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Meeting of Minds (Dusty, Aisede, Windwright)


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~Princess Bluebelle~

It had taken some time before the Archancellor of the School of Friendship could reasonably take the rest of the afternoon off, but at last she was able to return to the castle.  She wasted no time in letting Niilaavin know that an alchemist who might possibly be able to help him in his quest to find a female of his kind would be coming to visit, only to be interrupted halfway through by her personal secretary, letting her know that a second alchemist had arrived as well!  Apparently on the recommendation of the Mayor, which Bluebelle wasn't sure she should take all that seriously, but Niil seemed to think highly of Spoiled Rich's judgment, so that probably wouldn't turn out badly.

Nevertheless, she thought it prudent to personally accompany the sphinx to make introductions, as well as have the maids personally assigned to Niil tag along.  One of them would be very much involved in this process, and the other at least knew where to rub and scratch to put the big kitty in a good mood.

"Psmith, please let our visitors know that Niil is waiting for them in the courtyard."  She called out to her private secretary, before taking a seat underneath a shade tree, close to Niilaavin's pay.  Enbarr and Gritstream were on the other side of the cat, with Enbarr out in front, and Gritstream doing her best to remain unnoticed.  She rarely liked showing her face to visitors, as she dreaded the thought of one of them having reason to recognize it.

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Nilaavin was deeply shocked in a number of ways by the news. Did some pony rarely think they could do it? More so, so soon? He had his reservations about it and in truth did ponder if it was just some scam too win favour and bits. Such an outcome was very much possible after all. For all of this was based on nothing more than an old sphinx story his mother told him about how the first sphinx was made. They were once a pony but were changed by power and ambition to keep order too this land. Blessed by the gods! Not the silly story told now where they got changed by the gods as a punishment for being greedy. Sphinxes were not greedy after all, they only asked for what they deserved by birthright. How can that be greedy? 

 

Well that did not matter. It was just a story and had slim hopes in seeing some truth in it. A sphinx is a sphinx, a pony a pony. Yet… if a pony can become a sphinx… Well it can make saving his race all the more easy. Far more easy than tracking down old and far rumors of more of his kind in far off places. But he must keep his hopes low. This was too easy, too soon. Odds are nothing will come of this meeting or the two gusts coming here. “I can’t say I’m too hopeful about this.” He spoke up, looking down at Blue. Nil towered over the ponies around him, sitting down he was still much taller than even an alicorn. The fact he was young and still growing came as a shock to most. 

 

“But yet… I hope. Just maybe I will no longer be so alone.” He remarked, then felt a hoof tapping at his side. He chuckled, glancing to his other side at Embarr. A pegasus mare from a hard life, maybe as hard as Girtsteams just in other ways. “Well not completely, but you know what I mean.” He says in a soft tone hinting at the care he felt for the mare. She was part of his Pride in her own way. Seeing her begging eyes let out a huff then leans down, nuzzling her just a moment before sitting back up tall and prideful. If this did work… He knew Enbarr would be first in line. And maybe he can convince Spoiled? That was more hard to say, she had the fire and spunk too make for a fine sphinx… And had leadership skills. Useful for his plans. But all of this was buying a cart before you had a pony to pull it. Best he did not let his mind wander too far.

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Windwright was pacing and mumbling to himself as he filled his saddlebags out of his cart. Most would expect an alchemist's kiosk-cart to contain nothing but glass vials full of strange fluids and bizarre ingredients. While Windy's cart did in fact contain those things, those were being left in their places. No, Windwright was picking out his reference manuals, notebooks, and journals, as well as his medical kit and one or two sample containers, just in case. The trouble is, that was about four bags' worth of books and supplies, and Windy had two. When he finally eliminated the books he thought were irrelevant, he closed down and locked the kiosk, then flew out into the town to find the princess and the Sphinx. Which turned out to be easier than he thought it would be thanks to the wide berth and immense stature.

The alchemist landed a little gracelessly next to Princess Bluebelle and her shade tree, far enough away for politeness' sake, but close enough that nocreature could mistake his presence for accidental. Though with how much his bags were bulging they might be able to assume he was about to drop down in exhaustion.

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It hadn't been long since the good Mayor had tasked her with the arguably possible task of reviving a species from functional extinction that Rose began to prepare her labs and supplies. She had a plan, a clear idea in mind, and she wouldn't need much more than a basic genetic sample from the sphinx to begin her work- specifically, she needed access to his sex chromosomes and a basic sample of DNA. Once she had those, she could begin reconstructing the organism as a ponunculus.

 

There, she figured, she could go one of two routes- spiritual transplant, or true transformation. Luckily, Rose was a pretty decent mage, so she could make it work.

 

With this in mind, she'd appear in traditional spontaneous fashion mere feet away from the Arch chancellor, parallel Windwright, saddled with her regular alchemy saddlebags just incase.

 

"Good afternoon ~" She'd greet him... Her... Cordially, a light of interest sparking upon recognizing what had happened to the prince.

 

"Fascinating... " With a flick of her horn, she gave the genderbent pony a rudimentary scan. "Hmm... Not how I'd go about gender change, but it appears to work for the most part. How is everybody this fine day?"

 

Casually, she'd hoof over the note the Mayor gave her. 

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Bluebelle supposed she couldn't blame Niilaavin for not wanting to get his hopes up.  It would be a cruel thing, given how much this meant to him, for a hope to be raised then dashed by alchemical impossibility.  But just as Niil thought of Blue as part of his Pride, the Princess thought of Niilaavin as a member of her House, and she was determined to see that he did well.  She smiled to see the nuzzling moment between him and Enbarr, but where was Gritstream?  "Not coming out to greet our guests?"  She called out to the other maid.

"Nope."  She answered from just out of sight.  "Too risky.  Appleoosan connections to this town."

"That's just the Apple clan, they have connections everywhere."  Further attempts to cajole Gritstream to greet her guests were interrupted by their arrival.  Reaching out a hoof to steady Windwright's landing, she made the introduction.  "Niil, Enbarr, this is Windwright, a friend of mine and a very fine alchemist who just so happened to pay me a visit this morning."

 

Shortly on his feathertips came the other guest, Rose the changeling.  By this point, the willies that Blue usually went through in their presence had been decreased to a minimum, and she was able to give just as charming a smile and greeting.  "And this is Rose, another alchemist who comes on the recommendation of Mayor Rich!"  She took the note, tucking it away for later.  She rarely destroyed any correspondence, you never knew what future historian would bless your memory for preserving it.  "I can't exactly say it was planned, but now I can't imagine living any other way."

 

With everypony arrived, the Princess stepped back to give the guests room to maneuver.  "This is just an initial sample collection meeting."  She explained to Niil.  "Transformation potions or magic usually requires the essence of whatever one plans to transform into, and you're the closest sphinx we know of."

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“You know no pony will take you.” Nilaavin says glancing at the mare taking cover behind his mass. He was a beast of his word and she submitted to him. As such he’d keep her safe. No pesky apples or whatever they were, if they even had ties to her, will lay one harmful hoof on what was his. Yet she’s yet to put that trust in him that Enbarr has. A shame, but it wes telling she used him for cover now. That did tell him she put some trust in him. But he knew she’d not buge, most of all with strangers. Mare was more shy than… of what was her name? Butter Shy was it? No no… Falter? The yellow mare that was somehow a hero. Whatever, it was just amusing to see Gritstream so shy for a mare of her strength and girt. 

 

His ears flicked with a jerk of his head, looking up he watched the pegasus come down to land and pushed down the urge to leap on it. Something about them flyers really kicked his hunting instincts in to overdrive. But he was a behaved cat, Blue can vouch for that. “Windwright is it? I do think I heard of him in passing, nice to put a face to this name.” He spoke, looking down at the pegasus with judging eyes. He looked the part… books, papers and such. Given he has heard of this pony before and he looked the part…

 

A pop of magic almost made nil leap in the air. He didn't, but the jolt of shock ran down his spine. Gathering his wits he focuses on the mare and… Oh it was that thing. The insect was back. This is what he gets for not smashing it at the wedding the first moment he got. You let the bug scamper off and next thing you know it's in the backyard! What was that THING even doing here? To suck on what hope he had like some blasted tick? Too grow fat off the fruits of others? No he’d not sta-

 

“NIL!” Enbarr’s voice grabbed his focus, looking down at the mare he saw her japing a hoof at his paw, pushing at the claws as if it would shove them back in… And they did after he relaxed. The hoof stayed on his paw. A hopeless act as even if she sat on his paw it will not keep it down. But he relented underneath her glare and shot a look over at Blue. “What is this thing doing here?” He asked, aiming his free paw at the bug. “Is it somehow part of this? If so, this meeting is over already. My hopes were low but this dashed them worse than I may have ever feared. A hide changer is of no help, they never can be. No good ever came from a parasite.” He muttered, teeth glaring in the sun to stress how displeased he was.

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Windwright inclined his head politely to acknowledge that he was, in fact, Windwright the alchemist. He had earned a bit of a reputation in Ponyville, that boast and drinking contest a few years back had been the seed of that, unfortunately, rather than his alchemical prowess. Still, he was an infamous alchemist in these parts. He was about to respond to Bluebelle's introduction and Nilaavin's comment, when somecreature teleported in next to him. And all Tartarus broke loose.

He cleared his throat and stood up, saying "Well, if I were looking for someone who might know how best to replicate transformative magics, I'd start that search with a creature known to be able to transform." in a tone of voice clearly meant to be diplomatic. "Especially since, if we're going to find an alchemical solution to your dilemma, it's going to take a LOT of looking." he added, mentally editing out the 'Assuming it can be done permanently at all, that is.' that he was thinking.
 

He turned to the other alchemist he would presumably be working with and inclined his head again. "Windwright, alchemist." he introduced himself. "And the princess's method is certainly cheaper than mine."

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Rose at least had the decency to look properly offended by Niilavin's comment, but took it in stride. Creatures like him are commonplace where she grew up, so she knew how to handle him.

 

"For your information, Mr. Niilavin, I have made strides to bring much good to Equestria. The preservation and propogation of life has always been my chiefest concern." It seemed that this was the time for a proper appraisal, aided, of course, by a more in-depth scan.

 

She initiated the spell without much of any warning, undaunted by the magical beast, and shifted her attention to Windwright as it went about its invisible work. "Rose Compass, also an alchemist. Former captain, too."

 

She smiled a little nostalgically. "And I've actually already formulated a few solutions to this problem. It's hardly as daunting a challenge as you may presume: I have two propositions, in fact; one," she raised a hoof. "We create an artificial host body using Niilavin as a template, deactivate the male sex chromosomes during conception, and then transfer the Mayor's consciousness into the body. It won't truly be her own body, however, which may cause her some distress. It would also severely limit the gene pool, and may potentially cause... Complications in later generations."

 

She mused on this aloud, looking off into the distance. "The second option is to use true transformation- as in, a spell, potentially aided by an alchemical catalyst, but by and large initiated by magic and not alchemy. Both options require a genetic sample from Niil here." By then, if it hadn't been interrupted, the scan should have completed. She leveled a scrutinizing look on the sphinx.

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Gritstream huffed from behind Niilaavin's paw, but did make to get out from under him when sensed the arrival of the alchemists.  She knew one of them was a changeling, and what the big cat thought of those guys.  She couldn't say that she had a high opinion of them herself, but her life up until now really didn't give her a lot of leeway to throw stones.  As she stood beside Enbarr, she would have presented quite the contrast.  While the maid outfit seemed natural enough on her pegasus companion, Gritstream herself looked as if an outlaw from the outback had been lassoed, trussed up, and forcibly stuffed into her uniform and profession.  Which was not all that far from what actually happened...

 

But Niil was right enough that nopony would be paying attention to her, since Niil was taking all the attention for himself.  "[Down, boy!]"  Bluebelle called out to Niil, using the magic of the amulet around her neck to speak the command in the sphinx's native tongue.  "[Don't make me get the garden hose and spray you in front of guests!]"  Technically that wasn't necessary, as the amulet gave her command over him, but she was trying to actually train him to behave well in Equestria without her supervision.  And that included dealing with changelings these days.  Modern times, eh?

 

Fortunately, Enbarr was on the case, and he hoped that between her and the alchemist's reassurances, Niil could be calmed.  "Apologies about that, changelings didn't have the best of reputations back in his day.  Nor could you say they were on their best behavior, but times are different now, as I keep trying to remind him.   I teach changeling students, and they haven't done anything to me, right?"

That, hopefully should do it.  Turning back, and taking a deep breath, she went to move on, listening to Rose's magical explanations, nodding along until she hit the part about the mayor.  "What, Spoiled Rich?  No, no, it was Enbarr here that we had in mind for that.  They're quite close, as you can see already."  Already, though, the Princess' treacherous imagination was giving her a picture of the Mayor as a sphinx.  It was... eerily apt.

Spoiler

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He can’t understand this odd… Trust every pony kept putting in the hide changers. They were things of mistrust, lies and parasitism. Yet time and time again he was marked as being in the wrong, have they not seen what they can do? Empires have rotted from the inside out by such things. Yet there was hardly anything he could do. Not with this spell on him. And so he just just glared his hatred and spoke gently in a tongue only he and Blue knew. [“I will stay my paw, but I will say again. Do not trust her or the ‘students’ you so happily speak about. I will trust nothing she has to say.”] With his feelings made clear again, no matter how pointless, he relented but made no apologies for he has none to give.

 

With nothing more to do he fixed his gaze on Windwright. “So tell me, what vain hope leads you to think this can even be done? Such a change… Well told in old stories are nothing more than that. As far as I know. We may be half a pony in many ways but the differences we do hold are vast. Such a change is… Flirting with the power of the gods. So I’d like to hear your reasoning to have the faith to go down this road at all. What do you see that makes it worth the venture?” He asked. He felt keen too do so. Well the bug seemed fit to just… run off in some rant about how she’d do it he’s heard nothing about the why or how. So he’d hope the alchemist can give some backing to it. He’d trust their word far more than the insects. 

 

 

Enbarr held her place for a moment, only when Nil seemed distracted again she removed her hoof from his paw and backed up to her post at his side. It is hard to not speak her own mind, but it's not her place… But she’d choke Spoiled out if that old mare dared to try and push in on her spot. She was going to win, she was going to be a queen some day! And have all the power she needed to smite her family. Hopefully. No telling if this was going to work or how long it will take. Nil had countless lifetimes to see it work, she had one. So she deeply hoped something will come of this.

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"A homunculus? That's a risky path even if we were trying to create a male sphinx, if the thaumic link between host and true bodies failed we might not be able to recover it fast enough to save both. And if the homunculus collapsed, or had no host to draw energy from it might parasitise the infant." Windwright commented to Rose, rubbing his chin. "Theoretically, we don't need a switch to be permanent or indefinite, just 'long enough'. Agreed?"

He shook his head and returned his attention to the here and now, taking note of Nilaavin's reactions and body language, and Enbarr's by proxy, and filing the information away while he considered the question. He closed his eyes and said, in a thoughtful tone that suggested he was working through the idea as he spoke, "Well, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a professional side to this. A great many alchemists have a well-deserved reputation for wanting to see if we can do something before considering whether we should do something. But there's more to it than that." he said, opening his eyes and nodding toward Bluebelle, "A friend of mine, one who has supported my work and let it reach more ponies in need of it, has asked for my input and help and I'd be a poor friend not to take that seriously. But more importantly than that, somecreature is in need of help and solace. In need of restoration and balm. You've been hurt and isolated, and it may be within my power to offer a solution, or at least part of one. I can't ignore that and stay who I am."

 

 

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At this correction, Rose turned her attention to the small mare by Niilavin's side. Her expression could best be described as 'clinical curiosity' as she studied her form, posture, and emotive state. Namely, she finally paid some modicum of attention to how she felt towards the sphinx, and realized that no other creature could possibly be a fit. The Mayor sure didn't feel this strongly towards Niilavin, although... She did have to wonder if she'd still be up for a transformation.

 

She also noticed that there was some kind of spell linking Bluebelle and the sphinx. Subtly, she analyzed the magic while the two secretly conversed, filing it away for future study.

 

"A true homunculus has no need for external energy. They generate, process, and expel energy at the same rate as the creature they are based on." She turned a disapproving frown on the ignorant little pony. "I should know, I am a homunculus myself, possessing all the magic and memories of my predesessor. Well... Most of the magic. The original Rose turned herself into a lich- but I digress," she waved a hoof as if to dispell that topic.

 

"We do not need a link for the sort of transferral I have in mind. The living spirit of a pony can be manipulated much the same way as the very magic in the air. For instance, I could remove your soul and place it within a hermetically sealed jar while still keeping your body alive. In the same avenue, I could transplant it into, say, an empty vessel."

 

Finally slowing down, she took a moment to process what he said last. "Although I suppose you do have a point regarding permanency. Enbarr, dear, do you wish for this change to be permanent or temporary?"

 

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Bluebelle sighed, but felt it rather pointless to contradict Niil at this point.  It would have been easier for her to persuade her late grandfather to let the servants eat with him in the dining room than to budge the sphinx on this point; his prejudice had rather more actual life experience behind it.  Hopefully, the balancing presence of Windwright would help keep the situation calm.  "Well, as a niece to two of them, I'd say we have more options than we might dare think!"  She replied cheerily enough, trying to keep the mood bright.

 

Gritstream couldn't say that she followed most of the technical discussion, but the gentle voice and sincere desire to help from Windwright coaxed her more into the open.  There was something about the pegasus that reminded her of Verdant... she sighed, the hurt only a dull ache now.  *What would you think if you saw me now, here in a palace garden, wearing this?*  She almost had to laugh at the mental picture that came up, of a young stallion stammering flirting words to a mare that just felt flattered by the attention.  Was that the first happy thought she'd indulged about her husband since being a widow?  Perhaps things were starting to heal.

 

Things were almost back to calm and professional... until Rose piped up again.  Homunculus?  Lich?  Bluebelle's smile remained fixed to her face, but it now took on a distinctly glassy look.  She did, however, speak up here, as the discussion moved to a point of personal experience.  "She's right enough about souls, though I'm not at liberty to say how I found out about that."  This revelation of her capabilities was likely of little to no comfort to Niil, and Blue couldn't say she thought Rose a *disproof* of the sphinx's suspicions.  This was going to be a hard sell, even if a solution came up...

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