Entry 1 – September 30th, 1122, approx. 21:00
The moon has waned considerably, so please excuse me if my time reading is somewhat off its mark. I can still see the moon and sun dials outside the mansion, but I can be a little featherbrained in my readings. I always knew I should’ve taken the class on it.
Anyway, I must ask you to please pardon the grey backs of these pages. As I write, I have to keep the carbon sheets and papers beneath them steady with my hooves. I intend to spend the next three days fervently continuously writing. It is quite necessary that some written records exist for what I am about to recall.
We are on the precipice of a breakthrough in combatting the Changelings. Once I am finished recalling the events, both personal and relevant to what will be in my mind the culmination of my service to the Inquisition, I will proceed to actualize it.
Both my desire and the reassurance from my superiors (namely, hunter Starfall and Her Majesty Princess Luna) compel me to write this. However, the only time I have ever kept a journal was during my early colthood when I was first learning to write, so please pardon me if this manuscript gets inane at times.
I guess I’ll proceed from the beginning. My name is Zeta Cherrypaste. I am the sole progeny of my dam, Sara Cherrypaste, and my sire Phil Cherrypaste. I was raised in the mountainside village of Tailsbury. For identification purposes, I state I am a stallion possessing a coat of pyrite color and an umber mane. My Cutie Mark is that of a knife stirring a blood-red potion in an alchemist’s phial, which is surrounded by a green aura. As our last names suggest, we are a family of cherry pickers and mashers. We were all modest Earth ponies.
My colthood was fairly typical; nothing about my particular demeanor suggested that I would become an alchemist. However, there was, I suppose, enough to suggest the possibility of my involvement with the Inquisition’s Changeling hunters. My uncle (on my mother’s side) Gregory had been murdered on the outskirts of an offshoot settlement in Appleoosa. It was a tragic event, of course, and Sara had done her best to indoctrinate in me a hatred for the Changeling perpetrators and a deep resentment for those who attempt to regard them as higher beings than they are.
I would draw their hideous faces on especially stubborn cherry trees and furiously pound them. I think I took her institution a little farther than she had anticipated I would; I recall there was a genuine tinge of remorse in her eyes as I told her, “I wish to fight and bleed and kill and die if it exacts the retribution they deserve. I know Uncle George can’t be their only victim.” I guess she knew then that the Inquisitors would come to recruit me, having sensed an especially kindled will to add to their Changeling-destroying ranks. She never told me that Uncle George actually hadn’t been murdered but rather had been reduced to a pallid, emotionless, expressionless, shell with eyes sable without soul until I had gone much time without mentioning anything about being a hunter.
My fantasies appearing to her to having run dry, I guess she imagined I could take this truth with a dose of old molasses. I don’t know if I have ever since roared so loud – not even on the train. The next day witnessed the arrival of two Pegasi to our village. They were looking for me, of course, and I happily shook hooves with them upon sight, despite not initially knowing the purpose of their visit. I didn’t know they were the characters they were, but I was almost entranced by their maroon costumes and the shimmering buckles on their glossy black boots.
In a partly isolated village like Tailsbury, a pony simply doesn’t find much majesty. The two formal figures allowed me to feast my eyes on their majesty for two solid seconds before they suddenly commanded, “Take us to your abode.”
They proceeded to greet my parents, and the next week featured a series of assessments. The preliminary ones were psychological evaluations for my parents and me. Several of their questions regarded loyalty and personal tenets. I had expected their questions to be more sterile, but I zealously completed all their tasks. They afterwards focused on and moved on to assessing my aptitude.
I made clear to them that they should look beyond my athletic capacities and consider my affinity for magic. Although I was aware magic had always been to a certain extent out of my reach, I possessed several old tomes on the subject. I had acquired them mainly as birthday gifts. The mass production of books to meet the spike in demand for them following Her Majesty Princess Twilight Sparkle’s coronation in 1002 obviously had driven prices down. Revolutions and discoveries in magic since then drove many copies out of utility, so they became bargains. Random copies of these century-old books constituted my personal library.
As anypony with access to the Archives of the Royal Academy of Inquisitors would find under my file, I was admitted despite my otherwise lackluster aptitude scores because my athletics and muscle memory were on par. A new recruitment initiative had been set, you see. Since its formation, the league of Inquisitors had almost exclusively selected talent from Bat Ponies, Unicorns, and Pegasi for obvious reasons: magician technicians and eyes in the sky make for optimal Changeling hunters. Earth ponies were seen as easier Changeling targets and had been victimized by them far more often. Eventually, somepony realized that there were, firsthoof, a mounting will to combat them among my demographic, and, secondhoof, talent we could offer to the cause. Wanting to compensate for untapped reserves among us, the Academy made Earth ponies practically preferred enrollees.
A commonality among all of those who are inducted is that they had all been wronged by members of that wretched race of Changelings. I guess I counted under some purview of being indirectly wronged, but practically all my fellow students, as I quickly found out upon my first few days at the Academy, had been very directly wronged.
Their stories still boil my blood when I recall them. If I ever begin to have to slightest bit less contempt for Changelings, I bring those stories to my mind. Their stories don’t and never do get out to the public, so I shan’t disclose them. My lack of a chilling firsthand account at first made me question whether I could bring myself to be as ruthless in fighting these monsters as my fellows, but my suspicions would not hold.
It would be vacuous of me to fail to mention the sort of courses I took there. Of course, we needed soldierly training, an understanding of the darkest parts of Equestria’s history, and immense education regarding the understanding of our enemy, knowledge obscure to the hoi polloi. The rest of our courses were entirely up to our selection, but each pony only has four years of studying and mastery to acquire the skills which they think will be most conducive to their own style of hunting.
A pony might think, keeping my avid interest in magic in mind, that I would have decided to become more of a scholar than a fighter, but I wanted to stick to my bracers and make my body my tool. Of course, I delved into the great tomes of our library and learned from them a great deal of enrichment history and practical skills for my destined trade; however, there was no point in strengthening my mind if my hide could be easily taken by those love-eating Changelings.
Oh, yes, love-eating. I think my compassion for ponykind is what really drives me. The Academy encourages studying the arts as a means of familiarizing ourselves with what evokes in us that which they would consume. I’ve always thought acting was a fitting art to pursue for our cause; our enemy is born to masquerade and undermine us. Why shouldn’t we all learn to beat them at their own game, I would consider from time to time.
“I shall see to it myself if no one else will,” I’d say. The arts aren’t as popular for our morose bunch as I would expect, but I guess that’s our folly. In music, I came to appreciate a wide variety of composers and performers, but, sticking to my roots yet again, I cultivated interest in a now-deceased guitar-picking Stallion in Black named Johnny Two-Bits. Singing his lonesome ballads and his many covers helped me from time to time, and I don’t see how so many of us can only find solace in the blood we draw from our Changeling enemies.
I took various martial arts courses, and I could practically smith my own armor for myself and stand in as a knight and (solely by test of ability, mind you) be virtually undistinguishable from a typical Royal Guard. That is not to say that any pony of a Royal Guard is typical or unskilled or incapable of rooting out subversives. It is the contrary; I mean to say that my concentrated training at the Academy was so extensive as to whip a cherry-picking, pit-chewing, bark painting-smashing, slurs-his-words village colt into an autonomous and worthy warrior.
At least, at the time, I was so assured of my courage. Martial arts gave all of us cadets a certain degree of discipline, but I regretfully state that some, even from what I could gather of my most respected peers, were and (I imagine) still are prepared to be somewhat reckless in performing their duties. Four years can mold and change a pony, I affirm, but I have always feared that the Academy’s search for the ponies most broken by the Changelings (other than their fed-on victims) leads them to pick potentially unstable candidates. The Academy’s expeditious assimilating, conditioning, and training cycles are all thorough and effectual, but I’ve always felt there is an inner turmoil to all of it.
Obviously, there are checks in the process, and no failings, or we would not last as an order for as long as we have.
Anyway, I’ll put my opinions to the hay for the moment. I became entirely enamored with alchemy once I started the class in my sophomore year. I was one of very few who took it; there were other Earth ponies taking it, also trying to compensate for their lack of spell-casting abilities, but nopony stuck with it for as long as I did. I was basically privately instructed by Master Alchemist Lawrence Mortar. If anypony reading this recognizes the name, he’s the author of More Tar for My Mortar, Please and It Takes a Pulverizer to Truly Obliterate. Probably one of the most lethal poison concocters of our time and one of the most brilliant toxicologists to date, he opened for me the doors to my inspiration and success through his encouragement and tutelage.
I obtained my Cutie Mark in his classes when I realized that I needed to explore the outlets of alchemy in order to benefit ponykind, but the symbolism of my mark is confounded. I’m supposed to use my alchemy to fight the Changelings, that’s what the green aura and the knife and the potion bottle all represent, but the blood perplexes me.
He accidentally poisoned himself during my junior year. He had nearly developed a poison he thought could be implemented as a volatile gas noxious to Changelings but innocuous to ponykind. As it proved, however, the nature of the exotic ingredients that affected Changelings was that they were exclusively safe for ingestion by ponies but not so much for inhalation. Failing to see this possibility, he perished untimely.
What kills Changelings seems to kill ponies alike. With this in mind, I tried not to add insult to death but desperately desired to convey that the search for a safe poison to use on Changelings was a futile measure. I immediately began to write my Acolyte’s thesis (the free-range topic manuscript that each Inquisitor Cadet needs to prepare in order to be coronated “Acolyte” to graduate and pursue a hunting mercenary career) on the matter. I had to suggest an alternative in order to have a complete essay that demonstrated significant critical learning and understanding of the pursuits of the Inquisitors.
As such, I suggested that we seek a formula which, if taken by a Changeling in disguised form, would subtly reveal to a pony that the Changeling wasn’t a true pony in fact. Using the stomach-to-heart principle of alchemy, we could defeat their natural ability to cloak themselves and stand in as ponies they’ve seen by getting their internal mechanisms to betray them in ways that traditionally cast dispel spells fail to do. A basic principle of their anatomy is that they’re like insects: their translucent wings, their eyes, and their putrid blood. I hypothesized, as has been considered a widely accepted theory, that their exoskeletons not only physically protect their blood-bound innards but also protect them magically.
To test such theorized concoctions, however, would require us to abandon our practice of testing our substances in battle with poisoned blades or on incapacitated Changelings. Since the utility of such a substance would be subtle in nature, it would have to be tested using subtler methods. It was revolutionary, in my opinion.
Revolutionary indeed, so thought the board that expelled me from the Academy. The Inquisition takes no prisoners, you see. As I began my thesis I knew that I was putting something at stake, but I had nonetheless proceeded to memorize the speech me and my fellow would-be Acolytes would be given by Princess Luna at our coronation. We would hunt from the ends of Equestria for all our lives, knowing that we are just cleaning up the hordes of Changelings that had been scattered by the explosion of 1001 at the wedding of Her Majesty Princess Cadence, Good Queen of the Crystal Ponies, and His Majesty Prince Shining Armor. Until we can ascertain that they are dealt with, we cannot finally seek out their queen (Chrysalis, whose name I shan’t allow to defile these pages more than necessary) without fear of major undermining retaliation from its (Changelings don’t deserve personal pronouns) sleeper cells and satellites.
There is no gratitude offered to our lot of hunters for the atrocities we must commit for the sake of Glorious Princess Celestia’s Equestrian Kingdom. Inquisitors tarnish not her name but rather our own in whatever transgressions we commit. Nobody goes into it for the glory because there is none to be had except from those in the know, and that’s basically us, too. It doesn’t take a lot of mental power to recognize that praise from our lot isn’t worth the air we would inspire in order to express it.
Starfall has been reading my carbon copies, for I, having been diverting myself with recalling and reflecting upon my past to you, my journal, failed to realize that I didn’t stop writing when I had promised her I would. “I’ve nearly retched from your pretense. Drop the act. I know this means something to you, this discourse about yourself, but tell it how you’d tell it to me. You know, you got like this when I first arrived, but it’s not you. You get into the speech mannerisms we all had back at the Academy, but no one’s going to survive your lofty speech, let alone give their good hoof for your text, if you keep blathering like you’re talking to Princess Luna.”
Noting her point, I respond, “I can’t take this with levity; should anypony delve into this writing, I would be remissed to address these matters with a tone other than one of total seriousness, lest I come across as incognizant of its purpose,” making sure to add a touch of sarcastic intonation on each lofty word.
“Neither shall you take my hoof sandwich with any sort of levity, should I catch you using the word ‘incognizant’ again. Tell it how you’d tell it to me, or I’m setting the little guys downstairs free.”
Please forgive me, journal. Laughing her good-natured threats off, I almost spilled my carrot juice on you. Starfall doesn’t like carrot juice but begrudgingly takes it when I remind her of the Academy’s nutritional maxim:
“Taking carrots each day keeps night blindness at bay.”