• Published 6th May 2019
  • 3,086 Views, 268 Comments

Walk Where There Is No Path - theOwtcast

When everything you’ve ever known goes against everything you believe in, can leaving help you live with yourself?

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The response to my presence was somewhat milder than in Canterlot, although chaos and panic still reigned. The city seemed to have a smaller defense force than Canterlot; only a few guards were chasing me this time. Or what were they called here? Police officers? They even had uniforms rather than body armor like the Royal Guard. It seemed odd that every city or village would have a different organization to defend them, but for all I knew, that approach may have proven to have advantages in the past. Either way, this was not a good time to ponder on it.

Compared to the Royal Guard, fewer officers were pegasi, so I was able to dodge them by flying pretty easily at first. They caught on soon enough and regrouped accordingly. Even a few civilian pegasi worked up the courage to join in pursuit or cut off my escape routes.

The chase was over eventually, but this time in my favor after I’d spotted a sewer line I could get to. A burst of my magic turned me into a rat small enough to pass through the grate. By the time the ponies would have managed to bypass that obstacle, I was long gone.

The sewer brought me to a waste processing and water purification facility on the outskirts of the city - at least that was what an inscription on the main entrance said. A number of unicorns were there, working their magic on the water, too busy to notice a rat sneaking around; then again, maybe they simply didn’t care. I couldn’t have been the only rat that had ever washed up in that place!

Safely out of the facility and the ponies’ sight, I changed my disguise to mimic a unicorn similar to those I’d just seen. If anypony got dangerously curious, I didn’t think they’d care to stick around very long if I told them I’d been sent home due to not feeling well. Next stop: find a lake or river and wash myself of the filth I’d collected.

With that out of the way, it was time to find another town with potential new friends. I didn’t dare to go back to Manehattan. The city would still be on full alert and I didn’t want to test the effectiveness of any increased security measures! Different organization or not, the police officers might have picked up some changeling-revealing tricks from the Royal Guard or any other appropriate source, assuming they hadn’t already had some of their own; either way, it would’ve been prudent of the princesses to encourage if not command such an exchange between defense organizations in light of recent events. It was evening by now, so once again I dared to fly without a disguise, not worrying I might get noticed... but just to be safe, I wouldn’t go to the nearest large city I could see up ahead; they would have had plenty of time to hear the news about the changeling sighting by now. There had to be more cities or villages further north! I was getting hungrier again; the love gained from Porthos hadn’t lasted as long as I’d hoped it might, so I wouldn’t have the luxury of being too picky with choosing a new place to try to make friends in, even at the risk of getting spotted.

Close to dawn I took a few hours’ nap in a hole in the ground at the edge of a wasteland, and after that, I kept going until I reached a gorge with a small village at the bottom. There were just a dozen of cottages, arranged neatly in two parallel rows and aligned perfectly against one another. On one end there was a sapling planted among what appeared to be ruins of another cottage. I wondered what had happened to it. Maybe I could ask one of the local ponies! I could only see a dozen of them moving about; in a village this small, any of them would likely know about anything that had ever happened here! Perhaps there was an interesting story about the ruins and the sapling?

On the slight downside, it would be impossible to keep a low profile in such a tiny village; I could pass off as a pony, but I’d still need to have a good explanation of why I’d come there lest somepony get suspicious of my intentions. I was still trying to think of one when two ponies came into view, approaching the village from further down the gorge. One of them was a purplish unicorn with a troubled frown on her face. The other I’d seen twice before: the purple alicorn, the newest princess of Equestria. She said something to the unicorn. I was too far away to hear it, but it seemed to have helped relieve the unicorn’s concerns… if only for a short time.

Soon the ponies from the village took notice of the two visitors and trotted to meet them. The princess held back, and the unicorn approached the villagers, saying something and lowering her head as if expecting punishment.

They hugged her.

I didn’t know what had happened with the unicorn and the villagers before, but it seemed to have a happy ending; the unicorn shed tears in which I saw a reflection of a great burden lifted from her heart. I was pretty sure the princess had had something to do with helping them. Once again, the warmth of pride filled my heart... so much that, for a moment, I was able to forget my growing hunger!

It would be wrong of me to intrude on such a touching reunion. I could wait a day or two and visit at a more appropriate time! Hopefully the unicorn would still be there. I wanted so badly to learn her story and share her burden! Maybe, if I was lucky, she would be willing to share mine! In the meantime, i would need a place to stay where I wouldn’t disturb the villagers, and where they wouldn’t run into me.

I set out to search the surrounding hills and eventually found an entrance into a cave that seemed like it would suit my needs... but when I got close, I heard voices from inside. Overwhelmed by curiosity, I transformed into a bird I hoped was inconspicuous enough and got closer.

Peeking around a corner, I saw a large cavern, mostly empty. On the far end was an impossibly large shelf made of stone, only damaged in several places, and empty. I had a vague feeling that it might have been important in the past, but there was no way to tell what it might have been used for. Around it were small piles of rocks, possibly fragments of the imposing shelf.

Near one of the piles, behind the remnants of a stone table set in front of the shelf, stood three changelings engaged in a discussion. It must have been their voices I’d heard! They didn’t seem to notice me - or at least they didn’t care about a random bird - so I came a little closer… as close as I dared.

“...supposed to go south and rendezvous with three other teams of hunters at Foal Mountain. We’ll get new orders there,” said one of them.

“Do we know where exactly at Foal Mountain? Seems too big a place to just randomly wander around,” asked another.

“There’s a landmark she described. I’ll lead the way,” answered the first.

“Any hints on what kind of mission it is?” the third wanted to know.

“All I know is we need time to prepare ourselves and we’re getting some backup at a later date. Apparently it’s something big, or she wouldn’t have been so bloodthirsty-thrilled about it.”

My heart jumped into my throat. Was he referring to Chrysalis? Was she here? Was it me she’d come for - and how had she known where I was? I fought the urge to scream.

“That’s not very helpful,” replied the third hunter dryly.

“Well it’s all I know, so deal with it,” hissed the first.

“What about Thorax?” asked the second hunter after a moment.

“What about him?”

“Aren’t we supposed to catch him? Or did another team find him and you forgot to tell us?”

“Nah, still no trace of him. Chrysalis figures there’s no way all the hunting teams would have failed to find that incompetent excuse for a drone in seven months if there was anything to find. Stupid traitor probably got eaten or something and we’re running around like lunatics,” snorted the leader. “He’s a low priority from now on. The hunter teams are being recalled, except for the ones involved in this new mission, but if any of us do run into Thorax after all this time, we’re by all means expected to complete our original mission and drag him back to the hive.”

Seven months?! I hadn’t expected it to happen overnight, but I had no idea cocoon healing could take that long! That was almost twice what I’d expected! No wonder I was so hungry! Though, it seemed to have helped me avoid capture, so I shouldn’t complain.

“Any news about that thing in Canterlot we never heard the ending of?” the third hunter wondered. “You know, that changeling who had his cover blown in public and got chased and fell off a cliff?”

The leader nodded.

“That was Rascal. Apparently his team was attacked by timberwolves and only he survived. Beats me how he ended up in Canterlot of all places! He wasn’t talking last time when anyling was able to track him down, and now he’s in a secure section of pony prison as far as we know, so doubtful we’ll get anything more from him any time soon.”

I let out a silent sigh of relief upon hearing that, though I couldn’t figure out why Rascal hadn’t told anyone about me. Maybe if he hadn’t had the chance to tell the changelings before getting relocated… or maybe my venom had some unexpected properties. Could it be? I wouldn't put it past myself to have paid no atention when the venom’s properties and effects had been taught in detail, assuming I’d even been present for the occasion, so it made sense I hadn’t known about them. Also, for all the bullying I’d experienced in the hive throughout the years, I’d somehow never been bitten so I couldn’t tell from personal experience... but if changeling venom was indeed capable of erasing one’s most recent memories, how could I be sure that I hadn’t?

The group had nothing more to say to each other, so they dispersed around the cave, each minding their own business. I hurried to leave before they thought of posting one of them to guard the entrance. I would learn nothing more from overhearing their conversation, and visiting the nearby village had stopped being an option as soon as I’d set my eyes upon the changelings anyway.

Keeping my disguise on, I spread my wings and took to the air. If the hunters were due to go south, further north was where I was going to be.