• Published 6th May 2019
  • 3,077 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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Impossible Choices

On the way back, I actively paid attention to the guards and tried to notice any traps or protective spells that may already be in place. I didn’t think they’d have had time to establish an elaborate defensive perimeter yet, but one could never be too cautious, as even the best plans could fail or backfire! My luck had served me for a miraculously long time; I wasn’t going to test it any further! For now, I would just focus on reaching my cave. No point in planning the next steps if I got captured before I had the chance to do anything!

I saw no guards beyond the city limits, and the cave seemed to have been undisturbed. Only after I reached the deeper areas of it did I dare to drop my disguise. Doing so didn’t trigger a legion of guards to leap at me out of the shadows, so it was safe to assume they hadn’t discovered my hiding place yet. Were they even aware of the cave’s existence? I would expect any creature to be familiar with the surroundings of their territory unless they were completely new to an area! Even if these ponies had only recently built their city, I wouldn’t count on them not knowing what was around it, especially with the similarity of the crystals in the cave to the ones used in their architecture! Sooner or later, somepony was bound to wonder where I might be hiding, and somepony else might then remember this cave! Then they would come looking! Would I stand a chance of remaining undetected? Would I notice them in time to go somewhere else? Would I get caught escaping? And where would I even go?

It occured to me that if there was one cave around here, there might be more. Theoretically, it would be a good idea to find any of them, and to find them quick, before the guards got around to searching the outskirts of the Crystal Empire. But could I find any in time? And even if I could, would I be any safer in another cave than in this one? If the ponies knew about one cave, they would likely know about the others, so it would only be a matter of time before they searched every one! And if they didn’t know about the caves, I was sure their search would be thorough enough to correct that!

Could I mask the cave entrance, or block it off? Maybe, but I had little more than snow to work with; it might be obvious that the snow had been tampered with, or the snow might thaw eventually and expose the entrance again. Besides, if the ponies knew where the entrance was, finding it suddenly buried would probably alert them of my possible location! No lesser matter was the fact that if I did block the entrance, I’d be unable to get out quickly if I had to for any reason!

Once again I started to reconsider leaving. Even though I’d given up on that option before, fearing I wouldn’t be strong enough to make the journey, it was quickly becoming the most attractive solution to this new problem! I’d be turning away from the biggest feast a changeling could possibly imagine, sure, but what good of that feast if I’d never get the chance to taste it? I’d have to satisfy myself with crumbs from now on, but even that would be better than anything I’d ever had in the hive! I was in no position to get picky!

I’d already disguised myself as a bird again and nearly exited the cave to act on this latest decision when another idea struck me: what guarantee did I have that the guards hadn’t blocked off all possible exits from the area by now? That would have been a clever strategy: they’d cut off my escape routes and make sure I stayed around for as long as it took the other groups to search the area inside the perimeter. As long as the former remained vigilant about everything going in or out, it would only be a matter of time before the latter tracked me down! They didn’t even necessarily need guards to watch the barrier; there was a unicorn here who I knew for certain could produce a shield spell powerful enough to keep me contained! The same spell had sustained days of continuous attempts by the entire swarm of changeling soldiers to break it the first time I’d seen it; I’d never be able to do the same alone! I couldn’t see the barrier at the moment, but that didn’t have to mean it wasn’t there, or that it wouldn’t be there sooner than I could get out of its reach!

The possibility of such a trap frightened me: if they had done that, and I had no doubt they had or were just about to, I was bound to become their prisoner soon! That alone was bad enough, but even worse was the fear, no matter how irrational, that Chrysalis might learn about my whereabouts this way. Somehow she always found out about things, and her wrath was far-reaching and never-ending, and much, much worse than any punishment ponies might come up with!

Reluctantly, I decided to stay. I would have to push my luck again after all, but if I could hope to successfully evade the guards long enough, they might eventually get careless and miss an opportunity to apprehend me! There was no promise it would work, though, but as crazy as it may sound, that was probably my only chance.

In the meantime, I wasn’t just going to sit around and wait for them to come get me. I would explore my cave thoroughly; it was quite large, and maybe I would discover some good places to crawl into and hide, or better yet, concealed passages to other areas the ponies may not know about, even better if such passages were too small for ponies to squeeze through. Maybe I would also discover another exit, or a connecting tunnel leading to another cave!

Of course, it was time to consider the possibility of a bad outcome - either of the two most likely. If I got captured, I would do everything in my power to prove my good intentions. My best may still not be enough, but at least I would have tried!

If chance allowed, I would still visit the city from time to time and try to find a pony to befriend. With everything that had happened, I doubted I’d be successful, but I still held on to the last sliver of hope that all my efforts wouldn’t have been in vain. I was getting hungrier by the minute, but still able to resist my darkest urges for now. I didn’t know how long I could keep it up, but the more desperate I became, the more my determination grew to keep up my oath and abstain from consuming the unshared love, even if it would save my life!

And if the worst came to worst? I knew that, this time, my integrity would remain untainted: I would rather bury myself alive than break that promise!

As the days and weeks passed with no sign of a possible end of the high-alert state, I was starting to fear that that was what I would have to do.