Chapter 31: This Changeling’s Going to War
Echo, how’s your team doing?
“No problems so far, Mother… We’re avoiding the roads as best we can, but we might have to cross one sooner or later, and I doubt we’ll be quick enough to cross before a car comes.”
Don’t worry about it… It’ll be preferable that we’re not seen, but we should be able to get there regardless.
I refocused on my surroundings; I, and roughly forty of my swarm, were changed into a flock of crows. We were much larger than the average crow, to conserve on energy from the shapeshifting, but we were high enough overhead that we likely wouldn’t be noticed. After some debate, we opted to have the migration break off into several groups, each watched over by a legion of changelings overhead. Each group either followed some distance behind a group in front, or moved alongside them. When faced with things like roads or small settlements, the changelings would signal when it would be safe for each party to move. It wasn’t a very eloquent method, but it was all we had, really.
The only ponies that were legitimately safe were riding in our truck; one of my new Royals, Scion, rode in the cab while Liz drove, acting as a means of communication between us. We managed to squeeze roughly forty ponies, mainly those who were sick or otherwise incapable of making the journey. We needed to leave a great deal of stuff back at the farm, though I didn’t think all of these ponies would come back to Earth.
But as we went north, I was impressed as to how smoothly things were going; there weren’t any police sirens, no sounds of military jets approaching… Either the whole of Iowa had suddenly become blind, or a mass of multi-colored ponies were better at stealth than I’d expected. Liz was listening to the radio in the truck, and was gonna let me know if it mentioned anything that could do with us. Yet, there was nothing…
“Liz says we should be there within twenty minutes.”
Thank you. I ‘expanded’ my mind to address the other Royals. Listen up! As of right now, group A is approaching the site of the portal; the plan is for the ponies to take shelter in the abandoned high school there. When we arrive, we changelings will enter the school and meet up in the basement, to regroup and to prepare for the trek through the portal.
I took a deep breath. When we go through, we… might not be able to come back. We need to be ready.
- - - - -
“Liz, come on…” I called up the weathered stairs. My group and I had finished scouting the school out and were busy filing into the basement; the ponies would hole up in the gym, classrooms and any other space.
Unfortunately, after our arrival, Liz had taken one quick look into the basement and, with a loud yelp, immediately scrambled back up the stairs. I’d spent about five minutes trying to get her to come down. “I couldn’t even count how many spiderwebs I could see down there!!” She called.
“Oh, Jesus, they’re just cobwebs!” I said, waving a hoof up and smacking a web from the ceiling. “They’re totally diff--GAH!!” I violently shook my hoof free of its eight-legged stowaway.
“Yep! Not coming down!!” Liz said pointedly as I repeatedly stomped on the spider with a series of ‘Nope’s.
I groaned. “Alright, we’ll clean it out…” I turned to the group of changelings behind me, who had been standing at attention. “The eight-legged demons must be purged!!” I said dramatically.
With a series of salutes, my swarm broke off and began cleaning the place out; mainly moving ancient furniture and crates to the side, or cleaning up the rubble from the collapsing drywall around the place. The basement was a series of open spaces beneath every major room in the school, connected by a few dank, narrow corridors. It was about as clean as one could expect from however-many years of neglect—it seemed perfect for a Marble Hornets episode, actually—but it would serve us well… It wasn’t like we’d be here for very long.
As the brood and I worked, I took the time to observe… who they were, in a sense. I noticed drones humming songs that I had likely imprinted on them, chatting happily with their kin and, overall, just having a good time. It felt good… Before, every grub that hatched would be overly serious, no nonsense… just like I used to be. Now, though, my newer, brighter outlook on things seemed to have an effect on them as well; made them want love as a feeling, not as food.
Liz had expressed worries over not being able to remember or recognize every single one of the newborns. Thankfully, changelings have an eidetic memory of their kin—we can recognize each other as easily as a pony can recognize another pony, or a human can recognize another human. It’s not so much through facial recognition or things like that; changelings each have a unique aura that is unique to them, that only other changelings can see. In short, changelings hold greater individuality in a hive than many would believe. As such, I was able to greet each of my new children by name.
Naming them, conversely, was harder than recognizing them would ever be. I had to exhaust my mental library for terms such as ‘Scion’, ‘Magus’ and the like; when I ran out of original names, however, I had to reach into my nerdier side. I started dipping into names I’d gotten from changeling fics—Kuno, Swarm, Ebony, Mayari and Tala were just a few I could pull out. Even then, though, I still had roughly a hundred names to go through, so I snagged the names of some game characters; a few visits to the Starcraft Wiki got me plenty of names, though I feared I would favor the hatchling named ‘Abathur’ over the others. Liz had been snickering the entire time as I named the newborns—my children—after game characters; it was when I’d named ten of them after the Paragons of the Klaxxi that she completely lost it.
Before long, we had essentially made this basement into our new home; the center had been covered in our trademark amber, mainly to be used to store any eggs that would be laid… Not that we planned on living here, or laying eggs anytime soon; it was instinctive to paint the place with this goo when we planned on holing up for the foreseeable future. About an hour after we’d arrived, the other groups had arrived, and the rest of my brood had filed into the basement, settling in.
All we had to do now was wait; the statue housing the portal was no longer out front, but in the field house across the street from the school. From what Trixie had heard, the Mane Six had managed a quick repair and test, though it did have the side effect of transforming those who passed through into the native species of each respective world—hence why some of my brood reported seeing a humanized Rainbow Dash through the building’s window.
This did bring up an issue, however; I had no intentions of just going to Equestria and never looking back. I’d promised my family I’d come back—and I couldn’t force Liz to give up her life for my sake. But I wondered if that side effect would have an impact on the brood? It was possible we’d be immune—my quicker reversion to my true form indicated a natural resistance to forced transfiguration—but what about Liz? Would it be an issue for her? What if it had debilitating effects for going to and fro repeatedly?
I eventually put that issue on the sidelines; another addition to the ‘cross that bridge when we come to it’ pile, which was getting disconcertingly large. So, here we were; simply awaiting the all-clear.
While the brood sat throughout the immense basement, Liz, Trixie, the grubs and I were sitting near the stairs; I was laying against the wall, my wings aching from the flight. “So, no problems?” I asked the grubs.
“There were a couple close calls…” Digit said with a yawn. “But no one got hurt or caught.”
Shift glanced up the stairs. “Is everyone going through the portal at Twilight’s go-ahead?”
I nodded. “Probably.”
“They do realize they’ll be facing Discord there, right?” He asked, turning to me. “How many of them can actually fight? In a way that would actually be effectual against someone who’s essentially a god?”
“We’ll just have to overwhelm him,” I said. “If God of War taught me one thing, it’s that even a god will die with sufficient stabbing.”
“Because video games are what we should be listening to in these circumstances…” Liz said, rolling her eyes.
“Also, the Elements of Harmony will definitely take him down,” I continued. “We just have to survive against him until then. And even then, thousands of ponies, with support from nearly two hundred changelings, should give him a bit too much to deal with.”
“Um…” came a voice from the stairs. We all glanced up, and my eyes lit up in surprise.
The filly was glancing about nervously at the mass of changelings, looking half ready to turn around and run at the first sign of trouble. I stood up and slowly approached the bottom of the stairs. “Something the matter?”
Scoots hesitated, then shook her head. “No, it’s just… everypony’s heading through the portal soon.”
I felt a stillness in my chest; this was it. “Gotcha.” I turned towards the brood. “Alright, we’re moving out!”
The brood quickly gathered and prepared to leave the basement; Scoots gave a brief yelp and bolted up the stairs to avoid being blindsided by a torrent of changelings.
Within moments, my brood took to the air and began flying up the stairs, the grubs included, with Trixie hurrying behind them. Liz stood up, but I immediately approached her. “No.”
Liz blinked. “...No, no way…”
I shook my head. “Liz, the portal makes you ‘adapt’ to the world you’re crossing to, and I think the ‘learn to walk like a pony’ shtick has run it’s course.”
Liz raised a stern eyebrow. “That’s not why you don’t want me to come.”
“I…” I sighed. “...Liz, you’ve been with me through so much… But I can’t let you put yourself at risk like this…”
“We’re not discussing this…” Liz said firmly, making to move past me.
I extended a wing, blocking her path. “Liz, please…” I said, imploringly. “Don’t ask me to let you put yourself in the line of fire like this… This is just way too dangerous…”
“And you think I’m gonna let you go into that same danger?” Liz asked.
“Tell you what, get magic of your own, and we’ll talk…” I said.
“Goddammit, Chrys…” Liz began.
I kissed her; she initially fought to back away, but quickly went with it. Finally, our lips parted. “This isn’t goodbye…” I said. “I promise.” I took a step backwards.
“Chrys, wait!” Liz began; she tried to lift a foot, but couldn’t. She looked down and noticed her feet were enveloped in amber. She looked up at me, looking like a girl whose boyfriend had just hung up on her. “Did you just…?”
“You just got Spider-Man’d!” I said with a smirk before turning and bolting up the stairs. “SORRYSORRYSORRY,ILOVEYOU,YOUCANKILLMELATER,BYYYYYEEEEE!!!”
“CHRYS!!” Liz screamed after me as I broke free of the basement.
- - - - -
As I left the school, I noticed that the swarm was gathered overhead, awaiting my instruction. The ponies, once apprehensive of us, now seemed rather calm in our presence, given how they were focused more on getting through the portal than the mass of insectile-equines buzzing overhead. That said, though, the moment I emerged from the front door, they quickly noticed me. I frowned at the number of stares, rubbing my leg awkwardly. “...hi?”
Trixie, who had been standing close to the edge of the crowd, approached me. “Your brood should probably all head in at once, or as close together as they can,” she said. “That way you can quickly get them organized on the other side.”
I nodded. “The brood stands ready, Mother…” Shift said.
I glanced up at the swarm overhead. My children…I noted how I barely considered them as such before—more as subjects than individuals… More as tools than my own kin…
And now, here I was, committing them to battle against a being of unfathomable power…
Some of them could die… Some of them might not see what I wanted for them—for us…
Part of me wanted to tell them to wait here, to tell them that I’d go through alone, to keep them from facing this danger, much the same as I kept Liz from joining us…
But I couldn’t.
My new brood… My new family… They needed to earn this new life, to earn the right to prove to not one, but two worlds that they were no longer monsters…
This battle wasn’t mine alone to fight, nor was it that of the Mane Six…
It was everyone’s.
“My subjects!” I called. “My children!” I strode across the street, towards the building housing the portal.
Ponies broke apart, making a path. Not wanting to seem privileged, I made haste to enter the field house.
The building was flooded with ponies; at the sight of me they quickly split apart to form a path. Giving an appreciative nod, I hurried towards the statue.
All goes well, we’ll be seeing a lot of this thing in the days to come… I mused as I approached.
I glanced back at the brood; they’d be able to pass through quickly enough that the ponies wouldn’t be held up that bad. Turning back towards the portal, I raised a hoof and phased it seamlessly through the glass surface.
My heart seemed to swell… I couldn’t tell if it was excitement, anxiety, or that simple sense of anticipation… When something big is about to happen, when you both fear and eagerly await the outcome.
The rush flowed up my chest…
I inhaled deeply.
“♪Finally the moment has arrived
For me… To get that bastard’s hide…
His madness will be undone,
We will have justice, everyone,
And sweet vengeance will be...♪”