As the creatures swarmed over the small forest hut, the chimera smiled. What a wondrous sight! He watched as the second changeling reached the interior of the hut to aid his brother still fighting the resilient Zebra inside. The long fang glinted in the dull light as it saw a bottle fall to the floor, igniting on the ground and spreading quickly to the walls.
Suddenly something brushed against the side of its eagle arm. The chimera looked down to see Dying Armour, his gaze was steely and cold as he watched his fellow Changelings dragging a screaming Zecora from her home towards the small mound the two of them stood upon. The draconequus glanced at the stallion like creature.
"Ahem!" Dying Armour glanced up at him, frowning. He reached up and tapped a spot just below his lower lip. Armour reached up and rubbed the same spot on his own face, when his black hoof parted droplets of vibrant red blood were smeared across it. Silently he wiped the most of it away while watching as his brothers brought their prisoner. "Having fun?" the slim figure asked. Armour simply gazed forward, his lips parted, and emitted that low gruff voice.
"Doing what's necessary." the stallion muttered, obviously disdainful at the convocation with the tall creature.
Before the draconequus could continue however, the zebra was brought before him. Zecora's double growled angrily and spat out a mouthful of blood, before shivering and shifting back into its normal drone like form. Back to its normal self it snarled angrily at the zebra, who gave it a challenging look, daring it to attack. The drone crouched to pounce, but was halted by an outstretched paw from ahead of him.
"I'd say that's enough for now." The chimera crouched down in front of the zebra. "Hello dear Zecora, looking a little worse for wear I believe today." The zebra looked from the changeling to her captor. When her eyes met those dark red mismatched ones, her jaw dropped in shock. Her mouth opened to speak, but was cut across by the chimera. "Not a word! Not until..." it stretched out a long claw and reached out to Zecora's forehead. Zecora knew what this meant, she'd heard from Twilight and her friends!
She resisted, trying to get to her hooves, only to be thrown back to the ground by her two flanking changelings. She looked back in horror just in time to see the claw shoot to her skull. The tip touched her skin, and immediately her insides felt cold. Dying Armour watched, as the prisoner's black gleaming stripes lost their sheen, and her pure white fur turned a grim gray shade. The colour slowly seeped away from her from the point of contact, until finally the only thing left colourful were the golden accessories she wore, the rest of her was dull.
The chimera retracted the claw and instantly, the zebra slumped. Her head hung low and her limbs lay heavily by her sides as she sat there. Defeated. "There!" The chimera said, clapping it's hands together in a businesslike manner. "So my dear, with you..." He thought for a moment, then the word popped into it's mind perfectly. "'Fixed' we won't need to worry about all those putrid rhymes." it leant in melodramatically cocking an ear to the silent zebra. "You were going to say something before my dear?"
For a moment, the only sound in the air were the other changelings trashing the hut a few yards away. Then, quietly. "Discord..." Zecora raised her head and glared at him hatefully. "You were planning this! All along!" The chimera's lips curled as he let out a dark chuckle.
"Clever girl!" he said patronisingly. He began to inspect his claws absentmindedly. "So I assume you told them?" Zecora spat hard, she hated not be able to rhyme, Discord's spell was making her speak like the other creatures of Equestria, and she hated it! Her speech was what made her unique, and he'd taken it!
"Yes." She said bitterly, which brought yet another smile to the chimera's lips.
"Good, I never was a fan of all that 'Self discovery' nonsense." He turned away, content with what he'd heard. "Do with her what you will." he said callously with a wave of his paw as he made his way to the trees, not towards where the young ones had fled, but back towards Ponyville..
"Wait!" came a cry from behind the god of chaos. He paused, amused that the voice hadn't belonged to the zebra... but to...
"Yes Armour?" the chimera asked innocently of the stallion who had now stood angrily behind the god. His face was that of pure fury.
"After all this! Pursuing them, abandoning the town that we just took, now you're happy to just let them go?! What was the point of all this then?!"
Discord raised an eyebrow at the stallion changeling, he eyed the creature pondering what he should say, and what he should keep secret. "Those six are dangerous, I have been on the wrong side of a group of Elements' fury before, so has your mother, think back to her stories, and you'll understand why it's pointless attacking them head on!"
He was right, the queen had told Dying Armour of the power that the elements of harmony held. The stories alone were enough to send the unique stallion's mind afire with questions and queries, but most of all, whereas the other changelings were born to obey, Armour had been born with a mind of his own, hence he had been born with sense. This sense came into play now, though he despised this chimera, his false promises of love to sustain his people for generations, he knew that this powerful god understood far more than the mere eighteen year old.
Discord saw the change in Armour's pale green eyes, the switch from doubt to obedience. "We've made the first move." the slim monster explained. "Next, we let them become comfortable with their new life, so when they arrive at Canterlot, their new found security will crumble." the chimera turned away, once again making his way to Ponyville.
"And what of the prisoners?" Armour cried after him.
Discord froze, his head turned to gaze back, a malicious glint in his mismatched eyes at the word. "Prisoners?" the changeling commander nodded curtly. Slowly Discord's eagle hand reached out and caressed the trunk of a nearby tree. "How many are there?"
"Nine." The commander responded robotically. The draconequus's claws etched slowly across the bark as his ears twitched to listen intently.
"Oh really? Anypony of interest?" Once again the stallion nodded.
"The elements of Harmony." The chimera broke into a wild grin.
"And who else?"
"Their loved ones." Armour couldn't help but grin slightly too, the parents of their targets were now in their grasp. Nothing could be more perfect for leverage over the escaping younger ponies. Slowly, the eagle claw dug deeper into the wood of the bark and began to carve out a shape on the trunk of the tree.
"Well go on Armour, finish your report, I know you want to." The stallion obliged without hesitation.
"We've separated the prisoners as per your orders if we found them, each element is separated from the others, we lack the resources at this time to separate them from their spouses as well." Discord hummed slightly as he doodled on the tree.
"I suppose that makes sense...and?"
"Well, the husband of Kindness has caused considerable problems, but we eventually subdued him. And..." Armour's eyes twinkled in the gloom as he prepared to make the comment he knew would raise a response from the chimera he hated so much.
"The Pink one... Laughter... she proved more... troublesome to subdue." He saw the chimera stop in his absent minded doodling, his ears were stiff as they waited desperately to hear more. "But we eventually broke her... spirit... shall we say?" He saw the draconequus's eyes close for a moment in an attempt to hide his anger, misery or even annoyance, he couldn't tell. Slowly one opened again and glared at the changeling.
"She has a name..." Suddenly, he shook his head viciously, when he stopped, he was calm and smirking once more. He pulled his claw out of the tree trunk and began moving yet again.
"Wonderful debriefing Armour, you are quite the militant officer..." Armour couldn't help but feel complimented, a glimmer of a smile threatened to spread across his face, but was wiped clean when the Chimera added, "Just like your father." To which, the changeling's face grew dark and hateful once more.
"When you're done here, send three of your fastest to follow those six, make sure I know what they're doing. Then have the rest return with you to your mother. It's time for stage two." By this point the chimera had been engulfed by the dark of the surrounding trees. After a second of invisibility, two pinpricks of red glinted out of the gloom. They focused on the stationary Dying Armour. "You kept your side of the bargain, now I'll keep mine. A sure-fire way to capture both princesses, and capture Canterlot." the glowing eyes then twitched towards the prisoner.
"End her whenever you feel up to it, maybe you're still a little thirsty? Yet again Armours hoof shot up to his lips to ensure he'd rubbed away the residual blood from the victim in the town. Sure enough it was, and he realised it had been yet another one of his stupid jokes. With that, the two dots of red vanished into the gloom of the trees. As soon as he was sure the chimera was gone, Armour bolted up to the tree to investigate the chimera's absent minded scratchings. Could it give him a glimpse into what the chimera really wanted? Was it something to do with the pink pony they had captured?
The message meant nothing to Armour, he couldn't understand what relevance it held for the plan the draconequus and his mother had hatched...
forever & ever."
"Eri..." The changeling stallion hummed thoughtfully, the name meant nothing to him, in fact he was sure if the first name was an abbreviation, than surely the second must be too! Inside his stomach began to grow a fire of frustration! He still had no idea what this chimera was planning! For all he knew, it planned to betray his mother and double cross all the changeling race the second they proved to no longer be useful! He hated serving this monster, he'd proven to be a traitor, he'd betrayed his family in that town! One of the targets that had fled the hut, she was his daughter... could she know anything?
Dying Armour turned back and made his way to the hut. He'd play along for now, hopefully it wouldn't matter anyway, after this next stage, the chimera will have completed the bargain, and they'd never have to worry about him ever again! They'd rule over Equestria, reaping the pleasures of monarchy, the love and respect brought by all the changelings who would be liberated by the new regime, a never ending cycle of love from the subjects, to the queen, and love from her to her subjects. They would finally be strong in the confidence that comes with the crown!
A series of clicking noises and screeches reached his ears and he glanced back to see he'd passed the zebra and her two guarding changelings. One of which was now addressing him, Armour understood the noises, and sighed. "Do whatever you want with her, she's given us all what 'He' wanted anyway. Just head out after those six afterwards, take Grimble with you. Make sure you monitor everything they do!" And with that he headed towards the hut, maybe he'd blow off some steam by smashing some precious items in there before he reported back to the queen.
The fire from within the hut gleamed in the reflection of his pale green eyes, as a satisfied smirk began to spread across his lips. As behind him, the two changelings dived upon the defeated zebra and happily savaged her with their sharp teeth claws.
"ZECORA!" Archy screamed, bolting upright from the cold grass floor.
It was night time, and the group had decided to stop just under the canopy of the trees that bordered the ever free forest. After hours of running from the approaching horde of changelings attacking Zecora's hut, the group had been sure they had gotten away. After a few hours of running they reached the outside of the forest, and saw that night had fallen. So they decided to sleep, and then get an early start the next morning on their long walk to Canterlot.
Now Archy sat there panting, a sweat pouring from his brow as though he'd just been baked inside an oven. His loud breathes quickly caught the attention of Thor who was the only other pony awake. He bolted over to his friend, laying a calming hoof on his back. "Archy, chill! It was just a dream!"
"N-NO!" Archy choked, "It was more! I saw what happened, when we left Zecora behind!"
"We didn't leave her behind, she ordered us to go, there's a difference." The said calmingly. After a moment of more panting from the unicorn, the Pegasus saw it wasn't improving his friends terrified attitude. "Look, I'll go get Ruby, she's feeling pretty bad too, maybe you can both help each other." He began to make his way to the three sleeping girls.
"No," Archimedes flung out a hoof, catching Thor's foreleg and stopping him from moving. "Don't wake her... it's ok... I just." His eyes brimmed with tears as he remembered the image of those two changeling tearing into the Zebra's flesh. "I-I saw it Thor! What they did to her!" Thor grimaced, and stooped beside his lifelong friend.
"Well, it doesn't sound like anything good, but you need to keep a strong head, you need to keep up appearances for the girls, me you and Seed have gotta look as though we're ready for whatever's coming our way."
Archy bit his lip and nodded hard. "Yeah!" He croaked, "Yeah you're right!" He smiled slightly. "Though I thought your girlfriend was supposed to be our illustrious leader anyway..." Thor frowned in confusion at his friends words.
"Angelica you Idiot!" Unknown to the two friends as they joked quietly, Sweetness began to stir at the sound of voices. "You know it's really hard to insult you when you act this stupid!" Archy laughed, to which Thor simply gave him a hard shove making the bespectacled stallion tumble back to the floor.
"One; she's not my girlfriend, two; Shut up!"
The sound of the scuffle was the last thing that brought the sleeping pink mare out of her slumber and back to reality. Her eyes opened slowly and blearily, and soon spotted the two quiet stallions talking. She gave herself a minute to wake up fully, or fall asleep once again.
"So?" Archy began towards his winged friend. "What you doing up so late?" Thor's smile faded and his vision wandered off into the dark inside of the forest just behind the sleeping group.
"Can't sleep, and I figured somepony needed to watch out if anything was coming our way." He gave a small sarcastic smile, "Who better than the 'Element of Bravery' huh?" He sighed, and continued watching the blackness.
Sweetness now knew she wasn't going to doze off again, so drearily she got up; brushed herself off, and made her way from the group of girls towards the boys closer to the tree line. "How did this happen Archy?" Thor thought out loud. To which the unicorn sighed and rubbed his temples with his hooves.
"I don't know Thor," He took off his glasses with his magic and began to rub the sides of his nose instead. "But for whatever reason, it's been decided we're the ones who've got to sort it out. Or at least get the princess to." Slowly, his face grew stern. "And then we can set about finding the queen of Changelings and get pay back for destroying our home!"
"Yeah... the queen..." Thor said slowly, not sure if he should mention what he had seen. But before he could speak, Archy frowned.
"Or... somepony else..." Thor frowned at his friend. Without waiting to be asked, Archy began to explain. "I-I think there's a changeling... the one I told you about before, he's different. Smarter, and stronger!" The image of those green eyes from his dream streaked across his mind, causing him to flinch. "Maybe it was him, maybe he was the one who wanted to attack us..."
Thor had decided; Archy was the closest to figuring out what he already knew, so at least he should know! "Archy... When they attacked, as we got away... I saw"-
"Is everything ok guys?" Came a quiet and high pitched stage whisper. The two stallion's heads turned to see a smiling Sweetness approaching them slowly. Inside his head, Thor cursed angrily. Did she know he was about to accuse her father and just decided to interrupt? Or was she just talented at showing up at the wrong time?!
"Yeah, we're fine Sweety." Archy said, happy to have a distraction from his darkening thoughts. "I just had a funny dream that's all." Sweetness's eyes widened with sudden interest.
"Really?! Like weird funny, or 'Haha' funny?"
"Try, 'Saw what those changelings did to Zecora' funny." Thor said coldly. Maybe a little more harshly than he had meant to. Sweetness's ears drooped, and her eyes grew round in sadness as she listened to the burgundy Pegasus.
"Yeah..." Archy grimaced miserably as he straightened up. "Don't worry about it, we need to keep focused." Suddenly, his eyes twinkled with an idea. "Sweety, I don't suppose you dreamt about your dad did you while you were sleeping?"
Both his friends frowned, Sweetness in confusion, and Thor in sudden suspicion. "Nnno... why?" Sweety said slowly. Archy raised his hooves and began to whisper animatedly to his friends.
"Well, think about it! Out of all our parents, he's the most likely to have survived that attack, and more importantly, he's the most likely to save our parents! After all, his wife is best friends with all of our folks..." Archy began to loose momentum, as a small nugget of information began to resurface from the lake of dark memories of the past day. "Y-your dad wasn't in town was he? He'd left a few days before, you said back at the field."
Sweetness gave a little sad nod. "Yeah... I guess I know what you were thinking, if I dreamt about him, it could mean he was trying to talk to me, like he does with my mommy when he's away." Thor watched quietly. Relieved that Archy's faith in the chimera had died so quickly, hopefully it wouldn't begin to build again, not until he had a chance to explain to him what he'd seen. Also relieved that Sweetness hadn't heard from him. She was his friend, and he didn't want her father tainting her thoughts, espeacially if he was to blame.
And with every second that passed, Thor's mind became more sure, that the draconequus Discord, was to blame for their lost home. The sooner they got to Canterlot the better!