Child of the Invasion

by Starscribe

Chapter 3: Blood

H held still as noises sounded from the other side, coming from the door. There was something mechanical to them, but she didn’t actually know what let some doors open and kept others closed. Maybe they’re giving up? Her promotion was coming for sure.

The door opened in a crack, and H got her first look at the other side. There were three ponies just as she had sensed, an adult mare in some fancy cloth that had been torn in ways that didn’t look intentional. A much smaller filly, even smaller than she was, with similar looking cloth wrapped around her, stained with various bits of dark brown.

On the ground behind them was a pile of blankets, and a stallion sprawled on them. His torso was wrapped in white cloth, though it was leaking red. It looked bad—the kind of wound that would’ve killed one of her own kind. But ponies were… more real, somehow. They didn’t die as easy, and their feelings weren’t hollow echoes.

“You promise not to hurt us?” asked the mare, her face emerging from the cracked door. She held a bit of metal in the air beside her, levitating in her magic. A knife, dripping with greenish blood. That knife had already hurt, probably the drones who had attacked last. “We’ll be prisoners. My husband gets to a doctor.”

“I don’t know what a doctor… is…” H said. “But if you come out, I won’t hurt you. Prisoners, yeah. That’s what Hydrus said. You’ll be prisoners. Actually he didn’t want me to kill you unless I had to. Said that… you’re worth more than I am? Anyway, you should come out. The ones who would go next were mean to me. I bet they’ll be mean to you too.”

The pony glanced over her shoulder, and the door shut behind her. There weren’t so many sounds this time. And it didn’t stay closed for nearly as long this time—less than a minute of pacing later, and the mare opened the door again. “We’re watching,” she said. “If you do anything…”

“I can do lots of things,” H said. But the ponies looked so scared, and they seemed to get more frightened the closer she got. So she backed away, so far back that they could make it all the way to the stairs without getting close to her. “But all I have to do is get you to leave. Then you can go be… prisoners. With the other fo—ponies.”

She waited with tapping hooves as the ponies moved. The mare kept her knife, but she had to help the stallion onto his hooves. He looked like food that really needed a… doctor. Maybe she would get to see one of those next.

“You probably should put the knife down,” H suggested, once they made it out of the room. “I mean… don’t let me tell you to do things. I don’t get to tell anyone to do anything. But the last time I saw food with weapons, we…” She trailed off. “Drones died, then food got wasted. Everybody loses.”

“Why are you doing this?” asked the filly, her voice quavering. She glanced out at H from behind her parents, feeling simple terror. It was so pure an emotion H almost could’ve eaten it, though it still would’ve made her sick. Only the few scraps of hope behind it stopped her from withdrawing in disgust.

“We were hungry,” H answered. “Our queen said there was a place full of food, and there was. It’s here.”

“Hush, Chalice,” whispered the mare, moving past her towards the stairs down. But she did lower the knife, letting it fall and sink into the carpet. “You won’t learn anything talking to a monster. We just have to stay safe until Celestia saves us.”

That was another important word—a word that made all three of the ponies feel different the instant she said it. What makes a Celestia so great? H tried to figure out the way she got answers to everything, but this time she only saw images of the sun. And that didn’t make any sense, since the sun wasn’t going to stop them from taking the food city.

“What is a Celestia?” she asked, buzzing down the stairs after them. She didn’t get too close, and flying was easier than climbing—the ponies should’ve just made ramps like they did. “Why do you think the sun is going to help you?”

The mare looked like she might actually answer the question, except then the stallion’s legs gave out from under him and he bounced painfully down a few steps. Blood trailed down the walls, and the little pony squealed pitifully, recoiling back towards H.

Hydrus poked his head in through the door, his crossbow levitated in the air beside him. He looked around. “Alright, you killed one of our drones, that means—” He fell silent, staring up at them with widening eyes.

Then he stepped back, calling out towards the watching drones. “Great Queens before us, she did it! Pay up bugs! Starting with you, Myosin. Yes, right here. Don’t think I forgot about you, Gossamer.”

“She didn’t even bring the crossbow. It doesn’t make sense.”

“She’s not out yet,” someone argued. “She didn’t do it until she’s outside.”

“Is that the queen’s daughter or something, Hydrus? You scamming us?”

“Of course it’s the queen’s daughter,” Hydrus argued. “They’re all the queen’s daughters. Pay up.”

While all that went on, the mare had followed her mate to the bottom of the stairs, with the little one trailing behind like a frightened animal.

“Get the prisoners out here, H!” Hydrus called from out the door. “You’re not done yet. They’ve got a long walk ahead of them.”

“Please—” the mare called back, all the confidence in her voice gone. “My husband needs a doctor. He can’t walk any further. You must let the house guard return, take us—”

“We must do nothing,” Hydrus said, stepping in over the wreckage of the massive door. “You are prisoners of the swarm now, like all the others. If you cooperate, you will be taken with them. If you resist…” He flourished the crossbow meaningfully. “Now get out.”

H watched the exchange from further and further away. The ponies weren’t responding well to this instruction. She could sense the resistance building in them—all the cooperation H had helped create turned to regret and terror. Except for the little one, who only felt afraid.

The stallion rose suddenly to his hooves, face contorted in pain. He stepped forward, trailing blood as he went, legs shaking with every step. They’re so strong. He just keeps going.

“Stay close to us, Chalice,” the stallion said. “Come on.”

“We’re going,” he said, his voice shaking. “Don’t hurt them, please. We’re going.” They walked slowly out, with the mare helping the hurt pony all the way, watching their child to make sure she was keeping up. They slowed as they passed through the doorway, staring at the pony corpses outside.

“Descent, you killed him too,” the stallion muttered. “He was trying to surrender, monsters. I heard it.”

“Enough!” called one of the mean drones from earlier, landing on the ground beside the stallion. “With a mouth like that, you’re not worth our time. Probably just going to get the rest of the food sick.” He brought his sword down casually, straight for the pony’s neck. So fast that H was as frozen as everyone else.

Except for the stallion. His horn lit up, and the sword turned in the air. There was a flash of green as the pony’s magic overpowered it, and the sword swung backward. The drone toppled to the ground without a head a second later, spurting blood.

Gasps rose from Hydrus’s entourage. H could sense the attention of the drones, which had been ignoring them until that moment. The assembled masses could smell battle starting soon. If they start fighting, I need to get out quick.

“Back away, all of you!” the stallion roared, brandishing the sword in his magic. Pale sunlight seemed to glow there, and the green blood staining it bubbled and steamed away. “Let us pass!”

Hydrus wasn’t frozen like so many of the others. He took aim, fired straight into the pony’s torso. There was a little flash of magic from the pony’s horn, but the bolt still smacked into him, sinking down to the fletching. The pony buckled, dropping to the ground. The sword fell.

“H, right here, right now!” He started cranking the crossbow beside his head, ignoring the mare’s terrified screams. All threat from her was gone, and now she was clinging desperately to her fallen husband, her horn glowing faintly. Was she trying to… help him somehow?

H landed in front of Hydrus, trying not to look at the corpse of the fallen changeling. Should it feel good to see someone who had been mean to her die like that? It didn’t.

“I got them, like you said…”

Hydrus grunted something that wasn’t quite any word. “What you did is get Dark killed. That’s the sort of pony we can’t take prisoner. Fighting like that… breeds rebellion. What do you think would happen if he got into the food pen? He’d inspire them to fight, that’s what.”

It didn’t look like he was going to be inspiring anything soon, not broken like that. His breathing came only laboriously, blood trailing out his mouth. He couldn’t speak anymore. “Time to fix it,” Hydrus went on, pointing down at the fallen sword. “Take that, and kill it. The smaller ones shouldn’t resist after that.”

H stared at the sword, lifting it only with difficulty. It was made of a bright metal she hadn’t seen before, which already looked clean despite what it had done to Dark. Was she crazy, or could she feel the sword hating her? But metal doesn’t have feelings.

She could still lift it, facing the ponies again.

“Please…” the mare whispered, her voice feeble. “Don’t. My husband… defending himself. You saw… what was he supposed to do?”

And behind her was the little one, clinging to her father’s bloody tail, eyes wide. She didn’t say anything—maybe she never would again.

“Now,” Hydrus said into her ear, his anger focusing on her. It was nothing compared to what the pony had felt, but it would also bring more consequences. “Dark died because you didn’t control this one, H. This is your fault, so you get to fix it.”

“I thought you said they were worth more than me,” she whispered. “Shouldn’t we still try to… save it?”

“No,” Hydrus said. “It killed Dark, it doesn’t get to live. Now quit wasting time. You’re a warrior, H. You killed yesterday, you get to kill today.”

She had, probably. But nothing from the attack felt real. That had been a dream—a nightmare, maybe. And now she was remembering it.

Before she could second-guess herself again, H swung the sword. She wasn’t trained to use it, and didn’t know how to cut off a pony’s head. It wasn’t clean, and it wasn’t fast.

The mare screamed in agony, lashing out towards her—but Hydrus was there with a few more of his entourage, and they held her down. The little pony never looked away, not until she too was dragged off.

“Well look at that,” Hydrus said, when H was splattered with blood and surrounded by cheering drones. “Looks like she’s got some fighting spirit after all.”

The others moved up to them one at a time, spitting on the dead pony, clasping her on the shoulder.

“Good work!”

“Really made it pay for Dark.”

“You’re on your way, H. The swarm needs more heroes like you.”

But as she wandered away from the broken building, H didn’t feel like a hero. All the praise from the other changelings felt as empty as their feelings always did.

She could still feel the agony of that mare, as she watched her husband die. And in the smaller one, a betrayal that turned her mind to ice, and washed everything else away.

Now she knew what Thorax meant, and she hated it.