"Chaos Magic: Energy Maelstrom!" Twilight cast.
A purple ray of light was shot from her horn and hit one of the walls, which had been gathering energy in strange patterns in preparation for something. However, Sparkle's attack turned all the energy into a maelstrom, denying the efforts of the formation and eventually exploding, causing damage to the wall.
The first dozen meters of defenses the group had to go through were relatively easy to deal with. Only relatively, because most ponies would find even those defensive layers an unpassable barrier. But after that, they left the corridor and got into an open area, that was when the real trouble started.
"Wind Sword Style: True Slash!" Rarity shouted.
This time, instead of creating wind blades, she used the wind to push herself forwards at an incredible speed while also coating her blade with a multitude of sharp winds. She slashed with her enhanced sword while passing through a snake-like magical construct, managing to cut it in half despite the hardness of the pseudo scales.
The defences in that open area were incomparable to those from earlier. Not only were they powerful, but they were also tricky. There was no easy way of defeating them. Some of the defenses absorbed magic shot at them, others were able to nullify extreme sudden changes like the chaos effects, others only appeared after they had already dealt with all obvious defenses in an area and passed through it, appearing without warning, and some even seemed to change to adapt to what was throw at them.
"Rainboom Triple Punch!" Rainbow Dash shouted, advancing forwards.
She accelerated to near sonic speed and repeatedly crossed the sound barrier with three rapid punches, which were enhanced by the winds just to prevent Rainbow from breaking her hooves in the process. The three directed rainbow shockwaves flew towards a cannon that was gathering a ridiculous amount of energy and struck it, making half of it explode.
And the defences were varied. Some created powerful magical constructs to attack the intruders, others shot all sorts of spells at them, others created formations that changed the area itself, making fields that were harmful to any being who was caught on one of them, others still were extremely tricky mechanical traps, which couldn't be predicted by magic flow, since they didn't use magic.
"Empathy Drive: Shared Reality!" Fluttershy cast.
She extended her empathy towards Sunset and Applejack, who had been caught in a dangerously powerful sleep spell, and were almost losing consciousness. Her spell forcefully brought their awareness up to her level, cancelling the effects of the spell that had hit them, and allowing the two to avoid a dangerous trap designed to attack those caught by the sleep spell.
But even in this kind of situation, the Knights and Squires weren't actually fighting with their full strength. It couldn't be said that they were holding back, but the eight certainly weren't pushing themselves to their limits. And it was easy to understand why, because not only did they need to buy time for the others to defeat the changeling base, but the protectors of Equestria were also very aware of the upcoming fight against Queen Chrysalis, so they were saving their strength to have something to unleash when needed.
And while they didn't know that, their friends would need all the time they could get.
The blessing of a princess was powerful, but it had a limit. Bunker Breaker, after several minutes of heavy spellwork, was finally reaching the limit on his blessing.
It had a ridiculous effect, considering that he managed to fight by himself despite starting at the heart of the Changeling base. But part of it had certainly been because of his own specialty: The siege spells he cast were already quite powerful enough to cause large scale havoc in the area of impact, having an advantage in this kind of fight where there were a lot of enemies bunched together and there was no chance of hitting any allies. Having Celestia's blessing boosting his attacks only made this even more pronounced.
But even with that, he would have been unable to handle things had he stayed in a single place and allowed the changelings to gather their strength towards him. No fool, he kept moving around, without even knowing where he was going, just to try and keep himself fighting and causing trouble for the changelings for as long as possible, since he knew this was probably the best he could do to help the others.
Thankfully, his luck was good, and he ended up getting close enough to the entrance to be able to attract the attention of Shining Armor, Spike and Night Time, who were invading.
He laughed as they got close, stopping to blast some of the closest changelings who were pursuing him, them Shining Armor's shields started battering them, and Night Time threw a huge amount of ice shards in their direction, both of them managing to defeat the advancing changelings.
"Anything to report?" Shining Armor asked, once he got close enough.
"I got out from a cocoon thanks to the princess' blessing, but there weren't any other cocoons there, so that should have been the 'interrogation' room." Bunker said simply "I ran around for a good bit before reaching here and caused a lot of havoc so the changelings are trying to unite to catch me, and the blessing is running out."
"Understood. Follow behind me and use your spells as needed." The captain gave the order and immediately started moving forward again, to go after the new wave of changelings that was approaching.
Things soon settled on a rhythm. Shining Armor and Spike met the changelings from the front, with their shields and Right Arm of the Dragon, respectively, helped by the fact that they could both block their ranged attacks as well as attack. Bunker Breaker (who had lost his blessing soon after joining with them) and Night Time stayed on the back, using ranged attacks and also dealing with any changelings that tried to sneak up on the group from behind.
But eventually they got to a more open area, rather than the corridors of before, and that was when the Changelings proved how much trouble they could be as opponents.
After all, this was a true changeling base, different from the simple warehouse they had attacked before, this place was much more well-defended and the changelings there had a lot more tricks to use.
Some changelings tunneled through walls and floor, attacking from unexpected directions. Some changelings joined with others in formations, fusing their powers and attacking with powerful spells. Some changelings used their transformation skills as camouflage, and moved stealthily towards the group, to attack from close range. But what was definitely the hardest aspect of fighting changelings was their ability to share information via the network.
While their usual tactics were effective in the beginning, the more time passed, the more the changelings adapted and started countering their skills. Despite their power, Shining Armor's shields were being broken more and more often with combinations of multiple piercing-type spells, forcing him to reduce his offence and put up extra defensive shields. Spike's Right Arm of the Dragon was fast and powerful, but in an open space, the changelings were capable of avoiding it with quick flight movements after their brethren had seen him attack so many times, which forced Spike to be more conservative with his movements to prevent them from getting too close. Both Bunker Breaker's siege spells and Night Time's combat-adapted weather magic were things the changelings had seen before, and had counters for. Shining Armor and Spike had separated in order to prevent the changelings from focusing their forces too much, while Bunker Breaker and Night Time were almost glued to one another, his long range attacks together with her short range skills being barely able to respond to the multitude of threats.
They wouldn't be able to resist for much longer, Spike had already been forced to tank a few attacks with his body (which was thankfully tough enough to take it), but in this critical moment, help arrived.
"Venus Love Charge!" A purple and orange pegasus, Venus herself, appeared from behind and flew straight into a conglomeration of changelings, body wrapped in multiple heavy layers of lightning. As soon as she touched the group, all the lightning disappeared in a tremendous explosion that created a shockwave powerful enough that even the group of heroes had to struggle not to be bowled over by.
After that, she flew towards them, taking advantage of the momentary respite their unexpected attack had given the group of the captain.
"You are a really welcome sight." Shining Armor said "Things were getting pretty rough."
"Then you are going to like this next part." She grinned at him.
Almost immediately, he heard a very familiar sound, of dozens of hooves moving in single step.
"Guards! Support the captain and the others, fight against the changelings!" A voice resounded, and dozens of members of the guard moved in, attacking every changeling they could see.
Shining Armor grinned as well "Let's do it!" He shouted, and the group went back to the fight.
"We, Changelings, have our destinies decided for us ever since we are born." Thorax had eventually been convinced to talk with the three fillies "Queen Chrysalis is our absolute ruler, and each changeling is tested repeatedly to discover their specialties. Then they are trained and put on their rightful positions, ready to do their work as members of the hive."
"Well..." Applebloom tried to put her feelings into words "Ah figured since ya were so dependent on love, that the feelings of the changelings would be taken seriously."
"Feelings? There is no need for feelings. Only the will of the queen." Thorax tried to say with confidence, but doubt crept into his voice.
The cutie mark crusaders had almost completely forgotten that Thorax was supposed to be an enemy, they just wanted to try and defend the way they saw the world. Scootaloo put in a question, given Thorax's words.
"Well, does that mean the plan to get the amulet was only the idea of the queen, and the rest of you don't really want to hurt ponies?"
Thorax took a moment to understand the question "Want? The changelings don't have wants, only the will of the queen exists, and the need to feed." But traitorous thought swirled through his head, like 'Of course I don't want that. So many changelings are being hurt...' and he recoiled, expecting to be punished. But it didn't come, the battle keeping the attention of the managers of the network strictly on fighting the intruders, while Chrysalis, who would have been able to hear and understand what he was thinking even in that situation, was completely blocked from that part of the network.
"Well, I figure that once the Knights defeat Chrysalis, you will need to think about what to do then. Maybe you could ask the princess to see what she thinks? If you don't really want to hurt anypony, I'm sure she won't turn you away." Sweetie Belle said innocently.
No... Chrysalis...? What to do then...? No more fighting...
The ideas kept rising to Thorax's head, without opposition. Even as he tried to remind himself that this was against the changeling rules, Thorax still could not help himself. And to make matters worse, he could feel through the network that the fighting in the base was getting more and more serious, and he felt sadness upon so many changelings being hurt and still unable to stop fighting.
The crusaders watched as Thorax seemed to struggle with something, feeling like they shouldn't interfere now that he was thinking about it.
The battle between the ponies (and dragon) and the changelings was reaching a fever pitch. It was no longer a small scale conflict, but had gained airs of an actual war. The pony side had split itself into dozens of smaller groups, some of earth ponies carrying spears and shields and meeting their opponents with force, some of pegasi flying through the air to flank opponents and defend against other fliers, some of unicorns galloping through the area and acting as mobile artillery with varied spells, and some mixed groups performing their own special duties. And their elites had beein invigorated by the appearance of reinforcements. Shining Armor was looking at the entire battlefield and using his shields strategically to deny enemy advantages, Venus was using all her varied attacks and focusing on causing as much mayhem as possible in the least time, and Spike had taken on a more defensive posture, protecting the most vulnerable among their own fighters.
In contrast with the ponies' shouted commands, the Changelings fought in an eerie silence, but no less intense because of it. A lot of their strategies were similar to those of the ponies, since the changelings were experts in imitation, as well as the stealth and formations of before, but the main threat of the changeling force was their absurd level of coordination. The changelings instantly reacted to protect their vulnerable members and attack the weakened portions of the enemy force, the changelings could sometimes miss with a long range attack, only to reveal the true target was a pony fighting another changeling in another part, surprising him with an unexpected attack, the changelings' magical formations could be joined or left at any time, allowing them to adjust to the needs of a constantly changing situation.
The battle could really go either way at that point, so Spike decided to reveal his last hidden card.
Spitting out a small black fireball to his hand, he held it for a moment before focusing and making the fireball grow and become far more menacing.
"Draconic Art: Magic Charge!" And then he threw the fireball at a concentration of enemies, who were unable to react in time due to the unexpectedness of the attack.
That wasn't very well polished, but the skill was able to "charge" the magic to the same point he would be able to potentially release it in the future, borrowing the same principles of the Right Arm of the Dragon.
That was a fairly good moment to use that ability, since none of the Changelings had seen it, and the surprise would help a lot in that crucial moment.
So that was why they also decided to unveil something.
Jumping on each other and forming a pile, a huge group of Changelings held each other and started glowing, and then the glow started to get bigger and bigger as more changelings joined the pile, that also started to get higher and higher, until finally it became too bright to recognize the pile of changelings before the glow suddenly disappeared.
And revealed the form of a dragon.
"Focus your attacks!" Shining Armor shouted, and every single available pony focused their attacks on the dragon, including him, Venus and Spike.
In the face of such an overwhelming offense... the Dragon staggered, then put his head backwards and prepared to breathe fire.
"Defence!" The captain shouted again, before putting up the strongest shield he could muster, a multilayered, lotus-like construction.
"Venus Love Barrier!" Venus shouted, and forcefully took every available drop of moisture in the room to create a layer of ice on every single part of Shining's shields.
Every other pony who could help in the protection did so (and Spike, who put his arm as a final defence) and then the attack came.
The backlash was amazing, and almost knocked Shining away all by itself, but then the dragon just kept breathing fire without stopping, and the effort of trying to maintain the barriers was growing.
"Hey." Venus called to him, also suffering from trying to keep the barriers cool "Have you ever heard of combination attacks?"
Armor could still talk, so he answered "My sister told me about them. Apparently most of the time you need a lot of planning, but sometimes things just click..." He got what she was trying to say "Do you think...?"
"Can't hurt to try." She answered with a smile.
Finally, the dragon stopped attacking, and everypony could drop their defences, it was then that the two acted.
"Combination Attack!" They shouted.
Shining Armor created an incredibly dense and solid barrier in the shape of an arrow.
"Grand Barrier..." He started.
Venus summoned a multitude of lightning bolts and started layering then around herself.
"Venus Love..." She started.
"LIGHTNING BREAKER!" The two shouted with all their strength, and sent their attacks together.
Just a moment before impact, the lightning seemed to fuse with the shield.
And then it hit, forcing the dragon backwards for several dozens meters. He managed to stop himself, but then his image started wavering, and cracking, and then it shattered into hundreds of changelings.
But even with that, they would not give up, and the remaining changelings, still so many, returned to their attack.
Eventually, things got to much for Thorax. Both his doubts, and the pain of the changelings he could feel from the network were only increasing, and there was just nothing he could do.
He ran away, moving towards his fellow changelings. In his mind, a single word kept repeating itself: Why.
Why were things like this? Why did they have to suffer like this? Why did they have to fight to get something that would only lead to more fighting?
The words of the three fillies kept swirling through his mind. Decision, peace, feelings...
When he got to the battlefield, everything suddenly became clear, and then his voice resounded through the entire changeling network.
"Brothers and sisters of the hive! How long have we hidden ourselves and fought against the ponies? The answer is that it's been too long! Queen Chrysalis was supposed to be our leader and protector, but how many of us have been hurt just today for the fullfilment of her plans? The answer is that it's been too many! Why have we been forced into those roles we haven't chosen? We are not serving the hive, because that only serves Chrysalis! She is the reason why we suffer! Do any of you desire change? Do you desire something different? Do you desire peace, and love that doesn't need to be stolen? Chrysalis says that her way is the only one, but I shall reject that! Join me, and together, we shall CHOOSE!"
That message had gone through the network in only a second. The message was received by every changeling in range, and they all were faced with a choice. The managers of the network under Chrysalis tried to punish Thorax for his rebellion, but soon rebellious thoughts started appearing in more and more changelings. The words and feelings that Thorax had transmitted simply touched the heart of those changelings. Not all of them, but many, and they choose him.
Suddenly, every changeling staggered. By instinct, Shining Armor shouted "Stop!" and all the ponies stopped attacking. The changelings had also stopped, and they all turned to look at Thorax, who was undergoing an amazing transformation.
He grew to nearly the same height as Chrysalis. His colors changed, some of him was green, some was orange, some was blue and some was purple. Two new horns in the form of antlers grew from his head. And three jewel-like growths appeared on his neck. The size of his body, his wings and his tail, they had all grown equally, reaching proportions similar to those of Chrysalis.
But that wasn't all, a shockwave was emitted from his body, and many of the changelings who were hit by the wave also started changing. They didn't change as much as Thorax had. But some of their physical features shifted to be more similar to him, and more important, their colors also changed to become much more vibrant and varied than before.
King Thorax looked at his changelings and gave his first order "Help the ponies, defeat the Chrysalis loyalists."
And then mayhem started.
In their cell, the Crusaders were so preoccupied with trying to decide whether or not to use their escape scrolls that they didn't even notice when marks appeared on their flanks.
Chrysalis ws enjoying the sight of the Knights and Squires doing all the work for her, when she suddenly felt like a part of herself had been ripped out.
"AARRRRGH!" She screamed, and then realized that a lot of her changelings had left her, but the network still insisted they were there.
Chrysalis sent a pulse containing enough magic to annihilate an entire building (as Sunset would put it) and obliterated Trixie's Fake Reality spell. Then she saw what had happened and what was going on. With a sound that was halfway in between a roar and a snarl, she teleported to the base.
The ponies, having been alerted by her scream, immediately followed her, prepared for anything.