The Longest Battle – Ch 30 – Of Our Choosing (Part 1)

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The Changeling glided through the moonless sky with the Imperative driving her relentlessly towards her quarry. She’d abandoned the form she’d worn for years, released the memories of the life she’d built while wearing it and all that remained was the Imperative. She was going to kill. She didn’t know who, or why, and she didn’t care. She couldn’t. The Imperative wouldn’t allow her to care, or hestitate, or fear. She was a weapon and that was all that mattered.

She couldn’t feel fear but she quickened her newly crafted wings when she saw where the Imperative was leading her.

The Ruins of Lost Shadows.

The home of her kind.

It was unthinkable that a threat would trespass there. Adventurers had breached its corridors and hidden passageways hundreds of times over the centuries and never discovered the realm beneath the Ruins where the Changelings hid the central gem from which their hearts were fashioned.

The Imperative activated her though. Something was different about the group that was headed into the Ruins. They were a threat. The Changeling didn’t know how they could be, but the Imperative did. She didn’t know how she could stop them, but the Imperative told her she had to try.

She flew faster. They couldn’t lose their home.

But she had.

She’d left behind the home that she’d lived in for seven years. Burned it down in fact. At the Imperative’s command. She was just a weapon. The life she’d lead only existed to hide the threat she posed.

It was miles to the Ruins and even at her fastest speed that took time. She couldn’t plan for the attack she was going to make. There were too many variables and the Imperative was little more than an irresistible beacon. It didn’t give her information on who her targets were, just where she could find them and that they needed to be destroyed.

Without the need to worry or fear, the Changeling’s mind wandered. She day dreamed of the life she was leaving behind. She’d been a baker. It wasn’t an exciting life, but she’d loved waking up each day to make fresh breads.

She’d had plans to expand her little shop. The Imperative hadn’t directed her one way or the other on that topic. She was needed as a deep cover operative. That was all it was concerned about. She would be as valuable as the owner of a small chain of bakeries as she would as the owner of the tiny market stall she’d started with seven years ago.

In her daydream, the feel of the dough shifting beneath her fingers sent a chill down her spine. For a moment she forgot herself and checked the horizon to see if the sun was close to rising. She was used to working in the dark but, if she started her baking too early, the bread would be cool when the morning crowds came by and she would sell far less of it.

The Imperative slammed around her mind like a vice, dragging her attention back to the task she was compelled to complete. There wasn’t going to be any baking today. Or ever again. She had burned the shop down after all.

She knew why she’d had to burn the shop down. No one could connect the life she’d lead with the Changeling she was. If they did that, they’d be able to discover other Changelings in the lists of her special buyers and her few friends.

Changelings knew each other on sight, and the Imperative required that no one else be able to identify them that easily.

That’s why her life had been forfeit. If she survived the battle to come, she would set up a new life. Possibly as one of the people she was about to kill.

She hoped the new life would have an excuse to bake. The Imperative should allowed her that much she felt.

Below her, at the entrance to the Ruins, she saw a pair of adventurers waiting. She circled high above them, a black silhouette against an empty sky. The two spoke in quiet tones, but the Changeling’s ears were sharp and she picked up every word.

“Mervyn and the orcs should be here in a few minutes.” the young woman said. The Changeling saw that she was a spellcaster which moved her to the top of the list in terms of targets to disable or kill. Out-fighting a trained warrior was difficult, but letting a wizard get even a single word out in a battle was suicidal.

“You’re not very nice sometimes.” the man standing beside her said. He was a spellcaster too. The Changeling cursed her luck. Two spellcasters was bad. Two spellcasters who were prepared for trouble was worse.

In the brush below her, the Changeling saw others of her species closing in on the pair. The other changelings were almost invisible, but the Imperative connected them. She knew where they were to within an inch, just as they knew she was sailing far above them.

The Imperative told them to hold. More were due at the Ruins. The orcs and the scholar named Mervyn the young woman had mentioned. The Imperative wanted them all dealt with at the same time. The orcs would be disposed of but Mervyn and the two adventurers would be captured and fed to the Annihilator. The Changeling wanted to kill them all to be safe, but Imperative was insistent the spellcasters be thrown into the artifact of destruction at the bottom of the Changeling’s lair.

“I’m still a queen of the dark faeries, you know.” the young woman said.

“I thought you gave that up years ago?” the man asked.

“What? Why would I? Being a queen is awesome! I mean, minions! Who doesn’t want minions?” the young woman said.

“What do you mean? You don’t still have those Shadow Court faeries under your control, do you?” the man asked.

The Changeling had no idea what the two were talking about, but the Imperative was screaming at her that they had to be stopped. Whatever this “Shadow Court” was, they were dangerous.

More dangerous than the Imperative?

The Changeling twitched in her flight, a shock passing through her arms. The Imperative wasn’t to be questioned. It was to be obeyed. Questioning the Imperative was impossible. Literally. She was built by the Imperative’s divine will. She was an extension of the Imperative.

A weapon. A tool. Not a being.

The people the two adventurers were waiting for arrived while the Changeling struggled to sort out her feelings. The orcs were stocky and strong. And at least one of them was a spell caster too.

The Changeling cursed silently. The Imperative better have called in more of her fellow changelings than she could see, she decided.

Or it could decide to let her fly away. That would be fine too.

“Glad you could make it, Sage Mervyn. And a pleasure to see you as well Kalla.” the young woman said with a small bow. She arched her shoulders to stretch her back as she stepped away from the wall she’d been resting beside. The move caused her to look up and the Changeling felt like the woman’s gaze met her own despite the distance and the cover of the dark sky that surrounded her.

Naked. Naked and terrified.

For a moment that was all that the Changeling could feel. Even the Imperative was forgotten for that one moment. Looking into the young woman’s eyes, the Changeling saw not her own end, but the end of her entire world. In the young woman’s eyes there lurked something deeper and colder and more all encompassing than anything the Changeling had known before.

The Imperative was as inevitable as breathing, but the end the young woman offered was as inevitable as the march of time.

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