• Published 6th May 2019
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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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Silent Warning

The next day I awoke somewhat refreshed; for the first time in ages I had a place where I could feel safe, and it meant more than I’d realized! It wasn’t too different from the hive, and a sense of familiarity must have helped; but it wasn’t too similar, either, which helped against feelings of anxiety and tension. One thing it couldn’t provide, however, was food, and I was still no closer to finding a way to befriend the local ponies without risking the Princess’ wrath if she found out about me.

For a while I just sat there, thinking. I wanted to figure out what to do, but eventually came to realize my mind was elsewhere: I was revisiting the memories of my journey, just random incidents unrelated to anything in particular, none of which could help me solve my current problem. I tried to focus, but to no avail. Eventually I gave up and decided to go for a walk around the hills; maybe that would help me clear my head!

The day was once again beautiful and warm, and for a moment I wondered if maybe I should try leaving now while the weather was suitable. But then, the weather had been even better when I’d first sensed the love coming from here, and it had gotten really bad quickly! Who was to say this time would be any different? What was even in control of the weather here? Was anything? Until I knew more, it would be safer to stay put! Maybe it would turn out fine after all; maybe I was just fretting over nothing! After all, I hadn’t really tried anything yet; how would I know if something could work until I attempted it?

I didn’t have a particular destination in mind, but my stroll took me back to my flower. I must have been subconsciously drawn to it; it was the only familiar thing in this unusual land, the only thing I knew for certain wouldn’t turn against me! It was greatly comforting to have such a thing, even if it wasn’t going to actively help me in any way!

I sat beside the flower and let myself get lost in its beauty, its calming serenity. I let it carry me into a happier moment, a moment in which I’d shared a connection with a pony, a connection that might have grown into a friendship if we hadn’t parted ways. I wondered how he was doing. Had he found his daughter’s letters? Had he read them? Had they given him the answers, the reassurance he needed? Had he settled the dispute he’d mentioned, made peace with the other ponies? I hoped so! If I ever saw him again, I would ask.

I brought myself out of my reverie after what I hoped was not too long a time. Even though I was alone, that might not be the case forever, and I would have to return to my cave before anypony noticed me! Not having expected company, not having planned to wander far, and having assumed I would be left alone this far from the city in the short amount of time I’d intended to spend in the open, I hadn’t disguised myself before going out. There would be little point in it now; my cave was pretty close.

For a second I thought I’d noticed slight movement in the corner of my eye, but when I looked in that direction, nothing was there. I shrugged it off, thinking it may have been a trick of the light or a breeze playing with the grass, and kept going.

I spent the rest of the day pacing restlessly, still unable to think of a good approach for befriending the ponies. A few ideas did come to mind, such as pretending to be a traveller pony, but for that to work, I’d have to know more about the city than I did! I knew absolutely nothing, not even the name of the city! If I could do something about it, maybe the idea about a traveller pony would work after all! Finding out a few things may not be too hard, though. I’d already learned the rough outline of the city by flying about as a bird the day before. If I could take a closer look at it, it might give me some answers, but no matter the disguise I chose for the task, it would be better to have as few witnesses around as possible, lest they notice the possibly strange behaviour of a pony or animal.

The solution was obvious: I’d have to visit during the night.

It was a long wait till nightfall, and I spent it trying to take a nap before the excursion, expecting it could take a while and wanting to prevent any bad decisions that might arise as a side-effect of tiredness, but sleep wouldn’t come. I was too nervous about possible complications to fully relax. For possibly the first time ever, I wished I’d received infiltrators’ training! Knowing a few worst-case scenario tricks would mean a great deal, if only just to boost my confidence! As it was, I would have to rely on whatever improvisation I could muster!

From what I’d seen so far, birds seemed to get away with a lot of behavior that might be suspicious in a pony. A little later into the night, it was time to see if Little Bird Thorax would get treated the same!

The flight into the city was uneventful. Once there, I found the streets deserted - devoid of civilian ponies at least. There was, however, a surprising number of guards posted everywhere, mostly in pairs or groups of three. I hadn’t realized the city had so many of them: in one street alone there were more guards than I’d seen during the entire day on my first fly-through! An uneasy feeling washed over me, but I tried to suppress it; maybe such an ample presence of defense forces was normal here during the night, or maybe it was just temporarily increased security due to the recent birth of the Princess’ foal.

I flew on, seeing more guards everywhere. With so many of them, I didn’t expect to be able to explore the town like I’d planned to! Maybe I would get lucky, but so far it looked like I’d have to try some other time!

Eventually I realized that not all guards were standing in place or rotating between stationary posts; a few of them were patrolling the city, and some of the patrolling guards were carrying saddlebags. I hadn’t been paying attention to them at first, but something about them kept stirring in the back of my mind, so I decided to follow one pair of them. It turned out they were delivering scrolls to every house in the city. That was weird if everything so far hadn’t been; even I knew mail delivery was an occupation completely unrelated to guard duty in pony society! So if the guards were doing it, it had to be important! I had to find out what was going on! But how?

An opportunity presented itself a few streets down the line: the guard tossed a scroll through a slit in the door like he’d done with every house before, but this house had an open window, and the nearby stationary guards were looking the other way. I flew in through the window, and after making sure all the ponies inside were asleep, without dropping my disguise, I proceeded to unwrap the scroll as quietly as possible. It was a tricky task with only a small beak to do it with, but eventually I succeeded.

Another wave of panic rose in me as I read the text:

Warning - Danger in the Crystal Empire

-to all the Crystal Ponies-

Earlier today, a changeling was spotted in the hills surrounding the Crystal Empire. The intentions and current whereabouts of this changeling are as of yet unknown, as is the likelihood of more changelings being in the area. Steps are being taken to track down and capture any and all of these creatures.

Changelings are evil beings capable of assuming the form of any pony, creature, animal, or inanimate object. In their natural form, they appear as pony-sized insectoids of dark carapaces, translucent wings, sharp fangs, and hole-riddled legs. They feed by consuming love from other creatures, a process that weakens their victims, rendering them incapacitated, and in some cases, permanently damaged; fatal outcomes have been known to occur as well, even as the result of a single feeding. They act by impersonating ponies to gain trust, or in swarms by invading whole cities. They are a known enemy of Equestria.

Citizens of the Crystal Empire are advised to remain calm, maintain groups at all times, and avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary until this crisis is resolved. If you suspect a friend or a family member has been replaced by a changeling, you can try to confirm your suspicions by having a conversation with them about something only your real friend or family member would know, but do so with caution lest such conversations provoke the changeling to attack you.

Any and all sightings of a changeling are to be reported to the Royal Guard and/or the Crystal Castle.

In order to prevent the changeling(s) from realizing they’d been noticed for as long as possible, no public notices shall be posted anywhere in the city, and all the scrolls have been magicked to self-destruct by sunset.

Stay safe!

Princess Cadance
Prince Shining Armor

For a minute, I just stared at the scroll, dumbfounded, then read it again, hoping I’d misunderstood something. As if my situation wasn’t complicated enough…

I must have been right about having seen somepony move in the hills today! If only I’d cared to investigate… but then again, even if I had, what would I have done? Attacked the pony to keep them from informing the others? Tried to convince them to ignore me? I sneered at the thought; the former I wouldn’t have done no matter what, and the latter would never have worked! Really the only thing I could have done was to disguise myself before going out in the open, or to not leave the cave at all! Either way, I’d been stupid and careless, and it was too late now!

I wrapped the scroll back the way I’d found it and snuck out of the house. The guards’ attention was still elsewhere, and no other guards seemed to take notice of a lone bird in the middle of the night.

I headed back to my cave. I had some serious thinking to do!