Pinkie settled into her perch, setting up her rifle and scanning the dark moor for movement. The tip of her tail was twitching and her hooves itched. There would be changelings tonight. Her muscles were tense under her pink coat and her back ached abominably. Sleep tugged at her eyes, but she wouldn’t let them close. She had to stay alert, had to keep up the fight, no matter what it cost her. The war had been hard on everypony. Most had lost loved ones, many had lost homes, and some had lost everything. Equestria was in hell and if the ponies didn’t resist, they died, without exception. Everypony had to do their part. Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy- eventually even Pinkie took up arms for her home. She’d had trouble at first, couldn’t stomach the killing and wasn’t good with a gun or a sword. She had no head for the fighting either; once the bullets started flying, she broke. But Pinkie was good for more than just parties. She could find ponies, any ponies, anywhere. And then it was as simple as....
Click, the trigger whispered. Bang, the rifle spoke, she’d worked on instinct, shaken out of her thoughtlessness by the itching in her hooves turning to a sharp pain. She found her next target.. Click, Bang. No more changeling, and once more Click, Bang, no more changeling. Pinkie packed up her rifle with a practiced hoof, making sure each part was comfortably in the case before moving to her next position. Her new assignment may have been ten times easier than her last one, but she wasn’t happy about it. Her last high-profile target had been more than a month ago and covert ops was still flipping coins on who’d be next; meanwhile she’d been assigned to the defense of some farm town outside the capitol and she was getting twitchy. She felt a growl crawl into her throat as she started her ascent to the top of a rock cluster she’d marked as a perch earlier.There was a pony-slaughtering hoard of changelings on the march right now, and she was sitting on a rock, putting bullets in stragglers. She should’ve been taking out captains, generals, the bucking queen; she should’ve been making a difference! She took a deep breath and calmed herself. It wouldn’t be long before command knew where she was going; then she’d feel better. She reached her vantage point and looked out over the craggy moor on the south side of the town, spotting the changelings immediately, working their way over the brush. She set up her rifle and took aim. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Three more down, three legions to go, bit her post was safe for now. There would be no more changelings out tonight.It was something she knew, but she refused to let herself become careless. She packed up her rifle and changed positions again, watching the plains for any sign of movement.
The sun was just starting to rise when her radio came alive.
“Pinkie Pie,” the voice was fuzzy and broken, but clearly that of Two Buck, her sergeant, “you’re being relieved. Report back to base. Looks like HQ’s got another job for you.” A smile came on to Pinkie’s face for the first time in ages. Vacation was over.
Base was a rock walled building near the center of the town, two stories high and bristling with defenses. The desk sergeant stopped Pinkie at one hundred feet and ran a scan, making sure she wasn’t a changeling in disguise, then started with the normal run of questions. Security was tight these days, like it should be. Pinkie answered the questions as they came and the desk sergeant waved her in, but Pinkie ignored her, making a point of handing over her IDs and weapons before proceeding. It was her chosen Pattern. With enemies that can change shapes at will and magic to keep ponies from negating that power, a Pattern was important. Patterns were a good defense against infiltration and had stopped many would-be slaughters throughout the war, and everypony had a different pattern they had to do before they would be allowed into any military building, down to the lowest, backwater base.
This one for example. Local dispatch 407, lovingly known as Base, was as barren as the plains outside the town. No more than a handful of ponies were ever there at once, doing paperwork or relaxing on their off-shift. A few half-empty bookshelves took up a corner with old, soft couches set near, but Pinkie hadn’t seen anyone use them since Twilight had visited with Princess Celestia. On the other side of the room were a few cubicles, most containing sleeping ponies, but Pinkie ignored all of these and headed straight for the stairs on the back wall. The second floor was no more impressive than the first, but it was where most of the higher-ups kept offices. She went straight into Two Buck’s.
Two Buck was a grizzled old unicorn and a hard taskmaster, but things ran smoothly under him. He stood behind his desk, a cup of coffee floating next to him and an apple in his mouth, but what interested Pinkie was the sealed envelope splayed in front of him. He took a bite of the apple and nodded to her.
“Pinkie,” he said gruffly, little bits of apple flying out of his mouth.
“Sarge,” Pinkie replied, snapping off a quick salute and stepping nearer to the desk.
“It looks like HQ finally got somethin’ for ya.” Pinkie just nodded, her lips curved into a bitter smile. She hated herself a little, for being excited to kill someone, but it was her only way to make a difference in the war, her only way to keep her friends safe. Two Buck broke into her thoughts.
“I’m not gonna lie, kid. I liked having you here. You’re a damn fine soldier and one of the
best snipers I’ve ever seen. Ain’t no one gonna replace you once you’re gone. You remember that if you get tired of assassining.” Pinkie hated herself a little more for the pride those words instilled in her. ‘You’re a good killer,’ she’d just been told. Why would that make anyone proud? She wouldn’t burden Sarge with her thoughts though. She just said,
“Yessir, Sarge,” as she always did, ducking her head and adding a quiet, “thank you.”
The message had been simple enough, but promised something big. “...too important, must discuss in person...” And Pinkie was on the first train headed home. She was nervous though. Meeting in person was a big deal when it came to her. Usually all she got was a name and they let her do her work; when they had to speak in person....the last time had been the reason for her vacation. In her experience, meeting in person meant a high end target. A general usually, but she’d also been given changeling nobles, weapon caches, and...dangerous traitors. People whom Celestia and the other ponies in command couldn’t publically point to as turncoats for fear that too many ponies would lose heart. The last one had been Soarin.
The wonderbolts had been some of the best troops against the changelings. In the battle of Everfree, the eleven of them had maintained air superiority without any other backup. Nopony thought that any of them would side against equestria, but that’s what happened. Pinkie did her duty, brought Soarin down and made it look like some big accident.. All she’d had had to do was clip his wings and let him drop and suddenly every pony in the country wanted to take up arms in the name of their fallen hero. Pinkie laughed bitterly to herself. Fallen in every way. The train slowed to a halt and Pinkie departed, making her way immediately to HQ and the war room. Celestia was inside, sitting at the head of a table with a large map spread over it. Twilight sat beside her with Cadance and Luna across from them. Cadance wore full black, a sharp contrast with her white fur; Twilight had a more subtle band, like a shadowy scar, wrapped around her left front leg. It was a long mourning period, just like Shining Armor deserved. All of them looked up when Pinkie entered and the room filled with a cold silence.
“Come on, guys,” Pinkie said, forcing a fake smile onto her face, “spirits up. A smile may not be likely to win the war, but no pony can say that it won’t.” Twilight shook her head and looked away, so did Cadance and Luna. Only Celestia could meet Pinkie’s eyes.
“We have your assignment, Pinkie,” Celestia said, quiet despair heavy in her voice. Pinkie dropped the smile and got serious, even as her heart sank.
“Who is it?” She asked, dreading the answer. Celestia dropped a dossier onto the table, pictures spilled out. Mare, roughly her age, blue fur...rainbow mane. Tears welled up in Pinkie’s eyes.
“Dashy?” she choked out. “Do we know why?” Celestia hesitated and looked for some reassurance in the other gathered ponies. She found none.
“She found out about Soarin,” she whispered, “about what he did and...and how he died.” Pinkie swallowed, trying to force the lump in her throat away, but it wouldn’t budge.
“What...” Pinkie took a deep breath, “What did she do? What’s our proof?”
“She killed the rest of the wonderbolts, Pinkie,” Twilight spoke this time, her voice wavering dangerously. “She admitted to it in front of more than a dozen ponies.”
“This is damage control, Pinkie,” Celestia told her. “We can’t let anyone else find out about this.” The room fell silent. An eternity later, Celestia continued.“You can refuse, Pinkie. You have the right.” Pinkie shook her head.
“No, I can’t put this on anypony else.”
“Will you be able to, Pinkie?” Twilight asked. “I know that Soarin was hard for you, will you be able to...” her voice trailed off. She couldn’t say it. Pinkie nodded and forced the words out.
“I can do it. I can kill Rainbow Dash.” She gathered the dossier and left the room; her business there was done. After a couple minutes of slow walking, she heard hoofsteps behind her.
“I’ll be fine, Twilight,” Pinkie said without turning around.
“I don’t know if you can be certain about that, Pinkie,” Twilight said, “Dash isn’t just another pony. You know her; she’s your friend,”
“The wonderbolts were my friends too, Twilight. I know everypony and they’re all my friends. I wouldn’t have any way to help if I couldn’t set that aside. Keeping one friend alive, isn’t worth losing the rest of them.”
“No, Twilight, no buts. I’ll do what I have to.” She said no more; Twilight was left alone in the hallway, grieving the loss of two more friends.
Dash was easy to find. She wasn’t trying to hide her presence. She wanted everypony to know that she’d defected, and Pinkie caught up quickly, like she always did. Dash was resting on the top of a mountain. She’d established air superiority for the changelings and now was just sitting back and watching the chaos unfold. Pinkie came up behind her. It wouldn’t have been hard at all to put a bullet in her. It would have been quick and painless, for Dash at least. But Dashy deserved better than that, she deserved a chance. Pinkie sat next to her, evoking a little gasp of astonishment from the pegasus.
“Pinkie Pie? What are you doing here?” Dash asked urgently, fear rooted deeply in her voice.
“Celestia sent me,” Pinkie told her stonily. There was a moment of tense silence, then,
“I don’t want to kill you, Dashy,” Pinkie told her.
“Just like you didn’t want to kill Soarin?” Dash’s words came out harsh and bitter. Pinkie just nodded.
“So you’d do it then? You’d kill your best friend because some bitch who happened to be born with both a horn and wings told you to?”
“Not if I don’t have to, Dashy. If you leave, if you hide, if you stay out of the war; I can tell Celestia the job is done. No more ponies have to be hurt, Dashy.” Dash dropped her head with a sad resolution and leapt lightly into the air.
“You have to, Pinkie.” Dash didn’t hurry away. It almost seemed like she wanted Pinkie to shoot her down, wanted all of the pain to end. But Pinkie couldn’t do it, not like that. She watched the pegasus fly away. The battle raging below the mountain suddenly seemed a distant and minor problem.
Three more times, Pinkie caught up with Dash. Three times Pinkie’s rifle remained silent and she left, sadness and guilt weighing her down. Ponies were dying, and those that weren’t were losing heart. They needed a win, something, anything to show them that they still had some power. Pinkie realized this and still she couldn’t bring down her friend. She lacked the resolution. Only at her last battle did she see the full effect of what she’d failed to do.
The changelings had advanced into the heart of Equestria, coming once more to the Everfree forest. The ponies knew what was at stake and fought hard. Pegasi flooded the skies like parasprites, fighting the changelings tooth and hoof, never giving an inch. Pinkie sat in a nest she’d set up on the top of a few trees, covered in camouflage. She watched the skies carefully for Rainbow Dash, hoping to the heavens that her friend wouldn’t show up. She fought while she waited. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Changelings fell from the sky like rain. No bullet wasted. Click, Boom. Click, Boom. Two more ponies saved. Click, Boom. One more friend left alive. Then something happened. The changelings fell to the ground, retreating. The pegasi thought they’d won, but something was wrong. Pinkie’s neck itched, her hooves shook, and her ears fell back. Her eyes came wide with realization. She broke cover, shouting as loud as she could for the pegasi to come down. to abandon the skies before it was too late They couldn’t hear her. She fired shots into the air, trying to get their attention. Then it came. An earth-shaking explosion that nearly took Pinkie from her perch. The pegasi stopped cheering, looking around in confusion. Pinkie looked to the horizon and saw exactly what she knew she would. A rainbow shockwave tearing through the sky like a scythe. The pegasi didn’t have time to react; it overtook them and they fell, every last one of them. Dropping to the ground like hailstones. Some died on impact, they were the lucky ones. There wasn’t a creature left in the sky when the rainboom had passed, but that didn’t last long. The changelings crept out one-by-one from their hiding places, flapping their grotesque, chitonous wings. The tide turned. Changelings tore at the pony ranks from above and blocked any chance of escape. Pinkie couldn’t look away, couldn’t take her eyes off of the carnage. She wasn’t at the top of the mountain this time; every scream every drop of blood was crystal clear to her. She shot like a demon, trying to save her friends, but nothing could help them now. Pinkie had known anger before, and she’d known loss. She’d known pain both physical and emotional. But not until that day, not until she watched loyal ponies trapped and butchered because of her failure to act, had she any notion of hate. The records for the Second battle of Everfree list only one survivor, but Pinkie knew better. No pony came out of something like that alive.
Pinkie abandoned her post that day. She knew Rainbow Dash was out there, and she was going to find her. She followed her instincts, knowing that they would be the best tool in finding Dash. Hours wandered by as she walked, hiding occasionally to avoid Changeling patrols, but never resting. The forest pulled at her from every direction. Her bouncy hair went flat and her coat became dull. She didn’t care. She had other things on her mind. She came to the place just as the sun began to set.
The ruins of Ponyville were no less depressing than the day Pinkie had watched them burn. Twilight’s library was nothing more than a patch of blackened earth. Fluttershy’s cottage was as butchered as the animals she’d harbored. And the bakery was as sullen and unfitting a grave as one could find for the Cakes. Pinkie’s heart grew colder when she spotted Dash, reclining in what remained of the tower that used to be the very top of Pinkie’s own home. The Pegasus was sleeping, her conscience no harder a pillow than ever. Pinkie took the time she wanted to set up, Dash wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon and Pinkie wanted a special party to send her friend out with..
Click, Boom. A shot rang out through the night. The crows that had been nesting in the burned out buildings flew away and Rainbow Dash opened her eyes. She could see nothing.
“Pinkie?” She called out, trying to keep her voice from trembling. “Is that you?” Click, Boom. The shot went straight through the bell to Dash’s left, its calming ring replaced by a piercing shriek. Dash took to the air. “Pinkie, you don’t have to do this. Don’t let Celestia use you, Pinkie!” Another click, but closer this time. A net sprang forth from the darkness, snaring Rainbow Dash like a rabbit in a hunter’s trap. “Pinkie, please! You couldn’t kill me! I’m your friend! You have to feel something! Pinkie!”
Dash was wrong.
The war had been hard on everypony. Most had lost loved ones, many had lost homes, and some had lost everything. Equestria was in hell and if the ponies didn’t resist, they died. Without exception. Click.
It seems like ages ago now, though it’s only been a few months. We thought Equestria had gone to hell right when the Changelings had attacked. We didn’t know what we were in for. No one had expected Rainbow Dash to go rogue and certainly no one had thought it possible that Shining Armor could die. But I saw it happen. I was there on the night the stars fell.
“Cloudchaser, report!” Shining Armor barked.
“No movement, sir! All quiet,” I replied. The general gave a nod and paced off.
“It’s almost like he wants the changelings to come,” Silverspeed sighed.
“I think he does,” I told her. “And I know how he feels.” Silverspeed gave me a quizzical look. I shrugged.
“I feel useless here. I’m a good soldier, but I got stuck in the back. I could be doing something in this war and I’m not. Then there’s Shining Armor, the next best thing to an Alicorn. If he wanted to take on legions of those monsters, I bet he could, and instead he’s as far from the fighting as Celestia could put him while other ponies are out there dying. Imagine how that must feel.” Silverspeed snorted. I took it as assent.
That’s pretty much how every day went. Silverspeed and I would sit up on top of our clouds and watch. Waiting for any sign of a Changeling army that would never come. We whittled away our time playing games. Sometimes we’d race. We got secure, not a mistake I’m likely to make twice.
“Cloudchaser, slow down!” Silverspeed gasped. She was pushing hard today.
“Sorry, Speedy, but that’s not how races work!” I turned around to look at her. She would gain a little bit this way, but I wasn’t worried about losing. She was already winded, sweat dripping from her nose. Her windswept mane was knotted and whipping around forcefully. The poor thing was exhausted and our set finish line was still a ways away. I turned back around just in time to jerk out of the way of the flying mass of black chiton that had appeared in front of me. The Changeling took Silverspeed instead, forcing her into a deadfall. Droplets of blood lingered in the air for a second, filling the space they’d occupied. I collected myself quickly and dove, catching them mid-fall. Silverspeed was trying to fight back, but, like I said, she was exhausted. The changeling was taking chunks out of her and the best she could do was keep it off of anything vital. I did a quick roll and swept around to take the changeling in the side, throwing it off my friend with all the force I could muster. It hissed in anger, bloody fangs standing out starkly from the black form. Silverspeed was still falling; I knew she wouldn’t be able to recover on her own. But I couldn’t leave an angry changeling at my back. I cursed myself for being too cocky to bring any weapons with me; a lone changeling wouldn’t have been much of a fight at all with my hoof-blades on. I prayed for a miracle and attacked.
I kicked it as hard as I could but I might as well have been kicking stone through that carapace. It struck back, trying to sink its fangs into my wings and drop me. I fought harder. Every second this thing was alive was another second my friend could hit the ground. I pushed away from the Changeling, noticing an eerie silence.
Silence. I couldn’t hear Silverspeed screaming anymore. My blood ignited. I threw a savage kick at its back knee and was greeted with a nauseating crack. It thrust its face next to mine, shrieking, saliva that bore too close of a resemblence to bile flying into my face. I cocked my head back and smashed my forehead into its teeth. It fluttered back, dazed. I took advantage of the opportunity, rosing a little then dropping, ramming my back feet into its head. The carapace shattered, greenish ickor spraying out as it fell. It was dead before it touched the ground. I scanned the area below me as quickly as could, searching for any trace of Silverspeed. I found her as a red spot on the moorish ground. I was at her side in seconds, biting my lip so hard I could hear it crunching. I leaned next to her, and my heart leapt into my throat, hammering out a frantic tattoo. She was breathing, but it was shallow. Someone had heard my prayer, but even so, she was barely alive. I picked her up as gently as I could and carried her back to camp. I’ll never forget that flight. I still see her blood on me when I look in a mirror.
Sentries spotted us a good fifteen minutes before we reached base; Shining Armor was waiting for us at the medical station.
“What happened?” he asked, his voice harsh even as he levitated Silverspeed from my back, carrying her inside as steadily as he could.
“A Changeling scout,” I told him through gulps of air.
“Where?” He whipped his head towards me with a star that could have melted metal.
“Ten clicks south of Cloud 13, sir,” I told him.
“Only one that we encountered, sir.”
“Scouting parties are never that small. Do you think it was a straggler?” The nurses had taken Silverspeed away. More doctors were being called in.
“No, sir, stragglers have never engaged before. This one tried to drop me while my back was turned.” He nodded.
“I’ll send a squad to investigate. Are you hurt?”
“Scrapes and bruises, sir,” I told him.
“Good, then you’ll be their guide. I want any Changelings found and exterminated.”
“Roger that, sir. There won’t be any left when we’re done with ‘em.”
“See to it, Sergeant,” he said, turning away, “dismissed.” I waited in the med-center until the squad arrived. I could still feel the fire in my veins. Those bastards had hurt my friend and I’d had every intention of making them pay for it.
The scouting party found a few other changelings and exterminated them, like we’d been ordered.. Everypony seemed put at ease by that, but I was the only one who was happy. I’ve been told that, when I came back to base that night, covered in grime and gore, I had a smile on my face, a great big one. They were a little frightened, thought I might have lost it. They might’ve been right. Y’see, I wasn’t happy that I’d killed those Changelings, I was happy about what it meant. If they’d been stragglers, it would have meant nothing; they’d be dead and the matter would be over. The war would have been as far away as ever. But that was a scouting party, a real one, and an army couldn’t have been far behind.
“Cloudchaser,” Silverspeed said, looking up at me with a smile. Her eyes were bloodshot and she still couldn’t move, but she remembered me today; it was a step.
“I’m here, Speedy. How’re you feeling?”
“Hungry,” she told me earnestly.
“I’ll see if I can get the nurses to bring you something,” I told her quickly, moving towards the door. She stopped me with a little noise of dissent. Words were still hard. I came back to her bedside. There was silence for a moment, me not knowing what to say and her unable. She just looked at me, a small smile playing on her scarred lips. There was a quiet knock at the door and Shining Armor entered.
“How is she?” he asked gently.
“Better,” I replied absently, “better.”
“I need to talk to you about something,” he whispered. A look of confusion came into Silverspeed’s eyes. “Can we go outside?”
Silverspeed made another sound of dissent.
“She wants me to stay here,” I told him. He looked uncertain, a rare occurrence. He looked at Silverspeed, her eyes pleading with him softly not to make me leave. He relented.
“Fine.” There was another pause.
“Sir?” I asked, wondering if he would continue.
“Yes,” a steely look came into his eye. “I need you for a mission. You’re the fastest flyer we have on base right now, and we know that there’s a Changeling army on its way. We need to find it. You’re the only person for the job.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said with no small amount of pride. He looked less pleased.
“We’ve been encountering more scouting parties. You won’t be safe.”
“Sir, I didn’t join the military for the security,” I told him. He nodded.
“Nonetheless, try not to be reckless. We can’t risk soldiers we don’t have.”
“What do you mean, sir?” I asked quizzically.
“We both know this camp wasn’t really meant as a military installation. I’ve sent to Celestia for reinforcements, but I’ve got a bad feeling about the messengers.” I felt my gorge rise. The camp was abuzz with rumors of Shining Armor’s repeated attempts to contact the capital. He’d sent out almost a dozen pegasi. No word had returned. We all hoped they’d just been delayed, but we couldn’t be certain.
“I’ll do my best, sir,” I told him. He nodded and we traded salutes before he left.
“Don’t go,” Silverspeed whispered.
“I’ll be fine,” I told her with a smile, “After all, if I disappeared, who’d be here to bother you?” She didn’t look any less worried. I laid a hoof on her arm, being careful not to apply any pressure.
“Look after Shining Armor ‘til I get back, all right? I think the stress is getting to him.” She nodded and I left the room. I took into the air with a few gentle flaps of my wings, rising as high as I could. I flew far and wide that day, looking for any trace of Changelings. I found a couple of scout parties, making sure to stay out of sight, but the main force eluded me.
‘How could an army hide so well?’ I thought as I flew through a stray cloud. I received no answer.
The sun was resting on the horizon, preparing to fall for the night before I started back to camp. I hadn’t realized how far I’d come. There was no way I’d be able to make it back to camp before dark, but I couldn’t say I was afraid, just annoyed. If I couldn’t spot a giant, black army on an orange, craggy moor in the middle of the day, I would never be able to spot it in the night.
The moon had almost reached its zenith before I could see camp again. It was covered in one of Shining Armor’s force-fields. Looked like I was sleeping outside. I found a secluded spot and covered up for the night, planning out my report for Shining Armor as I drifted into Luna’s realm.
The buzzing of Changeling wings woke me. My eyes shot open, but the night was black. I was almost grateful for it. An entire Changeling scouting party hovered around me, only their eyes glowedthrough the dense night, eyes focused entirely on me.
“Little pony, little pony,” one of them hissed, “what are you doing out here?” I’d never heard of a Changeling other than Chrysalis speaking before. Its words came out harsh and strangled. My blood curdled, but the fire hadn’t entirely left it. I stood, shaking ferociously, unable to tell how much of it was fear.
“You’ll get nothing from me,” I told it, teeth clenched to keep from chattering. It didn’t seem to notice I’d spoken.
“Your shield can’t protect you when you’re not inside, you know,” it told me with its sickening voice, “You could be stuck out here. You could be killed.” It stuck its face very close to mine, so close I could make out the faint outline of its head, ghostlike against the night sky. It took a deep breath in and grinned menacingly. “Or worse.” I could feel myself shrink back away from that thought. I didn’t know what could be much worse than being killed, but I didn’t doubt that the Changelings did. I felt the urge to run and scream, to escape; instead, I drew back my hoof and rammed it into the changeling’s snout.
“You don’t scare me,” I spat. My voice was quivering violently; so was the Changeling. A grim grin spread across my face, only to be swept away when I realized that it wasn’t shaking in pain; it was laughing. I’d given it my best punch and that damn thing was laughing at me. I couldn’t let that continue.
“You hear the little pony?” it asked the others, “It is not afraid of us.” The others joined in the laughter. The sound was wrong. No natural creature made a noise like that. The only thing I could relate it to is the cough of a shovel digging into the dirt of a fresh grave.
“That’s right!” I said louder, “I’m not afraid.” The Changelings only laughed louder. I ground my teeth, wishing one of them would come close enough for me to kill.
“Well then,” the speaker came close again, hovering just outside my reach, “why don’t we change that?” Then there was pain. Fangs dug into my flank as chitinous hooves battered me. I threw a kick behind me, sending a Changeling flying. The others didn’t care. Some held me down; some hurt me. None of them could resist taking at least one bite. I screamed and struggled, trying to wrench myself free, but to no avail; I couldn’t escape. I sent a silent apology to Silverspeed for lying. I prayed she would forgive me. I prayed Shining Armor would avenge me. And I prayed that the Changelings would get tired soon and finish me quickly. I didn’t bother praying for a savior.
I got one anyway. Just as my voice gave out, there was a blast of violet light and the Changelings were thrown off of me. I opened my left eye- the right was swollen and crusted shut with blood- right as a white leg stomped down above me.
“What did I say about being careful?” Shining Armor asked. I couldn’t give any reply. The Changeling replied instead.
“Oh look, little pony prince has come to visit. Do we think it is afraid?” The Changelings let out another cascade of hideous laughter.
“I’ll show you fear,” Shining Armor said gravely. His eyes turned as black as the changelings’ hide, made visible only by the violet ring of light around them. The Changelings stopped laughing. Shining Armor smiled and let loose of beam of that same blackness on the nearest changeling. I turned my head just enough to see its head disappear in the blast. The body stood a moment, as if a remnant of the Changeling’s will possessed it. I worried for a moment that it would continue to fight, but that fear was put to rest. It collapsed in a dense heap. The Changelings took to the sky, but none of them survived. I watched in awe as Shining Armor cut them down. I didn’t know such magic even existed. I guess when you stop relying on love and friendship to fight your enemies, a few new possibilities emerge. That was my last sight as I slipped into unconsciousness, my general showing what ponies could really do.
I woke up in the med-center in a bed next to Silverspeed’s. She was staring at me, worry clearly etched into her face. I gave her a smile and a wink with my good eye; she returned it.
“She hasn’t stopped staring at you since I brought you in,” Shining Armor’s voice came from behind me. I turned my head, my vertebrae applauding the feat as I did so. I opened my mouth to speak but he stopped me.
“Drink something first. You won’t get much out of a parched throat,” he told me. He passed me a glass of water and I sipped it slowly. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I felt the water touch my throat. It felt heavenly. Once I’d finished the cup, I pushed myself up a little in the bed, grimacing as my body protested.
“Ready to report, sir,” I told him once the pain had subsided. He nodded seriously and listened intently as I recounted everything I could remember up to going to sleep.
“...and you know the rest from there, sir,” I finished.
“I see,” he thought for a moment, “but no sign of an army?” I shook my head.
“Just scouts, sir.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Silverspeed spoke out. We turned to face her. She was moving well and her voice was back to normal. I couldn’t help but smile at how much better she seemed to be.
“Continue,” Shining Armor commanded.
“Sir, maybe they’re using some kind of shield, like you do, but instead of keeping things out, it hides them from everything.”
“Shielding an entire army?” he asked, chuckling a little. “Only a few ponies have that kind of power, and, unless Chrysalis is with them, I don’t think it’s possible.”
“No sir,” she protested firmly, “think about it. Everypony in the army has some kind of magic. I know most Changelings aren’t very good with it, but if they all worked together, I think they could pull it off.” Shining Armor thought about it for a second then asked,
“If that’s true, how would you suggest finding them?”
“Throw out a cancellation spell,” Silverspeed replied matter-of-factly.
“Where? I don’t have the strength to cast it over all of Equestria. I’d need something to hint at where they’d be.” Silverspeed swallowed, suddenly nervous.
“Sir,” she said meekly, “I think they’re here.” Shining Armor raised an eyebrow.
“Well sir, I’ve been listening. Word is that their scouting parties are densest near the camp. Our messengers had to have been spotted as they left or at least one of them would have made it out of the area, right? And what about the ones that got Cloud? They would’ve been scouting for the base right? And they must’ve found it. Why stop to harass one pony when they could be reporting to their superiors?”
“That would explain how they found me so easily last night,” I added. Shining Armor’s face darkened.
“Why?” he asked, “Why wouldn’t they just attack?” Silverspeed shrugged.
“Maybe they’re waiting for orders?”
“Or maybe they’re trying to infiltrate first,” I said. “Why spend a few lives in a fight when you could win for free by replacing everypony one by one?”
“Impossible,” Shining Armor stated, “Even if they managed to bypass all of the other security we have in place, each pony’s Pattern is unique. We’d have found at least one of them by now.”
“Not if they’re that close, sir,” Silverspeed replied steadily, “They’d be able to watch for as long as they needed to to learn a pattern.” Shining Armor shook his head, struggling to grasp the situation. Then his eyes widened and he ran out of the room. Silverspeed and I exchanged looks and she got out of bed.
“Can you help me out?” I asked her, struggling out of the bed.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asked, “You’re still hurt.”
“If we’re right,” I told her, “a lot of Changelings are about to be revealed in this camp. Would it be better to be stuck here alone?” Silverspeed bit her lip, then sighed and moved to help me. We hobbled out of the med-station, asking after Shining Armor and following the trail until we caught up with him in the main watchtower at the center of camp. He was massing energy for a spell.
Silverspeed and I just looked on, wondering what was about to happen. The tension built and the air fairly hummed with energy. Then there was a crack like thunder and a wave of violet emanated from Shining Armor, spreading in every direction. And that’s when we saw it. Less than half a mile outside of our gates, an army of Changelings greater than any we’d seen before. My jaw hung open, so did Silverspeed’s. Shining Armor remained stoic, though a single tear escaped his eyes. We forced ourselves to look away from the army and down towards the camp, which was no longer full of ponies. Changelings walked the paths as confidently as our soldiers once had. Safe and secure and undetected.
“There- there’s no way,” Silverspeed breathed. “Are we- the only ones left?” I shook my head not ready to believe it. Then the screaming started.
The Changelings looked around in confusion, then anger...then joy. Their wings started buzzing as they took to the skies and the screaming increased. Sounds of fighting rang out. I looked to Shining Armor.
“General?” I asked. He returned my gaze steadily, an intense fury burning in his eyes. I saw it and I knew exactly what he was feeling, how badly he wanted to kill. It was the same thing I’d felt when Silverspeed was hurt. It was wrath.
“Stay here,” he told us.
“We can help you fight!” I protested.
“No you can’t,” he snapped. His eyes had gone black again. “If you try, you will be a liability. You will get in the way and you will die. Stay here unless you see a chance to escape, but do not come after me.” Then he leapt from the tower, blazing with that anti-light.
There is only one day fixed more clearly in my memory than this one. We watched, Silverspeed and I, as Shining Armor cut down enemies, leaving nothing behind him but scorched earth and scattered remains. Hoards of Changelings descended upon him, only to melt as their hooves entered that anti-light aura. Their hisses turned to screams as they died, but they kept coming. First dozens, then hundreds. Shining Armor killed more than I could count that day, but it was not enough. They swarmed him and he fell. We watched from the tower as he was dragged away. Silverspeed pressed close against me and I could feel her shaking, or maybe it was me. Maybe it was both of us. I didn't know, I wasn't even sure if I cared; our last hope was gone.
There is only one day fixed more clearly in my memory than this one. We watched, Silverspeed and I, as Shining Armor cut down enemies, leaving nothing behind him but scorched earth and scattered remains. Hoards of Changelings descended upon him, only to melt as their hooves entered that anti-light aura. Their hisses turned to screams as they died, but they kept coming. First dozens, then hundreds. Shining Armor killed more than I could count that day, but it was not enough. They swarmed him and he fell. We watched from the tower as he was dragged away. Silverspeed pressed close against me and I could feel her shaking, or maybe it was me. Maybe it was both of us.
We stayed in that tower for hours. Night fell and the sun rose again. We hadn’t slept. Silverspeed snuck out to gather food and more bandages for me, and I rested. I felt useless, but the sooner I healed, the sooner we could escape.
The Changelings had abandoned the camp after taking Shining Armor. Either they didn’t realize we were still alive or they didn’t care. I told Silverspeed to run, to get to the capital and report, but she wouldn’t leave me. I don’t think I ever told her how thankful I was.
There was one night, maybe five days after Shining Armor had been taken, I woke from a fitful sleep. I’d been reliving the night the Changelings had caught me again, the only difference being that, in my dreams, Shining Armor never came. I opened my eyes to see Silverspeed above me, stroking my mane gently and humming a quiet lullaby, trying to sooth me.
“You dreamt about them, didn’t you?” she asked, a look of compassion and understanding on her face. I nodded.
“What do you do to get away?” I asked her, trying to keep my voice steady.
She looked at me for a moment, smiling. I saw thoughts in her eyes, but I couldn’t decipher them. It took her almost a minute to answer.
“Cloudesdale,” she’d said. “What about you?”
“Flutter,” I’d replied immediately, smiling at the thought of her, resting, safe in the capitol. Silverspeed nodded silently and we listened to the birds sing for a few minutes, then she asked,
“Are you afraid of them?” I nodded again.
“I don’t know if we should be,” she told me quietly. My fear vanished, pushed away by a sudden, defensive anger.
“Why not?” I snapped. “What’s not to fear about creatures like those? Why shouldn’t we be afraid?”
“Because,” she said with a shrug, unperturbed by my outburst, “we’ve already proven that we’re better.”
“How? Our entire camp is gone!” I shouted. “They destroyed us!” My voice echoed throughout the empty camp, but Silverspeed just shook her head.
“How many Changelings did that take though?” she asked, “And how many have you killed alone? How many have each of us killed alone, every soldier?” I let the questions hang in the air, not wanting to answer. “We’ve already proven that we’re stronger. That we’re smarter,” her smile grew a little, “That we have more to fight for.”
“I don’t know how many ponies can say the same these days,” I told her angrily, “And as strong and smart as we might be, it never seems to really matter. We can kill as many as we want and there are still a thousand more to take their place! How do we fight something like that?”
“We cut them off,” she replied coolly.
“How? We don’t know anything about them!”
“I do.” Her words left a tense silence in their wake.
“What do you mean, ‘you do’?” I asked.
“When I go to get supplies, I’ll sometimes do a flyover of the Changeling camp,” her voice took on a macabre tone as she continued, “I’ve seen what they do to the ponies they take. Some of them anyway.” She stopped, but I didn’t know what to say. I waited for her to continue.
“Some they eat straight off,” she said, “While they’re still alive. Some they put into cages and simply drag away, but... I never followed them. Some...” she paused, “some they put into those cocoons. They’d even brought some with them. I didn’t know why at first. They would shove them in and then just sit around those things, talking or sleeping or just staring into the distance. I’ve watched those cocoons for days trying to figure out what’s been happening.”
“And?” I asked, trying to keep the anxiety out of my voice.
“They convert us, Cloud. I don’t know how, but the ponies they put into those cocoons end up as Changelings.” The words fell like bricks. I was silent, but I wasn’t surprised. Not as surprised as I feel I should have been. I guess I’d always known on some instinctual level. There had always just been too many similarities between Changelings and ponies, too many faces that we almost recognized. Even so, it sparked an something in me. Those monsters were turning us into our own enemies. They warped loyal ponies into abominations just so they could kill more ponies. The kindling had been set, then Silverspeed threw on the real fuel.
“They put Shining Armor into one of those things,” she told me quietly. The fire leapt in a flash, not as violent this time, not as angry, but steady and fierce, determined. The image of my general, the pony who had saved me twice over in the span of a week, the pony who had shown what ponies were capable of and the pony the Changelings had sent a whole army to kill, the pony who’d shown out alone against a black tide, being slowly turned into one of those monsters was emblazoned in my mind. I stood up and away from Silverspeed, flexing my wings. They weren’t perfect, but I would make do. Silverspeed was smiling.
“I don’t think that that’s something we can allow, Speedy,” I told her, feeling a similar smile spread across my face. “How long does it take to turn a pony?”
“A little more than a week,” she replied.
“Good,” I pulled her to her hooves, “Let’s go get our general.”
The Changeling camp was in constant motion, but it wasn’t hard to sneak in. Changelings have no real defenses or checkpoints, and they don’t seem to notice anything that isn’t another Changeling when they’re not fighting. No one knew quite why their defense was so lax, but ponies were always putting out ideas. I’d heard a report saying it had something to do with information sharing and dormancy. When they were in large, non-hostile groups, they tapped into some kind of hive mind and let their bodies move about independently. They were more concerned with the collective group than what each individual was sensing so defending the shells didn’t seem important. Whatever the reason, it made my life easier and I liked it.
The pods, similarly, were not hard to locate, stuck right in the middle of camp. They were surrounded by Changelings, just as Silverspeed had said, and, again, had no discernable defense. I walked in between them slowly, trying not to do anything that would attract any excess attention. I found Shining Armor located in the very center of the little pod field. He looked every bit like he was having a nightmare.
“How do we move him?” I asked Silverspeed in a whisper.
“I’m not sure. From what I’ve seen, the cocoons are keyed in to the hive mind. If we try to break it open or move it, we’ll alert the Changelings.” I growled in frustration.
“So what are we supposed to do? Just stare at him?”
“The Changelings have to have a way to open these things, right? To put ponies in them?” she asked, walking her way through her thoughts vocally. I nodded and started looking over the surface of the prison, trying to find some latch or button that would open it, but it seemed totally smooth. We looked around for a good twenty minutes before we finally found what we needed, a little, crooked horn insert, hidden by a black cover. Silverspeed and I exchanged looks.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a carrot or something?” I asked, annoyed by this bothersome deficiency. Silverspeed shook her head and said,
“And even if I did, I bet it’s magic activated. Unless you can cast spells through a carrot, we’d be just as stuck.” I gave a short laugh at the thought, then brought myself back to the situation.
“So what do we do?” I asked, ignoring the sudden urge to simply bash the cocoon to bits.
“We’ll have to get a Changeling to open it for us,” she replied. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“Maybe if we make the area seem insecure, they’ll have to relocate?” she suggested.
“Oooh,” I replied, a long grin creeping across my face, “I like that idea.”
Explosives aren’t hard to come by in a military installation, especially after it’s abandoned, and it didn’t take too long at all for Silverspeed and I to get what we needed to make that area seem very unsafe.
We were careful to set the charges at a distance that wouldn’t be harmful to the captured ponies- we might have come for Shining Armor, but we wanted to get as many ponies as we could out safe.
“Alright,” I said after I’d placed the last charge, “Everything’s set, but I don’t think we want to be in sight when these things go boom.” Silverspeed nodded and we took into the air, going as far up as we could without giving up too much oxygen. The entire Changeling army looked like nothing more than a blemish on the land from up there. I looked forward to its extermination. First things first though. I looked to Silverspeed and she gave me a nod. I activated the detonator.
Red and orange bloomed amongst the black spot below us and a few seconds later the sound of the explosions caught up. Silverspeed and I started our descent, watching the activity around the cocoons carefully. Our plan seemed to be working perfectly. While most of the Changelings took to the sky, searching for their attackers, some had split off from the main group, rushing to the cocoons. I flew in close, keeping an eye out for any Changelings that might have seen me and biding my time until Shining Armor’s cocoon opened. But my hopes were dashed violently. The Changelings didn’t bother to open the cocoons, choosing instead just to lift them and run. I swore and glided over to Silverspeed.
“We need to follow them,” I told her hushedly, “Maybe we can catch them unprotected while they run!” She nodded and we started following, still careful to stay low and out of sight. A deafening crack brought our attention back to the other cocoons. The Changelings were smashing them, destroying them in an uncontrolled frenzy.
“What are they doing?” Silverspeed asked, confusion and distress evident in her voice.
“Damage control,” I said severely, “They know they can’t keep track of all of the cocoons so they’re trying to make sure we can’t take them back.” Silverspeed was aghast.
“We have to save them!” She cried. I prayed the Changelings hadn’t heard her over the sound of the commotion below.
“We can’t!” I told her, pressing my face close to hers in an attempt to bring her volume down again. “We came for Shining Armor, he’s the priority.”
“And what would he say the priority is?” she asked accusingly.
“We’ll ask him once he’s free,” I hissed. Silverspeed shot me an venomous glare.
“No difference between asking when they’re dead,” she hissed back, “No. We’re helpin them now.” It was a declaration, not a request. “Shining Armor is safe for now. Those ponies are dying.” I glanced back at the grim scene below me. The Changelings had trampled almost half a dozen cocoons. It was a sickening sight. The ground was painted with the bile green fluid inside the cocoons, mixed all-too liberally with the sharp crimson of pony blood. Chips of bone littered the ground like autumn leaves. The worst part though, was the Changelings. They ate as the rampaged, taking gobbets out of the half-alive ponies, even as they stomped them into the dirt. The taste of blood rose in my throat. I tried to swallow it back, but I was certain I would end up choking on it. The Changelings smashed open another cocoon, sharp hooves continuing right on into the pony within. Blood was pushed out in a spurt.
“We’ll die,” I said quietly, only half to Silverspeed.
“A blessing,” Silverspeed replied. Then we shot down towards the Changelings, shattering their black shells, our hoof-blades leading the way. Our actions drew the attention of a few of the Changelings above.
“Open the cocoons!” I screamed, “I’ll watch your back! If we can wake up the others we might have a way out!” Silverspeed didn’t reply, she’d already started cracking cocoons. I did my best to hold off the charging Changelings, but they were pushing me back. I was faster. I was stronger. But it was like fighting the ocean’s tide, breaking a wave just to have another come in a second later. It didn’t take long for the ichor to plaster my fur to my body, sticking in thick clumps and turning me an unseemly grey-green color reminiscent of rotted flesh. There were too many for me to fight alone, but more ponies were waking now though. First there was one fighting beside me. Then two. Five. Ten. Some must have chosen to help Silverspeed open the rest of the cocoons. Then there was the hum of magic behind me and the smell of burned atmosphere filled the air, accompanied by familiar black beams. I whipped my head around and a manic laugh bubbled out from my chest. Shining Armor stood there, dressed fully in the armor I’d seen him taken in. He let loose beams liberally, felling Changelings left and right. I fell back, letting the others wrestle with the Changelings while I gave myself a chance catch my breath. I found Silverspeed doing much the same.
“I thought Shining Armor was one of the ones they ran off with!” I shouted above the din of battle.
“They must have decided they couldn’t risk him being retaken, not even to have him as a new Changeling!” She shouted back.
“All the better for us!” Silverspeed and I shared a smile. I turned back to the battle and welcomed the sight of retreating Changelings.
“They’re only regrouping!” Shining Armor’s voice rang out clear above everything. “We need to move! Everyone, retreat. Get back to the camp and bar the gates!” We did as we were told, and covering the retreat, alone against the remaining Changelings, was Shining Armor, his white form standing out starkly against a cloak of magic as black and dark as a moonless night, every bit like a shining star.
The gates slammed shut behind us and a violet forcefield grew into existence around the camp. I was amazed at how much power Shining Armor still possessed after what he’d been through. I left Silverspeed in charge of the disoriented ponies and went to find him.
“Sir!” I called out once I’d found him, staring out over the walls at the Changeling army.
“What do you want?” he asked me quietly. There was something off-putting about him.
“To make sure you’re all right, sir,” I told him earnestly.
“Sir, after what you’ve been through-”
“I know what I’ve been through,” he said dismissively. That stopped me.
“You...know? What do you mean you know?” I asked. He almost seemed like he wasn’t going to give me an answer, then he took a deep breath and started talking.
“ I know what the cocoons do now. I understand. Celestia has been trying for ages to uncover the process Changelings use to convert ponies, but she’s never gained any ground. I was in one of those abominations and I’d still only just figured it out when Silverspeed cracked it open.” I stopped him with a sudden outburst.
“You knew?” I cried. “You knew all along what the Changelings did?” He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.
“What difference does it make?” He asked, “We had no choice but to fight. It’s not like we were letting them take anypony. Letting the knowledge be public would only have served to demoralize our armies. Would that have been wise?” It was more of an accusation than a question. I relented, asking that he continue.
“I lay in that coffin for days,” he began, “and every day I felt hope slipping away. I blamed it on the situation; after all, it was the only logical solution. I thought about Cadance and Twilight to keep my spirits high, but when my hope was gone, I started thinking about them less. I stopped thinking about Twilight altogether and just tried to focus on Cadance. I thought about our wedding and about the joy I’d felt, but nothing came of it. A few times her face was replaced by Chrysalis’ in my mind. I didn’t know why. I was disgusted with myself. I stopped thinking about love and tried happiness. I brought out as many happy memories as I could, but in the end, the only memories that brought joy were those of killing. Cloudchaser, that’s what those cocoons do. We all know that Changelings feed on love and happiness, well the cocoons act as a kind of conduit, funneling it out faster and locking the door when it’s gone. That’s what happens. And when a pony has no more hope, no more love, and no more happiness, the Changelings start eating memories instead.”
“How much did you lose?” I asked him softly, afraid of how he might react.
“I don’t remember half of the ponies down there,” he told me, “I don’t remember a lot of my time as a royal guard either. I remember names and relations, but not faces.” I felt tears well in my eyes for him, my sadness only made more intense knowing that he couldn’t feel what he’d lost.
“Do I have any pictures of Twilight and Cadance?” he asked quietly.
“Yes sir,” I replied, “I’ll go get them for you.”
“Thank you, Cloudchaser.”
I met Silverspeed on the way down from the wall.
“What’d he say,” she asked.
“He’s been through alot,” I told her, “I’ll fill you in on the way.”
“His office.” I repeated everything he’d told me on the way down, carefully keeping my eyes forward. I didn’t want to have to face her with that kind of information. We picked up the pictures carefully and paced back to where Shining Armor had been. A different pony was there instead, standing as sentry. We asked him where Shining Armor had gone and he pointed us to the watch tower. I felt a sense of ease wash over me at the sight of my temporary home. My time there may not have been happy, but that place had been a kind shelter to me.
My ease didn’t last long. An earth shaking explosion rocked the camp and Shining Armor’s shield blazed suddenly. I looked to the sky; the Changelings were there, black form silhouetted against the setting sun. They descended like a hammer, every body moving as one unit in an attempt to batter down our protection. Alarms started sounding. Ponies, many still dazed and covered in the cocoon’s filth, ran to gather arms. I wondered how many were in the same state as Shining Armor.
“What do you think?” I asked, looking back at Silverspeed.
“Shining Armor’s field will hold for now,” she said calmly, “but he can’t keep it up forever. We don’t have the numbers to fight. We’ll need a miracle.”
“I’ve had a lot of those recently,” I told her with a smirk, “I don’t think one more is asking too much.”
“Lets get our gear then,” she said. We ran to our quarters and strapped on our blades. The Changelings hammered into the shield three more times before we were out with the others. Pegasi were in the air already, waiting to begin the engagement. The ponies on the ground were carrying rifles. Shining Armor was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s the general?” Silverspeed asked, looking around as if she thought she’d find him hiding somewhere.
“Probably still in the watch tower,” I replied, suddenly remembering the pictures we were carrying. “We’ll grab him when we drop these off.” We ran up the tower fast enough that the spiral staircase made me dizzy, only slowing when the door was in sight. We pushed it open and emerged into the evening air, only feet below Shining Armor’s forcefield.
“General,” Silverspeed and I said together, snapping into a salute. He motioned for us to be at ease.
“Do you have them?” he asked, seeming not to care about the Changeling hoard currently attacking our best defense. I nodded and brought them to him, trying to ignore the worry gnawing at my belly.
“Thank you,” he said quietly. He stared at the pictures for a second. Each was a simple portrait shot; one of Twilight smiling and surrounded by books, the other of Cadance in her wedding dress, smiling like a fool with a happy tear glistening on her cheek. I thought I saw a smile appear on Shining Armor’s face, but it didn’t last, if it had been there at all.
“I needed to see them again,” he told us. Then his mindset shifted. “How are the ponies looking?”
“Everyone is armed and ready, General,” I replied.
“Good. How long do you think they can last?” The question put ice in my blood, but I forced it out, trying to replace it with steel.
“An hour at least, sir, but we’ll push for more.” Silverspeed gave a solid affirmation.
“I don’t think it will take that long,” he said, “but I’ll need some time to gather magic for a spell.”
“What kind of spell?” Silverspeed asked.
“The unfriendly kind,” he replied. It mortified me how happy that statement seemed to make him, especially when looking on his loved ones gave him nothing.
“Go get ready,” he finished, dismissing us with a wave of his hoof. We left the tower, flying over to join the other pegasi. The Changelings truck again, sending another ripple of glaring light out from the impact point, then, right as the strike had completely landed, the shield disappeared. The Changelings hovered in the air, unsure of what had happened, and we took our chance. The pegasi charged as the report of gunfire roared beneath us. Changelings started falling. Silverspeed and I stayed close, spinning and dodging, never giving the Changelings a shot at our backs. Other pegasi weren’t so well off. I watched some fall in the first seconds of fighting, each totally engulfed by Changelings. I felt a familiar tension start to fill the air, the crackle of magic making my hair stand on end. More pegasi fell and some of the Changelings were breaking off to target the ponies on the ground. Whatever Shining Armor planned to do, he needed to do it soon. I jammed my blades into a nearby Changeling, spinning to throw it into another that was making a charge at Silverspeed. More Changelings fell, but we’d still hardly made a dent in their forces. Blood flew everywhere, mixing with ichor and bile. I noticed after a little while that the sound of gunfire below had dwindled drastically. I couldn’t let my focus slip though. I needed to keep fighting. I don’t know how long that battle raged, but I remember how it ended. The Changelings had thrown all the other pegasi from the sky, leaving only Silverspeed and I to fight them. They ganged up on us. I managed to evade them, but Silverspeed wasn’t fast enough. She wasn’t even visible through the mass of Changelings covering her when she fell. I had no way to save her. I ran and I screamed. I killed everything in my way, putting all of my effort into reaching the watchtower. Shining Armor was there, swathed in the same black I’d grown so accustomed to.
“Do it!” I screamed at him, “We’re out of time! They took Silverspeed! Do it!” His pitch black eyes turned towards me and in that instant, all I could feel was fear.
“Wha-what are you doing?” I managed to whimper.
“Finishing the spell,” he replied.
“I started using this magic because it was better for fighting,” he told me darkly, “When you stop relying on love for fighting, you’re given a few new options. When you lose love completely, those options grow. Look to the sky, Cloudchaser.” I did as he told me, not noticing anything at first. Then a star disappeared. Then another. Stars all across the sky were being blotted out and every time one ceased, Shining Armor glowed brighter within his dark mantle. Then he flew, leaping straight into the sky, becoming the brightest star I’d ever seen. And then he fell, a comet’s tail streaming out behind him, pure white against the pure black magic. The Changelings looked up too. All sounds of fighting stopped. Some tried to flee, but they had no chance. As he made impact and the world was engulfed in equal parts light and dark, I heard his words echo across the moor.
“Thank you for letting me see them one more time, Cloudchaser. Tell them I loved them dearly, and never to give up their hope.”
I woke up sometime later with the sun just starting to rise. I sat up, aching severely and trying to remember what had happened.
The name blazed across my mind and I jolted awake, leaping to my hooves. I raced around the camp, trying to find her.
Maybe she’s alright, I tried to tell myself, she’s fallen farther than that. She’ll be fine. I started digging through a pile of Changelings, searching desperately for my friend. A hoof alighted on my shoulder. I whipped around to face another soldier. I didn’t remember his name. I didn’t care. I grabbed him and screamed,
“Where is Silverspeed?” He took my hooves away gently.
“She’s been asking for you,” he replied. My heart skipped a beat. Silverspeed was alive.
“Take me to her,” I ordered him.
“Hold on a sec,” he said, putting a steadying hoof on mine. “She’s in a bad way. She took a bad fall with a lot of Changelings on her. No one knows if she’s gonna make it, okay? I slapped him.
“Of course she’ll make it! I need to see her now!” I realized my hysteria and tried to calm myself. I apologized and asked much more quietly,
“Please, let me see her. If she doesn’t make it, I need to say goodbye.” He nodded and started leading me. It wasn’t a long walk, but every step seemed to add weight to my shoulders. We made it to a makeshift tent near the rubble of the old med-center. Silverspeed was lying on a pile of blankets on the ground. I ran to her side.
“Speedy,” I said quietly, lying down next to her, “hey, Speedy, I’m here, okay?” She coughed, droplets of blood flecking her lips, but she was smiling.
“Thanks, Cloud,” she said. Her voice was terrible, it sounded burnt and scratched. It was no surprise looking at her body. Each wound holds a permanent place in my memory, but I get sick thinking about them. I can’t believe I let it happen.
“Try not to talk,” I remember telling her. “You can say anything later.”
“ ‘Fraid I can’t count on that, ma’am,” she replied. I shushed her but she kept going. “I don’t think I’ll make it this time. I know I’ve thought it before, but this time I think it’s the real deal.” I shook my head, trying to deny her words.
“You’d better not,” I told her, feeling my throat close up as my eyes flooded. “You don’t even think about it.”
“I’ll try,” she said. She went through a fit of coughing. I tried to get a nurse’s attention only to realize that there were no medical staff present. The few other survivors stood in a loose circle around us with unwavering attention. I sent one of them to go get water just as Silverspeed’s fit subsided.
“Cloud, just in case this is the day though. I really have to tell you. I love you, Cloud. I know you’re with Flitter and I know you’re happy, but I don’t think I’ll get in the way of that. I just need you to know that I love you.” She entered another fit, this one more violent. The pony got back with water and I gave it to her a little at a time, trying to time it between breaths and coughs. She looked at me with that same smile she’d had when I woke up after my attack.
“Thanks, Cloud,” she said quietly. I just cried. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I cried. I cried and I held her and stroked her mane gently; I kissed her forehead and I waited with her. I felt it when she left and I pulled her body against me, unable to let go of the friend who’d never left my side. She died with a smile on her face.
Reinforcements from the capitol arrived a few days later with food and medical supplies. Apparently the Changelings had been feeding them false reports to keep them from coming to our aid. There was a total of sixteen survivors.
Flutter was waiting for me when I got back to the capitol. I told her everything I was allowed to and stayed huddled in her arms for as long as I could. It was comfortable. I’m glad I’m with Flutter. I never won’t be, but some days I wake from my nightmares to her stroking my mane and humming and I would I could give up all of that comfort to be back in the tower with Silverspeed again, to see my old friend one more time.
I never re-enlisted, not when I after I found out what was at stake. I was willing to risk my life, but I wasn’t willing to risk my love or my memories of Silverspeed. Or of Shining Armor, whose story I made sure all of Equestria heard. I gave Cadance and Twilight his message personally. I hope they never found out what happened to him.
Looking back, I suppose it was a victory, considering the odds. But I will never forget that it came at the price of two unparalleled ponies, among countless others. I will never forget the fall of my shining stars.