• 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.

  • ...

After-Action - I

The cells of Canterlot Castle's dungeon were warmer than those of the Fillydelphia lockup, though that was not by design or any sense of soft-heartedness. Rather it was a simple quirk of the Castle's engineering. Huge boilers sat in the old mining caves that rested amid the foundations, sending hot water up through reinforced pipes to heat the multitude of marble rooms and provide for the luxuriously appointed bathrooms and en suites. For convenience's sake more than a few of these pipes ran up through the vaulted cells, providing warmth for the prisoners buried under so much rock.

Of course the lack of fresh air was enough to make up for this comfort. So far beneath the castle, where no windows could reach them, the cells were the most secure in all of Equestria, but they were close and dark and airless.

Breeze, wondering idly at the small world he found himself in now, felt it was lucky that neither he nor Sun had ever shown any tendencies towards claustrophobia. Fewer than one in ten thousand changelings did, else their kind would never have been able to survive long in the Hive, where there were no windows to speak of. Just high halls and narrow passageways that had a tendency to shift when no one was looking. Some drones whispered to each other that the Hive reshaped itself with the moods of Chrysalis, while others maintained it was her will that allowed changelings to navigate the ever-changing maze. In its own way, this place reminded Breeze of his old home, if one were to imagine blue and green bioluminescent spots in place of orange candles.

No doubt, he thought, they were here because the guard stations weren't deemed secure enough to hold them. It was almost flattering that ponies would assume changelings capable of blasting through stone, just because they managed to burst open a wooden wagon. Not that he could find much fault in an inclination towards caution.

And with caution in mind, the security of this place was formidable indeed; his cell was bare rock on one side and heavy stone bricks on two others, fronted by iron bars that were about half as thick as his leg and spaced at similarly wide intervals. Further along, to his right as he stood facing the bars, there were fully enclosed cells with reinforced iron doors, either for holding interrogations or particularly troublesome prisoners. No chances were being taken with their magic, either; both of them had thick rings slid down onto their horns, with warnings of dire consequences should they try to remove them.

Should they manage to breach their cells somehow there were at least three guards with spears and full armour in sight at all times, and more surely lay in wait up the long stairs that lead to the surface levels. At the end of that narrow, winding road stood a whole castle of ponies through which one would have to fight.

Once these obstacles were overcome it would be possible, as soon as the open air was in sight, to fly off the mountain without ever having to step hoof into the city below. Freedom beckoned, on the assumption that one was confident in their ability to outfly pegasus guardsponies. Changelings were not the fastest of fliers. Nimble and agile, maybe, but without the pace to match feathered wings. Even if Breeze could take the form of a champion speedster that wouldn't let him fly like one, any more than taking Celestia's form would let him raise the sun.

All that aside, he felt no inclination to try. He and Sun were in separate cells, with at least one empty room between them to ensure there could be no easy communication that their guards couldn't also detect.

With little better to do he lay back on the bench that served as his bed and let himself doze. Even after his sleepless night he stayed just above a true sleep, keeping his good ear perked for signs of change around him, but it was astonishing how relaxed he found himself, in this place.

A little over an hour after their cells had been sealed he found himself sitting up, shaking off half-formed and unremembered dreams. A strange sound came from the entrance to this wing of the dungeon, rattling over the walls. It took a moment for him to recognise it as the click of hoof on stone, made strange by the narrow stairway and the recursive echoes. It grew louder and more distinct, though the echoes now made it sound like it came from all around him, until the approaching pony stepped into the dungeon proper. There was a murmured exchange of words between a stallion guard and the newcomer - sounded like a mare, though he couldn't be sure - that was just too soft for him to make out.

He had a good idea of what they were saying regardless. A suspicion that was soon confirmed by the clatter of keys and the squeak of old metal hinges. Some stern words came from the guard, carrying the weight of commands, then more hooves. At the corner of his eye Breeze caught sight of a small train of bodies passing his cell; first came a guard, then the tall mare from the warehouse with the black waistcoat and long horn. Behind her came Sun and at the tail was another guard. Only this pony spared Breeze as much as a glance as he went by. The mare carried an air of what seemed to be studied disinterest, and Sun made a conscious effort not to notice him. Breeze didn't mind. It made things somehow less awkward.

As the sound of a heavy steel door's abrupt slam filled the long hallway he found himself wondering just how long Sun's interrogation was going to take. How long his would take, when it came. Doubtless it would be more thorough that his 'grilling' at the hooves of the FGD, though that was a low bar to pass. Its tone, too, would speak volumes, and he was glad that the tall mare seemed to be the one in charge of it. Her attitude during the arrest had seemed professional to him, in the best of ways.

Not that her absence would have given him any real cause for dread. He was able to relax here for a reason. Even at the worse, he doubted anyone was going to push him into a dark corner and put a spear through his chest, or subject him to all the delights of real torture. With only a few notable exceptions, Equestrians seemed to hold a rather dim view of such a level of...visceral brutality.

With a chuckle Breeze started to ponder just how much favour one particular exception to that rule was losing with the Pinheads, given how spectacularly their deal with him had fallen through.

The thought was brief, and a shuffle of metal shoes outside his cell brought Breeze back to the here. About the worst he could foresee in his immediate future was anger. Some shouting, maybe, a few threats and perhaps even a little physical violence. But nothing he wasn't prepared for. So he rolled over, closed his eyes, and made himself as comfortable as he could on the hard bench and let himself drift away.

For a time he ran through a dark forest, following a beaten track in pursuit of some dark and shadowy shape that flitted through the trees ahead of him. Strange things gathered between the thick trunks on either side but he was not afraid; the Moon lit the path before him, bathing him in a beam of pure silver. There was a thrill in his limbs and chest as he drew closer to the shape, on the very of overtaking it, when a heavy slam woke him from the dream and he found himself staring up at the dark ceiling.

He sat up, blinking and turning his head to the hallway. Sun was being walked back to his cell, looking about as unmolested as he had on the way in. How long had it been? Hours, or mere minutes? Breeze felt no sense of time's passage, only the vague sense of frustration at having been woken at just the wrong moment. He lay back and tried to sink back into the dream but sleep eluded him, dancing just beyond his reach. By the time he heard keys rattling in the lock on his cell, he was sitting up with his head resting in his hooves.

"Prisoner, get up. Stand in the corner and keep facing us," a guard said in tones more civil than Breeze was expecting. The mare stood beside him.

Without a word the changeling complied, standing on stiff legs and shuffling backwards until his rump brushed against the stone. The mare leaned forward, and for a moment it seemed as though she were about to step into the cell with him, but instead she lifted her nose and turned away.

The guard glanced to her and nodded. "Follow the agent. I'll be behind you all the way, so I suggest you keep any funny ideas in your own head."

Breeze's immediate thought was to reply that he was no comedian, but he held his tongue. Not because it was a bad idea, though it was very much so, but because he'd forgotten the word 'comedian' itself.

Similar orders came when they reached the first of the enclosed cells.

"Step inside. Sit in the chair on the far side of the table."

The one with the manacles, no doubt. He obeyed, still not speaking but watching the ponies as they took up their own positions. The guard made no move to bind him, instead standing by the door that he closed and locked behind the mare, who took a seat across the table from Breeze. She spread a parchment scroll out, dipped a pen in ink with her magic, then reached over to touch a large device sitting to one side of the wooden surface. The spools of tape atop it started to spin.

"Interview begins, same day," she said to the device, before turning placid eyes to the changeling. "Good afternoon. I'm Special Agent Silver Lining, Equestrian Domestic Security Office.

"And you're Evening Breeze?"

She spoke without emotion, save perhaps the slightest hint of curiosity, scribbling a few notes onto the parchment.

Breeze nodded, slow and cautious.

"You've heard of me."

"Yes. I heard the name from a stallion named Fair Trade. He came to me after a pair of travellers bewitched his wife and sold him strange coins from the far south. I don't suppose this sounds familiar to you?"

It as around this moment that Breeze became uncomfortably aware of the accent he'd spent the last six months imitating. The roll and lilt of Fair Trade's voice, copied and refined by a changeling's natural talent for mimicry. He found himself unwilling to say anything in that accent, his mind scrambling for the way he'd spoken before leaving the Hive but failing. Instead he nodded again, mute, his gaze turned down to stare at the parchement.

"You're the same Evening Breeze he spoke about?" Silver Lining asked in what seemed an offhand sort of manner, a few more lines of black marring the scroll. "Answer out loud, please, for the recorder."

"Aye. Uh, yes. Yes, I am."

One of her thin eyebrows raised itself into an arch, but she didn't comment on the accent.

"And you and your companion are the same pair of changelings who abducted Rainy Days from Dodge Junction this summer past, after emerging from the Badlands?"

He started with wide eyes that lifted from the parchment to stare right at her impassive face.

"Who... You know? You knew? I... For how long?"

The slightest hint of smugness fell over her face. It was the suggestion of an expression, rather than the thing itself, but it was enough.

"Almost from the start. I was in Dodge only a few days after you left. A week, if I have my figures correct. If I may, I'd like to confirm a few details, now that you're here."

Her eyes flicked downwards as if reading from a sheet that she didn't have. "You arrived in Equestria after a particularly arduous journey through the Badlands, in immediate need of sustenance. One of you abducted Rainy and impersonated him, claiming to have bumped your - or his - head on a walk. The other of you fed on him directly, keeping him confined to a cocoon under some sort of sedation. When the time came for you to move on, three days later, another convenient bump on the head accounted for the loss of memory. Am I missing anything?"

Breeze narrowed his eyes.

"Sun told you that," he guessed in a gentle growl.

"Quite the contrary. We didn't discuss any of the details I mentioned. I'm sure you can ask him yourself, when we're finished, assuming the guards don't mind you raising your voice a little."

"You're lying," he said, though he couldn't detect any hint of dissimulation on her face. "We didn't... We thought we were in the clear."

His gaze dropped again, back to the creamy parchment and the spidery black shapes of her hornwriting. "I thought we'd made it. That it wasn't until Gold sold us out that anyone got onto our trail. You can't have been onto us the whole time."

"No? Why would it be such a surprise?"

"I just... I thought we were better than that."

Silver Lining coughed, very softly, into her hoof.

"Let me assure you, there's a similar feeling on our part. That I've been following you so closely since so early, and yet only now have caught up with you... There are more than a few who would see that as our failure, rather than your success."

Breeze clicked his tongue.

"Mm. I'm sure that can't have made you look good."

"Our reputation was hardly the first thing on our minds," she shot back, a slightly stronger hint of snappishness in her voice. "Until your note was brought to our attention our primary concern was the possibility that you were the the only visible part of a larger infiltration."

"Well you needn't have bothered worrying," he said, glaring at her over his muzzle. This wasn't how he'd expected things to go. Maybe that was foolish of him. But the thought didn't stop him from speaking the next sullen words. "We were never here to hurt anyone. We just wanted to be left alone."

And she laughed. Quietly, just a gentle chuckle from behind closed lips and beneath incredulous eyes, but a laugh all the same.

"Excuse me, I really shouldn't find that amusing, considering, but..."

She looked down again, giving that same impression of reading something that didn't exist. "Case ID 479, two suspected changeling suspects, identified primarily as Evening Breeze and Rising Sun. Aforementioned suspects are implicated in numerous criminal acts, including but not limited to; multiple cases of assault, kidnap and a combination thereof; mental manipulation, including memory modification; theft; impersonation; association with suspected organised crime; assaulting officers of the law; escaping legal arrest; and accomplice in conspiracy to murder."

Her mirth was gone by the time she reached the end of the list. "Let me put it more bluntly; in your first days here you assaulted and kidnapped one pony, and did unspeakable things inside the mind of another. You then decided it would be wise to join one of the largest organised crime families still operating in Equestria. There's something of a trail of criminality behind you, Evening Breeze, and I doubt it's escaped your notice - because it certainly hasn't escaped ours - that ponies have died because of you."

Breeze sat back. His head felt almost as though it were vibrating, as if his brain was literally humming beneath his skull. He said nothing to refute her. There was nothing that could refute her. After all, wasn't this why he was here?

"I didn't mean for that to happen..." he found himself mumbling.

"And yet it happened nonetheless."

"And I'm sorry."

The scratching of quill on parchment, which had been in the background even when Silver Lining had quoted his transgressions back to him, stopped. The nib pressed down, stationary, so that a dark circle of ink seeped into the paper and expanded around it. The mare showed no sign of noticing. Her eyes, suddenly intense, were fixed on Breeze.

"Excuse me?"

The changeling sat up a little straighter.

"I said I'm sorry." His voice became firm and steady once more. "I know that doesn't undo everything that was done, but I mean it. For what it's worth."

Silence descended. The guard at the door shifted, his hooves scraping on the floor, and the pipes around them rumbled as hot water rushed upward, but nothing else broke the stillness until Silver Lining's quill moved once more, scratching a few short words down before it was set aside.

"This interview is concluded," she said, reaching over to stop the spinning reels. "You'll be returned to your cell for the time being. Be prepared for another interview before the day is done."

Not long after he made the short walk back to his cell Breeze was pulled out of the first swirlings of deep thought by the sound of a bowl being pushed through the bars. Thick gruel slopped within, and he fell upon it, cleaning the bowl out in less than a minute before settling back on his bench, wiping away a few splatters from his muzzle and returning to his thoughts.

This investigator, this Silver Lining, had known so much about him, and yet his apology had knocked her off balance. Or at the very least, she acted as if it had. Breeze found himself wondering what had been said in Sun's interrogation, and turned his head to gaze at the wall across from him. As if he could force the stones and mortar to give way and let him see his friend. Let him talk to him.

At least now the rush of emotions that had followed Silver's tirade were subsiding. Breeze could acknowledge the truth to them without sting. Well, without any more than he had felt the night before. Huffing, he ran a hoof over his frill and felt the rings bump and jangle.

How silly it seemed now to have had them put in, given how often he'd ever had the chance to see them. How often he'd looked into a mirror to see a face other than his own. Another stroke, another soft jangle. Then, with a hesitant touch, he put his hoof to what remained of his left ear.

Another thing he hadn't had the chance to see. At all, in this case. How bad did it really look? He tried to picture it; the image came easily to his mind, of the almost rogueish bent it might lend him, and that at least made him smile.

That smile lingered, up to the moment when the guards came back to his cell. Sun was with them, this time, but Silver Lining was nowhere to be seen. As he was beckoned out to stand beside Sun and between the guards Breeze almost felt that he could have dashed over and hugged the older changeling there and then. He restrained himself, with only a little difficulty. Sun, meanwhile, just smiled. He looked dark and tired under the candlelight.

Neither of them said a word as they walked, or as they were pushed into two chairs in the second enclosed cell and their hooves were clasped in the manacles. Only when the guards retreated, leaving them alone in the box of a room, did Breeze turn to Sun with a long sigh.

Sun managed to speak first, by a fraction of a second.

"How are you holding up?"

Breeze inhaled through his nose.

"I'm all right. But Sun, she knew. This Silver mare who took us in, she knew almost everything since Dodge. Since we first arrived. She didn't get that from you, did she?" His tone was resigned rather than interrogatory.

"Not from me," Sun confirmed, shaking his head. "Most of my time in there was spent staring at her, and she at me. She only ever asked things about Filly."

"Well... Then I guess we were always going to end up here sooner or later," huffed Breeze. He lifted a hoof to rattle the chains hanging between manacle and chair. "Still, I feel like these are overkill. All things considered."

It was at that moment, just as Sun was taking air to reply, that the deadbolts on the door slammed back and it swung open with a gentle squeak. The two of them moved as one to look, expecting to see Silver Lining in her waistcoat with a fresh roll of parchment.

Instead, snowy white fur filled the doorframe, so bright it seemed to illuminate the small room, covering a body that was taller than either of them by far. A massive mane, the same welcome shades as a crisp, clear sunrise, fluttered around a slim horned head, ethereal and drifting in a wind that didn't seem to exist for anything else. Nestled between pointed ears, rising above violet eyes that seemed far older than the face they inhabited and half obscured by the glorious mane, sat a tall tiara of delicate shining gold.

Breeze's lungs ceased, for the longest moment of his life, to draw breath.

Celestia had come for them.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!