Blood slowly trickled from the changeling's nose, dribbling onto the ground. Her ears were ringing, her head was pounding, and her blue eyes were foggy and unfocused. She had been close to the epicentre of the love blast, and as such had worn the worst of it.
The name she had chosen for herself was 'Kuno', a word from across the sea. But Kuno was in trouble. She was laying in a field, on her side, nose bleeding, ears ringing with a strange, dull cadence, and every single bone hurting. Her eyes hurt, her head hurt, her shoulders hurt, her wings felt mangled, and her energy reserves were dangerously low. She could feel the blood trickling from her nose and there was a dried trail of it leading from either ear.
Her limbs were heavy and unwieldy, and too many parts of her body were damaged for her to change. It was almost impossible for a changeling to transform an injured portion of their body, be it heavy bruising, a broken bone, deep abrasions, or even some kinds of rashes. With her battered, beaten body, Kuno was certain she wouldn't be able to transform for several days.
And there she was, lying in a field, in the open. She couldn't even ascertain how long she had been laying there. It was afternoon, from the quality of the sunlight, but which afternoon? How long had she been laying in the grass?
She was hungry, in that unique way of the changelings. She needed to feed upon the love of another pony, but how she would manage that now, in her current state, she did not know. Even her hunger was no indication of how much time had passed. A hunger like this she had only known once in her relatively short lifetime, in her time aboard a merchant vessel headed for Equestrian shores. There had been no ponies that were in love for her to feed upon, and none of them were interested in the advances of 'Starstreak', the persona she had taken on for the journey. Hunger had gnawed at her stomach for the entire journey, and when she had reached Equestria, her first act had been to find the nearest hospital and take the place of a terminally ill cancer patient. It was amazing how much love ponies had for others of their kind in need.
With her energy drained from the love blast, she had no way to know if she'd lain in the field for a few hours or a few days. Even her wounds weren't healing. That was a bad sign. A changeling's healing ability was almost directly linked to the amount of love they were receiving. At full strength, a wound that would put a normal pony in a hospital bed for a month, would merely inconvenience a changeling for a day or so.
Kuno groaned faintly as she tried to move. Her shoulders ached, and her wings burned as she tried to shift them. Vague recollections of tumbling through the air came to her, and the hard impact of the ground rushing up to meet her. Her bones had that strange 'newly healed' sensation to them, that clean, fresh feel like mint in ones mouth, except inside her bones. Perhaps that was where most of her energy had gone?
A sudden touch at her side made Kuno clench her teeth and try to shift away. It took her so, so long to be able to even turn her head to see what it was that touched her.
The changeling's eyes widened as she caught sight of a Royal Guard, standing beside her, spear held at the ready, it's rock-steady tip almost touching her face.
She was done. There was nothing she could do.
Kuno gave a soft groan, and then just relaxed onto her side, half-closing her eyes, staring up at the guard. There was nothing left to do. It was over.
The guard stared down at her, blue eyes narrowed and intent under his helmet. The metal armor he wore gleamed in the sunlight, bright and almost blinding in its intensity. Locks of a blue mane, damp with sweat, protruded from under the edge of the guards helmet, glimmering weakly in the light.
Kuno stared up at that guard, her unnamed executioner, and then slowly closed her eyes, ready for the end.
Several long moments passed, and then there was a tap at her shoulder: the blunt flat of the spear tapping against her to get her attention.
The changeling opened her eyes, blinking slowly up at the guard, not comprehending. His mouth was moving, but he didn't seem to be making any sound.
It took Kuno a full three seconds to comprehend that she was now deaf.
A weary hoof lifted to try and halt the guard's words, and she winced at the effort of moving her aching limb.
The guard said something, his expression morphing into one of anger. The blunt bottom of the spear came down on the back of her head, and Kuno saw only darkness.
Consciousness returned slowly, and the changeling gave a muted groan, her eyelids fluttering as they sought to open. Now, a large lump on her head hurt in addition to everything else.
A brief inspection revealed that she was laying on a cot of some kind, a wooden thing that was flush against a wooden wall, with a sheet and a rough blanket on the cot itself. The floor was bare, dirt, and raked, as though recently cleaned. A bowl of water sat on a nearby shelf, with a cup next to it, and what appeared to be another bowl of some kind of food she didn't recognize.
Other than those few furnishings, there was the door, made of what appeared to be solid oak, and a single window that was too small for the changeling to fit through. It had no glass, but a single wooden cross-brace in the centre.
Kuno stirred faintly, her gossamer wings twitching, before she managed to push herself to her hooves with a whimper. Her hooves stretched and straightened, locking into place, her teeth baring at the effort it took.
Stiff-legged, the changeling dropped down off the cot, giving a soft groan of pain at the shock of her hooves hitting the ground, before she staggered over to the door, pushing on it appraisingly. The door gave a little bit, and then jiggled faintly as it hit some kind of blockage. A bar, or lock. Kuno was almost painfully aware of the fact that she couldn't hear the door jiggling.
Giving up on the door for now, the changeling instead turned her attention to the two bowls.
A quick sniff around the edge of the bowl she assumed was filled with water ascertained that it was just water. Or if it was laced with anything else, she couldn't smell it.
Kuno dipped her muzzle down, and then lapped gently at the water, letting it wash over her tongue. Using the cup would have been the more efficient, civilised means, but she always felt odd having a cup against her fangs.
Next up was the... food. Or whatever it was in the bowl. It smelled like food. Kuno wrinkled her nose at it, leaning in to snuffle delicately at the brown mush. It had been many weeks since Kuno had eaten actual food. Food to a changeling, was like water to a pony. It could sustain them, but it was insufficient for much more than that.
Giving a long-suffering sigh, Kuno scooped the bowl close to her chest, wincing at the sensation of her muscles protesting, and brought the bowl up to her lips. She believed that this was called a 'stew'. There were pulpy bits of vegetables and fruits in it, and a single celery stick half-out of the bowl, with the bottom half soggy and limp.
Kuno wrinkled her nose again, but lifted the celery stalk to her lips, placing it in her mouth and glumly chewing on it.
After the soggy, slimy bottom half of the celery stick was consumed, the rest of it was pleasantly crunchy, and it took very little time for her to finish it. Once the celery was gone, she started on the bowl of stew, quickly devouring it with a sudden ravenous hunger.
Kuno sighed once the stew was gone, placing aside the bowl. She tried to rise to her hooves, but the world tilted crazily around her. The changeling stumbling, and then sank to her stomach, her eyes wide. Her muscles were protesting at the movements, but this was something else entirely. It took a few moments for her to realise that the food was likely drugged.
And then she was asleep again.
Kuno came to, to the sensation of being moved. Her eyes fluttered open, and she saw the outside world for a brief few seconds. She was laying on what felt like straw, in the back of a small cart. Her head was too heavy to lift and look ahead at who was drawing the cart, but from what little she could see, she was being moved from the dirt-floor hut. The cart jolted over something, and they entered a doorway.
The inside of a building greeted her eyes, dark panelled walls passing by as she was borne on the cart down a long hallway. They turned into a room, and the cart stopped.
Kuno felt hooves on her, and then a powerful pony picked her up and deposited her - surprisingly gently - on a floor bed. She could just see the hooves of a white pony, before she was laid down on the bed. She assumed that it was the guard that had found her in the field, though she couldn't be sure. The drug was still coursing through her system, and she couldn't move. It was a little-known fact that drugs were barely effective on changelings. Their immune systems and unique biology rendered poisons and toxins of all kinds basically useless. Not to say that there was no effect from them: the drug, combined with her already weakened state was working as a rather powerful paralytic, even if she had shaken off the induced unconscious.
It was a good fifteen minutes before Kuno could muster up the energy to move. Rolling over, she found that her new room was much more civilised. There was a basin in the corner, with a tap that she assumed had running water, a wooden shelf with a cup on it, an eye-level window with bars across it, and even a large mirror. The bed was build into the wall itself, as a single wooden construction. There was a thin mattress, a sheet, a blanket, and a pillow atop it.
Kuno ignored the window for now—the bars were too small for her to fit through—and instead went over to the mirror.
The rather shocking countenance of an injured changeling met her. There were bruises all around her eyes, dried blood at her nose and under her ears, and she was dirty. She wanted nothing more than to find a stream to bathe in, but it seemed that that would be out of the question.
The changeling paused, and then looked thoughtful, before leaning down to inspect the floor around the mirror. There was dust here, with what seemed to be hastily-swept wood shavings. Frowning, Kuno lifted a hoof, and placed it on the mirror, leaning to the side to peer at where her hoof and the mirror met. The two images were perfectly flush. Kuno knew that a regular mirror did not work like this. When you placed a hoof against a regular mirror, the two images would never touch. This meant that this mirror was a magical mirror. Magical mirrors were employed for very few reasons: they didn't fog when they were exposed to water vapor, they didn't get dirty or scuffed, they were almost impossible to break, and, most importantly for her current situation, they could be used as a one-way-mirror.
Kuno scowled at the magic mirror, imagining who could be on the other side of it. Obviously, somepony wanted to be able to watch her without being seen.
Sniffing once, the changeling turned to the basin, inspecting it. It was a sturdy porcelain model, reinforced with metal bolts and fastenings to prevent it being loosened. A pipe led from the base of it, into the wall, and possibly somewhere outside. A quick twist of the tap brought a stream of fresh water.
Kuno took a few moments to tidy herself up, splashing water over her face to try and wake herself up out of the groggy state the drugs had left her in. The dried blood at her nose and ears took a little bit of scrubbing to clear, and when she was done, she used the case off her pillow to dry her face and neck. Feeling a little bit less like a wild, savage creature, Kuno moved back over to the mirror, and folded the edges of the pillowcase against the top of the mirror, holding it there for a few moments so that the moist edges would stick and hold, before releasing it. The pillowcase would remain there for a few minutes, until it dried and fell free, and she liked to think she was frustrating whoever might be watching.
Then, the changeling went over to the window, lifting her forehooves up onto the sill and peering out. A neat garden met her eyes, with a clearly defined path paved with rocks, roses, brightly coloured flowers, bushes, trees, and even some creeper vines. There was what appeared to be a vegetable patch further out, tomato bushes and strawberries planted in neat rows. Beyond the bounds of the garden was what appeared to be the side of a mountain. Forest covered the slope, and Kuno couldn't be sure, but she thought that the house was somewhere near the base of the mountain that held Canterlot. Which meant that they weren't in Ponyville, or Canterlot itself.
The changeling frowned to herself, thinking back, trying to force her slow mind to comprehend everything. She had seen nothing of any other guards. As far as she knew, it was just the one guard that had captured her. Then, why wasn't she taken to the outpost in Ponyville, or even directly to Canterlot?
The feel of something against her side made Kuno jump, and she yelped in surprise, dancing away, stumbling and then falling to her chest as her balance gave out. She pulled herself to her hooves again, blinking up at the guard. He had entered the room sometime while she was staring out the window, and she hadn't been able to hear it. He was in full armor, and holding a spear. In one hoof, he held a brown collar, with an unlocked padlock on the front of it. Kuno stared at the collar.
The guard said something, swinging the collar at her.
Kuno splayed her ears backwards, and lowered her head. She bared her teeth as the collar was slipped over her neck, but made no other complaint. The collar was pressed down over the frill at the back of her head, and then fastened into place. The felt, but didn't hear the padlock clicking closed. A tether was attached to it, leading from the collar to her captors front right hoof, ensuring that she couldn't fly away to escape.
And then, she was being tugged forth out the door. Kuno followed the lead of the tether willingly, but meekly. Whatever fate awaited her was inescapable.
The guard led her through what appeared to be a simple home, and to the bathroom. He sat down beside the door, on the left side, allowing her to enter the bathroom and take care of her business, while still being able to keep an eye on her.
Kuno took the offer willingly, running water to fill the tub with a few inches of cold water, and then dumping herself in it, finding a sponge and beginning to scrub rapidly at her form to get it clean. The cool water was refreshing, and it felt good to be clean again. The soap was scented with some kind of strange aroma, and Kuno disdained it, instead just using water and a scrubbing motion to get her chitin clean. After ten or so minutes, she was done, scrabbling out of the tub and finding a clean white towel hanging up. A quick scrub from the towel got her dry, although the towel itself came away slightly browned from the ordeal.
Kuno dropped the towel itself on the floor, and then strode out of the bathroom, feeling much more herself.
The guard halved her tether with a single sweep of a hoof, holding it firmly so that she couldn't use the slack to move too far away, before pointing ahead and saying something.
Kuno scowled at him, and then walked in the direction indicated, passing into what appeared to be a lounge room. A large table was set for dinner, with two settings, one at either end of the table. A bowl of soup sat at both ends, as well as a loaf of bread.
Her tether was affixed to a metal loop on one of the supporting posts next to the table, by way of a carabiner, which was then reinforced with a second padlock.
The guard moved around to the far end of the table, and slipped off his helmet, leaning his spear against the side of the table, carefully out of the changeling's reach, and then he took his place.
Kuno looking between the guard and the table, and then assumed that the other place could only be for her, and tentatively pulled herself up onto the chair, looking up at the guard for reassurance.
The guard nodded curtly.
Kuno reached out, and took the loaf of bread, breaking it in half and digging out some of the soft white loaf in the centre, chewing on it thoughtfully. A single push of her hoof rolled the other half of the bread to the guard's side of the table.
The guard looked up, looking the changeling up and down appraisingly, and then took the half a loaf of bread, breaking a piece off to dip into his own soup, watching her.
The changeling dug out most of the centre of her bread, and then spooned a portion of the stew into it, before beginning to eat the entire roll at once with neat bites. It wasn't very filling, but it was food. Without love to feed on, she had to make do, and a good meal would at least keep her going for a little while longer.
And always, the guard watched her, as though waiting for her to pull off some kind of sudden daring escape plan.
Kuno just continued to meekly eat her meal.
A little while into the meal, Kuno became aware of the pony trying to say something to her. She looked up, and then shook her head helplessly at the movements of the pony's mouth.
"I can't hear you," Kuno said flatly, before turning back to her food.
The changeling was vaguely aware of the pony saying something else, and looked up at him, shaking her head again. She lifted a hoof to cut him off. "I really can't you," she said, exasperated, "my ears are damaged. I haven't been able to hear a thing since the field."
The pony lapsed into silence at that, and Kuno figured she was clear of any attempted conversation. A minute later however, a notepad was slid under her nose, with the writing on it:
Do you have a name?
Kuno looked up at the pony, frowning deeply. He was standing closer now, and he had his spear in hoof, the tip slightly angled forwards, ready to lower at the first sign of trouble.
"They call me Fleetwing," Kuno lied smoothly. She wasn't sure, but she thought her voice was hoarse. It felt like it, but it was impossible to know since she couldn't actually hear it.
The notepad was retrieved, and then something else written in it.
I am Warden. Do not try to escape.
Kuno rolled her eyes. "The collar, chain, locked doors, and one-way-window sure hadn't clued me into the fact that I'm a prisoner."
The pony moved away, and Kuno saw that he was a pegasus. This confused her. The magic mirror in her 'cell' room had seemed like a recent addition, but he was not a unicorn.
"Are there more of you?" Kuno asked.
Pausing, the pony looked back over his shoulder, and then moved back close to her again, sliding the notepad back under her nose, with a new message on it.
There are many more of us. Do not try to escape.
"You keep reiterating that," Kuno said with a long-suffering sigh. "And I really don't believe you. It was you who found me, you who carried me to that room, and you who are here now. I think you're alone. Though I can't fathom why you didn't take me straight to Ponyville or Canterlot..."
Kuno delighted in the look of surprise and dismay that flickered over Warden's face at her words. She was smugly pleased with being able to catch him off guard like that.
Instead of responding directly, the pony wrote something else on the pad, and then slid a small red tablet towards her.
Do not make me force you to take this.
Kuno looked down at the tablet, and then back up at the pony. "You're drugging me again?"
The guard nodded once, making an addendum on the notepad.
It is a magic suppressant. It seems it also has side effects amongst changelings.
Kuno frowned deeply. She knew of these magic suppressants: special drugs usually laced amongst the food of prisoners, that suppressed a unicorn's, or apparently, a changeling's magical talents.
Frowning the changeling scooped up the tablet, and then tossed it back dry, swallowing it and wrinkling her nose.
The guard raised a brow at her expectantly.
Kuno gave an exasperated sigh, and opened her mouth up to show him that she wasn't holding the tablet behind her tongue, before she was allowed to close her mouth.
Barely seconds later, the changeling began to feel drowzy. Her eyelids became heavy, and she placed her chin on the desk. The notepad was slid back towards her, with new writing upon it, but the darkness gathering at the edges of Kuno's view overcame her all of a sudden, and she slipped into unconsciousness.