Ch.44 “Apple in my eye”
(Shortly after Shade left Chrysalis at the mirror pool)
Shade stood in the midst of Ponyville in the form of an unassuming pony. A grey pelt, teal mane, and blue eyes were what made a simple disguise. The last he had seen of Twilight was when she dashed off to the center of Ponyville, and that is where he hoped to pick up the scent.
The tracer he had planted on her horn was placed with magic, but wouldn’t require it for him to follow. The clear dab of resin would release pheromones that only changelings could pick up… well, and bees. Hopefully Twilight wasn’t allergic to them, Chrysalis did want her alive after all.
His grey muzzle sniffed at the air as he neared town hall. The sour scent was pungent, and very easy to follow. If he didn’t find her first, it would be fairly likely another vanguard would. With how high profile the purple unicorn was, they should notify him first.
Once he picked up a good indication of the scent’s direction, he walked into a private alley and flashed a little transformation magic. Now his unassuming pony guise had wings, and he used them to glide quickly down the road.
The trail soon led him towards the outskirts of Ponyville, and alongside a particular farm. There were plenty of fruit trees behind the white picket fence, and as he went along the scent got stronger. Eventually the fence went back further into the property and a fairly large arch held a display board. On the broad piece of wood was carved the symbol of an apple.
The changeling narrowed the eyebrows of his pony guise, he felt he should recognize something about this. In the mental spectrum, he reached out towards Reaper, his local informant.
I’d like you to tell me where I am.
So he opened his eyes wide, and brief glint of magic twinkled in his vision. Now, Reaper would be able to see what he saw. It took a few moments, and Shade made sure to give a broad perspective of where he was, as his head slowly swiveled about on his neck. Reaper’s tone was quite blunt.
You’re at sweet apple acres, home of my biggest competition…
Who lives here, and what terms are you on with them?
The apple family, which would consist of Granny Smith, Big Macintosh, Applejack, and Applebloom. Last time I checked I was quite friendly with them.
With that bit of knowledge Shade made another shift, and in a moment he was a mare with a yellow pelt, and curly orange mane.
What is it?
Well, do you know if anyone is home?
Not the last time I checked, I told you earlier anyway. When I went there Applejack was gone, and so was Granny and Applebloom. Big Mac never came back from that little Canterlot excursion. It’s vacant. I assume Applejack got them to go with her when she ditched town.
Any idea where they would go?
They have family all over the place.
Well, did they mention any relatives more than others?
Applejack did esteem her Orange relatives fairly highly. I remember her telling me about her cutie mark story before, and how they were involved.
Wait… Oranges? She didn’t happen to mention a Mosely Orange, did she?
I don’t remember, why?
Ha! Well, we’ll see then. It’s about time I make a trip to Manehatten anyway, Mosely is probably worried sick since news of the invasion.
Alright, anything else that you need?
I’ll contact you if I do.
With that Shade took steps into Sweet Apple Acres. The gate was unlocked, and appeared to be hastily closed. When he made it further in the tracker scent became extremely clear. He rounded the barn, and came close to another fence, this one being made of brown pegs.
The smell of swine intermingled with the scent he followed, and almost overwhelmed it. It made him wrinkle his snout in distaste, it wasn’t the worst of smells, not compared to the foulness of the Badlands. Though it was an unpleasant smell none the less.
Yellow hooves set themselves on the edge of the fence, the source of his quarry was inside of this pig pen. Green guised eyes searched for where the smell came from, and once he spotted it he chuckled a bit.
Was printed in lavender letters on the side of a pig. It had a string tied around its tail, which was connected to a little resinous ball. Shade smacked a hoof down on the fence and shook his head.
“Should’ve put it under a hoof.”
Well, with that trail shaken it was time to consider more options. In review, there were three potential directions to go.
Twilight, who managed to discover and plant the tracker here, then went off to wherever she is now. She only had a large arsenal of spells to assist her…
Rainbow Dash, who possessed the amulet and may or may not have rejoined with her friends. Things could have easily gotten confused in that mess.
Then there was Applejack and the rest of them, who could be any number of places. Would they stick together? Would they split up? Hmm, they would probably be together, most tales of their adventures had them together. They were the elements, and meant to function together after all.
The only leads he had were Rainbow Dash flew off… somewhere, and Applejack thinks highly of her relatives, according to Reaper, and he might also know these “relatives” very well. Twilight was very magically skilled, but her connections here in Ponyville, and in Canterlot would be cut off. The poor mare probably didn’t know where to go herself.
In any case it was time to call in assistance, there were too many directions for him to go personally. For Rainbow Dash, he already had one vanguard in mind. Mentally he reached out towards Cloudsdale.
Yes Mr. head sir?
You can call me Shade, Lightning.
Just practicing being formal, Shade sir. The Wonderbolts have several open spots now, and I plan to take one.
Hmm, well I hope you succeed then, but-
You might as well congratulate me now, I mean, it’s like a sure thi-
Your talent for flight is precisely what I want you for.
Ofcourse sir, what is it you want done exactly?
You heard of Rainbow Dash?
What flight-minded pegasus hasn’t? She only made a big stunt out the Best Young Flyer competition. Kind of hard to miss those sonic rainbooms. Oh, and She’s an element mare, that only slightly helps her notoriety, and-
Alright, alright, bad question on my part. What I need is for you to track her down.
She took a highly volatile artifact from the queen, and escaped to the skies. She and that object need to be brought in, before more unsavory hooves can get them.
I’m an athlete…
And a vanguard, I trust you to be able to hunt her down.
Oh I’m definitely able, she claims to be the best flier, but she just needs to be shown up.
Be careful, if she ends up wearing that amulet for whatever reason, back off and wait for help.
I’ll handle it, no worries. Now do you actually have a direction to point me?
The skies, she left Ponyville already, a few pegasi have been to her home, and she wasn’t there. Neither was her pet. I did hear she grew up in Cloudsdale though, so she may have some connections there.
I’m already there, anything else Shade sir?
That’s all for now.
Alright, I’ll have her wrapped up in a care-package for the queen pronto.
Remember to be careful, especially of that amulet.
Technically it would be dad, but-
Sheesh, Whatever, I’m gone.
Lightning proceeded to cut herself off from communication. Shade sighed in his Carrot Top disguise, and started to second guess his choice. Lightning definitely had talent, and the will to use it, but the bull-headedness was a cause for concern.
Now for Twilight… He couldn’t think of any of his vanguards that could match her in magical prowess. No one vanguard would likely be enough, even with their new surplus of power, not unless they could trick her sufficiently. Also, Twilight may be wandering at this point. If that was so, he could have some vanguards watch traffic.
Still in the mare disguise, Shade started to head off the property. His eyes gazed at nothing in particular, and thoughts mulled over slowly in his mind. Perhaps it would be best to just set watchful eyes out for her at the moment, then he could plan an operation to collapse in on her.
The next message would require some concentration, and he shed the Carrot Top disguise while his eyes closed in focus.
I will need every vanguard that was assigned to an Equestrian post before the invasion, to return to that post, unless you have other prioritized orders. Twilight Sparkle needs to be found, and I need every town watched.
To finish the message he sent a mental image of the purple unicorn mare along with it. Every vanguard would know exactly what she looked like.
What Shade didn’t expect was the immediate recoil he received. Several hundred mental messages started to bombard him all at once.
Can’t do it!
I think you forgot something!
Um, there’s complications.
Unable for the next few months.
What are you thinking!
Sorry won’t be able to.
Can you put that off for a while?
Insensitive request at such a time!
No, not now.
And more, and more, and Shade could barely hear himself inside his own head. Most of the messages had come directly from Canterlot itself. Also, most of the mental signatures were distinctly female. His rebuttal was made with a loud mental authority.
I’m sorry, but what did I forget?
As the head, his voice could drown out all other vanguard. There was momentary silence, and the rancorous bicker knew a moment of peace. Then in a rather unanimous call, a simple phrase found it’s way to his mind.
The order to multiply…
That’s right, Chrysalis had sent that order out a short while ago, didn’t she. Now his resources would be drastically reduced, due to most of the vanguard being… preoccupied.
He stomped a hoof in frustration. Multiplication within the swarm had been a gradual assignment, limited to a smaller section of the swarm before. Now with this new en mass order the queen had issued, almost every vanguard was included, except for those with other prioritized assignments.
Males could still be recruited for most of his purposes, but even many of them would be needed to raise and train the new young.
Queen’s orders overrode his orders… Oh well, now he’d have to reevaluate what talent was actually available for the near future. Vanguard that were not part of the invasion would be excluded from the multiply order, since they had other prioritized assignments already in effect.
Very well, my order applies to those who are available. I need eyes.
He thought over Lightning again, and considered a few more possibilities. At least he assumed vanguard that were excluded from the invasion would stick to their assignments, and not be distracted by that general order… He reached out specifically to Lightning one more time.
You heard my general announcement?
You need eyes? But you already gave me an assignment.
Yes, and I would like you to follow what I previously instructed you to do, but that also depends on something else.
What Shade sir?
Did you participate in that order to multiply?
It was difficult to get a read on other changelings in the mental spectrum. Tones and pronunciations varied widely, and were often different from personal contact. To put it bluntly, he couldn’t get a good read on Lightning. He would just have to trust her.
Very well, good luck with the hunt then.
Don’t need luck when I got the skill and will.
Shade shook his head and rolled his eyes. Atleast long range mental contact didn’t require him to have physical etiquette. If anything, Lightning’s hot head might help her understand Rainbow better, hopefully. Lightning had the best chance of keeping pace atleast.
Twilight could remain lost for now. The number of vanguards at his disposal needed reevaluation anyway. So he might as well move towards something he actually had clues on. That made Manehattan his next best stop. A smile adorned his muzzle as he thought about it. It had only been a few weeks, but it felt like forever. He would be heading to his home away from home.
With a lazy slow stride, Shade walked off of Sweet Apple Acres in his natural form. When he hit the road green flashed over his body, and the guise of a green unicorn stallion with brown mane covered his natural form.
He didn’t notice that another pony had walked by when he had so casually transformed.
“Why do you even bother anymore?”
The question took him off guard, and he looked around for the one who spoke. No pony was at eye level, but some movement caught the corner of his eye and he looked down.
There were two fillies, a pink one with white and purple mane, and a grey one with a silvery mane. The bubblegum pony rolled her eyes when he just stared at her for a moment. So she explained herself.
“It’s not like you need to hide, the surprise is gone, we know what you are.”
“Ya, we just saw you change.”
The grey one added. Both of their tones contained quite a bit of snark, and Shade raised an eyebrow at their apparently fearless approach. He was actually somewhat impressed, since most ponies seemed to generally avoid undisguised changelings, or throw them fearful glances. Yet these two were undeterred. He might as well humor them, so he dropped his pony guise.
“Oh no, looks like you caught me, Yep, I’m a changeling.”
“Heh, ya we did.”
The Silver one seemed proud of herself, which caused Shade to smirk and raise an eyebrow.
“So what are you going to do now? You found out this pony isn’t a pony?”
Both of the little fillies were a little nonplused, apparently they hadn’t thought that out. So Shade shifted and copied the form of the silver one, and spoke with her voice.
“Like, it’s starting to get late in the evening gal-friend. Bit strange for two little fillies to be out this late? I mean, like gosh, where are our parents? Do they care?”
The grey filly stomped with indignity, which caused her glasses to go askew. It took a moment to rearrange the ocular apparatus, and composure. Meanwhile Shade shifted to the bubblegum ponies form, and walked up close to her.
“That’s actually a fair question, why bother to change? Especially when ponies know we exist?”
He just noticed that she had on some saddle bags, and one of the bags had something protruding out of it. It was dark and had small blue orbs attached to it. The filly already wore a tiara, and it looked like she had another one in her bag. That was besides the point though, and Shade flashed his eyes purple when he next spoke.
“Because appearances will always be deceiving… As long as ponies continue to trust their eyes and ears.”
The head vanguard shifted back to his normal form, which towered over the two fillies, and he smiled, which caused an uneasy shift in the posture of the two little ponies. He threw out a question.
“Are you a princess?”
“Are you a princess?”
“H-Huh? No, I’m not a princess you dork.”
“Then why are you wearing a tiara? Isn’t that what princesses do? Are you trying to convince other ponies you are a princess?”
“It’s my cutie mark genious…”
“But at a glance, it looks like you treat yourself like royalty, or your parents do, and that’s all a pony needs to start forming opinions.”
“What’s your point?”
In the next moment Shade changed back into the green unicorn, and started to walk down the road. He turned his head to the side as he left the two fillies behind.
“Unless you follow me around and tell everypony I’m a changeling, they won’t know.”
He stopped midstep, as a mischievous smile crossed his lips.
“I’ll come back sometime, and I challenge you to spot me before I reveal myself.”
His horn glowed green as he opened a portal in the middle of the road, and vanished into it. The two fillies were left alone on the road, and they shivered. Eventually they looked at each other before they nodded and moved on in silent agreement.
Partway to their destination the grey one decided to pipe up her voice.
“So Diamond, since I found the tiara…”
“Come on Silver, tiaras are my thing. If I find a spoon, then I’ll let you have it.”
As fate would have it, a strange object careened through the air at high speed and connected with bubblegum pony’s head. The little filly instantly dropped, her world twirled in a daze. In surprise the grey filly shrieked and jumped back. Her friend flopped down with unruly eyes from apparently nothing.
Then a strange glint caught her eye, he scream calmed down. Diamond continued to struggle, so whatever it was hadn’t even knocked her out, so Silver allowed herself to be distracted by the strange glint.
It was a small long object with a golden hue, when she came close and looked carefully at the object through her glasses it was apparently… a spoon! A golden spoon!
“Yay Diamond! You found a spoon! Thanks!”
She grabbed the spoon, then bumped flanks with her still delirious friend. Diamond still wobbled on her belly on the ground, so it was an awkward, one sided flank bump.
Next day, Manehattan
In his green unicorn disguise, Shade strode up to a music studio he was very familiar with, and had spent many years around. The orange rimmed doors even smelled of citrus and he breathed it in before he opened them.
He had also acquired his casual jacket and glasses, everything was as it should be for the occasion. When the door opened and he proceeded through, he was surprised to see a pony already there. Immediately his eyes went to a yellowish stallion with green mane that he recognized. The gesture was returned by said stallion.
“If it isn’t good ol’ Hedge Tone, I was worried you’d been lost on vacation.”
“Heh, It was rougher than I expected Mosley.”
The two of them had advanced towards each other and gave a cordial hoof shake. A great relief was apparent in Mosley’s tone.
“I worried that you might be gone for good, and I’d have to shut the studio down, perhaps even the club and theatre. What with the terrifying news that’s coming from Canterlot and all.”
“Well, they’re letting any pony in and out as they please, so long as they’re not making a scene.”
“Hmm, you’ll have to tell me all about it! Why don’t we do that over lunch?”
“Aw, you a Mrs. Orange treat me too nice.”
“Nonsense, your business here has been a great success, it’s our pleasure, really.”
“You know I’m not one to turn you down, but I’d like a minute to check my place out, see everything in order and all.”
“Of course, oh, and one other thing. I’m having a number of guests in the neighboring studios.”
“Well, neat, I don’t mind neighbors.”
“They’re just staying here for a short time, some of them are relatives just in for a visit.”
“Hey the more the merrier, If you have family in town then you should bring them along for a concert! Do they like music?”
“Oh I’m sure they’d love to see some of your talent, but I suppose it depends on how much of a hurry their in.”
“I’m cool with anything.”
“Ha, that you are. I suppose I’ll be off then, and we’ll be expecting you shortly?”
“Yep, I’ll be right behind you after I do my check up.”
Mosley wore an amiable grin, and proceeded out of the studio. Once he was gone, and they waved each other a brief goodbye, Shade turned towards the hall attached to the grand main room. Once in the hall he walked along at a slow pace.
He mentally messaged the other two vanguards stationed in Manehattan.
Time to bring the band back together guys!
Bout’ time the Over-head came back!
How’d the queen treat’ ya Shade?
The reply he was going to give was faltered when he saw another pony stride the hall. The orange mare headed to another studio door, and hadn’t noticed him. Before she put a hoof to the handle he called out to her.