• Published 26th Oct 2019
  • 1,942 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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Dream Shattered

I woke up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. A pony, as I’d noticed during my time here, would have just shrugged it off and gone back to sleep, thinking nothing of it, but my life had taught me caution: there may have been a reason for such a seemingly random occurrence, and so far it had usually paid off to look into it and make sure nothing… undesirable… was going to happen. So I lay awake, wondering what might have interrupted my sleep. It couldn’t have been a nightmare; I’d actually had a pleasant dream, one in which Spike was teaching me how to make cupcakes, though they did turn out somewhat peculiar with all the cauliflowers and gems sticking out of them, but he kept assuring me they were quite delicious… What, then? I wasn’t hungry or hurting or anything of the sort! I thus turned my attention to my surroundings. Sometimes, back in the hive, a few drones with too much time on their hooves and not enough duties to put their energy to good use would sneak up on me for a surprise attack during the nights when they’d know Pharynx to be out on duty; but this wasn’t the hive, I had no reason to expect surprise attacks here in the safe and friendly Crystal Empire, and anyway, I could neither see any peculiar movement in my room nor hear any strange sounds. The night was as quiet as I’d ever known a night to be!

There wasn’t a complete absence of sound, though. I could still hear the soft rustle and murmurs I’d grown accustomed to during my time here: the hoofsteps of night guards and activity of occasional insomniacs were no reasons for concern. I’d, in fact, grown so accustomed to them that I’d probably miss them if I stopped hearing them suddenly, but that wasn’t the case tonight. No unexpected noises disturbed the night, either, such as that one time when Sunburst had stayed up late enough to lose focus on a spell he’d experimented with and caused it to backfire very loudly, or like when Flurry had kept the entire castle awake with her coughing and sneezing for a full week upon catching a cold after she’d accidentally undone her mother’s health-keeping spell… but, amazingly, even the lack of sleep hadn’t made the ponies love her any less!

This digression of thought led me to finally become aware of the one peculiarity I could notice in this otherwise perfectly unremarkable night: something was happening to the aura of love in the Empire! In my still-half-asleep state, I couldn’t put my hoof on what was wrong right away; the aura was about as strong as usual, but something was different about it, something that sent chills down my carapace.

A bad feeling growing inside me, I got out of bed, and still in the dark, walked quietly to my flowerpot, where I found the pitcher with some water still in it. Working under the assumption that cold water would help wake me up completely, I poured a little over my face. It helped, and I was now beginning to think more clearly.

Focusing fully on the aura again, I noticed first that although still strong, it was gradually, slowly but steadily, getting weaker. This alone didn’t mean much - after all, the aura did fluctuate in strength regularly, depending on the ponies’ collective and individual moods - but there was something else… something ominous... something I was sure I’d sensed before…

A moment later, I knew what it was: the aura had become murkier and chillier than usual; I’d forgotten the feel of such an aura by having been exposed to a consistently clear, warm one for months, one that reflected happiness and content… but this one was tainted by worry and fear of some of the ponies creating it… much like it had been during the time leading up to my integration into pony society here in the Empire, while I’d still been hiding from the Royal Guard teams trying to hunt me down upon having been spotted and taken for an enemy!

Something was, indeed, very wrong, and my subconscious mind had taken notice of it while I’d slept, and the only warning sign was of a kind that ponies couldn’t perceive! I had to investigate! I didn’t have the slightest idea what might be going on or what I was going to do to deal with the situation, but the realization of possible danger had left me wide awake, so I couldn’t go back to sleep anymore even if I hadn’t cared to figure out what was happening!

Something told me it would be a good idea to go as Crystal Hoof as a precaution until I knew more.

Continuing to pay attention to the love aura as I left my room and went sneaking through the dark hallways of the castle, I noticed soon that the cold murkiness of fear was diminishing rapidly, but rather than restore itself to its familiar strength, the aura was left suddenly much, much weaker than I’d ever known it to be around here - a feeling so jarringly foreign and out of place that it disturbed me more than anything else out of the ordinary so far. I couldn’t figure out why, but I was sure it meant the Empire was in great danger!

My mind went immediately to the Prince and Princess. I should tell them about my concerns, and as soon as possible! They would know what to do!

But how would I approach them? I’d never had to wake them up in the middle of the night… well, at least I hadn’t done it intentionally. They’d been very considerate during my first days - nights - here, when the nightmares with flashbacks of my old life and the fears I’d endured during my escape from the hive had regularly resulted in me waking up screaming in the middle of the night, which would then inevitably wake them up due to my bedroom being almost directly below theirs… good thing Princess Luna had figured out how to visit my dreams to calm me, or I’d likely still be in such a state almost every night! We’d all been so relieved when I’d finally succeeded in sleeping peacefully throughout the night, and I hated the thought of having to wake them again now! Sure, this was in all likelihood an emergency, but would I be able to convince them of that?

Careful to avoid making a sound, I crept up the stairs and through the hallways, rehearsing how to best describe my concerns to them without having them dismissed as a matter of no real concern. I was halfway satisfied with what I’d come up with when it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure what the proper protocol for such a situation was: should I knock on the door and wait to be invited in, or should I enter and shake them awake? I was concerned they might not hear a knock, but though I knew where the royal bedroom was and had seen it once or twice from the outside through the window, I’d never actually been inside, and it felt so awkward to just barge in unannounced, especially at this hour!

But upon reaching the door of their bedroom, I realized my dilemma might have been uncalled for: the door was ajar, and a stream of flickering light poured out from inside! Cadance and Shining Armor were awake after all! But had they sensed the same thing that had caused me concern - after all, Cadance did have the ability to sense love, though I’d never inquired about the extent of that ability compared to that of the changelings - or had somepony else come to them for something unrelated to this?

Had something happened to Flurry Heart?

Reluctant to intrude on whatever was going on in there, but eager to avoid missing an opportunity to approach the Prince and Princess in an appropriate way, I peeked into the room.

Immediately, I recoiled at the sight. Though the lone torch cast only a dim light, it was all I needed to see that my fears had been justified!

The room was in disarray, objects thrown about everywhere as if there had been a nasty fight, but miraculously, none of them broken, and for the briefest of moments, I wondered how neither I nor any of the ponies had heard any noise. Two figures stood in the mess, near the connecting door that led to Flurry’s room, looking around slowly, taking in the surroundings, unaware of an uninvited guest watching them from the darkness. As they grinned, the reflection of the torch danced across their sharp fangs. As they moved, so did their eerie shadows on the nearby wall, distorted by the grotesque features of their bodies I knew too well, the gossamer wings and hole-riddled legs so alike my own!

I put a hoof over my mouth to contain the gasp that would have given me away for sure. How had they found me? And what were they doing in the royal bedroom?

Was Chrysalis here?

“Ugh, this is all too cute for my taste! How long are we supposed to be here, again?” groaned one changeling, kicking a pillow into an overturned nightstand, and unknowingly drawing my attention away from all kinds of worst-case scenarios that were threatening to overwhelm my mind.

“Yeah, it is unbearable,” sneered the other, “but at least I have an excuse to wreak havoc whenever I want, which I can already see will be all day! It’s gonna be so fun watching those pathetic ponies try to handle me!”

Quiet, you two!” A third figure, out of my sight until now, hissed in a familiar voice while approaching them. “Or at least don’t speak in your own voices! Are you trying to attract the guards’ attention? There’s a reason we’re here, and I suggest you act accordingly!”

The other two obeyed the false Shining Armor, and a momentary flash of two green flames later, the likenesses of Cadance and Flurry Heart appeared before him.

“Good,” not-Shining concluded. “No funny business from now on - or else!

He then turned and walked towards the door I was standing at.

I stepped aside immediately and flattened myself against the wall right next to the door. Luckily for me, there was a niche I could duck into, because the impostor stuck his head out and looked around before shutting the door closed, apparently satisfied there was nopony around who might have witnessed something they shouldn’t have.

Sooner than the echo of the door closing had died down, I was fleeing away from there as quietly as I could. What to do now? Not only had the worst happened, I no longer knew who I could trust! I’d seen three changelings, but what promise did I have that they were the only ones? For all I knew, everypony in the Empire might have been replaced! Or nearly everypony, I corrected myself, considering these three were still trying to avoid getting recognized for what they were! Either way, the Royal Family was in danger! If anypony could have stopped the changelings, it would have been them!

With no better idea where to go, I instinctively ran back to my room, panting wildly as I shut the door behind me and leaned against it. I remained like that for a moment, catching my breath and attempting to gather my thoughts and calm myself so I could figure out what to do... until another flash of light startled me into full-blown panic.

“Whoa- calm down, Thorax… calm down, it’s me!” a familiar voice spoke behind the glowing horn as its light dimmed and yellowish-white hooves caught me by the shoulders.

“Sunburst?” I squinted at the stallion. “What… what are you doing here in the middle of the night?”

“I need your help, Thorax!” he gasped. “I was upstairs in the astronomical observatory, doing some research… you know how I get whenever I find a new book… anyway, I’d been reading for a while and I guess I got so immersed in the stuff I stopped noticing what was going on around me, but a few minutes ago I got up to look through the telescope… but before I got to look at the stars, while I was still calibrating the telescope, I saw five figures fly out of one of the floors below me… I think- no, I’m pretty sure it must have been the living area… anyway, they were changelings and they were carrying cocoons - two large ones and one smaller! I think they captured some ponies! We gotta do something!

“Why didn’t you go to Cadance and Shining Armor, then? Why come to me?”

“I-I-I… I guess I panicked… and I guess I got worried they were here for you, and I’m so relieved to see you’re alright! You’re probably right, I should have gone to them! Let’s go there now!”

“First,” I stopped him, “how do I know you’re not a changeling yourself?”

“Can’t you tell?” His jaw dropped.

“Assume that I can’t,” I persisted. I really couldn’t tell; I didn’t know of any changeling who could see through another’s disguise - a flaw in our abilities than had been vital in my escape from the hive.

“Um... let’s see… we first met when you pretended to be a crystal pony to earn our trust, but then revealed yourself when the love around Flurry overwhelmed you?”

“How about something that isn’t public knowledge around here,” I hissed at him.

“Oh, right… um… you remember the first day after Shining Armor relented to Cadance’s insisting to let you out of the dungeons where he put you after you’d admitted to have given in to hunger and fed on a pony during your journey here? Flurry launched a bowl of hot oatmeal in your face, you hissed in pain and scared her into crying, and then you ran off and turned into a vase because you thought Shining was going to kill you… and it was easy to find you because you were trembling in fear. Will that do?”

“What color was the vase?” I insisted, knowing the real Sunburst had been there.

“It was blue, very light blue, with purple meanders around the base and the rim!”

“And when I entered this room a minute ago, how did you know it was really me?” I’d calmed down, knowing now that the pony in front of me was really my friend, but I genuinely wanted to know how he’d recognized me.

“I’m pretty sure no impostor would have thought to act like they were scared out of their skin, and you have been known to freak out from nightmares,” he explained. “Besides, you haven’t worn that disguise in quite a while - must be two or three months now - and I find it unlikely that a changeling could have guessed what your preferred disguise, so to call it, must look like unless they’ve seen it, and if they’d been here to witness you use it while you still did, they’d have probably done something about you by now, don’t you think?”

“I guess so,” I admitted. “So, what should we do?”

“Wake Cadance and Shining Armor, of course!”

“Actually…” I hesitated. “Is there anyplace safe we could talk? I suddenly don’t trust anything in here to not be a changeling in disguise.”

“Now that you mention it, I’m not sure there’s a single room in the castle we could be sure about! I can’t even vouch for my own house!”

“What about outside the castle?”

“Hmmm… with so much stuff in the streets that could be strategically-placed changelings in disguise, we’d probably have to get out of the city entirely, maybe even all the way into the snowy outskirts!”

I considered this for a moment.

“Then I hope your hooves can handle the cold,” I said grimly.

Author's Note:

In case anyone's wondering, the vase Sunburst mentions is a nod to one of my favorite Thorax fanfics, Dear Small Pony Book by Carapace.