Winds of Change

by Masterweaver


Chapter Eleven: Wraiths and Wraths

"...she going to..."
























"....quite a shock, just..."




























"...only been a couple of...."





























"...up, I'm going to get an air..."











































WONUGH!

She jerked away from the loud noise as her eyes snapped open, reflexively spreading wings which felt wrong, gaze darting around the room--

"I did warn you," Pinkie stated calmly. "If you didn't wake up, I would get an air horn."

"I was unconscious!" she protested, managing to fold her wings back as she took in her surroundings. A bed, a cabinet... medical screens? And her friends... except...

The earth pony waved a hoof dismissively, tossing the air horn aside. "Details."

Memories trickled back in, memories of the worst week of her life, of the lie, of the dead. The changeling held up a hoof, looking at the holes and sighing. Round her... what would have been a fetlock was a band, a cord trailing off toward one of the screens. She turned back to the ponies that....

Their faces. Gentle, encouraging. Hopeful.

She looked away. "Just.... get out. All of you, out."

Twilight blinked. "Rainbow, we need to--"

"DON'T. Call me that. Just.... get out."

There was a moment of uncertainty as the ponies shared significant looks. Eventually, Twilight sighed, nodding towards the door, and four of them filed out... leaving a butter yellow pegasus.

The changeling gave her a weak glare. She replied with an awkward shrug. "The doctors, um... they say you shouldn't be left alone. I thought since.... since I knew both of you, I should be the one to... if you like I can see if somepony else--"

The changeling sighed. "No, it's... it's fine, Fluttershy." She leaned back on the bed. "...how long have I been out?"

"Um.... five hours." A yellow hoof reach out for the medical clipboard, moss green eyes rolling through the data. "Basically you're exhausted and... a tad malnourished, which combined with a sudden upspike in stress overexerted your body. So, um... you need to eat well, get some sleep, and--"

"I can't sleep," the changeling muttered. "Not until...."

She trailed off. Fluttershy looked up at her, gently putting the clipboard back.

"...tell me about her." The changeling turned to the pegasus. "Was she... any different?"

Fluttershy took a breath, her eyes drifting to the ground. "Before the race.... she was brash, confident, knew she was at the top of her league and... well, she didn't care about it. She didn't want to join the Wonderbolts, she just knew she was Wonderbolt material. She'd brag, yeah, but then she'd turn right around and point out how... how somepony else was awesome too. That's why she hated bullying. She didn't get the idea of inferiority, everyone was just... well, the same."

"And... after?"

"...it took me a couple days to notice," Fluttershy admitted, "but... Well, her confidence was kind of gone. She... you were brash and knew you were the best, but you didn't know if it would stay that way. You had to have approval of, well, not everypony but... me and Gilda, the teachers.... Gilda especially. You were very clingy, but not in a way that most ponies noticed; if Gilda ever suggested you were lazing off you'd do your best to impress her. I... I wrote it off as being nervous that you would never do anything as 'awesome' as a sonic rainboom again, but...." Her wings drooped with a sigh. "Well... it could be that you were, subconsciously, trying to ensure ponies loved you."

The changeling nodded, leaning back into the bed. "I guess that makes sense." She glanced around the hospital room. "That foal.... why'd she have to die for me?"

"Bonbon says she was dying anyway."

"...that just makes it worse."

"Does it?" Fluttershy narrowed her eyes, stepping closer. "That filly could have died all alone in a crater of her own making. Instead, she had the option to help somebody else in the last seconds of her life. And... apparently, she did so of her own volition."

"Did the other changeling tell you that?" A holey hoof rose to deflect the pegasus's reply. "No, you're right, that doesn't matter. Either way, I stole her life."

The monitors beeped along for a few minutes.

"...she has a cutie mark," Fluttershy said softly.

The changeling shifted her gaze toward her. "Is that supposed to comfort me?"

"It's not yours."

She paused, tapping her hoof. "...what is it?"

"Come to the funeral," Fluttershy replied. "If you really regret taking over her life, you need to find out what it stood for on your own."

The changeling shut her eyes. After a moment, she nodded. "Yeah... okay, sure. Yeah."

Once more the sounds of beeping monitors dominated the room.

"...The girls are worried about you," Fluttershy pointed out. "You're the only Rainbow Dash they've ever known. Even if you... can't think of yourself that way, that's how they see you."

"I... guess I know that." Sighing, the changling looked up at the ceiling. "But... I don't know. There was a foal in Cloudsdale, best of the best, and then her life stopped. And somehow I feel like.... every time I acknowledge her name, I'm stomping on her grave. It's not fair, Fluttershy. And not just in the usual unfair way things happen, by random chance or stupid politics. It's... personally unfair, deliberately unfair, she decided to just hoof off her life to a random stanger and here I am reaping the rewards of her death."

"It was her decision."

"Do we know that?" The changeling looked at her. "The other changeling, Bonbon... how do we know she's not covering her own flank?"

"Because I knew that filly," Fluttershy replied simply. "I know exactly how she acted. I remember her spending time after class helping me and the other weak flyers instead of racing with the top ponies in the camp. And..."

She trailed off, rubbing her leg for a moment. Then she nodded firmly.

"...just trust me. There's enough evidence."

"...alright, Fluttershy. If you're sure... I guess I can believe you for now." She sighed. "Does Scootaloo know about-?"

"The, um, Crusaders... they're missing."

The changeling snapped her head toward her, eyes wide. "What?!"

"Well, with all the commotion going on, apparently they decided you... Rainbow..." Fluttershy pused her lips for a moment. "They decided you were on some sort of secret spy mission, and went off to help you. Nopony noticed because we were all focused on... Twilight..." She shook her head.

"Wow." The changeling's ears folded back. "I... we all really screwed up with Twilight, didn't we? I should probably apologize..."

"What about the Crusaders? Applejack and Rarity are worried sick, they've been pushing for Celestia to let them take some guards to go after their sisters, and I know you and Scootaloo--"

"Scootaloo deserves a real hero," she countered. "Somepony who... Some pony who doesn't get so egotistical her friends need to knock her down a few pegs with a made up vigilante. Some pony who... doesn't steal books from hospitals. Or cheat in a race against their friends, or... sneak a bite from the cake meant for Celestia--"

"Nobody is perfect, Rainbow Dash."

The changeling shivered. "Don't call me that."

Fluttershy let out a breath. "...sorry. But my point still stands. She doesn't need a hero who's perfect. She needs a hero who can help her. And I think you can do that."

"...I'm a lie and a ghost, Flutters." The changeling sank into her bed. "I can't go looking for her, even if I want to help. She needs somepony real."

"But--"

"I'm sorry. Really. I... can't help." She sighed. "But... tell me when you find her, okay?"

The pegasus stared long and hard at her, trying to formulate an answer. "....That--"

"Ah, hello!" A doctor walked in with a smile. "Everything reads normal. You're free to... well, mostly free to go, the princess has escorts waiting outside. Just get some more food and, um, a bit of love perhaps... we're still not sure how that works. Oh! And sleep too." He unhooked the changeling and gestured toward the door. "On you go then. Have a good day!"

The changeling blinked. "...just like that?"

"Yes. Just like that." The doctor's smile shrunk slightly. "I don't mean to pressure you, but we do need to clear out healthy patients."

"...Oh! Right, the invasion." The changeling nodded, standing and walking toward the door. "Um... Sorry about that--"

"You weren't involved," Fluttershy reprimanded her. "You don't need to apologize."

"Doesn't mean I don't feel sorry...."

***

"Captain Armor!"

The groom-to-be turned toward the quickly approaching alicorn. "Princess Luna. I take it your visit has something to do with...?" He gestured at the corpse draped across her back.

"Indeed." Pushing the paperwork aside, Luna levitated the body onto Shining Armor's desk. "The vile fiend almost passed thought the library undetected. Even I only became aware of him because of the smallest whisper of air across the book I was reading. Do not look so perturbed," she added quickly, "he was obviously a master at his craft. Your guards would have been sufficient against a less experienced foe."

"Actually, I'm somewhat more concerned that you've dropped a dead pony on my desk."

The princess of the night took a moment to process those words. "...is that not done anymore?"

"Not to my knowledge, no. Typically a coroner or criminal analyst examines corpses, not an officer." Shining rubbed the back of his head. "We do have the training, but it's easier to let a specialist handle the initial look over."

"Ah, delegation. I see."

"That and a bit of squeamishness." The stallion poked the body. "Still warm...?"

"I came to you immediately upon reprehending this infiltrator." Luna held up a hoof. "Yes, I know that he could have been merely one of those... paparazzi, I believe the term is? I did ask what he was doing before I attacked him. He replied with this." A small dart levitated out of her mane. "Be careful, tis laced with something, I know not what."

"See, that's another reason we usually take dead bodies to the morgue," Shining Armor pointed out as he took the dart in his own magic. "They usually have chemical labs."

"Ah, a wonderful boon in this modern age. Alchemy was naught but an estoric habit when I left, yet now..." The princess of the night shook her head. "But that is beside the point. Assured of his aggression, I summoned forth a blast of lightning and slit his throat with a dagger."

"Where'd you get the dagger?"

"Tis a natural part of my regalia," Luna explained casually. "I adopted the habit from a pegasus custom."

"Huh." Shining nodded. "I suppose that makes sense. I wonder how hard it is to get a blood stain out of a Bitsworth..."

"I would not know, modern crafters are somewhat bizarre to my tastes." The dark alicorn opened the corpse's mouth, pointing at the tongue. "But look here. This tattoo... do you recognize the sigil?"

The captain peered carefully. "...this pony was with the Mukade."

"Verily."

"...An assassin sent after you?"

"Nay," Luna replied, shaking her head as she pulled a slip of paper out from under the corpse's hoofbands. "The Mukade are not one for vengeance, but careful plots. This was a messenger." She opened the note, glancing over its contents. "And he has given us directions."

"Why would the Mukade do that?"

Luna sighed. "Once... once, long ago, they were a noble band, and I supported them. Though they have descended into fanaticism and blind hatred, I still felt regret as I removed their hoofhold in Equestria. Even more so when it came to light that the changelings had merely used them as pawns. We were both tricked. This," she explained, flicking the paper, "this is their way of offering me my honor back. This is most likely the location of a hive."

"I see..." Shining Armor shook his head. "If you're sure about this..."

"I'll arrange for a contingent of my guards to head there." Luna smiled grimly. "We will route the changelings out."

"...before you do that, princess." The captain gestured at the body. "Could you clean up your mess, please?"

***

"Rarity!"

"Sweetie Belle? Sweetie Belle!"

"Oh Rarity, I missed you so much! It was so scary, the girls and I--"

"Hush, Sweetie. You're safe now."