• Published 9th Feb 2014
  • 3,305 Views, 112 Comments

Five Changelings In Equestria: The Five Paths - Bucking Nonsense



Orchid Mantis, a changeling, has retired to the Crystal Empire... only to find that things aren't as peaceful as she had hoped they would be.

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Trouble Brewing

"Whatcha doin'?"

Orchid Mantis opened one eye and looked at the pony addressing her. A young colt, five years old, blacked coated, white maned, and golden eyed, was staring at her intently. She supposed that it was understandable: the youngster had probably never seen a changeling meditating before.

Ah, not that she looked like a changeling right now, of course, because that would be foolish. However, given that the little crystal pony had probably never seen anypony meditate before, his curiosity was understandable. A pegasus with a white coat and a white and pink striped mane and tail sitting around with her eyes closed wasn't something the colt saw every day. Besides, meditation might not have even been invented before the Crystal Empire had vanished. She'd have to look into that later...

Clearing her throat, Orchid said, "I'm meditating."

"Oh," said the colt. After a moment, he asked, "What's meditating?"

Closing her eyes, Orchid sighed, then said, "Meditate: verb, to think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time. Which means I'm trying to concentrate, if you don't mind."

"Oh," the colt said, "Okay. Um, what are you trying to concentrate on?"

What she wanted to say was 'Not swatting your flank for being a pest', but even a changeling would know that was a rude thing to say to a colt. Besides, in all honesty, Orchid had been yearning for some sort of a distraction: since she'd relocated to the Crystal Empire, she'd been... bored. Retirement was supposed to be slightly dull, but the last few weeks had been almost painfully so...

With a sigh, she said, "Right now? I'm trying to concentrate on enjoying the sunshine."

It was a warm sunny day. As she sat on a nice flat rock in the park, she had to admit, it was a pretty nice day, all things considered. There was a nice, soft breeze blowing, the birds were...

...Wait.

The birds were silent. In fact, there wasn't a single noise like that of an animal anywhere nearby. Every creature that should have been in the park, making a low level of background noise, was absent. Something was going on. Orchid closed her eyes, and focused.

Path Of The Tiger: Detect Motion...

...Below.

Throwing out a foreleg, Orchid grabbed the young colt, then swiftly leapt to the left... just in time to evade the grasping claws of the monster that erupted from the ground where they had both been sitting just moments before. Had the colt not distracted her from her meditation, then she, at least, and possibly both of them, would have been in the monster's grasp...

The... thing was five times the height of a big pony, and four times as broad. Walking on two stumpy legs, it seemed to be composed completely of black crystal. Four upper limbs that ended with sharp-clawed hands were connected to its torso. It had no head, but instead a face on its chest. Or, well, it had two glowing spots above an opening filled with jagged crystals: eyes and a mouth, if it was alive, and not simply some sort of a construct.

Setting the colt down, Orchid said, in a very calm, collected voice, "When I give the signal, you run and get the guards."

Looking up at her, the colt asked, "What about you?"

As they watched, the monster grew four sharp spikes of crystal out of the top of its torso. The creature grasped one of those crystals in each hand, then pulled them off, giving it a set of four crude, but extremely long and dangerous, swords. The creature arched its back, and let out a roar, flames billowing out of its mouth-like opening.

"I'll keep this thing distracted, so it won't chase after you. Just hurry: I can't guarantee how long I can draw its attention. Alright?"

The little colt, to his credit, nodded bravely, and said, "Alright."

"Good," Orchid said, then, her eyes not leaving the monster, said, "Go. Now." She didn't have to tell him twice: the colt was off like a shot. At the same time, Orchid shot forward, striking the creature in the knee with a fierce kick. While it didn't do any visible damage, it did seem to infuriate the creature. The beast promptly tried to strike at her with its swords. However, the creature seemed to be ill-coordinated, and Orchid had no difficulty evading the counter-attack. In fact, the creature accidentally struck one of its blades with one of the others, jarring both crystals from its grasp. While definitely large and tough, it didn't seem very smart, or very good at fighting. That gave Orchid an idea.

Path Of The Fox: Carrot Dangling From A Thread...

Keeping just within the creature's striking range, Orchid hovered, nimbly dodging attacks from the creature's two blades while slowly moving backwards. They were soon ascending a small hill, which the creature had difficulty climbing, due to its stumpy legs. The creature seemed to be motivated only by an urge to attack anything nearby, and as long as it was focused on Orchid, she could keep it from hurting anypony, at least until her stamina ran out. However, she planned on being done with this monster well before then...

When they finally reached the top, Orchid saw the feature that she had remembered spotting earlier: the hill had one side that was a sheer drop. Not a tall one, really, no taller than the young colt she was just speaking with moments ago. However, with this creature's stumpy limbs...

Path Of The Spider: Watch Out For That First Step...

Orchid dodged the creature's latest wild swing, then zipped through an opening, placing herself behind the creature. As the creature spun to try and keep up, it unbalanced itself. The changeling reached out one hoof, and pushed as hard as she could, burning love to bolster her strength.

The creature tottered, tried to swing a leg back to steady itself, only to have that leg go over the mini-cliff, causing the monster to lose its balance completely. It fell on its back, and began rolling down the hill. While not very steep, the hill was enough of a decline that, with the monster's mass and momentum, it resulted in a long tumble down. The monster ended up on its back, and, thrashing, struggled to stand... and could not. The creature was too ill-coordinated, and its body too poorly made, for it to be able to regain its feet.

The creature seemed to reach the same conclusion that Orchid did, and responded by doing something surprising: it sank into the ground, until it was out of her sight, then rose back up again, righted and ready to fight again. Great, so not only could it sprout swords, it could swim in the ground as if it was water. If the creature had not been so stupid, it would be a serious threat with powers like those...

The creature held up its four arms, and the hands at the end shifted, and vanished. The beast's upper limbs were now stumps, with an empty tube down the middle. Almost like some sort of cannon. Uh oh...

Path Of The Mountain: This Is Going To Hurt...

She shed her disguise in favor of an optical illusion on her carapace that bent light around her, rendering her nearly invisible. She folded her wings back behind her body, and lifted her forelegs up to cover her vulnerable eyes and closed her mouth, taking care to be certain that none of her leg holes were matched against one another. She got everything set just in time, as the salvo of energy beams struck her a split second afterwards. The force of the impacts stung, but her camouflaged carapace bent the majority of the light and heat away from her body, leaving what remained at a bearable level. Instead of being baked to a crisp, she was just toasted lightly.

Great, if it can do something like that, its a much more serious threat than before. She'd have to take it out, or somepony would certainly get hurt. She'd come to the Crystal Empire in the hopes of leaving this kind of life behind her...

She sighed, then steeled herself. The creature had not followed up its attack, and moving her limbs, she saw that it was standing there, the light in its eyes dimmed. Apparently it had to recharge briefly after an attack like that. If she wanted to take this creature down, there was no better time.

Orchid zipped forward, then perched on top of the creature's body. The beast was moving slowly now, but there was no telling how long this would last. She'd have to strike quickly, before it regained its previous speed and strength. She raised a single hoof...

Path Of The Dragon: Hametsu.

...Then brought the hoof down with a solid strike that left her hoofprint carved on the monster's body. The creature stopped moving instantly, as if a switch had been flipped. She lightly leapt down from the creature, then put a disguise on. Well, she tried to, anyways: the damage caused by the energy blasts seemed to have left her temporarily unable to disguise herself...

Uh oh.

And of course, at that moment, the guards arrived, along with the little colt, tagging along behind them. However, she was surprised to see they weren't interested in her right now. They were staring in surprise at the construct that she had just been fighting. With a rumble, the thing chose that moment to begin falling apart. In less than a minute afterwards, it was reduced to rubble.

"Wow," the little colt said. That sentiment was echoed by the assembled guards as well. True, it wasn't something you saw every day.

The little colt turned towards the changeling, and asked, "Are you the lady I was speaking with earlier?"

Orchid nodded, and said, "Yeah." It was kind of sweet for him to ask that: Orchid didn't get called a lady very often.

The colt abruptly hugged Orchid, and said, "I'm so glad you're alright. I was worried..."

Now that was really sweet of him to say...

"Ahem."

Orchid turned and came face to face with Sir Shining Armor. The knight was in full combat armor, which would have been bad enough, right now, but the fact that she was undisguised made matters worse. She really didn't want another fight on her hooves...

"Miss," the knight said, "I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. We need to talk." Strangely, the stallion didn't seem angry, or even upset about her presence here. In fact, he was smiling, which, in a way, was kind of unsettling: folks generally don't smile when they see an undisguised changeling. They usually grab the nearest thing that they can lift, and throw it. The terminology he used was also a little odd: he made it seem like she might have a choice.

Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Am I under arrest?"

Shining Armor shook his head, and said, "Miss, as far as I know, it's not actually against the law to be a changeling. As long as you don't have somepony tied up in your basement, or anything like that, I don't have any reason to arrest you. You, ah, don't, do you?"

Orchid shook her head. She'd not needed to "feed" like that since she'd relocated here. Love was in the air, everywhere she looked around, and she could freely absorb all that she needed, whenever she needed. It was part of the reason she had chosen to finally retire here...

"Good," the knight said, then continued, "But we do need to discuss what you're doing here, and what that thing was. You're free to say no, but I, and Princess Cadance, would appreciate it if you came with us of your own free will. There's a lot going on right now that you need to be told if you plan on staying in the Crystal Empire."

After a moment, Orchid nodded, then said, "Lead the way."
-------------------------

King Sombra was, without a doubt, one of the most evil ponies who ever lived. He was also a meticulous planner. He'd had a plan in place for every possible outcome, up to and including his own defeat...

"So," Orchid said, her tone clearly showing her shock at hearing this, "Sombra put a spell on the city that would destroy it if he was ever defeated?" That was... well, that was honestly just being petty.

Orchid, Shining Armor, and the colt (he'd introduced himself as Lance) were now speaking in an interview room in the Royal Guard Headquarters building located near the Crystal Palace. Stark and empty save for a table and three chairs, it was the best place to talk without interruption or eavesdroppers.

Shining Armor nodded. "Yes. However, that spell was suppressed by the Crystal Heart when he was defeated. Had the princesses just destroyed the wizard out of hoof a thousand years ago, the city would have been destroyed then and there, and if the heart had not been returned at the time of his defeat, we'd be up to our necks in things like the construct you defeated earlier. However, suppressed is not the same as destroyed."

Right. It made sense, in a way: if the Crystal Heart instantly destroyed all dark magic in its vicinity at all times, then Sombra would never have been able to get close enough to steal it. Its power likely waxed and waned, and when it did wane...

"So, why hasn't somepony done something to destroy the spell?"

Both Orchid and Shining Armor looked over at Lance. It was a good question, and one Orchid would have asked herself. However, she had a sneaking suspicion as to why...

Shining Armor, smiling, said, "Well, it's not a single big spell, but instead dozens of them, seeded all across the city. They're bonded, as near as we can tell, to small crystals filled with dark magic, buried all across the city. We've had guards working around the clock, working discreetly to remove these 'seeds' and destroy them, but it's slow going: we have to work in secret, since, if word gets out about this..."

Orchid could see the general shape of it. "There would be a panic," she guessed, "And ponies would begin to despair. And if the the Crystal Ponies start to despair..."

The knight nodded, and finished, "The Crystal Heart would lose its strength, and all of those seeds would sprout at once. At current estimates, we've found more than half of them, and with any luck, we'll have them all cleared out before Winter Startup. As for the ones that have sprouted, that one you fought today was only the third that we know of."

The changeling cocked her head to one side, raised an eyebrow, and asked, "And you're wanting my help in taking out any more of these 'seeds' if they sprout?"

"Exactly," the knight said, nodding. "The first one was able to be destroyed almost instantly, but only because my wife was there, and struck it immediately with a spell: it collapsed without any problem, so we underestimated how serious a threat they could be. The second, however, sprouted while she was on the other side of the city, and by the time she arrived, a number of guards were injured trying to stop it. These... things, they are very resilient, and seem to only be harmed by the power of love."

Chuckling, Orchid Mantis said, "And as a love-eating bug monster, I suppose that I count?"

Chuckling a bit himself, Shining Armor nodded. "Precisely. I'm currently aware of only three other changelings in Equestria. One of them is a mute child with no magical power of her own. The second was a nursemaid for young hatchlings, and while she is, by all descriptions, a right terror if you're a bogeymane, she isn't a trained fighter. The third is here, in the hospital. He's in traction, unable to move more than one foreleg. He'll be like that for weeks yet, and afterwards will have weeks of physical therapy before he'd be anything approaching battle ready. While he's made it known to me that he'd certainly be willing to help, we're hoping to have this entire mess taken care of well before he makes a full recovery."

Orchid thought to herself for a moment. She had left the hive a year before the Canterlot incident, and had since moved from town to town, looking for a place to put down roots. However, when she'd finally found someplace to stay, where she could live in peace and quiet... she'd found it to be insanely boring. She was forty now, and she was starting to feel her age. However, she'd spent much of her life either fighting or training herself in the martial arts style that she had created, The Five Paths, so it turned out that, deep down, she just didn't feel right, sitting around gathering dust. She needed something to do with herself...

"So," Shining Armor said, "I'm asking if you'll help us in keeping the peace here in the Crystal Empire until the crisis is resolved."

"Wow..." said Lance, "You'll be like a superhero!"

Orchid laughed at that. Kids. What can you do?

Shining Armor laughed as well, and said, "That's not a bad way of putting it, really. We'll have to give you a secret identity, so that nopony will find your presence here suspicious or threatening. I think Lance might be able to help with that: since the city's return, we've been trying to find somepony to look after him, but there are only so many ponies out there looking to adopt at any given time, and just about everypony who could has already adopted a little colt of filly. A pegasus coming here to be his foster parent would make for a pretty good cover for you."

Orchid looked down at the colt, and asked, surprised, "You're an orphan?"

After a moment, Lance nodded, glumly, saying, "Yes. My mommy and daddy were part of the resistance against Sombra. When he caught them and the others, he decided the best way to be rid of them was to sell them to slavers, who took them across the sea." With a bit of a smile, he said, "He didn't count on my dad, Dashing Rogue, picking the lock on his chains, leading a mutiny, taking over the ship, and sailing back to Equestria. But, by the time dad got back..."

Whoa, wait... This kid's dad was Dashing Rogue, (GENTLECOLT ADVENTURER!)? THE Dashing Rogue? The stallion who had spent most of his lifetime plunging headlong into unexplored territory just because he thought there might be some adventure there? The stallion who had helped map out over a third of the known world in his lifetime? Orchid had spent her childhood reading about the daring pony and his borderline-insane adventures across the globe...

Lance sniffled, then continued, sadly, "...But by the time he got back, Sombra had already cast the Time Skip spell, sending the city, and everypony in it, forward a thousand years..." Lance looked about ready to cry.

Orchid sighed, then put a hoof on top of the colt's head, and said, "Alright, listen very carefully: Don't cry. I can't stand the sight of anyone crying, for any reason. I can't cry: my eyes aren't made for shedding tears, and believe me, I've had plenty of times when I wished that I could. I'll agree to this whole insane business, and I'll even agree to be your foster parent, but you have to promise me, you won't be sad anymore. Deal?" The changeling extended a hoof.

The colt wiped his eyes, then put on a grin. He took Orchid's hoof and shook it. "Deal."

The changeling turned back towards Shining Armor and said, "Well then, you've got yourself a 'superhero'. When can I start?"