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Whispers in the Shadows

by Dreadnought

Fallen trees littered the forest floor, creating holes in the thick canopy that allowed sunlight to nurture lush plants and small pines. Animals scurried about in the shadows as birds sang overhead. A small brook added a soothing background noise.

A unicorn trudged through the forest. Frequently he swung his machete, cutting into the dense foliage. What he couldn’t hack, he slowly climbed over or sought an alternative route trough the labyrinth.

After hours of slow progress, the stallion pushed aside a large fern and beheld the sight before him. Where once green dominated, now only browns and greys. Dirt and sand filled the landscape, without a single tree or patch of grass. Ancient stream beds lay dry and cracked. And towering over all was an ominous black shard, a twisted fortress that filled most with absolute dread.

He paused for only a moment before finding a large stone and taking a seat. He shifted around for a few moments but couldn't find a comfortable position. With a sigh he stood again and looked around.


The rock disappeared in a flash of green flames.

The stallion beheld the black creature standing before him. "Fang?" he ventured.

"Ironclad?" hissed the changeling.

"Yes," he responded.

"I've been expecting you," he said dryly.

"I should expect so," Ironclad retorted.

"We should get moving, the others are waiting for us." The changeling began trotting into the desert.

With a huff, the unicorn fell in behind the creature and began the trek towards the castle....

Each step became worse than the last. Sand wedged in the stallion's hooves. Dust coated his fur until the occasional gust of wind sent a cloud billowing from the formerly white stallion. Not a bit of cover offered relief from the burning sun and not a drop of water could be found to fill the dry canteen.

The unorthodox pair approached the nightmarish structure, its many towers terminating in spikes that seemed to pierce the heavens.

"This is quite the place," remarked Ironclad.

"Quiet!" hissed Fang.

Two flashes of green flame appeared before them. "Halt!" cried one of the changelings.

"What have we here?" said the other, bearing his fangs. "Food and a traitor. What a catch!"

Fang stepped forward. "This is my trainee. I'm his instructor." He hissed at the other two.

"Then why doesn't he change for us?" demanded the first, showing his fangs and buzzing his wings.

Fang scowled at the first. "It is an evaluation. Can he remain calm and keep his disguise under pressure."

The two guards scowled at him.

"Let us in!" demanded Fang.

"Or what?" sneered the second guard.

"Or you get to take the blame for why one of our new infiltrators failed." He smirked, or at least smirked as much as changelings were known to do. "You know how Queen loves to punish failures."

The two guards shared looked between themselves before buzzing off.

"Friendly," observed Ironclad.

"Friendship is a pony trait," corrected Fang. "Let's keep moving."

The pair climbed into a hole, entering the dark castle. No sooner had they set hoof inside when their entrance, and escape route, closed behind them.

"Follow me," ordered Fang.

Onward they pressed. They descended steep inclines, some near vertical. They climbed up into new chambers. Twice the pair ducked into alcoves and small recesses to avoid patrols.

The further they went, the more Fang changed. Not physically, though any changeling could easily transform into anything with just a thought. No, it was more emotionally. His wings buzzed less, and he stopped less to listen for patrols.

The pair had navigated into a narrow, twisting tunnel. Refuse and trash littered the floor.

"What is this?" asked Ironclad.

"It's a long-forgotten tunnel. Changelings dug it moons before Chrysalis, then abandoned it when it was no longer useful. As you can see, it became a dumping ground for years."

Still the pair explored the ancient tunnel.

After an hour, Ironclad demanded, "Where are we going?"

"I'm not sure," admitted Fang.

"You're not sure?" pressed Ironclad, his voice cutting with anger and contempt.

"The room moves. We're never really sure where it is until we get there," Fang explained absently, looking at scratches that may have been carvings at one time.

The wall creaked and groaned. A cloud of dust announced the formation of a passageway.

"We're here," said Fang as he quickly ushered Ironclad through before the door closed.

Light and shadows played upon the walls as flickering candles attempted to light the room. In the small chamber a dozen changelings stood around, their glowing turquoise eyes taking stock of the unlikely companions.

Tension hung heavy in the air.

"Come forward," came a soft voice from behind the gathered changelings. They parted to reveal a changeling on a seat. His sunken eyes no longer shone like the younger ones in the chamber. The number of holes in his body showed his great age and the cracks and scars to his carapace spoke of many battles lost and won.

Fang held his head low with reverence. "I have done as you wished. This is Ironclad from the Royal Guard."

The elderly changeling leaned forward. "Ironclad," he whispered.

"Yes," Ironclad answered, stepping forward. "You are Sear, the leader of this group of guerillas?"

He leaned back and sank into his chair. "A leader? Some will say. But I see myself as more of a guide, a guru, a good shepherd to this flock."

"And all of them believe as you do?" asked Ironclad.

"Yes. They are tired of hiding in the shadows. Of stealing what is not given. But there is another way." He let out a series of dry coughs.

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I have experienced it myself." For a moment his eyes flickered with light as he gazed off, beyond Ironclad and the walls of the cell and through the many years that had passed. "Many moons ago, in the days of my youth, I was sent to Canterlot to gather. I was inexperienced," he chuckled, which only led to another round of coughs. "I made a gaffe that nearly exposed my true nature. But a mare stepped forward and gave me an alibi." His eyes seemed to linger on the mare of his memory. "She had taken an interest in me. Curious, I volunteered for another depolyment to Canterlot. We grew close." His weathered face strained with a small smile. "I was given love. And I shared love." He lingered for a moment before returning to the present. "Before I leave this world, that is what I want to give my kind: a better life. A life free of starvation. Free from fear. A life full of love." He began coughing again.

"And our role in this effort?" asked Ironclad.

Sear kept coughing so Fang stepped forward. "Asylum. We wish to live among you. If we can coexist peacefully, perhaps more changelings will join us."

"The more that join in our cause, the less powerful Chrysalis will be," added another.

"Do you really think that the ponies will accept you?" pressed Ironclad.

"With time," answered Sear. "Already they have welcomed griffons into their land. And does not the Princess's protege have a dragon?"

"Is this all of you then?" asked Ironclad. "I need to let the Princess know how many she would have to shelter."

"It is most. We all cannot gather here together. But we will provide a list of all that seek a better way."

"I will need that list soon. Once the Princess grants her approval, I will need you all to gather in one place so that you may be escorted under guard to Canterlot."

Sear nodded, "A wise precaution."

"Yes, the logistics will be critical."

Suddenly a hole appeared in the wall and a changeling flew in. "Master!" he cried.

"What has you troubled?" asked Sear.

"The guards have caught a unicorn on our borderlands!"

All eyes fell on Ironclad.

The stallion let out an ear-piercing cry that reverberated off the walls. He smiled menacingly as a flash of green flames took his place. "Our Queen sends her regards. She is eager to quash this little insurrection."

Buzzing sounds grew in the distance.

The gathered changelings scattered, attempting to flee.

Fang rushed forward to Sear. "I am so sorry - "

Sear raised a hoof. "It was always a risk, but one we had to take."

"Please master, we must get you out of here," urged Fang.

Slowly Sear shook his head, "That is not possible. I cannot make it."

A changeling came up to Fang as the buzzing grew nearer, "Fang! We have to go!"

Fang looked up into the old eyes of Sear. "Please!" he begged.

"It is too late. Pass on what I have taught. Now go my son. Leave me."

With tears, Fang and the fellow changeling disappeared into the blackness of a tunnel....

The End

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