Trixie wandered, steps unsteady, deep into a corner of the changeling hive. She had to get away, if only for a moment. She had to find some time and space where her thoughts were exclusively her own.
She'd traded in her starry hat and cape for a black cloak with a hood, clasped about her neck with rubies colored much like blood. Her eyes had likewise taken on a reddish hue, as once they'd done when the Alicorn Amulet had been her own. That power- if only she had known! It was a fraction of the strength she felt this day. Cracking lines of black ran up her hooves and legs, her horn had lengthened and grown pointed. When she ran her tongue over her teeth, she even thought she felt a hint of sharpness. She'd noted the changes, and they did not surprise her in those moments when her thoughts were clear. Gods, after all, preferred their servants made in their own image.
And with their own compulsions, she ventured to think. She waited, entire body tense. No pressure came into her mind, no sharp spike of intention or impulse. She was, indeed, safe here, at least briefly. Her lord was not actively checking all her thoughts. He did this often, and constantly when she was in his presence. It had gotten to the point where she was used to him inside her head, like the black night sky oppressing her in starless misery.
It was an ambivalent thing. Part of Trixie quailed and blanched amid Reiziger's thoughts, drowning in his darkness. She sensed that she, herself, was washing away, being slowly battered down by the relentless pounding of his mental waves upon her shore. Already there were aspects of herself that she'd forgotten: she couldn't remember the sound of her mother's voice any more, and she could recall her favorite song only with great effort. What replaced them all was compulsion, need. Oh, how Reiziger wanted and needed. His greed seemed limitless, and if he did not still retain a kingly bearing, Trixie assumed his company would be intolerable. She sometimes basked in his unstoppable desire, and it was terrifying. She felt hopeless, and utterly alone.
Yet... she did bask, didn't she? There were moments when she relished feeding off his power. So what if he was unrelenting? Why shouldn't he be? He was the most powerful of creatures ever born. Even the princesses could not compare to Reiziger, not now that he had regained so much strength. It buoyed her, it fed her dark impulses, and she had wild runs of thought when all she wanted was to see Equestria burn. She giggled at the thought of all that wrath. Such glorious destruction. Death and devastation- yes, she wanted it, she had to have it, had to trample fellow ponies underhoof. Would he save any of it for her? Surely he'd let her take part. Perhaps he'd even let her kill Twilight Sparkle-
“Wait, no,” Trixie stammered. She snapped her head to the side. Shut up! You're useless! She flinched backward from the sharp voice in her head. “Am not!” Yes you are, you're only getting in the way of the master. You're the thing I haven't killed yet. “But I don't want to be killed, and you don't want to kill me.” Yes I do!
“Ack!” Trixie whirled, her cloak whipping about her. “Oh, good sir changeling, it's nice to see you.”
“I do not mean to interrupt,” the changeling said, empty eyes twinkling as they lit upon the pony. When he'd been around the corner, he had sworn he'd heard two creatures talking, but the priestess was alone.
“Oh, no, there was no interruption, master changeling,” Trixie said. She grinned. “No, no, I was just... working something out. Yes, I'm perfectly fine.” Her face twitched violently. “I'm such a disappointment- perfectly fine!”
“Are you... sure?”
“Yes!” She flinched away. “Oh, of course I'm fine, I'm perfectly fine, I'm certainly not hurt, I'm not, I'm not I'm not I'm not I'm not I'm not...”
The changeling sighed. “Are you here to get away too?”
“I'm not- get away?”
The changeling flinched. He looked over his shoulder, carefully from side to side. “From the master.”
Trixie's eyes went wide. “But... you love him.”
“Yes, yes, of course we do,” said the changeling, sounding haggard. “But... he is everywhere, it seems. Always in my mind, always thinking thoughts for me. Even here, even outside his range, his impression lingers in my head. Don't you feel it, high priestess?” He tumbled to the ground, ragged hooves came up to clutch his head. “I just wish to be alone inside my mind. I just wish to be free, only a little bit.”
“I...” Trixie trembled. “I understand. It's hard, isn't it?”
“We all feel it,” said the changeling. “Some of my brothers and sisters have complained as well, though always when we feel we are out of our lord's thought radius. And there are the... the new ones.”
“The newer changelings? There are a lot of them.”
“They are not the same,” said the changeling, eyes gone wide. “They smell wrong. They do not speak. I... I am afraid, high priestess. I know that it is treason to be afraid, but I am.”
She watched him cower, scared to death. It suddenly occurred to Trixie that she might hurt him as he shivered. Reiziger had given her license over all the changelings, and an urge rose up in her to make this one suffer. She had learned so many vicious spells under her lord's tutelage. She grit her filed teeth. How much pain could he suffer? How much agony could he endure? She'd test him-
“Ugh!” Trixie snapped her head, horrified by her most recent thoughts. “Stop it,” she whispered.
“Ah... I...” she breathed out, then in deeply. “You should keep faith in our lord, good sir changeling,” she said firmly. “He has made your kind great again.”
“I know,” said the changeling, “but to what end? I... I know it is not my place to worry, but I do.” He paced hard back and forth. “I worry that we are being undone as a species. That we are ceasing to be creatures. We are becoming tools.”
A tickle rose in Trixie's mind, but she ignored it. “You should be happy you're even that!” She hated every word she spoke but did not stop her speaking. “Think how low you were when he arrived. You were cowering in this dirty hive, ruled over by your stupid queen. Now all Equestria fears you!”
“I know, but I... I...”
Thank you, Trixie, for your constant loyalty.
Trixie and the changeling whirled around. Red light overwhelmed them, and both floated through the air. From the shadows Reiziger emerged, huge and awful.
“So glad I can count on your support even when I am not around,” he said. A burning eye fell upon the changeling. “As for you-”
Lines of blazing crimson ran over the changeling's body. He screamed, howling desperately as pain like he had never felt erupted through his veins. “Please!” he wailed. “Please, my master, spare me! I was only speaking lies!”
“Well you're lying” NOW, boomed Reiziger's mind. Trixie recoiled at the power of the thought, which expanded like a firestorm, crushing all her hopes and fears. She fell once more into the adoration of her master's might, a wild glee appearing on her face. How she hated this feeling. How she loved it!
He dropped the changeling from its levitation, where it kept writhing, stirring up the blackened dust. The ugly part of Trixie cheered to see him hurt, wanting to enjoy his pain. And yet her own behavior shocked her. Such a twisting in her mind- she felt nearly torn part from contradiction. She tottered backward, forehead throbbing. At last the torture stopped.
“Your folk should be lucky I didn't simply destroy the hive and make new servants,” growled Reiziger. The shadows swelled about him, and the changeling started withering. “I keep you about because I am a sentimental fool. But you will be useful to me, each of you, one way or another. If not as servants, then, at least, as food.”
The changeling grayed and stopped his writhing. His body became wholly dry, cracks emerging in the hardened skin. The eyes grew dry and empty. At last Reiziger's shadows pulled away. The changeling's husk still sat where it had stopped. Reiziger inhaled sharply, then he blew- and the changeling puffed apart, bursting into flakes like so many fallen leaves. Trixie watched the folds of him descend about her. She could not stop her shudder.
“Again, Trixie, I must thank you for your loyalty. You have seen now what will happen should it ever falter.”
“I... I understand, my lord.”
Excellent, his mind pressed hard against hers. Come, let us see how the ungoliants are growing.
His mighty walk began, long strides forcing Trixie to a canter to keep pace. They passed beneath the combs that lined the arches of the vaulted ceiling, filled with growing changelings flashing green into the darkness. So many more were full than when they'd first arrived. Trixie had done her part in raising most, using all her magic skill to bring them totally under the sway of Reiziger. She really was his priestess now; her sermons rang through all the hive, making changelings march in eager step.
At last they reached the foundries. The pits had previously been a sacred space for changelings, the quiet gloom where dead had been buried. Reiziger had dug them deeper, sinking them far below the ground, and in them he birthed horrors. Even as Trixie watched, a fell beast was guided from the muck by half a dozen changelings; its mouth opened to loose a scream that made her quake in fear.
“My lord!” cried one of the changelings, and they bowed.
“How goes it?”
As if in answer shrieking rose out of the pit. Reiziger peered into the gloom, eyes seeing beyond the range of mortal gaze.
He grinned with all his teeth. “They are nearly ready.”
“Of course, my lord,” said the lead changeling. “We have been feeding them the love we've harvested. They've taken well to it; they are very greedy.”
“So like their master,” cooed Reiziger, sounding nearly fatherlike. “Carry on. When they are done, fit them for war.”
“Yes my lord!” All of the changelings bowed.
Reiziger trotted through the foundry, stopping here and there to peer into a pit where monsters grew. Trixie followed close behind, wincing at each roar and growl and screech. These beasts were meant to hurt her fellow ponies. Part of her felt repulsed. But yet again another part was anxious for destruction to begin. At last they reached the throne room. Reiziger stopped to smile at the changelings bowed around the nearby altar. They had brought a squirming baby hydra, its three heads wrapping round each other like three mating snakes. It hissed and snarled within its binds. Reiziger loomed above it, shadows swelled, and all the hydra's life was drained away.
I wonder how he got like that, Trixie suddenly thought.
Are you curious, then?
“Eek!” she staggered back. “Forgive me, my lord, I didn't mean to interrupt.”
“No interruption,” answered Reiziger. The hydra now was dead and withered. Crimson fire lashed out from his antlers and the corpse erupted into flames. He turned back from the holocaust. “It is natural for you to be curious about my origins. Shall I show you whence I came?”
“Well I... I admit, my lord, I've wondered this before,” Trixie said. “I just wasn't sure you'd answer if I asked.”
“I have no shame,” said Reiziger, “nor shall I flinch from telling truth. Come!”
He cantered toward his throne. Trixie had to gallop now to match him, but at length they reached the steps, Reiziger floating to the summit where he settled on the chitin seat.
“You at least recall me saying I was crown prince of the caribou, yes?”
“Oh, of course! And you succeeded your father as Lord of All the Herds. From there, you began your glorious conquests of the deer lands, winning allies among the high deer who agreed with your ideas about superiority.”
“But we must go back further,” he replied. Trixie felt her brain throb from his presence. Her knees buckled; it was so trying to have him inside her head. She felt like parts of her were scraped away from Reiziger washing against her mind. “We must go back to the beginning of my awesome power- the start of my divinity! When I was still crown prince, I led a hunting expedition...”
His eyes grew bright. Trixie felt herself tip forward, until she nearly fell into those crimson pools- no, she was falling truly, crashing through infinities of red. At last a whiteness flashed before her, and she saw...
Six caribou were picking over barren ground. The winter snow was thick upon the hills. Only the fir trees still retained their volume. The leader of them all was finely shaped, a true prince of the deer. His eyes were red- but only in the irises. He struck a pose atop a hill. “I feel the thoughts of grouse nearby. Spells at ready!”
We caribou hunted for sport, you see. It was a mark of masculinity. That day I had decided to teleport deep into the northern mountains, where there was rumored to be good game. We were walking around mountains that, of old, had held crystal mines of the moose.
The prince turned swiftly round. “Stand back, I say! I'm in charge here. You only move when I say so.” He crouched low, and the five deer round him followed suit. “Ready...” All six tensed. “Ready... now!” The prince charged, and the five friends followed. They burst onto a hilltop where the grouse were scattering. Spells sang in the air, and birds in threes and fours were brought down. As they fired, however, they did not notice the ground begin to crack.
Imagine our surprise to learn that we were directly above one of the old mine shafts. And we only learned it when our spells caused its wooden cover to give way.
The ground beneath them shattered. The six deer fell with fading screams into the endless dark. They tried to use their magic to levitate and stop their falls, but for some reason nothing occurred. At last they crashed into a heap. Two of them were dead, necks broken by the fall. The prince and three companions, shaken but alive, glanced round.
We were so confused- why had our magic not activated as we fell? Why had we not been able to float or teleport? But when we glanced about us, we knew why.
The cavern about them was very tall and somewhat narrow. Moss, lichen and mushrooms covered the walls, but they did not obscure the crystals poking out at odd angles. Odd, but recognizable.
The excavations of the moose had created an unwitting, but fiendish trap. The crystals that remained in the cave were angled to create a natural Ether Cage- a crystal configuration that bounces and deflects ambient magic so extensively that it is nearly useless. The cage began just above our heads, and ended only a few feet below the opening we'd fallen from. In that space, spells simply would not work. That meant no levitation- and no teleporting. We'd ranged so far afield that it might be weeks before anyone found us. Indeed, as time passed, it was clear no one knew where we had gone.
The prince was seen nibbling on lichen, then on mushrooms. The other three could only eat once he had had his fill.
Naturally, my own survival was prioritized. I was given first pick of the food available. As that dwindled, I simply ordered my fellows to stop eating.
“You ordered them to starve?”
Of course! I was the crown prince, after all. My life was more important than theirs.
One by one the other three grew thin, then skeletal. One of them desperately climbed the wall to reach a mushroom, but the prince pulled him back down. The prince stomped sharply on his head, cracking it with a horrific snap.
Granted, I did have to enforce my orders a few times.
One by one the three deer died, and more time passed. By now all the reachable food in the cavern was gone. The prince grew so desperate for sustenance that he was driven to cannibalism, eating the corpses of his former friends.
Eventually, however, nothing was left for me to eat. I hungered, oh, how I hungered.
The prince was gaunt and thin. At last his antlers started flaring, scarlet magic spilling from the tines.
Then I tried to do something very desperate, and perhaps very foolish. I tried to eat my magic.
The prince conjured a burst of power and swallowed it just as it appeared. The light pulsed through him.
And that is when it happened. That is when I changed.
The light settled round his middle, but it ceased soon to be light. Instead a shadow pulsed out from the stomach of the prince, growing blacker, growing thicker. The prince writhed in pain, collapsing to the ground. He seemed to crush into a point of shadow, rolling in a blackness so intense no sight could penetrate it. For a moment he was just a blackened speck. Then that speck expanded, swelling, growing out into a deerlike shape. Legs and tail and antlers soon appeared. The body was pitch black. Eyes emerged, empty, angry red.
And I still felt hunger... but not for food.
The blackened deer glanced up toward the crystals. The shadows round him swelled. The crystals became gray and cracked, the mushrooms growing on the upper reaches withered. At last the crystals shattered, spewing sparkling specks down on the pitch black deer. He glanced up at the opening, took a step- and vanished. He reappeared outside the hole, amid the snowy hills.
Trixie toppled backward. She gazed up at the throne where Reiziger sat stoic. As she focused, though, she saw him pulsing gently, as if his solid form was hard to keep.
“To this day the hunger has stayed with me,” he began. “It always beckons, always lingers, wearing on me like the urge to cough. Nor have I denied it- nor shall I deny it. Power, hunger- I am the god of both. More than worship, more than offerings, more than conquest, what I desire is life, life to feed on. The more I feed, the more my power grows. The more my power grows, the more I hunger. So I shall not stop, shall not relent. Do you know what I am going to do once I have conquered Equestria, Trixie?” He grinned with razor teeth. “I'm going to consume it.”
“You mean... eat it?”
“Oh yes, in the same way I've eaten other things, as you have seen. Then I shall conquer all the other lands, all the other continents on this world, and I shall eat them as well. I shall consume everything, until the world is an empty husk. And then... did you know that other worlds spin around this sun? Some of them even have life. Even those which are empty, though, contain strength, contain spirit in their mountains, canyons, mighty skies. I shall go to them one by one, and I shall eat them, too.”
“Next comes the sun itself- such power, such life. It will be delicious. And from there, I shall move on to other suns across the gulf of space.” He took a step and vanished, reappearing next to Trixie. She recoiled, despite herself. “But that is all far in the future, and until then you must serve me dutifully. I believe you have another sermon to deliver?”
“Then go to it. I must see to the training of the changelings. Manehattan is squarely in my sights. We attack in three days time! Farewell.” He took another step, and thus was gone.
Trixie sat where she had fallen. “He's... he's going to end everything. I have to stop serving him.” “No! Everything deserves to die,” she snapped, head whipping around. It turned around again. “No, it doesn't, stop it.” “You stop it! I'm tired of you holding us back! We must serve the master!” “We're not we, just... just me!” She toppled to the ground, clutching her head within her hooves. “Stop it,” she whispered. “Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking...”