• Published 3rd Oct 2012
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For Mother - Zephyrus Scary



What wouldn't I do for Mother? What wouldn't I do for Love?... What would I do if I had to choose?

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Choices

FOR MOTHER

Zephyrus Scary

Chapter 3:

Choices

The run through the Everfree Forest to the maluynayu closest to Ponyville feels like it takes days. Even though I had hidden their unconscious bodies away, my sisters can still be found! What if they wake and climb out of that hidden compartment right in front of somepony looking for the Cutie Mark Crusaders!? The tears blur my vision so badly that many times I nearly run into something—what, I don’t know and don’t care.

The only thing I care about is not slowing down.

-not slowing down until I know my sisters are safe.

Matabara vusibuura uzidasa!

What had taken possession of me to betray Mahatbara—to turn me into some kind of kapish!? I already know; only one thing could be so powerful, but to acknowledge it- to think my love for Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle could in any way be more than my love for my own family-!…

I need to come up with some other reason before I reach the-…!

Too late. I bump into someone—Forge, one of the malaynayu guards. Of course they’d not only be watching out for ponies and other dangerous creatures, but for distressed Changelings, and someone would be sent out to meet said Changeling in case there was trouble: disguise-breaking, spy-revealing, operation-ruining trouble.

This definitely qualified. -but to tell the truth of why were they revealed…

… Do they really need to know?

“Imi? What are you doing here? -and like this?! Did something happen to Surrogate and Substitute?!”

I don’t even have time to make up a story! Besides, if Matabara are rescued in time—which I do want; I can’t imagine bearing the weight of them suffering at the unforgiving (towards Changelings) hooves of ponies because of my foolishness!—then they’ll, in all likelihood, be able to tell the truth, or at least enough of it for Forge to figure out the rest of what happened.

“I- I knocked them unconscious and hid them in the secret panel in the Cutie Mark Crusader clubhouse, and they need to be pulled out of there before they’re found by some pony!” I couldn’t speak the words fast enough. If only we had a hivemind like the ponies think we do, I would’ve been able to tell everyone what had happened immediately!… but then again, if we did have a hivemind, would I have enough individuality to do something like this in the first place?

Maybe I, and Matabara, would be better off if that were true—if I didn’t have any individuality…

“What!? Why did-?! Never mind. No time for questions. Just-… just go to your old basura and I’ll get back to you after this has been dealt with. -whatever this is…” Forge finishes to himself as he turns around to fly off to prepare for the rescue mission; I hear him mumble something about “…-another-…” or something like that, but I already have too much to think about, and even if I’d been curious, I’d daren’t call him back to ask, further delaying the rescue of Matabira.

I wish I can sigh in relief at the fact that something to save Matabira is being done now, but I can’t ignore my own position regarding this. As I make my way into and through the malaynayu cave, I avoid everyone’s eyes and feign deafness to their greetings and questions.

My old basara… just another hexagon drilled into the cave walls of the maaliynayu, but drilled with my own magic (as every Changeling drills their own basara wherever they are and whatever their age). Down in the cramped confines of this Everfree Forest cave network, the hexagon system isn’t quite as efficient here as it is back in open cave I call home, but the shape is comforting on an instinctual level—to be laying inside the deepest part of a slightly slanted downward tunnel, cuddled up with someone, and together looking out at a hexagonal slice of the cave beyond is to know peace… as a Changeling. I’ll just have to do without the cuddl-.

How could I let myself get sidetracked so easily!? Matabara is still out there, and their safety is still uncertain! Do I truly care so little that I can ignore how they might even now be being tortured to death by ponies because of me!? I gag and hack, the sickness I had felt before returning stronger than ever, twisting my insides, and finally I release my pazara with violent, painful jerks and spasms—quite unlike the natural and indescribably “pleasant” feeling that usually comes with releasing pazara.

Emotion Sickness. I should have recognized the signs before any of this could happen. I had so many chances to stop and so many hints that I should have stopped, but I pushed myself, and now… I’m here, sick to my stomach, while Matabara are, at best, laying unconscious in a cramped hidden compartment, and at worst already found and imprisoned by ponies.

Because. Of. Me.

How I wish I could trade places with them.

How ironic that I can’t.

I, like any Changeling, can take the place of any pony with enough study and time to prepare, but the one time I want to take another’s place, even though they aren’t ponies…

I yawn. I don’t want to sleep, but after the fiasco Hearts’ and Hooves’ Day had turned into and the subsequent run through the Everfree Forest, combined with the (how I hate to use such a word to describe anything about myself at the moment, but it’s true) content fullness the holiday had given my reserves of love energy… The last thing that crosses through my mind before I fall into complete darkness is that any punishment, even the most severe—horn removal and exile, leaving me out to either commit suicide or endure a slow death by starvation, both resulting in my body being left for animals to desecrate as they may—feels too insignificant, so that the thought it might actually happen to me doesn’t bother my drowsing mind for a second.

NEXT MORNING:

When I open my eyes, my mind registers “impending doom” before I can consciously process anything, never mind why this specific thought should come to me. As I blink, eventually realizing that in my sleep I’ve curled up and turned around to face away from the opening of my basira, and there’s a shadow thrown on the end wall there. -a head-shaped shadow with a long, twisted horn and crown…

Gimarazrasu Maraza!

I can’t stand quick enough, and I trip, landing painfully with my forelegs crossed under my barrel. Before I can even attempt to untangle myself, her magic encircles me, pulls me out of my basira, sets my legs straight (I fall limp, allowing this without resistance), and places me before Gimarazrasu Maraza and two warriors standing on either side of her. “Imitation… Imitation, what am I going to do with you? I knew you were struggling—I knew you would from being sent out at such a young age…—but this? -this!? I never imagined in my darkest nightmares that you would do something so reckless that would endangered the lives of your sisters! I hope you are happy to hear that they have been retrieved, safe and… unharmed beyond what you did to them…” Indeed, I let out a deep sigh and even manage a small smile, but it’s short-lived. “However, we have no one ready to take their place—or yours—so we now have no choice but to abandon what would have otherwise been an extremely strategic position against the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony… -and the blame for this falls solely on you.”

Razawa ataa mu uminraa…” I half-bow, half lower my head in shame as I wait for my punishment to be decided.

“For anyone else, such a crime would warrant exile, at the least, but you… Amaa Ufazun…” I raise myself slowly, daring, and find Gimarazrasu Maraza turned slightly away from me. “You’ve provided valuable intel on the movements of important ponies, particularly the Bearers, and even managed to integrate your sisters into the roles of ponies you have been observing. All of this skill and ability, at such a young age-… A Changeling like you only comes along so rarely, but I cannot let this go unpunished, either—you know this…” I nod only when I notice that she’s looking out of the corner of her eye at me. “I hope you eventually learn that you cannot spare even sympathy, much less love, for ponies, so this is your punishment, effective immediately: I will remove your magic—even your ability to disguise yourself—and you shall be imprisoned with the ponies being held in this maaliynayu until I think you have learned your lesson.”

I nod again. “Man uminraa…” I repeat as I close my eyes to keep from being blinded by the light of Gimarazrasu Amaariz magic; in my mind, I feel something—my magic—being “contained” and hidden away from my mental sight.

“I hope you learn this as quickly as you learned other necessary skills, Amaa Ufazun.” The emphasis is so slight I can’t tell if I imagine it…

She allows her sorrow to touch her face for a moment before the two others step forward and I, knowing what they are there for, silently allow them to escort me.

I hope, too, that this will finally drill into me those lessons I would have learned if I had not been sent out so young. Treated like a pony: I recognize the idea behind this punishment is humiliation… -maybe that is what I need to at last leave behind my care for ponies? Gimarazrasu Maraza has never led us astray before! -not- never on purpose! She must think- know that this is my best chance, and if it does not work, it is only because I failed where she believed I could succeed.

I’ve already disappointed her once.

I won’t- can’t-! -again.

Further and further we go—without the accompaniment of Gimarazrasu Miriza; of course she would have other business—down to the single, solitary cell this small malaynayu houses, and there behind the translucent pazar-door that only Changelings can unlock lay the only ponies I expect to be there: Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.

They’re huddled into the corner farthest from the door, and at first I think they’re sleeping until the clicking of the pazar-locks prompt them both to raise their heads. The other warrior looks ready to throw me into the cell, his horn lighting up with green fire for a split second before he sees me already stepping forward.

The only two ponies I wish I could call friends shiver and grip each other tighter at my entrance.

Then the door behind me is closed and locked, and we’re left alone; there’s no need to guard the ponies, and without my magic, there’s no way I can operate the pazar-door… even if I want to; this is less than I deserve. The two Cutie Mark Crusaders pull into an even tighter ball at the closing and locking of the door, but I only turn away and lay down in the corner opposite them—for a moment I question why they would fear me so, as I’m of a similar age to them, which they should at least be able to infer from my size, if nothing else.

It’s not “me” they’re afraid of—it’s what I am…

Suddenly, I want to go back to sleep, but my body betrays me: My slumber last night had eliminated any feelings of tiredness, leaving me with the discomfort of being well-rested—forcing me to continue facing my fear-reflected, as Gimarazrasu Maraza planned, no doubt, by waiting until I awoke this morning…

One moment I feel like I should say something, the next I argue back to myself that the point of this exercise is that I ignore any remotely positive feelings I have towards ponies, and should resist (at the very least) initiating conversation with the two of them. Then I go back, wondering if I should work out my feelings aloud so that I might expose them for Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle to attack and hopefully destroy… but what if they don’t? What if, instead, they—as silly, curious pony-nymphs—work past their fear of what I am in a way no adult could be expected to? Perhaps the point then would be for me to deny their offering of friendship?… -but would I be able to? Then it would be better to be silent, but in a way that is only avoiding the point of this punishment. -if, indeed, that is the point…

I turn back around to face them, and in the split second while I’m turning my head, I see them flinch out of the corner of my eye; other than having lowered their heads, they remain as I had last seen them. Even as I then stare at them with my relatively blank Changeling eyes—so “nonsapient-looking” to ponies, I know—they visibly relax. The most cynical part of my mind tells me that this is only because they’re beginning to realize that I, too, am a prisoner, and not, I hope, that they’re pushing past their fears as I’d just predicted.

Apple Bloom’s words are more predictable than the ending of a romance novel. “Are you… a pris’ner, too?”

I only blink for a long moment; even put on the spot I can’t decide whether I should just act in such a way to convince them I can’t even understand speech (not that that would be hard to convince ponies of, usually) or answer.

What does Gimarazrasu Maraza want?! I need to make a decision!

… -or maybe the point is not what I do, but what I ultimately learn? It doesn’t matter what path I take, I only need to trust that Gimarazrasu Maraza would intervene if I do something wrong.

She doesn’t want me—any of her children—to fail!

“Yes.”

I cringe at my own daring; every instinct and everything I had been taught—both!—is berating me, reminding me that I should never tell the truth to a pony, so I continue wondering, now thinking that I should change tactics again: going back to lying. What purpose would that serve now, though, after I have been exposed for what I am? -but they don’t know who I am yet…

Apple Bloom stands and takes a small step forward, partially above Sweetie Belle, and between her and me. Protective. Confident. Strong-willed. “Why?”

I huff and turn away before saying, “What does that matter to you… pony?” I have to force myself to say the last word and almost instantly gag, but I’ve had a lot of practice lately with keeping my emotions off of my face, yet I have to do something, so I only sigh instead.

After one long minute (or so), Apple Bloom finally takes her eyes off me to give Sweetie Belle a questioning look. “Well, uhmm-?”

“I failed them,” I blurt out, deciding that there’s no reason anymore not to be open and truthful; even if they don’t believe me, it’s not like they’ll ever get out of here, after all. Nothing I say has the slightest chance of leaving this chamber, so why not? “I failed the hive.” I continue saying to the wall, purposefully leaving myself completely unaware of what the two ponies think about this; I don’t want to risk anything anymore, though what exactly would be put at risk, I don’t know. Another reason to leave myself in the dark. “I ruined a perfectly good well of love, and hurt and endangered the lives of my sisters and, by extension, hurt everyone in the hive.” I hiss at myself when I feel tears slipping down my face. “This… is a forgiving punishment.”

“Ya hurt yer sisters!?… Why?!” How typical—almost predictable—that that would be the thing they latch onto. So… pony of her. It’s not the lives of two nymphs that are important to the hive-.

Wait.

That’s not what I’ve been thinking this whole time. So far I’ve only been thinking about the lives I had directly endangered, not the damage I had caused to the hive as a whole.

That’s not what Gimarazrasu Maraza thinks, either. She cares about the hive, but she cares for the hive by caring for each and every one of her children individually!

Where had I gone wrong? How had I gone so astray?!

I think Apple Bloom, or maybe Sweetie Belle, had still been talking, because Sweetie Belle finally brings me back to the physical world with a cry of, “Hey!”

“Yes, my sisters. In my selfishness… and ignorance, I had put them in a position where they could have been discovered and-!” I shiver; I don’t want to think about that any more, and now I know they’re safe, I don’t feel like I have to. “Why? I cared more for my-… for the ponies I called- wished I could call ‘friends’ than my own family…” I may have only been half-aware of what I was doing as I did it, but it was still “me” that did it, and there’s always a reason for everything—there has to be—and that’s the only thing that makes sense.

Hopefully, by confronting and admitting it, I can change…

Silence…

I wipe my eyes and, in time, turn around. I can see the conflict clear as glass on their faces, and almost smile. Those two are so much smarter than most ponies give them credit for; I know they’re asking themselves how they should feel: on one hoof, I’d betrayed my family, but on the other hoof, that very same family had been hurting ponies. The conflict is obvious.

-but the solution…

When the silence was finally broken by Sweetie Belle asking, “Who? Who were -…?” I could see Apple Bloom had her suspicions, from the look that she uses to interrupt the now-sheepish Sweetie Belle.

Again, why not? Why not tell everything? Do I care if they believe me, after all?

Yes. Of course I do, but there’s no going back to that life any more.

“You two. Just you two.” That surprised Apple Bloom—I guess she’d assumed when I said “sisters” that I was referring to three that had replaced them all—and Sweetie Belle merely tilted her head to the side and slightly forward, silently asking for more.

Maybe they’d realized, too, I had no reason to lie, though, from their perspective, by a different rationale and reason.

“I-…” This is it; I have no way of anticipating how they’d react—even at my most cynical I cannot completely argue away the possibility that it may not be so horrible… and even trying to be optimistic, neither can I say that violence is out of the question (They may be “just nymphs”, but I am the same relative age, and even if such weren’t so, I’m sure I wouldn’t stop them from trying, especially without my magic). “-was Scootaloo.”

How I want to say “am”, but… even in this strange sanctuary of truth, this “fact” would be too improbable for them to even consider legitimate.

-or perhaps I’m just deluding myself. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Sweetie Belle cringes, probably thinking about how many times she had touched (and been touched by) a disgusting, parasitic bug—even though she may not be as squeamish as her sister, no pony likes Changelings—while Apple Bloom simultaneously tilts her head in confusion and widens her eyes in realization. “So, the ‘friends’ you were just talkin’ about-…?”

I let out a few humorless chuckles which only serve to make the two cringe away. “Exactly, Apple Bloom…” I trail off into a sigh as I turn my eyes back to the ground. “Exactly…” Now what? What else can I say? Everything that had happened—my entire drive for everything I’d done—is because of that delusion: I’d lashed out all because of-

What use is it any more?

I’ve been wavering back and forth ever since I realized that I wanted the love of those two for myself instead of Scootaloo, and I still don’t see any resolution. I know what I should do as a Changeling—what I need to do because of the bile and outrage- murderous bile and outrage that rears up whenever a pony so much as thinks about the name of my kind. Then… there’s what I want to do—what my heart aches for… what I know I can’t live without: the impossible.

How can any Changeling stand a fate that should be restrained to nightmares?—to live for so long away from the hive, and therefore away from anyone who loves them- from anyone who would love them? Are they so base?! As animal as ponies paint us, deriving only simple pleasure from the mere act of eating and being full?!

No. No! Of course not! How could I think such a thing?! There’s the hive… MatabaraGimarazrasu Maraza! So many wonderful reasons to live and endure that fate that is the heritage of our kind!… -reasons to sacrifice ourselves!…

Why isn’t that enough for me? How did I come to care more for my prey as much as—not more than!—Matabara?!

What use… is a broken Changeling?

It’s impossible; the only “resolution” is to give up.

Give up…

With a groan halfway to a whine of pain, I let my legs collapse beneath me; one foreleg ends up sticking out with the joints at a painful angle, but I don’t have the will to move it. It doesn’t matter. What’s best for the hive is for me to die. I can’t-…! I’d been ruined by two ponies’ love to the point that-! No! I can’t blame them; they didn’t know, and even if they could have-… this was all me: I was broken before I had even hatched.

Doomed. Worse than worthless.

I think one—or maybe both—of them is saying something, but it doesn’t matter, either. Nothing matters. I can only hear the barest underwater-like murmur of any sound beyond my own sobbing, anyway; I would have held it in before, but now-… All my barriers have been broken along with myself, and yet I feel somewhat disconnected from the tears and howls of anguish. Disconnected from my body. Disconnected from every horrible, unchangeable thing that is me.

Subconsciously, I hear the echoes of a distant explosion make its way through the caves, but I only recognize this afterwards, when I feel myself being shaken and Apple Bloom, reluctant but scared, is asking me, “What was that? What was that?!” louder and louder. Averse, it slowly comes to me that the hooves on my side are a nymph’s, not a drone’s*. -and Apple Bloom’s voice is close… really close!

If I hadn’t been filled with so much apathy, I might’ve jumped in surprise and shocked the poor nymphs. -fillies. As it is, I’m only jolted so far: relative wakefulness. Apple Bloom, however, does jump. -away. I just sigh before answering. “It’s nothing to worry about. Just soldiers keeping themselves in practice. Explosions happen all the time.”

Something in the look the two share start tugging deep inside me at… something yet invisible under all the misery. “Uh, when you say ‘all the time’, how of’in are you talkin’ about?”

More and more tugging…

“Every day…” I say, for they’ve surely been down here long enough to notice, as though this should be obvious to them.

-but if it’s not. “Wait!” I cry out just as Apple Bloom opens her mouth. “Don’t tell me that this is the first time you heard one of those explosions?!”

Nods.

Tug.

“… Another…”

“Another? He said ‘another’… did he really mean-?” One last tug, and “it” is free. “Oh… no.”

Apple Bloom leaps back with a cry of fright when I leap into the air and buzz to the door; I need to know if I’m right, but of course there’s no one there. There’s no need for guards for a cell like this… “Oru!? Oru!!!?” I shout until I’m left coughing, but an answer comes soon enough in the form of another explosion, closer this time. Definitely not normal for practice, if I have any doubt left. Still gasping from my coughing fit, I walk slowly back to where I had been laying. “You’re in luck…” I say to the wall. “It looks like we’re under attack. You’re… being rescued.”

Who knows how many Matabara those ponies are now slaying mercilessly? Ponies that I know I led here; directly or indirectly doesn’t matter… I might as well have killed them myself! The hive is better off without me! -but now it’s too late! Too late to save-… How many lives?! It doesn’t matter—one would be too many!

Murderer.

Now there really is nothing left for me to do but die—be killed…—the explosions closing in tell the whole story of why these ponies are here. Again, I collapse. I didn’t save two sisters after all, but instead killed an entire malaynayu. No, even more than that! All of the Hashara who use this place as a base of operations will suddenly find themselves without support, but they won’t know it! They’ll come here, expecting rest and comfort, but will only get the former and not in the way they’ll expect: their last rest, which they have no right to anticipate for many decades yet! -and everything will cascade down: everyone back home in Hasharstan will mourn, and our already dwindling resources will be stretched further from the loss of this malaynayu, perhaps even to the point that a few of the littlest nymphs may have to be culled because the stress they’d otherwise put on the food supplies would only cause everyone to suffer…!

-and on and on…

-and if no one mourned my death… Who ever mourned the death of a murderer and traitor? I deserve worse than to be forgotten; I deserve to be vilified in history and to be despised by generations of my own kind. I deserve every punishment and torture the ponies can throw at me and, if it’s possible, for their love of hurting me to somehow sustain my life so I know only pain until my body gives way only to old age!

A hoof knocking against the pazar-door brings me out of the contemplation of my future, and a voice, muffled but feminine, calls out, “If anypony’s in there, stand away from the door!” but the order is uncalled for as all three of us are already huddled into out respective corners—briefly I consider jumping out and letting myself get crushed like a bug by the door when it’s blasted open. However, before I can decide, a magical explosion knocks the door free from the surrounding rock with disappointing force—I wouldn’t have been killed by that anyway…

Only curiosity at who these saviors (of Apple Bloom’s and Sweetie Belle’s) are keeps me from falling completely limp in defeat, and instead I crane my neck to watch as the Bearers of the Elements themselves enter. Of course. two of them—a full one third—are sisters to the foalnapped, and… then there’s Rainbow Dash. Loyalty.

If I’m going to die, it might as well be by her hooves. She deserves to be the one to take my life—to destroy the very antithesis of her Element.

Only a quick angry glare (tinged with a pinch of confusion) in my direction is all the two older sisters spare before reuniting with their foalnapped family. Rainbow Dash frantically whips her head back and forth over the bare cell as if the third lost filly could somehow be hiding in plain sight—and how ironic that she is, yet Rainbow Dash will never- can never know—before leveling a discretely envious look at the now-hugging sisters, plus Pinkie Pie, who had used her unnaturally stretchy legs to pull the four together into one big group hug. I shiver from suppressing the want to jump onto Rainbow Dash and drag her into joining them; instead, I can only let my head fall to the ground with a sigh that shakes with all my regrets… and fear—for all that I know deserve it and worse—of my oncoming, now-visible death.

The inevitable question—from here I can now see everything that is going to happen—“Where’s Scootaloo?” Rainbow Dash is turned away from me, but I can picture her eyes darting between the two Crusaders as clearly as if I’m laying next to them.

Through the forest of pony legs, I see as I predict: the two fillies look straight at me—an answer better than any they could have voiced, and more accurate than they will ever suspect. The rest of them, all six pairs of eyes of the Bearers, follow. I know, unlike before, I now have no choice; the sanctuary had been destroyed along with the breaking-down of the door… no more truth—only what the ponies can believe will get me any mercy. “Scootaloo… is dead. I killed her.” Dully, I’m shocked (though I show no outward sign) at the emotionlessness of my voice… besides that, though, it is true, in a way. I killed the personality that Scootaloo had been (and only been) when I knocked Mahatbara unconscious.

Again, my vision of my greatly shortened future does not fail: Rainbow Dash visibly bristles as the meaning of those six simple words claw into her mind and heart; dimly, I’m aware that the others react as well, but my eyes and ears are now for Rainbow Dash only, just as it seems she’s also deaf and blind to the other Bearers. The dispassionate and unconcerned expression I level upon Rainbow Dash only further incenses her—I know that the effect would appear ten times worse to the ponies who already so hate my kind, but even if I could dredge up the effort to care what they think of me now, I don’t think I can cry any more. They’d probably think the crying was an act, anyway.

Everything is an act when one is a creature who’s natural abilities lie in deception.

Even though I expect it, when Rainbow Dash suddenly rushes forward I can’t stop from flinching, and this seals my fate. I hear a cry of, “Rainbow, wait!” in a voice I think is Twilight’s (I’m not exactly in the mind to be identifying voices), but it comes too late: Rainbow’s hoof just then strikes me. She would have struck my forehead, likely knocking me unconscious, but instead it connects with my horn at just the right point and angle, and a crack! that’s not entirely a sound, but also release of magic that makes Rainbow cry out in surprise and pain as she jumps back and tenderly puts her hoof into her mouth.

Green magical light that is not the normal fire-like appearance of Changeling magic streaks and curls out of the cracks that I know must have been inflicted on my horn. “Oh no-!” This time I know it has to be Twilight Sparkle that speaks, for only she would know what a cracked horn means. Twilight, or anypony, doesn’t get to say anything more. In a matter of milliseconds, the light intensifies until it brightens from green into white as the damaged and misaligned mana arteries strain before inevitably bursting with a massive explosion that leaves everypony crumpled against the walls.

Through my own daze and the whining in my ears that the explosion leaves behind, I hear, as if from a distance, my horn, now not just broken off, but shot off my forehead by the explosion, strike the ceiling and clatter, anticlimactically, to the cave floor.

That’s it. I know I’m dead, for a Changeling can’t live without a horn anymore than a pony can live without a mouth.

Still, I stare for some unknown time at that dagger of a horn, with its base now visibly crumbling, and I blink disbelievingly. I had known that I would have to die, but like this?

… To… starve?

With that thought, I’m knocked dizzy again by a pulse of angry pressure in the gapping, bleeding hole where my horn had fit. I think I cry out, or try, but I don’t hear myself and my face- no, my whole body feels numb, and another shock knocks my truly unconscious.

UNKNOWN TIME LATER:

When I wake, I’m sure for about half of a second that I must have dreamed all of that horror up, for I feel myself laying in a bed—a pony bed. Comfortable. Surely, if I had been taken prisoner, as I must have been if that had actually happened, then I would be laying on some lumpy cot with naught but a torn and moth-eaten sheet, if that? Perhaps instead I’ve been taken as a ransom, considered useless for interrogating for any information due to my age?

Good luck with that, ponies—the hive comes before any individual. If necessary, we can even abandon a queen and the females of the hive-…

Beeping. The realization that something is beeping intrudes and breaks my line of thought. Steady beeping. Soon, other sensations emerge. I feel a tightness that I’m sure must be bandages around my head—bandages, because I no longer feel the pain in the base of my horn, which means the remnants of my mana arteries (that had caused the painful pulses which knocked me out) must have been removed. -surgically.

Hospital. I’m-? I must be in a hospital; it’s the only thing that makes sense.

Slowly—wary of hurting myself, I turn my head, trying to determine from where a bright light is shining on my eyelids so that I can blink them open in relative shadow. As soon as I start to move my head, the sound of hoofsteps, starting very close, move away. No doubt a guard that had been left to watch me in spite of my weakened and hornless state—right now I’m about as dangerous and capable of escape as a square of wet paper.

“Miss Twilight Sparkle, the hornless one is waking.”

“The hornless one”? I can only suppose that by not simply referring to me as “Changeling” (with the appropriately disgusted tone), that there must be others here. Of course… those explosions… some Matabara would have been incapacitated, but alive, while others…

Murdered. -by me. The ones still alive are just waiting. Biding through the pain the ponies are surely inflicting on them, and I’m the one who led them to the maaliynayu

“Hello?” Twilight calls me out of my self-pity. -for now. “If your well enough to answer, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Questions. Dangerous things to Changelings.

“Why-… -you-?” I cough out, and to my surprise a cup of water is pressed to my lips. Draining it, I try again. “Why are you talking to me and not…” I cast for any name more suitable for interrogation. “Captain Shining Armor? Princess Celestia? Princess Luna?”

By the way she’s looking down at me, I can tell she’s seriously contemplating ignoring my question and going on with her own. I suppose she figures the answer in harmless enough. “The Princesses are busy dealing with another infes-” She interrupts herself with a cough and makes an obvious effort to force her expression into something more neutral. Interesting. “-another hive that’s been found near Las Pegasus. My brother is also busy with… something else**, so Princess Celestia entrusted me to handle this.”

“Why did you correct yourself just th-.”

“I’m the one here to ask you questions, not the other way around,” She practically growls.

-and ponies call us beasts…

I turn away from her to the ceiling. “Okay. Ask.”

I can practically hear her muscles tense. “Where is… Scootaloo’s body?”

This… is no longer going along with what I expected. How could I answer such a question? “Eaten, probably. -by timberwolves. -or something… I’d guess.”

Twilight only looks shocked, horrified, and disgusted for about a second. “… You mean-…” a quick glance tells me she’s now narrowed her eyes at me. “You mean that her body was just left out in the open? Out where, as unlikely as it may be, Zecora or somepony else could just stumble upon her?” She shakes her head. “You… can’t stop lying, can you? Do you know what the other Changelings told me?” She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “That Scootaloo never existed. -not as a pony. Every one of them said the same thing, separately and without a chance to consult each other. You’re the only one saying something different…”

I can see the conclusion in her eyes, but I can’t believe it. -not yet. “-and you… believe them over me?”

She sighs and shakes her head. “I admit I don’t like the idea, but the fact that there is no variation in their answers… and all the ‘evidence’.” I narrow my eyes in confusion and she quickly explains. “After I was done with questioning all the other Changelings, along with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, I couldn’t help but start connecting everything with what I knew about Scootaloo, which I had to admit was next to nothing.” A pause and… a smile? perhaps if I still had my horn I’d be able to tell what kind of smile it is, but now… “So, I went for the paperwork, and I found out that, while Changelings are really thorough when making up unique disguises instead of replacing somepony, you can’t account for everything. While your address and parents looked like they should exist from the papers alone, and those papers by themselves wouldn’t arouse suspicion, an examination of the facts—in reality—quickly showed that ‘your house’ doesn’t exist.” She huffs and shakes her head, but continues to smile. “-and there’s… everything else! Of course, somehow, it all seems obvious only after the facts have already been revealed… Nopony suspects another to lie about their house or their parents, so I guess it simply never registered…” She gets look in her eyes that I know means she’s going to get lost in her thoughts unless she’s pulled back quickly.

I would have shaken my head if just the thought of doing so doesn’t make my head feel suddenly ten times heavier. “Why?” That catches her attention. “Why does any of that matter? Scootaloo doesn’t exist, and neither will I, soon enough. It seems like you wasted a lot of time and effort just to prove a bunch of captured Changelings were telling the truth about something that doesn’t affect anything.”

How I wish I had my horn! -not to feed, but to feel Twilight’s emotions. Talking with her—and probably any pony—without being able to feel even the greatest variations to her emotions is all too quickly growing disconcerting to an unbearable degree. “What do you mean that… you won’t exist?” I think I can at least tell she has some idea that what I mean is that something is horribly wrong with me. -in the medical sense, not the turned-into-a-kapish sense.

“Didn’t any of the other Changelings tell you?” I ask the ceiling, already knowing the answer. Do any of the survivors even know my horn had been broken? “A Changeling can’t feed on love without their horn. Without my horn, all that’s left is for me to wait to die of starvation.”

A gasp of horror. Does she actually pity me? I don’t- can’t know; even if I cared, it wouldn’t matter—even she can’t make a horn grow back. “Get one of the ones strong enough to walk. Bring her here.” Twilight gives a curt order to the guard, who leaves—presumably to follow this order—without question. Surely enough, Forge is soon led in, slumped in defeat; he shuffles, though he wears no chains, only a dampener on his horn, which I know must be killing him as slowly and effectively as a broken horn, if not as permanent.

When he finally stops in front of Twilight and looks up from the floor, he catches sight of me out of the corner of his eye and gasps as he turns his focus instead on me. “I-Imi!? What did they do to you?! Your-… your horn!” Twilight flinches and groans as if in pain, my words now proven to her, but this doesn’t distract Forge, who keeps his now watering eyes on me.

I can already tell by Twilight’s actions she isn’t about to order all the Changeling she’d captured to be dehorned, but by Forge’s shivering, I don’t think he’s reached the same conclusion yet. “I’m sorry, Forge. This is all my fault. Everything. I was only thinking about me, putting my feelings above the needs of the hive…”

Forge actually scoffs and allows a hint of a grin to show through. “So? That’s how all nymphs work, Imi. At your age, you’re not supposed to be thinking about the big picture yet.” Here, his grin turns into a grimace. “-and you shouldn’t have been forced to… but we didn’t have a lot of options, and Gimarazrasu Maraza believed in you… -never doubted your abilities for a second…”

At the reminder of my disappointment I can’t help but turn away. How can he just dismiss my mistakes? “How many… are dead?” I have to know, and perhaps this can serve to remind him of what exactly I’d done—how horribly and deeply I’d hurt the hive.

“Dead? None.”

“‘Dead’?! What do you mean?”

Forge and Twilight speak at the same time—he answering my question with a tone that says he doesn’t understand why I’m asking, while she is shocked by… my tone? -or that I know such a word as “dead”? In my time as Scootaloo, I have learned that it’s not usual for ponies my age to know about such facts of life… so carefree and innocent, while Changelings have never known such comforts, meeting death often before we can even understand the word…

“Oh…” Forge’s eyes widen with a realization as he turns to Twilight, who looks sheepish from speaking at the same time as him. “I think she is referring to-… There are stories and warnings that we tell to little nymphs about ponies and other creatures—stories about how they’ll torture captured Changelings for information before brutally killing them and destroying their bodies without rites.” Twilight whimpers and fidgets as Forge tells her this, ending with a horrified hoof over her mouth that Forges nods to. “Yes. Most Changelings, as we grow older and more mature, as well as spend more time amongst ponies, learn that you would not do such things, but Imitate here-…” Forge shakes his head. “Well, that doesn’t matter any more, but-!” his eyes suddenly grow hard, “I’m still waiting for an answer on what happened to her horn.”

Twilight lowers her head, knowing that she, however little, participated in bringing about my now inevitable death—I decide I can’t let her answer. “It was an accident; my fault, if anything.” Forge whips his head around, disbelieving frown now directed at me. “It was when I told them Scootaloo died. Rainbow Dash… she rushed at me, and I... think she just meant to knock me out, or beat me up until somepony dragged her off of me… She broke my horn, but it was my fault she attacked me in the first place.”

Forge swallows and turns to Twilight, perhaps hoping for some contraction to be pointed out, but even if Twilight, as I know she might, wants to pull of the blame onto herself—after all, I all but know she’s thinking to herself that if only she had reacted a little bit faster and had grabbed onto Rainbow Dash with her magic before she could even touch me, she could have saved my life. All she does, though, is stare at me sadly, and I feel some kind of emotion brush against me. Even without my horn, which means now I can’t tell an emotion’s content or from whom it comes, I guess fairly well at what she says next; all I can know is that the emotion must be strong to even register.

“I-Imi?” Uncertainty… “I-… I guess… there’s nothing else to say?” I take in a deep breath and let it out as slowly as I can without coughing before shaking my head. “-but…” I brace myself. “the C- the other Cutie Mark Cru-.”

“No.”

“-but they-!”

“No!”

“-want to see you!”

No!” I think it’s more the rising beeping of the heart monitor that gets her to back off more than my rise in volume; I need more than that to stop her from letting in Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. “It’s bad enough, what they heard in the cell after you found me… I don’t want to hurt them even more. They’re going to want to ask me questions about when I’m going to get better. -if they actually understand and care about me.”

“Of course they do!” Twilight immediately jumps in when she senses I’m done. “Why else would they want to see you?!” I just shake my head until she lets out a defeated sigh. “What about Rain-?”

“No.” Now she’s starting to tear up; I fight the urge to look away. “If they care so badly, they can see me after I’m dead.” She flinches at the word. “I-… I just can’t stand to see them. It doesn’t matter. Changelings don’t say goodbye.”

“Imi…” Twilight pleads, but Forge puts a forehoof out to signal for her to stop.

“Can you turn over, or do you need help?” Forge moves up to me, and the guard that had stood passively this whole time must sense the intent in Forge’s movement and words, and shifts to catch Twilight’s eyes to silently ask for instructions—she, grimacing, only turns her back purposefully to the bed- to me, and gives a tiny shake of her head, at which the guard promptly leaves the room, understanding he’s no longer needed.

I, meanwhile, struggle to turn for a moment, but the entwining blankets defeat me; Forge helps without me having to voice my need for help, however. My head spins when the place my horn had been is pressed against the pillows even by nothing more than the weight of my head.

“Goodbye, Imi.” Forge whispers so quiet I don’t think even Twilight hears.

Then, I feel a sharp pressure against the back of my neck. The last thing I feel is the skin there giving way to what feels like a blade, then the pain leaves me like mist under the Sun.

That is how I died, but not how my story ends.

Though I had left it, my body still had one last thing to do…

Author's Note:

*“Bazaga” actually has a meaning closer to “ non-queen adult (of either gender)”, but is usually translated into “drone” in a similar way “fazana”, meaning “child”, is usually translated into “nymph”.

**Not important, but my explanation (outside of being the author) is that this is just after the opening scene of season 3—just after the Crystal Empire returned and before Sombrero's appearance.