• Published 26th Oct 2019
  • 2,008 Views, 91 Comments

Winds of Change - theOwtcast

Only months after being accepted in the Crystal Empire, Thorax puts his life on the line to help his friends and save Equestria.

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First Blood

For a brief moment of apprehension following the explosion, we all shared a wide-eyed, panicked glance.

“Please tell me that sound isn’t what I think it is!” Having finally gotten up and off my back, Trixie grabbed me by the shoulders, pleading.

“I’m afraid it is,” I gasped, fighting the urge to freeze in place and start hyperventilating. “Run!

They didn’t need to be told twice. Discord grabbed the dropped saddlebags and we galloped full-speed into the nearest corridor. Fortunately, we didn’t come face to face with any guards that must have patrolled it, but it was bound to happen sooner or later! Turning back wasn’t an option, either, because the guards from lower levels would have flown up the shaft by now. The ones on higher levels would have more likely remained where they were, should they need to defend the Queen, so I wasn’t sure how likely we would be to find safety up ahead. All that was moot, though; we had to go somewhere! But where?

It was bad enough that my worst fears had been realized, but my friends’ high expectations of me weren’t making things any easier! Even on my journey away from the hive, I had at times found myself unable to think of an effective way of losing the hordes of ponies chasing me, and I’d been alone then! Now, I had three accomplices to keep safe - three practically defenseless friends who had put their trust in me, and I’d failed them! If only I hadn’t been so worked up thinking what might go wrong, I wouldn’t have tripped, and we might have remained undetected still!

Okay, enough of that, Thorax! Focus on getting your friends to safety! You can beat yourself up later!

I dashed into the nearest side-passage. There was no telling if we would find a hiding place there, but I was hoping it might at least confuse the pursuing swarms! My friends followed, and not a moment too soon, as the gate we’d just passed through closed behind us.

“Whew, that was close!” Starlight panted. “Did we lose them?”

“No,” I replied, getting frustrated groans in return. “We might have bought ourselves some time, provided there aren’t any more of them in this section, but they’ve noticed us and will put the remainder of the hive on high alert!”

“So, basically, it’s total chaos from now on,” Trixie stated.

“I’m afraid so.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but chaos is the last thing I need at the moment,” Discord sighed.

I expected Trixie to come up with a quip to annoy him, but she remained just as sullen as the rest of us.

I urged the group to move on. The section was clear for now, but that could change at any moment, and I didn’t want us to be around when it did! The more distance we could put between ourselves and our last known location, the better, or so I hoped! Over time, it would get harder for them to guess where we might be at any given moment, which could increase our chances of reaching the throne room on our own hooves. Maybe.

Except, now that they knew we were here, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out what we were trying to do, and they would tighten their defenses accordingly! If they had failed to catch us immediately, why bother combing through the entire hive when they could just set a trap and wait for us to walk into it?

For once, I dearly hoped I was wrong! But Pharynx was too cunning to fail to think of an easy and effective strategy against us! As soon as he got word that intruders were in the hive, our chances of getting past their defensive strategies would drop to zero!

Would he hesitate if he knew he was up against his own brother this time?

Let’s not find out, I told myself.

But how to explain the situation to the others? They had already panicked, even though some were better at hiding it than others, and I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on them or to say or do anything that would quench their hopes! That would lead to a disaster if we weren’t in one already! But I didn’t want to hide the truth from them, either; that wasn’t what friends would do! At the very least, they had the right to know what they’d gotten themselves into!

Whatever I was going to say, I never got around to it.

The sound of galloping hooves came up ahead of us.

“Turn back!” I hissed, but the others had reached that conclusion at the same time as me.

We didn’t get far when more galloping hooves sounded from the other end of the passage. Momentarily at a loss, I looked around. A gate had opened where it hadn’t been earlier! And it was close enough that we could get through before the guards saw us!

At least the hive’s architecture was cooperating if its inhabitants weren’t!

My friends didn’t need to be told what to do.

Once in this new hallway, we abandoned all stealth and once again launched into a full-blown gallop. I picked a direction at random, praying to whatever force dictated our fate to show us some mercy; I did that a number of times, whenever we switched to another hallway hoping it would confuse our pursuers, and it seemed to work for a while… until we’d changed directions so many times that I wasn’t sure where we were anymore.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Thorax, but haven’t we been here already?” Discord spoke to me eventually. “I seem to recognize that cluster of lamps!”

“Which cluster?”

“The one over there! There’s a fading jackalope, a fresh pigeon on the other side of the stalactite, and a drained parasprite right next to the pigeon!”

I got closer and stared at them for a minute. Discord may have been right; they did seem familiar!

“I don’t even know anymore!” I admitted.

Wonderful,” Trixie muttered, rolling her eyes. “Just what we need!”

“I’m sorry, everyone! I did my best!” I’d almost stopped moving by now, getting on the verge of tears.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” Starlight tried to comfort me. “It can happen to anypony! Or any changeling, that is!”

“But you all put so much trust in me, and I’ve failed you! Not only that, I’ve been so careless that I’ve jeopardized our mission! It’s my fault they’re chasing us!”

“Nonsense! You didn’t roll those bombs off the cliff! We’re all equally guilty of being klutzy! If anything, I should be the one apologizing! I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on you!”

The discussion was interrupted by the sound of more hoofsteps approaching.

Acting on impulse, I took down the dark lamp that noling had cared to remove, while the others prepared to flee once again.

I’m sorry, little fellow, I said to the extinguished parasprite inside it, but I have no other choice!

I flung the lamp towards a bend in the hallway where a gate happened to be momentarily open. My aim had been perfect and my throw perfectly timed; the first guard to have come through the gate was left coughing and sputtering curses at the lamp that had exploded in his face, blocking the gate while the others struggled to get past him, and we disappeared into another hallway through a gate that had just opened.

“That was close!” Trixie grinned as we ran. “Good thinking!”

“Hey, we could use your smoke bombs like that!” Starlight suggested. “Why haven’t we thought of it before? You do have some, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure,” she said after a moment, “and it’s kind of hard to check while running like this! Discord, can you look in my saddlebag?”

He did.

“There’s just this one,” he said, taking it out. “Everything else is just props and playing cards! Why are you even hauling that?”

“Would throwing the props at them do any good?” I suggested.

“You tell me!” He pulled out a paper rose and a rolled-up chain of colorful kerchiefs.

Of course not, I thought in frustration. The best we could hope with that was to trip them, and even that would take time to set up - the time we didn’t have!

Just then, as we passed an intersection at which another team of patrolling guards was alerted to our presence, I saw a hole forming in the ceiling ahead of us. An opportunity? Possibly; we were running out of options! But what if even more guards were waiting at the upper level?

Yes or no?

At the last moment, I ran ahead of my friends, and just as I was approaching the hole, I unleashed a burst of my magic that transformed me into a crab-like monster similar to the one Pharynx preferred in battle or when enforcing discipline on any unfortunate drones who lacked it. Immediately, I spun around, grabbed Starlight and Trixie, and shoved them through the hole in the ceiling. Discord, coming up just behind them, caught the hint and was already climbing up my carapace from which he, being the tallest, easily reached the hole and hoisted himself up with a little help of his wings. I’d timed it perfectly; the hole had begun to shrink again, and the team of guards was about to be on top of us! I wasn’t going to shapeshift into a smaller form in time to get through myself!

“Go on! I’ll find you!” I yelled just in time for my friends to hear before the hole closed completely.

The guards were within my claws’ reach by now. I swung at them and launched them head-first in the direction they’d come from, then went running again. Before turning around the corner, I glanced back at them.

They hadn’t moved.

Whoa, that felt good, I realized. And Pharynx would have been proud of that punch!

Though I was momentarily in the clear, I knew it wouldn’t last long. I hadn’t hit those guards hard enough to kill them; they were merely knocked out, and would wake up in due time. And then, the whole hive would know exactly who the intruders were: though the other guards might not have seen us, these few had had enough time to take a good look at us and be able to report it later. Whether or not the magic-deprived unicorns and draconequus would concern them, they knew now that there was a rogue changeling in the group, and I had no reason to think that their list of possible candidates for that changeling would extend beyond Item One.

Soon, the entirety of the hive’s defense forces wouldn’t be looking for four random intruders.

They would be looking for Thorax the Traitor.