Faint Glimmer

by SoloBrony

I am the queen

I'm a monster. I'm a monster. Make sure they know it, don't let them forget it. I can do this.

I took a deep, steadying breath, and shook my head.

"I can take it from here, Iqqel. Thank you."

"Yes, my queen."

I felt Iqqel's steadying embrace leave me, and I heard her wings buzz her a few feet to my right. Behind me, I could hear the breaths of my guests. I drew another deep breath and opened my eyes, taking care to keep them pointed forward.

It was harder than it sounds, since I couldn't see anything.

"Please remember what I said, everyone. I..."

I trailed off. I had reacquired a powerful, regal voice – albeit not the many-layered timbre I'd had before – but it merely served to mask the uncertainty I felt. Twilight's voice came from behind me, reassuringly.

"Don't worry, Cecily. Queen Cecily. We trust you."

I nodded, and took a sharp breath.

"Alright. Iqqel... please announce for me. I am ready."

"Yes, my queen."

I saw the deep blue and red glow I associated with Iqqel zip forward, but I forced myself not to track the motion. I heard the great doors open in front of me. Twenty-two strides forward and I would be standing right at the edge of the balcony of the spire – precisely twenty-two, no more, no less, even stride. Iqqel had coached me through it for weeks, helping me regain my ability to walk straight, helping me to shut out the bombardment of sounds and smells and... sights, such as they were.

Iqqel always thinks of everything... here's hoping I don't lengthen my strides because of adrenaline and walk right over the cliff.

My keen ears picked up the sounds of changelings muttering at the foot of the Spire. Iqqel's announcement of my arrival drew cheers and excitement from the crowd – but I could tell there was trepidation, as well. I smiled until my fangs were fully visible.

I'll turn that trepidation into terror, and that terror into adoration. Watch this, Celestia.

I began my stride forward – not lazy, not hurried, and certainly not weak. With each step I sent a faint tremor through the stone, like a sonar pinging off of the luminite fragments embedded into the Spire. No one in or near the Spire could fail to hear my approach, and the crowd grew silent.

They've never been subject to such a spectacle from me. Well, it's time they learn precisely who their queen is.

Twenty-two. I stopped, and I could feel from the tremor that I was less than six inches from the edge. Below me, I saw a swirling pool of blue, with flecks of red and gold caught in the currents. I softened my smile from predatory to caring.

I can't see my subjects, but I can see what matters.

I sent a faint charge through my horn, and when I spoke my voice came out as conversational, soft – yet wove through the crowd, whispering in every ear.

"Subjects. It has been too long since I have addressed all of you in this fashion – but your queen has returned!"

A cacophony of cheers, whistling, stomping, and buzzing reached my ears. I knew it was as much for my benefit as it was out of true affection.

Many of them have been terribly worried about me. Well, I'll put a stop to that!

I patiently smiled down on them until the sound subsided. My eyes wandered over the pool beneath me – I hoped the action would look like I was scanning the individuals in the crowd, though that was impossible for me now – and nodded.

"I appreciate your show of support. You know the road has been long, and fraught with difficulties – but it is behind us now. It is time to embrace a new, glorious chapter in the history of our society. Before, it was said that my epithet would be Chrysalis the Reformer – but my past accomplishments pale in comparison to what lies ahead!"

Another chorus of cheers rose up to greet me, and I could see the intensity of my subjects' affection, but my keen ears also picked out murmurs hidden beneath the mirth.

"I am sure all of you are aware of the pain that has been inflicted by my near-absence from duty. Dissent, uncertainty – there are those among you who say I am no longer a true queen, or who question the future of our hive. Even those still truly loyal have turned to questioning my ability to lead, to rule, and to care for my subjects."

Hisses and snarls rose up from various parts of the crowd, though not with the same intensity as the cheering. More murmurs rippled through the crowd, and my smile unintentionally grew wide open and predatory again.

It isn't like a queen to bring up dissent openly, is it? They have no idea where I'm going with this.


"I'm sure all of you only want what's best for the hive. So it is in the best interests of the hive that I clear up this misunderstanding, so that we can all move forward. First, let me address those who seem to feel I've grown too weak to lead, or protect, my subjects... especially from those threats which have grown within our own hive."

The crowd was silent, focused on my every word. They could feel it, now – something big was coming.

I'm treading dangerous waters, here, conflating those who question my leadership with outright seditious sentiments. I hope the Speakers can clarify and soften my meaning when this is all done.

With that cheerful thought, I took a deep breath. My smile vanished, because I did not hold any mirth for what I was about to do.

"Keko-Sessar. Come up here immediately."

Murmurs and gasps rippled through the crowd. I picked out an irregularity in the blue whirlpool beneath me, and gently sent a spark to my horn, tuning most of it out. I was able to track a small mote of light, gold and blue, which detached itself from the pool and rose up to the Spire. I gestured to a position on my left, and I heard Sessar's wings buzz to that position, and the soft clop of his hooves on stone. I heard his chitin creak ever-so-faintly as he bowed.

"I am here, my queen."

"Sessar. You are one of my greatest warriors and commanders, and have great sway within my hive. Were it not so, your recent... concern for my health would not be worthy of my notice. No, my subjects – speak your minds freely, and voice your concerns and misgivings. All of you... except those whose words hold such sway that they can cause fear, and panic, to spread among the hive. Sessar, you should have known better."

I augmented Sessar's voice like my own, and his anguished reply was clear for all to hear.

"I am ashamed, my queen."

I fought to keep my face neutral and passive.

I hate every bit of this... but it's what Sessar would want me to do. We both know what's at stake, here. I can do this... I must do this.

I took a deep breath, and nodded.

"Were it not for the persistence of these rumors, I would have reproached you in private. This would be the end of it. But words are no longer enough."

Gasps and murmurs again erupted through the crowd. My eyes flicked around, straining to pick up the details, but they could not. I could hear Sessar's heartrate pick up, hear his breathing become lighter and quicker. I let that fear simmer for a few moments before I spoke again.

"Sessar. Your words were a challenge to my fitness as a soveriegn and my strength as a defender of the hive. I accept your challenge."

Cries of surprise and alarm went through the crowd. I heard Sessar shrink back a couple of steps before stopping himself. I could not tell if he was holding his wings open – the traditional sign that a changeling wished to speak – but I decided to split the difference.

"What say you, Sessar?"

"My queen, I would gladly hurl myself from this spire for you. I beg you to allow me that, rather than force me to even try to harm you."

I shook my head firmly.

"You will fight, Sessar. You will honor me with your efforts."

"But I can't! I can't... I can't kill you!"

At that, though there was no sincerity in it, I opened my mouth as far as I could and threw my head back. My laughter – cold, cruel, well-practiced – rang out across the entire hive. Not even a nymph in the hatchery could have missed it. After a few moments, I turned my gaze back to him, still smiling – all shark and no warmth.

"True, but you will try. You will try with everything you have, because that is the order I have given you. You will not challenge me with words and then throw yourself to destruction rather than face me openly. No, Sessar – you started this, and I command you to finish it. Serve as my example, and wash away the doubts you helped feed."

I heard Sessar choke back a sob, and I felt a horrible lance of grief strike through my chest. I wasn't sure if I had winced visibly – I certainly tried not to – but the cruelty of this display hurt me in ways I did not know I could hurt.

After all, I've never deliberately harmed my subjects, before...

"Yes... my queen. I obey your every will."

I heard Sessar march away until he was the appropriate distance, and I heard him unsheathe his sword – an incredible luminite artifact, whose origins had been lost to time, but always passed down to our fiercest warriors – and take his stance. His sword was a gleaming white lance to my sight. All around us, I heard shallow breaths, or no breathing at all – Celestia, Twilight, Cadance, and Chiri were certainly holding their breath. Iqqel, on the other hand, sounded like she was trying to steal all of the air for herself.

"My queen. I am ready."

I tilted my head to the side, my expression still a cold neutral.

"Are you? Sessar, I don't think you know what it means to challenge your queen. It means to challenge the very foundation of the hive beneath your hooves... so I recommend that you fly!"

I brought a hoof up and slammed it down faster than the blink of an eye. A horrible crash filled my ears, and I felt the ground before me split open; terrible fissures erupted, until the entire half of the balcony under Sessar was blown off by exploding shards of luminite. The stones pitched down off of the far side of the Spire, towards changeling homes below, and the crashing sounds of impact sent terror and alarm through everyone watching. Each sound pinged in my head, adding up to a mild headache.

I heard Sessar buzz side to side, dodging shards of rock that had been flung upwards by my display. I sent a spark through my horn, and all sounds of his movement ceased – though I could see he had managed to land on a nearby outcropping, where he seemed to be writhing on the ground. His sword, meanwhile, fell from his grasp and tumbled out of sight.

"It is to challenge the very air that gives you breath!"

I saw a white flame engulf Sessar as he began burning his internal reserves of love energy to sustain himself. He stood up, and he began charging at me, hissing. For all that he was the fastest warrior we had ever trained in the air, his progress on the ground was so slow as to be agonizing for me; it took him more than a full second to clear the air-dispersal field I had conjured. When he was almost upon me, I grabbed him in my telekinesis, and floated him mere inches from my face.

"But most of all... it is to reject the love she has given you. That the hive has given you."

At such close range, I could see him with some clarity. I could see him still dutifully struggling against my telekinesis, but at my words he nodded and waited. I reached out and pressed a hoof to his chest.

And just like that, the white flame was gone, and he crumpled to the ground with a crunchy thump. I scooped his body up with one of my hooves, and frowned at the body, balanced lifelessly on my extended hoof. I could hear horrified gasps and cries coming from his family and close associates, but I pushed that as far down in my mind as I could.

"Hmm. It would seem Sessar did not have the strength in himself to challenge the queen after all. Perhaps those saying I am too weak to defend you should take note of this failure – though, perhaps they think I am getting too thin, and wish to provide me with a snack!"

With that, I flicked my hoof upwards, sending a spark through my horn to empower the motion. The body flew lifelessly through the air, and fell off the far side of the Spire.

I could hear Twilight's breathing becoming labored, and mentally thanked her for not ruining everything by challenging me here. I looked out over the crowd – which I had suggested she do when she doubted me most – and I saw what I'd hoped to see. The gold had intensified, and I heard cheers and excited murmurs rise up.

Time to finish the journey, then.

"My subjects. Fear not any longer; I will not allow anyone to challenge the order we have established. You can rest your minds at ease."

A booming cheer rose from the crowd, and I nodded, though I couldn't force myself to smile. The reaction from the crowd drew a horrified gasp from Twilight. I mentally debated whether to verbalize the point she was missing, but decided it wouldn't dilute the impact of my message to do so.

"I know what I hear from all of you is a cry of relief. You have all labored under the specter of losing your queen, of her being weak or incapable, for too long. You have all lived with unease about sedition, rebels left unchecked and unpunished, for too long. It is something, perhaps, our pony guests do not understand... but I do. We are the hive. We trust each other with our lives, with our hopes and our dreams, with our creations and efforts. That trust permeates our society; it is a trait that is unique to us, I think. When a Maker-nymph in the hatchery leaves behind a mural, they know the next nymph to see it won't wipe it away to write their own; they'll add to it. When you receive food, or love, the Tenders and Feeders know that you're aware of the labor, the struggle, to provide it. They know you will not waste it willingly. We build on each other, we strengthen each other, and that implicit trust is what makes this hive beautiful. To those who think I am overly enamored of pony traditions, who say I don't value the hive – hear me. Our caves are bereft of precious minerals, but we have a gold all our own. We give it to each other freely, but guard it jealously against all threats; it is the currency we strive for, only so we can give it in turn to those who also deserve it. To us, here, in this hive... respect is our greatest resource."

The prolonged cheers of the crowd covered up my quick breathing and moments spent regaining my composure. To my right, I could hear Iqqel fidgeting uncomfortably, as she always did when I spoke spontaneously. I stiffened when Celestia's melodic voice drifted, ever so quietly, into my ears.

"I understand."

Tears welled up in my eyes; a terror I'd not recognized washed out of me with those simple words. I clenched my eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying desperately to regain my composure, and slowly opened them again. I lifted a hoof, and the crowd silenced themselves.

"To those who doubt my capability, some reminders are in order. It is not to disrespect any of you I say this, but I shall also reproach those who mistakenly disrespect my own efforts."

I leaned forward over the crowd, and drew up all of my negative feelings, all of the fear and hatred – mostly at myself – I could, and channeled them into my eyes. The effort intensified my headache, but slowly, the faces of my subjects came into view. Many of them quailed before me – and no wonder, with my eyes suddenly turning red and green – but most watched in fascination. I smiled down on them, and part of me just felt such joy to see them again that I stood there dumbly for a few moments. Then I shook myself free and turned my gaze, now stern, towards the representatives of the Thinkers present.

"Thinkers! Who among you can claim such advancements in luminite engineering or magical theory within the hive as I? Who among you has mastered all of the codices, and can make such claim as to stand as my peer as Grand Historian? Which of you has outshone my political and social theories, and done such grand things for our children? Who could replace me as the Head Instructor of Whitefalls Academy? Present yourselves, if you are out there, that you may be showered with honors for such great achievements!"

Murmurs of assent and bows rippled through the Thinkers. Satisfied, I looked over to the Makers. I stared at them for a few moments, and smirked; many of them smirked and nodded in turn.

"Makers. It is the duty of every queen to remake the hive, and so she is bequeathed the title of Supreme Artisan. Many of my predecessors neglected this duty, but I have instead embraced it. No queen has ever reshaped so much of the hive, creating caves of beauty and wonder for you to develop further through your arts, as I have. I recently learned that the music I composed as a nymph – once the pride and joy of the hive in its own right – has fascinated and captivated Equestrians for many years, as well. Strive for this, brethren; when one of you has the fame – but more importantly, the respect – for your works as I have earned for mine, I think it shall be one of the happiest accomplishments of my tenure. But it is not so, yet."

Nods and bows again rippled through the crowd – though some of the dancers had their own ideas on how to bow properly. I turned my eyes towards the Workers and Tenders both.

"Workers. Tenders. I address you both, because my point is shared between you. Those who believe I an insufficient as a provider of the hive, tell me; do you hunger? Are your duties too difficult, yet too direly needed to be lessened? More importantly, who among you believes you have the skill and perspective to organize the thousands who pursue your duties? I know all of you have suffered under a bad foreling at least once, so you know the value of good leadership in your roles. It eases the burden of a long day's work when you don't need to fret over what the others are doing. So who will take my place in organizing the entire harvest this year?"

The Workers let out a proper workling's whoop, and many of them removed their hardhats and waved them to me. The Tenders, for their part, mostly waved and nodded.

They always were the least formal of the castes.

I glanced over to the Speaker caste, and just shook my head.

"To the Speakers I say nothing, for my actions speak for themselves, and they are most keenly aware of it."

The uniformity and depth of their bows actually drew a small, amused eyeroll from me. I then turned my attention to the changelings on the perimeter.

"Feeders, reveal yourselves."

The other castes found themselves surrounded by a ring of red eyes and smirking faces, much to their surprise. The Feeders had not organized into a single, small group, but had instead deliberately placed themselves all over the fringes. It had an imposing effect, and I smiled at their cunning.

"I know you need no address, for none of you have spoken out against me in the slightest. It is not the Feeder way to become embroiled in politics unnecessarily. To the rest of the hive, I ask you recognize their example; the Feeders worry not over hypotheticals, and await the revelation of a true, tangible threat or harm to the hive to speak their minds. Feeders... you are the smallest caste, the one least seen and least recognized, but your silence speaks louder than the murmurs of the rest of the hive. 'Endure in silence'. Some changelings may think your motto means you never question or weigh in on matters, but we know better. Thank you, for your silent vote of confidence."

Simple nods and sincere smiles were the response I got, and it got the same in turn. Finally, I turned my gaze to the Warrior caste.

"Warriors. Ours has been the most difficult relationship in the recent history of the hive, and I recognize your fears. I am blind – short-lived magic notwithstanding – and our invasion was a failure. Now, there is concern that you will be irrelevant, as we have pursued the path of peace. Warriors, the future is always an uncertainty, fraught with perils. It is your job, more than any other caste, to defend us from the worst possibilities. None of us can know what lies ahead, but know that you have my respect – the respect of all of us. Your concerns will not go unaddressed, and your homes will not be undefended while I draw breath. Not only because my wrath is terrible, for it is not just destruction with which I defend you..."

I lit my horn up, and my headache intensified terribly. I grit my teeth, but my expression remained passive, as though it was no effort at all to drag all of the stones which had fallen from the Spire – and been caught in the luminite-powered magical net I had spread out beforehand – back up. I made it look easy to fuse the stone of the Spire back together, to levitate Sessar's body back up and lay it on the ground at my feet. It was a relief to finally release that net. I gazed down at Sessar, and gently placed a hoof on his thorax.

"... it is construction, creation, and healing as well."

Sessar's love reserves, which I had suppressed, came back to life, and he snapped awake in a daze. The crowd cheered, and I turned to them with a smile, but a sudden impact to my thorax knocked me slightly off-balance. I frowned in confusion and looked down to see a scuff-mark on my chestplate where Sessar had tried to gore me with his horn, which he was now clutching in pain. He lunged for one of my forelegs with his fangs, and I quickly snapped it out of reach and pinned him down. He flailed and struggled – somewhat a pitiful sight – for a few moments until I realized what was going on.

"Sessar, you lost. The challenge is concluded."

Sessar turned his eyes up at me, and in the position he was in it reminded me of nothing so much as an adorable nymph.

"But it was to the death...?"

"I killed you. I brought you back."

"... Oh. Uh... sorry?"

I rolled my eyes with a smirk and released him, and he scrambled up to his hooves and bowed to me. I could see he was blushing furiously, but shrugged and pointed down to his companions in the crowd.

"Return to your loved ones, Sessar. And thank you."

Sessar hastily thanked me and bowed a few more times before sheepishly flying down into the swarm. I waved down at all of them as I felt my enchantment fading, and my eyesight began to darken progressively.

"All I have left to say, is... I respect all of you. I love all of you. Please, if only for me... love and respect each other, and support each other through this period of change."

Waves and nods came back to me, and I held onto the sight as long as I could. Once it had all faded to darkness and swirling light again, I strode away from the balcony, and returned to the antechamber. I strode forward 45 out of 48 steps before ramming nose-first into a wall. Embarassed, I stumbled around until I felt my cushion, and flopped on it.

Must have been taking longer strides this ti—


Twilight's panicked voice rang out across my antechamber, and brought my headache back with a vengeance. I rubbed my head as I heard Celestia trying to calm the hyperventilating, heaving mare. Then I felt a familiar touch press into my neck and my pain gave way to rest as I heard Iqqel's voice.

"You were amazing. Just rest; I can take it from here, Cecily."