• Published 22nd May 2014
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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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Evasion II

Rising Sun glanced from the stars overhead, to Evening Breeze, and back again. No chance of waking the other changeling; he looked half dead as it was, and trying to wake him would probably be like trying to wake a stone. There was no cover besides the bush they were already hiding under, and though it was expansive, its leaves were sparse. And even if there had been cover nearby, there was no way Sun could have made it, carrying Breeze, without being spotted before he made it.

Perhaps on his own he could have dashed a short way without being seen, but that was academic; there was no cover, and even if there had been, he wouldn't leave Breeze here to face the hive alone.

So this was it. He closed his eyes, bowing his head. Four days of hell, just to get caught this close to the finish. The buzz of a hundred pairs of gossamer wings grew until it was almost overpowering. They'd surely see him now.

Only they didn't. The buzzing horde arrived, passing overhead without pause. Sun peered up past leaves in confusion. He could barely see the guardslings in the dark. The only real signs they were there at all, besides the sound, were the stars that vanished and reappeared as a changeling blotted it out.

That was when it made sense. Of course they wouldn't see him in this darkness. Black chitin against dark ground? Practically impossible to see, especially when hidden under a bush or a shrub.

They weren't looking for the pair. The contingent passing above were trying to cut them off. A desperate dash for the border, hoping to get there before the renegades and prevent them from ever leaving the Badlands. Sun watched as the last of the dark shapes passed by, and disappeared over the northern horizon.

In a way, it was fortunate Sun had made such terrible time. If Breeze hadn't fallen ill, and the pair had made the time they were supposed to, their pursuit might have come across them sometime the next morning, with the sun betraying them and little cover to shield them.

Not that it made much difference. This oddly delivered stroke of good fortune was only delaying things. Sun still had to get across the border, and far enough into Equestrian territory that the hive wouldn't dare to follow. Hard enough to do on his own, or with an able-bodied partner. With Breeze in the state he was? Damn near impossible.

But there was still a chance. Slimmer than a new moon, perhaps, but it was better than no chance at all. All he needed was a miracle, or in lieu of that, a very good plan. Sun rolled over onto his back, gazing up at the stars again and going through lists in his mind. A list of their opposition (considerable), their assets (minimal), and any points of interest between here and the border. The last gave him some trouble. He'd memorised the best map of the area he could find, and set Breeze the task of memorising it too. But now, tired, thirsty and starved, he found he could barely recall a thing about it, save the ridge line of mountains that served as the final obstacle. He half closed his eyes, picturing the map in his head, letting let the memories come back naturally rather than forcing them to appear.

The stars glittered overhead. Soft lights, winking in and out of existence, blanketing all the sky save for the moon's corona, where they were overpowered by the greater light. Sun found his eyes tracing the dark spots dotting the moon's face. Mares, they were called. An old word, that meant 'seas' in some long-forgotten tongue. Odd, then, that they formed a near perfect profile of a pony. Or, perhaps a changeling; they called her the Queen of the Moon Hive for a reason, of course. But he couldn't help thinking of her as a female pony. A mare.

Sun had often wondered about the strange coincidence. Though it might not have meant so much if he had known how to pronounce it. Mah-ray, not mare. Not that he could have known; it was a word he'd only ever seen written down, half-glimpsed in captured texts. So he stared at the moon, thinking about mares and mares.

His eyelids slipped ever lower. It was quiet out here. Calm. And he'd been walking for so long, with such a heavy burden. Surely by now he'd deserved a rest? He let his head fall back. The night was cool, and he'd done enough thinking for one day. His breathing slowed as his eyes narrowed to slits, and the world around him darkened even further.

Yes, he'd take a moment to rest. The hive would wait for them.


Day 5 outside the hive

Spanning the northern border of the Badlands, the curtain of rock known as the Boundary Mountains was an impressive and imposing sight at the best of times. As red as the dust of the desert it guarded, the range rose from a carpet of parched shrub looking for all the world like the ruined remains of some fortress wall. There was only one traversable valley, the gateway in the wall, and even that was dangerous enough, littered as it was with jagged, fallen rocks and near-invisible pitfalls.

Everywhere else it was little more than almost sheer red rock. There were a few passes, ragged paths hewn from the rock by sheer force of will, and smoothed by the passage of a thousand years worth of hooves, but they were more than treacherous. Only winged creatures would dare try and cross over the mountains like that, and wings were no guarantee of safety if you were caught in a landslide, and too late to take to the sky. Anything that could make that crossing, if they had half a brain left, would simply fly over, preferring to risk the dangers of a slow flight at high altitude.

Flight was not an option for Rising Sun. He wouldn't have risked it even with a healthy partner, nor one who hadn't suffered days without love and with little food or water. The hive was there, and they were watching. To take to the skies would be to give himself away as surely as if he'd fired a beacon.

As it was, Evening Breeze was neither healthy nor well fed. He was improving, that much was true, but the younger changeling was still slung, unconscious, over Sun's back.

So to Sun, the Boundary Mountains looked more intimidating than they would to anyone else. They couldn't pass through the valley; the hive would have cut it off as soon as they'd arrived. Nor could they take flight. That left one option; climb.

But first he had to get there. At the moment he was standing a mile or more from the base of the rock, in one of the few dark patches of scrub that pockmarked the wide plains. He had to get there, and he had to wake Breeze.

A rattling cough from somewhere over his left shoulder let him know that the second challenge, at least, had resolved itself. Sun lowered himself, letting Breeze slip gently from his back and into the dust.

Breeze lifted his head a little looking around with eyes tinged green at the edges.

"Rising Sun?" he said, his voice almost to quiet to be heard.

"I'm here. How do you feel?"

"Like 'm 'bout to throw up."

Sun couldn't help but wonder how Breeze knew what that felt like, but he did his best to push that thought out of his mind and focus.

"Do you feel up to walking a bit?"

"Yeah, think so. Feelin' better than before."

"Good, I'd be annoyed if you didn't. I gave you a poultice last night. Very risky, lighting a fire to heat it up. I'd hate for that to be for nothing." He stuck his snout into his saddlebag, pulling out a few leaves. "Here. I grabbed a few of these from a bush a few miles back. I don't trust these." He motioned to the bushes surrounding them. The few leaves that he'd tried from them in passing had been even more bitter than the ones in his bag.

"Told you, shoulda left me," Breeze said. He plucked a leaf from Sun's mouth, chewed, and almost gagged, giving Sun a good idea of what it might have looked like for a changeling to vomit. "Glad you didn't, though," he continued once he'd choked down the leaf.

"And I told you we'd make it, Young One. If I had to carry you or not. We're just a mile or so from the mountains, you know. One last push, and we'll have made it."

Breeze stood, legs trembling, but they held his weight, and after a moment he raised his head, squinting in the mid-morning sun.

"Like to make it clear, this was a terrible idea," he said.

"Noted," replied Sun, feeling himself smile, in defiance of everything.


They'd climbed a hundred metres before the first scare. The walk was easy; flat ground, a stiff breeze, and a band of clouds sweeping down off the mountains from the controlled Equestrian weather beyond. They kept the heat at bay, and filled the pair with the fire they needed to keep putting one hoof before the other.

Equestria was just beyond that ridge. They could see its clouds, even taste its air. So close now that even the idea of failure was beyond comprehension. And though their water continued to dwindle, there was enough to see them to the mountain and beyond.

Swig, pass, and swig.

But climbing was a different matter entirely.

The paths were there, but even the able-bodied found them hard passage. In some places, they were more like ladders than paths, and in others they had worn away so far that there was little more than a narrow lip hanging over the edge of the abyss.

It was on one of those paths that Breeze lost his balance, shimmying along with one flank scraping the rock face. His hooves, weak with fever and shaking from overuse, missed their marks, and his left forehoof plunged past the narrow ledge and went down past it.

His body nearly followed. Instinct alone saved him, forcing him to scrabble madly against the rock in an attempt to fall the other way. Buzzing wings lent him a little extra support.

Sun paused at the sound, already on safer ground. He saw Breeze leaning heavily against the rock face, one hoof still poised out in the empty space. As he watched, he felt the slow, familiar churn of panic beginning again.

"Breeze?"

The other changeling didn't stir. His body was solid, his eyes fixed on the ledge a metre or so ahead of him.

"Breeze, look at me. I need you to look at me."

Slowly, agonisingly so, he looked up. His mouth opened, but he said nothing.

"It's all right. Just stay there. I'm coming back for you. Okay?"

Breeze gave the smallest nod he could, as though he were afraid that even that much movement would destroy his balance.

Swallowing, Sun stepped from wide path to narrow ledge, and inched his way back. "I'm going to walk with you." He stretched one arm out. "Give me your hoof."

Breeze's left forehoof twitched, still hanging over the empty drop, then ever so slowly came back round and touched Sun's own.

"That's good. Just keep your eyes on me, and your hooves against the wall. That's it, you're doing fine." Just a few steps more. He swallowed again. Shuffling backwards was hard at the best of times. Here and now?

Hard didn't even describe it.

"Not far now." He glanced back. "Not far..."

His hooves moved from the ledge to more stable footing, and he gave a mighty heave. Breeze stumbled forward, and collapsed onto the path, gasping.

Sun let him lie there a while. Though the clouds were still sheltering them, the noon-time heat still beat down like a furnace flame. Better to stop and catch their breaths now, than risk pressing on in this state.

He pulled his canteen, took a swig, and placed it down in front of Breeze's muzzle. The younger changeling blinked at it dumbly, then lifted his head and gulped down a few mouthfuls.

"Ready to move?" Sun asked as he retrieved the canteen and stowed it.

Breeze just shook his head. "No. 'm not. Not gonna be."

Sun sighed. "Do you know how close we are, Young One? We're just about to hit the hardest stretch."

"That s'posed to make me feel better?"

"It should. Because once you get past that, it's all easy going. Cross the plateau, come down the northern slopes, and that's it. Equestria. Don't tell me you've come this far to give up here."

Breeze chuckled. Or coughed. It was hard to tell.

"Fine. Old bugger."

He pulled himself to his hooves, but didn't raise his head.


"When we get there, what will you do?"

Sun glanced over, but Breeze didn't reply. He sat, slumping against the rock face, gazing southward over the ledge they rested on, back towards the Hive. One eye was half closed, and his head nodded. It was clear, even to a blind changeling, that there wasn't much of him left.

"Evening Breeze, talk to me. Come on, tell me what you want to do when we get to Equestria."

"Well...for starters...I'm having a..." The words devolved into coughs as Breeze hacked greenish phlegm onto the red rocks. "...'m having a lie down..."

Despite himself, Sun laughed. Sort of. It was actually little more than a weak chuckle, but it felt good.

"I'd support that idea." He pulled himself up onto a narrow ledge and edged over to help Breeze. "But what about after that? If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be? I know you know what they do over there. You've read the book, when it was going around. They wouldn't have sent you to me if you hadn't been the type."

"Dunno."

He blinked, slowly and deliberately, then took a long, deep breath. "Maybe be a baker. Or a blacksmith. Try making things. For a change."

He paused for a moment, letting his breath catch up with him. "You?"

All Sun could do was answer with a shrug. "Only thing I'm good for is guarding things. And I doubt they'd let a changeling into the Guard."

Breeze shook his head. "No, you can do more. Lots more."

"Like what?"

"Saving lives."

Rising Sun looked back with a frown at Evening Breeze, who shrugged back. "Saved mine."

Sun didn't say anything back. What could he say? Instead, he let himself stare out at the world behind them. They were near the top, now, perching on an out thrust ridge of rock. The Boundary Mountains formed a plateau along their summits, making them feel even more like a castle wall, and their northern faces were shallow, easy to climb. When he thought about it, Sun wondered if they had been purposefully made to keep the changelings in the badlands.

"I suppose we could get married. Find ourselves a wife each, or a husband. Pick one form, and settle down. Live as ponies." It was a pipe dream, he knew, but talking about it was...nice.

"Hmm," Breeze grunted. "So, what would you be?"

Sun pursed his lips, considering the first and most important question.

"Stallion," he decided. "Maybe a pegasus, or an earth pony. Something colourful; I've see enough shades of black and green for a lifetime."

"Not sure what I'd be. Something interesting. Might keep the black. Kind of like it."

Sun opened his mouth to reply, when a shower of small stones came clattering from above.

In a flash, he was pressing himself up against the rock face, motioning Breeze to do the same. The other changeling could only shuffle his hindquarters a little closer in. His forelegs looks as though they were about to give out entirely.

In the rocks above their heads, more stones skipped over the edge. There was the distinctive sound of hooves shuffling on rock. Then nothing. Sun risked a glance upwards, saw nothing, and was about to let out a breath of relief when a dark head emerged from the ledge and locked its blank blue eyes with his.

The changeling flier hissed, buzzed its wings, and raised its horn to the sky. The beginnings of a beacon spell started to take shape. Sun screwed up his eyes, dug deeper than he had before, and let one last kinetic blast burst from his own horn.

It struck the flier square on the jaw, knocking its head askew just as the beacon sprang to life. It spun into the air, arcing higher and higher, until finally it hovered a hundred metres up and a few hundred to the east.

The flier glanced up at it, hissed, and sprang into the air. Sun ducked to the side, trying to shelter Breeze, as the flier came streaking past them like a rocket and banked out into the void. It came back around, coming in to perch on the edge of the ridge.

"Surrender!" it snarled. Sun just spat dust from his mouth, locked a snarl on his own muzzle, and charged.

The flier backwinged furiously as Sun skidded to a halt at the edge. It fired off a pair of hasty kinetic blasts that passed within a hair's breadth of Sun, and impacted against the rock face, jagged craters and kicking shards and pebbles into the sky. Sun dropped beneath a third, trying to call up enough strength to answer with a spell of his own. But that last blast of his had taken the last of what he had.

In desperation, he snatched a stone up from the ground and hurled it at the flier, but it did nothing except make it dodge back a few metres. Sun reached down for another, ducking beneath another blast from the flier, who ducked in close to make the shot and wheeled back out again. Again, the blast struck the rock face. The side of the mountain seemed to shake as rock cracked, and from the ledge where the flier had peered out, a rough, melon-sized lump of stone came free and tumbled towards Sun. Breeze spotted it, tried to call out, but his voice was all but gone.

The falling rock struck Rising Sun on the back, just at the base of his right wing. Though not quite strong enough to break the chitin, it still carried enough weight to knock Sun off balance. He wavered on the shelf's edge, caught between safety and the drop. He tried to flare his wings, but his right was shocked and numb from the impact. As the flier banked around again, coming in for a straight charge, he did the only thing he could.

He leapt.

The two collided in mid-air. One foreleg wrapped around the flier's neck. The sudden weight dragged it off course. Sun's other hoof clipped the tip of the other's horn, then as the flier cried out, losing all bearing whatsoever, Sun punched hard into its wing. The flier, one wing crippled, half blinded by the sudden pain in his head, dropped like a stone. Sun kicked off with both legs, pushing himself back towards the ledge with his left wing buzzing. He passed within a hoof span, reaching out to catch the rock.

And dropped past, his hooves flailing uselessly upward.

The world seemed to slow to a desperate crawl. Fractions of seconds flowed by like treacle. Sun could make out every detail on the rock face in front of him, every crook and ridge of the rock, worn smooth by countless years blasted by the sand and the dust. He felt no fear as he dropped, watching the rock slip by with agonising slowness. Just a sense of vague, almost petulant indignation. It wasn't fair, he realised. To have come this far, just to die within sight of his goal, and all because of one damn falling rock. Nor was it fair that Evening Breeze should be left to die, slow and alone, on an shelf a thousand feet in the sky.

And yet...

For all that, he has always suspected that it would end like this. Angry as he was, now that it came to it he wasn't in the least surprised. More tired than anything else, really. It was as if he'd come to the end of a singularly long day. Or as if he were passing through a checklist, and had at last come to the entry labelled: "Die".

It was...unfortunate, that he had to reach that part so soon. And that it would happen so slowly. Less than a second had passed, and he'd only dropped a metre, maybe less, below the edge of the shelf. He closed his eyes, hoping the rest of the fall would be over a little more quickly.

A sudden jerk nearly tore his right foreleg from its socket.

Rising Sun found himself looking up in disbelief at the face of Evening Breeze, eyes wide and wild, mouth locked in a desperate snarl. The younger changeling's hoof stretched down, hooked through one of the holes in Sun's own.

For one last endless moment they stayed like that, hanging over the edge of eternity, supported by the merest thread. Their eyes locked, and Sun could see his friend burning up what little he had left of himself, all to give himself the strength to reach out and do this one last great thing, and it left him feeling smaller than he ever had in his life. Then the moment ended, and time slipped back into its usual pace, bringing with it the fiery pain of muscle tearing at his shoulder.

"Climb!" Breeze snarled. "I...I can't hold...for long! Climb!"

And Sun did. He dug his hooves into the rock, pushing himself from the bottom as Breeze pulled from the top. With one titanic heave, he slip up over the edge, and flopped down onto solid ground once again. He lay still, trying to catch his breath, trying to ignore the paradoxical numb pain in his wing, and the very real pain in his shoulder. Each outward breath turned itself into a gasp of laughter in his throat. His every vein was singing with adrenaline, his stomach filled with the bubbling joy of simply being alive, of having seen death's face and escaped. He turned his head to face Breeze, not sure what he wanted to say but knowing that he wanted to say something.

Evening Breeze lay still.

Sun almost laughed. He didn't dare to believe it was real. Even as he prodded Breeze with a hoof, his mind still refused to process what his eyes were telling him. The small corner that did swiftly filed it away as being simply impossible.

It was only as the prodding gave way to rough shaking that the cold stab of reality began to pierce through a chink in the veil of his denial. And it hit him as surely as if he'd been stabbed in reality.

"Breeze?"

He couldn't feel the rock beneath him. He couldn't feel the heat of the sun, nor the chill of the wind. All he could see was the dark shape curled up on the stone, black chitin a stark contrast to the vibrant red rock. All he cared about was making that shape move. Making it sit up and answer.

He couldn't even hear himself screaming the name until his throat burn, or feel the pain as his hooves beat against the rock in a fury that was entirely detached from the cold, near-emotionless reality singing through his mind.

You failed him.

Every time that thought repeated, it stole a little more of him away. Behind it, it left nothing but a widening void, filled with self-loathing. There was so much more he could have done. Should have done. It had been his plan. His responsibility. He was supposed to lead the two of them to a new life, and instead had led a young dreamer to his death. And in spite of all he'd said, the fact that it was a death in freedom did little to comfort him.

Because, in the end, Rising Sun was alone again. He had no strength, no sustenance, precious little water, and a legion of warriors closing in on him.

Maybe, whispered the void, it would be better to simply step over the edge, and let the story end here. He was so tired, after all. And really, the rest would be more than he deserved. It would be so easy...

"No."

The void seemed to recoil, confused by the shift from denial to defiance. Sun was barely aware that he'd spoken the word. His hooves had stilled, and a stubbornness, fuelled by the same notion of unfairness that he'd felt while falling, started to beat the void back.

"Not like this."

With every word he stole a little more of himself back from the void. He'd come too far now to give up and die like that. Too far to let his friend slip away without a fight. He reached out with one shaking hoof, placed it on Breeze's chest

After a moment of nothing, a moment when the void seemed to open up again and swallow his heart, he felt a faint stir of life.

And the void was gone.

This time he did laugh. At the cruel hoof of fate that he scorned, at the void that thought it might claim him, and most of all at his own foolishness. If Breeze was alive, then Sun would do whatever it took to make sure he stayed that way.

He looked up. The last shreds of the beacon still hung in the air, a few hundred metres to the east, calling the rest of the swarm back to them.

Calling them back, away from the border.

To the wrong place.

Slowly, an idea began to form in his mind. The beacon was the key. It was, in a brutally ironic twist, their ticket to freedom.

If the swarm thought the renegades were captured, or even sighted, they'd send guardslings back to make sure. It meant more drones to contend with between here and the border, true, but it also meant fewer drones would be covering the border itself. A gap would open up in their line. Maybe just a small one, but it might be big enough for two drones to slip through. All they had to do was avoid the drones coming to them.

It was no small task. But Sun looked down at the dust sticking between his plates, and the layer that filled the hollows in the stone even at this altitude. Changelings, even simply guardslings, were masters of disguise. It was instinctive, even when deprived of their most prized ability.

He bent down, scooping up what dust he could with the hollow of his hoof. Adding a few precious drops of water made something like a paste. Or a paint.

With quick, bold strokes he painted broad lines of red on his black chitin, making sure the pattern was irregular, never symmetrical and never following the lines of his own body. Then, when he was satisfied, he did the same to Breeze, before finally heaving him up and onto his back once again.

"Come on, Young One. You're not dying here. Not yet. That's Equestria, just over these mountains. Just one last push. We're going to make it."

He smiled, the sunlight glinting from his fangs.

"We're going to make it!" he repeated.

And this time, he believed it.

Author's Note:

As you might have guessed from the presence of the Mare in the Moon (or the Queen of the Moon Hive, as the changelings call her), this story takes place before season 1. The exact date is irrelevent at this point, but the Mane Six have been born by this point. Not that it really matters, since (spoiler warning) they don't figure into this story.

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