• Published 16th Aug 2019
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Flickers - LoyalRenegade



A changeling with amnesia finds himself in the midst of an uncertain world.

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Chapter 5: A Lovingly Slow Death

Chapter 5 – A Lovingly Slow Death


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When Twilight could finally move again, she uttered not a single word. She simply gave everyone a slow, methodical once-over and walked as if in a trance to a distant corner, sitting there. Silently.

With her out of the way, Pathfinder had decided shortly after to start plotting our route to the West. "How'd you manage to put her down like that, anyway?" he asked Crystal, eyeing the map.

"I didn't even know what I was about to do; it just sort of... happened," she replied.

"Well, good thing it happened when it did," he said. "I thought Twilight was gonna kill us next once she was finished with the changeling." Pathfinder glanced at Twilight. "She always seemed a bit mental to me, but not that bloody mental, dear Celestia."

Twilight's eyes flicked over to Pathfinder, then rolled back to where they were. He ran a hoof through his mane, returning to the map.

Crystal frowned. "Twilight?"

She didn't even look at Crystal. A response no different from the other times Crystal had tried to talk to her.

Still frowning, she faced Twilight fully. Crystal lifted a hoof to move, but gave sudden pause, thinking. She then placed it back down in front, apprehensively approaching Twilight and stopping before her.

"Please, say something."

Twilight still didn't respond. She seemed jaded, like she had seen a ghost.

"...You know I'm always here for you, Twi."

She flinched. "I said to never call me that," Twilight said, her voice monotone, yet still threatening.

Crystal shook her head and walked back, giving up. "She never wants to talk to me," she said to Pathfinder, who looked up. "Why can't she understand that I only want to help her?"

"Maybe 'cause she's beyond help?" he snarked.

Crystal's ears drooped as she sat down against the cavern wall. "Oh, not now. Save your sarcasm for later. Please."

"Just sayin', mate." He resumed working.

I turned towards Twilight. Her usual demeanor compared to now was night and day. Yet, as presently calm as she was, it still wasn't too long ago that she had crossed the verge of insanity, all in the span of only a few seconds. Just from the notion of leaving Equestria.

I didn't know what was wrong with Twilight, but she must've not always been like this. Crystal had told me from the very first day that she was 'caring', and 'a very good friend'. If Crystal was to be believed – and I had no reason to not believe her – then the Twilight I saw before me right now was very much so a far cry from the Twilight of the past.

Given that, how did she end up like this? What pushed Twilight over the edge?

The changelings... Crystal had mentioned the same day that she 'doesn't have good history' with them. But if that’s so, then what kind of history? What had the changelings done to Twilight that made her change so drastically?

I looked down and then up towards Crystal, contemplating something. Determined, I stood up, walked over to her, and then sat down. I needed answers.

Crystal's ears flopped back up when she saw me, smiling. "Hello." Her eyes expressed concern. "Are you sure you're alright?”

Ever since Twilight made a scene, Crystal hadn't stopped asking me that same question. "Yes, I'm sure," I said, rushing through the pleasantries as fast as possible in order to get straight to the point. "Now, what exactly did the changelings do to Twilight?" I asked.

Crystal seemed a little off-put with my bluntness. "Oh. Well..." she gave Twilight a short, cursory glance. "They... uh, did a lot of things to her." I waited for her to elaborate. "Well, not to her, but, her friends and family." She looked down. "Mostly her friends, though. They were all very close, in a way. I think she took the loss of them the hardest."

I paused, thinking. When Pathfinder mentioned The Elements of Harmony earlier, he implied that Twilight and her friends were related to them. "You mean The Elements of Harmony? What are those?"

Crystal looked up. "The most powerful magical artifacts known to ponykind. She and her friends had already used them twice before to save Equestria."

Something didn't seem right. "If they're so powerful, then why is everything falling apart right now?"

Crystal shook her head sadly. "The changelings got to Twilight and her friends first before they could get their hooves on The Elements. Twilight was able to escape, but she couldn't save them, too."

"I see." I faced Twilight again. I seemed to be getting closer to understanding her. The changelings took her family and friends away; that's why she was like this. Clearly, she cared about the latter very deeply, so when she lost them, she was devastated. Her family only seemed to be the salt in the wound at that point.

I tilted my head up at the ceiling. And then there's The Elements of Harmony. If they're as potent as Crystal says they are and the changelings have them... well, no shit we're running away.

Pathfinder brought me out of my thoughts. "Right, looks like that's that," he said determinately, rolling the map up. Crystal and I faced him. "Didn't take that long. I mean, there's not much of the Undiscovered West on there to plan a route on, being undiscovered and all." He looked back up. "At any rate, we'll just have ta work with what we got."

"Are we going now?" Crystal asked.

"Don't see why not. Now's a good time to go as any. I mean, the longer we stay in Equestria, the more we're just asking for the changelings to sniff us out."

Twilight abruptly stood up. "Sounds great! Let's go." She pulled her saddlebags over and slipped them on as she rushed over to the map, shoving it inside with her magic and walking out of the cave.

Crystal and Pathfinder looked at eachother. "Well then," he said. "I guess we'll follow her." He walked outside as well.

I turned over to Crystal. "We're leaving? Don't we have some leftover crab apples to finish?" I pointed out

She smirked playfully. "I don't think we're as hungry for those things as you are."

"It... just seems like a bit of a waste-" I was interrupted by another pang of hunger.

"What is it?" Crystal asked, concerned.

I wish I knew, but I didn’t. This hunger – and, despite my amnesia, I was certain about this – was unlike any other kind of hunger I've ever had before. A constant light feeling, always spiking randomly throughout the day, and it didn't seem to be because I wasn't eating; that had long already been readily apparent after breakfast. Whatever this hunger was, it wasn't normal. Not at all.

As it faded again, I cleared my throat. "Nothing," I lied, "I thought I remembered something for a second, but it slipped."

Crystal looked at me for a few seconds, as if she were peering straight into my mind. "Well, don't force it. Your memory will come back on its own time." Something told me that she didn't believe a word I said.

"I'll keep that in mind," I replied.

She turned to the entrance of the cave. "I think they're still waiting for us." She craned her head around. "Shall we?"

I nodded, following Crystal outside. The sky was dense, full of clouds. The view from the middle of the cliff was vast, White Tail Woods stretching far out into the distance with tall mountains situated on the horizon. Railroad tracks could be seen from afar near the Northwest, which ran over from the East and turned to the South, where the trees of the forest then hid them from sight.

Twilight stood at the very edge of the cliff, looking towards the West. A long, pregnant pause filled the air as we waited for her to do something, to speak.

Pathfinder anxiously pawed at the ground with a hoof as he waited, while Crystal let her mind wander not even halfway through. As for myself, I rolled my tongue around the two fangs outside my maw. It felt unusually strange, I noted, to have them there, even though I had lived a whole life with them.

After what felt like hours, Twilight finally spoke. "I think it's about time I accept that all the hope I had for Equestria's future is gone," she said, still facing forwards. "You were right, Pathfinder. There's nothing anypony can do. Equestria's lost."

"...Hey," Pathfinder said, "don't worry, love. I get it, I really do. Look, we're all havin’ problems with this changeling bullshit, okay? You're not alone."

Twilight paused. "I've been alone for a long while now." She looked down, ears flopping down to the sides of her head.

Silence. If it weren't for the sounds of birds and rustling leaves, I'd have assumed that the world itself had died.

And then Twilight turned around to face us. That's when I saw her eyes, bloodshot red, her face one of distress. It almost looked like she was about to cry, but was trying her damnedest not to.

"And it's all because of you," she scowled, pointing a slightly shaky hoof at me. "Every last changeling is responsible for what happened. If it weren't for you, my friends would still be with me. I wouldn't have to fall asleep every night worrying if they're dead or not... or worse." She slowly stepped forward, glaring right into my soul. "I should kill you where you stand," she said, stopping halfway. And then she turned around. "But, Crystal doesn't want me to. And so, as much as I don't understand why, I won't." She looked at me one last time. "For that, you should be very, very grateful."

I had the urge to say something. To maybe tell her that I was sorry for her friends, even though I never knew them – even though she had tried to kill me, but no words came to mind. Not that I would dare tempt fate like that, anyway. When someone already despises you well enough, you don't accidentally give them more reasons to do so.

Pathfinder cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. Love that little speech you just had right there, but could we maybe, I don't know, get going?"

Twilight looked back forwards, rubbing her eyes with a hoof. "Give me a second." As she put her hoof down and looked up into the sky, she froze. "Actually, it's best if we... waited."

"What? Oh, come on, we'll all have time to mourn later; we need to go now!"

She pointed at the sky. "It's best if we waited," she repeated. I followed her hoof to a torrent of small figures flying above, far in the distance. "Back up," she commanded. We all scooted backwards into the cave, letting the darkness shroud us.

Twilight was right on the edge of the sunlight. She took out a pair of binoculars out of her saddlebags, surveying the sky. "Alright, doesn't look like they saw us," she said.

"Who are they, changelings?" Crystal asked.

"Oh, there are changelings, but that's not quite the full story."

"You mean there's something else out there?" Pathfinder inquired.

She turned around. "Pegasai. A lot of Pegasai. Outnumbering the changelings four to three, as far as estimations go." She looked back into the binoculars. "And yet... they aren't fighting back. It looks like they're being herded around."

"What d’you think they're doing with 'em?"

"I don't know, Pathfinder. Maybe-" She paused. "Hold on. They're spreading out now. In all directions." Twilight put the binoculars down for a second to wipe her brow, and then resumed. "They're... clearing out the clouds. They're making the Pegasai clear out the clouds."

I squinted into the sky. Many figures in the distance zipped around with great haste, the clouds somehow disappearing when they drew near. Others trailed them, as if they were watching them very closely.

"How's that, then?" Pathfinder said. "Why do the changelings care about whether the sky's bloody clear or not?"

"The changelings aren't stupid, Pathfinder," Twilight explained. "If they were, they would have never been able to take over Canterlot. They must know that, in order to maintain balance in nature within Equestria, the weather must be controlled. More than that even, it must be controlled properly." She rubbed the back of her neck. "Without proper care, you could cause a drought. Or a flood. Or, in the case of not keeping the sky clear, the trees wouldn't get enough sunlight."

"Yeah, yeah, I took primary school, mate. I think I know how controlling the weather works."

Controlling the weather? I thought. That's... new.

Twilight hummed, lowering the binoculars. "You know, it’s interesting as to why they would need the Pegasai in the first place. Either the changelings can't control the weather on their own, or there aren't enough of them to do all of the work."

"Uh, Twilight?" Crystal asked.

She turned around. "What?"

"Could I, uh, take a look?"

"...Why?"

"I mean, if you don't want me to, that's fine. I'm just curious, is all."

Twilight rolled her eyes, handing over the binoculars. "Go ahead. I was done with them anyways."

"Oi! I want ta look too!" Pathfinder complained.

Ignoring him, Crystal floated the binoculars up to her eyes, peering through. "Wow. They're all working really fast. It's amazing."

"Oooh yeah, glad to see somepony's getting joy out of watching their fellow ponies being enslaved," Pathfinder snarked.

Crystal lowered the binoculars down and looked at him with a smile. "Do you want to look?" she offered.

"Well, duh! Come on, give them over 'ere!"

Crystal floated the binoculars over to Pathfinder, who grabbed them with his wings with surprising dexterity. "Hmm... oh, wow. They are working quick, and I mean properly quick. They must've grabbed the best fliers they could find."

Twilight frowned. "That doesn't even make sense. Any Pegasus can control the weather as long as they can reach the clouds. Why risk taking a bunch of ponies who can easily outfly you to do one simple job?"

Pathfinder's ears stiffened. "Ah, speak of the bloody dog Cerberus, one of the lil' buggers's startin' to do just that right now!"

In the distance, one figure was shooting across the sky over to the east. Three darker figures attempted to keep up, but in vain. The pegasus was too fast; they were already out of the changelings' reach.

Every other creature in the sky had frozen, looking on at the commotion in silence.

The changelings moved first, rounding the pegasai up into a single file line. Then, the changelings themselves made a line of their own, parallel to the other one.

A grim expression crawled over Twilight as she realized what was about to happen.

Pathfinder put the binoculars down. "What are they doing?" he said slowly. "I mean, they're doin’ nothing but sittin' there."

It was then that the changelings started firing. The first couple flashes of light happened quickly, coming all at once. And as the bodies of pegasai started to fall down to the earth, many loud, delayed booms sounded throughout the sky, echoing across the landscape, sending birds flying up from the trees.

The few pegasai that were left tried to get away from the killzone, but they too were shot out of the sky, leaving just one. The remaining pegasus, it would seem, was slower than the rest, and was quickly apprehended.

The changelings surrounded the lone pegasus. I thought they were about to shoot them as well, but the changelings simply stood idle.

Pathfinder gawked. “They left one alive? Why?”

Twilight shared his confusion at first, but then something within her clicked into place as she chuckled softly. “Oh, that’s clever,” she uttered, shaking her head.

He gave her a look. “Wha- what?”

Finally, the changelings started moving again, taking their captive over towards our direction. "Get back," Twilight warned. And so we did. When she saw them pass over us, she slowly walked out of the cave and looked to where they went.

"What the buck just happened?" Pathfinder said. He pointed at Twilight. "Oi, you're good at explaining things. So, go on then, explain."

She looked at him like he was an idiot. "What happened," she said, voice sounding like she was talking to a child, "was that a single Pegasus tried to get away, and so the changelings decided to punish them all. Do I really need to explain how much of a bunch of savages they all are?"

“No no no, there’s more than that. You know something, I heard you!”

Twilight paused. “It doesn’t matter, Pathfinder. We’re better off focusing on our own survival than dwelling needlessly on the past.”

“Bollocks! What was it? Tell me!”

She ignored him and looked back to the sky. "Anyways, as I've previously established, we will be staying here until nightfall. Until then, I would suggest that no one goes outside unless they really need to." She lit her horn, walking over to her saddlebags and pausing. She looked through them for a while until she found a yellow book called What Every Navigator Should Know, by Trotting Tro, sitting down to read. "I'd keep busy; we've got some time before we can leave."

Pathfinder huffed. “Bucking arsehole.”

I looked at Crystal, who looked back before glancing at Pathfinder. "When will the dying stop?" she asked sorrowfully.

He raised an eyebrow. “What?” Then, he realized what he was being asked. "Oh, uh... well, yeah, nothing about these last few days has really been sunshine and rainbows, that's for sure, but..." Pathfinder rubbed his head. "Honestly, love, I don't bloody know what you want me to do 'bout it."

She sighed, turning back and sitting on the ground, looking up to the sky where the changelings and pegasai were. Pathfinder stared at her and then me before walking to the center of the cave and stretching, lying down. I heard Twilight turn a page of her book.

I poked my tongue on my fangs, reflecting on everything that had happened earlier. It was odd that the changelings killed every last pegasus but one, and, admittedly, the issue bothered me just as much as it bothered Pathfinder. Unfortunately, much like him, I was also at a loss for answers.

I sighed. Something to think about later, I guess.

I turned over to Crystal, who was still looking far off into the distance, lost in her thoughts. The more I stared at her, the more I felt something draw me over, though I couldn't tell what it was. Perhaps I just felt safer with her close by, for some reason. It was hard to tell.

Step by step, I slowly made my way towards Crystal. Right before reaching her, I glanced behind me. Twilight was looking at me strangely. It was a look that said "Try anything stupid, anything, and you're fucking dead." (Well, she would've probably said 'bucking' instead. Why do they say 'fuck' like that anyways?)

I took a deep breath, and sat down next to Crystal.

"All those ponies..." she said after a pause. "All dead but one." She looked at me, her face full of melancholy. "Why did they have to be so cruel?"

I bit my lip.

"I'm... not blaming you, by the way."

"I didn't think you were," I said honestly.

"Oh." Crystal turned her head back to the sky.

As I looked at it with her, I reached over to the back of my neck, massaging it, feeling my fins as my hoof glided over them. Why do they feel so strange? I wondered. So... out of place. Like they shouldn’t be there at al-

Without warning, my hunger rose again. I gave a light groan and held a hoof to my abdomen.

Of course, Crystal took notice. "Are you okay?" she asked.

It hadn't gone away yet. I held my head closer to my chest, pressing my hoof harder.

She sighed. "I'm sure the crab apples aren't doing that."

As it faded back to normal, I shook my head. "I didn't want to bother you about it."

"I know. I... don't think I could even fix it, anyways." I looked up. Her face was solemm.

"How do you mean?" I asked.

Twilight set her book down. "What's going on over here?"

Unexpectedly, Crystal's eyes lit up with fire, shooting Twilight an angry look. "Something that would make you very, very freaking happy, I'd bet."

Twilight raised an eyebrow, puzzled at first. Then, realization struck her. "Hmm. It's about time," she muttered. Crystal grit her teeth.

I felt lost. "What's this all about? Crystal?" I looked at her.

She wasn't the one who responded, though. "Wow, just wow," Twilight said. "I mean, for a creature like you, this is major. Fascinating how you can't remember something so fundamental to your species.”

I tried asking once more. "Crystal, what is she talking about?"

Twilight was the one who answered back yet again. "Basically, you're dying. Slowly." There was a sort of sick, morbid glee in her voice. "Yep. Changelings need love in order to survive, which is rather unfortunate for something as unlovable as you." She levitated her book up and continued reading, adding, "Honestly, I shouldn't have even tried to kill you earlier. Why even expend the effort when nature will do the job for you just as well?"

Multiple thoughts ran through my mind. First of all, I was apparently dying. Second of all, it seemed to be because I wasn't being loved. Third, none of it added up in the slightest. Was Twilight joking? She must've been; why would one need love to merely live? It didn't make sense.

I glanced at Crystal, who was already looking at me sadly.

"She's not serious. Right?" I asked.

Her ears drooped. "I don't know how long you have," she murmured softly.