• Published 6th May 2019
  • 3,076 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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A Better Way

The night was quiet and the hallways deserted, the changelings sleeping in their burrows as I crept along. This was normal for a sleeping area after curfew. On some nights, a guard on duty would patrol randomly through low-security parts of the hive such as sleeping quarters, but if there was one in this particular area tonight, he wasn’t close enough to be heard. I expected little trouble for the time being.

The upcoming area was potentially more problematic. I’d have to pass through a series of larger corridors which were routinely patrolled every night. There shouldn’t be too many guards, though, so I was pretty sure I’d be able to avoid them. If I was lucky, dodging them might not even take too long! It was a big hive, but I knew that I shouldn’t rush it and risk getting noticed; the night was still young, and if all else failed, I could always try to hide somewhere or put on a disguise and keep going the next night. A gamble, yes, but unless they realized I was still in the hive, it might throw off their estimate of how far I might have gotten, which may work in my favor when they went looking for me.

Of course, there was also a possibility they’d consider that option. I wasn’t very eager to try it, anyway!

My luck served me well all the way through the first three large corridors and a vertical shaft. There were only two patrol groups that I came close to encountering, but fortunately, I was able to conceal myself both times. The first time there was an empty recess I could crawl into, and the second time I transformed into a rock. They didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious.

Not daring to risk taking another large corridor in a row, I slipped through a newly-formed opening in a wall into a smaller hallway, similar to those in my sleeping complex. I figured this must be another one of them. This one, however, was patrolled tonight. I panicked upon seeing a shadow of a guard approaching around the corner and rushed into a sleeping burrow closest to me without thinking. I could have easily woken up anyling in there, and my escape would have ended before it had even begun! Miraculously, the burrow was empty. I assumed it must belong to one of the guards currently on duty.

Safely hidden for the time being, I used this chance to catch a breath and gather my thoughts.

I came to realize that, although considered for a while on a theoretical basis, my final decision to leave had been so sudden that I hadn’t even made up my mind where I should go once I was out of here! Thanks to snippets of conversation with Pharynx in which he would sometimes express his dissatisfaction with certain weaknesses in the hive’s defenses, I had a fairly good idea of what I should do to exploit these weaknesses. But what next? As far as I knew, changelings routinely learned only about ponies, them being the preferred targets for feeding on and their towns being the most common infiltration locations, and I’d never been sent anywhere other than Canterlot, so most of what I knew about the non-pony world outside the hive were rare rumors overheard from conversations between changelings who had been on a mission to such a place and had thus needed additional training before deployment. Not that I wasn’t interested to learn more - I'd just never gotten a chance.

One of the things I’d managed to piece together from various sources over time was the basic layout of the world and which lands lay in which rough direction in relation to the Changeling Kingdom. That seemed like as good a start as any, assuming I’d gotten it right. Equestria was up north, I knew that much from my own experience; but knowing what we’d done recently in Canterlot, and what we were still doing covertly in many other pony towns, I seriously doubted I’d be welcome anywhere in that land, as vast as it may be. East was an ocean, and beyond it were the Dragon Lands and Griffonstone, and a number of smaller lands - but how big was the ocean? I had no idea, but I may have heard someling mention that they were lucky to have found a boat to take a break on while crossing it or else they’d have dropped with exhaustion and drowned. Maybe that changeling had been exhausted since the start of their journey and would have made it on their own just fine otherwise, but was I willing to take that chance? Not really! Besides, I didn’t know enough about the lands there to be sure it was worth the risk! West was no better than the east, only the ocean there was apparently so huge that no changeling had ever been able to get to the other end, so west was definitely out of the question! Finally, south was mostly deserted, save for a few villages roving with crooks and thieves, and a little further, a rumor of an island that used to be home to a majestic species, now long abandoned. I had no desire to hang out with criminals - there was plenty of such a mindset right here - and though the island with majestic creatures sounded appealing, there was no point in going to an abandoned place. As much as I was generally okay with solitude as such, I couldn’t escape my physiology that depended on love gained from others; I couldn’t expect to have a better life if I starved to death like Mandible had!

So where did that leave me? I didn’t like it, but it seemed like Equestria was my best, if not only, chance. For all I knew, it might not turn out to be such a bad thing! When we’d started the invasion of Canterlot, I’d heard Chrysalis say there was more love in Equestria than anywhere else she’d been, and that had to mean a lot considering she’d been our leader ever since changelings first came into existence! If what she’d said was true, maybe I would find a pony willing to give me a chance for friendship, and if I couldn’t find even one such pony in Equestria, what were the chances of finding a friend in a less love-filled land?

Feeling a burst of confidence, I left the burrow I’d been hiding in and moved on. The guard wasn’t around anymore, either. I was just about to enter another large corridor when the gate leading to it disappeared right before me. A new gate formed immediately, but that one led into an armory, one of the high-security areas crawling with guards day and night.

With the hive’s tendency to shift and change its structure randomly, there was no promise that doubling back would take me to a safer area, and the last one I’d been in was guarded anyway, so it hardly qualified as safe enough! Just because I’d managed to avoid that guard once didn’t mean I’d have a chance to do it again, and a passage to the corridor I’d been trying to get to might not open when and where I needed it!

Realizing I could hear hoofsteps from both directions, I almost started to hyperventilate in panic, but managed to compose myself and start thinking rationally. Disguising myself would be the best option in the circumstances, but what as? Another rock came to mind, but I dismissed the idea, considering there was no way to predict how long I’d have to stay there until it was safe to keep going unnoticed; it could easily be days! That left me another option - a potentially risky one, but I was hoping I’d be able to pull it off.

A burst of my bluish magic gave me slightly different changeling’s features than my own and a guard’s helmet. Ironically, I would now have a much better chance of remaining undetected in a high-security area than in a low-security one: while the lone guard patrolling the sleeping area would get immediately suspicious of another guard patrolling the same area, the ones assigned to the armory would expect other guards and hardly give me a second glance… assuming I didn’t accidentally do something to give myself away.

I slipped through the gate just barely without getting noticed by any of the real guards and did my best to mimic the pace and posture of someling who belonged there and knew what he was doing. It seemed to be convincing enough, but even after what must have been a full hour, I still couldn’t find an exit to a different area! Actually, there was one, but two guards were close by, and I couldn’t get through without drawing attention to myself. They were gone the second time I passed there, but so was the exit. These shifting passages were really starting to get on my nerves - it almost felt as if they were deliberately hindering my progress!

I had plenty of chance to grab a weapon and take it with me, maybe even use it on the guards. If I had a different mentality, I might have been tempted to take one, if only for defensive purposes, but in any case that would have been a bad idea. No other guards I’d seen were carrying weapons so it would have been suspicious unless I could produce a credible excuse for why I was carrying it around; I wasn’t going to stick around forever, and the further away from the armory I got, the harder it would be to explain carrying a weapon regardless of a disguise I might wear. Good thing I’d never even cared for weapons!

Eventually a gate to another area opened while no guards were around, and I was able to move on. Finally! The hallways and corridors further ahead turned out to be mostly empty, and to my relief, I managed to avoid the few guards without a problem.

I climbed the vertical shafts a fair distance up from the level of my sleeping burrow, and if I kept climbing further, I would soon reach the entrance to Chrysalis’ castle and the top of the hive where the throne room was located. I had neither intention nor need to go there; the castle had no exits to the outside, all entrances including the ventilation shafts were heavily guarded, and being let in required an ever-changing clearance password that I didn’t know.

Instead, I was to take a route through any of the side-tunnels on this level that led outside. It may sound easy enough, except that there were guards patrolling the tunnels and a swarm of airborne sentries circling the hive approximately at this level, being on lookout for any creature moving across the barren wasteland that surrounded the hive. These were all high-security officers, always up to date on anyling with clearance to leave the hive.

There were only two changelings alive who could pass by them unannounced.

Only one of them wouldn’t raise suspicion if appearing at this hour.

But even he couldn’t go too far away from the hive without prior authorization.

Luckily, though changelings were routinely trained to notice non-changeling intruders, and though they might in some circumstances figure out that a changeling was posing as another creature or even as an inanimate object, few guards ever thought to suspect that a changeling might be disguised as another changeling.

And the airborne sentries guarding the hive perimeter rarely remembered to look up.

This was why someling who would in this morning’s reports be described as First Commander Pharynx was able to avoid everyling’s suspicion by claiming to be there for an unannounced inspection and subsequently gradually flying up above all the airborne sentries, thus avoiding detection as he escaped the hive.

I wanted to make sure I was at a high enough altitude to appear as a mere speck in the distance before proceeding, just in case any of the sentries did realize that their supposed commander’s inspection was taking too long. The air was getting thinner up here, so it took some time and effort. When I was satisfied with where I was, I dropped the Pharynx disguise and proceeded north… to Equestria… to what I hoped would be a better life.

Soon I noticed the flickers of dawn start to appear on the horizon. The hive would be in an uproar any minute now! I’d better hurry!