• Published 20th Aug 2016
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Stormageddon: Changeling Spy - Shakespearicles



Follow the life of Stormageddon, a changeling spy for the Royal Guard.

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To Dance with a Nightmare

Before I even opened my eyes, the first sensation I felt was cold. Not nausea, or even the headache I was expecting after a night of hard cider. Just coldness. I opened my eyes. I was sprawled out in a drift of snow. Tiny flakes fell silently to the ground all around me. My uniform was missing, as was my disguise. I was in my changeling form, bare to the world to see. The stars and moon above illuminated the white ground around me.

My world, it seemed, terminated not very far away, steeply falling away in all directions. And snow? It was barely even autumn. I peered over the edge. Light from below shown from a distant city. There was a castle down there. By the looks of it, I could have swore it was-

"Canterlot?" I wondered. But the only way it could be below me was if- "I'm at the summit of Canterlot Mountain!" How in Equestria did I end up all the way up here? "I must have been drunker than I thought," I mumbled.

"Well, you're half right," came a disembodied voice. I quickly shape-shifted back into Storm Cloud and I squinted out into the darkness.

"Who's there!?" I shouted. I heard back only a low murmur of a chuckle. It was coming from above me. I looked up towards the pale light of the moon. A face shimmered across its surface. "What am I half right about?"

"You are drunker than you thought. But you are not at Canterlot Peak," the face in the moon said. "One night hence, you will go to the gate of the West Castle Courtyard alone. There you will meet a pony. You will say to them, 'I am here to dance.' And you will say nothing else. You will tell no other pony of this," she said.

"And why would I be doing any of this?" I asked.

"Did my voice go up? Because that wasn't a request." Her face vanished from the moon, and the world around me went dark.


AWAKEN


I wish I could have seen it. I wish I could have been a spectator. All of the Royal Guard Ponies in the barracks gathered around the Section Chief, soup pot and spoon in hoof, hovering over the hapless Private, laying hungover in his cot, still wearing half of his uniform. I would have loved to see the look on his face as he put the pot over his head and clanged it repeatedly with the spoon, shocking him awake. Making what would have otherwise been a rather tolerable headache into a pretty damn painful one.

I would have loved to have seen that, rather than be the one to experience it.

CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG-CLANG

"RISE AND SHINE!" The entire squadron shouted as the pot clanged around my head.

"AHHHHHH!" I screamed in surprise and pain, writhing in my tangled blankets. The pot was pulled off and my Section Chief stood over me.

"Hope you had fun last night, Princess! Because you just got promoted to Latrine Queen!" he said, giving me a bucket and mop. "Now get up and make every can in this place sparkle!" I clamored to my hooves

"Aye, proceeding, Sir!" I managed to get out, before tripping over the bucket and falling over again. Everypony laughed at me. I quickly got back up and steadied myself. The room was still spinning. My head felt like my brain was bouncing around inside my skull with a bunch of broken glass. My eyes felt like they'd been replaced with cotton balls covered in sawdust. My mouth tasted like an ash tray. "I swear... I will never drink again, for as long as I live," I muttered to myself. "And this time, I mean it!" I added.

"Yeah, sure. Until next time," Pound Cake said behind me, holding a mop of his own. "Guess who they made Latrine King? I sure hope it was worth it." I struggled to remember everything. Echo, the bar, the gryphon.

"Wait, why do I have to be the queen?"

"I'm your wingpony!" he said. "We're supposed to look out for one another. We're responsible for each other. You left me on the wall, and I came back to the barracks without you. So we're both in trouble. You owe me an amazing lunch for getting me in trouble."

"Don't worry. I-" And then I remembered the part where I lost all my bits playing cards. "I'm gonna have to give a rain-check on that promise."

"Wow. You're a class act Storm, you know that?" He groaned. "Here," He gave me the scrub brush. "You can clean the toilets. I'll be doing the sinks."

"I guess that's fair," I sighed, following him into the first bathroom, standing in front of the first stall.

"No. Fair would be me not having to clean the bathrooms at all! But life isn't fair is it!?" he spat. His words hurt. More so than he meant, I'm sure. If life was fair, my deadbeat ass would have been in that burning barn, and not the rest of my family. They were good ponies. And I'm... not. My hangover, even as raging as it was, was something I could handle. But now I had that, the guilt of betraying the closest thing I had to a friend, and a visceral return of my grief.

"No. Life isn't fair." I forced back my tears. I had been awake less than five minutes, and already things were going terribly. At least it couldn't get any worse. Or so I thought. I stared into the brown abyss of my task. "Oh no, why- Why did I have to get into trouble on beans and cabbage night?" I wasn't normally one to be nauseous after a night of drinking. "HUURRBLAAUUGHH!" But I guess there's a first for everything as I added to the mess in the bowl.

But the thing about being Latrine Queen, is once you get through cleaning that first one, the rest all just kind of blur together. Your nose goes blind to the smell. And the sergeants tend to leave you alone. Really, how much worse can you make the day of a private already cleaning toilets?

And that was how my day went, going from one bathroom to the next with Pound Cake. Me cleaning the toilets, him doing the rest. Everypony was giving me weird looks. I figured it was because I smelled like, well, you can imagine. When I went to wash myself up in the sink for lunch, I finally caught myself in a mirror and figured out why everypony was giving me weird looks. Apparently several of the squadron artists last night had used my face as a canvas for several pieces of... let's just say, phallic imagery. I turned to shout at Pound.

"Were you going to tell me about this!?" I yelled, pointing at my face. For the first time that morning, he smiled.

"No. But do you have any idea how hard it's been to not laugh every time I looked at you today?" He said, finally laughing out loud, breaking the tension of the morning. "The big veiny one across your forehead was mine." He laughed harder. We finished washing up. I spent extra time scrubbing the 'art' off my face. And then we went to the chow hall. I wanted to be mad at him. But I couldn't be. I was just happy, myself, that he wasn't mad at me anymore. "I'm still mad at you, you know," he said. Oh well, never mind.

The chow hall was where Royal Guard ponies could go to eat without having to pay. You almost never saw anypony in there with more than three stripes. And you definitely never saw any officers. If you had the money to eat somewhere else, you did. Pound and I grabbed a tray and walked up to the counter to get (what they were passing off as) food. The pony working chow duty behind the counter looked at us. He proceeded to tell us about the exciting variety of menu items that they were offering that day.

"Do you want the brown soy patty with grey sauce, or the grey soy patty with brown sauce?" he asked. I looked at the 'food' through the glass. So much brown. My stomach churned in a conflicting pang of both hunger and nausea.

"Ugh, you owe me big, Storm. Grey with brown sauce, please," Pound said in a depressed tone.

"Um, I'll just hit the fruit bar today," I told him, heading over to the fruit buffet.

"You are what you eat, Latrine Queen," Pound snickered after me.

"Oh, ha ha." I deadpanned. I picked up the serving spoon and grabbed a scoop of everything, heaping it all into a bowl and bringing it to the table where he was sitting. I sat across from him. He ate a bit of his 'food'. "So, how is it?" I asked.

"Nnf." He shrugged. "It's not too bad. Once you get past the chewy texture, it kind of tastes like... depression."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, with just a dash of... shattered dreams," he grinned, amused with his own commentary on the chow food. "How about yours?" I took a mouthful of my fruit salad. The refrigeration unit had died in the salad bar. The fruit was room temperature and mushy.

"I'm pretty sure a dung beetle would pass on this," I said, sharing his smile. We both sat and ate our terrible food together.

"Remember when they tried making quiche?" he asked.

"Ugh, don't remind me! It was like they had ground up the gym mats!"

"Hahaha I know!"

"..."

"..."

"Pound... I-" I sighed, "I'm sorry about last night. You were right. I should have listened to you." I said.

"I know," he said glibly. "It's alright."

"Thanks."

"So...?" he asked.

"So what?" I asked back.

"So was it worth it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did you find out what her name was?"

"Yeah."

"And?"

"And... I don't think she would appreciate me telling you. You have to 'earn it'." He gave me a puzzled look and snorted, leaning back in his seat.

"Ha, you're full of crap. You didn't find out did you? So what did you end up doing all night then?" I finished what I could of my meal.

"I went to a bar, drank cider, and lost all my bits playing cards," I told him.

"Now that does sound more like you," he said. We both took out plates to the wash counter and went back to finish the second half of our day. It went by a lot easier with my friend not less mad at me.

After we finished working for the day we got dinner chow and went back to the barracks in time for the sun to set and the shift change to the Night Guard. The sergeants could give me latrine duty and break my back. But they couldn't break my spirit. I guess that's the power of friendship that Applejack kept going on about. Applejack. I felt that pang in my chest again. I pushed through it. The last thing I needed was a breakdown in the middle of settling into my living space for the night.

Pound went off and joined a group of his other friends for some idle chit-chat before it was time for lights-out. I was never the social butterfly he was. I was plenty tired from the day. I just laid back in my cot and tried not to think about anything. I counted the pits in the ceiling tiles.

"Lights out!" came the call from the end of the room. Everypony went back to their own cots and got in. And then the lights went dark for the night.


Applebloom finished kicking the the apples from the tree beside mine. "Woohoo! The way you cleared through the East Orchard this week, you were on fire!"
on fire
on fire
on fire
"APPLE BLOOM!" I shouted into the burning barn.


"Gah!" I shot up in bed, my heart racing, my fur soaked in sweat. I panted, and tried to control my breathing. I squinted into the darkness of the room. The clock said it was just past 11:30 at night. There was somewhere I needed to be. I rolled out of my cot and bunched up the blanket and pillows to make it look occupied. Over by the entrance, I could see the pony on fire-watch detail, Cirrus. He was doing the telltale move of sleep deprivation, his head nodding off every so often. 'Bobbing for apples', we called it.

The entrance door had a squeak to it that was loud enough to wake even him. I made a plan. I chose my moment and darted into the vacant Sergeant's office, took a big risk and quickly shape-shifting into his form. As soon as Cirrus awoke, I walked straight over to him.

"I'd best not catch you nodding off again!" I whispered angrily, in our sergeant's voice.

"Yes sir!" He said quickly. And with that, I left through the squeaky exit.

"Wait, why am I even out here?" I asked myself. A voice reverberated in my mind's memory

Entrance to West Castle Courtyard

I felt compelled to go. I couldn't explain it at the time. But it drove me to action. I exchanged my sergeant for my usual form of Storm Cloud. I'd rather get in trouble for being out after hours than get found out and executed as a doppelganger. I learned my lesson from the previous night. I kept to the ground in favor of not getting drop-kicked out of the air flying over the castle. Even still, I kept my eye on the skies.

"I'll find you." She'd said. I don't know what it was about her. But I knew she meant what she said. And here I was out after hours, right in her back yard. My muscles were on edge, tense, ready for the surprise attack from Echo. It never came.

I turned toward the west, following along the wall of the inner keep, toward the West Castle Courtyard. It was a section tucked away abutting the steep mountainside. It offered little in the way of scenery, neither of the surrounding countryside or the city itself. It had gone mostly unattended, serving more as a wildlife sanctuary. The gate to it, a set of large, heavy, wooden doors, was closed. And it stayed closed.

I turned the last corner and the gate came into view. I could see the silhouette of a pony standing guard at the gate. My rational mind screamed at me to abandon this quest and return to the barracks before I was discovered or worse. But a force drove my hooves toward the gate with utter confidence. I intended to get inside that gate. I would say something to the guard and he would let me in. But I had no idea what. My throat went dry. I got close enough to see their face.

"Storm!?" Echo said. "What are you doing here!? You need to leave right now! You're going to get us both in so much trouble!"

There was so much I wanted to say to her. So much I wanted to ask her. I had so many questions.

"I am here to dance," I heard myself say. Her eyes went as wide as dinner plates, and she said nothing else. She simply unlatched the lock of the gate and pushed the door open for me, stepping aside. I walked inside without another word. The door closed behind me. I heard it latch, locked. What just happened? Why am I even here? What's going on?

The courtyard was a large, stone patio, illuminated in the light of the full moon. It was a checkered pattern of large squares of white marble and black granite slabs. On them, were life-sized chess pieces. One set was made from a dark mahogany, the other from a pale, sturdy oak. Both sets looked very weathered from the passage of time out in the elements.

Beyond the patio, I could see the shadow of a figure at the edge of the wild overgrowth retaking the castle from the mountainside. I could see the outline of a horn, it's magic glowing and plucking a blossom from a branch of the nearby tree. I stepped toward the figure, my hooves tapping against the solid stone of the patio with each step.

"Do you know what makes these blossoms so special?" she asked me. I was frozen where I stood, unable to speak. She stepped out of the shadows of the tree, taking the blossom in her hoof. The light of the moon shimmered through her blue, ethereal mane, unobstructed by the blue helm of armor she wore on her head. Within her mane and tail twinkled a thousand tiny stars, contrasted against her jet-black fur. Her deep, teal eyes practically glowed, with more light than could be accounted for, with slits, like a cat's eyes.

"They are unique among all other trees," she continued. "They bloom only one night a year. The night of the first full moon of the autumnal equinox." She cradled the delicate blossom in her hooves. "They have long baffled botanists. Blooming so late in the year, and at night only. It has no chance for honey bees nor hummingbirds to help pollinate it. And on the night historically known for having the stillest air, it cannot rely on the wind to carry its pollen. By all rights, this tree should never have survived beyond the first generation. Yet, here it be." She studied the blossom in her hoof closely, examining every detail of it with much care.

"You could spend your entire life trying to find the perfect blossom... and it would not be a wasted life." She levitated the blossom over to me, setting the stem of it behind my ear. "Each tree, found across Equestria, stands alone. If it were not for it's unusual blooming pattern, there could be forests of them. Every year, it could face its extinction. It sacrifices so much..." She looked at me in the eyes. "...to be unique."

I stood there, frozen. No external force held my hooves. I was held not by fear, no, but by curiosity. She walked up onto the large patio with me. She was tall. Enormous even. She towered over me as she drew near. "I received a report that a pegasus guard matching your description was fraternizing with one of my Night Guard officers," she said in a stern tone. "Imagine my surprise when I found you."

"I-"

"Won't be needing that," she cut me off. With a wave of her hoof, I felt my disguise fall away like so much dust blown from a bookshelf. My changeling form exposed, I panicked and tried to shape-shift again, but found that I could not. Her horn glowed blue. "Imagine my surprise," she repeated, "when I came to see what kind of a pony you were. Only to find that the pegasus fraternizing with my lieutenant was not a pony at all, but a changeling that had infiltrated our ranks!"

"I-"

"Stormageddon," she said. I felt my heart leap in my chest.

"How do you know that name?"

"I know a lot about you," she said, sauntering closer to me. "I know who you are. I know what you are. And I know why you're here," she said after a moment. "Do you know who I am?" she asked. "What do the ponies call me? Whom do they warn you of in the dark of the night?"

"You're the Mare in the Moon," I said, resolute, "Nightmare Moon." She smiled wide. Her sharp, white fangs shown brightly.

"Are you not afraid?" she asked, surprised.

"No," I answered. It was the honest truth. But even I didn't understand why. The rational part of my brain told me I should be afraid. But I just... wasn't.

"Tell me," she extended her hoof to me, "Have you ever danced with a nightmare in the pale moonlight?"

I didn't answer. At least not verbally. What happened next, I couldn't explain. After a long moment, looking into her eyes, I lifted my hoof and placed it into hers.

And we danced.
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I had never danced before in my life. I didn't even know that I could. But somehow, I did. We danced. Slowly at first. She led. Or she followed my lead very well. I couldn't be sure. But we danced on the stone patio in perfect rhythm, amid the ancient chess set. The black of her fur mirrored against the black of my changeling chitin. She never took her eyes off of mine. She looked at me, into me.

They say the eyes are the gateway to the soul. I had never put much stock into the notion. Or the idea of a soul at all before that night. But as we looked at eachother, I could certainly sense something... spiritual. It was like the uncomfortable feeling you get when you stare at a stranger in the eyes for any more than a brief moment. But this was the opposite.

"You know, I actually thought you were dead," she said.

"Yeah, well, the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated," I said.

"Are you not pleased that it isn't so?" she asked.

"Maybe I should be."

"Pleased?"

"Dead," I answered. Her eyes searched mine. I tried my best to hide my pain. But she could see right through it. She changed up the step of our dance speed.

"You're not- as bad- as you think," she said in cadence with the steps of our improvised tango.

"At dancing?" I asked.

"In general," she said flatly, focusing on her dancing. "I understand your plight. Hiding from the public eye, for fear of what ponies must think of you."

"A monster," I said.

"A monster is defined by its actions," she said. "You of all ponies should understand that appearances are only skin-deep." Her form shimmered in my hooves. Her armored helm flittered away into dust, revealing her black tiara beneath. Her black fur became a deep blue. Her eyes became familiar, round, pony eyes. Her fangs vanished into normal teeth. Her amorphous, smokey mane became... slightly less so. And she was a little shorter. But still a good deal taller than myself. Her hooded cloak turned into bats that flew away into the darkness. I recognized her cutie mark.

"Your Highness," I greeted Princess Luna with a polite bow.

"Stormageddon," she nodded back in return of the gesture. She took my hoof and pulled me to her, resuming our dance together. "Tell me- What do you want?"

"Want?"

"We all desire something. It's what drives us. What drives you? What do you want? What do you really want?" she asked. I felt my jaw clench.

Sweet Leaf

"Revenge," I said. She pursed her lips just slightly, somewhat disappointed with the answer. She otherwise withheld her judgement. "I'm after a pony named Sweet Leaf. I was... told that joining the Royal Guard was my best opportunity."

"You have company in your quest. The one you seek is considered by many authorities to be one of the most dangerous enemies to Equestria alive." She danced with me a few more steps. "You mean to kill her? Would that give you satisfaction?" she asked. I thought about it. I was ashamed to admit that I had fantasized about the very moment many times. Exacting my revenge. But this time, I thought about it. I really thought about it. Would it bring closure? Maybe. Satisfaction?

"No," I admitted, feeling deflated.

"And now you find yourself in the Royal Guard," she said. I sighed.

"...Yeah."

"Your father would be proud," she said after a moment.

"You know my father?" I asked excitedly.

"Yes. I do."

"Who is he?" I asked.

"Your father's identity will be revealed to you-"

"When the time is right," I cut her off, "yeah, yeah, I've heard it a million times before," I groaned. "What's the matter? Are you afraid that I can't handle the truth?"

"To the contrary," she said. "I am quite certain that you could. But it is kept from you for both his protection, and yours. It's as simple as that."

"What about my mother?"

"That answer... is less simple."

"Why shouldn't I know!?" I demanded. "The first weapon in war is-"

"Knowledge, yes," she finished. "But it is more than to simply have it. An explosive catapult round is a weapon too, yes. But there is danger in simply possessing it. Just as the answers you are seeking are dangerous. A bomb that not only puts you, but everypony around you in harm's way. And I can not allow that."

"Fine then!" I huffed, throwing my hooves in the air. "It will be revealed when the time is right!" I recited. "At least tell me what I can do to bring that about!"

"Perhaps you might consider making the world a bit better for having you in it."

"I'm already in the Royal Guard. What more do you want?"

"I was thinking something a bit more in line with your particular... skill set," she said. "Something a bit more useful than cleaning walls... and stalls." She smirked.

"What do you propose?" I asked.

"I propose that you work for me. At the highest levels of secrecy."

"How can you trust me? I'm a changeling!"

"A changeling is what you are. It's not who you are." She did a few more steps of dancing, leaning over me as she supported my back. She lifted my face close to hers. "I can see it in your eyes," she whispered. "You're not the villain you think you are. Join my team." She pressed her cheek to mine. I could feel her warm breath in my ear. "Somepony out there loves you, Storm. It's time for you to prove to them that you're worth a damn."