Things Are Rarely as They Seem

by Orcus

Chapter 1: One Dark Knight

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The moon, full and bright, showed over the land as the stars surrounded it like glitter. Underneath it, amidst the dark forest just west of Canterlot, skipping along a dirt path, was a lone figure.

He was a changeling; a drone, to precise. While not much different in appearance than the rest of his kind, his dark chitinous frame and teal eyes possessed a certain liveliness to them, and he had a small chip that was indented in the front of the horn sitting on his head from an incident in the distant past. With a light green, patchwork handkerchief wrapped around his neck like a bandanna, and a small sack tied and carried at the end of a stick he held in a makeshift bindle, he danced as he trotted and occasionally fluttered in the early autumn air with his transparent, insect-like wings, happily humming a small tune to himself; enjoying the little sound that was around to blot his voice out.

"Love, love, oh love! An emotion of cheer, of mirth and merry, and spirit that raises me far above! Free am I from the iron grasp of my queen, Chrysalis, and far away from my gloom-bound swarm! Free am I to travel the world myself, and upon its contents I shall gorge!" he sang, pausing only to take a breath of air or look ahead to make sure he was still following the path. "Oh such a joy it is, to be so free! Like a little bug riding in the summer breeze! At longest last, I may partake in my own spree, and that desire is to just be me!"

Habeas Brittle was the name of this changeling, and he continued his little ditty with more skipping. Pebbles were scattered about as his hole-filled hooves clattered about and landed on the ground. It looked as though Habeas would keep this cheerful act up for the rest of the night, when the sound of a branch snapping went out from behind, breaking the quiet that came with every interval of his song like a rock against a sheet of glass. Stopping in his tracks without a second thought, he spun around to see who made the noise.

"Hello?" he asked aloud, clear enough for any beings within a fair distance to hear. His eyes scanned the dark woods for life of any sort for a good minute, but to his confusion, found nothing of interest. Only the still-green trees befell his sight, and all was still.

Shrugging, Habeas turned again to resume his journey, when he jumped back and nearly shouted in startled reaction. A figure now stood before him, several feet away, on the same path. It had a pony-shaped body, but was covered hoof-to-head in intricately-made silver armor, and held a spear of a similar color over its shoulder as Habeas himself was holding his bindle. In addition to the small black 'mane' behind the helmet, dark cloth drooped down from the armor as well, covering any spot that would have otherwise shown fur or flesh.

The only bit that the armor didn't seem to cover was the visor of its helmet, and through that, the moonlight revealed two eyes that stared at him in an intimidating leer. One of them, the right one, was of an icy blue color that conveyed nothing but cold frigidness, while the other, to the changeling's curiosity, was clouded and grey, with a clear vertical scar stretching over it like a solid streak of white.

"Um... hello, pony," Habeas began, knowing that this stranger probably thought ill of him, due to the general opinion of his kind in this land. "Please, do not be alarmed by my appearance. I am simply a traveler."

The pony (or whatever it was) made no noise, and instead moved its spear from its shoulder, shifting it into what Habeas, beyond all the haze of his sunny optimism, recognized as a combative position. Growing anxious over this being's actions, he gave a small, nervous smile that showed off his two, saber-like fangs.

"Ahem... I, um... mean you no harm, good sir," he said once more, splaying his webbed ears back uneasily. "If you'll please just let me pass-"

Before he could finish his sentence, with little warning, the knight lunged forth, brandishing its spear and shooting its barbed tip downward in an attempt to stab him and penetrate his chitinous flesh for a deathblow. Avoiding such a fate, the changeling jumped to the side, and the knight swung the spear horizontally upon landing on its own hooves, aiming for the changeling's head. Habeas only just ducked below it with a shriek of fear. Grunting, the being heaved the weapon back and prepared to jab it, but by then its prey had jumped back again, out of reach.

His horn glowing a bright green color, Habeas shot out a similarly-colored beam of balefire magic his kind was known for possessing. The knight effortlessly sidestepped the attack, allowing the small ball of green flame to impact against the ground and make a crater, and charged again, using the one hoof holding the spear to swing it horizontally once more. Before he could move, the spear's metal side hit Habeas directly in the stomach, knocking the wind completely out of him.

Habeas's hooves wrapped around the weapon as it struck him, seeing that there was no other action he could perform in his stupor. Lifting him to see how hard he clutched onto it, and with a bellow that the changeling found he could barely hear in his panic, the knight violently thrust him away with enough force to rival a manticore's might. The tip of the spear scraping over his chest painfully as he was sent flying, Habeas crashed through the trees lining the path, and immediately began to uncontrollably roll down the steep, ravine-like hill previously unseen from the dense foliage; crushing bushes, small trees, and colliding with sharp rocks in his descent.

The knight slowly walked up to the corner where Habeas had fallen with its clanking armor rattling behind it. Gazing over the edge, it saw nothing but darkness, and the sound of the changeling rolling down it had ceased. Lifting its head after a few more seconds of observation, it lifted its spear back over its shoulder and began to quietly walk away.

Screaming loudly until the rapid feeling of thin-but-coarse tree branches and thorny plants brushing and scraping over his chitinous face got him to finally close his mouth, Habeas continued to tumble down the steep hillside at a rapid pace. Then, with a final crash and thud over dirt and grass, the changeling emerged from the forest's hillock in a sagging heap. After letting a second pass, he was able to lift his head, and looked to his aching back.

His wings had been utterly shredded by the many brambles and jagged flora that littered the woods. Granted, such a wound would heal in time, the damage done was catastrophic. What had been done to his wings, however, was not the worst thing to occur to his body.

His right front leg was broken. What told him this was the way it was bent out of place, and the throbbing pang of agony that shot through his body like a jolt of lightning every time he touched it, causing him to whimper slightly in pain. Holding back the urge to cry out from how much his wounds hurt, his teal eyes shot upward in an attempt to find someplace safe that he could rest by.

As if by some miracle, once his blurred vision adjusted, he spotted the shape of a building sitting in the clearing he was at. One with a faintly red complexion in the moonlight. Without dawdling further, he picked up his (now broken and battered, but still usable) bindle in his mouth and limped toward it in a most hurried fashion, coming around to its front. After getting a firm look at it, he soon recognizing it as a barn.

Peeking at the glass windows that sat on its sides, Habeas could see there were no lights coming from within. Pushing the large door open with a creaking of old hinges, he shuffled inside and closed the door behind him with a mighty thud of wood-against-wood.

After a minute of aimless wandering through the darkened building, he found a mostly-empty stall in the far back, most likely meant for storage, and he proceeded to stumble inside of it, nearly collapsing in the process. The only objects of intrigue in it were several bales of hay, each stacked upon one another like blocks. Finding a small bed of straw, most likely formed by whatever strands of the wheat that had fallen from the bales in the past, he threw his bindle to the ground and fell onto it with little argument against such an action, and then looked to his injured leg.

Spending the next few minutes instinctively spitting a sickly green, resiny goo from his mouth onto the leg where it had been broken at the joints, it soon began to harden over the limb after Habeas had begun the taxing, painful effort of bending back into its right place.

After what felt like hours, when in reality it was no more than a few seconds, the deed was done, and Habeas let his head drop limply onto the hay that cushioned its fall, panting in exhaustion. For the longest time he drifted in-and-out of consciousness as the fiery feeling of his other wounds also began to call out for his attention, until finally, with his breathing slowing to a normal pace, he was consumed by the dreamless void of deep sleep.

Author's Notes:

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Next Chapter: There's a Changeling in my Barn Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 21 Minutes
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