MLP FIM - An Act of Necessary Evil
This is not a long story, and what happened is neither justified or condemned. This is merely a scene of a bigger tale, about how a pony who, because of circumstances, had to do something he would never forgive himself for, and thus not only betray the values he was raised with all his life and believed in, but also lost a piece of his soul.
It was the height of the Changeling War. B 'Sabre' Company of the Hoofington 203rd Royal Guard Regiment were given orders from High Command to launch a Search and Destroy operation against Changeling hives that may had been constructed within the frontier forests of Silverwood.
For new recruit Firebrand, it was his first S&D mission with the company. An optimistic young stallion, Firebrand had joined the Guard out of an instinctive sense of righteousness and duty. Like many in his regiment, he wanted to defend Equestria, and his family, from the onslaught of the Changeling Swarm. He'll be all too happy to face any Changelings in honorable battle, knowing his fight is just.
However, what happened during that first hive-clearing operation would scar him for the rest of his life.
The battle had ended over an hour ago, but in the dimly lit caverns of the hive, it would had looked as if it had only just finished – the carnage was still visible everywhere within the dark, moist cavern.
The broken holes and blacken craters on the green, organic-looking walls and roof still smoked from the impact of arcane bolts, and not a single fallen pillar and rubble pile were not strewn by bony spines and searing acids, leftovers of a brutal, frantic firefight in the darkness.
The ground was a carpet of corpses; almost every inch of earth was smeared in blood and covered with gore of various colours, and the bodies, both insect and equine, are more often than not torn and mutilated in every sickening way imaginable.
The stuffy, putrid air was awash with the smell of blood, mixed with the smell of rotting flesh. It was an odour of death, and even after a month in the company, Firebrand still couldn't get used to it. It took almost all his will not to gag, or throw up.
The young unicorn respectfully closed the eyes of a fallen comrade on the ground. The dead Earth Pony, going by the name of Golden Virtues, had been his fireteam leader. When Firebrand and the other new recruits arrived as reinforcements from Hoofington, he had taken upon himself to take care of the young unicorn that was placed under his command. He had saved him so many times, shared stories of his life, taught him many things, and so when Firebrand looked at him he saw someone much like himself – honourable, righteous, and kind.
He had told Firebrand to stick close as they enter the hive complex, and he threw himself between Firebrand and a leaping, screeching Changeling warrior during the fight. For his generosity, the entire length of a Changeling claw pierced straight through his throat and sprayed his blood all over Firebrand's face, which left him very, very dead.
Firebrand sighed bitterly, feeling slight anger that he will never get to repay Virtue' generosity. The best he would do was to honour his memory. It was the right thing to do, and he would always, always do the right thing
"How goes the area search, Firebrand?"
Firebrand turned to face the voice. He snapped to attention and saluted as saluted as his sergeant approached him. His comrades-in-arms, having heard as well, dropped their task and saluted in turn.
"Sector 2 is all cleared sir!" he replied, voice strong and crystal clear. The hive clearing operation had been a hard ordeal - all over his body, under his fur, Firebrand wore scars and wounds, scratches of various sizes; his left cheek is lightly bruised from a blow by an insect hoof. Despite this, he was undaunted; he stood tall and proud, his slightly battered armour gleaming even in the dark, moist cavern.
Despite this, the sergeant, or Sarge as he was usually called, seemed unimpressed.
"Are you sure? Unless you're sure, check again." He declared sharply.
Being ten years older than Firebrand and having his deep voice amplified by the echoes in the cavern, the blue Earth-Pony seemed far more imposing, despite being slightly shorter than Firebrand. His order carrying weight and power, like a leader making a speech upon a stage.
"I want you and your squad to search every tunnel and passageway on your section through and through." He continued, in a firm tone, "I don't want any more guardpony going home in a body bag because someone missed a hole and one of those carapaced freaks decides to leap out of it and slice the unlucky pony to death. Is that understood?"
"Understood sir!" Firebrand saluted again. He shuddered slightly at the thought of those creatures of black chitin pouncing upon him. The memories of Golden Virtue's death is still fresh in his mind...
"Sir, we found the Breeding Chamber!" a voice called out to Sarge from behind him. Sarge whirled his head towards it. Another unicorn veteran, Tempered Steel, stood at the entrance of one of the hive's many branching tunnels. Firebrand learnt was a blacksmith before the war, before the draft taken him away from his family. Underneath his armour, he had the mark of a hammer and anvil on his flanks for a mark.
"That so? Show me." He motioned Firebrand with his left hoof, "Firebrand, Pansy Squad, follow."
A tinge of curiosity swept through Firebrand. Virtue had told him that some of the bigger hives could contain breeding chambers. He never seen a Changeling nymph before, and always wondered what they look like.
Something tells him that he's probably not going to like what he's going to see.
The whole 2nd platoon had turned up to the Breeding Chamber. Firebrand stood along with the others just past the opening of the cavern, and he stood gobsmacked at what he saw.
The chamber glowed in an eerie green light. On the ground and by the base of the pillars of stalagmites were a field of opaque eggs, glowing softly via Changeling magic in the darkness by the thousands. Each of them either had a Changeling larva inside, gestating in a serene slumber, or had a gaping hole on top, and the larva in question had began crawling about by its side.
No one tends them. Their older brethren are either dead or fled.
One of them crawled in front of Firebrand, its large blue eyes looking up pleadingly. It was just a little thing; shivering and alone.
"Oh sweet Princesses..." Firebrand found himself mumbling, "there's so many of them."
The unicorn Tempered Steel looked on stoically. He had already seen it a few times before. "Looks like this batch's just hatching." He casually observed.
Sarge for one registered the scene in an utter coldness Firebrand never seen before.
"Right." He said simply, "Steel, you know what to do."
Tempered Steel nodded simply. "Yes sir."
Tempered Steel's unicorn horn glowed. A whirling motion and a spark of light came from the tip of his appendage. As Firebrand watched, a hovering orb of flames began to form at its tip.
And at that moment, a sudden feeling of horror gripped Firebrand.
"Wait, Steel, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" He suddenly shouted, before he caught himself.
The others turned their eyes to him.
"Hold it Steel." Sarge ordered, and the fireball promptly disappeared, he didn't looked annoyed at the little interruption. "Firebrand, first time in a hive cleansing operation?"
A few moments of silence passed as Firebrand, taken by surprise at the question, struggled to speak.
"Yes sir, I was just - I mean..." He began. Then he found his nerve, "Are we actually doing what I think we're doing?"
"Yes." Sarge said, simply, coldly.
Firebrand could only widen his own eyes in shock.
"We're going to KILL them?!" He asked aloud.
"Yes." Again, a simple, cold voice answered him
"Sorry sir, but... that's not what we came here to do, is it?" he asked Sarge, quietly praying to the Princesses for an answer that is not what he dreaded it would be.
Sarge however quickly squashed his hopes, "Our standing orders are to Search and Destroy any hives the damn bug horde build in this area of Silverpine Forest, and that order include the removal of Changeling capability to build reinforcements."
"So yes," Sarge ended bluntly, "we're going to set the breeding pit on fire and barbeque the whole lot before moving out."
A few moments of silence again. Firebrand was horrified. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. They were going to kill these children! They were going to burn them away as casually as a garbage-pony would burn away trash in the junkyard. It wasn't right, he KNEW it wasn't right. He was out here to defend Equestria, not kill children, even that of the Changelings!
He remembered what his mother told him before he set out for the Guard...
"Remember, my son, your name is Firebrand. Even in the Guard, you must glow like a shining example of righteousness to the others as you had always done. No matter what happens, you must always do the right thing, and be the good stallion that we raised you to be."
"Now, remember what you should never do?"
"I haven't forgotten it since five, Mom, I wouldn't forget it now. First, never harm an innocent..."
"But we can't just kill them!" Firebrand protested, risking insubordination, desperately trying to avoid what they are about to do, "They're innocent! They haven't done anything to us! They're... they're just children!"
The Sarge regarded Firebrand grimly. The other Guards could only stare in shock at the Firebrand's gross defiance, something that was utterly unheard of. The air of the dimly lit chamber was tense, so much that were it a rope, one could swing an axe at full strength and not be able to cut it in two.
Sarge, however, was an understanding leader, a father to his stallions. Had it be any other Royal Guard sergeant, Firebrand would have been tried for insubordination.
Not him - he understands how hard it must be for anypony to do what he was ordered to do, so he's going to give Firebrand a chance to understand what had to be done.
He pity the poor pony's soul for what he is about to hear.
"... Children, you say?" He began, in a softer voice, raising an eyebrow, much to everypony's surprise. "Let me tell you something I learn from the eggheads in Canterlot. That goes to all of you Royal Guardsponies."
He began to circle Firebrand. The young unicorn felt much more intimidated by him than usual.
"The Changelings mature very quickly. Let's say if one of these eggs hatch today: well nourished, the larvae will grow twice its current size in 24 hours. In three days It will grow teeth and legs. In one week it would be able to fly, and at the end of the second week, they will be old enough to work in the hive."
He paused, momentarily, to allow everyone to digest the information.
"These Changelings are not individuals with a soul as we know it; they have no ego, no fear, no concept of love other then as a food source, and to get it, they are willing to disguise as your loved ones, capture you, put you in a cacoon and suck it all out till you're nothing but a lifeless husk. All that ever goes in their heads are a mindless, undying devotion to their queen and the hive."
He turned towards the breeding pit, at the eggs and larva crawling about in the green, glowing light.
"Tens of thousands of these Changelings are born, Every, Single, Day." He began to raise his voice, waving his hoof towards the pit, "All of them are from birth pre-programmed to be willing to do whatever it takes to put you and your family into an early grave!"
He turns towards everypony in the Chamber once more. Now he's going to shout.
"And in this war of annihilation, when one dead Royal Guard at the cost of one thousand Changeling grunts is considered a net-victory for the bugs, it automatically translates as imperative THAT YOU. DO. KILL THEIR CHILDREN!"
For a moment, there was silence.
Try as it might, the world cannot exhale.
Firebrand found that he was unable to do anything but stare at Sarge in mute, dumbfounded horror.
At last, the Sergeant broke the moment of pause.
"IS THAT NOT CLEAR?!" he hollered.
"WE GET YOU SIR!" Most of the Guards hollered back in response.
Sarge turned to Firebrand. The unicorn is on the verge of tears. "Firebrand, do the honors."
Firebrand could only stutter. "M-me sir?"
"Yes, you." Sarge confirmed. "Many guards get sentimental after they looked at this. You had to do it this time so you would not lose your nerve when we fight the next battle. Every old guard in the company had done it, at least once."
Firebrand blinked, and his eyes turned to the assembled multitudes of veterans around him. They were all staring at him, and when he looked back he couldn't find any spark of life in any them, anything he could cling onto.
He was alone, and he suddenly felt as if the weight of the whole world was right on top of him.
"Sir, I... I just can't!" Firebrand begged.
The sergeant merely shook his head.
"Firebrand... it had to be done." His voice was sympathetic, but determined, "Or else, their children will be feeding on our children. Remember that." He turned, and barked an order once more. "B Company 2nd Platoon, MOVE OUT!"
The platoon turns to leave, many of them looked on at Firebrand solumnly. Firebrand watched as they left, one by one. Tempered Steel stopped in front of him just before he stepped out of the chamber.
"Trust me, it gets easier over time." He said simply, "Don't dwell on it. Just don't ever dwell on it."
With that, Tempered Steel turned and left. The others filtered out of the chamber, till only Firebrand remained.
Firebrand turned once more towards the Breeding Pit, at the field of eggs and larva. A single tear roll down Firebrand's equine cheek. It wasn't right, it just wasn't right. It wasn't what he joined the Guards to do.
"Never harm an innocent..."
But deep down, he knew he had no choice.
Reluctantly, he makes the arcane stance, recites the spell, and grunts as the familiar orb of fire form at the tip of his unicorn horn.
He'll never forget the screams as the breeding pit turned into a lake of fire. More poignantly, he'll never forget the face of the little Changeling larva that was still crawling towards him. The terrified nymph was crying, still looking at him, pleadingly and helplessly, until its last moments.
It'll be an image that would haunt Firebrand's dreams to the end of his days.
"In the end, the Changeling War was just like any other war – there were those who profited, there were those it corrupted. And then there were those for whom there are no words."
--- Equestrian history book on the Changeling War, published Second Diachy Era Year 32.
Life sucks and is probably meaningless, but that doesn't mean there's no reason to be good.
--- The Anti-Nihilist view in short.