• Published 22nd May 2014
  • 5,654 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.

  • ...

Integration - I

It was strange, really, to see how very similar, and yet utterly different Fillydelphia was from the hive. It was self evident, of course, that ponies would have done things differently, but there was no way Evening Breeze could have been prepared for the sheer chaos of the cities.

There were lives everywhere. In that regard, it was like the hive; so long as the sun was up, drones would be bustling through the corridors and halls, always doing something or going somewhere to help the hive. Likewise, ponies - and the handful of other beings that lived amongst them - were bustling to and fro on paved and cobbled streets, but there was a sense of chaos amongst them. Not just because of the utterly alien riot of shape and colour, but because there was none of the simple changeling streamlining at work. The sky was open, the streets all set at the same level, with no way to cross over or under a stream of beings, save by one's own wings. The wings that Breeze had to remember he didn't have as an earth pony. Though in fairness, he hardly missed the overly fragile, unreliable gossamer.

There were other alien concepts at work here. Conversation, for example; ponies might step to one side, or sit at parasol-protected tables and simply talk to one another, even in the middle of the working day, surrounded by their fellows. Out in the open, in public, instead of chittering secretly amongst themselves when the lights were dimmed and the officers weren't watching. And they argued! If he was being less generous, Breeze might even have said that some of them fought! Different ponies had different opinions, and they flaunted those differences as plainly as they flaunted their kaleidoscope of mane and coat colours, of height and weight and wings and horns and hooves. It was all too much for the changeling to take in, and as they watched the world go by below from the hotel room window, he swallowed, an anxious shiver running through his whole body.

"Are you okay?"

Sun's voice made him turn, made him fight to still his trembling limbs and nod slowly. "Aye, I'm all right," he replied, dragging his hooves away from the window, and towards one of the twin beds.

Sun gave a little twitch of irritation, and glanced to the floor. Not at Breeze's fear, not this time. The older changeling felt it just as keenly, even if he was hard enough not to let it show. No, it was at the accent. Breeze's voice held more than a touch of Fair Trade's distinct lilt, though it was softer, tempered a little by the neutral Equestrian accent both changelings had learned to speak with. Had circumstances been different, Sun might have thought it was a good voice for his friend, but as it was, in this place, and feeling that ever present fear... Breeze could see the irritation, even as Sun tried to hide it.

"So... What are we doing now?" he asked, partially to distract himself.

That was, as the ponies would say, the million-bit question. As he watched Sun struggling to come up with an answer Breeze realised that he almost felt disappointed.

Was this it? Was this what they'd come all this way for? What they'd walked, crawled, climbed, fought, killed and almost died for? To be sitting in a cheap hotel, in this place that they'd spent so long thinking about, with no idea what to do with themselves? All that time, from the moment he'd realised that getting out of the hive was actually doable to the days crawling through the desert, he'd been keeping himself going with the dream of freedom. Not of food, not of safety, not even of a better life. Just something as simple as freedom.

Now? Now he was wondering if it was all worth it. His disguise had been worn for so long it seemed to itch, ill fitting and uncomfortable. A product of his mind, of an existence where he'd never had to hold a disguise for nearly as long, but that didn't make it feel any less real to him. The world outside was more terrifying than he could remember his old life being. He craved the comfort of the familiar, of the devil he knew. The thought of the unknown and uncertain was making him yearn for something that, in his right mind, he never would have wanted.

He wanted, in a mad and stupid way, to go home.

So caught up was he in his own thoughts, it was almost a surprise when Sun finally spoke, leaning forward to place a hoof on the purse lying in the centre of his bedside table.

"We get money."

Breeze glanced up, blinking, caught off guard by the response, a response that seemed far too simple for the thought that had gone into it.


"It's what I said," Sun replied with a roll of his eyes. "This is Equestria, not the Hive. The Queen won't pass down a task, a place to sleep and a few scraps of love. Not here. We have to pay for it. With these." He lifted the bag, letting a few bits fall carefully onto the wooden tabletop.

"I know," muttered Breeze, his own eyes, downcast. "I know this, all right? I just..." He sighed. "I didn't think this far ahead..."

When he looked up, the other changeling was standing before him, his expression softening. Sun sat down on the bed beside him, close enough that they could feel the warmth from each other. With slow movements he turned to Breeze's table and picked up a canteen. The same canteen that he had taken from the storeroom in the Hive. There had been a glass there, when they'd first arrived, but neither of them had trusted it. By some insane logic, they'd felt so much more at ease drinking from the old, battered metal. He did that now, taking a long swig, and passed it along. Breeze drank instinctively, passing the canteen back to his friend, and felt a rueful smile forming.

"Did you think we'd get this far?" he asked softly.

Sun didn't reply for a moment, but when he did speak his voice was firm. "Of course."

Then he smiled, looking down at the canteen, cradling it in both hooves. "I know I said that we weren't in the Hive anymore, but... I think we might be the start of a new one. You and I. I mean, I still don't want you to act like I'm a general. We're a hive of two, there's not much point trying to act like one of us is better than the other. But we can get through this, if we work as a hive." His smile broadened. "We made it out of the Badlands, after all. We can survive here."

And despite himself, Breeze felt his own smile widen in sympathy. "All right. But this hive isn't getting any bigger than two, y'understand?" he joked, feeling his new accent roll from his tongue.

There was an awkward laugh from Sun, but he quickly shrugged it off. "Heh, sure. But we should talk about money." His eyes wandered to the purse. "We don't have much. Not enough, by half. If we'd had something like a good cover, I'd have said we should go looking for work, earn some the normal pony way, but..."

He didn't need to continue. They'd passed a few extra bits to the hotel clerk not to question their names, but there was no ignoring the fact that, according to anything official, Rising Sun and Evening Breeze didn't exist. Or perhaps that they did, just not here. Not in these forms. And neither of them were sure which idea was worse.

Breeze lifted a hoof, rubbing at his foreleg. There was also the fact that, however unlikely it may be, somepony might just recognise these disguises, and try to engage what they thought was an old acquaintance. Oh, it could be passed off as simply looking similar, if they kept their stolen cutie marks hidden, but even then it would set the seeds of suspicion. And suspicion was the last thing a changeling wanted, in any situation.

That was just another reason to discard this disguise, this ill-fitting skin that itched and constricted and was starting to make him feel like he was trapped in a little box, a little box that was getting smaller and smaller with each passing day. With each passing hour.

But he took a hold of himself. Never mind that, there was a more pressing problem than his own comfort here. They needed money. Or rather, a way to get money.

"Well..." He glanced up. "We could... We could always ask?"

The next day, at some time around midday, a pony with a tailored jacket which sat at odds with hard, green eyes glanced up as the door to her office opened with the gentle chime of a silver bell. It was a small thing, set just off of the main street, close to the financial district, on the ground floor of a block full of similar offices and lobbies and other such dens of greed. This one was perhaps better fitted out than most might have expected, and the pale mare who 'owned' it liked the feeling she got when she looked around it first thing in the morning, taking in the rich mahogany furniture and the gleaming brass plaque that sat proud on her desk.


That filled her with pride too, and it was positioned to be the first thing a prospective mark saw when they stepped through her door. Something to add a little legitimacy to the proceedings, to make her 'customers' more comfortable, more open to doing business with her.

She regarded the two stallions walking through her door with the detached curiosity of an entomologist, muzzle tipped down as though watching from over the top of a pair of spectacles. They looked nervous, but that was no strange thing. All ponies who stepped into her den were nervous, either of her or of the trouble that had chased them in here in the first place. The first, a pegasus as pale as her own coat, was clearly the leader, while the dun earth pony who stepped up to his side had the look of the subordinate. Almost certainly younger, and less worldly wise. Preferable to be doing business with, perhaps, but unlikely to contribute in any meaningful way to the proceedings.

Not, of course, that she expected the pale pony to be very much wiser, given where he was standing. Still, if he was the leader of the pair then at the very least he was the one to needed to be spoken to. She cleared her through with a dry cough, and leant forward, both forehooves resting on the desktop.

"Gentlecolts." Her eyes slid left, then right, letting silence drag out as she watched them. The pale one shifted, but otherwise managed to return her gaze with little reaction. The dun stallion was more obviously uncomfortable, but she wasn't entirely sure if that was because of the silence, or something else. One of his forehooves traced gently up and down the other foreleg, and his flanks twitched.

Interesting enough. She filed that away for later and returned her focus to the present business. "Can I help you?" she said, voice pitched low, curt and professional.

The leader nodded. "Yes, please. I'm R-Rainy Days, and we were told this was a place to come if we were needing money?"

A false name. Very clear. That hesitation wasn't born of nerves, but of overriding habit. Not that she had a problem with it, of course; a great many of her customers used false names, or new names, or names they'd wished they could forget. There were some things a pony could afford not to be honest about in this office, and so long as she knew she could find them again the mare was wont to simply let such things slide.

"Hmm. You were well informed, Rainy. But I don't think I have you in my diary." She did not, of course, glance down at the open book sitting at one corner of her desk. Instead she sat back, luxuriating in the soft cushions piled under herself, and pressed her hooves together in her lap. "Did you make an appointment?"

At once, she saw the dun stallion's face falling, his eyes flicking over to 'Rainy Days' as resignation started to show in them. Rainy's reaction was more subtle, but no less obvious. At least, to her. The droop of his ears, the tightening of his lips...

"No," he said softly. "I wasn't told we had to."

She let a smile flicker onto her muzzle. This part was always fun. Like...making puppets move on her strings. A tug here, a nudge there, and soon enough she could have them doing whatever she wanted. Or, she corrected herself with a rueful thought, whatever her own puppet masters wanted. "Well you are lucky. I'm in the middle of an empty spot, and I suppose I could rush you through, if you don't mind skipping the formalities?"

Ah, and there is was. Hope, shining through both of their faces as clearly as if somepony had lit a beacon behind their eyes. "I thought not," she purred, leaning forward once more. "So then, gentlecolts, let's talk money. How much do you need?"

They walked out with three thousand bits. Or rather, the promissory note for three thousand bits. She couldn't keep that sort of coin on the premises, of course, or else not even her substantial connections could keep her safe from the more desperate scum of the streets. There were other premises, in more secure parts of town, that could guarantee their own safety, and keep those poor fools safe as they walked home as well. Sending them there served double duty; keeping the money and marks safe, and making sure that the Family could get a good look at the marks in case they tried to skip town. After all, a mark who was mugged and murdered in an alley was just as useless as the few who actually managed to run, and to stay gone.

Naturally the money had come with an exorbitant interest rate, as well as dire warnings as to the consequences of a failure to make payments. Even disguised as the perfectly reasonable concerns of a working mare taking a chance on a pair of trustworthy-looking stallions, those little conditions made the pair share more than one telling glance with each other. But they'd taken the deal, shown just how desperate they were, and now that they were on the way out it was time to take care of a little pressing business.

The moment the door slammed shut behind them, she knocked three times at her desk. The door at the back of the room swung open on silent, well-oiled hinges, and a pair of earth ponies strutted into view. A stallion and a mare, neither were the type to stand out particularly in a crowd, and their coats were different enough that they seemed like strangers to the casual eye, but there was a certain similarity that the practised eye could see. Something about the way they carried themselves, and the coiled energy in their limbs. The mare smirked while the stallion glowered, but both looking as though they were straining to jump to action. Any action, be it a race or a battle or something else entirely.

A neophyte might think that they were called "the Twins" out of a sense of irony, but anypony with the connections to know otherwise would appreciate the moniker.

"You know the drill," Silver said in a soft voice. "But I want you to keep a closer eye on these two than normal. I don't care how small you think it is, if you see a single thing out of place then you tell me. Understand?"

The mare nodded, her smirk widening as her brother's sullen gaze shifted to a look of indifferent acceptance. "Yes, ma'am," she replied with a dipped head.

No more words were wasted. Time for a single breath, and then they were gone, sliding through the door like shadows. The Twins were good, but even they had to be sure not to let their prey get enough of a head start.

Straight Silver leant back, letting her chair tip back onto two legs. She wasn't sure what exactly, but she had a feeling the Twins were going to bring her something interesting about those two. And if it was juicy enough, then that was that. Buck waiting for them to skip a payment, with the right tidbit to hold over their heads she could tighten her strings, and start puppeteering in earnest.

Her eyes drifted down to the chairs sitting vacant in front of her desk. "What's your secret, then?" she asked, in a voice a little softer than a whisper.

In the bright sunshine and the swarming crowds, Rising Sun and Evening Breeze stood in the middle of a tide of ponies that parted and flowed around them like a river flowing around a rock. In a way, they felt like there was a current washing over them, threatening to pull them off their hooves and bear them away to somewhere they knew even less than this place. Sun stood as if he were carrying the full weight of three thousand bits, rather than the far lighter burden of the promissory note, but as much as it seemed to weigh him down it seemed to be his anchor, keeping him stable in the stream.

Not that Breeze was carrying himself with any more grace. His head was down, ears flattened back against his neck, seeming to almost shrink into himself in an attempt to hide from the cacophony of the city. Or perhaps from something else entirely.

He could feel it. The throbbing under 'his' skin, the crazy phantom itch that wound its way up and down his limbs, the subtle suggestion of heat, like the green inferno of his magic was threatening to rise up, with or without his command, and shred this disguise.

A little longer... Just last a little longer...The command echoed inside his skull. It wasn't his own voice, but an imagining of Rising Sun that urged him on, even as the real Sun frowned down at the second scrap of paper hoofed to him by the moneylender. An address, and some rudimentary directions, to the place where the real money was kept.

"All right..." Sun murmured, more to himself than Breeze. "We're supposed to go...this way?" He looked up, frowning, then back down at the paper. Another moment passed, and he nodded. "All right, I think. Come on, I don't want to hang around too long in the open."

He turned to go, and Breeze moved to follow. He wanted to follow. He tried, hard as he might, to lift a hoof, put it ahead of him, to do something so simple as walking. But as soon as one hoof left the ground the other three legs shook, and he stumbled, bumping into Sun. The other changeling looked back, his expression slipping into something like frustration, but it melted away before it had even had a chance to do more than crease his brow.

"Breeze? What is it? What's wrong?"

"I-I can't hold on..." A sheen of sweat was breaking out over his face, ears plastered against his neck as he hissed the words under his breath, trusting that the ponies around them were too busy to bother listening. "I have to... To change. I c-can't hold this disguise any longer!"

"Okay." That was almost a surprise. He'd half expected Sun to resist, to urge him to keep moving, but a simple nod and acceptance? "Across the road. There's a dark spot, between the buildings. It goes back a long way. Do you think you can make it?"

"M-maybe?" Breeze croaked. He lifted his head but he couldn't see it.

"Come on. I'll help you along." A warm body pressed against his side, as Sun eased his shoulder under Breeze's chest, taking some of his weight. "Just lean on me, okay?"

"Aye, o-okay. I think I can," muttered Breeze. A slow step, letting the extra support take the strain from his legs, and he started walking. It was easier to keep going, now that he'd started, and as they pushed through the stream of furred bodies he found he could see the alleyway, dark and cool in the shade of the buildings. A few more steps, and he could make out the shape of a wooden trash skip.

The shade was as cool as it had seemed, when they stepped into it, and even that was a relief, but after a moment he could feel the heat rising again, and as he slumped against the wall behind the skip he let out a gasping sigh. Shedding the disguise felt... Well, it wasn't something he could express very well. It was like shedding an uncomfortable shoe, like an actor dropping character, but ultimately it felt like he was right again.

"I'm sorry, I just had to. It was too much. Too many of them, always going everywhere, and this stupid pony body felt like it was just about to fall apart..." He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and blew it out between his fangs. He felt light, and yet somehow more grounded. Solid and sure for the first time in days. It couldn't last, of course, but he knew he had to savour the sensation while he could.

Eventually, Sun tapped him on the side, casting nervous eyes back to the mouth of the alleyway. "Can you move? I want to get to that money and back to the hotel as soon as possible. And it would be a little awkward if someone walked in on us here..."

"Aye, I can move. Just needed a little break there." He stood, winced, and with a flash the drone vanished, replaced with the haggard-looking pony. A little less haggard than he had before, though. "I think... I think we might want to move on a little earlier than planned. Maybe just because I need a new disguise."

"No, I think you're right. After everything that lender was saying, I'd like to put as much distance between us and this city as quickly as possible. Maybe be on the other side of the country before they figure out we're not coming back."

"Heh, that sounds like a plan. Then you can go and be a colourful royal guardspony, and I'll be a blacksmith."

Despite himself, Sun chuckled. "You know, I'm surprised you even remember that conversation. I was sure most of it was you talking through a fever dream."

A shadow passed over Breeze's face for a moment. "There's a lot that I don't think I'll forget about that. Come on, let's not put this off any longer than we have to."

His pace a little lighter than before, he strode out into the crowd, Sun at his side. Both changelings had eyes only for the path ahead of them, the winding road between gaps in the crush of bodies.

So it was that they both missed the Twins, leaning up against a wall just next to the alleyway itself, speaking between themselves in harsh, frantic whispers.

12 hours later

There was a small building, a few blocks from the main street, nestled in amongst the warehouses and handling stations that made up the edge of Fillydelphia's industrial district. A carriage, pulled by two burly stallions, stood in front of a loading gate, leaving a scant few feet between the open gate and the carriage's door. A pair of dark figures were handled bodily from it, covered in heavy blankets, and hurried through the door by a pony with a sour face and gold teeth that showed with every snarl and snap he gave the covered ponies.

They passed deeper in, through at least one more set of doors, and then the blankets were pulled away. Evening Breeze hissed, even in the dim light to be found, glancing around to see storage shelves guarded by ponies of all types. He turned to try and say something to Rising Sun, blinking his own eyes clear of the tears that stung at them, when a hoof on his back forced him forward, robbing him of any words he might have said.

The gold-toothed stallion pushed them both towards the middle of the room, where the warm glow of a candle illuminated a stallion, sitting at a table set for what promised to be a lavish dinner. Three sets of cutlery, two different types of wine glass... It meant little to either of them, save that even the changelings could tell it was an expensive and luxurious setup.

"Take a seat," Tooth hissed. An order, of course. They did so, pulling out chairs with a hesitance born of nerves, and the critical eye of not just the enforcer behind them, but the sole occupant of the table before them.

He was a unicorn, of slight build and an almost sickly, off-white coat that was painted a dusky yello in the candlelight, and seemed stretched too tight over his frame. His skull, ribs and spine stood out clearly under thin fur and paper-like skin, and Breeze was sure that if it weren't for the table and cloth hiding him from the barrel down, his hips would have stood out most grotesquely. At the top of an overly large head a dark mane was slicked close to his skull, and his horn stabbed out from the sable, gleaming waves to end in a needle-sharp point.

"You two, you're the ones they're telling me about?" he asked in husky tones, peering across the table at them with watery, colourless eyes. "The ones that tried to cheat my gal?"

There was a long, drawn out pause. Too many sets of eyes were focused on the pair, enforcers and bodyguards and this stallion himself. There was a tangible tang of tension in the air, so strong Breeze could practically taste it, like the coppery taste of blood and violence at the back of his throat, hanging like a promise over the room. At last, the pair nodded, almost as one.

"Eh." The stallion waved a hoof at them, dismissive. "Most ponies will tell you, this is a bad thing. It brings some nasty consequences. It has to. If they all thought they could get away with it, they'd all try it. Then where would I be?" That hoof rapped on the table gently. "Y'see, I run things here. Because ponies think I have power. But if they all went against me, what could I do? I don't have the muscle to take on a tenth of the city. But they all think I do. It's not about power, y'see, it's the illusion of power." He smirked at the pair. "I think you two know this already, eh?"

When they gave no reply, he shrugged, glancing back over his shoulder. "Eh. This is all relevant, of course. Most ponies would tell you this is a bad thing, but I think for you two? It could be a blessing in disguise."

He sat back as a pegasus mare arrived, balancing a plate on her wing. With surprising grace, she slipped it off, onto the table, without even jostling the contents. Breeze craned his neck to look. Stalks of asparagus, lined in neat rows, steaming gently even in the warm air. A small pot of melted butter sat next to them, filling the air with the rich scent of it.

"I want my money back. Plus interest. And damages. You two spent my money, so now you have to earn it and then give it to me. That's how the world works. You borrow my money, you spend it, then you go out and earn more with what you bought and then I get my money back, plus interest and damages. We all go home happy. But that's not what's happening here. You want to skip town, leave me out of pocket, while you two go off like the pair of thieves you are. That makes me unhappy. So, what do we do about that?"

His gaze shifted back and forth between the two, waiting. When no answer was forthcoming, he cleared his throat. The sound was harsh against the quiet background, and Breeze jumped in his seat. He glanced around, helpless, and shrugged.

At that the unicorn snorted and leaned back, picking up the butter with his magic, drizzling it all over the asparagus. "Figures. They never think long term. If they did, they might see how much of a terrible idea this all is..." He set the pot down and, without even glancing at the array of cutlery spread out before him, levitated a stalk from the plate and severed the head from the stalk in one clean bite, chewing thoughtfully on it. "But I figure, since you're here you'll have to earn my money back, so why not skip the middlepony?"

He leaned forward again, eyes narrowed to slits, peering intently at Sun. "What are you two, anyway, some sort of...mutants? Crossbreeds?"

"Something like that," replied Sun, his voice arctic.

"Don't go thinking that you have any power here," warned the stallion, his voice just as cold, if not more so. "Forget what I said about illusions; this here is one place where my power's 100%. Watch your manners. And don't think you'll go forever without giving me a clear answer, neither."

And as if nothing had passed between Sun and himself he sat back, biting the head from another asparagus stalk. "Whatever you are, you've got some interesting talents. I'm always on the lookout for interesting talent. And, unlike my dear family, I don't discriminate."

Breeze couldn't help turning, looking around the room, picking out pegasi, unicorns, earth ponies, all three races in something close to equal measure. "Doesn't look like anypony discriminates around here."

A hoof on the back of his neck forced his head around with uncanny strength. The boss's eyes glittered, reflecting the candle's dancing flame.

"Let me tell you, if you were to go to my home right now, do you know what you'd see? A lot of old earth ponies, sitting about with nothing to do but get fat on the fruits of their legacies. Relics, from the old days. Before me.

"The family was always earth ponies, except for one mare, a few generations back, who married into it. My great-granddamme. And thanks to her, I was the first unicorn born into an all-earth family for decades."

His brow creased with a scowl. "My parents were told 'give him up. Magic's a sin, he's a runt, and he doesn't have the stomach to do an earth pony's job'. But they didn't. They kept me on. And look at where we are," he said, sweeping a hoof around the dim room. Sun and Breeze shared a glance. The point was hard to convey from inside, in such a small place. "The family is stronger than ever, with so many more prospects! So you see, I'm not the sort to turn down an opportunity just because it looks different."

It was Sun who caught on first, tilting his head. "You're...offering us a job?"

The stallion shook his head. "No, I'm collecting a debt. If this were an offer you'd have a choice. You're my thieves now, which means instead of stealing from me, you'll steal for me. Understood?"

The gold toothed pony, unsurprisingly named Gold Tooth, had dropped them back off at the hotel, promising to return for them in the morning. The lamplights were already burning, and the sky had taken on the colours of fire and night, stretched out above the city, as the sun inched below the horizon.

Breeze lay on his bed, wearing Rainy Days once more. By some quirk of fortune, the form no longer felt like it itched; it was a small mercy, but one which he clung to, almost as tightly as he'd clung to Sun's hoof when the fool had been dangling from the edge of that mountain.

"So... We're really going for this," he said, his tone dull. It could have been a question, if he'd bothered to put any inflection in his voice. Then again, it probably wouldn't have been.

Sun glanced over, lying on his belly, forehooves crossed on a lumpy pillow.

"As the stallion said, it's not as if we have a choice. Besides, even if we did I think I'd take it. It's a job, a way to, uh..." He hesitated, struggling for a moment with the phrase. "To 'pay the bills'. Doing something that we'll actually be good at."

"Aye, and what about the fact that this business is supposed to get ponies arrested? I know I don't know all that much about Equestria, but I did manage to piece together that breaking the law is something they tend to look down on. Not so different from us, y'know."

"You heard what he said. The guard won't mess with their sort. They bought their safety."

Breezed sighed. There was something bothering him, something that made him want to pick holes in this whole daft idea. But there was logic he couldn't deny, even to himself.

"And we're valuable," he continued in a dead drone that almost buzzed, despite his disguise. "They won't sell us out because we're worth more to them than any bounty they could get, and they'll do what they can to keep the guard from finding out what we are. I know. I still don't like it."

"Because it's 'wrong'?" Sun said archly.

That made Breeze sit up, metaphorically speaking, and pay attention. Unconsciously, his thoughts had been turning to Mel and Trade, of the accent he'd appropriated and the marriage he might have destroyed. There was that pang again, that sense of somehow having made the world lesser than it had been, and a whisper in the back of his skull.

"These ponies aren't our friends," continued the other changeling, without seeming to see what was happening in Breeze's mind. He waved a hoof to the window. "All of them, out there? They wouldn't even dream of giving us the love we need. Not freely, at any rate. And do you think Celestia would welcome us with open forelegs, or show us anything except the inside of a dungeon?You know what we are. And what they are. They're not our friends, they're our enemies. Our food.

"That's why we came here. Not for friendship, because we knew the Hive wouldn't follow us to this place. So no, I don't really care if breaking their laws is 'wrong'. And I won't follow those damned laws if it means we starve because of it."

By now he was breathing hard, his face set and determined. After a moment, he seemed to shrink, settling himself deeper into the mattress. "Don't get me wrong, those mobsters aren't our friends either. If I can use them without risking ourselves, I will. And I don't plan on hurting anypony. Not permanently."

And there it was, all laid out in front of him in simple terms. He couldn't deny any of what Sun had said, but...

"I think I'm getting in too deep..." he muttered, on the edge of his own hearing.

"What was that?" Sun said, perking his own ears.

"Nothing, nothing, just... Never mind. You're right. We don't owe them anything, do we?" He forced a smile onto his face, reassuring and confident in ways he didn't at all feel. "Don't worry, Sun, I'm not going soft."

Author's Note:

Well, it's been a while since I posted last >.> I am and will probably remain to be rather sorry about that. And I do wonder how many folks have stuck around, and are still willing to return to this. Hopefully a few of you, at least :twilightsheepish:

'Straight Silver' comes from the Gaunt's Ghosts series, where it's the name given to the regiment's trademark bayonets. I thought it might serve a double meaning as something both beautiful and valuable, and deadly.

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