• Published 22nd May 2014
  • 5,691 Views, 292 Comments

Renegades - TheAndyMac

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

  • ...

Contact - I

Evening Breeze stirred, feeling roughly sanded wood beneath him. Everything felt fuzzy. He tried to lift his head, but the world spun out of control. He wondered if he was any better. He certainly didn't feel better. His throat still had the texture of sandpaper, his head ached beyond belief, and opening his eyes did little more than let the soft light drive into his eyes like daggers. Daggers that felt like they had been coated in acid. But his face no longer felt like it was on fire; in fact, it didn't feel much at all, just a feeling of pressure wrapping around one side of his muzzle. And though they were weak, his joints were mercifully ache-free.

Scrabbling about he felt one hoof collide with a shallow bowl just beside his head, and heard the splash of water. Slowly, and with utmost care not to upset his aching head too much, he shifted onto his belly and shuffled around until he could get his muzzle over the rim of the bowl, and lap up a little, just enough to wet his mouth and soothe his throat.

Then he let himself roll back onto his side, let his head rest against the hard floor, and drifted back into a restless sleep.

When he woke again, it was to the sound of hoofbeats in the distance. They were dull, coming from a good way away and on the other side of a wall, but he heard them nonetheless. Part of it might have been due to the fact that one ear was pressed up against a wooden floor, though. As Breeze tried again to lift his head, succeeding this time, he found a puddle of drool where his open mouth had rested. Strings of it came away, sticking to his muzzle. With one shaking hoof, he wiped them away, grinding the hoof against the floor to try and remove the offending strands.

He did feel better, though. His head no longer felt like it wanted to burst; instead, it simply throbbed in the background of his thoughts, just enough to annoy. His throat was still raw, and his mouth felt and tasted of warmed-up yesterday, but there was that bowl of water somewhere nearby. He looked around, and realised with a terrible thrill that, at some point as he had slept, he'd knocked the thing over. A stain on the floorboards was all that remained of the water itself.

He pulled himself to a sitting position, ignoring the protests from his head and the way his limbs trembled as they took his weight. Instead, he busied himself glancing about in a quick search for a fresh source of water. He was sitting in a small room, lit by a single candle that sat on a simple table. There were windows on both walls that he could see, made almost entirely out of scrubbed wooden planks. A few pieces of furniture were scattered about one side, but everything was covered in a thick layer of dust, save for the floor, which was marred by scuff marks and tracks. A one-room cabin, Breeze thought to himself. Run down, no doubt, not used in a long while. He continued his search, shuffling himself around on his haunches to face the other walls.

His search stopped short as he came face-to-face with an upside down pony.

To his credit, Breeze didn't flinch, or scream. He simply blinked a few times as his mind, still slow from sleep, tried to catch up. After a few seconds, he cocked his head over and said:


The pony didn't answer. It was deeply asleep. Or unconscious. There was little difference. Either way, its head hung limp, and its mouth lolled open.

Breeze shuffled back a few paces, catching the sound of hoofbeats making a cautious circle around the cabin. He knew he should have been scared, but he couldn't bring himself to be. Whatever was out there was either friend or foe. If it was friend, there was nothing to be scared about. If it was foe, then there was nothing he could do to defend himself, and therefore no point in worrying. The only thing to do was wait and see what came through the door.

In the meantime, he leant in to examine the pony a little more closely. It was an earth pony, pale grey with a dark blue mane. He had been attached to the cabin's ceiling by a cocoon, but it was clearly a half-done job. The cocoon itself was more like a web than anything else, and the resin was thin and patchy.

"Sun..." Breeze muttered to himself. He gave the cocoon a gentle push, and watched it swing back and forth.

The cabin's door burst open. The stallion hanging from the ceiling stood in the doorway, saddlebags slung over his back.

"Breeze?" he called, his voice unfamiliar but his tone relieved.

"...Rising Sun?" Breeze asked cautiously.

There was a flash of green, and Rising Sun stood there, haggard and worn out, and yet still looking better than he had in days.

"You're up."

Breeze couldn't keep a chuckle from rising. "What was your first clue?" The words felt like razors in his raw throat, but he pushed through the pain. It was enough that he was able to speak at all.

Sun ignored the sarcasm. Instead, he took a few uneasy paces forward, looking for all the world as if he wanted to simply run forward and throw his hooves around his friend, but dared not to.

"How are you feeling, young one?"

Though he managed to restrain the laugh this time, Breeze still felt a smile spread across his face. Even after little more than a week, he already knew that Rising Sun would be Rising Sun, and no power in the world would stop that.

"Better. Could do with a drink." He swallowed, wincing. "Had a little trouble. With the bowl."

Sun's eyes found it, and he nodded, reaching into his saddlebags. They weren't the cheap, canvas things he'd taken from the hive. They were older, rougher, but more carefully crafted, obviously made to last. Taken from the pony hanging from the ceiling, no doubt. He drew out a small water bottled, uncapped it, and took one short swig for himself. "Here," he said, passing it over.

It burned his throat as it went down, but the water washed the bitter taste of sleep from Breeze's tongue, and gave his parched mouth some relief.

"So," he said, setting the bottle on the floor, "we got out, then? This is..."

"...Equestria," finished Sun. "Yes, this is it. We're about a mile or so from Dodge Junction."

That was enough to nearly knock Breeze back onto his belly. "We made it..." he muttered, his eyes growing distant.

"Mmm." Sun turned to follow his gaze, his tone less enthusiastic. "We made it, all right."

Breeze's ear twitched, but he said nothing about it. "So, where did you pick him up?" he rasped instead, nodding his head towards the bound figure. The stallion stirred, almost as if he had heard Breeze's question, but didn't wake. His gentle motions set the makeshift cocoon swaying.

Hunkered down as he was in the shadows beneath an overturned cart, the dark, almost black shade of Rising Sun's chitin was all but invisible to the casual glance. It would have taken a very thorough inspection from anypony more than a few feet away to spot anything. And yet, he hadn't felt this exposed in a long time. More exposed, even, than that first night, dodging magical lances in the gloom.

Peering between the dried, crumbling planks he watched as ponies, most of them earth, walked, trotted and in some cases cantered along the dusty track that passed for Dodge Junction's main street. His stomach growled, the sensation only amplified by a strangely similar feeling at the base of his skull. He had managed to snatch a few scraps of love upon arriving in town the night before, sneaking in through windows open to the heat to pick shreds and cast-off ends from ponies dreaming of lovers, but all they seemed to have done was remind him how hungry he really was. He needed a meal.

So he watched, waiting until he spotted the right pony.

And there he was. A dull grey earth stallion with a midnight mane and a smiling gold bit for a cutie mark, trotting along with a small saddlebag on his flanks. Sun had seen him many times before, watched him ramble beyond the borders of the town, and seen his little family. Matter of fact, this same stallion had unwittingly led Sun to the town from the canyon where he'd left Breeze.

As the stallion turned off the main street and started to bear for the canyon, Sun made his first move. He flattened himself as much as he could, rolling out from under the cart and into the cover behind one of a dozen nondescript buildings. A few seconds later he was up on all fours and moving. He ignored the sudden ache the burst of motion had set in his gut. He had no time to complain, no time worry about pain, else it would only get worse.

It was odd. Even as he dashed across the open plain between the town and the canyon, desperately hoping nopony would notice him in the twilit gloom, he still didn't feel as vulnerable as he had in the cart. Sunset was coming up on the town, and a scattering of cloud cover set by the weather patrol to offer the town some shade had also helped darken the skies. That helped. It was nice, sometimes, to be a dark shape against a dark background.

Finally, after a good few minutes running and with burning legs, he reached the canyon mouth. Sun scampered up the rock, skipping between boulders and praying his legs wouldn't give out now. The stallion was only a minute or so behind him. And he needed all the time he could get to pull this next trick off.

He crouched, halfway up the canyon wall on a small shelf of rock, and gathered together all the energy he had left. And he waited, sitting almost perfectly still beside from the gentle shiver running along his limbs.

The image of his subject was clear in his mind, and he knew the technique. But he needed energy to make the transformation work. He needed to not feel hunger gnawing him away from the inside out. Trying to change now was like trying to crush a stone in his mouth, or catch an eel with one hoof.

He took a deep breath, relaxed his taut muscles, tried to clear his mind of the knowledge that his prey was almost upon him. Instead, he let himself think about Breeze and his duty to his friend. About the freedom he was within touching distance of. About that fact that, no matter what happened now, they had won. The rock shattered, the eel froze into a lump of wood, and the transformation came like flowing water.

Sun skipped down from his shelf, and stepped out in front of his prey just as the stallion entered the canyon proper.

"Lacy?" the stallion said, pulling up short and cocking his head with a frown. "What are you doing here?"

It felt strange, being a mare. The sensations - the differences, even - were uncomfortable to say the least.

"I thought I'd surprise you, Rainy," Sun said, his voice pitched a few octaves higher than he would have thought possible. He put on his best impression of Lacy's 'come hither' face.

"Oh?" Rainy came forward, a smile spreading across his muzzle. His steps faltered as Sun, almost involuntarily, took a deep draught of the love flowing from him, but his eyes had started to glaze, and he didn't seem to notice the sensation. "D-did you have something special planned?"

"Yes," replied Sun. Then, buoyed up the feeling of fresh, pure love inside him, he dropped his disguise and flared his gossamer wings. "This."

"He's one of the settlers," Sun replied. "Goes by the name of Rainy Days. I got the drop on him while he was walking in the canyon. He has a small shop on the edge of town, selling supplies and things."

"Huh. Didn't figure you for the shopkeeping kind."

"I'm not. But his wife is, when she's not too busy looking after the new foal. She thinks I'm letting the stress of life on the frontier get to me, so she's given me a few days bed rest."

He fixed his gaze on the floor. "That's how I collected enough love to bring some back here, and help you get over that infection."

At that, Breeze brought a hoof up to his muzzle, probing the wound for the first time. It was hidden behind a bandage, which explained the pressure there.

"It's not completely healed yet," Sun explained. "But it's nearly there. The bandage is just to make sure you don't pick something else up. We're going to have to have a talk about proper care, by the way. Both of us came up lacking."

"Hmm. I've learned my lesson. Not something I want to go through again. Trust me. Anyl- anypony missing you?"

"It's the middle of the night. Nopony knows where I am. Safer to travel this way, fewer questions. Remember, I'm supposed to be taking a few days off."

"Clever. You decided what to do with our friend, though? Can't leave him here forever." Breeze glanced around the hut. "Or did you...?"

He tailed off, not sure he really wanted to say the words, even if they were both thinking them.

But Sun just smiled and shook his head. "Don't worry. Seems Mr Rainy Days here enjoys taking walks through the gorge. It's how I was able to get him alone in the first place. Tomorrow night, he'll go for another, have a nasty fall, and stagger back home with a sore head and no memory of the last few days."

Bringing himself fully to his hooves, Breeze chuckled, then winced. Even to his own ears, that had sounded terrible.

"Sounds like you've got everything worked out."

At that, Sun's smile faltered.

"Not everything. I, uh, I'm not sure what to do next."

He broke off, scuffing the rough planks with a hoof. "Actually, I have no idea what to do next. We're here, we made it, but..." He gave a short, bitter laugh. "I got us this far, and now I'm stuck! We're stuck!"


Rising Sun abruptly stood. With a flash of emerald fire, a grey earth stallion occupied the space where the changeling had been.

"I should get back, before somepony notices I'm not there," he said in that unfamiliar voice. "Rainy Days might start dreaming about his family. If he does, you can take a little love to see you through, but be careful not to take to much."

He strode to the door, throwing it open and letting the warm night time breeze drift through. "I'll be back tomorrow. We'll move then."

And then he was gone, and the door clattered shut behind him.

I was wrong, Breeze thought as he sat, stunned, in the wake of Sun's departure. There are some things that can stop Sun from being Sun.

Rainy Days moaned gently, twitching as he went through the throes of a particularly vivid dream. Below him, stretched out on his back and toying with a rusting fork, Evening Breeze sighed and glanced up at the entangled shape, his brow-plates creasing.

"Bet you think you've got something worth complaining about," he muttered. "Not sure, myself. At least when this is all over, you get to go back to a family that gives a damn about you. Better than you might have got.

"Besides," he said, rolling over, "you get three solid days of sleep. Aren't you ponies always complaining about never getting enough?" Another titbit picked up from an overly-mouthy infiltrator.

He stopped as he came belly down, dropping the fork and pushing himself to his hooves. His eyes slid shut, and he let the image of the pony in front of him wash over his mind.

The changing itself was easy enough; just a quick pulse of power to a nerve only a changeling could know, and that was it. The difficult part was summoning up enough power to make the pulse. Breeze was still weak with lingering infection, still hungry despite the love he'd already been given. His eyes screwed up as he dug down deep to find the strength he knew he had, and he bared his fangs.

At last, when he thought he might give up, he felt it all come together. There was a flash, muted by his own eyelids, and suddenly everything felt different.

He spent a few minutes getting to know this new body. Losing both wings and horn was an odd, almost helpless feeling. His legs felt stronger, and he could feel the dust and rock beneath the floorboards, but not being able to fly or cast magic...

Of course, that wasn't the only odd thing. There was the mane, the hole-less hooves...and the other parts.

Changelings, with the exception of the Queen, are technically asexual. No gender and no reproductive organs, unless they choose to create them. And yet, though he'd never really considered it before, Breeze thought of himself male. At least, more male than female. It seemed that most changelings did. At least, most of those that Breeze himself knew.

But, even with that self-identification, it was always strange to take the form of another, and be able to feel the parts themselves. If he was actually feeling them at all. Breeze was never sure if he actually changed his physical form, or if he just made it look and feel as though he had. In fact, he wasn't sure if there was even any real difference between those two thoughts. Such was the nature of changeling magic; it was wild, and it was ever-changing.

He trotted around the cabin, getting used to the feel of his new legs and his new balance, before letting the disguise fall away. Even maintaining it took energy, and he didn't have a lot to spare.

With little else to do, he glanced around the cabin for what must have been the hundredth time. The features were beyond familiar by now. It was easy to memorise them, thanks to the flickering flame of an oil lantern Breeze had managed to set up beside the now burnt out candle, with the help of a flint and steel stashed away in a desk drawer. He already knew that there was nothing there worth looking at, even if all he was looking for was something, anything, to alleviate his boredom.

Buck it. Nothing worth staying here for. He trotted to the door, threw it open with a hoof, and stepped out into the cool night air.

If he had to guess, he would have said it wasn't long after midnight. It was warmer here than in the badlands, at least at night. Some patchy clouds kept a little of the day's heat trapped, though there weren't nearly enough to mask the full moon still high above his head.

He'd always liked the moon. If had known what a pearl was, he might have said it was like a giant one, floating up above himself. But he didn't. All he knew that it was beautiful, and he wanted it, despite the fact that it was so far out of reach. Or maybe because of it.

And then there was Her. The Queen of the Moon Hive. His own queen's enforcers went to great lengths to stamp out rumours in all their forms, but they couldn't halt their spread entirely. And in a world that was meant to have no concept of beauty beyond that of its queen, nothing captured the imagination of a changeling quite like the moon.

There were many stories. Some said she was the Queen of Queens, watching all the hives from on high. Others claimed she was a pony, dwelling in the moon with a hive of her own demonic pony kin. Dozens of variations had spread, whispered in dark corners by drones who never thought to question why these rumours spread so easily, and with so many personal touches to the tale.

But Breeze always remembered one story, even if he had long forgotten the changeling that had told it to him. That the Queen of the Moon Hive had once been a pony, and ruled over a kingdom. But one day, she turned on her subjects. They fought her, and after a long and gruelling battle banished her to the moon. After a thousand years, the sorrow and loneliness had made her regret her actions, and so she sought to atone for her sins by watching over all those who prayed to her, and her moon.

Breeze had prayed. For protection, for strength, for a way to get rid of the strange feeling in his chest when he thought about how different he was. He told noling - he would never tell anyone - but every night that the moon was full, he looked up to its lonely queen, and whispered a short prayer.

This night was no exception. Whether full or all-but full, the difference didn't seem worth the while. He looked up at dark figure, haloed in silver, and asked for her help. Help for him and Rising Sun to survive here, in the manticore's den.

He waited a while after the last words of the prayer had left his lips. If he was waiting for a sign that his prayer had been heard, it never came. But that was all right; it never did. He was sure she heard him, but she never let it show.

Soon enough, he tired of waiting. The air was cooling, but there was still enough warmth in it to be comfortable, and the cool night's breeze was flicking at his frill. He curled up, enjoying the feel of the wind that was his namesake, and wondered what Sun might be doing.

"Any better this morning, Rainy?"

By now, the concern in Lacy's delicate soprano was more than a little coloured by exasperation. It showed in her movements as well; her ears were downturned, her stance tense and hunching, and more than anything else, she looked tired. More tired even than her husband, who was meant to be the one suffering from exhaustion and stress.

Of course, the pony lying in their bed wasn't her husband, not really. And though exhaustion was one of the many things lying heavy on his mind, the physical side of it was all but gone now. The stress, however, remained, but stress born of a different worry.

Rising Sun nodded, hearing the smooth sound of his mane rubbing the pillows piled up behind his head. Bed rest had done wonders for him, and three square meals a day did even more. So it wasn't really a lie for him, when he replied.

"Yeah, a little. I think I might be back on my hooves soon, actually."

That broke through the tired mask, and brought the smallest touch of a smile to Lacy's muzzle. She bent down, and kissed Sun's forehead before resting her mouth next to his ear.

"I hope so, because if you're not, I'll have a lot of work for you to do to help make this up to me."

Sun answered her with a grin of his own, but behind his own mask it was strained and brittle. The scent of her love, mixed in with other emotions that were close enough to it to be detected, was driving him mad. It took every ounce of self control he had not to start drinking now. But he had to resist. Just for a moment longer.

She turned away, looking to the staircase that lead down to the shop itself. "I should get things sorted out for the day, while Melody's still asleep. You'll be fine here for a while?"

Before she could leave, he caught her foreleg. She turned back, eyes wide and lips pursed.

Sun glanced down at the bed, letting go of her leg, then looked back up at her.

"Look, Lacy, I know I haven't really been the best husband these last few days. It's hard enough out here at the best of times, without you having to play nurse for me. But for putting up with me like this... You're amazing, you know that?"

For the longest moment, it looked like she wasn't going to say anything. Like the wind had been taken out of her, and all she could do was look at him with a strange look in her eyes that made Sun almost believe he'd gone too far, that he'd said the wrong thing and ruined everything.

Then she leaned in, and kissed him hard.

The rush of love that flowed into Rising Sun was enough to nearly knock him back against the headboard. He closed his eyes and savoured the taste, even as he held himself in check, and let himself take only the smallest amount. It seemed an odd thing to do, but the kiss had never been about taking love. Only about lowering dear Lacy's defences.

Sun broke the kiss, leaning back, and let a pulse of magic flow into Lacy's mind. It was the one spell that a changeling could cast in any form, the one spell they always had to have access to, tied into their very nature.

"<Come to bed, Lacy,>" he said, his voice thrumming with power. She complied, her irises shot through with eerie green speckles. And as she settled herself onto the hard mattress, curling herself up around him, Sun sighed. "<You won't remember any of this. You won't remember anything I said that Rainy Days wouldn't normally say.>"

She nodded, her eyes crossing, her muzzle twisted into a mad, blissfully content smile.

"<How long do we have before somepony might interrupt us?>"

"An hour, maybe more, before the store opens," she said, her voice far away. "But if Melody wakes up..."

"<Don't worry about the foal,>" said Sun. He placed one hoof under her chin and lifted her eyes to meet his as they flashed blue-green. "<Do you love me?>"

"Of course," she breathed.

Rising Sun smiled, leant in close to her, and drank deeply.

Lacy lifted her head, blinking. Everything seemed odd. Fuzzy. It was like she was just waking from a short, unsatisfying nap, yet she didn't remember falling asleep. And there was something niggling, picking at the back of her mind. But she couldn't make her thoughts work. She felt like she just wanted to sit there, and not think.


She looked up into the grey eyes of Rainy Days, looking down at her with a strange, almost detached expression. Those eyes were like magnets, drawing her own eyes and her thoughts into them. For a moment, she thought she saw them glimmer with a green light, but then the memory was lost in the fuzz and fluff that was her mind.

"Thank you. That was...even better than the last."

She had no idea what he meant by that, but she felt like she was supposed to agree. With a silly smile, she nodded slowly as her eyes crossed and uncrossed. She wasn't really sure if she felt good or not; in fact, she felt weak and somehow diminished. But she didn't want to move, didn't want things to change at all.

But something was piercing through the haze. An insistent sound, like a demand for attention. A frown crossed Rainy's face, and he glanced up then back to her.

"The foal is crying." For a moment, he looked nothing like the Rainy she remembered; his face was colder, exasperated. None of the warmth that had made her fall in love with him, or the joy he'd always shown for his daughter. "You should take care of that."

But she didn't care. All she heard was his voice, and all she cared was that she should do what it told her. There was nothing else for her; just his voice, and now the foal. She rolled off of the bed, and trotted over to the crib.

"And don't forget to open the shop," Rainy called after her.

She nodded absently. Of course, she couldn't leave that out. It was obviously important, or else he wouldn't have mentioned it.

And as she shushed the foal and busied herself setting things out and restocking shelves, her mind slowly began to clear. But the memories of Rainy's strange voice and the things he'd said and done faded as everything else became more distinct. By the time the fuzz and haze was gone completely, all she knew was that her daughter had started crying, so she had gone to settle her down.

Rising Sun, for his part, sat back in Rainy's bed and worked his mouth. A part of him felt strange after doing that. The rush of power, the thrill of being able to bend a mind like that, it felt good. And the love... Something was lost in the storage and transport. Something big, and important. Taking love straight from the source was something he'd never experienced before, and as good as it had been the first time, it was getting better every time he did it.

But then, when he thought about it after the fact, he almost felt a little ashamed. This, taking love by force or deception, it was in his blood. He was, quite literally, born to do it. There should be no hesitation, no second thoughts. And yet...

There was a part of him, the same part that had sent him running in the first place, that saw an eerie parallel between this magical domination, and something else. Chrysalis' domination of the minds of the hive may not have been magical in nature, but it was no less insidious.

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