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Augury couldn’t help but let a small laugh out of his mouth, quickly covering his mouth with his hoof and turning away from Chrysalis. By the silence given back by the changeling queen, Augury quickly turned back to her, surprise spread across his face. Chrysalis only stared blankly back at him, the smile that she had wiped away at Augury’s reaction.
“Sweet Celestia, you’re serious.” Augury said in shock, turning fully back to the queen.
“Yes, yes I am.” Chrysalis replied, standing upright.
“Okay, getting six mares was lunacy enough, but capturing the princesses of Equestria!? Do really expect me to be able to get into Canterlot and take them? They are under constant super vision of the Royal and Honor Guard, there’s no way I’m going to be able to even get near them!”
“You’re going to have to get crafty then. Three targets, highly protected. Think of this as more of a test of your rank of general.”
“A test. A test!? How is this even remotely a test!? You’re asking me to capture the most powerful ponies in Equestria, and this is a test!?”
“I said think of it as a test, I didn’t say it was. However, unlike your previous targets, I’m not going to give you a time limit. I understand that it might be a little hard to get around the guard.”
“A little hard, right. Only a little.”
“Don’t get smart with me. I’m depending on you to complete these.”
“What? You’re not even going to give me any help?”
“You have the help at your hooves, you just need to use her.” Chrysalis motioned her head toward Rarity.
“I told you I’m keeping her out of harm’s way. She’s not moving farther than this clearing. What about the changelings over there? The ones in the ground?”
“Ah yes, the natural changelings. I supposed you could take some of them on your missions, but I warn you, they can be quite more of a burden than an assistance.”
Augury sighed and rubbed his head. “When will they be ready to travel out of the clearing?”
“Considering that they have a short growth span once they’re done developing in their little bubbles, they’ll probably be ready three days after their born. Though, they still have a few days until they are actually born.”
“Great. So unless I wait for a few days, I’ll be alone?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t wait for too long. Though the six mares were taken, guard is still going to be up in Equestria. Did they find out what was happening with foalnappings?”
“If you mean that they found out that it was the wielders of the Elements of Harmony, yes they found out.”
“Hmm, I would have figured that much. They’ll probably suspect more ponies are going to be taken, however.”
“You just took six mares from Equestria. The princesses will more than likely keep on high alert. They don’t know about changelings yet, do they?”
“To my knowledge, no.”
“Then this may be a bit easier. If you don’t want to wait a few days, you’re going to have to go into Canterlot alone. Besides, you’ve proved that you can handle yourself around security, you should be able to do this. I’m expecting you to.”
“Is there anything I should know before I set off?”
“Ah, one more thing. I advise you to go after Princess Cadence first. As much as I would like to take her from Shining Armor myself, I have changelings here to attend to.”
“Why Cadence first?”
“Shining Armor will be heart broken. Not only is his sister gone, but his dearly beloved wife will be gone as well. If this works, he’ll be too distraught to focus on the Royal Guard, so defenses may be weakened a bit. Though, this is only if I am right. In any case, take Cadence first.”
“I’ll... do my best.”
“And I hope you do. That is all I have for you, Augury. Get some rest, you’ve earned it.”
Chrysalis quickly turned away from Augury and flew off further into the forest, disappearing into the night sky. The changeling general left in the clearing turned his head back to the decaying ground, digging at the dirt in front of him slightly. Freedom would have to wait for Augury and Tranquility. For now, more missions were the new changeling general’s priority, whether he wanted it or not.
Augury sighed and tilted his head up from the ground, turning it to look at Rarity. The mare still stood by her cocoon, staring blankly into the dark forest with unmoving eyes. Her energy source would have to wait until the other mares completed their process of becoming changelings as well, Augury figuring that they had at least some level of love for each other, even if it was just love between friends. It would have to do for their time as changelings, though doubts started to form in Augury’s mind.
The changeling general shook the issue out of his head and turned his gaze out in front of him. Tranquility’s cocoon remained untouched, the tree that her cocoon hung from one of the few of the trees left that had all of their leaves on the outline of the clearing. Augury trotted over to Tranquility, stopping slowly in front of the green casket. Augury bit his lip lightly, contemplating on whether the idea stuck in his head would be a good one. Releasing the hold on Tranquility would only let her see Augury again, though her reaction to the truth about what was happening staggered Augury’s decision. Would she still love him, even knowing what Augury has done? The changeling general lifted his hoof up to the cocoon, pushing on it as weakly as he could. Tranquility would have to wake up one day, and Augury would have to tell her what he was doing to save her.
Augury let his hoof back onto the ground. “I... I’ll get you out. I don’t know when, or how, but you’ll be out of that cocoon and... with me. I don’t know how it will be, whether Augury or Salvation, but I know that we’ll get through this. At least, I hope we do.” Augury spoke softly.
The changeling general lowered himself to the ground and laid on his side. He hadn’t realized how tired he was, as Augury soon felt his eyes turn heavy and close within an instant. Augury drifted off into sleep, letting his worries slip away for another night.
The sun hung high over the city of Canterlot, the clear skies letting down the full force of the afternoon light. Canterlot, as usual, crawled with fancy ponies out to enjoy the nice weather, walking along with their heads up high. However, another type of class was mixed in with the normal population, a class that usually stayed on their own districts. With all the foalnappings occurring in Equestria, not only has Ponyville been on high alert since the last of the mares’ captures, but almost all of Equestria itself. However, Canterlot remained the only city to have the Royal Guards roaming through the streets, looking out for any signs of suspicion. The news of changelings, though, still had yet to come out to the public, but when it did, Equestria would not be the same.
Another group of guards accompanied the Royals in Canterlot since the discovery of changelings, the Honor Guard. Trained highly in lethal magic and equipped with the most advanced magical technology that still has yet to be known to the general public, the Honor Guards have utmost respect. The color of their armor was different than that of the Royal Guard, the white and crimson metal that their armor was made of still in the shape of the Royal Guard’s style, though. Their mobilization in Equestria, however, was rare. Only the highest level of threats deserved the presence of their symbol, and with the performance of changelings during the royal wedding, changelings were enough to even strike fear into the Honor Guard’s hearts. With Royal and Honor Guards walking around Canterlot, Canterlot was safe to the normal pony’s eyes. Though, the art of deceiving would play a effective role against that safety.
A pegasus royal guard walked along the path leading to the Canterlot draw bridge, keeping his eyes calm as he trotted towards the protected city. His armor was slightly beaten and burnt from magic, a previous encounter with a certain creature taking a small toll on the golden armor. Another royal guard within Canterlot lowered the draw bridge to Canterlot from one of the towers, a group of three other royal guards waiting on the other side of the draw bridge as it lowered. As the draw bridge came to a stop at the path leading into Canterlot, the group of three royal guards walked onto the wooden bridge, the royal guard on his way into Canterlot stopping on the other side of the bridge and staring at them blankly.
The unicorn royal guard in the group of three was the first to speak. “Audacity, you’re back. How are things looking in Ponyville? Is everything alright with the military?” He spoke.
“Everything is fine, sir. The military hasn’t seen any activity of the foalnapper.” Audacity reported.
“What of the royal guards? Any news from them?”
“Uh... nothing of importance.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not important, we need to know what’s going on, even if it’s just a subtle ‘hello’. What did they say?”
Audacity felt a small drop of sweat run down the side of his head. “They... said that they were doing fine and nothing was acting up.”
The unicorn royal guard squinted slightly. “I thought they were having problems with the magic signal receiver.”
“Uh, no! They got it fixed... I think.”
The unicorn royal guard concentrated on his magic and a small spark limply drifted through the air and disappeared. “Ponyville, can you hear me? Audacity just returned, he said you got the signal receiver fixed.”
A small moment of silence passed before a voice seemed to speak out of no where. “Yup, we got it fixed. Sorry, forgot to send a signal back to the captain to tell you.”
“That’s fine.” The unicorn royal guard focused his attention back on Audacity. “Well I guess they did get it fixed. Audacity, why don’t you come with us. The princess is calling a meeting of all the royal and honor guards in Canterlot. Looks like you got back just in time. Come on.”
Audacity sighed with relief quietly and followed the group of three royal guards into Canterlot, the draw bridge slowly raising back up behind them. A small tingling sensation ran through Audacity’s horn as he stepped hoof into Canterlot, but shook it off as quickly as it had come. Canterlot appeared to be the same as it had been before any of the recent foalnappings, though a few squads of three or four royal guards walked around from time to time. During this time of day, however, the royal and honor guards trotted through the city in the same path, passing all of the ponies watching them as they marched in a formation through the streets. Audacity found himself in the middle of the large march of royal and honor guards, trying his best to keep his building anxiety to a low boil. The ponies in Canterlot came to a stop as the small army of guards passed them, stepping out of the way to let them pass through the main streets of Canterlot. Audacity lifted his gaze up from the back of the guards head in front of him to the large building that the guards were heading to, an overwhelming feelings rushing over him.
Hundreds of royal guards poured into the Canterlot Royal Palace in which the royal wedding had taken place in, all of them centering into a single file line and walking through the large doors in between the curved staircases. Audacity followed the flow and filed into a single line, looking around as he walked through the palace doors. The formation of guards had become less organized in the palace, the guards dispersing and walking as close as they could to the end of the palace hall. On the elevated portion at the end of the hall stood five ponies: Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadence themselves, Shining Armor, and the Captain of the Honor Guard. Shining Armor wore his full suit of armor aside from his helmet, the Captain of the Honor Guard dressed the same in her black and blue armor. Audacity fixed his eyes on Cadence, watching as she and the other four ponies beside her walked to the edge of the elevated portion of the hall. As discretely as he could, Audacity worked his way forward into the center of the large mass of guards as they calmed down into a silence, waiting for one of the princesses to speak.
“I have called you all in here to address a very important and very serious situation.” Celestia spoke. “As you know, the wielders of the Elements of Harmony have been taken away from Equestria. Unfortunately, no one knows where they have been taken to. Though the six mares have been taken already, Equestria is staying on alert in case anything more happens, and with the rediscovery of changelings, there is certainly going to be more happening.”
The palace hall rumbled with a worried commotion, but halted as the Captain of the Honor Guard stomped her hoof on the floor.
“We don’t know where they are, but changelings have survived the counter attack four years ago. Captain Thunder Rend, if you will.” Celestia finished and nodded towards the Captain of the Honor Guard, who nodded back and stepped forward.
“As always, have no mercy for your targets.” Thunder Rend directed. “You see a changeling, you terminate it. They have tried to destroy and consume Equestria before, they’ll do it again if they have the chance. I have set up a plan to send some of the honor guards here in Canterlot to the other towns and cities in Equestria, you will be informed if you are leaving or if you are staying later today. You are also probably questioning the ring that you were given earlier, I will explain what that is.”
Audacity lifted an eyebrow and shifted his glance sideways at the honor guard next to him. Like the military, the honor guard was equipped with a magical synthesizer sword, though it seemed to have a small addition. Attached to the sword’s handle where the handle and blade met was a chain, a ring that seemed large enough to fit around a unicorn’s horn hanging limply at the end of the golden chain.
“Changelings have the ability to use magic as well as fly, though they may not be as skilled as the pegasi here in Equestria.” Thunder Rend continued. “Their magic, however, can prove quite a problem. Their magic is different than ours, and at any rate, it can be more lethal than some our best spells. That doesn’t mean it can be stopped. The ring attached to your magic synthesizer blades is a device to stop that magic. It uses a type of counter-magic to block their flow of magic, ultimately halting their use of magic altogether. Restrain the changeling, put the ring on their horn, and they’re pretty much helpless. Though it was designed for changelings, the ring still works on normal pony magic. If anything happens with any of the unicorns in your area and they become a threat, you are permitted to use the ring. Captain Shining Armor, they’re all yours.”
Shining Armor quickly stepped forward as Thunder Rend stepped back, giving Cadence a small smile before he turned his head to the honor and royal guards in front of him.
“As with the honor guards, groups of royal guards will be leaving Canterlot as well to protect the other cities and towns.” Shining Armor said. “Meet with me later today in the courtyard along with Captain Thunder Rend to know if you are leaving or staying here. Thunder Rend and I will be remaining in Canterlot, therefore I have assigned officers to lead the groups of royal guards in your designated city.”
Shining Armor backed up and Princess Luna came forth, clearing her throat.
“With changelings, there is always the factor of deceiving.” Luna spoke. “The officers that Shining Armor have assigned are to set up spells around the cities they are deployed to. If you have noticed, the royal guards at the draw bridge of Canterlot have been taking note of who leaves and come back in. The spell that the officers are to cast are transparent identification spells, as the one that has been put around Canterlot earlier this morning by myself.”
Audacity suddenly felt tense at the sound of identification spell, furrowing his brow as Luna scanned her eyes across the guards and stopped at Audacity.
“The spell is to identify the individual that is entering the city, effectively revealing any impostors. Rather, changelings.” Luna said.
Almost at the same exact time, the royal and honor guards around Audacity slowly stepped away from him. Audacity calmly looked around himself, realizing that his little plan had ripped apart as soon as he had walked across the draw bridge. The five ponies at the end of the hall stepped forward as the royal and honor guards created a wide path to Audacity, the lone royal guard in the center of the palace smirking slightly.
“Clever. How long have you known?” Augury asked as he changed into his changeling form.
“The moment you stepped into Canterlot. I should have trusted Twilight, I knew I should have.” Celestia said.
“Where is she? What did you do with her?” Shining Armor demanded, stepping forward slightly.
“That’s something I can’t tell you, Shining.” Augury replied.
“You’re going to be explaining a lot more than where you took the wielders of the elements, anyways. Queen Chrysalis, she’s alive, isn’t she?” Celestia asked.
“And kicking. Fortunately for you right now, she only has me.”
“Who would you be?”
“You can call me Augury.”
“Tell me, Augury, what made you come here without any support?” Thunder Rend asked.
“Impatience. I came here to retrieve yet another pony, if that wasn’t clear enough. You might as well know my objective now that I’m out in the open.” Augury said.
“And who would that be?” Cadence asked.
Augury chuckled quietly. “How ironic that the target finds out for herself.”
Shining Armor growled and stomped his hoof on the floor. “You’re not getting any where near her. Guards, arrest him.”
A few royal guards stepped out from their places and walked over to Augury, who only accepted that he was outnumbered. An honor guard walked forward and placed a ring on Augury’s horn, Augury feeling a small portion of his energy fading from him. The changeling stood where he was, staring at the three princesses intently as the royal guards tied a rope around his body to restrain his wings.
“I only have one question to ask right now, Augury. You somehow managed to manipulate the spell around Canterlot to show that you have partial pony magic in you. All I want to know is, how?” Luna asked.
Augury stood silent for a moment. “Because I was one of you once. A pony, not a changeling. Assimilation has weird effects, the wielders of the Elements of Harmony will soon find that out as well.”
Shining Armor’s eyes grew wide and he began to run towards Augury, but was held back by Cadence as she rushed to his side. “What are you doing with my sister!? What do you mean assimilation!? Augury!” Shining Armor yelled.
His questions were left unanswered as Augury was escorted out of the palace with a few royal guards, Augury heading to a cage deep beneath Canterlot.
The caves under Canterlot were void from almost any light, a few torches placed around the entrance providing enough light to see. The large platform that the entrance opened to looked out over the rest of the caves, a large drop leading to a field of crystals sharp enough to cut through the toughest armor in Canterlot. On the platform’s floor were openings leading further down into the caves, spiral staircases revealing secluded rooms from the rest of the caves. In one of the rooms rested a beaten changeling, letting his head lean forward limply to save his strength. A day had passed since Augury first arrived in Canterlot, the time after he was discovered spent down in the caves beneath Canterlot. His cell retained the appearance of the rest of the caves, small and large crystals jutting from the walls and ceiling. A small candle was rested on the ground near the door to Augury’s cell, the candle light barely enough to see within the room the changeling was trapped in. Augury’s front hooves were secured loosely on the wall he rested against, the chains attached to the cuffs around his hooves swaying slightly as Augury breathed. The ring around Augury’s horn had been removed for now, the guards that had interrogated him giving him some time to heal his wounds.
Sunlight briefly poured in through the caves above, enough to reach down through the staircase leading to Augury’s room. Hoofsteps quickly rushed down the spiral staircase, gentle and hurried breathing muffled on the other side of the door. Augury lifted his head up as the doors to his cell clanked open, a certain pink alicorn stepping into the gloomy cell. She slowly looked around the room, making sure that the guards had left and that Augury was the only other pony in his cell.
Augury sneered at Cadence as she walked in front of him. “I’ve told your guards everything that I’m willing to tell. There’s nothing else that I have to say to you ponies. Leave me be.” Augury spat, staring Cadence with anger in his eyes.
“I know you have.” Cadence replied.
“Why are you here then? I have nothing to present to you.”
“There’s something I need to know.”
“I would rather not waste my breath.”
Cadence sighed and shook her head. “Please, just answer my questions. I’ll order the guards to call off the interrogations, just listen to me.”
Augury only stared at her.
“I’m not your enemy.” Cadence started.
“You’re a fool to think anything like that. I was sent here to capture you, I have every intention to sacrifice you in order to save another.”
Cadence smiled slightly and lifted an eyebrow, Augury quickly realizing what he had just said and rolling his eyes.
“What is it that you want to know?” Augury asked, focusing his attention back on Cadence.
“I want to know why you are doing this. Shining Armor can barely focus on anything ever since you have taken Twilight Sparkle... and neither can I. Equestria is on its highest alert ever, I want to know why you intend on making it so.”
“There are things in this world that I would rather keep anonymous, and unfortunately for you, that is one of them. My intentions are my own concerns, there’s nothing you would gain from knowing why I do what I do.”
“You’re wrong. I could help you.”
“I doubt that.”
“I can help you! We can, Canterlot! You were once a pony, you said you were, what is making you go against your own species? You’re a pony on the inside, you know you are! You said that you were taking me to save another, who is this other?”
Augury sank his head down partially. “Somepony I’m afraid to lose.”
“A sibling? A marefriend? A wife?”
“...I’ve told you enough.”
“No, you haven’t.”
Augury clenched his teeth together and force himself off of the wall, rushing forward and reaching the limit the clamps on his hooves let him go. Cadence stood where she was, flinching slightly at the sudden movement.
“What do you want from me!?” Augury shouted. “A life story!? There is nothing I have to say to you! Nothing! Why are you even down here!? You had up close experiences with changelings, I would think you would be a little afraid of them! I am the changeling that was sent to take you, yet you come down here! More than that, alone! Why!?”
Cadence settled herself facing Augury again as the changeling let himself fall back against the wall, hanging limply as he glared at Cadence.
“Because I know you are not what you appear to be.” Cadence spoke.
“You don’t know what I am...” Augury tilted his head toward the floor of his cell. “...even I don’t know what I am anymore.”
“A changeling is not what you are, Augury. You are a pony, not a changeling. In your heart, deep inside, there’s still a pony in there. All you have to do is let it back out.”
“...My name is Salvation, not Augury.” Augury relinquished.
Cadence smiled and walked closer to the trapped changeling. “Salvation. What are you doing this for? Six mares and me, in exchange for one that you care for?”
“Not quite. In exchange is far from Queen Chrysalis’s plans with her. If I keep up Chrysalis’s work, Tranquility is to be left alone. She’s all I ever cared for, I just want her to be safe.”
“Who is Tranquility?”
“My marefriend. She’s in the queen’s grasp, but all I can do is use her love for me to continue Chrysalis’s work.”
“You’re using your marefriend’s love to give you strength?”
“As much as I don’t want to, yes.”
“She’s the reason I keep fighting. The only way I’m going to keep fighting, however, is through her love for me.”
“You sound like you’re more of a pony than a changeling, Salvation. Let me help you. I can provide a portion of the Royal Guard to help you get Tranquility back. You don’t have to take any more ponies from Equestria.”
“Yet I do. Chrysalis has Tranquility trapped, ready to be disposed of in case I ever show any signs of going against the queen. If I came back with a group of Royal Guards, I would lose Tranquility for good. I have to keep doing this. I know you don’t understand, but I can’t afford to lose her.”
“I understand completely. You’re afraid to lose the mare you love. I have to know, Salvation, why do you choose now to tell me this? The guards could have easily taken it easier on you if you had just told them all of this.”
Augury shifted his eyes to the doors of his cell, the light from the sun dimly shining into the spiral staircase as the door leading out of the caves opened. Hoofsteps slowly approaching the cell within the caves, Augury turned his head back to Cadence.
“Because you’re not going back.” Augury said briefly.
With a quick glance at the ceiling above him, Augury shot a magical burst into a crystal hanging over the door to his cell. The dark blue magic burst divided into two smaller and sharper magical bullets as it hit the crystal’s edge, ricocheting off of the other crystals in the cell. Augury held his hooves outwards and the two bullets collided with the metal binds around his hooves, disintegrating them into a dust. The changeling rushed forward and grabbed onto the confused and slightly frightened alicorn in front of him, turning her around and standing her up on her back hooves, Augury holding her front legs behind her back as he stood on his back hooves as well. Augury leaned his head forward and touched his horn against the back of Cadence’s neck, the princess soon finding herself not able to use her magic for the time being.
“Salvation, what are you doing!?” Cadence cried.
“I’m doing what I was told to do. I’m sorry, Cadence, but you’re going to have to come with me.” Augury said.
The hoofsteps coming down the stairwell quickly reached the door to Augury’s cell, Princesses Luna and Celestia walking into the cell, followed by Shining Armor. At the sight of Augury and Cadence, the three ponies quickly readied their magic, but ultimately stopped as Augury levitated a sharp shard of a crystal that had broken to Cadence’s neck.
“If I were you three, I wouldn’t think about casting even a levitation spell.” Augury threatened.
“You let go of her right now!” Shining Armor yelled as he begun to run towards Cadence, but stopped as Celestia held her hoof out in front of him.
“Augury, there are other means of carrying this out. Let go of Princess Cadence and put down the shard.” Celestia demanded.
“I wish I could, but there is no other way. I need to take Cadence, whether you and I like it or not.” Augury turned his head to Shining Armor. “I’m sorry. I never wanted this happen.”
“No!” Shining Armor shouted.
As the white unicorn raced forward to save his wife, Augury and Cadence disappeared in an instant with a teleportation spell. Shining Armor slowly came to a stop as he reached the spot where Cadence had been, his legs weakening from under him and Shining Armor falling to the floor. It wasn’t long before it dawned on him about what had happened, tears in his eyes falling as not only his sister was taken from him, but his wife.
“Cadence... no... please, no...” Shining Armor whispered to himself, tilting his head to the floor and closing his eyes tightly.
Luna turned her head sorrowfully to Celestia. “What now, sister? The changeling was able to get away with Cadence, no doubt that he will be back for more.” Luna spoke fearfully, though her tone covered her emotions.
Celestia watched Shining Armor for a second in silence. “Have the Captain of the Honor Guard come to the palace, I need to speak with her. Shining Armor is in no condition to be fighting.” Celestia said.
“No.” Shining Armor spoke, wiping away the tears still falling down his face. “I can fight. He took my Twilight and Cadence, I’m not going to sit back and watch him take more ponies from Equestria.”
“Shining Armor, there is great risk in this task. Are you sure you-” Luna said.
The white unicorn interrupted without hesitation as he stood up and turned to the two princesses. “I don’t care about the danger. If that changeling is idiotic enough to show his face around Canterlot again, he’s mine.”
Shining Armor walked past Luna and Celestia, anger and hate seeming to radiate off of him. He slowly made his way up the stairs back into Canterlot, slamming the door shut behind him as he walked back into the city.
“The changeling, Augury, he is coming back for us, isn’t he?” Luna asked her sister.
Celestia began to walk up the stairs, Luna following after her. “No doubt that Augury will be back. Next time, though, we will be prepared. Have the Equestrian military station some of their soldiers in Canterlot. This isn’t over.”