Dark as Chitin

by LostBox

Chapter 3: Cognitive Development

Chapter Music

After clearing the ravine, I landed at the edge of the Everfree Forest. Strangely enough, it filled me with an air of nostalgia. Almost like...home.

“Now that you’ve learned how to fly. Your next order of business is espionage. Head into the forest, on hoof.” Chrysalis instructed.

I looked the forest over one last time. “If you say so. But first….”

I paused and look up at the sky, admiring the sun.

“Ugh, the sun….” Chrysalis spoke with disgust.

I’m surprised, I don’t feel hungry despite it having been hours since birth. “How am I not hungry, or thirsty for that matter?”

“You spent a decade incubating under the Crystal Empire thanks to my magic, thus you likely have a surplus of love energy. You’ll be well-fed for some time,” Chrysalis reassured.

Well, at least I don’t have to worry about that.

I walked for maybe 20 minutes, taking in my surroundings. I spotted several different species of birds and rodents which I recorded for future reference. You know, for shapeshifting purposes. I’m not exactly sure how I knew what they were, but I chalked it up to my mother’s influence.

“Stop. Take cover.” Chrysalis commanded.

I did as I was told. I had never heard my mother take such a serious tone. Though, I guess I haven’t known her for long.

I dashed behind a nearby tree and anxiously waited.
“Look past the tree, toward the clearing. Slowly, of course,” Chrysalis instructed.

Again I did as I was told. First, I heard some weird gushing sound, like meat being torn apart. Little did I know, it was meat being torn apart. I looked behind my vantage point only to see some strange creatures tearing at a carcass of some sort. Honestly, it was unrecognizable as it was.

Inspecting the creatures more closely, they seemed to be some sort of wooden wolves. Their eyes glowed a pure vibrant green. It was sort of creepy, to be honest.

“Your next task is the infiltrate the timberwolves, join their ranks, and become their alpha.”

“Become their alpha?”

“Yes, infiltration is a valuable skill for changelings to know. Besides, maybe you’ll make a few new friends,” Chrysalis chuckled sarcastically.

A few days later...

I spent a few days tracking the timberwolves, learning their mannerisms, analyzing their abilities.

The most fascinating information I’ve learned about them is their extraordinary ability to manipulate wood. You see, timberwolves are somewhat fragile, but they can make up for it by replacing and adding body parts using the wood around them. They can even merge to scare off larger predators.

If I want any chance at infiltrating the timberwolves I’ll have to completely master this ability which means I have to understand the mechanisms behind it. Ultimately, this means I’ll have to get closer. That means my next move is learning how to shapeshift.

One day later...

“Shapeshifting needs to be natural, just like flying. You need to completely envision what you wish to become. Overlay your desired form over your current self.” Chrysalis explained.

Right, timberwolves. I’ve analyzed their forms perfectly: toe digits anterior, toe digits posterior, carpus, radius, ulna, metacarpal bones, fibula, tibia….

I closed my eyes and envisioned the form of the timberwolf, doing as my mother instructed. I felt the air begin to pick up around me. I tried my forced my magic out and opened my eyes. Inspecting my legs, I could see that nothing had changed.

I sighed and plopped onto my flank. “Another failure.”

Chrysalis hummed to herself. “Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with your understanding of timberwolf anatomy. The problem is your magic flow, or rather, the lack thereof. You’re forcing your magic out, individually targeting body parts. The transformation needs to happen all at once, you need to let your magic flow throughout your body entirely, like water.”

“Like water, huh? Alright, I’ll give it a shot.”

I stood up with newfound confidence. Let my magic flow, visualize the anatomy, overlay it, become it. The wind picked up around me again, this time more active than ever before. I understood now, the wind was the result of my magic. I didn’t close my eyes this time. Green smoke and flames surrounded me, being influenced by the wind.

I felt my body begin to change. It didn’t hurt in the slightest, nor did it feel good. It just felt natural.

The flames faded and the air died down. I looked down at my legs. They were now that of a timberwolf. I inspected the rest of my body just to make sure, finding that it was now completely timberwolf. I had done it.

“I managed to pull it off. Thank you. Your advice did the trick.”

“Of course, it did. Who do you think I am?” Chrysalis scoffed.

What a proud and doting mother.

Sometime later...

I’ve successfully infiltrated a pack of timberwolves. I simply brought some wild game as a token of my loyalty. There are 7 members total, including myself. Within the few days I have spent with them, it’s been made clear who the Alpha is; a moderately larger timberwolf with a scar across its left eye. I named him Branch.

One timberwolf made the mistake of eating before Branch and was torn into pieces because of it. Luckily, when that happened, the mechanism behind the timberwolves’ abilities was also revealed.

When the timberwolf was shattered into nothing but twigs and branches, a tiny green marble fell to the forest floor. The marble began to glow brightly as it started to levitate. In a matter of seconds, the timberwolf managed to fully reconstruct itself.

Chrysalis referred to the small object as a magic core. Few creatures in Equestria have them but it does offer somewhat of an advantage. A creature with a magic core can never truly be destroyed unless its core is destroyed. However, they can never increase their magic reserves.

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s even possible for creatures that don’t typically have magic cores to convert all of their magical essences into a magic core, essentially making them immortal.

Magic is power, but it is also your life force. Although, I don’t think that’s something I want to do.

One day later...

I finally figured it out. My timberwolf form is 100% complete. I can manipulate my body parts almost magnetically and swap them in and out with regular pieces of wood.

“Nicely done. You’ve made me quite proud, thus far. Keep it up,” Chrysalis admitted.

I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself as well. Alright, let's get this over with.

I accumulated as much wood as I needed around my form, increasing my size by a great deal. The goal is to become alpha, not a titan.

Once my preparations were complete, I began stalking the timberwolves. All I need to do is challenge the alpha; direct eye contact, tall posture, and teeth bared. Upon coming across the timberwolves in another clearing, I walked out of the brush as menacingly as possible, making a b-line for Branch. The other timberwolves watching.

I stopped in front of Branch, towering over him. Branch locked eyes with me, putting an intimidating act up, but that’s all it was, an act. Soon the ferocity disappeared and Branch whimpered.

One by one, the timberwolves gathered around me, lowering themselves to the ground, and bowing in subservience.