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You are a good drone, always obedient to your leader. Queen Chrysalis is your mother, your master, and you always follow her orders. You don’t always like what you do, but you do it regardless. You know what happens when you are disobedient. She doesn't like disobedient drones, but you have never disappointed her. You have your task. It is unpleasant, yes, but you know it has to be done.
You awaken in your cubicle. This hexagonal cell in the colony wall is your only private space. It has enough room for you to stand up, walk a little, stretch out, and lie down comfortably on a soft membranous pad in the back. The hive is always warm with the energy of the sun and the constant activity of your fellow drones. You feel something tug at your mind. Images flood and a sense of urgency flood it. The call is strong and gives you your task for the day. You dare not disobey, knowing what awaits those who fail Queen Chrysalis. You know that her wish is your command and that her happiness is our one concern in the world. The bustle of drones outside generates a constant rumbling, and also makes it difficult to get in or out. You step outside into the perfectly organized chaotic harmony that is the hive.
Drones marching every which way coat the walls of the tubular passage a dozen meters in diameter. The fringe is lined with cubicles like yours, as well as branching paths that lead elsewhere in the hive. The hive is a massive structure that extends from deep below the ground to high into the sky. It sits in a clearing deep in the Everfree Forest, meaning that threats are few. The soldiers always make short work of them. A hydra may be a dire threat to just one changeling, but even the nastiest beast is no match for the thousands of soldiers which overwhelm it through sheer weight of numbers and shared power. However, food is also scarce, unless it wanders willingly into our grasp or we go hunting. You stand just a head taller than most of the drones because you are a soldier. Your senses tell you that you are standing on what some would call the ceiling of the tunnel, but that does not matter in the hive, because the walls are all coated in sticky cilia which make falling a non-issue, provided one refrains from doing something stupid like trying to jump, or stand on two legs. The other drones make way for you, creating a small way for you to continue unimpeded. You warm then telepathically to make way because you are on special business for the queen. The lighting in the tunnels is dim, especially in the subterranean ones such as the one you are quickly making your way through.
The tunnels converge at large chambers, each one easily at least a full one hundred meters across. The chamber is illuminated with a massive hanging light source. But it is not a chandelier or beacon as one would expect. No, it is a cluster of captive giant torchbugs, suspended in the center of the chamber by great strands of drone webbing. At least thirty of them make up the bright clump that makes you shield your eyes as they adjust. They are tended to night and day by attendants who bring them various bits of plants. They produce their blue-green light only when fed and warm.
You head further down into the bowels of the hive. You are hungry, which does not help your unease at the task awaiting you. I think it is a good thing; you will not vomit and you will be more motivated to get it done. It takes another ten minutes before you reach the chamber. You know immediately which one it is and what its purpose is for three reasons. Firstly, its entrance is blocked by a door. We have minimal need for doors because we of the hive can all telepathically communicate at will. Secondly, yellow-white light shines from underneath the jamb. We changelings can see in the dark and nothing of ours produces that color of light. Thirdly, the door at the end is oriented in such a way that it would appear to be right side up to most other species. Two other changelings, also soldiers, stand guarding the door. They are larger than the average drone and have thicker, bulkier exoskeletons. Their horns are longer and thicker, with a sharp forward edge and hardened point.
You stand before them and telepathically ask, “Is it ready?”
They both simultaneously reply, “Yes, it is.” You are not keen to enter, but you do. Before you is an ordinary earth pony bound to a chair. You cannot determine if it is a stallion or a mare; they all look the same for you. You know your orders. The door slams shut behind you.
The pony glares at you. You can feel the anger radiating off of it in great red-black waves, like how the air shimmers above a fire, making you feel generally uncomfortable. I know negative emotions make changelings feel unwell, but this must be done. The pony speaks first. “What do you want, changeling?”
“I want information,” you say.
The pony huffs. “Well, you aren’t getting anything out of me.” It does not show any signs of fear.
You take a step forward and reply, “We have ways of making you talk.”
The pony chuckles, “Heh, well I ain’t got anything worth knowing.” It’s less on edge now. Therefore, they’re open to probing. You use some of your magic to subtly dull her emotions and wits a little bit.
“On the contrary, I think you have plenty to tell us. First, who are you? What’s your name?” You control your voice, deliberately keeping anything approaching menace out of it. This seems to defuse the emotions enough to put it in a receptive but confused state, based on your senses, which give the pony a slightly green tint to the pony’s aura.
“My name is Shadowfax, deputy caretaker of Canterlot Castle.” A foreleg strains against its bonds. “I mean no offence, but it’s not exactly easy to shake hooves when they’re tied behind your back. So, care to tell me who you are and what’s going on? Nopony’s said anything to me.”
The pony is now receptive and letting their guard down. You decide to use this to your advantage. “I have no name. This one is a soldier of Queen Chrysalis. I carry out any and all orders she gives me.” We want the information that pony has. While I could easily break the pony’s mind and take it by force, you are too weak and unskilled to reliably do so. Cracking minds is easy. However, doing it well, finding what you seek, and correctly interpreting it are all much more difficult. It gets exponentially tougher the more determined the victim is to resist. That is why you prefer traditional methods of interrogation. And this is but the first step, where you play nice to make them forget that you are the interrogator and they are the detainee. If that doesn’t work, then you get meaner.
The pony nods and its aura becomes slightly yellow. “A soldier, huh? You seem like the same kind of stallion as my cousin in the guard.”
“We are not like you, Shadowfax. Terms like stallion and mare have little meaning to us. There is the queen, the mother of us all, and she is our supreme commander. There are the catamites, who inseminate her when she requires it. There are the drones. We live for our duties and nothing else.”
The yellow aura reverts to green. “That sounds strange to a mare like me.”
Enough of this chatting! “What do you do in the castle?”
A momentary flash of red. You resist the impulse to grimace. “I clean Princess Luna’s personal chambers, but I mostly am in charge of the staff, giving ponies instructions, organizing things, and making sure that stuff gets done. “ Her aura turned purple with pride, that most exploitable of all flaws.
“And how is the Princess? She must trust such a dependable pony like yourself.”
“Luna’s fine. She doesn’t really speak with many ponies, but she’s getting better after her absence.” This is going nowhere. You must push harder to get usable intelligence about weak points in Canterlot’s defenses. You pursue the second lead she dropped earlier.
“You said that you had a cousin in the royal guard.”
Her ears perked up and her aura turned golden. “Yeah, Shining Armor! He’s the captain, actually.” You step forward, now standing near the mare and looking her directly in her hazel eyes. She’s taking this all surprisingly well. By now, most ponies would be fighting back, completely subjugated to your will, or defiant. This one was different; she obviously understood her situation, but managed to keep her wits to some degree.
“What’s he like?” Shadowfax pauses for a moment to think. You are tense, worrying that she is catching onto your game.
“He’s pretty cool,” she said, her aura turning slightly orange with suspicion. “I haven’t seen him a lot, recently.” Her aura goes slightly fuzzy as a trace amount of static flashes through it. This can only mean one thing: Shadowfax is hiding something. Therefore, you want it.
You press her. “Has he been too busy? Or perhaps he got stationed somewhere far away?”
Her aura is filled with a second, stronger wave of static. “We just haven’t been talking a lot. Nothing’s going on; we’re just totally swamped with work.” You know that this mare is lying through her teeth. She is pretty good at it; without your natural changeling affinity for empathy, she might have very well gotten away with it. Her aura is now a bright orange with a significant amount of red rapidly becoming prominent. You need to find a less sensitive subject; no need to make this harder than it needs to be.
“Sorry, is that a bad topic?
“I don’t feel like discussing it with you.”
“So, how’s the castle?”
“It’s big and really beautiful.” Her aura returned to that happy gold color.
So trying to go after ponies will make Shadowfax clam up. She’s definitely smart enough to avoid giving you information that would enable a changeling to impersonate a pony. Fortunately, she isn’t smart enough to realize that anything she says is potentially valuable information, and she herself is an option for replacement. You note that she isn’t a good abstract thinker. We know that the interrogation may have to get nasty rather soon. Areal. knowledge is fine and all, but the invasion of Canterlot will fail if no avenue to covertly get inside and sabotage the Equestrian leadership can be found. Shining Armor is a good first step, and getting him will hinder their military response. However, it is vital to find a way to take out the diarchs before they can influence the battle. Unless our most powerful player can be slipped inside to exploit the love to grow in strength prior to the attack, as well as exploit their fear of collateral damage, the invasion will still be a failure.
You try to get areal knowledge while she is still offering minimal resistance. “Canterlot’s an old place. They say that the castle is thousands of years old. Am I right?”
She nods and replies, “Mm-hm. You know the story behind it?” She’s offering you free information! You take it.
“Can’t say I do.”
Her aura is purple with pride as she begins her tale. “Well, Canterlot was originally a mining camp in the days of the three tribes. A big unicorn city grew there because of all the gems in the mountain. When Celestia and Luna became the princesses of Equestria, they put the capital right on top of the old citadel, which protected the nobles and most of the mine entrances.” Unbelievable – you never imagined that it would be this easy! Perhaps she really is that thick. Perhaps she is just playing along and hoping you’ll let her go. Perhaps she is this just this easy to extract information from. Your instincts tell you that there can very well be more to this mare than there appears. After all, her job would require strong critical thinking skills and the ability to stay cool under pressure.
“Neat. Do they still use those old mines, or are all closed down?”
Her smile falters. “I don’t know. I think they’ve been abandoned for a long time. But nopony’s ever said anything about them being dangerous. They’re in a restricted part of the castle that’s closed to the public, but there’s nothing stopping you from entering if you go through the right door. It’s not against the rules, but they don’t like ponies going in because they can get lost.”
“Ever been inside them?” You’re so close to something you can feel it.
“Yeah. They’re pretty big, and the magical crystals make their own light, so it’s real pretty. I haven’t seen much though; you’d need to be a pegasus to get to most of it.”
“Why is that?”
“Most of the cavern bridges are out or in really bad shape. Nopony’s done any work on them in oh, eighty years or so.
“Thank you for sharing that, Shadowfax. It was definitely enlightening.”
“Know anything else interesting about Canterlot?” Her aura immediately turns orange again.
“Not really, unless you want to know where to find good grub.”
You stalk around to her back, hissing, “I believe you know more than what you’re telling me,” uncomfortably close to her ear. She tenses at the feeling of your breath.
“But I don't, honest!” Her aura is rapidly turning steel blue with anxiety.
“Lies!” You shout, causing her to flinch.
“But I’ve told you what I know. Please, can I leave now?” You can tell that she’s putting on an act; there’s no way she’s caving from this little pressure.
Shadowfax balks, “Why not? I’ve been cooperative. I’ve answered your questions.” Her aura blooms scarlet, the color of defiance. “I don’t know anything else!” Her aura dissolves into static as it reveals her deception. You know what to do. As unpleasant as it will be for you, it will be far worse for her. If you don’t do it, then Queen Chrysalis will make you regret it. Your stomach twists in anticipation.
Circling back around to her front, you slap her across the face. “Shut up!” She whimpers and falls silent. You see a welt on her cheek. You reiterate my line, “You misunderstand your situation. You are my prisoner and I am the interrogator.” You press your hooves to her throat and growl at her, “You only get to go when I allow it, if I allow it. You will answer all my questions to my satisfaction. Do not even think about lying. I know when you’re telling the truth and when you’re lying.
“But I didn’t-“
SMACK! “What did I just tell you!?”
Stunned, she blinked. “D-Don’t lie.” Her voice was thick with fear; getting physical was out of her depth.
“Good.” Now you have her on the defensive. She can’t deflect you anymore; it’s only a matter of time until she breaks. “Now, tell me what I want to know and I won’t hurt you.” You inwardly have to keep from wincing. One of the downsides of your changeling ability to sense and feed off of emotions is that the more unpleasant ones are quite literally poisonous to you. Therefore, you must do this as quickly as possible. You press your face up to hers and glare directly into her wild, terrified eyes. You growl low and threateningly, taking care to clearly annunciate every syllable, “Tell me the truth. Who is Shining Armor?”
Her aura is dark blue with pain and fear, but the fringes are bright red; she won’t go down without a fight. “You already know.”
“Smartass.” Your hoof slams into her jaw, knocking something loose. She spits out a tooth and a bright mouthful of blood. It spatters against the floor. “Tell me again!”
“He’s my cousin, okay!”
You strut deliberately in front of her, your hooves making hard clunks against the stone floor. “And what does he do?”
Violet – she was regretting ever telling you about him. “He’s the captain of the royal guard.”
You step closer to her. She flattens herself against the chair in fear, desperately trying to write out of her bonds. Kindly, you say, “Thank you. See what happens when you play along like a good pony? You don’t get hit.” You point to the bloodstain and tooth on the floor. “You see that mess?” She nods. “That’s you. I have no problem with adding more of you to that pile. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. I can do this all day long. Cry, beg, and lie all you want, but I’m not stopping until you tell me everything I want to know.” You suddenly lunge at her face and roar, “EVERYTHING!” She screws her eyes shut and turns her head away. You hear a faint whine and repress one of your own. “Understand?”
“Y-yes.” Her aura still shows defiance.
“Good. Now, you lied to me earlier about not seeing him, him being away, and things being business as usual at the castle. I don’t appreciate it when ponies lie to me. It hurts me.” You brace yourself and lift up your hoof. You tense up slightly and then bring it crashing down on her ankle. Crash! Crunch! Snap!
“AAAAHHH!” shrieks Shadowfax as vivid, red, pulses of pain explode from her body. She writhes in her chair, desperately trying to escape.
“This is how it hurts me when you lie! Don’t lie to me; don’t hurt me like this and I won’t have to hurt you, Shadowfax!” The waves of terror and agony make you feel sick. “Now, have you seen Shining Armor recently?”
“Yes,” moans the miserable mare, tears leaking from her closed eyes.
“At Canterlot Castle?”
“Yes, and in the city, too. We’re drinking buddies.”
You smirk, unable to smile properly. “Full answer – I like that. Does he ever discuss guard business with you?”
“No – never.” She flinched and her aura flashed static. You raised a hoof. “I mean, never specifics. I don’t know anything about their business or how they do things, I swear!” You put your hoof down.
You mock, “Was that so hard? Now, please tell me what's causing the commotion in Canterlot.”
Her aura turns red again. “No.” I must know what is so sensitive that even now she resists you.
You smack her face again, knocking out more teeth. You feel like throwing up. “What did you say?” You hiss, baring your fangs.
“I said no!” Shadowfax shouts back at you, spitting out a glob of blood. The hot fluid lands on your face and begins to run down your cheek. Enraged, you slug her viciously in the stomach, feeling all the air rush out as you slam your hoof deep into her belly with an ugly thud. Shadowfax doubles over, gasping for air.
You seize her by the throat and yell “Say it!” The mare only coughs and wheezes, struggling to breathe. “Say it!” You let her go while she recovers. Her aura is a revolting rainbow of nasty reds, blues, and dark greys, looking something like bloody puke. You can feel her suffering in your own body, poisoning it slowly and painfully. Your victim is retching, almost unable to breathe. Spit flies from her open mouth along with tears and snot. Your stomach turns again and you look away, disgusted. You hope that she breaks soon, because you don’t know how much more you can take. If she doesn’t break soon, you might be forced to magically break her mind, and you don’t know if you could withstand the shock of mental contact. Your magic becomes less effective the less cooperative your victim, and suffers when you are poisoned by negative emotions. You must end this before long. You can’t fail Queen Chrysalis – you just can’t! The very thought fills you with unspeakable dread.
Gradually Shadowfax recovers and she starts to breathe again, but often painfully hiccups as her longs reestablish their rhythm after having been smashed by your hoof. She whimpers from her three removed teeth and broken ankle, which is now swelling and turning an awful purple color. You wish it didn’t have to be this way. You wish you didn’t have to interrogate her. You wish she didn’t have to be tortured. You wish you could comfort her.
She opens her eyes, puffy and red from crying, and looks at you fearfully. Her profound terror strikes you in the heart almost like a punch. You frown for a split second before you regain your sadistic mask. “I’m waiting.” She stares at you. Her aura is a mass of pain, hate, fear, and regret. You can feel her struggling between telling you and defying you again. Defiant scarlet enters her aura again and she looks sullenly at her mangled ankle. “Look at me,” you say almost softly. No response. The emotional equivalent of a rotting carcass is getting the better of you. You channel your disgust into anger at the mare for forcing you to do this to her. “HEY! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” You seize her chin and force her to look you in the eye. She tries to jerk away and shut her eyes. She’s a lot tougher than most who end up here; she hasn’t once pleaded or broken down. As horrified as it makes you feel, you want to hear her beg and scream for the trouble she’s causing you.
You brutally jerk her chin upwards, painfully hyperextending her neck and forcing her to look directly into the bright white light. She tries to avert her eyes and close them, but you use your magic to pry them open to the searing beams. You hear pained moans repressed in her throat. Her body shakes with pain. Tears spill from her eyes. The chair creaks and groans in sympathy. You feel satisfied yet disgusted. Then, the next wave of misery washes over you. You almost go slack and lose your grip, but you hold on savagely, wishing with all your might to be elsewhere. “Okay, I’ll talk I’ll talk!” You release her. She shakes her head and blinks several times. You hear a small sob. “Shining Armor is getting married.”
“I don’t know!” Static consumes her aura.
“Liar.” You give her your most vicious, bloodthirsty glare. We know what that means. You stalk around to the back of the chair. You eye her forelegs, delicately shaped and bound to the back of her unpadded, uncomfortable wooden chair at an unnatural angle. “You have such lovely legs, Shadowfax,” you state flatly. “I think I’ll want to keep them for myself, but you do seem rather… attached to them.”
“No…” She shudders as you grab the bonds holding them together and elevate them to an even more uncomfortable angle.
“Yessss,” you hiss as you place one hoof against the back of her chair for pulling leverage. “Spill and I’ll let you keep them.”
“You always insist on doing things the hard way.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I’m sure you’ll find me to be disarmingly persuasive.” You want to vomit at your own sick joke. With that, you begin to push against her chair while pulling on her arms. You start with low pressure, but gradually pull harder, increasing the pressure bit by bit. Presently, you hear Shadowfax begin to groan and squeal in pain
“Please, stop,” she gasps.
“Please, tell,” you reply and intensify your efforts. The mare’s body and legs begin to squirm uncomfortably as her forelegs are gradually ripped from their sockets.
Her ugly aura still shines defiant red. “N-no.” You feel your own legs burn in sympathy. The fire in them is nothing compared to what you’re doing to her, but you know that’s nothing compared to what Chrysalis will do to you if you fail. If you fail, then the Canterlot invasion will fail. If that fails, then the hive will starve and everyone will die.
You twist and yank. With an audible snap followed by a bloodcurdling shriek, the tendons in her shoulders give way and dislocate. “Give up!”
“Not yet!” This must end soon; it just has to! Your body is rebelling against its own actions. You feel feverish and ache horribly everywhere. Your throat and mouth burn with stomach acid. You feel like giving up and crying. It’s you or her. Who’s it gonna be!? Choose! NOW!! screwing up your eyes , you twist one leg while pulling with all your might.
RRIIPP! POP! “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! STOOOOOP! Please – no more!” Eyes closed, you let go of her legs. You stand there for several seconds, oblivious to the world. You want to faint. Unsteady on your hooves, you open your eyes. What you see makes you dry heave. One of Shadowfax’s forelegs is hanging weirdly as an unnatural angle. It’s completely limp, as if you really broke it. The knee and ankle are twisted sickeningly. Through the loud sobs, you barely make out the words, “Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, or Cadence. She’s coming back on the first of the next month for the wedding.” A princess with a lover, yes, that’s perfect! They would never suspect a princess, wedding stress could cover for any atypical behavior, all the love she received could make a changeling very powerful, and she could get access to anything, anyone, or any place she desired. But where is she?
“Where is this Princess Cadenza? That’s all I want to know. Just tell me that, Shadowfax, and this can all be over. Just, please, help me this one last time and I will let you go.”
She stopped crying. I felt a flood of defiance sweep across her aura. “Never.” I instantly know that she will not bend. You must break her absolutely. Compelled, you swing at her jaw with your full force. CRACK! You feel it shatter. You want to vomit and faint. This has to end. If it doesn’t end, you don’t know what’ll happen. You will break – go insane – die! You swing again, deaf to the screams and blind to the spectacle, but you can still feel it. It’s eroding your sanity. You hit four more times. The screams create a constant nightmare of sound When you look again, the mare’s jaw looks deformed – crushed. Your hooves are bloody. There’s fresh blood and teeth everywhere. You can see bone shards protruding through the skin!
“Just tell me and it’ll all be over!”
“I must break you.” Frantic to at last finish this horrific ordeal, you cover her eyes with your hooves and touch your horn to her head, concentrating all your magic on her. You felt your mind move and make contact with hers. This contact is always so impossibly intimate that you always feel simultaneously like violator and victim. Both of you are at your limits. But you are aggressive and she does not know what to do. You feel around the outside of her mind, looking for a way in. It’s not hard to find a crack in her shell and force yourself inside her.
She screams both mentally and physically. Shadowfax comes back from the shock of contact with a fury. You struggle against her, ultimately throwing off her presence, allowing yourself to move deeper into her. Minds work by things being connected, so you need to find things connected to Cadence. You scan her for surface thoughts. You find one about Canterlot. With a bit of effort, you break in and gain access to her mental web. Your presence in here is causing her unbelievable pain, which in turn hits you directly without any kind of buffer. The pain is so horrible it defies explanation. You just want to curl up and die. You know that your body is crying.
Almost immediately, she begins trying to lock down all thoughts in a bid to contain you. But it is too late. You deftly jump into the castle. She is following close behind you. If she catches up to you, then she can trap you in here and kill you. Be quick; hurry! The exertion will soon overwhelm you, and she can’t hold on for much longer, either. You perceive everything as images suspended in dark voids. You jump to the castle perched on the cliff. You see the word, “princesses”, in the distance. You jump to that and see three alicorns. One is white. One is indigo. One is pink. You don’t know which one to pick. You can feel her closing in behind you. You know the white and indigo ones have sun and moon cutie marks respectively, so they must be Celestia and Luna. You don’t know anything about Cadence, but one of her names was “Amore” and she has a heart cutie mark. You also have never heard anything about a pink alicorn with a normal mane unlike the gaseous ones possessed by the diarchs. It’s worth a shot. Hesitation means certain death.
You leap at the pink alicorn. You see images of various activities and concepts arrayed out all around you, surrounding Cadence at the center of a spherical cloud. You see a mountainous desert landscape. That’s all you know about Afghneighnistan. You jump for it. You see a desert town featuring a sign with the words “Klopdahar” and “meeting” written on it. You leap to it, soaring across what feel like vast reaches of empty space to get to it. The pain and fatigue in your body are immense. You could pass out right here if it weren’t for the fact that your very life, and the whole hive, depend on you getting this right.
You frantically scan the hundreds of items that surround you in space. There are so many, but none are relevant. Shadowfax begins to close connections, making items disappear rapidly. Then you see it, a conference table. You leap, just as the last few links are sealed off. The moment you arrive, you spin around and find the word “today”. You know that she is almost upon you; you have mere seconds to get the information and break the mind meld! You make one last leap for it, fighting against all your pain and fatigue. To your great relief, all the information is there, down to Cadence’s hotel sweet. You take all this information into your mind as you feel your pursuer arrive. Terrified and almost unconscious, you disengage just moments before you see Shadowfax faint in the real world.
You fall to the floor, too spent to move. “We are finished,” you communicate to the guards outside and you force yourself to stand. Disgust and horror pervade your mind. You feel sicker than you ever have; everything hurts. You hurt just like you hurt that mare. They drag her unconscious body out, taking no care to avoid aggravating the injuries you gave her. You hate yourself. Almost too feeble to move, you slowly walk back to your cubicle to rest and try to sleep off the worst of the empathic feedback. You were only following orders and were no harsher than you needed to be. However, that didn’t prevent you from feeling absolutely dreadful. With nothing else to do today, I let you pass out in your cubicle, regretting the worst day of your life, but glad that you were of service to Queen Chrysalis.
Yes, you were of service to me. You have made your queen proud today, changeling. I appreciate your service and your mettle, although I wish you and my other children could stomach torture without suffering from empathic feedback. However, I don’t care about suffering; I only care about results. Rest well. I shall send back Shadowfax as a threat to Canterlot once I am already inside. They will never suspect that the Princess Cadence they got back from Afghneighnistan is in fact Queen Chrysalis. And that shall be the root of their undoing. Soon, Equestria and all its delicious love will be mine. Yes, it will be, no matter the cost.