Camille and to my surprise she asked me if I had a place to stay, and when I answered no, she offered me a place to stay, saying that she still had this apartment for a little longer before she’s be on the streets. It was quite touching. She looked much better after she cleaned herself off, but the bruises were still there…

It was that night that I learned just how great the comforts of pony life could be. Bathing! It was the most wonderful feeling I ever felt, second to tasting the sweetness of love for the first time. I was so relaxed in fact that my true form slipped out just as Camille walked in. I couldn’t believe I had exposed myself to her like that, but instead of freaking out, she laughed. She said that I didn’t need to hide in the bathroom if I wanted to practice my illusions. I had dodged a bolt right there as I put my disguise back on.

After eating, we had to decide on sleeping arrangements. I wanted to sleep on the floor, but she insisted I took the bed, after arguing a few minutes; we came up with a compromise. I slept at the foot of the bed.

I awoke in the middle of the night to find something hard was holding me. Camille was snuggling up to me as she slept. I was even more surprised to find that my disguise was still on, and then I realized something.

“Façade…”

She loved me, and I barely had to do anything, and I was feeding off her. It was pretty interesting nonetheless. As and Infiltrator, I had learned to feed passively on emotions that lingered in the air. In fact, I was doing that the whole day, it’s harder for ponies to notice it that way. I was doing it during my sleep? The more I thought about it, I began to wonder if emotions leak out of ponies while they are sleeping, even at weaker levels. I decided I would investigate this further the next night.

The next two days and night went remarkably. I had plenty of bits for Camille. I talked with her on the last day before I would need to leave. She seemed heartbroken, but she understood that I would wind up leaving anyway once I didn’t have a place to stay. I gave her my stash of money and left. The Gratitude she gave me tasted bittersweet…

It was time for me to return to the Hive. I ran through the forest for a time, until I eventually came across Jack, who was resting by a river. Like me, he was still disguised. We wanted to make sure we were far enough away from the city before dropping out disguise… I guessed we weren’t far enough yet. I tried to remember the name of the white haired stallion that he was… Chidori, I think? It was strange, but he claimed it was perfectly normal for a Pegasus.

I took a drink of water as he spoke, “And Pliskin decided to go on ahead.”

I looked up at him and asked, “Anything interesting to report?”

He shrugged and said with a mild of enthusiasm, “We managed to avoid drowning, does that count?”

I facehoofed, “I meant about the exam.”

He chuckled, “I know what you meant. I met a girl named Rose. She was on a business trip form a place called Ponyville. A strange name, but then again… Ponies.”

I laughed along with him; it was an odd name for a town. He continued, “Yeah, and Pliskin met some girl in the Lunar Guard. They met in a library of all place.

“Lunar Guard?”

He nodded, getting up to talk to me eye to eye, “Yes. According to her, they are an elite ground of ponies that are often called to guard Princess Luna and the New Lunar Republic. She even gave him a book about it.”

Tskari might like to hear about this one…

It was then that I felt Malice, and a lot of it. I was certain that Jack felt it too. Just then a group of ten assorted Ponies walked out of the bushes. They were all wearing black jacket emblazoned with a stylized green heart on it. It was obvious whom they worked for.

I wasn’t surprised when one of them stepped forward, it was Camille’s EX Coltfriend, and he was furious.

“I’m going to kill you Façade. First you attack us out of nowhere, and then you go and mess with my Marefriend!”

Jack looked at me with a look of surprise, “What the heck did you do!”

I grinned nervously, “Nothing! She was the one who touch me.”

A fight ensued. Two on ten… Even against these odds, we couldn’t risk revealing our true forms, so we mentally called out to Pliskin and endured the pain.

Wounded, I found myself blown away by a spell and rendered helpless. The last thing I could remember after that was a feeling of wetness, and the sound of a primal roar from a Manticore.

“Façade!”

I snapped out of my memory induced trance and looked around. I felt the calming presence of Celestia beside me and looked up at her.

“Yes?”

She smiled calmly and said, pointing in front of us, “Thank you for the story, but we are here.”

I smiled; we were walking through a corridor of the Canterlot hospital when I spied a familiar Changeling figure. He was talking to a dark blue Alicorn, whom I recognized as Princess Luna.

“Dost thou feel ashamed, sir David?”

It was Pliskin. He looked down at the ground and said, “Yes… My Princess. When I told her who I really was, she yelled at me. She felt like I betrayed her. The Rejections… It was painful…”

“Dost thou seek an absolution?”

He sniffled before nodding, “Yes! I want Seven-Oh-Seven’s forgiveness more that anything else in the world. I… I don’t know who else to turn to.”

Princess Luna frowned as she looked up at us, “Hmmm… We shall discuss this matter elsewhere, our sister hath arrived.”

Pliskin looked up to see us walking over to them. He gave me a small smile, but it swiftly turned into a frown as Luna and Celestia entered the Queen’s room, leaving us alone. I asked him, “Are you alright Pliskin? You can cry is you need to.”

He shook his head as tears began to flow freely. He embraced me in a flash of black, “No… Grown colts do not cry. We weep!”

I smiled nervously as I patted him on the back, gently saying, “There, there… Let it all out. Girl trouble?”

He nodded, though I could tell that he wanted to change the subject, “The Queen… She has been asking for you ever since she awoke.”

I snorted, “Good to hear. Now… Pliskin, I too have had my share of heartbreak, perhaps we can swap stories. It might help.”

He nodded slowly before we heard a voice calling out to me; it belonged to our Queen, “Masquerade?”

I smiled as I lead him into the room, I was certain he’d want to her this, “Come on. You won’t be alone today.”

After we walked in, we looked at each other and nodded before saying something together, something that made Princess Luna facehoof, “Kept you waiting, huh?”


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