• Published 22nd May 2014
  • 5,690 Views, 292 Comments

Renegades - TheAndyMac

When the Hive speaks with one voice, what do you do when your voice speaks out of synch? For two changelings, there is only one answer; run.

  • ...

Contact - V

"Well?" Trade hissed, moonlight flashing from his eyes, and glinting from his gritted teeth. The night, already so still, seemed to have lost all other sound, so that Breeze's heartbeat rang in his own ears. His eyes twitched over to Sun, but there was no comfort there, just a well of disappointment that was only half faked. As he watched, the older changeling gave a shake of his head, so slight it might have been imaginary, but Breeze's face fell, and he turned his gaze to the silver-lit grass a few metres from their hooves.

Mel, however, showed no real signs of fear at being caught. The shock melted from her face, and she sat back, pulling away from Breeze to rest on her haunches as half-lidded eyes swung to her husband.

"Trade..." she purred, wiggling her hips against the grassy ground. "Why don't ye come an' join wis?" She winked, and Breeze took the opportunity to squirm out from under her and rise to his hooves, standing a healthy distance from the mare.

Some of the anger on Trade's face turned to confusion at her words, and he threw a dagger-sharp look at Breeze, catching the shock and apprehension still written into his features.

"What in the name o' Princess Celestia is gaein' on here?" he said, each word ground out like the slow march of an arctic glacier. He turned to Sun, his face set in a thunderous frown. "What did yer colt dae tae her?" he demanded.

"Nothing!" Breeze's swift answer cut off any reply Sun might have been about to make, the lie coming easily to him and bursting out of his mouth almost before he was even aware of speaking. "I was just talking to her! I woke up, saw that she was missing, and went looking for her, and we got talking, and she just leapt on me! That's all that happened, I swear!"

Trade glowered, missing the sultry smile Mel flashed at him. "Mah wife widdnae 'just leap' ontae any other stallion! Ye've done summit!"

He lowered his stance. For a moment, Breeze was sure he would charge forward, but then Sun was there, holding a hoof out. Mel looked between the two of them, her face knotted in confusion, but even she seemed to know when to hang back, though her eyes were gleaming with desperate desire.

"What could he possibly have done?" Sun asked quietly. With a discrete flick of the hoof he motioned towards Breeze, who had ducked his head, forelegs slightly bent, unconsciously adopting a drone's posture of submission.

"The lad can't do magic, and I don't see anywhere for him to have hidden any kind of potion." His voice was calm, reasonable, almost soothingly deep. "What else could a pony have done to her, eh?"


Sun cut the stallion off with a heavy sigh, and a slow, almost reluctant nod. "I know, there's something not right with her. But as I understand it, the woods are full of all manner of strange things." His eyes sparkled, backing up his reassuring words with the slightest of suggestion, the power far more subtly weaved through his voice than Breeze's wave of compulsion. "You should take her back to camp, see if you can put her to bed, and try to forget about this. Or better yet, make it a story to tell other travellers."

Trade's eyes drooped, going dull as he nodded, then he blinked, slow and heavy. But he perked himself up after a moment, and shook himself with a heavy frown, his eyes clearing again as the power spent itself against his will.

"There's summit gey queer gaein' on here..." he mumbled, and Breeze cringed, wondering whether he meant Mel's new attitude, or the suggestion he'd just managed to throw off. He didn't like either answer overly much. But whatever the stallion had been thinking, he just sighed and shook that off as well. "Mel?" he said softly, moving closer to the mare. "Come wi' me, lass. I've summit special for ye..."

She stood, ears perking right up and her tail swinging in wide arcs behind her. "Oh? Is that right, love?" She moved closer to him, snuffling at his face, but he pulled back, putting on a smile and turning back towards the camp.

"It is, but ye've got tae come back tae camp with me first..." he said, starting to walk away.

Sun nodded to him, releasing the tension he thought no one could see, but that Breeze could spy as plain as the sun in his limbs.

"You go ahead, Trade. I'll see to Breeze, and see you back there in a bit."

There was only a terse grunt in reply, as Trade slunk back between the trees, Mel following behind with a swishing tail and swaying hips, her eyes locked on his behind.

Sun waited, an ear cocked, until the sound of their hooves brushing through the leaf litter had faded, and then turned to face Breeze, that look of disappointment clear on his face again.

"So, what was that?" he said softly, but with precious little sympathy to his tone.

"I-I don't know..." Breeze stammered. His hooves twisted in the grass, and he glanced up, but his head was still bowed, and he dipped his gaze again, not daring to look Sun in the eye. Far back, in a dim and distant corner of his mind, he still saw Rising Sun as he had that first day, as a superior, and his shoulders hunched as he pulled his neck in, making himself seem as small as possible.

"You don't know?" Sun said. "Somehow I don't believe that. I'm sure you know what you were trying to do. And I'm also sure you know what happened." He sighed, his head shaking slowly. "You screwed up..."

Those three words, spoken in hushed tones but carrying the weight of a week's worth of hell, stabbed into Breeze like shards of ice.

"I'm sorry..."

His voice was low, buzzing even through his disguise. It was oddly flat, the two words enunciated with mechanical precision. "I'm sorry," he repeated, his voice a little firmer, but completely monotone. "I was just trying to feed." It felt so natural to just fall back into an air of dispassionate serenity, sounding out his justifications in even, emotionless tones. "I wanted to bring back a proper meal." His muzzle turned completely downward, pointing straight to the floor, and his eyes followed it as his forelegs bent a little more. "It will not happen again, I swe-"

A hoof pressed against the top of his nose, and he fell silent, vaguely aware of a new sound. Harsh, heavy breathing, rushing through a flared nose.

He glanced up. Sun stood before him, hoof outstretched, his pony eyes wide and shimmering, his chest heaving.

Very, very slowly, he shook his head and pulled his hoof back.

"Don't do that."

Breeze remained silent, simply staring at him with his head still turned down, not seeing the free changeling but a drone-adept, perhaps even a captain, standing before him.

"Evening Breeze. Please. For the sake of all we've done..." The voice was husky, on the edge of quavering. "You're not one of them anymore."

"One of..." His voice trailed off, and a horrible icy feeling spread through his belly, and up from the flats of his hooves. He blinked, three times, trying to shake off the phantom vision of resinous armour, of a cold, superior sneer, and of his own lowly fate. For a moment, it was as though all the years of hard-drilled, hard-learned instinct might not break. Might never break. But then, like a swimmer with burning lungs breaking the surface of the pool, he came up, and awareness sparked behind his eyes.

"S-Sun?" he whimpered, somehow huddling up further, falling back onto his rump. "I didn't... I didn't mean to... I thought you were angry. B-because I tried to feed out of turn..."

Then hooves were encircling him, tentatively pulling him close to a soft, furred chest. He blinked one last time, and found himself staring over Sun's shoulder as the older changeling held him close.

He wasn't sure what to think. It was awkward, almost painfully so. Sun clearly wasn't sure what he was doing; he kept adjusting his hold and shifting uneasily. By the same token, Breeze had no idea what to do besides sit there, motionless, and let it happen. After all he'd never been held before. And he was sure Sun had never given a hug in his life, either.

And yet... It was nice. There was no mistaking the heart behind it, and as he got over the initial awkwardness Sun stilled, until his only motion was the steady rhythm of his chest and he breathed. Breeze let himself relaxing, blowing out a long, shuddering breath, as his cheeks dampened with the narrow tracks of falling tears.

Eventually, he leant back, and Sun took the unspoken message, letting him go. Breeze nodded to him, a little smile on his face despite the moisture on his cheeks.


Sun shrugged.

"I heard ponies do it to each other when they get upset." He sighed, nodding to himself. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks. Um...again."

"Good." He cleared his throat with a gentle cough. "Look, Breeze, I'm not angry that you tried to feed, and we certainly don't have 'turns'. I'm...disappointed. Disappointed that you went about it so shoddily, and that you messed up like that. But you don't have to treat me like that. I know I tend to take charge, and you're more than inclined to follow my lead, but... We're not in the hive anymore. And you're not a drone. It's hard for you to remember that, I know, but you don't have to follow blindly. And I may have been disappointed, but in the end, you don't have to answer to me for that. Just yourself."

Breeze nodded slowly. "Yeah... But it's nice answering to someling else. They get to take responsibility for making all the tough choices. And the blame when things go wrong." He managed a weak smile, but there was more warmth behind it than the strength of the smile implied, and genuine affection behind the words, as strange as it was for him to realise it.

"I guess that would be true. Not so nice for the changeling at the top, though."

There was warmth in the smile that Sun returned, as well as a hint of something a little more bitter. Was it remorse? Maybe. Breeze couldn't be sure, but there was something behind the upturned lips that he didn't care to see there.

Whatever it was, it was gone quickly enough. Sun sat back, his head tilted to one side, as he turned something over in his mind.

"Now, how about you tell me exactly what you do know about what just happened?"

The campsite was quiet when they returned, perhaps an hour later. Somehow, Trade had coaxed Mel to sleep, and the couple were lying next to each other, near the remains of the fire, both dead to the world. Breeze couldn't be sure how the tinker had done it, but he had enough suspicions that be decided he didn't really want to know. It was a miracle no matter how it had been done. But there was a tenseness in Trade's form, even in sleep, as if he hadn't been comfortable lying down beside his own wife.

As he crawled into his own bedding, Breeze found himself watching them, remembering their closeness the day before. The way they sang their strange song and shared those glances, as if each knew what the other had been thinking. And he found himself idly wondering if that was what true love looked like.

After all, there was no doubt that they loved - or maybe had loved - one another. But although Breeze knew what love was to him - put bluntly, food - he'd never actually seen it practised in person. He couldn't say where the difference lay between a short-lived flame and real, true love. The kind that would bind ponies together for a lifetime, and keep a changeling fed for almost as long.

And yet... He was sure it had been. Even without knowing why, his instincts told him that, for the first time, he was seeing it. It was a fascinating thing. He might have said beautiful, but the word didn't really seem to fit. Not for him.

With all that still in mind, as he rolled over he idly wondered if he had just destroyed such a fascinating thing. Or if maybe their love really was strong enough to see them through it. Not that it really mattered, in the end. In the morning he and Sun would move on, and all things being equal they would never meet the tinkers again.

Not that the thought could entirely smother the little niggle of guilt in the back of his mind. Or the shame at having botched his compulsion to such devastating effect.

Lust. That's what Sun seemed to think it all came down to. Whatever had happened to Breeze's spell, it had triggered something inside Mel to bring lust to the surface. And perhaps that was what he'd been feeding on. After all, there were many types of love, not all of them the same. Lust was a large part of romantic love, so it made sense that it alone could make up something almost like a decent meal.

In a way, he supposed he shouldn't feel too bad about it all. At the very least, he'd managed to discover, entirely by accident of course, a new way of feeding, that took out the need to perfect an imitation, and play the old game with a target. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was a start. A start to making their new life.

That was enough to help him close his eyes, and soon enough only the sounds of soft snores broke the nighttime quiet.

It wasn't too helpful come morning, when he woke to find Mel gone, and Trade sitting in front of the ashes of the campfire. It wasn't too surprising, really, assuming she was back to her normal self. If she remembered what had happened the night before... Most victims of changeling charms would have hazy memories, but it was by no means a certain thing, especially with a botched spell.

Still, even having expected it Breeze found the absence brought back that feeling of having taken apart something that perhaps should have remained whole. It made him pick idly at his breakfast, not wanting to go through the charade of eating like a pony, and left him staring into the bowl of thick oatmeal for what felt like an age before Sun brought him out of it with a sharp jab to the side.

But it wouldn't do to dwell on it. Breeze knew that much, so he forced the feeling to the back of his mind and tried to carry on as best he could.

Trade was willing to do the same, at least. He put on an air of civility that all three of them knew was only a thin fa├žade meant to hide the lurking suspicions of what Breeze had done, despite Sun's reassurances. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to bear the suspicious glances the unicorn threw his way while they were packing up the camp, when he thought Breeze couldn't see. And knowing that Trade was right to be suspicious somehow made it worse. Breeze couldn't just shake them off with the knowledge that they were unfounded; instead, there was the fear that he'd slip up somehow, and give Trade something like hard evidence.

If he did that... Breeze didn't doubt that he and Sun could take one unicorn, and possibly one earth pony, in the middle of the woods, but there was no telling how far they'd have to go to keep themselves protected. It wasn't something that the younger changeling wanted to consider too deeply.

So he kept his head down, pretending that he didn't see the glances and glares, trusting that Sun's hoof would keep him in check.

And it would have, had he needed it. Thankfully, he managed to keep his head, and hold his tongue, and all that Sun had to throw his way was a glance of his own, when Breeze twitched in response to the feel of Trade's eyes on the back of his neck.

Finally, Trade heaved out a sigh, and moved around to the back of the cart, pulling back a pair of bolts and letting the back gunwale fall flat, making something like a table for him to rest a book and a bag of bits on. Breeze ignored those, however, more interested in the piled sacks and boxes now laid bare, filled with more curiosities and pointless things than he thought could exist in one place. Compasses, spades, typewriters, and things he didn't even have a name for.

"So then," Trade said, cutting through his awe. "You wanted tae hae a look at the wares I've got on offer?"

To the surprise of the other two, Sun shook his head with a slight smile. "Actually, I thought you might be a little more interested in what we have to offer."

Trade's eyebrows shot up at that. "Ye think ye've got summit tae offer?" he said, eyeing them both. "Didn't think ye had much on ye, tae tell the truth..."

"Is that right?" Sun replied, his tone even. Another pony might have mistaken it for a warning, but Breeze could practically taste the amusement behind it. Trade was right, after all, they didn't have much on them. But it was obvious that Sun was enjoying the game, playing his part like he'd been born to be an infiltrator.

Trade put a hoof up, leaning back a little. "Now, I mean nae offence, an' I'm not objectin' tae the idea. That's how I pick up half the stuff in the cart, is by tradin'." He gave them another look up and down, gesturing to their bags. "An' ye've no' got any heavy baggage, so ye'd forgive me if I said I hadn't thought ye were carryin; much of interest?"

Despite his earlier tone, a little smile lit up Sun's face, and he shrugged in a more good-natured fashion. "I suppose so, since you're right enough." He reached into his bag. "We're a little short of good Equestrian bits, but we're not exactly destitute."

He pulled out a little purse, and set it clinking on the wooden boards, the mouth pulled wide so that a few strangely shaped coins could tumble out. Breeze took a sudden breath; he'd forgotten all about those... The coins pulled from the outrider, in the breathless moments between fight and flight. But seeing them now brought those nightmarish moments back to the forefront of his mind.

The soft sound brought Sun's eyes to him, and a gentle frown creases the older changeling's face, but thankfully Trade didn't seem to hear, or notice the flat, glazed look in Breeze's eyes. His own went wide, and he leaned down to take a closer look, pushing a squared-off, gold piece around with a hoof.

"Well now..." he breathed. "Awfy fine lookin' work..." He picked the coin up with his magic, setting it on an upturned hoof and weighing it. "Heavy, too. It's pure?"

Sun gave another shrug, nudging the purse to scatter the last of the coins. "I wouldn't know. I'm afraid I'm no expert in these things; they're just some curiosities I picked up along the road. But I imagine you might have a better idea than I do?"

"Aye... I might, at that, and a better idea of their worth, tae. That is why ye brought them oot, aye?" He tapped the coin against the wood a few times, ears perked.

"Well, they seem tae be worth summit, at least. I cannae say too much, though; I'd have tae see some friends before I could say fer sure. I can gie ye a low guess, but..."

Sun nodded. "I understand. I wouldn't ask you to take too big of a risk on them, but I figured you'd give me a more honest price than some of the dealers in Fillydelphia. At least, the ones willing to deal with a couple of stallions who just came in off the road."

By now Breeze was starting to tune them out, the talk turning to that of prices, bits and bridles. It was boring, too boring to distract him from the gathering memories. He cast his eyes around the clearing, scuffing his hooves against the trampled grass and dirt, then blinked as a pair of eyes peered back at him from between thickening trees.

For the briefest of moments, they met with his, and the two gazes locked together. He blinked, and they did the same, then they were gone, leaving a last glimpse of fearful tears brimming and threatening to spill over onto soft fur.

Breeze didn't move. His gaze was still fixed on the now empty space, his own eyes as blank as if he'd been in his true form. There was no question who those eyes had belonged to, and no mistaking the terrible whirlwind of emotion that had to have been swirling behind them. That sense of destruction was returning, but instead of true love, he found himself wondering if he had gone even further, and destroyed whatever it was that had once lain behind those eyes.

He pushed that thought away as soon as it came to him, buried it deep in a dark corner of his mind and refused to acknowledge it. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to look away, to listen to Sun and Trade again, however boring their talk might be.

Or however boring it might not be, because things seemed to be wrapping up; Sun pushed the sack further towards Trade, while the unicorn levitated a larger sack across the makeshift table. Sun hefted it in a hoof, nodded, and held out his other as he slid the sack into his bag. Trade eyed the hoof for a moment, then shook it.

"Thank you," Sun said, smiling. "You've saved us a lot of trouble."

"Aye, I'm sure," the other grumbled, then he heaved the slats back into place. "I hope you both hae a good journey, an' the best o' luck in Fillydelphia, but it's past time I was on the go. If yer no' wantin' tae see what else I've got, I'll bid you farewell now."

And that was that. Breeze made his own quiet farewell, as Trade hitched himself back into the cart's harness, and spared the pair a final nod before he started walking. After a moment, Breeze caught side of a figure moving through the trees, only emerging onto the path as it curved out of view.

Sun made a quiet noise, and at that signal the pair moved off as well. The sound of the cart's wheels faded into the distance behind them, and Breeze chest felt like it had left something sitting in the piles of junk and tat. Despite everything, there was an odd little emptiness inside him that he couldn't describe, because it was altogether too familiar to describe. It would be like trying to describe warmth, or wetness; all he could do was think on how it had felt to have that empty space filled, like a shivering filly might think on the comfort of a hot bath.

He blinked. Empty space...

Thinking on it put him in mind of another emptiness. The emptiness at the back of his skull, where the thousands of murmurs had been, and were now silent. It was a feeling that he'd grown used to, even forgotten, in the last week or so. Now that he thought about it, though, the absence was...similar. Given the implications, it was a thought that sat uneasily in his mind.

Silence stretched between the two changelings, and the road to Fillydelphia stretched on ahead. Breeze shifted, ill at ease, until a notion came to him, and with eyes narrowed in concentration he started to whistle.

It was a thin, reedy sound. Faltering at first, but then merely halting, before it finally found its strength. Not much strength, granted, but enough for the tune to become clear. The words of the song sounded just as clearly in Breeze's head, carried along by the tune, in a strange imitation of Fair Trade's voice.

"Now up jumped the colonel, March, boys, march..."

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