• Published 26th Oct 2019
  • 2,026 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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From Bad to Worse

As soon as I found myself in an empty passage, I adapted my disguise to look like a random guard. I doubted it would pass close scrutiny, especially if questioned about name, rank, and orders, but at least it would draw less attention than an oversized crab-spider-something running loose. I still intended to avoid crowded areas, though; all the guards we’d come across so far had worked in teams, which could have been simply the consequence of getting organized upon hearing a disturbance, but just in case it wasn’t, a lone guard anywhere near the area where the intruders had been sighted would be extremely suspicious, if not a dead giveaway, to any guards who knew that one of the intruders was a changeling.

I tried to find some confidence in the fact that I’d successfully pulled off a similar trick before: during my escape from the hive, I’d spent hours trying to find my way through one of the hive’s armories I’d stumbled into with the actual guards being none the wiser. I’d even impersonated Pharynx to the airborne sentries, and even they hadn’t suspected a thing, not until I was a fair distance away anyway! If I’d pulled it off then, I could improvise my way past the swarms of guards again! Maybe I could even pretend to join one of the teams for a while if need be, then sneak away at a convenient moment!

But the guards hadn’t expected trouble that other time, when I’d fooled them on my way out! If I’d made a mistake and given myself away then, they would have surely responded as quickly and effectively as my brother and his sub-commanders had trained them! The guards I was up against now not only expected trouble, but knew there was trouble going on right now, and were actively looking for the source of it! Would I be convincing enough to fool them in such aggravated circumstances? This was the kind of situation where advanced infiltrators’ training would be very useful, and I had none!

What if they saw through my disguise and swarmed me? Could I fight them off? Maybe the gravity of my situation and the urgency of our task would give me the strength and cunning I’d need, but I’d never been much of a fighter! How could I hope to surpass the skill of those flawlessly-trained warriors? How could I hope to measure up to the entire swarm? We’d made a couple of lucky hits earlier today, but that was no promise of the beginning of a trend! Even more because, deep inside, I was still a gentle soul who wouldn’t have even dreamed of doing such things in any other circumstances!

Wrong again, Thorax, the back of my mind suddenly whispered. An image of a moonlit street flashed in my memory: a young mare with empty eyes, lying helpless on the ground, and my starving form looming over, draining the love out of her.

No, I answered to the voice, I’d grown past that! It had been a moment of weakness brought forth by an instinct of self-preservation; not only had I stopped as soon as I could think straight again, I’d spent days afterwards trying to find the proper way to punish myself for it, and the next time I’d gotten in the same state, I’d done every precaution to never allow such a thing to happen again! This was different; if I were to harm anyone now, it would be with the sole purpose of saving my friends!

But would it be enough?

Enough with the worst-case scenarios already, I told myself. I wanted to save my friends, and the friends I’d come to save them with had been separated from me, and were roaming the hive frightened and lost! It would be no surprise if they’d gotten captured by now! I had to find them as soon as possible!

I found them a couple of hours later, much farther than I’d estimated they might have gotten on their own. Curiously, there were just two of them; I’d practically collided with Starlight and Discord just as they were coming around a corner.

They gasped, came to a halt, and spun around to flee in the direction they’d come from.

“Wait!” I yelled after them. “It’s me!”

They slowed down and glanced at each other, then at me. I trotted closer.

“Blue vase,” Starlight whispered, looking at me wide-eyed.

“Purple meander,” I answered, and the tension in their muscles disappeared. “Where’s Trixie?”

“Gone,” sighed Starlight.

“Gone? You don’t mean…”

She nodded gravely.

“They took her shortly after you were separated from us. A pillar formed in front of her and she collided with it… they got to her before she could get back on her hooves. It was a small team and she was kicking and screaming so hard that all of them had to work together to subdue her, and we were about to try to fight them when we heard more coming! There would have been too many of them to handle so we ran… I hate to admit that we were such cowards to not even try to help her! But that’s how it was! We must have broken the world record in running after that, and yes we’re safe for now I suppose, but we abandoned Trixie!” She grabbed me by the shoulders. “What kind of a friend does that?!”

“A friend who knows there’s no point in getting captured herself when she can come back stronger and save that friend,” I told her.

“You sure have a way of looking at the bright side of things.”

“I try to. It used to be the only thing that kept me alive!”

I wasn’t going to sour her mood even further by revealing to her how easily I could see the dark side of things, too.

“What about you?” Discord changed the subject. “What’s with the helmet and all?”

I dropped the disguise.

“I thought I would attract less attention if I looked like one of them,” I explained. “Look, I’m pretty sure they’ve figured out who I am by now, and on top of that, they’ve already captured one of us! I don’t see the point in sneaking anymore! We should hurry things up a little!”

“Sounds like you have a plan!”

“Only half a plan. I’m pretty sure I can get us to Chrysalis’ castle pretty quick if we get to another vertical shaft, but I still haven’t figured out how to get in the darn place. It used to be heavily guarded and I have no reason to think they would have lowered that security, especially now that we’re here!”

“I’d rather have a plan fully ready, too,” Starlight agreed, “but I don’t see how we can make one with so little information to work with. Let’s just go there! Maybe seeing how things look like further ahead would give us an idea!”

“And you’re sure you can get us there safely?” Discord asked.

“More or less. It depends on how much opposition there will be, but it’s the fastest way I can think of. It won’t go without being noticed, but unless we get literally swarmed, I think I can handle the guards we do come across!”

They considered this for a minute.

“I’ll admit, I’m not entirely comfortable with that,” Starlight said, “but we seem to have run of options. The more we drag this out, the more time we’re giving them to set up an ambush in every passage!”

“It would make more sense to ambush us in the throne room,” Discord corrected her. “Now that they know we’re here, they would have figured out what we’re trying to do!”

“I realize that, but they may not want us to even get there! That throne must be really, really important to them!”

“It is to Chrysalis,” I agreed, “and, by extension, it has to be to everyling else.”

“I’m starting to think we’ll find every single changeling packed at the entrance,” she muttered.

“We probably will, in one way or another.”

“I just hope we’ll be able to find a weakness they haven’t covered!”

“I can’t imagine there will be one, but you never know!”

“Oh, to heck with it! We didn’t come all the way here to just give up! And I’ll sooner rip my own head off than let Chrysalis win!”

Nothing more was left to be said for the moment.

We found a vertical shaft not long after. Starlight approached the edge of our level cautiously, then stole a peek up and down.

“It goes pretty high up,” she reported. “And pretty far down, too. But I don’t see any guards standing at the exits of the other hallways.”

“Good,” I said.

“How are we supposed to climb that?”

“We’re not.”

“But didn’t you say-”

“I’m going to carry you,” I said as I buzzed my wings and entered the shaft.

“You sure you’re strong enough-”

She stopped herself mid-question as a flash of changeling magic turned me into a large, flying, half-insect-half-squidlike creature with as many legs and tentacles as I thought I could control properly, two of which I extended toward my friends and grabbed them in a secure hold.

They stared at me, Starlight blankly, Discord with a hint of flattered amusement. Yes, I know I look downright ridiculous, and laugh at me later all you want, but something like this is probably our best bet for getting any further!

“Didn’t see that coming,” Starlight finally said. “But hey, whatever works, right?”

I chuckled and flew up.

Almost immediately, a team of guards noticed us and rushed from their tunnel to intercept us. Some held out spears, some bared their fangs, and some triggered their magic to put up disguises of their own, presumably of similarly-oversized monsters.

They didn’t get there.

I put my tentacles to work, swatting each guard as they approached, and approaching they were, all the way to the top of the shaft. Some were coming up from below still, but those who hadn’t been taken out by their falling peers were no more a match for my tentacles than the others. At worst, it had taken several swings to hit a single target, or several hits to knock them out, upon which they would invariably lose any battle disguise they had and join the streak of falling drones. Whether or not any others were catching them further down the shaft, I couldn’t tell, but I did my best to push their various possible fates out of my mind. Remorse could wait; I had more pressing matters to attend to!

Starlight and Discord, trembling and whimpering at first, had gradually loosened up during the ride, and by the time I’d deposited them on the uppermost level and reverted to my own form so I could join them, they were laughing and cheering eagerly.

“Oh, that was good!”

“Was anyone keeping score?”

“I almost wish we could do it again!”

“We might have to,” I told them. “We’re still not at castle level, but this shaft doesn’t go any further! We have to find another one!”

As they trotted off looking for it, I noticed renewed enthusiasm in their posture. No matter how dire the circumstances, a little regained hope would go a long way!

Many passages and two vertical shafts later, not to mention encounters and near-encounters with more guards, we were peering around the corner of a passage into a large cavern, one with a heavily-guarded gate at the other side. This gate, unlike most others in the hive, had doors.

“I’m going to hazard a guess that this is the castle entrance,” Discord whispered, looking questions at me.

“One of the entrances, yes,” I whispered back. “There are several more, and they all look like this.”

“I don’t see a way around the guards,” Starlight said.

“There wouldn’t be,” I reminded her. “Their orders are to not let anyone past that point, not even changelings, unless they know the clearance code.”

“Do you know it?” Starlight looked at me hopefully.

“No. The codes change regularly, and I wasn’t authorized to know them even before I left.”

She deflated.

We stood there, thinking.

“Suppose if they got distracted?” Discord suggested. “Would that be enough to sneak past them?”

“They’re trained to expect distractions. I wouldn’t call it impossible, but the distraction would have to be something big.”

“You mean like a draconequus causing havoc?”

“I guess, but- wait, you’re not suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

“What if I am?”

“For one thing, you have no magic! How are you planning to trick them into thinking you’re dangerous enough to warrant their attention and potential abandonment of their posts to chase you? And how do you propose to get them off your tail afterwards?”

“I’m prepared to accept the possibility that I won’t get them off my tail,” he said after a moment, looking back at the castle gate.

“That’s not an answer!” Starlight protested. “We can’t lose you!”

“I agree,” I said. “Magic or no magic, you’re our friend, and you’re too valuable to us!”

“Do you two have a better idea?” he replied, giving us a heavy stare.

Reluctantly, we had to agree that we didn’t. I’d momentarily entertained the idea of turning into Chrysalis herself, doubting that the guards would have the audacity to demand that the Queen recite a clearance code, but that presented two problems: one, I couldn’t be sure that she wouldn’t be expected to do it now that the guards knew they were up against a changeling traitor, and two, it didn’t solve the issue of getting Starlight and Discord in.

“I didn’t think so,” he said. “Now, see those rocky spikes over there? I think they’re big enough for you to use as cover while I put on a show. You think you can get to them?”

“Probably,” Starlight said. “But what if there are more guards behind them?”

“Then I guess we’re doomed,” he sighed.

“I don’t think there are,” I said. “I’ve noticed the guards on the main clearing rotate positions twice since we arrived, but there was no movement behind those spikes, and there’s enough empty space between them that I’d notice. If there were guards there, they’d be rotating positions too. It’s one of the basic principles of guard duty: rotating positions allows the guards to notice if any of their peers have been attacked and neutralized before they could alert the others.”

“Makes sense,” Starlight agreed, then turned to Discord. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I think we’ve come to the point where we have to sacrifice one of us so the other two could go on, and I’m probably a better bait than either of you. Our magic may be useless, but I have every confidence in your ability to figure out something even without magic!”

“Just in case you do manage to get out of this unscathed, do we think our password is still strong enough?” I asked. “Or should we think of a new one?”

“It might be a good idea,” Starlight agreed, “but let’s stick to the same topic. For example, what was in the vase?”

“That’s easy. Fear was inside, if we’re still talking about the same vase as before,” Discord said flatly.

“Then let’s add something. What was that flower you’d brought from Vanhoover?”


“We could have ‘buttercups and fear’ as the correct answer. It doesn’t sound like something that could be guessed easily!”

“Works for me,” I shrugged.

“Then it’s settled,” Discord agreed. “Go now!”

Starlight and I went further down the tunnel, closer to where we could get to the rocky spikes unobserved. Thankfully, there were no guards in the way. Discord hunkered down, waiting for a good moment.

Once we were in position, I put on a disguise of a guard again and got out of the passage. Starlight snuck behind me, and as soon as she was visible enough, a smoke bomb exploded in the middle of the clearing, attracting the guards’ attention and letting us slip to cover.

The smoke cleared, revealing Discord in position to do whatever he intended to do.

“Hello, changelings and changelets! It’s such an honor to meet you,” Discord announced somewhat theatrically as was apparently his habit, from what I’d seen of him so far. “You must be wondering why I’ve been postponing my visit to your hive for so long. Truth is, I’ve been so entertained by the ponies’ pathetic little lives that I almost forgot you guys existed!”

He had the guards’ full attention now. Starlight and I slipped to the next cover, me hiding her from sight as best as I could in case any guards got wise to our trick and looked around.

“But now I’m here,” he continued, “and I must say I’m positively impressed! I’ve never seen such fine level of naturally-occuring chaos! Tell me, what is your secret?”

Some of the guards hissed at him. Starlight and I moved to the next cover, and then immediately to the next one, which was close enough to make the dash for it in the same go. Discord was still in full swing, undeterred by the display of threat.

“Oh, did I offend you? My sincerest apologies, I didn’t mean to! Here, have a flower as a sign of good faith?”

He produced the flower he’d taken from Trixie that he’d kept tucked out of sight under one of his wings. The guards prepared to attack while Starlight and I ran to the last cover.

“Not very hospitable, are you? I should have known there was a reason you don’t make many friends!”

He reached under his other wing and hurled a bunch of Trixie’s kerchiefs, no longer tied into a string, towards the guards as they finally rushed him, apparently having come to realize at last that he wasn’t as much of a threat as they’d been taught to believe, and though a few guards remained to watch the castle entrance, their attention was drawn to the chase long enough to let Starlight and me slip through the crack in the doors and into the castle.