• 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.

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Collapse - II

Seconds slid past in silence. Breeze stood, still on his hindlegs, his breath coming in short pants. The mare in his grip gave a weak moan and turned her head towards the square. Towards Natalya. Was she looking for help, or just disoriented by the feeding? She wouldn't stay so placid for long. Trying very deliberately to slow his breathing, Breeze turned his gaze down to meet her eyes again, and she glanced up at him in an instinctive response to the motion. A spark connected them for the second or so it took for him to order her to sleep in a shaking voice, then he lowered her down to the frozen ground, taking care to prop her back against one of the stone walls.

Even that dribble of power, to do something so simple as make an addled mare sleep, came easier than he could remember it being for a long, long while.

"All right, which of you is it?" Nay demanded, when he'd stepped back from the mare. Her voice was trembling with something. Fear, or anger. It was hard to say which, and harder to say which would have been worse. "Sun? Breeze?"

He didn't turn to face her. Couldn't. The farmer disguise burned away, and his familiar old grey earth pony self replaced it. With his brown mane clipped short against his scalp and neck, he figured he must have been almost invisible in the darkness.

"It's me," he croaked, then added, "Breeze," almost as an afterthought. "I thought we'd agreed, you should stay out of sight?" he asked. Even to himself, the question sounded petulant.

"We were hanging around near the hotel. I saw you two skulking in here, then figured one of you had to be pretending to be the stallion after Sun dragged him away, and so I thought you might need some help jumping her and this IS out of sight and what the hell was that?!"

At last he turned to face her. Silhouetted as she was against the streetlamps, all he could see of her expression was the glimmering reflection in her wide eyes. He could hear her breath, though. It shook, like her voice.

"You weren't supposed to see..." he started, then halted. Petulant again. He shook his head like he was trying to dislodge something, or shake off a biting fly. "That was feeding. I was hungry, needed strength."

"Feeding?" The dumb repetition begged explanation.

"We don't eat, Nat," he said. "Or we don't need to eat. If we want to survive changelings have to feed on other things." No, no, that wasn't enough, was it? Didn't he owe her the truth, now? "Love. I didn't want you to see this, but we feed on... We eat love."

"You..."

The formel took a stumbling forward step that made her claws scuff against the ice and snow. "You mean you've been doing this, the whole time?"

Again, he shook his head.

"No, not this. I usually don't lose control like that." Less petulant, but it was starting to sound like an excuse. "It's just, we've been making do on lust. It's close, but it's like... It's not enough. And I tasted real love for the first time in months and just lost... " Oh. "No."

"No? What's no? Is she even going to be all right?"

Her words slid from him like rain against his carapace. There was a chill in his guts that had nothing to do with the season. If the only thing that had stopped him from draining this mare of all she could give and more had been Nat's interruption...

"Stay here!" he barked. "Moon's love, just stay here! Keep her safe!"

'From what' was the obvious question. He was already spinning on a hoof before Nat could respond, though, and he made for the far end of the alley quick enough that his hooves were barely touching the ground. The ice almost had him skidding into the house at the far end, where the narrow passage became the t-junction, but he came to an unsteady halt a scant few inches from the brickwork and glanced left and right.

Which way had Sun gone? The memory had been clear in his mind only minutes before, but now found he couldn't summon it, no matter how much he bent his brain to the task. Left led back into the village, right seemed to go past two houses before opening up into the dark countryside. He knew which way he would have gone, and that was enough to get him moving. If only the ice beneath had been soft enough to leave hoofprints...

As he stormed towards the silver, moonlit snowscape he prayed. Prayed that he wasn't too late, even though he knew there was no way in all the planes of the worlds that he had to be. And all the while, he dreaded what he was running towards.

Please, if you are up there, watching for us...

He tore past the end of the passage, houses on either side giving way to gardens blanketed in white. A low stone dyke walled them off, marking the boundary between village and countryside, a simple metal gate set into it, at the end of the path. Gentle hills and sleeping fields stretched out ahead of him. Nothing he could see on the left save for the wall, but a dim shape poked above the level of the dyke on his right. His hooves pushed down against the hard ground and he cleared the gate in a single leap, landing on all fours at once on the far side. Wide eyes were already dancing about, picking out details in the darkness.

Sun, out of disguise, sat with his back pressed to the rough stones of the dyke. His eyes were squeezed shut and he looked for all the world as though he were about to throw up. The farmer was slumped beside him; clearly unconscious, enervated, but not drained to the husk Breeze had feared. The snow around them told the story of a short struggle in the scuffed hoofprints scattered around them.

Breeze panted, swallowed breathlessly, and felt himself start to slump ."You... You too, aye?"

"Breeze..."

Though the elder changeling didn't open his eyes, there was a subtle shift, a minute turn towards the out-of-breath voice. "I'm sorry. I should've tried to get to you, but..."

All the frantic urgency of yester-minute was gone, and without it Breeze felt a paradoxical mix of restless energy and bone-deep exhaustion. His legs ached and the frozen air burned his throat, so he let himself tip over and lean his shoulder up against the dyke before dropping to sit beside Sun. After a moment's thought he burned his own disguise and let the night touch his dark carapace.

"It's okay."

The lies came easily to his lips, fuelled by relief. Nobody was dead or drained to soul-death, which was about the best he could have hoped for. And it felt good to feel with his own skin, see with his own eyes. "Could've gone worse, anyway."

Sun breathed deep, swallowing a mouthful of something thick. His voice was hoarse when he replied, and brittle enough to give Breeze momentary pause.

"There's one, maybe two levels of worse above this, and I'd very much prefer not to be thinking about them right now."

"Aye, I hear that. But..." But what? But maybe they should start thinking about it? For all the good that would do right now. Breeze swallowed whatever it was he'd been thinking and looked past Sun, to the farmer. He stood, shuffled over and sat once more before pulling the stallion out of the snow and into his lap.

Sun, meanwhile, opened his eyes at last and peered at Breeze. He looked almost feverish in the moonlight, insomuch as a changeling could.

"But what?"

"Nothing. Not worth worrying about now. Got enough to worry over as it is." He took a second to steel himself. "Nat saw me. Saw me feeding, I mean."

And there it was. The slow exhale, release of a held breath when there's no use in holding it any more. Perhaps they weren't yet at rock bottom, but it didn't seem to be very far beneath their keel. Now it was a question of letting themselves sink, or doing a little damage control to arrest their fall. It was obvious, at least to Breeze, that the choice was clear to both of them.

"Okay," Sun said in a voice softer than a whisper. Then he straightened, the sharp lines of his dark face hardening once more. "Okay, fine. Then let's wrap this up before somebody freezes out here. Is the mare all right? Is Nat with her?"

Breeze nodded.

"Aye, they're back in the alley. She seemed fine, Nat got there before I... Before I could do any real damage." He tested the words as he spoke them, and found to his surprise that saying them aloud was almost cleansing. "I suppose we ought to move him in there too," he said, gesturing down at the stallion in his lap.

"Seems like the best idea. Get them together, then one of us can pick a new disguise, go for help and slip away when that help arrives. First, though..." The elder changeling reached over and plucked a purse from the stallion's bag. "Ought to cover a cheap room, I think."

"Should do," Breeze said. "Right, I'll go with Nat, pick up Velvet and find us a room. You go for help when we're out of the way."

"Right."

Sun stood with a grunt, re-assuming his disguise. Breeze did the same, then bent and heaved the unconscious stallion onto his back.

"Let's get it over with."


He had expected the look on Natalya's face when the returned to the alley; at once blazing hot and colder than a midnight sky. Nor was he surprised to see Velvet there, mirroring the expression. Doubtless the pegasus had come to find Natalya, and been told the tale of what she'd seen.

He had expected the cold shoulder, too, as they slunk away. Leaving Sun to his task they took a roundabout path to back to the hotel, hoofed over a few precious bits and accepted a heavy iron key. It wasn't the time for questions, or answers.

He hasn't expected the silence to continue, though.

Even after they put a false name down on the hotel ledger, the room paid for two days in advance with a few extra coins lost in exchange for no questions asked, after Sun had been secreted away from the concerned crowd now gathered in the alley, to burn an unfamiliar disguise away like a scrap of paper. Breeze was preparing his answer to the questions he was sure the pegasus and griffon had been preparing in kind. His muscles were tense enough that he almost wondered if, subconsciously, he was expecting some sort of physical confrontation.

By the time they were filing into the two-bed room he felt fit to burst with anticipation. He hovered near the window and waited for the questions to come.

They didn't.

Natalya regarded him with a carefully blank face and distant eyes, then nudged Velvet and led him into the room's tiny en suite. The lock made a sharp click as it slid into place.

There was a hollow silence. The emptiness was like a vacuum that Breeze could feel in his own chest, that left him cold and somehow unsatisfied. He turned to Sun but he was already climbing onto one of the twin beds and pulling the sheets back. From the en suite came the stutter and patter of the shower turning on and that just reminded Breeze of how filthy he felt, even after all the transformations. He'd almost expected the green flames to burn filth away but all the sweat and grime of all the days prior seemed to linger on him. Or, he thought, maybe it was something under the skin that was so unclean.

He wanted to want to scream. To cry, to break something, to lash out in whatever way he knew how. He wanted to want to. But he didn't. More than that, he wanted to lie down and sleep. It was easier to surrender what little agency he had left, if only for a short while, and let the tides of life carry him along instead of trying to swim against them.

Well, it wouldn't really hurt to let himself sleep for now. Would do the opposite. Sun had the right of it; maybe after a night of real, proper sleep they could salvage something from this mess.

He considered crawling in beside his friend but the bed was small, even for a twin room, and the thought was somehow unappealing. Not to sleep beside Sun specifically, but to be that close to anyone right now felt stifling, even claustrophobic. And the worst thing he could do would be to take the other bed for himself. But there was a couch up against the exterior wall, beneath a little sash window that let a slim blade of cold air come wafting through.

Breeze found a spare blanket in the chest of drawers set between the beds, pushed the couch cushions up against one legrest, and wrapped himself up in something between a nest and a cocoon. There, now he was insulated against the cold, and for the time being he could pretend to be insulated from the rest of the world.

He was almost asleep when the bathroom door opened, letting heavy steam billow out. Through eyes opened just enough to be able to see, he watched the stallion and formel slink out, glancing about the room. Natalya made to lie down, with slow care, onto the empty bed as Velvet turned out the lights and took a seat on the floor by the footboard. Without stirring, Breeze let his eyes slide shut again, and he descended silently into an ink-dark sleep. He only woke once again, in the wee small hours of the morning, when the formel climbed out of bed to keep watch as the stallion took his turn to sleep.

Author's Note:

Small update this time, but there's a lot more to come...

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